Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

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“When life hands you conundrums you turn it into art” – Nick Offerman as Frank Fisher

The opening introduction of our character is nothing short of fantastic. He lights up a cigarette absent-mindedly, headphones plugged in to Tweedy only for his reverie to be broken by a patron telling him he can’t smoke inside. He responds bluntly, “I’ll put it out if you buy something.”

We know him instantly to be a man who doesn’t play popularity contests even when it would benefit him and his record shop. This is what the following piece of superfluous dialogue is implying as this offended customer says he just bought an album on Amazon instead.

Without hardly knowing anything about him, somehow we like this man behind the counter and simultaneously feel sorry for him. Surely, he can see the writing on the wall. The record shop, the trendy bastion of a bygone era, even in a neighborhood like Red Hook in Brooklyn, is probably on the way out. It is an endangered species and we as the populous have killed it.

This is not High Fidelity (2000). The record shop is no longer a place for buddy comedy with your ragtag band of musical connoisseurs quibbling over personal tastes and nonexistent romance. The niche begins to feel smaller and smaller. It has become even moreso a thing of the past. I recently watched the documentary on the rapid decline of Tower Records, fittingly entitled All Things Must Pass. There is a certain wistulness in acknowledging this irrefutible reality.

Like most indies of this day and age, Heart Beats Loud uses the same formula with quirky supporting characters who have their charms. The mother is a ditsy kleptomaniac who once had a career as a songstress. It feels like a blink and you miss it turn for the Blythe Danner.

There’s Toni Collette, the local landlord who rents Frank his space. They have a relationship that’s hard to pinpoint. Their kids are grown. They’re friends and they can talk to one another. Still, there’s something unspoken between them; it supplies some unnecessary romantic tension.

Surprise, suprise, there’s Ted Danson who (wink, wink) runs the local bar and plays the ever-present available listening ear for our hero to commiserate with. We all need that friend.  Frank’s daughter Sam has such a confidante too even as she tries to figure out her life and love in the context of adolescence. Fortuitously, while I like these folks, they hold nothing compared to the people at the center. Seeing as we spend the most time with the two Fishers it’s probably for the best.

The age-old inversion is also present. The adult seems to be acting out like a child even as his kid makes up the difference by acting mature beyond her years. In one particularly indicative scene, Frank bugs his daughter in her attempts to study so they can have a father-daughter jam sesh together. Because this is the summer before she will head across the country to UCLA. They are on the cusp of a new period of life. He hasn’t accepted it yet.

The story beats are nothing strange or sensational just as the music is catchy but not altogether supernal pop. However, the familiarity is actually quite nice and because we like these people and the places feel warm and welcoming, we want to spend time there. There need not be more.

Together their jam sessions bleed into the synthesis of songs from the heart. It’s how they bond and find a way to communicate when there is no other available wavelength open.  Movies like these allow those of us who adore music and cannot play or sing a lick, live vicariously through some else’s experience. It’s the best way I can describe it. The last film to carry me away on the sound waves with this much relish was Sing Street (2016).

It won’t win any awards and it will be dismissed by so many more and yet there will be a niche market for it — just like vinyl itself. I am thankful we still have actors like Nick Offerman, willing to make unassuming, passionate projects like this one.

In the end, a seemingly inconsequential decision winds up stirring up some notice as the song they cut together actually has some mild success under their moniker We Are Not a Band. There’s the giddy delight registering on Frank’s face upon hearing the song he made in his living room with his daughter playing in a local coffee shop. He’s as proud and as flabbergasted as can be even though no one else seems to understand his elation.

This is purely That Thing You Do! or The Commitments grade musicianship. It’s good but not virtuoso or magnified enough to get a large following. Nevertheless, it’s tantalizing. What could have been? Because even as the shop is having its final day and Sam gets ready to head out west, they get another opportunity.

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Someone is interested to monetize their band and tour it into something with legs. There is a moment where Frank genuinely wants this until he realizes it’s indicative of another issue. He needs a catharsis — a healthy, meaningful way to say goodbye to not only his shop but his daughter — and he gets it.

What more fitting way than a Last Waltz in the record store, except they’ve never even performed before. Still, they do it for the first and last time (maybe) and give it all they have for an audience of record hunters. The accolades and circulation were never important anyway.

They are in the pantheon surrounded by a hall of heroes. Some forgotten. Some not. I see Peter Frampton. Marvin Gaye. Lana Del Ray. The Beach Boys. Aretha. Bob Marley. Tom Waits. They’re all smiling down on these two people who love music. The personified joy is what it’s all about.

The message is succinct and we’ve heard it so many times before. Hearing it in the context of these people’s lives somehow gives it renewed resonance. Because it’s the message they need to hear and who knows, maybe some of us do as well.

Contentment is key. All change is not bad just as things of the past should not necessarily be ditched entirely for the new. Somewhere in between them all, between the record albums and the Spotify playlists, we should be able to find a happy medium. At the end of the day, the point of the music doesn’t change. It’s meant to bring us together.

3.5/5 Stars

 

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl (2015)

Me_&_Earl_&_the_Dying_Girl_(film)_POSTERI can say unflinchingly, without a single waver in my voice, that this is the best new release I’ve seen this year. Truth be told, I have not seen a whole lot of new films this year, but even if I had, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl would be the best by far.

The title in itself exudes a quirkiness that continues in a steady stream throughout the film. The same quirks can be found in our main protagonist, the self-proclaimed awkward, pale, rodent-faced high school senior Greg (Thomas Mann). He’s gone through high school with the mission of ingratiating himself to all and befriending no one. At this point in his high school career, the closest thing he has to a friend is Earl, who he simply considers his “co-worker,” since they develop homage short films together (ie. A Box of ‘Lips Wow). That’s another thing. Greg is obsessed with film: He eats up anything from Werner Herzog or The Archers thanks to the influence of his father (Nick Offerman). His other “friend” is the chill history teacher Mr. McCarty with an office that is the lunchtime oasis for Greg. But that’s about it.

That is until his doting mother (Connie Britton) forces him to go visit a girl who has been diagnosed with Leukemia. It’s a very forced scenario and both Greg and Rachel know it right from the get go. They haven’t even hardly talked since kindergarten. But, despite that, the two of them hit it off and Greg begins this doomed relationship with this dying girl.

The next 209 odd days or so Greg navigates this friendship and all that goes with it, while also developing a film for Rachel on the urging of the classmate that he is infatuated with. But do not get me wrong, this film does not fall into some contrived love triangle or sordid high school drama. It has a far broader more mature scope than that.

Yes, this is a high school teen film. Yes, it is a coming-of-age story, but it boasts so much more. It’s a film about films, a film about friendship, a film about regret, and most importantly a film about what it means to be alive. And yet, all the while, it tries to sidestep the normal tropes we expect.

Greg and Rachel have two very different perspectives. Two very different lots in life, but somewhere in between all of that, amidst the fear, laughter, and even anger, they find some special connections.

There is so much to appreciate about the film and for me, it starts with the character of Greg, because in some ways he was analogous to me in high school. I too was a nomad who traveled from group to group never being fully known. I found a passion for film and slowly began to learn about Kurosawa and Bergman among others. It was not until senior year where I finally began to feel comfortable in my own shoes and that was the perfect time for a new adventure in college. Thus, I resonate with Greg, because although he is certainly not me, he’s the most relevant high school character I have seen in a long while.

As for Connie Britton and Nick Offerman, both of them have some nice scenes that add a lot to this story. One as the over-involved mom who generally cares and the other as a free spirit of a dad who likes exotic food, bohemian garb, and art-house, not to mention the family feline Cat Stevens.

With great films, it is always difficult to pin them down, and the same can be said for this one. It has an awareness of film history that is unequivocally refreshing and unheard of for a genre potentially aimed at teenagers during the summer months. It has its own heartfelt crescendo that in some respects reminded me of Cinema Paradiso. In all other facets, it works beautifully as a teen dramedy and it does a better job in that niche than most. Miraculously, it couples humor and quirks with touching notes that are relevant to the here and now, while somehow still being universal. Also, do not get me started on the music, which is absolutely fantastic.

I look forward to seeing it again sometime soon!

4.5/5 Stars

The LEGO Movie (2014)

 adada-the_lego_movie_posterKudos to the minds behind The Lego Movie, because it is unlike any animated movie I have seen before and it is due to remixing, so to speak. For one thing, their story satirizes the ever popular action-adventure trope complete with an evil mastermind who is bent on controlling the world, and an every man who ultimately becomes the chosen one to save the…Lego race.

The world that Chris Miller & Phil Lord created is filled with annoyingly popular music, a superficial television program, overpriced coffee, and of course cities full of Lego people living in Lego places. They’ve taken the pieces and people that every little boy knows and spliced it into their own little unique universe.

In their world, Emmett (Chris Pratt) is a simpleton construction worker who is suspected to be the chosen one by the fugitive master builder Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). They track down the prophetic Vitruvious (Morgan Freeman) and after gathering support, they enact a plan to take down the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) who wants to subject the world to the Kragle super weapon. I might as well stop the synopsis here because for one I do not want to spoil the film, and for another, it probably sounds like I am speaking complete gibberish.

That is the beauty of this film because it takes a previous concept like Legos and builds on it. After all, that is what you are supposed to do with Legos. Build things! In many ways, I could easily see a version of myself making a movie like this when I was younger. In the Lego world, everything collides into a wonderfully beautiful collage. You have cities, Cowboys, Pirates, Superheroes, Basketball players and  Star Wars all tossed together in a giant melting pot. Thus, the Lego movie I would have made would have been a lot different than this one, but that is absolutely okay. Legos are meant to stimulate the mind and allow the bricklayer to build and tell any story they might want to. The minds behind this film certainly did that to great effect with a story that is clever, witty, and even touching.

Furthermore, it is necessary to give a shout out to the voice actors. The two leads in Christ Pratt and Elizabeth Banks did well with their roles. However, they were also surrounded by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, and Alison Brie. Parks and Rec, Arrested Development, and Community were all represented here.

You cannot leave out cameos by Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, and Shaq. There are undoubtedly others that I left out. Hopefully, they forgive me.

By the end of the film you will probably be convinced that everything is AWESOME and that each one of us is, in fact, a chosen one, we just have to truly believe it.

4/5 Stars