Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Grand Piano

I wanted to have this up early enough to direct people to the Brattle Theatre's remaining screenings of it, but there turned out to be less time for writing than I hoped this weekend, and then when I got home on Monday... Well, I knew there was going to be something going on with the sewer, but I didn't expect it to be "get out of the house and stay out all night" bad. It's on VOD and Amazon right now, and will be on video soon enough. It's fun with a crowd, though, and it's disappointing relatively few will get to see it that way.

It's kind of curious, since I would kind of figure that Elijah Wood and John Cusack with their names at the top of the credits might get it a bit more of a theatrical release, but apparently that's not the case. For whatever reason, Wood never really managed to turn Lord of the Rings into stardom, although he's worked steadily. Cusack is the really strange case, though - he was a steadily popular guy in the 1990s and into the 2000s, and then right around 2005, more and more stuff started going straight to video, without much in the way of a real theatrical bomb until The Raven in 2012. Did Hollywood just decide with The Ice Harvest that he couldn't open a movie on his own, although he might be a useful part of an ensemble or boost something that might already have a bit of an audience?

Anyway, this goes straight to video, and I noticed that it had the sort of credits that really stretch to make a 90 minute running time, and I'm starting to wonder it there's an unintended side effect of the rise of video on demand going on here, with short running times becoming more popular. I have seen a number of indie/foreign movies lately - especially genre films - that are in the 75-95 minute range and sometimes doing everything it can to get that far, and until relatively few years ago, that seemed to be the length of animated movies or comedies that were considered fairly thin (or features the studio had no faith in and thus cut down so that one more screening could be fit into a single day). Movies under 100 minutes seemed insubstantial - that was a TV-movie length, not long enough to be the centerpiece of an evening out. Someone selecting a movie from a TV or website menu, though, might tend to want the shorter length, though; it fits in a schedule ("I've got time to watch this before going to bed" or "I have an hour and a half to kill" or the like).

I'm not necessarily opposed to this - you can probably skim through this blog and find many cases where I argue in favor of the 75-minute horror movie, for instance - but it seems like a shift that may just grow more pronounced as more filmmakers decide that streaming or VOD is where their movies will spend most of their lives.

Anyway, I dig it, and I can only hope that it does well enough for someone to pick up The Birthday, an earlier film by Eugenio Mira that I quite liked at my first or second visit to the Fantasia Festival in 2005 which doesn't appear to have ever made video in the U.S. I didn't recognize Mira's name when I saw it on Piano, but the two having the same director makes a lot of sense.

Grand Piano

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 Match 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

Grand Piano is evidence that, with enough creativity and energy, a clever filmmaker can make an exciting thriller out of what may seem like unlikely activities and situations. In this case, it's a man playing classical piano before a hushed auditorium, and the very improbability of the situation makes the whole thing exhilaratingly unpredictable.

The pianist in question is Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), arguably the most brilliant of his generation, though he has not played in public for five years after a disastrous recital of one of his mentor's most difficult pieces. Tonight, though, he's giving a special charity/memorial performance, spearheaded by his movie-star wife Emma (Kerry Bishé), with longtime friend Reisinger (Don McManus) conducting and their friends Ashley (Tamsin Egerton) and Wayne (Allen Leach) in the audience, using a special eight-octave piano. And as if that wasn't enough pressure, his sheet music has a message scrawled on it saying that his and Emma's lives are forfeit if he plays one note wrong, with an earpiece so that the mastermind (John Cusack) can make sure Tom doesn't try anything clever.

Seems ridiculous, right? And it is, but writer Damien Chazelle and director Eugenio Mira make sure it's clear from minute one that "Clem" is plenty serious about what he's threatening, even if his motivations and endgame are kept close to the vest for quite a while. And while there is a certain level of incredulity displayed by everyone who becomes involved in the plot, none are ever given much opportunity to actually start poking holes in it on the audience's behalf (well, maybe a henchman played by Alex Winter does, but it's more complaining about how much legwork is on him than questioning the plan's viability). Once things have been set into motion in this way, the audience gets to switch over to problem solving mode along with Tom, and that's fun because not only are the puzzles they have to solve different than the ones that frequently appear in your typical thriller, but the solutions are almost guaranteed to require bold actions on the heroes' parts.

Full review at EFC

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