Monday, January 19, 2009

August Rush Review

Perhaps better known as “that movie the Academy nominated last year for Best Song that wasn’t Once or Enchanted,” August Rush actually had a lot of people talking about it in the weeks before its release last year. By the time it came out, though, it had all but completely disappeared from everyone’s radar, and it was only recently that I remembered it had even come out at all. It was with a fair amount of skepticism that I finally sat down to watch it.

The movie follows an orphan named Evan (Freddie Highmore) who, convinced that his parents are still alive, runs away from his stifling orphanage to New York City to find them. The sounds of everyday life are music to him – literally – which he takes as a sign that his parents are trying to find him as well. The reality, as we see in scenes featuring Evan’s mother and father (played by Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers), is that neither one knows of Evan’s existence. If that seems a little hard to believe, then let me assure you that it’s actually explained pretty well.

Long story short, mom and dad have gone on to lead very different lives from the music-oriented ones of their youth (mom was a concert cellist, and dad was in a rock band). The movie does an effective job of associating this departure from their dreams with the emotional burdens they both carry. Their scenes are laden with the regret and nostalgia that comes with the feeling that true love has slipped away forever, but they stop short of ever becoming too sentimental.

Robin Williams plays “Wizard,” a strange man who runs a sort of commune for child street performers and who, after finding Evan, takes the boy under his wing. Despite a lack of musical training, Evan is able to pick up and play the guitar like a pro. People flock to see him perform, and Wizard (in a Mrs. Doubtfire-inspired moment) gives him a unique stage name: August Rush. But while the music itself is exciting, this part of the movie introduces the story’s most problematic aspect.

Evan’s near-instantaneous ability to play and understand music is nothing short of ridiculous, and his proficiency with all things musical only gets more unrealistic as the story goes on. At one point, still without any formal training, he reads and writes pages upon pages of sheet music without a hitch. August Rush tries to explain itself by portraying Evan as a musical prodigy in the story’s latter half (even going so far as to have the boy enroll in Juilliard), but it never quite dispels the feeling that something about Evan’s talents is a bit off.

As for the song that got the Academy’s notice, it’s good but I actually enjoyed many of the other songs in August Rush a lot more. The music that closes the film is particularly moving, and I imagine its instrumental nature is what kept it from garnering as much attention.

The movie sort of beats the audience over the head with its message – music is the universal language that brings people together – and in doing so it casts a number of smaller plot points by the wayside. I was particularly disappointed that a subplot involving Terrence Howard’s character, a well-intentioned man from Child Services looking for Evan, was never fully resolved. The movie also never explains how Evan manages to attend such a prestigious school without revealing his true identity or even being recognized by anyone (the Howard character places “Missing” posters with Evan’s face on them all over the city).

But August Rush doesn’t do these things intentionally, and in the end the movie feels more like a labor of love than a two-hour cliché manufactured by the studio system. It comes off as over-earnest rather than overbearing, and as a result the flaws in its story can be at least partially forgiven. At the same time, though, I can’t help but wish its makers had applied that extra layer of polish to make it into something truly great. As it stands, August Rush is good, wholesome entertainment that does just enough right to make up for its shortcomings. While it probably won’t be remembered for much more than having a great soundtrack, it does tug at the heartstrings enough to make watching it a worthwhile experience.

Rating: ***

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jackie Chan Just Ruined My Day

This news is about a week old, but somehow it's slipped past me until today. Back in November I made a post about a remake of The Karate Kid, which had been retooled as a vehicle for Jaden Smith (Will Smith's son) called The Kung Fu Kid. At the end of that post I wondered who would play Mr. Miyagi in the new film, and today I got my (unfortunate) answer, courtesy of

Jaden Smith has found himself a mentor. Jackie Chan will take on Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi role in Sony Pictures' remake of The Karate Kid. The movie stars 10-year old Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness), who is the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, and will be directed by Harold Zwart (The Pink Panther 2).

Talk about a one-two punch. Not only is Jackie Chan set to defile the legendary Pat Morita, but this movie is being made by the director of the sequel to the poster child for remakes gone horribly wrong? When I first heard about it I was prepared to approach The Kung Fu Kid with cautious optimism, but now all I can feel is a vague sort of disgust.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Circuit City Is No More

As most everyone knows by now, Circuit City has come out unsuccessful in a long financial struggle brought about by the country's economic downturn. The chain will be liquidating its assets (stores, merchandise, etc.) starting immediately. Its website has already been shut down, and 34,000 employees will soon be left out in the cold.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that adding such a significant number of people to the ranks of America's unemployed isn't a good thing. In terms of the state of America's economy, Circuit City's closing is just one more tragedy in the ongoing catastrophe that is this country's economy. But I think it's also worth taking a look at the situation as it relates to the home entertainment business, as well as to the electronics business in general – in other words, how it relates to us, the customers.

To start off, some people will see prices lowered at their local Circuit City stores. Don't expect anything major, though. Federal law mandates that Circuit City give its employees 60 days notice of their termination, which they just did today, so they can't sell off all of their merchandise immediately. For that reason, I doubt prices will be slashed very much. Of course, that's up to the individual liquidator for each store, so every store will probably be a little different.

But what I find a lot more interesting than what's happening at Circuit City stores until the end of March is what will happen to everyone else once CC is gone. My prediction is that in the short term, we're going to see higher prices at Best Buy and other electronics retailers (like Target and Walmart). That's not to say that Best Buy will raise its prices – it's just going to be less likely to discount its merchandise from MSRP for a while. And why shouldn't it? With its biggest competitor gone, there's little reason to cater the particularly discriminating customer.

But while the death of Circuit City may seem like a victory for the likes of Best Buy, I don't think it will take long for brick and mortar electronics stores to finally realize that their true competition has never been with each other – it's been with the Internet. For months now, has routinely matched (and often beaten) Best Buy's weekly advertised prices and there is no way that Best Buy can continue selling cheaper electronics like DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and video games for MSRP once it's recognized Amazon as its main competition. So in the long run, this could actually turn out well, with Best Buy lowering its prices from time to time in order to compete with online retailers.

I'm not an economist in the least, but as someone who has followed the business of these two companies (and watched their advertisements each week) for years now, I've come to be able to notice the ebb and flow of prices in the home entertainment market. The past few weeks have been devoid of any deep discounts from Best Buy, Circuit City, and even Amazon, which is actually a bit uncharacteristic of retailers immediately after holidays. I guess the bubble was bound to burst sooner or later. Without any reason to spend more at Circuit City than the value of any soon-to-be-useless gift cards one might have lying around, there just hasn't been a compelling reason to shop there...and unfortunately, there won't ever be one again at this point. That's how business works, though, and we can only trust that Best Buy and other retailers will try to learn some important lessons from this situation. Here's hoping that in the long term, they'll amount to something both profitable and sustainable.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Worst Box Art Ever?

I find so many interesting things just browsing through new DVD releases each week. Today I found what may very well be the worst box art for a movie that I've ever seen. Take a look (click on the image to make it bigger)...

I'd never even heard of My Best Friend's Girl before I saw this box art, so I can't say anything about the quality of the movie itself, but I'll be damned if that's not one ugly-looking picture. When will the studios learn that you can't just photoshop the actors' heads onto their bodies and call it a day?

This seriously looks like something a 10-year old would do as a practical joke on his friends. And not just any practical joke, but a practical joke that isn't even very funny. "Hey guys look, I just pasted your heads onto people doing silly things, LOLZ!" See? Not funny. Not funny at all.

...Okay, so maybe it's a little funny.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Update

I just got back last night from a week-long trip to Florida with my family, which was a lot of fun. Spending New Year's in Disney World was a really neat experience, and I'd love to do it again someday when I have kids of my own.

So although I don't have much in the way of movie-related material to post at the moment, I just wanted to pop in and let everyone know that I'm still alive and that I haven't forgotten about this blog. In fact, I was able to watch a ton of movies before I left on vacation, and I plan to post reviews of all of them soon.

My posts will probably become less sparse when I return to school next week, since I'll be separated from the 46" HDTV and Blu-ray player that my parents have at home. It's getting harder and harder to imagine going back to the small SDTV I have in my apartment, so I may have to get an HDTV for myself before too long. I already have about a dozen Blu-ray discs, so a BD player should follow not too long after that.

Anyway, I hope everyone had a great holiday season and is looking forward to 2009 as much as I am. Come back soon!