[Early Review] Sound of Metal (2019)

Director: Darius Marder
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric
Screenplay: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder
130 mins. Rated R.

Sound of Metal has had a long road on the way to being completed. Initially Derek Cianfrance had been working on a film called Metalhead, described as a docufiction, which has languished in post-production since 2009. That film will likely not see the light of day anytime soon, so one of the writers of that film, Darius Marder (Loot), has instead stepped into the director’s chair with a complete reworking of that film’s story from the ground up, crafting a new movie from the bones of Metalhead, with Cianfrance’s blessing. There was also a previous attempt at making this film in 2015 with a completely different cast, and now, after premiering in the film festival circuit last year, Sound of Metal is finally dropping on Amazon Prime in December. It’s been a long road, so is the movie any good?

The film stars Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Weathering With You) as Ruben, a drummer touring the nation with girlfriend and band mate Lou (Olivia Cooke, Ready Player One, Life Itself). Through several nightly concerts, Ruben begins experiencing sudden spurts of hearing loss. Ruben also learns that the cost of implants to save some of his hearing is going to run tens of thousands of dollars, money he doesn’t have. The stress of losing his most important sense has Ruben contemplating drug use again, so his sponsor sets him up at a rehab clinic for the deaf, where he begins a journey of discovery in a world without sound.

Sound of Metal is a character piece, through and through, and it doesn’t work if its central character doesn’t work. After many notable supporting roles, Riz Ahmed kills it as Ruben. There are a lot of emotional beats in this performance, from Ruben’s anxiety and stress to his emotional loneliness while at the rehab home, and in his frustrations in trying to communicate in a world without sound. Not to mention Ruben’s contemplation over drug use after years of being clean. There’s a lot happening in Ruben’s head, and then taking away the character’s ability to hear and interpret conversation in the way he is used to needs to come across realistically. Ahmed is able to handle all of these factors in a performance that is equal parts bombastic and subtle, creating a well-rounded character that isn’t always likable but always captivating.

The rest of the supporting cast is quite strong as well, most of it made up of a largely deaf group of actors. They add layers of realism to the world and help to elevate Ahmed’s performance. I was quite fond of Olivia Cooke’s work as Lou. She disappeared into the role so seamlessly that I didn’t even realize it was her, thanks to a strong level of makeup and costuming with her character. Then there’s Paul Raci (No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie, She Wants Me) as Joe. I don’t think I’ve seen Paul Raci in a performance before, but he was wholly captivating, and his chemistry with Ahmed was incredibly strong. Their scenes ranged from emotional to heated and sometimes both at the same time, and I was taken in by it all. All of these players just added to the sense of realism at play here.

Marder’s film does not try to dazzle with unique cinematography, it isn’t showy in its execution, but where it does stand out, from a technical perspective, is in its exemplary sound design. The way in which the sound is given to us as viewers and then taken away to put us in Ruben’s headspace is some truly powerful work in forcing us to confront the problems he is encountering with him. This element, combined with the choice not to utilize subtitles for the ASL scenes until Ruben begins to understand them help to put us in the character’s shoes in a way that left me in awe.

Sound of Metal is a hard watch, I’m not aching to see it again, but Darius Marder’s film really drives home life’s way of surprising us. It’s a story about coming to terms with unpredictability on our individual journeys, and for me, it broke my heart to see Ruben consistently struggle throughout the film. It’s an introspective movie, one that I very much recommend.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Life Itself (2018)

Director: Dan Fogelman

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas

Screenplay: Dan Fogelman

118 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use.

 

Life Itself is poised to capture that couples date night money this weekend, but is it any good?

The film follows a couple, Will (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Annihilation) and Abby (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy, TV’s Vinyl) from college to marriage and onward as the twisting, winding road of their story echoes throughout future generations. After their marriage ends, Will is forced by to tread through his past by Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Bening, American Beauty, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) in order to put his life back on track. But is he remembering things right? Is he a reliable narrator? Is anyone? Life Itself attempts to answer these questions as several different people from vast walks of life intertwine.

Life Itself is poorly-conceived schmaltz and depression disguised to look like a romantic drama. Director Dan Fogelman (Danny Collins) attempts to pull at heartstrings with some of the most awkwardly crafted sequences trying their best to swim in a sinking plot. I could tell Oscar Isaac was really trying, but some of the dialogue he is forced to utter is so cringe-worthy that I almost can’t believe he was able to get it out. The scenes in which he and Dr. Morris are looking back at his relationship with Abby feel like a soap opera mixed with an afterschool special in some sort of attempt at being A Christmas Carol. They stand there and awkwardly toss words at each other while the more important stuff, the actual flashback lies before them.

Life Itself’s plot construction also left a lot to be desired. This film felt like it was laid out with a connect-the-dots in which someone already completed for me. I was sitting in my seat, actively betting myself on how certain sequences would play out and, more often than not, I was right.

I think what’s most shocking is how Life Itself both does and does not take its emotional core seriously. The film jokes about death and pain in some of the strangest ways while actually asking you to feel sad at the right times. It’s tone stays consistent for large stretches and then drastically veers into uncharted territory.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some value in the film. I actually found many of the performances to be fine, particularly from Isaac as Will, Bening as Morris, Mandy Patinkin (Smurfs: The Lost Village, TV’s Homeland) as Will’s father Irwin, and Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, TV’s Genius) as Mr. Saccione, an owner of a olive farm featured in the latter part of the movie. Banderas delivers a monologue excellently when he is first featured.

Life Itself is a bigger-budgeted version of a high schooler’s experimental short film. It’s really trying to be something here, but it waxes philosophy in such a hammy fashion that it devolves into little more than drivel by the end of its lengthy runtime. I actually really wanted to like this movie, but alas, this is one that is definitely not worth your time.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 1 – Ouija (2014)

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Director: Stiles White

Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith, Bianca Santos, Shelley Hennig, Lin Shaye

Screenplay: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White

89 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic elements.

 

Well, here we are again, folks! My favorite time of the year: Halloween and the month of scary movies! Let’s start this month off with the horror film Ouija, based on the Hasbro board game/spirit board of the same name.

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Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke, TV’s Bates Motel, The Signal) just lost her best friend to an apparent suicide. When she uncovers an old Ouija board the two used to play with as children, she gets the terrible idea to gather several friends in the old house and try to speak to the recently deceased Debbie (Shelley Hennig, TV’s Days of Our Lives, Unfriended), but who exactly are they talking to, and what do they want?

Ouija has to be one of the worst horror films in recent memory. I couldn’t tell you any details about the characters in the film because they aren’t actually characters but people merely sitting in a room. They aren’t even cliché characters (that I can deal with, in fact, I can expect it from a film like this), because they have no details or personality traits.

Director Stiles White gives us boring sequences meant to incite fear but merely flopping around on the screen totally uninspired. The deaths in the film don’t even have tension. The characters just kind of die. There is no fear because there isn’t a buildup. The eyes turn white (for no particular reason) and then they die. Nothing’s happening here.

For a film that runs 89 minutes, this movie felt like 3 hours. It feels like it has two directors, and in fact, it was mostly reshot, with some characters disappearing and reappearing with no consequence or impact on the story. Lin Shaye (Insidious, Big Ass Spider!) appears in one of the most wasted casting choices of the film. She is given nothing to do.

As for the music, it is used far too sparingly, and when it is, it sounds like a calmer version of the Insidious theme. Totally worthless.

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All in all, Ouija is a bad film to see at the beginning of the month because it actually challenged my beliefs in the future of horror. What the hell is this piece of garbage? Can somebody help! Please!

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

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