I was roped into going to see August Rush against my will. It was either that, or Enchanted, and I figured, hey, lesser of two evils, right?
Synopsis didn’t sound that horrid, although I had not figured in the Freddie Highmore factor, nor the Robin Williams factor, both of which push the irritation quotient of any movie into the stratosphere. I should have November Rushed out of the theater, but I was trapped due to the gf factor.
As a professional musician, its possible I could have related to and agreed with the subject matter and some of opinions and views expressed about music in this movie. In theory, anyway.
In practice though, this movie is annoying, cloyingly sentimental, damned with cute ass kid actor mugging for the camera and doing precious little acting, Robin Williams, plot holes you could drive a truck through (and that’s in about 20 minutes worth of actual story, which is all this turd has) and mostly, the worst editing I have ever seen in a movie, and I’ve seen a shit-load of movies and am an aficionado of film cutting and camera direction.
The editing is what, above all, makes the film unwatchable. This movie has more than one cut per second. Most of the movie ticks away at about a cut a second, some hold for 1.75 seconds, but in a dozen lengths of film (you can’t call much of any of this “scenes” because of the fractured editing) there are panicked cuts of less than .25 secs, as if they were afraid they wouldn’t get their quota of 400k camera cuts in.
This is of course, alongside the fact that much of the camera work is done with “monkey with camera strapped on head” style, focusing on some random object in the room, moving from the face or instrument playing hands to a random corner of the room, as if the tripod swivel was stripped and the weight of the camera caused the subject to slip out of frame. Or the camera guy fell asleep because there was a half-second gap before the bitch of a director called “CUT!”
Speaking of the director, I was so appalled by every aspect of the direction (more on that later) that I immediately sprang to my IMDB search bar upon arriving home so I could find out who was to blame, memorize their name and make sure never to accidentally be subjected to the strobe light editing process. Kirsten Sheridan is the culprit here. Her main resume credit seems to be that she’s the daughter of GOOD director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot).
From my intense research, comprised of scanning her IMDB page, it appears she’s only done half a dozen indy or even self-produced vanity movies with zero budget, the last being Disco Pig back in ’01. Let’s hope its 7 more years before she gets to helm a movie, and that she returns to the arthouse so there is no danger of my S.O. dragging me to another of her fiascos.
So, getting beyond the bad camera work and worse editing, “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”
Well, first let’s take the story and plot. It can be summed up in one line, and is developed about as deeply:
Girl/Guy meet, say 20 words to each other, fuck, separate, she comes up pregnant, her Dad signs away the kid, who, at 11, runs away from the orphanage to find his parents, all the while mastering every instrument and music form with which he comes in contact, in couple weeks is attending Julliard and conducting his own symphony in Central Park, his parents show up there and discover him, happy ending.
And Robin Williams, as a street-musician sort of Fagin (there’s some serious homo-erotic pedophiliac subtext going on here, I choose not to pursue it, however), annoys you somewhere in the middle section.
Ok, so how did they fill up 12 hours, er, wait it only seemed that long, it was 90 minutes or so.
Well, with camera cuts, mostly. There are sections where you can see the director didn’t get the coverage she wanted for her frenetic editing style, so there’s one part where the Mom is in a phone booth and we alternate with 3 different viewpoints of the phone booth, about one every 2/3 seconds or so. Its cases like this where the forced over-cutting is most obvious: there is no reason for it. All Krazy Kirsten is doing is showing different viewpoints of the same phone booth.
A close shot of the girl’s face would have sufficed, held for the 90 seconds or less that this scene comprised. But no, we get 90+ cuts of views of the phone booth, same aspect, about waist high, can’t see her face, which should be the focal point of the scene. Instead, we get rain washed, foggy glass.
During other scenes, she cuts away to random shots of the 3 protagonists, Mom, Dad, kid, or one of the supporting players, just to mix it up and keep things cutting, I guess, because none of the them advance the “story”.
While we’re on that subject, let’s examine a few large plot holes in said story.
First off, the girl is hit by a car and passes out, goes into forced labor and has the kid, and while she’s out her father, who is very ambitious for her talent at playing the cello, forges her name on a document saying to adopt the kid out. Even though no one has ever gotten famous or rich playing the cello who isn’t named YoYo.
Its not like she went into a coma here. She wakes up, he’s sitting there, he tells her the kid died, he’s sorry, she accepts it and she moves on with her life. It seems like maybe one of the staff might have mentioned the kid, that there might be a bit more paperwork than one signature, that there might at least be a few questions, if not actual counseling, of someone who had been in a serious accident then quickly signed away her child.
No, no follow-up, no one in the hospital spills the beans that her child didn’t die, so the entire premise of the movie is based on a bullshit piece of writing. My dog could have come up with something more plausible than that.
Throughout, we’re to suspend disbelief and accept that this kid not only masters guitar and piano, (as well as the entire orchestra and symphonic form, after some instruction) but also masters several discrete musical idioms with apparently no background in
those genres, or even hearing them played.
He just instinctively spews out the ancestral memory of centuries of music composition, technique and style. Even fucking Mozart needed to learn music theory and practice to master various instruments. Not this kid though. Mozart only wrote his first opera after years of training at 6, the slacker, but this August Amadeus Rush kid writes a symphony in a matter of weeks.
This is beside the series of coincidences, recurrences, chance meetings and far-fetched situations we are forced to accept. Late in the film the social worker who handles the kid, and who has of course run into the mother, throws a pop can, misses the waste-basket, and sees a missing kid flyer on the floor which matches the kid he knew, Evan Thomas, with his current identity, August Rush.
Only the flyer never should have been made, because the “August Rush” character had never been missing, as far as anyone knew. Robin Williams, posing as his dad, and admitted as such by the kid, had merely left the college with him, acquiesced by the instructor and a room full of musicians. Who the hell had reported August missing then?
This discrepancy is apparently only included to annoy us with its stupidity, because the social worker doesn’t follow up upon it, or if he did it was left in the digital cutting room floor. Perhaps the rest of the idiocy will make it to DVD.
There is also the matter of the boyfriend/dad, who, after the girls runs off, becomes so distraught he gives up music and, apparently, unhappily settles in for 11 years as some sort of music agent. And he knew the girl’s name all this time, but never attempts to look her up until the exact week August comes a lookin’ for them and the girl is advised by her dying dad that he gave her kid away. Talk about synchronicity.
The script also suffers from beating you over the head with every fucking point, shots of kids with their mothers and family, juxtaposed with the longing face of the kid, or the mom, or the dad, over and fucking over, ok we get it. Or where August replaces the young black kid as street impresario Wizard’s (Robin Williams) main star.
We get it rubbed in our faces again and again that the kid has been pushed aside and forgotten: Williams gives August his best guitar, which had formerly been used by the black kid (Arthur)- he gives him Arther’s sweet corner spot for panhandling/street performing.
He offers to teach the kid everything he knows and makes a huge fuss over him, completely ignoring his previous main squeeze, Arthur. Ok, we get it. Do we really need 20 shots in several different scenes of Arthur looking longingly at the two of them bonding over August’s supposed virtuosity?
And then there’s the smaltzy tone of almost every scene. We don’t get much humor or hardly any sort of break from melodramatic bathos that drowns almost every scene, milked to full effect.
When we do get a section with a nice tone, like August discovering a gospel choir rehearsal and walking slowly up with a reveal of the members, led by a little girl lead vocalist.
That shot begged for a long, no cut reveal, which would have held the mood and maybe even forgiven some of the previous MTV style editing.
Instead, we get 40 angles and a cut every half second or so, completely breaking the mood. So, in camera style, editing style and emotional mood, the film is pretty monochromatic. Its like one big chopped up manipulative crock of tear-jerking bullshit, when its obvious from the first five minutes what is going to happen at the end of the movie.
From the lame camera direction and editing to weak and implausible writing, let us move on to the acting.
Robin Williams is actually less over the top than usual, but low-key for Williams is hamming it up to the point of absurdity for any other actor. At least he doesn’t throw in any impersonations or any of his character voices, so its a mildly pedestrian outing for him. That said, you never forget its Robin Fucking Williams up there on the screen, which as a supporting actor, is alway really, really distracting.
The mom and dad are played by 2 people who haven’t done a lot. I saw Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Tudors, and he was an irritating little prick in that. In this one he’s convincing as a small-time Irish rocker, and he moves his hand to the right places on the guitar when he’s miming playing, and lip-synchs nicely, so I have no bitch with him here, other than the fact that he’s prettier and more feminine than the female lead.
If he had been the main focus of the movie, and the story had been the relationship between he and his brother and the dynamics of that band, I could have enjoyed the movie. I could have even with the love interest, the stilted, flat and banal, though tearful emoting of Keri Russell.
What I couldn’t handle was Freddie Jesus Titty Fucking Christ Highmore. This kid doesn’t act. He mugs for the camera. Every fucking shot. I’m sure there are people out there who think he’s cute and attractive and interesting to see walking and talking and doing things in the screen. I’m not one of those people.
He was insufferably irritating throughout, but the clincher comes at the denouement, where he’s got his hair all combed forward and a little tux on and is lustily directing the New Fucking York Philharmonic in Central Fucking Park under the auspices of Julliard Fucking School of the Arts (whom I assume has had some talent pass through now and then that’s more deserving than an 11 year old kid who’s been there a few weeks) as the only person, and by far the youngest, to have their work performed.
I never wanted to slap a child actor more than I wanted to smack the smug smirk off that little prick’s face during that scene. I would have seriously enjoyed snapping his neck with a quick, elegant move, and no jury that had seen that scene would have convicted me. They would have given me a standing ovation in court.
There’s an earlier scene with a girl actress (playing one of Keri’s students) that is from the same school of over-stage mothered, cutesy pie, over-sophisticated for their age acting because they have been doing nothing but going to auditions since the age of 3 months.
They don’t act like any real child on the face of the earth. They act like TeeVee and movie brats do. And it makes you want to kill them. And I mean literally. I would have done the deed and done the time, but it would have been worth it to strangle that precocious little bitch until her eyes popped out of her head for that insipid performance.
And Highmore deserves worse. A quick death would be too merciful for this little scutter.
I would have given good money to see a sniper take him out with a head-shot during the Central Park scene. Alas, it was not to be.
We’re treated to the Reunion along with some really kitschy, smaltzy soundtrack type orchestration that is supposed to be some young genius’ magnum opus of modern classical music, featuring stuff like guitar tapping and water glasses. I puked a little in my mouth at that point.
And while we’re on the subject of tapping, most of his supposed virtuosity on guitar was based on tuning it open and smacking the shit out of the guitar whilst playing one-finger droning modal stuff, octaves and harmonics, spiced up with some reaching over two-handed tapping crap. Ok, I’m a guitar player. This is the kind of crap you work up to show off your chops, its not fucking virtuosity, ok? Its hotdog flash hotlicks to fool the chicks. You damn sure don’t fool the musicians out there.
Also, the guitar needs to be set up properly to do those types of tricks, even down to scalloping the frets. In previous scenes “Arthur” had been playing the guitar conventionally, so how all the sudden does it not bottom out and buzz when Flashboy Freddie does his happy slappy guitar wacking?
Suspending that disbelief, I guess its pretty impressive that not having ever seen anyone do any of this kind of fake virtuosity, and never even having touched the guitar before, that he is all over sudden a poor-man’s Stanley Jordan.
But this is far from being a musical prodigy. It would be more valid and impressive for him to play some really soulful and heartfelt stuff. Plus, I’d tell him to quit fucking banging on my fucking guitar with his fists, for Christ’s sake, or I’d slap the smirk off his grinning mug.
Instead, we get the guitar version of his symphony: the moron’s version of what a great prodigy would be, were he to come to life in reality. If this is supposed to be Mozart 2.0, its a pretty lame second coming. They make a film completely dedicated to music, that is obviously not for anyone who enjoys or knows diddley about music or actual playing of instruments.
This entire exercise is basically an insult to real musicians, to anyone who works hard and hones their craft, or takes the time to inform themselves of music history or proper technique. See, just get 2 musicians to have a little bastard child prodigy, and he’ll absorb it through his DNA, I guess.
Moving on to the good performances in the movie:
Mykelti Williams (Bubba in Forrest Gump) as the minister of the gospel choir, Terrence Howard (Hustle and Flow, Ray, Crash) as one of the social workers, and Leon G. Thomas III (Tyrone in the Backyardigans, yes, I have a 2 year old) as Arthur, giving the only credible performance by a juvenile in the film. All three of these guys, coincidentally or not, all black actors in supporting instead of starring roles, give solid, understated and believable performances, and were enjoyable to watch working.
If Leon could have done the Freddie Highmore part it might have been watchable. Although this director probably would have fucked that up too.
A different script, director, editor, camera director, set decorator and most of the stars replaced and you might have something. As it was, it was a night where I get dragged to a particularly shitty movie I might otherwise have avoided. My disgruntled comments during the movie precluded my being rewarded for suffering through the damn thing.
This is the just part of price we pay, gentlemen, for being cursed with testicles.