Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Sound of Metal (dir by Darius Marder)

What’s it like to lose the thing that you felt was the most important part of your life?  That’s one of the many questions that Sound of Metal left me considering.

The story opens with Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) traveling the country in a cluttered RV.  Lou is a singer.  Ruben is a drummer.  They perform under the name Blackgammon.  Their life is about traveling from gig to gig, playing their own unique music.  It’s not exactly a glamorous life but, as the first few minutes of Sound of Metal makes clear, it’s a life that they both love.

Or, at least, they do until Ruben starts to lose his hearing.  (When Ruben goes to see a doctor, he’s told that he’s basically only picking up on 20% of the sounds around him and that it’s only going to get worse.)  At first, Ruben tries to keep Lou from discovering what’s happening but it doesn’t take long for Lou to realize that something’s wrong.  Ruben argues that he can still play the drums by memory, even if he can no longer hear what he’s playing.  Lou is more concerned that Ruben is going to slip back into his previous bad habits and once again start using heroin.

Eventually, the two of them go their separate ways.  Lou returns to her family in Belgium and reinvents herself as an artist.  Meanwhile, Ruben ends up at a center specifically for deaf recovering addicts.  The center is run by Joe (Paul Raci), a kind but no-nonsense man who lost his hearing in Vietnam and who is a recovering alcoholic.  At first, Ruben is bitter and angry and refuses to accept that his old life is over.  When Joe order Ruben to spend hours sitting in a room and writing down whatever pops into his head, it takes Ruben a while to see that Joe is helping him to come to terms with living in a world without sound.  Even as Ruben starts to accept his new reality, he still finds himself wanting to reunite with Lou.  He finds himself tempted to get a cochlear implant, despite Joe explaining that doing so will mean that Ruben will have to leave his new home.

In the hands of a lesser director and a lesser cast, Sound of Metal could have become mawkish or overly sentimental, the type of film that tries so hard to be uplifting that it ends up condescending instead.  However, director Darius Marder emphasizes the gritty details of his story, showcasing Ruben’s emotional growth while also acknowledging that Ruben will never truly be at peace with his hearing loss.  This is a film that acknowledges what Ruben’s gained from his new circumstances while never ignoring the pain of losing his former life.  The film’s soundtrack is designed so that we hear exactly as much or as little as Ruben can hear.  We feel his frustration and his fear as sound fades away while, at the same time, we also come to appreciate everything that he finds in the silence.

The Academy has rightfully nominated Riz Ahmed for best actor for his performance in Sound of Metal.  That was expected as Ahmed’s been honored by several critics groups and probably the only thing that will keep Ahmed from winning thr Oscar is the Academy’s understandable desire to honor the legacy of Chadwick Boseman.  Ahmed does a wonderful job capturing all of Ruben’s emotions, from his fear to his anger to finally his reluctant acceptance.

Olivia Cooke was not nominated for her role, though I think she should have been.  It’s perhaps understandable why Cooke wasn’t nominated as she’s actually off-screen for a good deal of the film but she still does a great job capturing both Lou’s love for Ruben and also portraying the way the Lou grows as both a person and an artist in his absence.

That said, the best performance in the film comes from Paul Raci.  I have to admit that I cheered a little when I heard that the Academy had nominated Raci for Best Supporting Actor.  The previously unknown Raci, who has been acting for years but who had never had a film role as big or as important as this one, is the son of deaf parents and he brings a tough but heartfelt authenticity to the role of Joe.  As played by Raci, Joe sincerely cares about Ruben but, at the same time, he’s also not going to let Ruben get away with self-pity.  Raci gives a quietly authoritative performance as Joe, rarely raising his voice but still turning the character into the film’s moral center.

Sound of Metal was one of my favorite films of 2020.  It was nominated for Best Picture, along with 5 other nominations.  Personally, while I know the film probably won’t beat Nomadland for the main prize, I’m still hoping that Paul Raci will be able to pull off an upset and take home the Oscar that he definitely deserves.

Spring Breakdown: Top Secret! (dir by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker)

“How silly can you get?” Val Kilmer sings in the 1984 film Top Secret! and the answer would appear to be very silly.  Extremely silly.  Nonsensically silly.  Unbelievable silly.  So silly that it transcends all formerly known types of silliness.  In other words, this is a very silly film but that’s okay because it’s meant to be silly.

Some people, I know, would probably argue that Top Secret! doesn’t really qualify as a Spring Break film but I have to disagree.  Like any good Spring Break film, a good deal of Top Secret! takes place on the beach and Val Kilmer plays Nick Rivers, a singer who is obviously meant to be a parody of the type of singers who used to regularly appear in the beach party movies of the 60s.  Nick’s number one hit song is Skeet Surfin, which celebrates the sport of skeet shooting while on a surf board.  The movie opens with hundreds of handsome young men jumping on surf boards while holding rifles.  I honestly don’t know whether skeet surfing was every an actual sport but I certainly hope that it was because it looks like it would have been a lot of fun.  Certainly, it would perk up the Olympics.

Of course, Nick is not the only person in the film whose life is connected to the beach.  Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge) spent much of her youth shipwrecked on a beach with Nigel (Christopher Villiers).  Unfortunately, one day, Nigel went out to sea to search for help and he never returned.  Hillary was eventually rescued.  That’s certainly a sadder trip to the beach than Nick’s but still, a beach is a beach.

Hillary and Nick’s paths cross when Nick is invited to perform at a cultural festival in what, in 1984, was known was East Germany.  Hillary is a member of the Resistance while her father, Dr. Paul Flammond (Michael Gough), is being held prisoner by the government and is being forced to design the type of secret weapons that are always at the heart of espionage adventures like this one.  When Nick and Hillary meet, it’s love at first sight.  Nick gets involved in the plan to save Hillary’s father and to thwart the insidious plans of the East German government.  He also finds the time to sing a lot of songs.

The plot of Top Secret! isn’t really easy to describe.  That’s largely because there really isn’t a plot in a conventional sense.  Instead, there’s just one joke after another.  The dialogue is purposefully nonsensical.  The visuals are full of odd details.  The jokes are frequently hilarious and, because they’re so fast and relentless, they’re also next to impossible to adequately describe.  Much of the visual humor simply has to be seen to be understood and appreciated.  For instance, it may sound slightly humorous to say that a scene features a stern-looking army officer answering a giant phone but you have to actually see the film to truly understand just how brilliantly Top Secret! pulls off the gag.

Of course, what really makes the film is work is Val Kilmer, who is young, handsome, and incredibly likable in the role of Nick.  Kilmer delivers every bizarre line with a straight face and an enthusiastic earnestness that makes him the perfect center for all the craziness raging around him.

How silly can you get?  Watch Top Secret! and find out!

Artwork of the Day: Tom Blood, Highwayman (Artist Unknown)

Artist Unknown

This book was originally published in 1962.  It tells the story of the Irish patriot who stole the crown jewels of England and fought against the dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell.

This was one of many paperbacks to be written by Gardner Fox.  Fox is best known for the work he did in the comic book industry.  He wrote over 4,000 comics and, during his time at DC, he created The Flash, Hawkman, and the Sandman.  He was also responsible for creating the Justice Society of America, which was the first “super group.”  He also worked in the pulps, writing hundred of paperbacks in all genres.

Unfortunately, the identity of the artist responsible for this cover is unknown.

Music Video Of The Day: Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare by 4hero (1990, directed by Garth Jennings)

At the risk of sound like a grumpy old man who is about to tell all the kids to get off his lawn, this is the type of shit that you used to be able to find on MTV.  The channel sucks now but, back in the previous century, they actually played music videos and sometimes even introduced people to new groups and new sounds.

Because of this video’s science fiction feel, a lot of people probably thought the Kirk of the title was meant to be Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk.  (On YouTube, a lot of the comments run along the lines of “Beam me up, Scotty!”)  Instead, the Kirk of the title is a reference to an old song called Once You Understand, which is sampled in Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare.  Once You Understand was an anti-drug song from the late 60s that ended with a voice saying, “Mr. Kirk, your son is dead. He died of an overdose.”  Throughout the whole son, Mr. Kirk has been complaining about his son having long hair and not having any direction in his life.  All Mr. Kirk’s son wanted to do was start a band and, when Mr. Kirk didn’t care about that, his son turned to drugs.  Things get a little easier once you understand.

4hero were pioneers in the UK’s electronic music scene.  They’re still together to this day.