Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A musical and a mystery

In a bit of a marathon last night, we watched two DVDs...probably nothing at all to people who go and watch all six of the Star Wars movies in a row, as some did recently in Dunedin, but still not something we often do. I can remember as a teenager going to two movies in one day and thinking that if people knew about it they'd say I was being more than a little frivolous with my time.

Anyway, one of the movies was Calamity Jane, which I'd thought I hadn't seen since it first came out in the fifties. However, I suspect I have caught up with since then, as a lot of it was quite familiar. I've recently arranged four of the songs into a medley for the singing group I conduct, The Choristers. The songs are as popular as ever, and well written. In fact the music in the movie bounces along from the moment the credits start with enormous energy, and is well-integrated into the storyline.

Doris Day is the absolute star in this musical. Even Howard Keel, who has a good deal of screen time, can barely stand up to the utter feistiness, enthusiasm, and freshness Day brings to her role of a kind of Wild West tomboy. She gets all the best songs and she packs a punch from the moment she first appears. Thoroughly enjoyable even after fifty-one years. And somewhat unusual in that this is a movie musical that was turned into a stage musical, rather than the other way round.

The second movie was in another league altogether. Two or three times we looked at each and debated whether we'd continue watching. I'm glad we did, though the movie had some slow moments, and kept making you think it was going to turn into some grisly horror piece. The film was The Sound of My Voice, a movie I'd never heard of until I took a chance on it when I found it in the Library's DVD collection.

It's about a young couple who've decided to make a documentary exposing a group they're convinced is a cult. They sneak film and recording equipment in but more than once something goes wrong and they don't get the results they expect. The woman who's at the centre of the group claims to have come from the future, and of course she already has a bunch of devotees who believe every word she says. The young couple, and another young Asian-American couple, are the newest possible disciples, and we go through the rigmaroles of seeing them gradually being inculturated.

The couple don't live with the cult, but join them regularly at night for their initiations. This means at least they can get away from the saturating presence of the mysterious leader, but it also means that things start to fall apart out in the real world.

The film was written by Brit Marling, who plays the cult leader, and the director, Zat Batmanglij (can that be his real name?). The story is presented in several episodes, some introducing completely new characters who seem at first unrelated to the main story. Marling's character, Maggie, is a highly-intelligent persuader, a person who it's difficult to fool or trip up, and who manages to convince those following her that she really is who she says she is. The persuasiveness of her approach shows how easy it is for people who want to believe - and even for those who don't - to fall into the trap of allowing someone to take over their lives. The film has several intriguing twists and turns, and an ending that leaves you not as sure as you think you are about what's gone on, though it's a very satisfying ending for all that.

The cast is excellent, although none of them are particularly well-known names. Christopher Denham (who I've seen before but is one of those actors that you couldn't easily identify) plays the documentary-maker, and Nicole Vicius, who's also been in a number of movies, plays his girlfriend.
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