Thank God for VOD! – Grand Piano

Though I have admittedly always been much more of a music guy, I have been a devoted fan and lover of movies and film since childhood. Sparked and nurtured by weekly trips to the local video rental store and then cemented with my first big screen experience (that I remember at least), a screening of Return of the Jedi when I was 4 years old, I have been an avid moviegoer for the last 30 years. I love them. Dramas, comedies, sci-fi flicks, action movies, blockbusters, B-movies, and horror, especially horror, I watched as much as I could fit into my brain. At one point, I even aspired to be a filmmaker myself and went to film school. There’s just something about the darkened, hushed theater, the smell of popcorn wafting through the room, the clicking flicker sound of the reel as it begins to move. It’s special. It’s an event. It’s one of my favorite things to do. My wife and I used to go to the movies at least a couple of times a month.

And then we had a baby.

I can now count on one hand how many movies I’ve been to in the last year. Not that I would change anything though. My son is more than worth all of the cinematic neglect I’ve inflicted over the past 12 months. And I watch stuff at home all the time. But I still miss the movies, and there are only so many movies one can rent, or so much Netflix one can stream before wanting something new. Sometimes it can feel like I’ve become detached from the rest of the world, or that I’m behind a few months, as it’s seemingly impossible to see anything brand new without abandoning my family and heading out to the cineplex. And that’s a bummer. But lo and behold, as technology continues to change the way we do everything, brand new movies are becoming available to me on my own TV at the click of a button and a few extra dollars added to my cable bill. And most of it seems to be trashy genre fare. Hallelujah!

Video On Demand has gotten me back in touch with my inner film geek and provided me with an excellent avenue to find movies I can’t get elsewhere for now…festival films, low-budget horror, small indies, and more. So, welcome to a new column of sorts as I begin to tackle movies I can’t get out of the house to go see. These are not reviews, as I don’t write about anything I don’t care for. Think of them more as appraisals, or recommendations, or honorees. We’re back in the game people. Thank God for VOD!

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Grand Piano

I am a gore hound. I admit it. Practical gore effects, when done well and often, can bring me cheering and hollering in the bleachers, an enthusiastic backer of even the most sub-par of films. Your movie can be lackluster and trite, bad script, bad acting, bad editing, but if the gore effects are excellent and bountiful, I’ll toot your horn all day long.

That being said, Grand Piano is not a gory film. Any blood and guts are simply alluded to, offscreen, in the shadows. But I still found myself on the edge of my seat, white knuckled, teeth clenched, a complete and total sucker for good, old-fashioned cinematic suspense. Eugenio Mira’s film has it in spades.

Growing up, before hours and hours of carnage and bloodshed warped my mind and soul, my first schooling in film language came in the form of old Alfred Hitchcock films I used to watch with my mother. Rightfully thought of as the master of suspense, Hitchcock had a way of toying with his audience by playing with the camera in a way to create tension on the screen. Employing crane shots, extra-long takes, split-screens, creative sound editing, and the like, Hitchcock could pique your senses, make you sweat, or instill dread. The man was so good at what he did that film scholars now use the word “Hitchcockian” as a descriptor of a certain kind of filmmaking. And that’s where I learned that a movie could provoke fear or unease without showing a single drop of blood. For the last several decades, a whole slew of filmmakers have aped the Hitchcock style to invoke suspense to varying degrees of success, most notably Brian De Palma, whom it could be argued has pushed the style much further along than Hitchcock ever did. This type of moviemaking is the backbone of Grand Piano.

Grand Piano is pure suspense. It’s “Hitchcockian.” It’s “De Palma-esque.” The story centers on accomplished piano player Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) returning to the stage after a prolonged absence, brought about by a nervous breakdown during a performance five years earlier. Tension and dread slowly begin to build, culminating in the discovery of a handwritten note in his sheet music declaring that he (and his wife) will be killed by a sniper in the audience if he misses even one note of the “unplayable piece” during the recital, the same “unplayable piece” that triggered his breakdown and self-exile years earlier. From there, we’re off and running.

I don’t really want to expound any more on the plot, this being the age of internet spoiler-panic and all. But, on the technical and thematic fronts, the movie is a loving and knowing homage to the suspense films of old. The acting is classic and superb, the pacing and editing lush, vibrant, and alive, all the while the soundtrack of the piano concerto underscoring the mounting anxiety within until the grand and satisfying conclusion.

I really should make my mom watch this movie.

Side note: Alex Winter makes an appearance, the one and only Bill S. Preston Esquire. That was just like seeing an old friend.

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

2 Responses to Thank God for VOD! – Grand Piano
  1. […] wrote about Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano earlier this year (here), and there’s really nothing more... joup.co/joup-2014-year-end-blow-spectacular-tommys-picks
  2. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Yet another FANTASTIC idea for a column. And a first entry I’ve not heard of but am now clamoring to see!
    Kudos sir!

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