Wednesday , September 26 2018

‘Nostalgia’ is an unrushed poem – ‘America’s Musical Journey’ stars Aloe Blacc

One of the first images in the film “Nostalgia” is of an heirloom necklace dangling on the neck of a diner waitress. One of the last images is of a massive puffy cloud, ever shifting in the wide sky.

Between these symbols of permanence and flux is a deeply meditative movie about time, loss and the stuff we fiercely hold onto along the way. “Nostalgia” is thoughtful and lyrical, an unrushed poem with a first-rate cast.

Directed by Mark Pellington with a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry, the film is a mosaic of interconnected stories, linking a grizzled grandfather (Bruce Dern), an insurance assessor (John Ortiz,) a widow (Ellen Burstyn), a memorabilia dealer (Jon Hamm) and his family (including Catherine Keener as his sister).

Ortiz’s patient, empathetic assessor is the glue that connects the first two characters we meet, the first of which is the grandfather, whose home is filled with personal mementos that are priceless to him but junk to anyone else.

His pregnant granddaughter — the second pregnant woman we see, stressing history and lineage — wants to know everything’s value. But what is the price of memories, of old love letters, of a life lived? When the assessor wants to take a picture of the grandfather, he shoots back, “I’m not a relic.”

The assessor next visits the widow, whose house has burned down and whom he meets in the sooty remains of the place she’s called home for decades. She had a split second during the fire to save as much as she could and, after grabbing jewelry, snatched her husband’s prized baseball.

That ball leads Burstyn to Hamm as she debates what to do with an object that meant so much to her husband but so little to her. It’s just a thing, so why does it have such a gravitational pull? If she sells it, her future is secure but her family’s connection to it is severed. “You won’t remember me,” she tells the collector.

Hamm’s character, as you might guess, is not wistful when it comes to things. He buys and sells artifacts for a living, after all, and is unsentimental, even when he goes to help his sister clean out his childhood home. When she complains there are so many memories attached to the home, he curtly responds: “Make new ones.”

It’s at this point — roughly halfway through “Nostalgia “ — when things take a tragic turn and the memorabilia dealer must soon confront his own callous views of mementos. This painful detour into profound grief threatens to warp the film, unbalance it — but stick with it. Hamm’s character is redeemed in a dumpster.

In terms of acting, the fact that Burstyn once more offers a complex, haunted heroine is no surprise. But everyone here is excellent. Ortiz delivers a slightly magical paper-pusher, Keener is a woman broken by sadness as we watch helplessly, and Hamm is as stoic outside as he is broken inside. Some tiny roles are made to sparkle in the hands of Nick Offerman, Patton Oswalt, James Le Gros, Annalise Basso and Mikey Madison.

Much of “Nostalgia” is shot as in a quiet dream, often lingering in the dark shadows. The camera never captures key dramatic events — that house fire, for example — but rather the immediate aftereffects. It never flashes back, as you might expect in a film about memories, but instead lingers on the faces of actors as they process emotions or focuses on simple items that hold intense meaning, like keychains.

It sometimes takes on the quality of a play, especially in several thought-provoking monologues. But there are also cinematic touches, like a gauzy trip to Las Vegas. “Nostalgia” is not a perfect film but it is moving and sensitive. You leave with your head in the clouds and a new view of your precious stuff.

“Nostalgia,” a Bleecker Street release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some language.” Running time: 114 minutes. Three stars out of four.

 

Can the appeal of America’s music help reverse the downturn in international visitors coming to the US?

Brand USA, which markets US tourism around the world, hopes so. The agency is behind a new IMAX movie called “America’s Musical Journey” that premieres this week.

The 40-minute film aims to show off America’s musical heritage to the world. It’s narrated by Morgan Freeman and stars Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc as he explores American music history in cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Detroit and Miami.

Speaking at a media preview in New York on Tuesday, Blacc said he hopes the movie sparks in viewers a “love for music. I want them to learn about the growth of different genres that were born here in the US like jazz, blues, rock, even hip-hop. … If you get to see ‘America’s Musical Journey,’ you’ll see all the best there is to see here in the US Politics aside, it’s a beautiful country.”

Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer for Brand USA, said the film is designed to “remind the world how diverse, all-inclusive and welcoming the country is.”

International visitors to the US dipped nearly 4 percent during the first eight months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Some in the travel industry have blamed the downturn on anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric from the administration of President Donald Trump.

The movie looks at the roots of African-American musical traditions in the South, beginning with music brought here by enslaved Africans. Over time, that music developed into genres like gospel, the blues and jazz. The stories of the legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong in New Orleans and rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon Elvis Presley in Memphis are showcased along with scenes of break-dancers in Times Square, country music from Nashville and Motown in Detroit.

The movie follows Blacc as he travels from city to city, learning from local musicians and incorporating their various styles into a new song of his own, “My Story.” In one memorable scene during a stop in Miami, he gets a lesson in Latin beats from superstar Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio.

Blacc said he’d been to all the cities in the film before making the movie but he particularly enjoyed his visit to Memphis, visiting Graceland and digging deeper into Presley’s legacy.

The film soundtrack features several of Blacc’s other songs including “Wake Me Up” and “I Need a Dollar,” along with classics like Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

This is the second movie from Brand USA in collaboration with MacGillivray Freeman Films. The first, “National Parks Adventure,” celebrated the beauty and thrills of America’s parks. It was released in 2016 and shown in dozens of venues around the world, earning nearly $23 million. The films cost $12.5 million each to produce and distribute. (AP)

Garzilli said surveys of audiences who saw the movie about national parks found that 81 percent said they were more likely to visit the US as a result and 62 percent had decided to choose the US over another destination.

The film, sponsored by Expedia and AirCanada, premieres at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum on Thursday in Washington, DC. (AP)

By Mark Kennedy

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