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Accentuating the positive
April 6, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
Chalk it up to serendipity that I was driving down the mountain a little after 2 last Sunday afternoon.
Mana‘o Radio’s Upcountry Sundays was broadcasting live from Casanova, providing the soundtrack for a glorious afternoon stretching out like a lazy cat across the island, all the way to the curved horizon where the ocean met the sky.
The voice on the radio was much too young to be so at home in the Great American Songbook from the’40s,’50s and ’60s— but she made each song sound like she lived there.
It was Lily Meola, deftly backed by Toby Couture on piano, accentuating the positive.
The first time I saw Lily, not that many years ago, she was a student at Haleakala School. Dwarfed by the mic stand at the school’s annual Holiday Faire, she took the stage by herself to do an Ella Fitzgerald standard, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
Pretty daring I thought, for such a wisp of a girl. No stage presence to speak of, but the calm focus of a preteen zen master. And then she nailed the song.
She must be about 16 now, the innocence still in tact, which adds a fascinating dimension to sophisticated Tin Pan Alley lyrics along with Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” Neil Young’s “Helpless” or Leonard Cohen’s anthemic “Hallelujah.”
It’s an old soul in a sweet young voice that knows how to make the corny lyrics of “Accentuate the Positive” sound not only relevant, but like essential advice. On Sunday she brushed the dust off the vintage “Blue Skies” and made the song sound brand new, as though she were creating it in that very moment in honor of the sparkling afternoon panorama framed by the windshield.
My bet is being a Maui girl will serve her well in all the places she’s going.
It must have been the lingering effect of her voice that made me more receptive than most movie critics to the silly charms of “Hop.”
Otherwise I might have seen this family comedy as a warm, fuzzy but cynically exploitative makeover of the Easter Bunny —never an A-lister among holiday heroes —in an overreaching effort to elevate him into the Santa Claus league, only with cuter ears.
Rather than the North Pole, his workshop is — of course — on Easter Island. (There’s an elevator shaft through the mouth of one of those big heads. Down below, the bunnies and chicks are hard at work, not on toys, but candies. Well, you get the drift.)
While “Hop’s” pecuniary intentions are obvious —besides selling movie tickets to the young ’uns, there’s the built-in candy product placement, not to mention the residual benefits for dentists —it’s tempered by unexpected whimsy among its furry cast.
Russell Brand tones down his trademark hedonistic excess to give PG-rated voice to the little protagonist. EB is the reluctant heir to the Easter Bunny title who’d rather be a rock ’n’ roll drummer instead. James Marsden plays the other half of their bunny-man duo —a fellow slacker dealing with his own reluctance to grow up.
While “Hop’s” raw materials exude formulaic cuteness, the secret ingredient is Illumination Entertainment, displaying the same wry tenderness that made “Despicable Me” a surprise hit last summer.
Compared with the lowest common denominator outlook of last week’s box-office winner, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and following an endless supply of fart jokes in every kid-targeted trailer preceding the screening, it was nice to see “Hop” aiming a notch or two higher, and closer to the heart.
My major complaint with “Hop” was that it kept “Source Code” —more age-appropriate entertainment for grown-ups who enjoy engaging their brains —away from the top of the box office charts. Imagine a cross between “Unstoppable” and “Groundhog Day” with a touches of “Avatar,” “The Bourne Identity” and “50 First Dates,” and you get a hint of the fun trying to unravel this time-warp thriller.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a military vet with peculiar powers to keep going back in time to try to prevent a terrorist-spawned train explosion. Each time it goes boom, he has to go back and try again. Co-stars Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga join Gyllenhall at sneaking in an emotional whammy.
Director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley have a flair for twisting time into a cosmic pretzel. But their sci-fi domain has its own optimistic side, saying if you miss the happy ending, try, try again.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org..
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