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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with David Schwimmer's TRUST and J.K. Simmons in THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, at least the good ones…

I'll admit, when I popped in the screener for the new film TRUST and read that it was directed by actor David Schwimmer, I was thinking this was the same Schwimmer who made RUN FATBOY RUN a few years back. Turns out it is the same guy, but directing a film that could not be more different, starting with the fact that TRUST is a really good film that deals with the unnerving and downright icky topic of internet-based child predators.

Clive Owen and Catherine Keener play Will and Lynn Cameron, who live under the misguided belief that as long as their 14-year-old daughter Annie (newcomer Liana Liberato) is in the house, she is safe from the harm that strangers would do her. But when Annie becomes friendly with a 16-year-old boy named Charlie that she meets online, she is slowly drawn into circumstances that lead to her agreeing to meet Charlie outside her home. Annie's vulnerability is a product of her age, and she becomes fascinated with her unseen new friend, even when she finds out he's older than he said he was.

You can guess where this all leads, and the outcome devastates the family. But what's harder to come to grips with is that even after Annie meets this grown man and is taken advantage of by him, she still claims she's in love with him and gets mad at her parents for keep them apart. What's fascinating about TRUST is that Schwimmer and writers Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger never demonize Charlie; they don't have to. They let his actions speak for him. He isn't especially creepy in his appearance and demeanor, and we can understand why a young girl would find him appealing. It's frightening because it seems utterly believable.

Owen and Keener are outstanding as parents outraged both at their daughter's behavior and at the police who seem incapable of finding Charlie--an expert in covering his tracks. Owen, in particular, is devastating. It's startling to watch this usually pulled together actor come apart at the seams. To say the entire affair is unsettling would be an understatement. Schwimmer keeps everything about Trust tightly wound, with a grip on the emotions so strong that when emotions finally erupt between the family members in the final act, the impact is massive. This is a solid drama in every sense of the word. Will the film skeeve you out? You bet. Is it exploitative? To a certain degree. I was genuinely surprised how much of Charlie's seduction we actually are forced to witness, but the result is a sickening feeling I believe is wholly intentional. If you think you can stomach the subject matter, you may find TRUST an impressive work.

One of the more talked about films at this year's Sundance Film Festival, director Jim Kohlberg's The Music Never Stopped is based on a story from Dr. Oliver Sacks, who also wrote Awakenings and it's also a tale about a character whose mind is deeply defective and those around him who are trying to figure out a way for him to function. The mind in this case study belongs to Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Taylor Pucci, who runs away from home in 1967 after his father Henry (J.K. Simmons) refuses to let him go to see the Grateful Dead perform. As a teen, Gabriel was a music freak, collecting stacks of classic vinyl that would make any young hippie envious. But his parents, including mom Helen (Cara Seymour) are more buttoned up and don't get their kid's musical tastes.

After more than 20 years missing, Gabriel shows up living on the street and disoriented from a sizeable brain tumor, which is removed along with the part of his brain that forms new memories. Gabriel is permanently stuck thinking he's living in the era where his music is still new and the Vietnam anti-war movement remains a unifying force. His parents find it impossible to communicate with him, so they enlist the help of a music therapist Dr. Daly (Julia Ormond), who discovers that Gabriel comes to life when listening to his favorite music and can recall moments from that part of his life like they happened yesterday.

Okay yes, THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED sounds a lot like a gimmick film, and sometimes that's what it feels like. The thing that keeps the sentimentality at bay is, not surprisingly, Simmons--who grounds this movie in some version of reality. Pucci isn't bad either as he drifts from zombie-like shuffling to fully living being with just the drop of a needle on vinyl. It's clear that Henry and Gabriel were estranged around the time of the son running away from home, and through Gabriel's waking flashbacks, he's able to convey just how close the two were when he was a kid and how far they drafted as he became a man. While mom and the good doctor are certainly an important part of this story, the heart and soul of this movie rests with the men.

The other thing this film has going for it the music itself. The music-licensing budget on this movie had to be enormous, but it makes a world of difference to hear real Beatles songs, real Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan recordings, and seemingly dozens of others. It's kind of staggering how much great music is contained in this one above-average film, and not just in the background. The songs are being listened to actively, discussed, and, in many cases, discovered for the first time by Henry. Hell, Gabriel waxing poetic about the worth of the Grateful Dead made me want to try them on again and see if I can hear what he does.

There's also a sweet, though unnecessary love story tucked away in THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED between Gabriel and Celia (Mía Maestro), a woman who works in the hospital cafeteria, but its inclusion in this movie doesn't really make sense because Gabriel can't form new memories, and even the few he's able to hold onto seem pointless when Celia leaves the story. Still, she's cute even in her hairnet, so we'll forgive the filmmakers for keeping her in, but their entire relationship feels highly manipulative.

THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED is unashamedly a crowd pleaser, but there's just enough meat on the bones for a film snob like me to recommend as well. Simmons deserves a bonus on top of whatever he got paid to be in this movie, because he single handedly saves it from taking a long and agonizing trip to Sap Island. If you even want to see a note-perfect example of a single actor saving the life of a movie, look no further. I don't want to put down what the other actors are doing--Ormond, in particular, is also doing fine work here--but no one is coming close to performing cinematic CPR the way Simmons is. I realize this is backhanded praise for the film, and this one will certainly not be for everyone, but since this is from the same doctor that wrote Awakenings, I'd say that's the benchmark. If you like that film, you'll probably dig this one equally.

-- Capone
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