Veronica Mars and Grand Piano

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Veronica Mars and Grand Piano

Posted on: March 14th, 2014 by tommyj

Click here to view original web page at reason.com

Warner Bros.

Having napped through her three seasons on TV, I came to
Veronica Mars, the movie, as something of a newbie. The
picture is a serviceable extension of the original teen-detective
series, which ran from 2004 to 2007 (when the CW dumped it for
insufficiently impressive ratings), and it has a sweet backstory.
Encouraged by by the show’s loyal audience, creator Rob Thomas and
star Kristen Bell mounted a Kickstarter campaign last year to fund
a VM movie. Their goal was to raise $2-million; in one
month, fans kicked in more than $5-million.

The result is better-looking than you might expect of a film
that was shot in about 30 days. It reunites several key actors from
the old show, and it has an easy-going, happy-to-be-back
amiability. Bell’s Veronica, who started out as a California PI’s
daughter with a sideline in high-school sleuthing, is now a
law-school grad relocated in New York City, where she lives with
her snoozy boyfriend, Stosh Piznarski (Chris Lowell—call him Piz,
I’m afraid). Veronica is about to take her bar exam, and already
has a good job lined up. Then comes a cross-country call from her
(fictitious) hometown of Neptune. It seems her ex-boyfriend, hunky
rich kid Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), has been arrested for
murder (not for the first time, I gather), and needs her help.
Veronica, whose feelings for Logan are unresolved, bids Piz goodbye
for a bit and flies home, where she’ll also get to see her lovable
dad (Enrico Colantoni) and do everything possible to avoid her
10-year high-school reunion.

The case that awaits her in Neptune involves the
death-by-bathtub-electrocution of Carrie Bishop (Andrea Estella), a
onetime classmate now better known as pop star Bonnie DeVille.
Logan was found at the scene of the crime. He naturally proclaims
his innocence. Veronica hauls out her old crime-solving kit
(long-lens camera, sheaf of fake IDs) and starts digging around for
clues to exonerate him.

Fans will be happy to note that Bell’s Veronica is still a tough
cookie with a nice line in deadpan wisecracks (and now an Internet
sex tape, too, about which she’s blithely unfazed). And the plot
mostly makes sense—there’s a mysterious disappearance, some missing
awards-show swag, a modest array of red herrings, a sadistic
killer. Oh, and James Franco. Yes, there is an occurrence of James
Franco in this movie. Nowadays, as Veronica says, “You’re never
more than six degrees from James Franco.” Okay. But why is that?
Somebody should investigate.

Grand Piano

Acclaimed pianist walks out on concert stage, sits down at
piano, opens his score and finds a stark message written therein:
“Play one wrong note and you die.” Talk about tough rooms.

It’s a Hitchcock setup, of course—a crisp elevator pitch with
lots of space for witty elaboration. And in Grand Piano,
Spanish director Eugenio Mira builds it into a great-looking film,
with stylish lighting and restless camerawork that also recall
Brian De Palma. The Chicago concert hall in which most of the story
unfolds is rich with velvety reds, gleaming blacks and backlit
panels of glowing ivory, and Mira swoops around in it with birdlike
abandon.

Elijah Wood is the piano man, Tom Selznick. Five years ago, Tom
humiliated himself by choking up in a concert performance of “La
Cinquette,” a modern composition so complex that it’s said to be
“unplayable” (which makes you wonder how anyone has ever managed to
hear it). Now, wracked with stage fright, Tom is attempting a
comeback concert at the behest of his supportive movie-star wife,
Emma (Kerry
Bishé
, a classic Hitchcock blonde). Also on hand are a
comic-relief married couple (Allen Leech and Tamsin Egerton), a
loquacious orchestra conductor (Don McManus), a hovering factotum
of some sort (Alex Winter), and of course the lunatic behind the
messages, who turns out to be John Cusack.

With all of these sturdy characters in place, the script then
kicks in. Unfortunately, the movie never recovers. We’re prepared
to accept a certain number of implausibilities in this sort of
high-concept thriller. Impossibilities are something else, though,
and Damien Chazelle’s script is thick with them.

There’s another message in Tom’s score. It directs him to get
up—in mid-performance, during a “rest” in the concerto he’s
embarked upon—and return to his backstage dressing room, where a
Bluetooth headset is waiting for him. Back onstage, earpiece in
place, he now begins an unlikely verbal duet with his tormentor.
Things get ridiculous pretty quickly. After all, this is Tom’s big
comeback night; he has to reestablish himself with a flawless
performance of some very challenging music (Beethoven, etc.)—and
now he also has to bicker and plead with the madman in his ear, who
has a laser-sighted sniper rifle trained on him.

Mira edits all of this with great skill, cutting from Tom’s
hands dancing across the keyboard to his panicked face, lips moving
in constant negotiation with the disembodied voice in his ear, to
the ominous laser dot dancing around on his body. There are more
trips backstage, as the worried conductor keeps the orchestra
chugging away. Eventually, back at the piano—still playing, still
talking—Tom manages to fumble a phone out of his pocket. Not only
that, he also manages to send out a text message. It’s
unbelievable, and not in a good way.

So what is Cusack’s character up to? What does he want?
Let’s just say the answer to that question defies all rules of
human ratiocination. The final scene of the movie—following a
notably silly catwalk slugfest up above the stage—left me slouched
in a fog of slack-jawed incomprehension. And in no mood for an
encore.

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