DVD Watch: 'Grand Piano'
Elijah Wood's thriller heads up this week's releases
By Richard Whittaker,
5:36PM, Tue. May 20, 2014
If musical thriller Grand Piano teaches you anything, it's this: Learning "Chopsticks" could save your life.
Grand Piano's theatrical release in Austin got a little swallowed up by the fact it came out the same week as Elijah Wood's other Spanish-lensed thriller, Open Windows, by Mira's long-time film making ally Nacho Vigalondo. So the home release is an opportunity to catch up on Wood at his itchy, edgy best.
The film premiered to a standing ovation at Fantastic Fest 2013, not least because of an intriguing and well executed central conceit: It's all done in real time. Wood plays Tom Selznick, a concert pianist who had a nervous breakdown while playing an unplayable piece. Having recovered, he's pushed into public performance by his wife Emma (Kerry Bishé.) Only when he gets to the concert, he finds a sniper's rifle aimed at his head, and the calm but menacing tones of an unknown assassin (John Cusack) sending a simple ultimatum: Play the unplayable piece, or die.
In our original review, Marc Savlov wrote, "Grand Piano’s plot may sound familiar (it recalls the 2002 thriller Phone Booth and Dario Argento’s Opera, for starters), but Mira’s protagonist holds it together seamlessly, up to a point. The timbre and tone is one of relentless suspense, and Wood’s slight frame and intense gaze are perfectly suited to the role."
Wood isn't a trained musician, so when it came to the concert sequences, he told us:
"The biggest challenge was the playing. I'm not a pianist. I took lessons as a child and quit, as is typical of children who get bored of practicing. I had the basics, so I knew where to put my hands, and I learned how to read music when I was younger, but I had to basically go through a crash course three weeks before going to Barcelona."
It's the highest profile release for Mira, whose previous film was Spanish period paranoia tale Agnosia. Comparing the two, he said:
"To me, Agnosia is an example of a thriller that is focused on emotions and the consequences of a plot, not the plot itself. this is all about the plot. It's this guy, all the pressure's on him, and there's a demigod who's dictating what he's supposed to do. After all, the bad guy in this movie wants him to play perfectly. We talked about this a lot, that every single character thinks they want the best for him, but they're really thinking of themselves."
Grand Piano is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Also out this week:
Raze (MPI Home Video) Grindhouse star and Quentin Tarantino's go-to stunt woman Zoe Bell heads up this MMA reinvention of the "women in prison" exploitation trope. Come back Saturday for an interview with Bell in our DVDanger column.
Like Someone in Love (Criterion) Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami heads to Japan for this searing relationship drama. Describing this four star film, Leah Churner wrote, "The characters’ painful inability to connect only endears them to us, and somehow the film seems, like any human object of our affection might, more vivid and more knowable in its absence. That is precisely Kiarostami’s romantic-fatalist thesis: Absence, and only absence, makes the heart grow fond." Read our full review here.
The Monuments Men (Sony) George Clooney helped spoof celebrity vanity projects when he and Steven Soderbergh revamped Oceans 11. Unfortunately, his attempt to bring one of the most fascinating stories of World War II – the quest to save Europe's great art from the Nazis – was as misguided. As Louis Black described it, "This film is a collection of vignettes in search of a narrative center. Although it’s enjoyable, the film never coheres into a whole. Instead, it resembles a pile of ill-fitting jigsaw-puzzle pieces rather than a fully formed picture." Read our full review here.
3 Days to Kill (20th Century Fox) Kevin Costner finds the script for an abandoned Taken sequel. Read our review here.
Pompeii (Sony) You know nothing about the eruption of Vesuvius, Jon Snow! Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington gets caught between a lot of CGI and not much script in this discount Gladiator. Read our full review here.
Lords of Salem (Anchor Bay) A steelbook Blu-ray release for Rob Zombie's controversial and divisive supernatural schocker, which Marc Savlov said "with its dreamy narrative structure and deep references that span the spook-show gamut, is not so much a narrative film as it is a series of micronightmares." (If you're more interested in his musical output, UMe just released his first concert movie, The Zombie Horror Picture Show.) Read our original review here, and catch our interviews with Zombie and his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, and Lords star Jeff Daniel Phillips.
Lawless (Anchor Bay) Another steelbook release, this time of John Hillcoat's uneven adaptation of Matt Bondurant's bootlegging family history The Wettest County in the World. Read our full review here.