Mike and Dave and Yo-Yo Ma
It’s the highbrow meets the lowbrow. It’s cause and effect. A raunchy R-rated comedy makes some cheese so a similar project is greenlit. A tony documentary explores the relation between music and life so an identical doc comes barreling jet fueled down the pike.
The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road documents the efforts of Ma to unite a functioning band of musicians that have been subjected to oppression and misunderstanding in their native lands. For the record, Ma played the cello when he was seven years old before President John Kennedy. The footage of that event is one of many clips that highlight this energetic musical documentary.
Director Morgan Neville excels in these types of films, with 20 Feet From Stardom being the best example, as it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary for its respective release. Perhaps not oddly, Neville’s best film deals with politics and not music, such as last year’s stunning and revelatory doc about Gore Vidal and William Buckley, Best of Enemies.
Ma organized the Silk Road project through his alma mater, Harvard. Some of the instruments heard include some that will be unfamiliar even to the most astute musician. The Korean zither-like gayageum, the double-reed woodwind flute made from apricot wood known as a dudek, the Iranian bowed string device the kamancheh, and the janggu made of wood and shaped like an hourglass with two heads of animal skin all come alive during the course of the film.
Individual stories of the various musicians highlight the film, which itself switches back and forth through archival footage to explain the evolution of the individual artists as well as the social situations that formed their aesthetic.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates vacillates between some really funny scenes and other sequences that seem forcefully induced. Mike and Dave are brothers that are brought to an intervention by their parents with the ultimatum to get respectable dates for their sister’s wedding — or else.
Naturally the bros (Adam Devine from Pitch Perfect and television’s Modern Family and male Adonis Zac Efron) meet cute with a couple of horrendous chicks that play with their heads and make them think they are their soul mates. Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick rule this film, but if anyone tries to tell you the plot is a feminist tract where the women dominate the men, they are sadly mistaken. Plaza and Kendrick do however command their screen time.
Perhaps the best line is where Devine, blue balled and failing in his attempt to seduce Plaza (posing as a school teacher), yells out, “I thought you were Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, but instead you’re Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, and you didn’t even let me show you my little friend.” Don’t expect much and you will have a great time.
The Music of Strangers opens exclusively at the Landmark River Oaks. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opens wide at a theater near you.