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June 29, 2011 - Image 8

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2011-06-29

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

'Beginners' asserts the
solemn beauty of reality

U2 impresses Michigan with
more than just a rock concert

By JENNIFER XU
Daily Arts Writer
Motion pictures promise
an idealized version of life
as we experience it - the
words
feel genu- ****
ine but
come out Beginners
so much At the State
more
clever, Focus Features
and the
faces are
prettier than could ever
transpire out in the real
world. It follows that film-
making comes to be this
constant push and pull
between aesthetic and prag-
matism. Too much style can
collapse substance, but sub-
stance without the window
dressing is stale, unoriginal.
At its onset, "Beginners"
threatens to fall victim to
the former. Characters with
yuppie dinner party names:
Oliver, Anna, a dog named
Arthur. A meet cute at a
Halloween party where the
girl has laryngitis and has
to communicate through a
tiny notebook while dressed
as Charlie Chaplin. A pul-
sating voiceover by Ewan
McGregor ("I Love You
Phillip Morris"), which
intonates things like "This
is the sun in 1955. And the
stars. And the President."
And "This is what sadness
looks like" (flash neon, hip-
ster color on screen). These
situations and lines, which
seem to come out of your
standard, precious story-
book romance, feel a bit like
free radicals bombarding
the surface without much of
a unifier - at least at first.
That coveted unifier
reveals itself as, of course,
grief - the underlying story
being that Oliver's recently-
out father Hal (Christopher
Plummer, "The Last Sta-
tion") has just passed away,
leaving his son forlorn,
alone to deal with his own
fractured emotions.
Consider such a scene: A
Jack Russell terrier recog-

Arthur consults his owner, Oliver, for advice with his leading bitch.

nizes the head of his recently
deceased owner and joyous-
ly bounds down the hallway
to meet his master. For that
sustained second, Oliver too
believes that his father has
come back from the dead,
his face lighting up in antici-
pation. But the man turns
around, and it turns out to
be just the old guy that lives
across the hall. "Sorry about
that," Oliver apologizes. He
turns the key to his apart-
ment. Once inside, he breaks
down into a series of dry
sobs.
There are analogous tab-
leaux peppering the film's
many lovesick sequences.
And once the film does let
itself seethe a little before
settling down into its own
melancholic skin, it starts
to breathe. We can admire
M6lanie Laurent's ("Inglou-
rious Basterds") darling
little fishtail braid (which
had me secretly plotting
YouTube tutorial searches
on the drive home), but what
keeps us in the theater is
the film's spirit, potent with
truths of aging, deteriora-
tion, fabrication and family
values. In time, we realize
that there's something gen-
tly organic - special, even
- about the film, a beating
fist of a heart that contracts
and expands with every new
pulsation.
Perhaps this derives from
writer and director Mike

Mills's ("Thumbsucker")
true-to-life experience with
death, having lost his own
father to cancer a few years
ago. It's unlikely though that
the director has met any-
body as uncannily lovely as
the inimitable Laurent, who,
in all her Manic Pixie Dream
Girl glory, permeates with
the freshness of hurt, aban-
donment and youth. Mills's
own doppelganger is played
by the warm, crease-lined
face of one Mr. McGregor, a
face that breaks into a joyous
grin at our scarcest expecta-
tion beneath his insulated
cocoon of loneliness. -
The true goal of Mills's
sophomore project was not
to make a cute little film
about falling in love at an
unexpected time (though
this does take center stage,
especially toward the end),
but to take a more synoptic
viewofthehumancondition.
Where "Beginners" suc-
ceeds splendidly is in com-
municating the complexities
of living a life bracketed by
tragedy and incomprehensi-
ble happiness. Contentment,
it tells us, can never be expe-
rienced without a modicum
of grief framing the corners.
Life is not about burying
oneself into numb apathy -
it's about embracing these
emotional extremes, to fully
breathe in a style but also
to drink deep from the sub-
stance.

By BETHANY BIRON and
JOSEPH LICHTERMAN
Editor in ChiefandDaily NewsEditor
Anything less from U2 would've been a
disappointment.
Mixing timeless music with prodigious
theatrics and their penchant for social
action, U2 put on a soaring spectacle of a
concert that only they were capable of pull-
ing off.
On a picture-perfect summer night last
Sunday in East Lansing, almost a year to the
date of their originally scheduled concert
that was postponed due to lead singer Bono's
back surgery, U2 brought their record break-
ing, globetrotting 3600 Tour to Michigan.
But before U2 burst into their set, the
always whimsical Florence Welch, of Flor-
ence + the Machine, kicked off the show,
prancing around U2's masterpiece of a stage
as if it were her own personal playground.
Donned in an elegantly flowing magenta
dress that paralleled the energy of her per-
formance - not to mention her fiery red hair
- she soulfully belted hits from her album
Lungs, culminating with crowd-pleaser
"Dog Days are Over."
U2 hit the stage with an unexpected
urgency, quickly tearing through the opener
"Even Better Than The Real Thing." Despite
the Irish quartet's unbounded energy, the
nearly 70,000 in Spartan Stadium were
slow to warm up to the band's manic pace
through the sultry "Mysterious Ways" and
"I Will Follow" - the sprawling single from
their 1980 debut album Boy.
The band was right at home on the four-
legged stage, affectionately nicknamed
"The Claw", that soared 170 feet over the
field. They never seemed lost on the mas-
sive structure - Bono and the gang paraded
around the circular catwalk surrounding
the stage and across bridges spanning the
crowd.
At times it seemed like more than just a
rock concert. Bono used his pulpit to share
his political views while images of the upris-
ings in the Middle East flashed on video
screens and The Edge played the thump-
ing guitar intro to "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
During "Walk On," a montage of Burmese
democracy-advocate Aung San Suu Kyi
praised her release from 20 years of house
arrest.
Although many bands would have been
overwhelmed with the task of commanding
a stadium, Bonn sought to build a relation-
ship with the crowd and establish a more
intimate feel. This was particularly evident
during an acoustic rendition of "Stay (Far
Way and So Close)" in which Bono emulated
a performance at Dooley's, a club U2 played
in East Lansing 20 years ago on one of their
first world tours.

The band seemed to relish playing on a
college campus, revering the activism of col-
lege students around the nation and honor-
ing the 50th infirmary of the Peace Corps.
"We never made it to university ourselves,"
Bono told the audience. "I think Edge made
it two weeks and I made it a week. U2 became
our university. Rolling Stone became our
textbook."
As dusk settled in Spartan Stadium, a light
breeze blew the smell of marijuana over sec-
tion 9 and the audience came alive singing
the opening verses of "I Still Haven't Found
What I'm Looking For" all the while Bono
stood on the edge of the stage with his arms
spread wide allowing the thousands of voic-
es, united as one, to flow over him.
The vigor that quickly transferred from
the band to the crowd was further acceler-
ated as Bono became increasingly conversa-
tional with the audience, even cheering "Go
Green, Go White" (much to our dismay) and
venerating the state's natural beauty. "What
a magical landscape we got here," Bono
told the crowd, before mentioning guitarist
The Edge's desire to retire to a cabin on the
shores of Lake Michigan, which was met by
raucous applause.
With a blue smoky haze hanging over the
band, Bono leaned into the mic, delivering a
poignant rendition of "Pride (In the Name
of Love)" and invoking the middle-aged
women in our section to turn to each other
and sing along, "Free at last, they took your
life/They could not take your pride."
The otherworldly "Beautiful Day" fea-
tured a video appearance by astronaut Mark
Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle
Giffords, singing along from the Interna-
tional Space Station. "See the bird with the
leaf in her mouth," Kelly said as Bono's eyes
turned toward the heavens and joined in:
"After the flood all the colors came out."
The performance itself was interwoven
with themes of time and space - notions
the band itself seemed to transcend as they
first entered the stadiumwith David Bowie's
1969 hit "Space Oddity" playing eerily in the
background.
The magic continued with hit after hit,
integrating classic tunes like "Where the
Streets Have No Name" with "Moment of
Surrender", one of the few bright spots on
U2's indifferently reviewed 2009 album, No
Line on the Horizon.
After ending the show with two encores
and a tribute to saxophonist Clarence Clem-
ons covering Springsteen's "Jungleland",
Bono was clearly speechless. He was unable
to articulate his appreciation for the thun-
dering standing ovation he received from
the audience. As the crowd filtered out of the
stadium, U2 once again proved the steadfast
timelessness oftheir music that has spanned
generatios.

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