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'Music' raises a Dead head

Published July 12. 2011 05:01PM

"The Music Never Stopped" is based on a case study of Dr. Oliver Sacks, physician, author and professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.

Sacks wrote "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" (1995); "Awakenings" (1990), which became an Oscar-nominated movie starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro; and "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain" (2007), basis for a PBS-TV "Nova" series show.

The theme of "Musicophilia" permeates the ironically-titled "The Music Never Stopped." In the dramatic film, Henry Sawyer (J.K. Simmons) bonds with his son, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), who lost his memory after a brain tumor operation.

Gabriel responds to his father, his mother, Helen (Cara Seymour), and music therapist (Julia Ormond) whenever the music of The Grateful Dead and other 1960's pop-rock icons is played.

The father must let go of preconceived ideas about his son, whose now tabla rosa mind provides an opportunity for their reconciliation.

The story, which takes place in 1986, is told via flashbacks to the 1950s and late 1960s-early '70s when the Gap didn't refer to an apparel store at the mall but to the Generation Gap separating teens and twentysomethings and their parents' generation.

The film, which premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, gives a visceral sense of the gap through the actions and comments of Henry and the reactions of Gabriel, lead singer of his rock band, The Black Sheep.

It was a time when Columbia Records advertised "The Man Can't Bust Our Music" and young fans took such hype to heart. While parents and children may have gathered around "The Ed Sullivan Show" Sunday nights, a divergence in musical tastes symbolized family divisiveness the rest of the week.

Rolling Stone magazine once opined, "Music is the soundtrack of our lives." For the Sawyer family, songs trigger snapshot memories. For Henry and Helen, it's Bing Crosby singing "Young at Heart." For Gabriel, it's Bob Dylan singing "Desolation Row."

Music provides those "ah-ha" moments. For Henry and Gabriel, music produces the "uh-huh" moments. Henry, a mechanical engineer by career, becomes a sound engineer for his son's reawakening.

First-time feature director Jim Kohlberg (producer "Trumbo," "Runaway"), working from a script by first-time screenwriters Gwyn Lurie and Gary Marks, based on Sacks' essay, "The Last Hippie," has garnered fine performances from the leading actors.

Simmons ("Juno," "Spider-Man," TV's "The Closer" and "Law & Order") deserves an Oscar nomination for his rock-solid and thoughtful work as a father conflicted between his sense of duty and justice and his reaching out to a son whose brain has been placed on hold.

Ormond ("Legends of the Fall," "Sabrina") brings a gentle forbearance to her role as a dedicated therapist.

Pucci ("The Go-Getter," HBO's "Empire Falls") is remarkable, transitioning from blank eyes to twinkling enthusiasm when enlivened by music. It's as though The Grateful Dead allows Gabriel to live again. The character name of Gabriel, he of the legendary Biblical horn-blowing, is a nice touch.

The film has a robust soundtrack of '60s icons, including The Beatles, with Paul McCartney on lead vocals singing "'Til There Was You," from the Broadway hit, "The Music Man," demonstrating the Generation Gap was just that, a gap, and not The Great Divide.

Interior sets and clothing appear true to the mid-'50s, mid-'80s and late '60s - early '70s. This will either provide a thrill for baby boomers or a measure of mortification.

"The Music Never Stopped" is a must-see for boomers enamored of "The Summer Of Love" era music, parents or grandparents who maybe didn't "get it," health-care providers for those with brain disorders and musicians for whom the notes still add up.

"The Music Never Stopped," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for thematic elements, some mild drug references, language and smoking; Genre: Drama; Run Time: 1 hr., 24 min.; Distributed by Roadside Attractions.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Music Never Stopped" soundtrack, which is on Rhino Records, includes previously unreleased live performances of The Grateful Dead's "Truckin'," "Touch of Grey," "Sugar Magnolia," along with "Ripple" and "Uncle John's Band."

Box Office, July 8: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" continued its dominance at No. 1, with $47 million, $261 million, two weeks, to become the year's top-grossing movie. "Horrible Bosses" opened at No. 2 with $28.1 million. "Zookeeper" opened at No. 3, with $21 million.

4. "Cars 2," $15.2 million, $148.8 million, three weeks; 5. "Bad Teacher," $9 million, $78.7 million, three weeks; 6. "Larry Crowne," $6.2 million, $26.5 million, two weeks; 7. "Super 8," $4.8 million, $118 million, five weeks; 8. "Monte Carlo," $3.8 million, $16.1 million, two weeks; 9. "Green Lantern," $3.1 million, $109.7 million, four weeks; "Mr. Popper's Penguins," $2.8 million, $57.7 million, four weeks

Unreel, July 15:

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," PG-13: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint return to wrap things up. There's also Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, and Helena Bonham Carter. It's taken a decade of eight movies to get here. Harry, Ron and Hermione are back at Hogwarts. And it all comes down to Harry versus Voldemort. Having read the books, don't tell.

"Winnie The Pooh," G: Walt Disney goes old school with hand-drawn animation. Vocal talent includes John Cleese and Craig Ferguson. As usual, Pooh bear is looking for honey, but must save Christopher Robin.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

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