DIR: Bill Pohlad • WRI:Oren Moverman, Michael Lerner • PRO: Jim Lefkowitz, Oren Moverman, Bill Pohlad, Clarie Rudnick Polstein, Ann Ruark, John Wells • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Dino Jonsäter • MUS: Atticus Ross • CAST: Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Dee Wallace
Bill Pohlad’s biography of Beach Boy Brian Wilson delivers an on-point, touching and insightful portrayal of his life both personally and professionally.
The fact that the film is set both in the sixties and the eighties is enlightening. Wilson’s struggles with his mental health erupt around the time of seminal album Pet Sounds in the sixties, and by the eighties he has reached the depths of his psychosis.
A young Wilson, played by Paul Dano, is a clearly fraught, yet brilliant musician. He is struggling to overcome many obstacles, including unwilling band members, and an extremely unsupportive father. His intrepid musical ability is before his time, and some believe it to be too risky. This frustrates Wilson, and frustration is a key theme throughout this film. He is frustrated by his illness, his father and his music – and both Cusack and Dano capture this frustration perfectly.
It is clear that Wilson’s genius is somewhat spurred on by the on-going voices and noises in his head. These voices and noises seem to inspire him, and are the inspiration for much of the Beach Boys unique sound. Several scenes in the studio give an extremely authentic feel to the film, and parts feel quite documentary-like. For music fans, it is an insight into how some of the best sounds of the sixties developed.
As Wilson ages, John Cusack takes over the role. From here, it is evident that the illness has now dominated much of his personality, and changed him completely. There is hardly any lucidity left.
For this reason, using another actor to play an older, sicker Wilson was an excellent move. Had Pohlad used just one actor, his descent into madness would not have been as remarkable. John Cusack plays the aging rocker with a finesse and believability that hone in on the extent of his demise since the swinging sixties.
Similar to the sixties there is a constant barrage of people surrounding Wilson. Be it his manipulative Doctor (Giamatti) or his entourage, it seems that no matter what decade, there are always people telling him what to do and making decisions for him.
There are also some extreme highs in the movie, and it is not all incredibly depressing. A beautiful relationship develops between Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and elements of this are quite sweet. This, blended with scenes that are extremely difficult to watch like Wilson in the depths of a sedative state, and in the grips of mental breakdowns, combine perfectly to leave viewers with a definitive view of his turbulent life.
Love and Mercy depicts the irony that was The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson impeccably. The music they created in the sixties was uplifting and vibrant. It was for dancing and surfing (even though they couldn’t surf…). But behind that unique sound that defined a generation was a man struggling with paranoid schizophrenia and slipping deeper into a psychosis, made only worse by the lifestyle and drugs of the time.
Sixties Wilson uses his music to express himself, and to appease the voices in his head, but it is not without its cost to his personal life, which is revealed by Cusack.
Both Cusack and Dano play the part of Wilson in their own different ways. Both actors capture his child-like innocence, and combine it with the very dark side of his illness. These contrasts work well to depict the life and loves of an artist whose music has been enjoyed for over fifty years, and no doubt will continue to be enjoyed for many more generations to come.
The fantastic soundtrack, exceptional writing, and of course true story mean that Love & Mercy is not just for fans of The Beach Boys, but for fans of music in general, particularly those with a penchant for a troubled genius.
Love & Mercy tells the life story of reclusive Beach Boys songwriter and musician Brian Wilson – from his successes with highly-influential orchestral pop albums to his nervous breakdown and subsequent encounter with controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
Director Bill Pohlad gave us some good vibrations.
What was the initial attraction in wanting to tell Brian Wilson’s story on the big screen?
I’m a big music fan and I grew up always being intrigued by the music scene. Over the years, gradually and in different increments, I’ve gotten closer and closer to Brian Wilson, listening to ‘Pet Sounds and The Pet Sounds Sessions’ – the box set – which gives you a great insight into the creative process. That really did it for me. Producers, Claire Rudnick Polstein and John Wells had been working on a Beach Boys project, which we had talked about a little. In our conversations, I asked if they would be willing to start over with something fresh, something that had this two-story approach. They agreed to it and that’s how Love & Mercy came to be. We then brought Oren Moverman to write with who I worked quite closely with.
Wasn’t it Oren who first suggested the idea of you directing Love & Mercy?
Yes. I was trying to be very democratic about it: “Well, we don’t know who’s going to direct it.” Oren was a candidate himself. But he said, “You should direct this film.” I didn’t take too much convincing.
Surprisingly, Love & Mercy is only the second feature you’ve directed, after Old Explorers in 1990.
I had been developing other projects to direct. I had a couple of other projects in the works. But Oren kind of flipped the switch. I was like, “That makes sense.”
You’ve produced films for some great directors such as Steve McQueen [12 Years a Slave], Ang Lee [Brokeback Mountain] and Terrence Malick [The Tree of Life]. How has that influenced you?
People used to say to me, “What filmmakers do you want to work with?” But I’m not driven by that, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’ve been driven by my connection to the material and I’ve been lucky enough that the material I’ve been interested in has attracted great directors. And of course I learned a lot from them. You learn a lot but it also challenges you to find your own style. To have the mindset to be a director, you have to have a bit of an ego so you start thinking, “I would do it this way”.
Why did you decide to have Brian played by two different actors?
I’m not a huge fan of biopics because they’re forced to cover too much ground in too short a time and therefore you can’t get as deeply into the characters as you’d like. I never wanted to make that kind of film. With Brian’s life, we tried to figure out a way to paint a portrait that allowed us to be more intimate. I went with my gut. I’d been intrigued by the Pet Sounds era and The Pet Sounds Sessions so the idea of portraying this guy at the most creative time in his life, which also turn out to be some of the most difficult times for him, seemed an obvious first part of the story. Then when I first met Melinda and she told me how they’d met, that was another connecting moment for me: the idea that she’d met this guy and he was quirky, could have been a homeless guy, but there was something intriguing and charming about him. And then he turns out to be Brian Wilson… I liked that as a way in for the audience. It allowed us to illustrate what had happened to him since we saw him as this other character.
How would you describe your relationship with Brian and Melinda during the development process?
They were involved from the beginning. It’s a tricky balance with situations like that. They have to understand that when they’re allowing somebody to make a movie about their lives, it’s not going to be exactly like they might have thought it would be. There’s got to be some distance and, above all, a level of trust. Otherwise it becomes too dictatorial and subjective. We talked about that from the very first meeting and we did develop that trust. They were great about it. They were there when we needed them and Melinda would come to the set often – Brian came sometimes too – but fortunately they never said, “No, don’t do that.”
Is what you’re portraying in the film accurate, particularly in reference to Brian’s abusive relationship with Dr. Landy?
Oh yes. We were definitely striving to be accurate about everything. We checked along the way with Brian. He came to the script reading and he had great comments about it, as well as some of the early cuts of the film.
The film shows Brian at his creative-genius apex during the Pet Sounds sessions and meticulously recreates those extraordinary soundscapes. The composer Atticus Ross, who is known for his collaborations with Trent Reznor, was a key part of this process. can you describe your collaboration with him?
It was incredible. The whole process has been amazing. There were so many great people involved in the film and Atticus would be one of the big ones. From the beginning, I wanted to explore what goes on in Brian’s mind. He experiences auditory hallucinations, basically, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that in a film before. He hears beautiful, complex musical arrangements and compositions in his head, which is his genius, but he can’t always turn them off. Plus he’s hearing a lot of other things that aren’t so nice: voices and all that. It intrigued me to try to figure out a way to depict that in the film and nobody was more excited than Atticus about exploring that soundscape/sound design. Not only did he deliver on what we called Brian’s “mind trips” but he took it the extra mile with the actual score of the film by taking Brian’s music and kind of rearranging it to create new compositions. Everything you hear in the movie is Brian’s music but some of it has been rearranged.
What were you looking to convey in choosing two actors to portray Brian?
The decision to cast two actors came from this two-strand approach and the idea that you would meet the young Brian Wilson, who may be more recognisable to you, and then you would meet this other guy, who is not immediately recognisable to you. You’re not sure who the guy is. In order to pull that off you had to have two different actors play that – and not even necessarily have them look alike. The idea was to let each actor have their own way into finding Brian. It allows more freedom and I find it more reflective, too, of Brian in his personality. He obviously has, in some ways, multiple personalities. Sometimes you can look at the young Brian and look at the old Brian and not even know they’re the same guy. That’s what it’s like with the real Brian. We wanted to depict that.
Who came on board first: John Cusack or Paul Dano?
It started with Paul because Brian ‘past’ is the more iconic Brian. He’s got that ‘60s look and, with Paul, it was an immediate, “Yes, that’s him.” Whereas there are a lot of different looks that Brian had in the ‘80s. Sometimes he was really overweight and bearded and scraggly; sometimes he was really fit and trim. I rewatched the Don Was’ documentary about Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, and some of the images that popped up reminded me so much of John. So we talked to John and thankfully he agreed to do it. I love the way they work together but are also different at the same time. We didn’t have them imitate each other. You could argue that they don’t look alike but, for me, it doesn’t matter as long as they evoke the spirit. Also, John looks more like Brian at that time than people give him credit for.
Did you take different approaches in directing your two Brians?
They bring their own styles and different personalities to it. We shot all of Paul’s stuff first followed by John’s and that was good because it did separate it in a way that’s healthy.
What about Elizabeth Banks for the role of Melinda? She’s the emotional linchpin for the narrative journey and Brian’s salvation.
First of all, Melinda is our point of view for the second part of the story. She’s the one who meets Brian and allows us to go in, plus she’s the one who saves him, saves his life. We wanted to be true to that part of the story. If you meet the real Melinda and you talk to Elizabeth, there’s a spark in Elizabeth, a fire, that reminds you of Melinda. It was great to find her.
The way you depict the two eras visually, the 1960s and 1980s, is striking and makes great use of Californian locations. How important was it for you to shoot the film in the state that defines The Beach Boys?
Movies set in the ‘60s tend to have a very stereotypical look to them and you don’t want to rely on that too much. But it was great fun to be able to explore that in a real way and try to stay away from the stereotypes while still making use of the styles. Shooting in California was mostly about the vibe. That’s where it happened and there’s a certain vibe, even though there’s not much surfing and not much Malibu per se in the film. I know we wouldn’t have been able to make the same movie if we had shot it somewhere else.
What has The Beach Boys music meant to you?
I love music, it inspires me, and I think Brian’s music is among the best; I feel it’s really important in my own personal playlist. I have never considered myself a Brian Wilson aficionado or groupie or anything like that and I think that’s good. Sometimes you can get too close to something and not feel or see the story because you’re too caught up in the detail, or the things that really amuse you or entertain you because you’ve been studying it intently. You want it to be accessible and interesting to a wider audience, not just the fans of Brian Wilson. That was the trick, to do that in a way that satisfied both groups.
Is there a Beach Boys’ track that’s particularly meaningful to you?
It is one of those rotating things. Obviously ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Surf’s Up’ are all big ones. The clean version of ‘Surf’s Up’ that we used in the film, or at least that Paul recreates but Brian sings it himself… ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is another one.
It’s music that makes you smile, even if Brian’s story is filled with heartwrenching events.
That’s art, too. We make it our own. When we hear it, it becomes a part of our lives. Yes, Brian Wilson wrote it and it’s cool – what a talented guy Brian Wilson is. But there’s a lot of other songs that are part of me or part of my make-up where I don’t know who the people are who created them. Maybe I wouldn’t even like them but I love the songs.
Did you speak to any of the other surviving Beach Boys for the film?
We spoke to Al Jardine, later in the process. We didn’t ever talk to Mike Love, although not necessarily by design. We’re telling Brian’s story. It’s not Brian and Mike’s story, or their competing perspectives. It’s Brian’s story from Brian’s point of view but I don’t think it takes unfair shots at Mike. I feel good about the way Mike has been portrayed. I can relate to where Mike was coming from. He was just a guy who had a job and it was going well and then it got messed up through no fault of his own.
Love & Mercy is released in Irish cinemas on 10th July 2015
DIR: David Cronenberg • WRI: Bruce Wagner •PRO: Saïd Ben Saïd, Martin Katz, Michel Merkt • DOP: Peter Suschitzky • ED: Ronald Sanders• DES: Carol Spier • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson
David Cronenberg has built his career on shock, but what happens when he chooses a subject that not only is unable to shock audiences, but is also so mundane that it is available to us through a simple finger tip to our phones? The subject matter of which I speak is the sordid social fabric of Tinseltown, Hollywood, U.S.A., which Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner tackle in Maps to the Stars.
Well, they don’t exactly tackle this notion of Hollywood lifestyle as much as they give us a glimpse of what we already know via the constant bombardment of social media and sleaze journalism. Maps delves into the nooks and crannies of Hollywood and some of its unsavory characters. A society where status, age and looks are constantly scrutinized, where movie stars refer to their maids as “chore whores” and everybody hides under a mound of drugs.
Yes, it does sound like a delightful scandalous romp of excess and maniacal nihilism, and it possibly could have been some odd twenty years ago, however, this generation’s savvy cynicism preempts this sort of behavior. We are living in an age, where celebrities’ personal lives are on display 24/7 for the universe to criticize. The Justin Biebers, Lindsay Lohan’s and Kanye Kardashian’s of this world have already been crucified on a daily basis. With all this in mind, one might find Maps to the Stars a tad stale and its characters are all too easy to hate. The audience should have to work and debate in a satire of this magnitude, not enter the theatre knowing whom the scumbag is then leaving with the same opinion in tact.
However, Maps to the Stars is not your regular classical narrative structure. It’s a surreal feature that attempts to portray the nightmare disguised by the glitz and glamour of the business. The question isn’t “is it surreal?” The question is “is it surreal enough?”. We get the sense that Maps to the Stars doesn’t quite know what it is. It possesses a strong sense of realism through its great performances and violence, but it throws in a ghost or two to hint a supernatural element. The most stylistic audacious movie of this kind of genre was David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, which was complete other world of mind-fuckery in itself. At the end of Mulholland Drive you couldn’t fathom what the hell actually happened, but you enjoyed the ride nonetheless. However, with Maps to the Stars you might not have entirely understood what went on, but you didn’t really care either.
Some may argue that with today’s online social paparazzi, a movie like this may seem redundant. It’s true that our post modern, nonchalant barriers are hard to penetrate, but maybe if we are shown the flipside of the coin, a celebrity superstar’s POV of the TMZ parasites and abuse from trolls hiding behind the comfort of their computer screens. We’re not good; we just know how to hide.
Cronenberg’s incredible vision and creativity is on a higher plateau than this. His gift has always been producing original and wild fictional worlds that no one but he could invent. With Maps to the Stars he has given us a film we can just swipe to the side like another tabloid story hurdling down the endless information highway.
DIR/WRI: Scott Walker • PRO:Remington Chase, Randall Emmett, Jane Fleming, Jeff Rice • DOP: Patrick Murguia • ED: Sarah Boyd • DES: Clark Hunter • Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Dean Norris
The 1988 film The Accused in which Jodie Foster was gang raped in a local bar went some way in dismissing the attitude that if a woman dressed a certain way she was “asking for it”. The Frozen Ground, written and directed by Scott Walker is based on the true-life story of the rapes, murders and burials carried out by Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen, in and around Anchorage from 1980-1983. This, William’s first feature-length film, focuses on the final stages of Hansen’s spree. We are shown Hansen in the act so innocent until proven guilty isn’t an issue. What drives the film forward is the suspense built by State Trooper Halcombe’s efforts to gather enough evidence to persuade local law enforcement to arrest the allegedly respectable Hansen.
The film begins in 1983 when Cindy Paulson, played by Vanessa Hudgens, is found handcuffed and terrified in a motel bedroom. She claims to have been kidnapped, tied up and raped by local man Robert Hansen, played by John Cusack. As Cindy is a local prostitute and Hansen a respectable local businessman, the police give her a hard time down at the station before sending her back to the streets. State Trooper, Sergeant Jack Halcombe, Nicholas Cage, enters the film when a year later, a dead girl is uncovered out in the wilderness. Researching old cases of missing women presumed prostitutes or dancers Halcombe is convinced the dead woman is the victim of a serial killer. Finding Cindy’s testimony he believes she has survived the murderer he is convinced can only be Hansen.
How many dead prostitutes does it take to change an attitude? The local police had so little interest in prosecuting anybody for the assault on Cindy, never mind local resident Hansen, they didn’t even bother to collect the DNA evidence from the hospital. They are angry with Halcombe reopening the cases of missing women they hadn’t found and only start to help, reluctantly, when another woman’s body is found. The aerial shots of the snow-covered wilderness, contrasted with the frantic camera movements of Halcombe’s movements, capture the sense of urgency he felt in trying to stop Hansen. In juxtaposing this cold wilderness with the prostitute-lined city streets and strip clubs, Walker shows us an Anchorage that is a “wild west” kind of town, where men are men, women do what their husbands tell them to do and prostitutes well, they are just “asking for it”.
Any one of the three main characters Cindy, Halcombe or Hansen would have made a feasible protagonist for the film but instead Walker chose to take an overview of the story focusing on all three. As a result I was left needing more. We are told, not shown, that Hansen is a respected member of the community; we only glimpse this for a moment when he pops into the bakery to knead bread. In the scene with his family, dominating his wife he dismisses her plans to spend Thanksgiving with her parents. I wonder how he got away with leading his double life for so long? And what drove Halcombe? Over a period of a few days he puts his marriage and family on the line in his pursuit of Hansen, we are told his sister was killed in a car accident but there has to be much more of interest to this man who was so driven to find justice for all these women. Cindy escaped Hansen and was strong enough and brave enough to help Halcombe catch him, I’d like to have found out more about her too, and her ability to survive.
Nicholas Cage, Vanessa Hodgens and John Cusack all give good performances and while I usually complain that films are a bit too long and could do with more of an edit, my complaint with The Frozen Ground is that it could have been a bit longer, its 115 minutes but I would like to have seen a bit more of Cindy, Halcombe and or Hansen.
115 mins 16 (see IFCO website for details) The Frozen Groundis released on 19th July 2013
DIR: Steve Pink • WRI: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris • PRO: John Cusack, Grace Loh, Matt Moore, John Morris • DOP: Jack N. Green • ED: George Folsey Jr., James Thomas • DES: Bob Ziembicki • CAST: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry
As far as proverbs go, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, is a goodie. It’s a proverb rich with open-mindedness and a good mantra for day-to-day life. However, another goodie is ‘never say never’, and in line with this, Hot Tub Time Machine is exactly what its title suggests.
The film begins in the present and introduces us to three middle-aged friends who have grown apart and are each unhappy with their lives due to a divorce, failed music career and suicidal tendencies. They decide to return to the ski resort where they had their ’80’s heyday for some good old-fashioned male bonding and to show the nephew of Adam (John Cusack) how cool they used to be. The resort isn’t what they remember but thanks to a (spoiler alert, but not really) hot tub time machine they’re transported back to 1986 and are in for one crazy weekend!
As far as premises go for this genre, it’s quite a strong one. Hot Tub… looked promising as a successor to last year’s The Hangover and it’s distributor, MGM, would have been praying for a hit of that magnitude to help them with their current dire straits. Sadly, you can’t get money for nothing (pun always intended) and Hot Tub… is a few guitar solos short of a fully-fledged 80’s power ballad.
Hot Tub… isn’t without laughs. At its best it is brilliantly funny but these instances are too few. The film becomes burdened with explaining ‘the butterfly effect’; a central component of time travel in films. A quick visit to dictionary.com explains it as such: ‘a chaotic effect caused by something seemingly insignificant, the phenomenon whereby a small change in a complex system can have a large effect somewhere else’. Hot Tub… stubbornly feels the need to explain this repeatedly and at great lengths when they should have been concentrating on more important things within this genre, i.e. dick jokes. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few dick jokes; there’s just a lot more chaos theory.
Hot Tub… is simply not equal to the sum of its parts. There is a very strong cast headed by the three friends Adam, Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke). They all work well together and there is an excellent supporting role for Crispin Glover as the accident-prone bellboy; no stranger to time-travel himself thanks to his part in Back to the Future. The comic possibilities of a return to the ’80s is frustratingly underused in the narrative, as typified by the too-brief cameo of Chevy Chase. Hot Tub… should have paid closer attention to the extensive research on display in The Wedding Singer.
Hot Tub Time Machine is ultimately a disappointment. It is an adequate comedy but the untapped potential of the concept left me with a rebel yell; crying out for more, more, more… more, more, more.
DIR: Roland Emmerich • WRI: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser • PRO: Roland Emmerich, Volker Engel, Larry J. Franco, Harald Kloser, Marc Weigert • DOP: Dean Semler • ED: David Brenner, Peter S. Elliot • DES: Barry Chusid • CAST: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt
2012 is a film in keeping with such formulaic disaster films as Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. As with these films, the emphasis of 2012 is on spectacle over other less important elements of cinema. Dialogue, realism and character development take a backseat to the computer-generated cataclysm that dominates this vehicle.
2012 is connected to the aforementioned big, dumb actioners by more than just their shared destruction of iconic buildings. All four of these big, dumb films are connected by their big, dumb director: Roland Emmerich. In this instance, my repetition of the words ‘big’ and ‘dumb’ is justified – if it’s okay for Emmerich to repeatedly direct the same film, then it must be okay to carry on describing them as big and dumb. The only apparent difference being that the global scale of this particular big, dumb disaster film makes it bigger and dumber than the previous manifestations.
The irrelevant plot of the film is based on the Mayan prophecy that the world will end in the year 2012. This prediction means that global warming is entirely overlooked and that blame for the end of the world is shifted away from the excesses of humankind and out into the cosmos instead. Blame safely and neatly averted, Emmerich can focus instead on his primary objective – the big and dumb destruction of the (computer-generated) world. Mercifully, New York sits this one out as Emmerich strives for a more global degree of annihilation (The White House, however, is not so lucky). In support of the globalisation of the world’s end in this instance, subtitles are employed on several occasions to add to the faux-realism.
2012 is film-by-numbers at its most predictable. Anyone familiar with the excellent South Park episode, ‘Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow’ will know exactly what to expect. The cast is composed of the usual suspects – including such genre staples as the broken family, complete with quirky daughter and absent but loving father (John Cusack); the humanitarian scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor); and the Machiavellian government official (Oliver Platt). Also of note is the casting of Danny Glover as the President of the USA, a pitiful and vertically challenged incarnation of his real-life counterpart.
There is nothing original or noteworthy within this film. While its excessive running-time is predominantly filled with the destruction of the Earth, the cartoonlike special effects deny the film the substance afforded by reality. As with too many recent films, when the action promises the most it fails to excite because of its over-reliance on a rubbery videogame appearance. Directors should take note of the effect on audiences of Christopher Nolan flipping a truck for real in The Dark Knight. In a film which has nothing to recommend it other than the potential for spectacle, 2012 is a big, dumb failure.