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Love and Mercy

It’s the warm, Californian summer of 1963 … beaches, happy times and surfing … the sweet melodies and effortless harmonies of the Beach Boys fill the air waves. These are wonderful, carefree, hopeful teenage times. The Beach Boys are riding high on their own wave of popularity and their music is gold. Each song is the creation of Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano), the most talented of the musical Wilson brothers – they are Dennis (by Kenny Wormald) and Carl (by Brett Davern) with their good friend Al Jardine (by Graham Rogers) and their cousin, Mike Love (by Jake Abel) – these are The Beach Boys. Happy, summer songs pour out of Brian in a rich creative stream – each one received with adoration by their global audience. They are successful and want it to last forever.

Creativity for Brian is an instinct – he can’t make it happen, he doesn’t have to – it happens to him. He’s young and happily married to Marilyn (by Erin Darke). But he’s not the type to soak up audience adoration, so endless touring and live performances are no drawcard  for him – in fact the bright spotlight of fame and the pressure to “keep making hit records, son …” from his bully father cause him major anxiety. As months pass, the Beach Boys keep making music – but Brian spends more and more time in the studio. The band reluctantly departs for their tour of Japan without him – but he promises them a whole suite of new music when they return. Brian’s focus turns inwards, his creativity changes direction – he no longer produces happy, poppy, surfing tunes – they are now innovative and moody pieces. He starts to rely on medication to keep the voices at bay and help him distinguish reality from hallucinations. When the band returns, they eagerly listen to his new offerings – but their shock at the state of him and his latest music is clear – this isPet Sounds” … complete with his dogs Banana and Louie, singing backing vocals. When the boys’ father dies, Brian gets worse and becomes a patient of therapist Dr Eugene Landy (by Paul Giamatti), who takes a controlling hold over his life – his activities, his friends and … his medication. By the 1980’s, Brian (now by John Cusack) lives in a stupor – barely able to function, totally dominated by Dr Landy and his methods. But he somehow manages to maintain a relationship with Melinda Ledbetter (by Elizabeth Banks). But as their connection grows and they marry, she is alarmed to discover the way Dr Landy manages to control Brian and in an act of pure love, she bravely stands up to his domination.

It is great to revisit the fabulous, happy music of the Beach Boys throughout this movie. The story of Brian Wilson‘s life, though, is not so happy.  The mental illness and drug-induced haze is depicted very well by both Paul Dano in the 1960’s and John Cusack in the 1980’s. They are both great here.  To me, there’s something very “Bill Murray” about John Cusack’s performance.  Paul Giamatti’s performance as Dr Landy is seedy, creepy and just right for this dreadful character and Elizabeth Banks’ sassy and tough Melinda Ledbetter is great.  It’s a good movie.   

 

 

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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Movies

 

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Twelve Years a Slave

In 1841, Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) has a very happy life in Saratoga, New York. He loves music and playing his violin. But more than this he adores his beautiful wife Anne (by Kelsey Scott) and his children Michelle (by Quvenzhané Wallis) and Alonzo (by Cameron Zeigler). They live a very comfortable and successful life, with well-balanced settled children and a blissful marriage. One day, Solomon is befriended by two tricksters and ends up being transported into slavery in the American south. He endures the humiliation of being sold by a heartless and greedy Slaver, Mr Freeman (by Paul Giamatti), then relentless horror as the “purchased property” of several brutal landowners and their staff, including Ford (by Benedict Cummerbatch), Tibeat (by Paul Danos) and Epps (by Michael Fassbender). For twelve years he and his fellow slaves suffer at the utterly cruel and hateful hands of their “masters”, which bears heavily on them all, until a Canadian abolitionist, Bass (by Brad Pitt) provides Solomon with a chance of freedom.

This jaw-dropping movie is based on the biography “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northrup. The unwavering hateful attitudes of the “owners” towards their “property” is eye boggling, as is the total brutality meted out to them daily as a result of their he’s my property, I can do what I like to him” point of view. As Solomon Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a remarkable performance and his worldwide nominations as Best Actor are totally deserved. Another stunning performance is from Michael Fassbender, as Landowner Epps. He must have been totally exhausted throughout the making of the movie as every one of his scenes is aggressive, physical, emotionally fraught and must have been utterly draining. As Freeman, Paul Giamatti’s role is small but very important and he is marvellous. Same goes for Paul Danos and Brad Pitt – very good. Another wonderful performance is by Lupita Nyong’o as slave Patsey. She is strong, fearless and incredible – she well deserves her Screen Actors Guild Award and her nomination for an Academy Award (Oscar). The movie has already been recognised with 2014 Best Movie Golden Globe, BAFTA and AFI Awards and it has been nominated for several Academy Awards (Oscars) for Best Picture, Actor in Leading Role (Ejiofor), Actor in Supporting Role (Fassbender), Actress in Supporting Role (Nyong’o), Costumes, Directing, Film Editing, Production Design and Writing (Adapted Screenplay). It’s probably a little too drawn-out in the telling so it seems long, but its honesty is to be seen to be believed. Well done.

Made in 2013. Directed by Steve McQueen

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Movies

 

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Ruby Sparks

Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have a partner who’s exactly what you dreamed of …. totally perfect in every way – just as if you’d designed them yourself …?

As a young writer, Calvin Weir-Fields (played by Paul Dano) has already experienced huge national notoriety for his first novel, but he’s now stuck in a bad period of writer’s block. No matter what he tries, he just can’t seem to get his creative juices flowing again. His brother Harry (by Chris Messina) is a really good friend – they spend a lot of time together and support each other no matter what. Harry says Calvin should just keep at it and the next novel will come naturally. Similarly, Calvin’s therapist, Doctor Rosenthal (by Elliot Gould) who’s great too, says the next one will be not far away and not to give up. Calvin’s been seeing Dr Rosenthal for a few years and he’s always a good sounding board for his concerns – he’s helped him through a few rough patches. But even with all this good advice, things just stay the same. One night, Calvin dreams of the most fascinating girl – she’s cute, quirky, artistic, intriguing and … well … perfect. Her image plays on Calvin’s mind and he confides in both Harry and Dr Rosenthal about her. They each advise him to use the inspiration he gets from her to start his writing process. So he sits down at his typewriter and begins to describe her. His writing comes quickly and easily – he’s spurred on by his wonderful thoughts of her and the words just spill out of him onto the page. How fantastic – he’s writing again! That evening, she comes to Calvin in a dream once again – and she does exactly what Calvin described when he was writing today … weird? The next day, Calvin can write more, so he develops a background and personality for the girl – this work is really going well!  But after this she doesn’t appear in a dream to Calvin – she appears in his life. She’s Ruby Sparks (by Zoe Kazan) – she’s beautiful, she’s amazing .. and she’s in his house!. Calvin freaks out – convinced he’s hallucinating, he tries to put her out of his mind, but when he realizes she’s real, he’s overcome with love for this curious girl, who came from who knows where … but who cares?  They start a fabulous romance and everything is just perfect … just the way Calvin wants it to be. Then full realisation hits him – it must be perfect because Calvin’s writing it first, then it’s happening … can that be true?  But wait – even if it’s true there’s no problem is there? – everyone’s happy, nobody’s getting hurt … things can just go on like this, can’t they? …

This is a curious movie. On the one hand, it’s a quirky romantic comedy – a slightly weirdo guy meets a zany girl, they fall in love and have a perfect romance but hit a roadblock – trouble ensues and everyone hopes things turn out in the end. Just as rom-coms should be. But on the other hand, if you allow it to it will take your thoughts to some provocative issues about relationships – control of your partner, the value of spontaneity, the relevance of honesty and the need for companionship. It’s interesting in that way. In one sense, I did find Calvin irritating in that he obviously has sufficient intellect and insight to write the “great American novel” but then as soon as he meets Ruby he becomes so dependent on her he’s unable to survive without her – aarrggh! The movie has real gems too – Steve Coogan is perfectly cast, he plays Langdon Tharp to a tee; and two wonderful cameos are from Annette Bening who plays Calvin’s mother Gertrude and Antonio Banderas is her new partner, Mort – they are living an alternative lifestyle together at Big Sur. These two are such fun and marvellous as this off-beat couple. The movie gets a bit “supernatural” as it draws to its climax, but that is done well and is appropriate for the story. The ending reverts back to true rom-com style though. I found it an interesting and quite nice movie.  I’d like to see both Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in more movies, they will surely do well.

Made in 2012. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2014 in Movies

 

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Prisoners

Detective Loki (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is really good at his job. He’s a homicide detective and he’s solved every case that’s come his way. He’s focussed and methodical, leaving no stone unturned. One Thanksgiving, two families in town – the Birches and the Dovers – are enjoying their holiday weekend together when their two young girls, Anna Dover (by Erin Gerasimovich) and her best friend Joy Birch (by Kyla Drew Simmons) go missing. Their parents are distraught. Anna’s father, Keller (by Hugh Jackman) tries hard to keep her mother Grace (by Maria Bello) calm, at the same time his utter despair at the disappearance of his daughter eats away at him. Joy’s parents, Franklin (by Terrence Howard) and Nancy (by Viola Davis), pray for the safe return of their child. The police seem to be taking a long time to solve the case and as time ticks by the likelihood that the girls will be found alive gets slimmer. When Anna’s brother, Ralph (by Dylan Minnette) tells the Police about an RV he saw nearby, their investigation leads them to Alex Jones (by Paul Dano) – an intellectually underdeveloped guy who drives the van, which becomes central to the case. In custody, Alex doesn’t give much information, so he’s released and Keller gets more desperate. At home, Alex’s aunt and carer, Holly (by Melissa Leo) tries to keep Alex calm and the police at bay.  To try to speed things along, Keller takes matters into his own hands and Loki struggles to fit the pieces together. Will this be the case that finally eludes him? How does he keep Keller and the families satisfied that everything’s being done, when they are desperate to have their girls home? … and where are those little girls? …

This movie is long, but very good. The mood is captured well with a darkness throughout the production, which creates a grainy sense for this middle America place that could be anywhere. That’s part of its appeal – it could just as easily be happening in my town. The tension is built very well indeed. Loki’s investigation is detailed and his intuition takes him down a meandering path. But the drama itself doesn’t wander – it’s very good indeed. The performances of both Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman are excellent. They are measured and very compelling – even though Loki’s manner is understated, he’s got a keen eye and a fast intellect, so you wouldn’t underestimate his smart work. Hugh Jackman’s performance is multi-faceted. He has a tenderness, but a very fiery edge which means he can be violent when he’s desperate. He does this very well indeed – it’s frightening. The support roles by Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are excellent also. I’m surprised and disappointed that the movie doesn’t feature in the 2014 Academy Award (Oscar) nominations.  It’s very very good.

Made in 2013. Directed by Denis Villeneuve.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Movies

 

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Cowboys and Aliens

It’s 1873 … Jake Lonergan (played by Daniel Craig) is an outlaw in the Wild West who suddently “comes to” in the desert – he feels like he’s been knocked out, but his memory is sketchy and he’s not quite sure what has happened or where he’s been – the only clue is a strange heavy metal cuff around his wrist. It’s a hot, dry and dusty day and he finds his way to the nearest town, Absolution, to rest and get his bearings. In town, he gets involved with several locals who don’t take kindly to strangers – then gets involved in a fight with the wrong guy … Percy Dolarhyde (by Paul Dano) who is the smart-mouthed but immature son of a notorious heavyweight bully in town, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (by Harrison Ford). This just can’t get any worse … can it?  … Suddenly, strange lights appear in the night sky and the town is beseiged by weird flying shapes and scary events – several of the townsfolk are snatched from the streets and disappear into the flying shapes.  The men form a posse and plan to hunt down these strange captors. Although the men of Absolution were quick to dismiss the arrogant stranger, Lonergan, they now find themselves dependent on him to help them rescue their kin …..
 
I have previously written that science fiction just isn’t my thing.  However, this is a really entertaining movie – of course it helps that two of my favourites … Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig … are in it. Part of the entertainment factor is that they are both in an unfamiliar genre here. It’s just good old “Cowboys and Indians” but with an extraterrestrial, seething, slimy and modern twist. You won’t see any explicit Bond or Indiana Jones moments here (nor is there any sophisticated sci-fi) but if you like that sort of stuff, you’ll like this. It’s a witty, funny and good adventure all set in the pioneering days of the Wild West. Enjoy.
 
Made in 2011.  Directed by Jon Favreau
 
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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Movies

 

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