Waxing [Cinematically]: Love & Mercy

Let’s start with a few simple facts on this one.

Love & Mercy is a music-focused biopic on Brian Wilson — member of the Beach Boys, producer, and noted recluse for much of the decades after creating some of the 1960s best pop music.

One of those creations was the 1966 album Pet Sounds.

Along with much of the music critics circle, I believe Pet Sounds is one of the best pop albums ever made. Maybe the best.

Love & Mercy shows much of the creation of Pet Sounds — a theatrical re-telling of Wilson’s genius in creating that album and putting life into the recordings you can find on his work.

These variables lead to an equation that made it very unlikely I would not LOVE or HATE Love & Mercy. Fortunately, it was the former.

This is a great biopic — not necessarily to keeping true to Wilson’s story (I don’t know enough about that, other than that the director worked with Wilson and his wife (who plays prominently in the movie) and had their permissions to create it.

The movie split his story into two — the younger Wilson as he grows to fame and decides that his talents are best kept at home where he can work on producing music — a smart move for a budding recording genius. Paul Dano plays this part and plays it with the nervous energy and chaotic genius that Wilson must have had to create something like Pet Sounds.

The second is his later life, somewhat in the midst of, but mostly after, the years of psychotic breakdown. This Brian Wilson was played by John Cusack (who looked just a bit too John Cusack-like to always pull the role off….we couldn’t add weigh or do anything there??? C’maaan!)

I won’t go too deep into the plot. It’s a true story, so the plot is essentially Wilson’s wikipedia page here.

The movie hits the right keys when we see Dano orchestrate Pet Sounds — an audicious album of so many instruments and sounds that rock n’ roll had never had (this was before, and a big influence to, the later Sgt. Peppers).

Dano’s Wilson is set on making the greatest album ever made. He has the music in his head and just needs to get it out on paper, no matter how complex it is, how many hours he needs to spend in the studio etc…All of this too while facing disbelief from his team of other Beach Boys, none of who had been in this kind of “sound” before, a father wrapped up in emotionally abusing Brian, AND the introduction of drugs into the scene and his own mind.

Crazy thing is, he damn near succeeded in doing it.

And through Bill Pohland’s lens we see how it all came together.

The joy was really in the reproduction of this genius and the sound Brian Wilson created. In the span of a few months, this man wrote ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘Sloop John B’ and ‘Good Vibrations’. Those are three titans in the pantheon halls of rock/pop music — and good enough to hold against any four Beatles songs.

And that’s not going into the albums underrated hits (‘Here Today’, ‘I Know There’s An Answer’,’That’s Not Me’).

I’m losing the movie  a bit in this waxing here and I can tell but the musical element is just so damn strong. It’s what you take away from the movie and the great joy of seeing this displayed. Great albums don’t just arrive one day. They’re crafted, written, edited, re-recorded. There’s men, or in this case, a man, behind the construction. That man is baring his soul and crafting a ‘David’ in his own sense. As we see, this almost killed Brian Wilson (and some others almost did too). Luckily, we have his albums. And perhaps even more miraculously, we have him back.

Waxing [cinematically]: The One I Love

The billing sold me first. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.

And then I read it was really only those two. Ted Danson is in there. For, what, a minute? Two?

So we have two favorites. 90 minutes. With just them.

And what a ride it was. It’s not just them two, it’s them two times two. That’s the trick. The trailer won’t tell you that and (SPOILERS) that’s what the movie hinges on. Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) meet each other’s nearly-Platonic form in a guest house that plays as an alternate world (and as the movie tongue-in-cheeks itself “some weird version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

The two actors (playing themselves and then their other “forms”) are really in sync here. You can see them play both sides of the coin — coy and new love, and disrupted, stretched-out romance. In this, we see how easily these sides are divisible from each other in life, through the lenses of these characters. They can be happy together, it would just take some kind of drastic change on their parts (and, then, even, who gets the person they want to be with? Who doesn’t?)

There’s a lot of compelling reasons to see this movie. It’s unique. It’s well acted. It’s got lessons on love, relationships, and, I think, most of all, communication.

That’s what really struck me here. Both characters knew something strange was happening, and there’s some base level communication about what’s happening there. But after that? Nothing.

The Ethan and Sophie that are on rocky terms do almost nothing to describe to each other how the other acted in the guest house. Sophie has a chance and, in what becomes a terse moment for any onlooker, kind of lets it go. My guess is that her character doesn’t think she owes Ethan anything (and for good reason).

Communication is so disruptive in its absence here. Both characters choose to stay silent (Sophie more than Ethan) and turn the widening gyre of their reality into what’s happening in the guest house. Without communication, and with this distance expanding, Ethan panics and loses his cool. And, yet, still, NO communication. He can’t even explain to Sophie why he’s upset. He can’t bring himself to that vulnerable of a place (which is necessary). It’s not in his character, and a wall of history stands between that.

Not all couples are built to last, one supposes. But there was something, some golden bowl you saw once. What was that? And what if that came back? The movie asks these questions and more.

Worth the watch.

Waxing [Cinematically]: Dallas Buyers’ Club

I snuck in a watching of Dallas Buyers’ Club just hours before the 2014 Academy Awards and I’m glad I did. It was worth it to see what film carried both the years Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

After the watch, it was apparent that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both put in performances worthy of the industry’s highest awards. It was also apparent that the movie itself was nowhere near that mark.

I was happy to see the actors’ take home dual Oscars. My belief is that the film really only deserved a Best Picture nomination because of those two’s work.

Here’s a few reasons why

  1. Jennifer Garner certainly didn’t help any. She was unconvincing as a doctor. Unaware of a strange and wavering southern accent. And, worst of all, just unable to keep up with the strong acting happening around here. She nearly derailed some scenes with both actors, but the one on ones with McConaughey almost blew the raw intensity of his performance (mostly, his charm).
  2. The direction was incredibly sloppy. The movie dragged its feet in some places, while skipping forward to fast in others. Scenes simply existed that didn’t need to. An example: McConaughey’s character is, well, having some alone time with himself when he’s interfered with by some pictures that Leto’s character put up on the wall. McConaughey’s character at this point had started his progression toward a better understanding (his character’s personal growth and achievement), yet still he tore down the pictures, muttered a few curses and the scene cut. It was a scene that neither advanced the plot nor the characters, and we just simply don’t need those.
  3. There were just simply too many plotholes. One big one is that Ron keeps mentioning research he has and has been a part of, but the movie never really shows us this avenue. To contextualize, DBC is far, far more of an Erin Brokovich type vigiliante quest than a movie about equality (a la Milk for instance). This is incongruent with Woodruff’s move as a more enlightened man while the movie takes more on about bureaucratic threatening the FDA brings than the coming together of a society around an issue of life and death.

These movies exist everywhere and in fact are probably what makes great movies great movies. 12 Years A Slave both won Best Picture and had each of its main cast members nominated for their respective awards. DBC just simply wasn’t a movie that would stand without the performances of its two leading men.

It was worth watching. Leto’s performance in particular will be one I cannot shake from the radar of great acting and won’t be able to for years to come. The movie gave him the vehicle and that has to mean something, right?