Daniel Radcliff and Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man

The hook that will attract most people to Swiss Army Man is how former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe fares playing a corpse for the length of a feature film. The draw can range from childhood crush intrigue to a more subconscious allure of celebrity transcending death. But what it all comes down to is that final word and how we personally relate with its inevitablity. With their debut feature film, directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a Daniels), who also wrote the film’s script together, toy with the narcissism of life and the humility of death via a funny, simple premise about a man lost at sea named Hank (Paul Dano) who befriends a dead body.

Read the rest of this entry »

mad-max-fury-road-hardy-theronThe Florida Film Critics Circle, a critics group we have representation in, has announced the winners of this year’s contest for the best of 2015, and it’s a wild list. Mad Max: Fury Road, a film we loved (Overturning Patriarchy in the Post-apocalyptic World: Mad Max: Fury Road – A Film Review), took the several of the top prizes including Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and Effects. Carol, another excellent movie we were rooting for (Love in times of heterosexism — Carol, a film review) had led the nominations with eight to Max‘s seven, but it ended up winning only one category, that of art direction/production design. Though it’s sad to see Carol come up short in so many categories, it did get runner up for esteemed categories like director, adapted screenplay, cinematography and score.

Speaking of score, I was delighted to see Love & Mercy win for that category. It was also a winner in Best Actor for Paul Dano. The Brian Wilson biopic really came out of nowhere to win this writer over this year, as I initially approached it with skepticism. I watched it twice in theaters before reviewing it (Love & Mercy harnesses the music & madness of Brian Wilson), and had a chance to talk with the film’s director (Director of Beach Boys pic Love & Mercy talks about externalizing Brian Wilson’s musical madness and how to deal with the character of Mike Love). As the months went on, it stuck with me, and I don’t think I played Pet Sounds, Smile and “Surf’s Up” in my life much as I ever had these past few months. I really gained a new appreciation for The Beach Boys due to this movie and its performances. So kudos for that.

Dano’s win was the tip of the iceberg for the acting categories. The winners were amazing in how much they went against predicted/marketed contenders. First of all, we went against the Hollywood Foreign Press’s decision to consider his role a supporting role. Plus, there was no sign at all, during the nomination phase, of the Will Smith or Jennifer Lawrence vehicles, and though it was close, the sentimentality of Sly Stallone did not deter critics from voting for Oscar Isaac for Best Supporting Actor not for his high profile appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits nearly all the right notes with breezy, rich flair — a film review) but for his performance in Ex Machina (Ex Machina looks past AI to examine artificial sexuality — a film review). Then there was Kristen Stewart who won Best Supporting Actress for her work in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria (Clouds of Sils Maria examines the layers of celebrity identity with powerful performances — a film review), a movie most have undeservedly forgotten — but not us.

This is probably the year where the most films and people I voted for to win actually won. Below you will find the nominees our group voted on. The winner is noted “WINNER” and my choices have an asterisk* by them. And below that you will find my ballot and nominees, which may hint at some of my favorite films of the year, but, as usual take it with a grain of salt. This is a political thing after all, and when participating in these things one should nominate and lobby for films that have a chance for recognition. My choices at least define a certain aesthetic that I feel no shame in celebrating.

Check out this link to see all the winners. In previous years that I have been a member (2012 and 2013) we ranked three choices in each category. Last year we tried something different. There are two rounds of voting. Each of the 30 voting members offers three choices in each category without ranking. Once all ballots were turned in, our chairman and vice chair tabulate the results return a new ballot of five choices (up from three last year) in each category. Everyone would pick one name or film in each category, and then the ones with the majority votes were declared winners. But if it was tight race, we would have a run off, and we had four this year. Plus we had five choices on the original ballot for each category because there were so many tight races to begin with.

OK, congrats to all the winners and here is the list:

BEST PICTURE

Carol*
WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
Spotlight
T
he Big Short
The Martian

BEST ACTOR

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
WINNER: Paul Dano – Love and Mercy*
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett – Carol*
WINNER: Brie Larson – Room
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

WINNER: Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina*
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon – 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Elizabeth Banks – Love and Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
WINNER: Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria*
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina

BEST DIRECTOR

Todd Haynes – Carol
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
WINNER: George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight*
Ridley Scott – The Martian

BEST ENSEMBLE

The Big Short
Mistress America
WINNER: Spotlight*
Straight Outta Compton
Tangerine

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Mistress America
WINNER: Spotlight*

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

WINNER: The Big Short
Brooklyn*
Carol
Room
Steve Jobs

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Carol*
WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario
Youth

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Ex Machina
WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens*
The Walk

BEST ART DIRECTION/ PRODUCTION DESIGN

Brooklyn
WINNER: Carol
Crimson Peak
Love & Mercy*
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SCORE

Carol
The Hateful Eight
WINNER: Love & Mercy*
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST DOCUMENTARY

WINNER: Amy
Best of Enemies
Cartel Land
Heart of a Dog*
The Look of Silence

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

WINNER: The Assassin*
Mommy
Mustang
Phoenix
Son of Saul

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Anomalisa
WINNER: Inside Out*
The Good Dinosaur
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

FFCC BREAKOUT AWARD

Bel Powley – Diary of a Teenage Girl*
WINNER: Daisy Ridley – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez – Tangerine
Jacob Tremblay – Room
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina and The Danish Girl

My initial ballot of nominees is below. We had to nominate three were unranked choices. The ones that got the most mentions out of the group became a list of five choices that we had to pick from. All my choices are listed in no particular order and the picture corresponds with the film that got the most nominations:

Paul Dano in Love & Mercy

BEST PICTURE

  • Spotlight
  • Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Love & Mercy

BEST ACTOR

  • Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
  • Jason Segel – End of the Tour
  • Peter Sarsgaard – Experimenter

BEST ACTRESS

  • Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
  • Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Cate Blanchett – Carol

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
  • Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
  • Stanley Tucci – Spotlight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Deanna Dunagan – The Visit
  • Kristen Wiig – Diary of a Teenage Girl

BEST ENSEMBLE

  • Spotlight
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Mad Max Fury Road

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Olivier Assayas – Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
  • Bill Pohlad – Love & Mercy

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner – Love & Mercy
  • Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
  • Olivier Assayas – Clouds of Sils Maria

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Phyllis Nagy – Carol
  • Marielle Heller – Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • Nick Hornby – Brooklyn

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Brooklyn
  • Mad Max Fury Road
  • It Follows

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Ex-Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road

ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Carol
  • Love & Mercy
  • Brooklyn

BEST SCORE

  • Atticus Ross – Love & Mercy
  • Cat’s Eyes – The Duke of Burgundy
  • Laurie Anderson – Heart of a Dog

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • Heart of a Dog
  • The Look of Silence
  • Tales of the Grim Sleeper

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

  • Theeb
  • The Assassin
  • Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Inside Out
  • Shaun of the Sheep
  • Anomalisa

BREAKOUT AWARD

  • Bel Powley – The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • Lola Kirke – Mistress America
  • Daisy Ridley – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

L&M_1_SHEET_MECH_FIN_WEB1429825458Biopics are often constrained by an obligation to transmit their subject’s life in a couple of hours of cinema. While some of those films can be fine, it’s refreshing when a filmmaker can offer something different. Director Bill Pohlad along with writers Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner do this in two ways with Love & Mercy, their exploration of the music and the madness of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. First, they focus on two distinct periods of Wilson’s life. In the late 1960s Wilson took to composing and experimenting in the studio while the rest of the band went on tour. This period produced the albums Pet Sounds (1966) and its follow-up, the unreleased Smile album. In the late ‘80s, Wilson became a recluse. Back then, he seemed like another causality of LSD, like Syd Barret of Pink Floyd. Despite some ill-recevied solo albums, he was out of the spotlight. What was more interesting was that he had spent two to three years in self-imposed bed rest. Otherwise, the wider public no longer seemed to care about Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys.

The second way the story unfolds is through Wilson’s music — in both its presence and absence. The late ‘60s was the beginning of Wilson’s most creative period, and the work would become legendary. Unfortunately, theLM_03545.CR2 wide acclaim wouldn’t come until decades later. In the late ‘80s, he was so far gone, a sense of irrelevance clouds the era. Neither of these periods are a well-understood part of the musician’s career. He was an outcast during both, but with hindsight, he has enjoyed a rebirth, influencing bands like Stereolab and Of Montreal, among others in the ‘90s*. In 2004, Wilson revitalized Smile with a tour and an album called Brian Wilson Presents Smile. He’s still recording new music today.

Music was redemption for Wilson, and the filmmakers understand this, alternating between the two eras for the movie’s duration, telling a story with two different actors playing the same man as a musician caught enthrall with the process of creation (Paul Dano) and a musician denied it utterly (John Cusack). For a director who hasn’t directed a film since 1990, Love & Mercy is an accomplished work. Of course, in the interim Pohlad has produced films like Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), and 12 Years a Slave (2013), so he’s worked with some amazing directors since then. But the film stands on its own in every aspect of cinema and hopefully will not be forgotten come awards season. It features amazing work in every element you can imagine, from editing the dual storylines together and the performances that bring them to life. There’s also meticulous production design. Those familiar with the album covers of The Beach Boys will be astonished at the detail in the scenes that depict their creations. The cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman, who has been working with Wes Anderson since Bottle Rocket (1996), highlights his keen eye for period atmosphere.

LOVEANDMERCY101431647898

Ultimately, PohIad shows great understanding that the story of Wilson — who also cooperated with the production — is as much about the music as it is about the personality associated with it. It’s exhilarating to watch the construction of the songs in the studio. There are many distinct instruments playing signature, familiar parts from certain songs. It’s what makes Wilson so brilliant, he understands the qualities of so many instruments and played to their strengths and sometimes pushed them beyond. But he also found ways to use the studio as part of the album. From ambient noise and little accidents, Pohlad pays tribute to every aspect of Wilson’s creativity in this movie.

The first standout scene in the studio, when the large band of Pet Sounds assembles to perform the first bit of music, feels appropriately unsettling. The music they produced is angular and unfinished. Without calling too much attention to itself, it foretells the terrible looming failure of the album, which was a commercial disappointment for the group. But gradually things come together, and the studio musicians Brian has gathered clearly begin to delight in the work, even when Brian brings in a couple of dogs to bark for the record.

Sure, it’s madcap, but it also speaks to the din in Brian’s head, something the film establishes at the very beginning. In order to highlight the sounds in his head, Love & Mercy opens in darkness. A chaotic stew of famous Beach Boys musical bits eventually meld together to form the semblance of a song that crescendos as the camera pulls out from an earhole and then cuts to silence after a visual cut to the foot of an ornate bed, where the viewer is confronted with the lump of an obese bearded man meant to be Wilson, lying prone in the eerie hush of dreary silence.

Paul Dano in Love & Mercy

Wilson has long said he has been plagued by internal voices and music, and in this movie you get the sense of a man struggling to exorcise these voices by externalizing them through music. There’s creativity but also a curse. Beyond cooperating with sharing his story, Wilson also gave Oscar-winning soundtrack composer Atticus Ross access to all the masters he had. There are bits of Beach Boys music you may have never heard used in the score, assembled by Ross as both extradiegetic score and narrative musical hallucinatory moments key to the story inside Wilson’s head.

But on the other side, there are scenarios brought to life in the studio, like Brian’s painstaking approach to create the chugging cello parts in “Good Vibrations.” There are also incredibly visual moments. During a particularly harrowing montage toward the end of the film, we get a few seconds of the studio band in fireman helmets playing some unheard section of Smile with Brian twirling in the middle, shirt open, under his own fireman’s helmet, space eyed and holding smoking flares. The heartbreaking coda of “Surf’s Up” plays over the image that is a mixture of both creative triumph and melancholy madness.

Some may wonder if the actors did their own singing. To my ears, I cannot tell that they did. It’s almost jarring when we first see Dano open his mouth and hear Wilson’s voice come out of it, so I doubt he did LM_00304.CR2(Ed: Dano did, making his performance that more impressive). Also, The Beach Boys’ harmonizing has often been considered some of the most complex singing ever recorded. But it’s a testament to Dano’s acting that he can capture Wilson’s awkward ticks so that the viewer can soon accept seeing this quirky actor as Wilson.

Above all, music drives the narrative, and one could consider almost every other scene and how it is used to push the narrative forward via music. After that unsettling opening scene, the film’s more straightforward narrative begins at the Cadillac dealership where the ’80s Brian met his wife Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). The smooth jazz sounds of Kenny G’s “Songbird” plays softly over the P.A. It’s actually an annoyingly high-pitched, simplistic melody, the antithesis to the complex harmonies Wilson created with The Beach Boys. When Brian asks to sit in one car with Melinda, they close the doors, sealing out the cloying melody, and he even locks the doors. Maybe he’s locking out the music, but he’s also finding some alone time from his bodyguard. By the late ‘80s, Wilson had long been under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy was a famous celebrity psychologist, who actually succeeded in getting Wilson out of bed and the funk of depression that had him habitually abusing drugs. But, by the late ‘80s, he made Wilson his only case and inserted himself as a business partner and even co-songwriter. He micro-managed Wilson’s life with medication and around-the-clock surveillance.

LM_04823.CR2

But that never meant the music and voices had left Wilson alone. Though heavily medicated during this time, Love & Mercy also shows Brian continuing to struggle with the phantom sounds, but with no creative outlet compared to the ‘60s storyline. When the real music appears, we get a glimpse of what it means to Brian in real life. During a sailing trip with Melinda, the sound of “Sloop John B (I Wanna Go Home)” emanates from the pilot house through a cranked up, trebly speaker. Landy’s son captains the boat. Brian and Melinda sit toward the bow, and Brian asks the captain to turn it off. Clearly not understanding Brian, the captain yells toward the bow, “It’s a tribute to you, Brian.” Then Brian casually explains, “It sort of destroys my brain.”

It’s a sad way to show how negative the specter of his old group has become to him. Besides that moment, there is no Beach Boys music in this section of Brian’s life. There’s one lovely moment, however, of Brian sharing his talents with Melinda that also LOVEANDMERCY081431647886serves as a subtle musical declaration of the film’s title. When she comes over to his house for her first visit, he sits at the piano to play a romantic melody and suddenly stops. Her jaw drops, and she asks what it was. Brian replies, “Something I came up with when I first saw you.” She asks what he might plan to do with it. He says, “Nothing … Every once in a while your soul comes out to play.”

Those with a sharp ear and a familiarity with Wilson’s solo work will notice that melody is the first utterance of the film’s title, “Love and Mercy,” which also happens to be the opening track of his 1988 debut solo album Brian Wilson. That the director chooses to reveal the film’s title through music speaks to how important music is not only to Wilson but the film itself. Brian Wilson fans are bound to have a blast with this film, but it also goes to show how important music is in driving the film’s narrative in subtle ways.

Still, the music also works without much context, which invites any member of the audience to find their own way to appreciate how music works as a narrative device. Pohlad constructs his story musically, as well, trusting in all the film’s separate parts to work on transmitting the story. It’s easy to fill in the blanks of Wilson’s relationship with Dr. Landy when Giamatti gives a powerful, stark performance. Landy’s intrusiveness is first revealed during Brian’s and Melinda’s first date: a Moody Blues concert. During the climax of wails of “Nights in White Satin,” Melinda leans over to tell Brian, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks Love & Mercy“This song is so great.” Brian quietly agrees, “Yeah.” Landy, whose sitting on Melinda’s other side, leans to her to ask, “What did you say?” where she must explain her exchange with Brian. Landy will later corner Melinda at his office in an attempt to win her over to his side, explaining that, as Brian’s doctor, he will need her to report to him whatever Brian tells her. It’s a twisted scene that also features one of several moments where Giamatti is allowed to show off his grand acting without a pause for reverse shot. He blends malice and sincerity to creepy, riveting heights, and Pohlad gives him room, not allowing for any edits to taint or manipulate his performances. It’s not slow-paced editing but the creation of tension by expert acting. Cusack is also allowed moments to shine in this way.

Mike Love (Jake Abel) and the Wilsons’ patriarch (Bill Camp) are the nemeses of the other part of Brian’s life. Mike is comfortable with the early hits about California girls and surfing, and he becomes resentful with new tangents in the songwriting, impatient with Brian’s meticulousness and resistant to any rule breaking, like including studio banter during a solo in the middle of “Here Today.” He calls it “unprofessional.” When he’s given the lyrics to “Hang On To Your Ego,” Mike asks Brian, “Is this a druggie song?” and refuses to sing the lyrics until Brian explains otherwise and the other Beach Boys take Brian’s side. Love is also the one to say Pet Sounds won’t even make gold, so now it’s time to go back to writing “real music.”

Murry Wilson is the precursor and parallel to Landy, who like Mike, is also turned off by attempts at more profound songwriting by Brian, questioning the ironic lyrics of “God Only Knows.” After he’s fired as the band’s manager, the elder Wilson interrupts a recording session to present the band with his new discovery, The Sunrays, and their Beach Boys imitation song, “I Live For the Sun.” Brian retreats to the studio, where he can hear the grating single through the walls, and he’s overtaken by a nightmare blur of his own creative voices clashing with the din of The Sunrays’ amateurish harmonies.

LOVEANDMERCY071431647756

Love & Mercy is filled with these small details also expressed by even slighter but still fascinating supporting characters. Van Dyke Parks (Max Schneider) was an important collaborator of Wilson’s, but the narrative stays focused on Wislon’s experience. Van’s biggest moment comes when Love bullies him out of a Beach Boys meeting at a pool. Brian is treading water in the deep end, pleading with his band mates to join him there so Phil Spector (Jonathan Slavin) can’t hear them because he has the house bugged. Dennis Wilson (Kenny Wormald), who’s standing in the shallow side of the pool that the others are sitting around, counters, “We’re too shallow for the deep end.” It’s a sly metaphor for the gulf between the members of the group.

The film is rich with these musical and dramatic instances that capture life moments with musical and creative resonance. Pohlad does more justice to a life lived by focusing on the details and showing less concern for a big story arc. That’s not life. Life is a chaotic mix of moments filled with their own highs and lows. It’s not unlike the shredding given to Smile, torn apart across other albums, including Smiley Smile (1967) and Surf’s Up (1971). Wilson also comes across as a person torn. It’s about music in abundance and the absence of it, and how it tears about a creative and crazy person whose legend has become inextricable from his music. “These things I’ll be until I die.”

Hans Morgenstern

*Into the 2000s there’s also Grizzly Bear.

You can read my interview with the director here:

Director of Beach Boys pic Love & Mercy talks about externalizing Brian Wilson’s musical madness and how to deal with the character of Mike Love

Love & Mercy runs 120 minutes and is rated PG-13 (for cussing and the depiction of complications with drugs and rock ‘n’ roll).

Update 2: Love & Mercy is coming the the Bill Cosford Cinema for a weekend run this Friday, July 31. Click here for the schedule.

It opens in limited release in the Miami area this Friday, June 5. In our South Florida area, the venues hosting the film are as follows:

  • Miami-Dade: Coral Gables Art Cinema, Aventura Mall 24 Theatres and Regal South Beach 18
  • Keys: Tropic Cinema Key West  
  • Broward County:  Cinemark Paradise 24, The Classic Gateway Theatre
  • Boca/Palm Beach counties:  Living Room Theaters/Boca, Regal Shadowood 16/Boca, Cinemark Palace 20/Boca, Muvico Parisian 20, Movies of Delray 5,  Delray Marketplace 12, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14

Update: The film expands on June 12 in South Florida at these theaters:

  • Silverspot Coconut Creek Cinemas Coconut Creek
  • Cinepolis Grove 15 Coconut Grove
  • Oakwood 18 Hollywood
  • O Cinema Miami Beach Miami Beach
  • Sunset Place 24 Theatres

For other theaters across the U.S., visit the film’s website and put in your zip code in the box in the upper left corner via this link. All images courtesy of Roadside Attractions, who also hosted a preview screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

LM_00237FD.psd

The story of The Beach Boys is so much more fascinating than most assume. The band behind such early 1960s hits as “Surfin’ Safari” and “I Get Around” were a family affair, made up of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and a friend named Al Jardine. Among them, though, was a musical genius: Brian Wilson. It was his vision in the studio — from the band’s signature harmonies to angular musical ideas to putting dogs barking on a record — that took the band from hit factory to more complex levels that would gain them critical acclaim and go on to influence many other artists for decades to come.

But the thing about Wilson is that he was also clinically crazy. From the physical and mental abuse suffered by the band members’ father/manager to the abuse of LSD, Wilson spiraled downward. He was also very sensitive and introverted. He had a fear of flying and preferred working in the studio to touring live. By the 1980s, after he legendarily retreated to bed for three years and some failed solo work, people wrote him off as helplessly crazy, not unlike Syd Barrett. But gradually questions arose about his personal psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy. Wilson’s brother Carl had to fight in court to free his brother from Landy’s obsessive care that took away the musician’s autonomy and even the rights to some of his music.

No one can point to one thing that broke this man down, but his musical highs were heavily balanced out by his personal lows. In a new biopic, Love & Mercy (Read our review: Love & Mercy harnesses the music & madness of Brian Wilson), director/producer Bill Pohlad finds a way to focus on both yet still make the music the most important element in Wilson’s life. It’s an amazing achievement by the producer of Wild (Wild features brutally honest and vulnerable performance by Witherspoon — a film Review), LM_01332FD.psd12 years a Slave (The Florida Film Critics Circle announce `12 Years a Slave’ big winner for 2013… and the picks by Indie Ethos) and a personal favorite, Tree of Life (An antidote for Oscar hype: My 20 favorite films of 2011 [numbers 10 – 1]). On May 15, after watching the film twice, I spoke with Pohlad via phone. I could have easily gone on a tangent to talk about these other amazing films, if we had had the time, but amazing in its own way, is his return to directing after almost 25 years. Few know his debut feature film released in 1990, starring José Ferrer and James Whitmore called Old Explorers, which is only available on VHS on the secondary market (Support the Independent Ethos, you can try to purchase direct through Amazon via this link). Like many, I haven’t seen it, so I cannot attest to its quality. But I can only imagine Pohlad has learned a lot as a producer because Love & Mercy stands as one of this writer’s favorite movies of 2015, so far.

I’ve already written one article from our interview in the Miami New Times’ Art and Culture blog. The piece mostly covers Pohlad’s acting choices (two actors play Wilson: John Cusack and  Paul Dano) and how he uses Wilson’s music in impressive sound collages based on actual music by Wilson and re-contextualized by Atticus Ross. You can read that article by jumping through the blog’s logo below:

NT Arts

We spoke about other topics, but I couldn’t fit it all in the article, so here’s an abridged Q&A of material missing from that article, which is still no less interesting for those who plan to see this extraordinary film about a man, his madness and his music (my glowing review, which will focus on the presence and absence of music in the film’s narrative, is coming soon).

Hans Morgenstern: I want to talk about the creative way you declare the title of the film within the narrative. There’s this scene where Brian Wilson sits at the piano playing what turns out to be the melody for “Love and Mercy” for Melinda.

Bill Pohlad: Not everybody catches that. In fact, you’re the first one that actually mentions it.

I’m big on music. So I imagine you must be very attuned to music.

I’ve always been a big music fan. I find a lot of filmmakers are frustrated musicians and a lot of musicians are frustrated filmmakers, I think, once you talk to people. But I certainly fall into that category. I love music, and I wish that maybe I’d pursued that. I’ve always loved it and followed, and I think one of the attractions to this movie was trying to capture — like the Pet Sounds era and that kind thing — what’s inside the head of an incredible, creative musician.

LM_00304.CR2

You certainly capture that when representing what’s going on inside his head. You capture his music as well as his sickness. How did you decided on this manner to represent that?

Well, I think it comes from learning about Brian and talking to him and [his wife] Melinda [played by Elizabeth Banks] a little bit and trying to get a sense of what he actually experienced. As I got to know the story better, and I got to spend a little more time with him — both of them — you get a sense of what goes on in his head. He’s admitted, of course, and it’s very well known that he hears voices and things like that, but there’s also the musical element.

I think you do something great with the editing: you let the actors perform. A lot of times you see actors’ performances chopped up in the editing, but you had some longish takes.

Yeah, I believe in actors’ performances, and certainly the other directors that I worked with as a producer in some of the other films, that I admired have kind of allowed me to push more in that direction and have more confidence about that.

Speaking of some of the people you admire, there’s a sequence at the end of the movie [that we see in the trailer] in Brian’s bed that reminded me of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yeah. You don’t necessarily want to do those things blatantly. I was afraid, I’m going back and forth thinking that people would think that was a total rip-off. But to me because of the role that that bed played in Brian’s life … where that sequence at the end came from was the fact that we’re trying to create a film here that’s true and kind of authentic … When I first started talking to John Cusack about the role, he was like, ‘Well, you know, but at the end, isn’t there a time when Brian could, you know, like get up and leave and walk out … on Landy or something like that?’ As a filmmaker or a storyteller LM_04823.CR2you’re always looking for those ways to end the movie or something like that, but the problem is that never actually happened. Brian never did walk out. There wasn’t any dramatic storming away from Landy, so I wanted to find a way to end the film that was more true to what actually happened and true to life. Our lives just don’t go that way: clean and neat, so the idea of like having this period where you’re able to like see Brian struggling within himself, with who he is and where he’s been and coming from some kind of peace, that felt more authentic than trying to force some kind of ending, so that’s where that sequence came from. Then, when you’re visualizing it with the bed and all, yeah, someone can think of Kubrick and all that, but hopefully it’s organic to the movie as well.

Mike Love [played by Jake Abel] comes across a little, I would say acerbic in the film. Have you had any reaction from him about the movie?

I don’t know. We haven’t heard yet. The whole Mike Love thing is tricky in the sense that certainly he has a reputation, either fairly or unfairly, of being a tough guy or whatever, and not a particularly pleasant guy. I mean, the first thing I wanted to do is deal with that in the storytelling sense. I don’t like the idea of creating arch villains or one-dimensional guys, and Mike was a great example of that. I didn’t really want him to be seen in that way, as the bad guy. It’s too easy, and I wanted to relate to LOVEANDMERCY071431647756him and tried to. I hope it comes through a little bit. He’s just a guy. He’s a human being. He’s different than Brian. That doesn’t make him bad. You just know that Brian’s a creative genius, and we’re telling this story about this extraordinary, creative artist, but the guy next to him is just a regular guy. He’s got talents of his own, but he’s not that kind of guy. That does not make him bad. I wanted to portray it in that way, saying, Hey, maybe you can relate to this guy. He’s got a good gig going, and all of a sudden his cousin starts going off, and starts doing these really weird things. It’s like, ‘Hey, c’mon what are you doing?’ As opposed to making him like that bad guy, so hopefully there’s some balance there.

Hans Morgenstern

I’ll leave you with a featurette with more information by the actors and Pohlad:

Update Love & Mercy is coming the the Bill Cosford Cinema for a weekend run this Friday, July 31. Click here for the schedule.

Love & Mercy opens in limited release this Friday, June 5, across the nation. In our South Florida area, the venues are as follows:

  • Miami-Dade: Coral Gables Art Cinema, Aventura Mall 24 Theatres and Regal South Beach 18
  • Keys: Tropic Cinema Key West  
  • Broward County:  Cinemark Paradise 24, The Classic Gateway Theatre
  • Boca/Palm Beach counties:  Living Room Theaters/Boca, Regal Shadowood 16/Boca, Cinemark Palace 20/Boca, Muvico Parisian 20, Movies of Delray 5,  Delray Marketplace 12, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14

For other theaters across the U.S., visit the film’s website and put in your zip code in the box in the upper left corner via this link. All images courtesy of Roadside Attractions, who also hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this interview.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)