Friday, June 12, 2015

"Love and Mercy" and the Week in Reviews

[This week it's all about biopics and Elizabeth Banks and there's only one clunker. I review the new movie about Brian Wilson "Love and Mercy," the DVD "Walk of Shame" and the TV movie "Grace of Monaco," which stars Nicole Kidman and available to stream on Netflix.  The Book of the Week is "Why Acting Matters."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the classic and funny teen slasher movie "Scream"]

Biopic about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and his struggle with mental illness.

This film is really two films in one.  Paul Dano plays the young Brian during the 1960's when he was creating his masterpiece "Pet Sounds" and ultimately the Beach Boys' biggest selling hit, "Good Vibrations," while at the same time dealing with his burgeoning mental illness exacerbated by drug abuse.  John Cusack plays the older Brian during the 1990's when he was under the "care" of  Dr. Eugene Landy, a Svengali-like therapist who took complete control of Brian's life. 

The film rocks back and forth between the two eras with the older Brian meeting Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and falling in love and her becoming increasingly concerned about the control Dr. Landy exerts over Brian. 

The Beach Boys were as popular as the Beatles in their time with such surfing and beach hits as "Surfin' Safari," "Surfer Girl" and "Little Deuce Coupe."  The band consisted of brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis plus their friend Al Jardine and cousin Mike Love. They all grew up in Hawthorne, California and their music was pegged "The California Sound."  Brian was the songwriter and provided the high notes with the others providing close harmony.  Brian also produced the records and his innovation and creativity is widely acknowledged in the musical world.

Their father, Murray Wilson, was their manager and like Joe Jackson of The Jackson 5, he was a hard-driving taskmaster and was not above hitting his sons. The film hints at Brian's upbringing and his desire to please his father as a cause for his mental illness, but it is well-known that he also abused alcohol and drugs and had trouble dealing with the price of fame, so it is difficult to say what the contributing factors were to his breakdowns and the film doesn't really try to answer that question.

Paul Dano puts in an Oscar-worthy performance as the younger Brian and seems to channel him. He plays Brian as a sweet, gentle Teddy Bear who hears the music in his head and just wants to make the best music he can. The scenes showing how Brian wrote his songs and created the albums are wonderful.  Not surprisingly, this film was made with the full cooperation of Brian Wilson and his wife, Melinda.

Though John Cusack is a marvelous actor and also puts in a good performance, his casting was a mistake.  He looks so little like Brian Wilson that it is a distraction and no matter how good his performance or his ability to mimic some of Wilson's mannerisms, he is not able to shake the fact that he is miscast.  One wonders if his name was needed to carry this film since the film took over 10 years to bring to fruition.  But who carries the film?  Dano.

Elizabeth Banks is able to unleash her dramatic acting chops as Brian's patient and caring love interest after stints as a kooky character in "The Hunger Games" and stranded news anchor in the comedy "Walk of Shame (see review below)." This might be her break out role, because she is a beautiful gifted actress who deserves to carry a film herself.

Paul Giamatti plays Landy in his usual over-the-top, eye bulging way.  I have never been a fan of his and have finally figured out why.  No matter what role he plays, he overacts.  And the silly wig he wears in this doesn't help.

Written by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner and directed by Bill Pohlad, this film is not your usual biopic. Instead of the cradle to grave treatment we usually see, this one concentrates on two particular times in Wilson's life and gets inside Wilson's head to capture his unorthodox creative process and his struggles to create despite his increasing mental illness. 

I could have done without the montage at the end that tries to sum up Wilson's demons, but all in all, this is a fine film and does Wilson and his wife Melinda proud. This film is as much about Melinda and her role in "saving" Brian as it is about him.  They have been making the talk show rounds and you can tell she is a driving force, just as she was portrayed in the film. 

And by the way, Brian never learned to surf.

Rosy the Reviewer says...one of the best films I've seen this year.
 



***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)
 



Walk of Shame (2014)
 


News anchor Meghan (Elizabeth Banks) is up for a promotion and after an uncharacteristic one-night-stand finds herself stranded in L.A. with no money, car, phone or ID and only a few hours to get to that all important interview.

In her preliminary interview for a promotion, TV anchor Meghan is asked if there are any skeletons in her closet.  It's down to her and another hopeful, Wendy Chang. Meghan assures the interviewers she is a "good girl."  

At the same time that Meghan's boyfriend breaks up with her and takes everything, she finds out Chang has gotten the job, so Meghan decides to go out drinking at a club with her girlfriends to drown her sorrows.  She drinks too much and gets locked out of the club while looking for the restroom.  She gets her heel caught on a fire escape and is rescued by a handsome stranger (James Marsden) who it turns out was actually the bartender in the club. He offers to take her home but when he asks her where she lives, she replies, "Where do YOU live?"  MEET CUTE ALERT!

They have a sexy, drunken fun night together, and then...

Meghan wakes up, hung over, not knowing where she is (who hasn't had that happen?).  She checks her voice mail only to discover Wendy Chang DID have some skeletons in her closet and the promotion is now Meghan's if she can get to the studio in time for another interview.

When she makes her way back to her car, she discovers it has been towed.  From there, wacky adventures ensue as Meghan tries to get to her interview in time, making her way through the mean streets of L.A. with no money, no car, no phone and no ID.

A "walk of shame" is defined as having to go home from a one-night-stand wearing the hoochy dress you went out clubbing in the night before.  So our girl, wearing a bright yellow, tight, Band-Aid dress is, of course, mistaken for a hooker.  She is also befriended by some crack dealers and finds herself in the midst of a drug deal gone wrong. 

The "girl in the bright yellow dress" becomes a big news story as she wrecks havoc all over L.A.  Our "good girl" gone wrong.

We know Elizabeth Banks from "The Hunger Games," where she plays a wacky funny character and as one of the girls in "Pitch Perfect (1 and 2)," but here the focus is on her, and she really gets to show her comedy chops.  The rest of the cast are also very funny, especially her two girlfriends and the crack dealers.

It's a bit raunchy, a bit politically incorrect and the story is far-fetched story, especially the ending, but I laughed in spite of myself and that's how I judge a comedy.  Did I laugh?  Yes, I did. This was actually quite a humorous film written and directed by Steven Brill, reminiscent of "Adventures in Babysitting," a film I really enjoyed, and Elizabeth Banks is quite endearing here.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this isn't Woody Allen or "Bridesmaids," but it's a funny and fun little trifle.  Recommended for a date night at home when the kids are in bed.




Grace of Monaco  (2014)
 

A biopic on Princess Grace that concentrates on the time she almost went back to Hollywood to star in Hitchcock's "Marnie."

It's no secret that Alfred Hitchcock liked blondes and he had a particular affinity for Grace Kelly. It broke his heart when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and retired from acting to become a real life Princess. However, when he decided to do "Marnie," Grace was his first choice and he traveled to Monaco to pitch the film to the Princess and try to lure her back to Hollywood.

The film depicts Grace (Nicole Kidman) as still having a difficult time fulfilling her princess role and fitting in as a Monagasque, even five years after her fairy tale marriage.  She is shown as stifled and not being able to "speak her mind." So when "Hitch" asks her to star in "Marnie," she is torn.  Can she go back to Hollywood without it tarnishing her Princess-hood? 

When Grace broached the idea of her doing the film, Prince Rainier was supportive at first, but there was political intrigue going on between France and Monaco and the palace PR machine warned that if she went back to Hollywood it would look she was abandoning her husband. Her one chance.  Lost. We know the role went to Tippi Hedren, another pretty blonde.
 
Kidman had high hopes for this movie, but when it went to the Cannes Film Festival it bombed so badly that they couldn't get distribution and it ended up being picked up by Lifetime

Nicole Kidman on Lifetime?  How the mighty have fallen.  And let me tell you, she was not happy about it!

As a Lifetime Movie aficionado (I'm so bad that I just got through watching "Double Daddy" and have never gotten over Tori Spelling in the classically bad "Mother May I Sleep With Danger?"), even I was shocked to see Nicole Kidman in a Lifetime Movie. 

And Tim Roth (as Prince Rainier), Derek Jacobi and Frank Langella are also in this thing. Parker Posey is almost unrecognizable as Madge, whose role is unclear (she is some sort of disapproving assistant to Princess Grace).

This was directed by Olivier Dahan, the same guy who brought us the wonderful "La Vie En Rose."  So what the hell happened here?

The script is stodgy and melodramatic and dare I say it?  Very Lifetime Movie-like.  And the drama is replaced by extreme close-ups of Kidman. There are a lot of them. Kidman's botoxed forehead seems to also be one of the stars.  Not sure about those close-ups as directorial choices.

Kidman does her best to channel Princess Grace and at times, looks very much like her.  She does what she can with the script but even she can't overcome it. Unlike "Love and Mercy (reviewed above)," this biopic falls into the melodramatic biopic formula we have come to know and hate.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Princess Grace deserved better than this.  So did Nicole and the rest of the cast.




***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

 
260 to go!



Scream  (1996)
 
 
Our heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) must survive the attacks of a slasher film fanatic hell bent on killing her.  But why is he doing it?
Drew Barrymore's 10 minutes at the beginning of the film are truly scary and who knew the ringing of the phone could be such a horror film moment? Well, Alfred Hitchcock did, who started it all.  Remember, "Dial M for Murder?"  And John Carpenter used it again to scary effect in "Halloween."

This whole film is an homage to and a send-up of the horror film genre, including director Wes Craven's own "Nightmare on Elm Street" which he makes fun of when Barrymore says the sequels weren't very good, but that doesn't mean it's not scary.  It is.  I was glad I was watching it on a sunny afternoon.  I couldn't believe I missed it the first time around.

Kevin Williamson wrote a brilliant script that is smart, funny and skewers all of the horror movie conventions we have come to expect.

A character outlines the "rules" for horror films:

"There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie.


For instance, number one: you can never have sex.  ...sex equals death, okay?

Number two: you can never drink or do drugs. The sin factor! It's a sin. It's an extension of number one.

And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, "I'll be right back." Because you won't be back.

"I'm gettin' another beer, you want one? I'll be right back.

"See, you push the laws and you end up dead. Okay, I'll see you in the kitchen with a knife."

Another character says something like life is a movie and you don't get to pick the genre.

Great stuff.


This film also highlighted a bevy of young stars who went on to greater things: in addition to Barrymore and Neve Campbell: Skeet Ulrich, David Arquette, Rose McGowan, Liev Schreiber (in a barely there role - if you blink you will miss him), Courtney Cox and Jamie Kennedy. And Henry Winkler (uncredited) as the school principal? How fun is that? Also uncredited and in homage to the horror film genre, Linda Blair appears as an "Obnoxious Reporter and Wes Craven himself is "Fred the Janitor."  The movie grossed over $103 million and started a whole new craze of teen slasher films, not to mention sequels and parodies of itself.

Though "Halloween" was original for its day, it hasn't really passed the test of time when it comes to the "scare" factor, though it figures prominently in this film. "Scream" is still scary even by today's standards.

Why it's a Must See: "Among the reasons for Scream's outstanding success is an often hilarious script (written by Kevin Williamson, who would go on to create the hit teen TV show Dawson's Creek), the numerous jokey references to earlier horror movies, and Craven's expert direction, which manages to frighten audiences even while they are laughing."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rosy the Reviewer says...a really stylish and scary horror film that set a standard in the horror film genre by being funny.  If you are a fan of horror films or even a movie trivia buff, a must!
 

(MTV will be airing a TV series based on "Scream" beginning June 30th).


  

 

***Book of the Week***




Why Acting Matters  by David Thomson (2015)
 

Thomson reflects on the importance of the performing arts, the history of acting, the cult of celebrity and compares actors past and present and stage acting vs. film acting in this long, thoughtful essay.

I am glad Thomson took this on because as someone whose pursuit was acting for many years, I always knew it was an important part of what makes us human.

As humans, our need for "acting out" started with the cave men and women as they told stories, sometimes embellished, to each other. So it's no great leap that we put it all on film or started to tell our stories on stage.

"It is a fancy to imagine tribesmen or cave dwellers returning from the veldt or the swamp and telling stories about it, reenacting what transpired...What is just as interesting is to wonder at the evolutionary process whereby the returning tribesman thought to himself as he limped home -- well, what am I going to say, or what am I going to do to act out the adventure?  How can I explain why I didn't catch anything?"

"When did he see that as a storyteller he controlled the process?"

In the end, we are all actors.  Whether it's during a job interview or our roles as parents or employees, we are often different selves for different people depending on our roles.  We want to be our best version of ourselves.  And our lives are long-running plays.

"With our favorite actors we have seen them grow older, and we read the implication that something just as drastic must have happened to us.  Acting is an entertainment, but it is a model for our existence and collapse. We try to act human.  That seems the least we can do, and as long as that condition prevails -- do not trust it forever -- then acting is our engine, and we are driving on a desert road."
 
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...Now you know why you should care.
 


Thanks for Reading!
 

That's it for this week.


See you Tuesday for

Rosy the Reviewer Does Italy, Pt. 3: Positano and The Amalfi Coast
(with travel tips and my usual pithy observations)

 

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