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Non-Review Review: Love and Mercy

The music biography is a surprisingly familiar genre.

For all that there are thousands upon thousands of musicians with their own life stories and histories, the plotting of these sorts of stories always seems to hit on the same beats. The rhythm and tempo might change, but the notes feel the same. This was rather strongly pronounced a decade ago, when Walk the Line and Ray were released in quick succession and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story provided a delightfully surreal skewering of the conventions associated with these sorts of films.

Where there's a Wilson, there's a way, son...

Where there’s a Wilson, there’s a way, son…

There is always a childhood trauma at the root of the story; whether it is a dead relative or parental abuse, there is always a suitable motivator for artistic expression. Similarly, fame is always something of a mixed blessing, with material success only serving to exaggerate a larger spiritual emptiness. Dependencies come rather naturally, whether on drugs or on other people. Eventually, it seems like true love allows our protagonist to find themselves before they find their happy ending. Having a ready-made (and thematically appropriate) soundtrack probably helps.

In most cases, the material is elevated by the skill with which the story is put together. If the film must hit all those familiar notes, then the moving parts make all the difference. Walk the Line and Ray were buoyed by mesmerising central performances from actors at the peak of their game. Love and Mercy hits a lot of these common plot beats as it maps out the troubled life of Brian Wilson. Even a viewer unfamiliar with the arc of Wilson’s life will have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the film.

That sinking feeling...

That sinking feeling…

At the same time, Love and Mercy benefits from a collection of strong performances. Paul Dano and John Cusack play the musician at various stages of his life, jumping back and forth between his controversy-creating career highs and subsequent lows. The bulk of the supporting cast is teamed up with Cusack, creating an interesting circle of characters around Wilson in the late eighties and into the nineties. Elizabeth Banks is Melinda Ledbetter, a Cadillac saleswoman who gets caught up with Wilson. Paul Giammatti is controversial psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy.

Love & Mercy is at its best when it feels playful and accessible, and is at its worst when it feels familiar and well-trodden. It is a fascinating sketch at the life and times of Brian Wilson, with a recognisable structure elevated by a great ensemble.

Pet sounds...

Pet sounds…

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Non-Review Review: Prisoners

Prisoners is very much a game of two halves. Feeling like two separate films grafted together, Prisoners feels at once like a psychological exploration of American masculinity and also a far more conventional serial killer film. Indeed, had director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski decided to cut suddenly to black two-thirds of the way through Prisoners, we’d have a frustrating but much more cohesive atmospheric drama.

Instead, it seems like the duo conspired to surgically attach the last act from a far more conventional thriller on to their robust framework. The result is intriguing, but disappointing – the conventional paint-by-numbers final third diminishing a lot of the richness to be found in the first section of the film.

Somebody is about to get Jack(man)ed...

Somebody is about to get Jack(man)ed…

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Non-Review Review: Cowboys & Aliens

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, the rather wonderful film festival organised by Vincent and everybody else over at movies.ie. It was well worth attending, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Good job all.

It’s a testament to Jon Favreau’s skills as a filmmaker that Cowboys & Aliens ends up as a watchable, if entirely forgettable, addition to an ever-growing summer schedule. The movie is plagued by fairly fundamental problems, from a miscast lead to a failure to follow through on an interesting premise, right down to being one of the more blandly predictable blockbusters in quite some time. Favreau plays the best hand he can with the cards he has been dealt, offering a passable imitation of Steven Spielberg, but the problem is that none of it adds up to a win.

Not quite a blast...

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Non-Review Review: Knight & Day

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. I will have reviews of all twenty-two official Bond films going on-line over the next month, and a treat or two every once in a while.

Much like Mission: Impossible, while I was watching Knight & Day I couldn’t help but get the impression that Tom Cruise really wanted to be James Bond. And, at the risk of being controversial, if an American actor were ever chosen, I think Cruise would fit the bill nicely. Indeed, Knight & Day feels more like a sort of traditional Bond film than Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace have, and its that sense of endearing nostalgia which really makes the film worthwhile. In a film season packed with disappointing films, Knight & Day is an entertaining and engaging romp which might make you smile as you spend two hours with it.

It's a romantic action comedy, and it has the big guns attached...

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