Love & Mercy

March 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Bill Pohlad (“Old Explorers”)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) and Michael A. Lerner (“August Eighth”)

It may not be the most in-depth biopic on the life and legend of Beach Boys singer/songwriter Brian Wilson, but there’s something to be said for the success the film has in condensing two decades of musical passion and personal trials into two hours of poignant drama all anchored by a pair of performances that interchange with remarkable fluidity and appreciation for the story being told.

For those moviegoers who are not familiar with the American rock ‘n’ roll band The Beach Boys, who started off in the 1960s making surfing-themed music before Wilson changed their course by expanding on their sound and writing songs with more meaning, “Love & Mercy” starts in their early years and switches back and forth between Wilson leading the band to its pinnacle to his continuous battle with mental illness in the 1980s.

As a young Wilson, Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”) gives an inspiring performance as we watch him express himself though his experimental methods in the studio despite others questioning his choices. Those studios scenes, especially the ones where Wilson is working on the hit song “God Only Knows,” are telling of the kind of musician Wilson was known to be – impressive, ambitious, and progressive. Dano commands the screen when he has to and purposefully shrinks when the script asks him to allow his personal demons to control him.

This ties in well to the latter part of Wilson’s life when John Cusack (“Grace is Gone”) comes in as the well-worn musician who has found some kind of comfort in letting others dictate what he does and how he does it. Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”) plays Dr. Eugene Landy, Wilson’s hotheaded psychotherapist who manipulates Wilson into believing he has his mental health in his best interest. There to save Wilson is Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who would later become his second wife, a car saleswoman who helps him stand up for himself and make his own decisions. Cusack is touching as an older, broken Wilson and Giamatti and Banks bring out the best and worst in the character on an emotional level.

“Love & Mercy” isn’t a movie about the music Wilson makes, but instead about the man behind the musical talent. It might have been interesting to allow the script to develop in a way that illustrated where in the industry the Beach Boys stood (the Beatles are mentioned as a band they wanted to top), but nothing in the way of music history is explained much. While some might argue the jumping between decades is a debatable storytelling device, it felt necessary to understand how much Wilson changed (and in some cases stayed the same) over the years. Credit screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner for letting the story breathe between all the time changes. “Love & Mercy” captures a compassionate narrative you don’t have to dig too deep to find.

Love and Mercy was seen at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.

Hot Tub Time Machine

March 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry
Directed by: Steve Pink (“Accepted”)
Written by: Josh Heald (debut), Sean Anders (“She’s Out of My League”), John Morris (“She’s Out of My League”)

Until “The Hangover 2” hits theaters sometime next year, comedy lovers will be itching to find a male-bonding movie as juvenile and riotous as the original Las Vegas romp of last year. The closest they’ll get so far this season is with “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Despite its similar comedic elements and disregard for levelheadedness, the blast-from-the-past flick doesn’t have more than obvious jokes in its arsenal.

Like “The Hangover,” “Hot Tub” features four friends who find themselves on the biggest misadventure of their lives. Instead of Sin City, however, Adam (John Cusack), Nick, (Craig Robinson), Lou, (Rob Corddry), and Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) are vacationing at a Nevada ski resort where the three middle-aged friends used to party back in high school.

Bored with their lives, the trio wants to recapture the glory days when they were all younger, dumber, and full of aspiration. Their trip takes a bizarre twist when the foursome climbs into a mysterious hot tub and are magically transported back to the year 1986 for one more chance to relive their adolescence.

Not only do the boys travel back in time, they also transform back into their teenage bodies (with the exception of Jacob who is already a teen). Since Jacob hasn’t technically been born yet (and since he begins to flicker like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future”), they guys realize if they don’t do exactly what they did 24 years prior, Jacob might disappear and never be born.

The whole idea of the “butterfly effect” is used loosely throughout the film as Adam, Nick , Lou and Jacob search for the hot tub repair man (Chevy Chase in a wasted role) who can get them back to the present day (think Don Knotts in “Pleasantville” without the personality) and run around the resort trying to remember specific aspects of their past so they can keep the future intact.

Most of “Hot Tub” is a one-joke homage to the 80s. It has a number of hilarious moments (especially when Robinson is involved), but wears out the nostalgia after a while. Yes, cassette players and Jheri curls have their place in a movie like this, but why fixate on the obvious?  It’s one thing to create an 80s-inspired world and build a comedy around it, but “Hot Tub” relies too much on the references to get the bulk of its laughs. Legwarmers are funny, but not that funny.

2012

November 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”)
Written by: Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”) and Harald Kloser

While the new apocalyptic thriller by director/writer Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”) might look like a 10.5 on the Richter scale based solely from its highly-intense, CGI-heavy previews, the event itself is more comparable to the seismic energy of a lopsided shopping cart wobbling down a grocery store aisle.

It shouldn’t be too surprising, however, if you’re familiar with Emmerich’s work. Giving audiences things that are both enormous and awful isn’t a new idea for him. From 1998’s larger-than-life lizard remake “Godzilla” to last year’s unfortunate prehistoric epic “10,000 B.C.,” it’s fairly safe to say Emmerich isn’t the type of filmmaker anyone would consider a minimalist when it comes to the technical aspects of his movies.

While it wasn’t such a problem with the cheese-fest that was “Independence Day” in 1996 (who wasn’t cheering for Will Smith to annihilate some hostile aliens?), there is something about “2012” that can’t be fixed no matter how many tsunamis are unleashed or buildings obliterated.

Forget the fact that a comprehensible narrative is missing and that the dialogue is worthy of massive eye-rolling. You might even overlook some of the countless cornball scenes throughout the film’s 158-minute runtime. What mainstream moviegoer is walking into this for character development anyway? The main problem with “2012” is that none of it is startling anymore. Emmerich does little to take the disaster movie to the next level other than to shell out more cash for extra special effects that ultimately feel worn.

In the film, John Cusack (“1408”) plays Jackson Curtis, a limo driver and small-time author who inexplicably finds out the world is coming to an end. Jackson isn’t the only one that knows this secret. The government, with the help of geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is aware of cataclysmic events that will happen. Judgment Day has been prophesized with the end of the Mayan calendar coming on Dec. 21, 2012. Now, with scientific evidence supporting this theory, administrations around the world have prepared for the worst by building “ships” to save as many people as possible before the earth begins to implode on itself.

As Adrian battles dishonesty within the White House, Jackson’s thoughts are with his family who – along with a majority of the popuation – have no idea what is about to happen. It’s at this point in the big-budget adventure where the destruction begins and never lets up. While the first rescue mission is actually quite fun (basically, it’s what you see in one of the movie trailers), Emmerich chucks in just about every disaster movie cliché in the book. It’s like getting punched repeatedly in the face. The first few blows are going to sting the most, but after 18 rounds, everything feels numb.

Emmerich tries to balance out the action by raising moral questions about the significance of saving certain people and things from being destroyed, but it all comes in a distance second to what most people are probably looking for – death and mayhem. It’s all there in “2012” for the less demanding moviegoers. For everyone else, the world doesn’t end soon enough.