Saturday, July 18, 2015

New York times part II: A Trainwreck and a whirlwind

Amy Schumer, Judd Apatow, and Bill Hader (left to right) introduce Trainwreck at the Lincoln Center.

I have not written much in this space over the last couple of weeks, but it has not been for lack of material. I do not do much aside from go to work and attend films, and the last week and a half or so has seen a tremendous amount of both activities, such as they are. Here is a rough sketch of the last 11 days:

July 7 – Martin Scorsese exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and a screening of Carol Reed’s classic The Third Man (read about that here)

July 8 – A screening of the new documentary Stray Dog and a Q and A with director Debra Granik and producer Victoria Stewart

July 9 – A preview screening of Sundance hit Tangerine with a Q and A with the director, cast, and crew

July 13 – An hour-long talk with Parker Posey about her experience in the independent film world and her work in the new Woody Allen film Irrational Man

July 14 – World premiere of Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, as well as the bacchanal of an afterparty

July 16 – Screening of Matthew Heineman’s Mexican drug war documentary Cartel Land with a post-screening Q and A with the director

I intend to write about each and every one of these events, and I am behind on some of my newer film reviews – briefly, see Dope, which is fantastic; skip Me and Early and the Dying Girl, which is overly self-aware; see Amy, a fascinating documentary about the pitfalls of celebrity and stardom. But since I have no idea when I will even be able to transcribe all my interviews, let alone write thoughtful pieces about these experiences, I thought I would briefly touch on them here. Think of this as a teaser of things to come.

Stray Dog


Granik is known mostly for her Oscar-nominated second feature Winter’s Bone, which helped establish Jennifer Lawrence as a star even before the Hunger Games films. Though I was not a huge fan, Winter’s Bone is well worth seeing for its stark, unflinching depiction of rural drug culture and its effect on innocent bystanders, as well as for a knockout leading performance by Lawrence.

For the documentary Stray Dog, Granik returns to the Ozarks and takes as her subject Ronnie Hall, who played one of the more intimidating figures in Winter’s Bone. Hall is a biker, Vietnam veteran, and all-around sweetheart. Where I felt Winter’s Bone in places had a dehumanizing effect on the inhabitants of this southern mountainous region, Stray Dog works to correct that.

This is a compassionate portrait of a man who was tortured by anger and depression over the things he did as a soldier but who overcomes his challenges by giving and receiving love as much as he can. The film covers everything we expect from movies about veterans – family, duty, honor, loyalty, pride, etc. – but does so with such a light touch it never comes across as manipulative or insincere. It is a beautiful film and easily the best documentary I have seen so far this year.

Tangerine


Tangerine, from writer-director Sean Baker, is a curious case, presenting as it does the lives of two transgender prostitutes, their pimp, and a cab driver in their orbit all on one eventful Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. The story covers territory rarely seen in cinema and feels resolutely real; however, from a filmmaking standpoint, this is a hard movie to love.

Baker casts non-professionals as his transgender leads – Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor – and shoots the entire film on an iPhone5. As a result, there is something distinctly amateurish about the early proceedings, particularly as the iPhone camera does a poor job of capturing daylight. Once you get into the evening hours and you get on the wavelength of the performances, things start to coalesce.

The film has been hailed as a credit to independent filmmaking, and it is certainly that, but I am unsure of whether that is a positive credit. It is a fair question to ask whether this is the film that should represent independent films on the larger stage, but I appreciate the spirit and intention of Tangerine, perhaps more than the execution.

Parker Posey


Speaking of independent film, Posey was once known as the Queen of the Indies, and she spent a solid hour Monday discussing her lengthy career in a question-and-answer session at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. She was there ostensibly to talk about Allen’s Irrational Man, which opened Friday, but since no one had yet seen the film, the conversation was more about Posey’s place in the Hollywood machine – that is to say, her place standing just outside the machine.

Posey has done big budget. The films are usually bad – Superman Returns, Josie and the Pussycats, Blade: Trinity – but invariably, Posey is the best thing about them. Her home obviously is in the independent world, and her collaborations with Christopher Guest are legend. When the audience could ask questions, the first place it went was to Best in Show and what working with Guest is like, despite the fact he has not made a feature film since 2006.

Bubbly and ethereal, Posey answered questions willingly, if circuitously, and was not short on stories to illuminate a life spent making movies. She was intelligent, funny, and self-deprecating, a perfect Allen heroine, which he seems to think, too, as it was announced Friday that Posey has joined the cast of Allen’s next as-yet-untitled film. Allen is my favorite director, and the next film could be great, but I would still say there is a good chance Posey will be one of the best things about it.

Trainwreck


A little birthday present to myself, my partner in life and crime and I got all dolled up in our nicest fineries Tuesday and attended an old-fashioned movie premiere – and that will be the last time I use the phrase “old fashioned” to describe anything regarding Apatow and writer-producer-star Amy Schumer’s wonderful Trainwreck. This is the best film Apatow has yet made, successfully marrying small character moments with huge laughs and bringing Schumer’s acerbic brand of comedy to the screen in a way that stays true to both their styles.

After the screening, it was off to the famous Tavern on the Green, which you may remember from Ghostbusters, for the afterparty. It was everything you would expect from a big, Hollywood-style event. The booze flowed freely, the food never stopped coming, and famous faces drifted in and out of every room. Belly up to the bar and there is Ezra Miller. Head into the back room to find ?uestlove and Julia Stiles hanging out together. In one corner, Lebron James holds court, and in another, Apatow graciously accepts his due praise. At the center of it all is Schumer.

I spend pretty much all day every day thinking about films, watching films, analyzing films, and just generally projecting film reels in the cinema of my mind. I do not get out of my head a lot. But on this occasion, it was nice to suit up, get down, and gush like any other fan. I got stuck behind Colin Quinn by the food line. I got a picture with Tilda Swinton. I fist bumped Dave Attel. It was just cool. Nothing more, nothing less.

Cartel Land


After a day of recovery – an open bar will often necessitate such – we headed back out to the theater, this time the IFC Center, for an altogether different experience. Cartel Land is equal parts enthralling and infuriating. Whether or not you think the War on Drugs is worth fighting, we should all be able to agree we are not winning that particular battle, not on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Heineman’s film looks at two groups of vigilantes – American yahoos who fancy themselves cowboys in the Wild West and Mexican townspeople trying to take back their cities from the cartels. Heineman, who also served as one of the film’s cameramen, takes us directly inside the battle, going on raids, enduring shootouts, and witnessing horrifying crimes and tragedies. The most terrifying thing might be the web the cartels spin through daily life in Mexico as there does not seem to be any way to dismantle it, and it catches the innocent and guilty alike.

The director is knowledgeable, passionate, and dedicated to exposing the corruption of a nation seemingly overrun by drug lords. In an illuminating question-and-answer session, Heineman made his intentions clear. Change will only come when enough people get tired of the way things are and fight to fix the system. His hope is to galvanize a movement, and Cartel Land is certainly a galvanizing film.

Epilogue


Lots more to come – hopefully in a timely manner. Just look at what is out this week alone: Ant Man; Stanford Prison Experiment; The Look of Silence; Irrational Man; Mr. Holmes; and of course, Trainwreck. I guess what I am saying is: I will see you at the movies.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New York times: Scorsese, MoMA, and The Third Man


I don’t know that I always appreciate my New York experience as much as I might, and that may be because my idea of going outdoors is to bury myself in a movie theater for two or three hours at a time. Every once in a while, though, events conspire to remind me I don’t live in just any city. I live in New York City. Thanks to Martin Scorsese, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Film Forum, yesterday was full of those events.

Scorsese is probably the highest-profile leader of the film preservation movement, spearheading The Film Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping the history of the medium alive in an ever-evolving landscape. The organization’s top priority has been the restoration of classic films shot on highly volatile nitrate film stock, but the movies themselves are not the only precious evidence of the art form.

In that vein, the New York Museum of Modern Art is hosting “Scorsese Collects,” an exhibit of 34 classic film posters from the Scorsese Poster Collection. The pieces run the gamut from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s gorgeous The Red Shoes to John Ford’s The Searchers to Scorsese’s own Mean Streets. The beautiful collection is a tribute to an increasingly lost and marginalized art.

Though small, the exhibit is a must-see for any film fan. I was absolutely giddy with delight to be within inches of each well preserved artifact of film history. There were a number of highlights, including a dangerous, sexy one-sheet for Jacques Tourneur’s classic Cat People and a wonderfully impressionistic take on Elia Kazan’s Best Picture-winning On the Waterfront that foregrounds the violence and brutality of the film’s story. Perhaps, though, the most essential work is the simplest: the iconic “Veronica Lake’s on the take” poster for Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, as perfect now as the day it was designed.

In the center of the room, there hangs a 6- or 7-foot tall poster for Carol Reed’s magnificent The Third Man, the imagery for which focuses on the stunning climactic foot chase through the Vienna sewer system. I have seen The Third Man five or six times, though never on the big screen, and while staring at the film’s promotional art, I remembered the NYC Film Forum was screening the film through the end of the week. That was all I needed, and I headed out the door of the museum, caught the train downtown, and settled in for two hours of one of the greatest mystery movies ever put to celluloid.

If pressed to name the top 10 films of all time, I would put The Third Man right there in the conversation, and its wonder only grows in proportion to the size of the screen showing it. The stark, Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography still stuns, the writing is razor sharp, and Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles provide two of the great screen performances of the sound era. Welles, in particular, is just luminous, a true movie star, as commanding a presence today as he was when the film was released in 1949.


After the film, my girlfriend – kind enough to indulge me in a day of classic film nostalgia – and I strolled over to Washington Square Park, where to our surprise, the New York Jazzharmonic was giving its debut performance as part of the Washington Square Music Festival. All in all, I am not sure there was a more New York way to close out an art-filled day. It cannot happen every day for everyone, but sometimes, man, New York City really comes alive.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

New movie review: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom sell their wares in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.

Two salesmen traipse about shilling novelty goods from their briefcases. A dance instructor’s advances are rebuffed by her young, handsome student. A military man tries and fails to attend a seminar. The king of Sweden wages war on a Russian tyrant. A couple lounges on the beach. Another couple stares out the window. Three people die in the middle of mundane tasks. Just out of our view, of course, a pigeon sits on a branch.

If you cannot tell what you are in for by the title alone, Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is more than happy to hammer home its weirdness in a series of absurdist, serio-comic tableaus. It is a strange work, to be sure, but it is also a masterful piece of heart and humanism, unique in a cinema landscape that often has little time or place for real people.

Henry David Thoreau said in Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Andersson has taken that now-clichéd idea and extended it to a feature film about desperate men, women, children, monarchs, and monkeys. There is much humor to be found in the film – again, anyone who would burden his film with such a cumbersome title must have a sense of humor, as well as a hell of a lot of confidence – but it is all shrouded in a general air of dissatisfaction and despair.

There is no plot, per se, rather the film acts like a buffet of life. We pick up a story thread, follow it for a bit, put it down for a while, and try the next one. Maybe we will come back to it, and maybe we will not. At the end, nothing is finished, but there is satisfaction in exploring so many different options. Because this is a film about life as it is lived, there would be no way for Andersson to encompass all of that. Instead, he smartly carries us in and out of the experiences of a variety of people.

You can't take it with you.
Andersson opens the film with three vignettes titled “Meeting with Death Nos. 1-3.”

Meeting with Death No. 1: A man has a heart attack while opening a bottle of wine. His wife is cooking in the kitchen and does not hear his struggle or notice his demise. She may be in the background of the frame, but her husband is in the background of her story.

Meeting with Death No. 2: A dying woman wishes to take her favorite handbag to heaven with her. One of her sons tries to pry it from her hands, insisting she cannot take it with her and refusing to leave it unguarded at the hospital since it contains valuable family heirlooms. Regardless of the mother’s cries, her adult children will not have a mother when she dies, but at least they can have her jewels.

Meeting with Death No. 3: A man dies in the lunch line on a cruise ship after he has already paid for his meal. The staff offers the meal for free to any of the other passengers, and one man steps forward to take the beer. Life goes on.

The thesis of the film seems to be: We are all background players in someone else’s story. No matter what is happening in our own lives, something of equal import is happening in the lives of others. At its core, it is a beautiful message. The culture at large tells us each one of us is special or that we can take steps to become special. Andersson argues it is life itself that is special. Our individual stories mean little against the simple glory of existence.

The salesmen, Sam (Nils Westblom) and Jonathan (Holger Andersson), are a bit like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the film, acting as functionaries in the larger tale of humanity. They hover on the edges of the story, peddling their wares when they see an opportunity but mostly just observing. Sam is bitter about his life, while Jonathan is more philosophical. Jonathan sees the comedy and tragedy unfolding all around him, and sometimes he is so overwhelmed he breaks down in tears.

Late in the film, he is listening to a record alone in his room, and he becomes obsessed with the ending, picking up the needle and replacing it to the same part over and over. Sam asks what is wrong, and Jonathan tells him about the song, of which he says: “It’s so beautiful but horribly sad, too.” The entire film is summed up in this line.

Sam and Jonathan travel around trying to make people happy, as they claim, selling items such as extra-long vampire teeth, a laugh bag, and a hideous but endearing mask they call Uncle One-Tooth. However, they do not inhabit a universe of joy. One woman screams and runs away in terror at the sight of the mask. One shop that has accepted their goods cannot afford to keep them. They are offering whimsy in a world that knows nothing but war and atrocity. Sam lashes out in anger, while Jonathan collapses in sadness. Neither reaction is unwarranted.


As all of this unfolds, Andersson’s camera never moves. He simply sets it down and allows the sorrow and pain to become evident, even if it is only clear to us as observers. Of course, it is not all sadness because life is not all sadness. Relief can be found in the margins, in the quiet moments of peace we share with our loved ones or the simple novelty of another day coming and going. These pleasures may be few and far between, but A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence seems to argue the elusiveness of happiness is not what is heartbreaking but that when we capture it, it cannot last.

See it? Yes.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Tribe: Silently screaming from the void

Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's The Tribe, starring Yana Novikova (center), is a modern masterpiece.

Silence may be among the most terrifying things in our culture. Because silence implies an absence – of sound, of company, of life – we take it upon ourselves to fill the void any way we can. In that empty space, we hear cracks and creaks and groans and moans, and we ascribe to them meaning, import, and danger. When the TV is off, the lights are out, and we are lying in bed, there is nothing but the beating of our hearts and the blood in our veins. The millions of thoughts ringing in our subconscious echo in the nothingness, and we are scared. But if the only world you know is silence, what is there to fear? Perhaps, each other.

Ukrainian director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe is among the most formally daring, visually stunning, and emotionally taxing films you are ever likely to see. It concerns a student’s arrival at a boarding school for the deaf and follows as he becomes a member of the school’s ruling gang and the toll that acceptance takes on him physically and emotionally. The film is told entirely in Ukrainian sign language without subtitles, and despite running more than two hours, it is composed of fewer than 40 shots. There is no other experience in cinema to match.

On Friday, Slaboshpitsky and one of the film’s stars, Yana Novikova, were in New York City for a screening of the film and a question-and-answer session moderated by Indiewire’s Eric Kohn. In an illuminating and vibrant discussion, they covered topics such as the film’s remarkable technical achievements, its harrowing violence, and the audacity of making a film that only a small population of people could fully understand.

Yana Novikova and Miroslav Slaboshpitsky at Film Forum.
“To be clear, I had the concept of the film before I had the story,” said Slaboshpitsky. “It must be done without subtitles and without voiceover. It must be filmed like how I imagine a silent movie like the Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin films, or Harold Lloyd, which people can understand in every country in every place in the same condition, so subtitle is impossible … In the contract, we have an article that the person who buys the film has an obligation never to add subtitles or voiceover or anything like that, so I hope we never show this film with subtitles, not before my death but after, too.”

The difference is that even the great silent comedians used title cards throughout their films to keep the audience following the story. In this way, The Tribe is closer to the works of German silent film director F.W. Murnau, who sought to make films using as few interstitial cards as possible to allow the story to play out on its own. His success, and by extension the success of The Tribe, is to achieve unimaginable levels of psychological depth and inquiry in an essentially wordless setting.

Certainly, there are words, and none of the actors – all of whom are deaf – was making up any of the film’s dialogue. It simply is not necessary to understand the words in order to understand the intent. Even in our daily lives, as hearing-able individuals, so much of our interaction with others is non-verbal – a glance, a gesture, a smile, or a pose – that understanding communication without words seems to be an innate part of all of us.

“I have the challenge to make a film without subtitles when it was over … so I tried to build a story that the audience can follow,” said Slaboshpitsky. “In case you understand Ukrainian sign language, I think you can understand maybe 10 percent more, but I don’t think that you miss something important. In fact, you can completely understand the words, but the words are not really important.”

As such, what becomes important is the mood and atmosphere of the film, and Slaboshpitsky proves deft at building on his audience’s expectations and the general fear and discomfort caused by silences. Since we in the audience cannot understand what is being said, we feel like outsiders, but the use of long takes and Steadicam shots forces us to become part of the action. This puts viewers in the unique position of being accomplices to actions over which we have no control, similar to the film’s main character, played by Grigoriy Fesenko.

He is new to this school, but because power attracts like a magnet, he is lured into the world of drug dealing, robbery, and prostitution lorded over by the titular tribe. They run the school like a deaf mafia – which Slaboshpitsky stressed is a real phenomenon in Ukraine – and theirs is a brutal rule, punctuated by shocking acts of violence and psychological abuse. When Fesenko’s character falls in love with one of the prostitutes, played by Novikova, the whole hierarchal structure of the regime is threatened. Thus, the downfall of all involved begins.

For a first-time performer, Novikova is absolutely magnificent. Really, the performance is marvelous regardless of experience level, but as someone who had never previously acted, Novikova brings a remarkable amount of skill and professionalism to a part that asks an incredible amount of her. She bares herself completely, body and spirit, and brings us into the life of a young girl who has resigned herself to the options available to her and made peace with the things she must do to carve out a life for herself.

“I asked my mom, ‘Do you think I could become an actress in the future,’ and my mom was like, ‘I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s possible. You’re deaf. Deaf people in movies? There’s no deaf people in movies,’” said Novikova through a sign language interpreter. “I felt kind of bad about it. I went to school, and I was never involved in any acting classes or courses or opportunities … I kept looking for something that could help me reach my goal of wanting to be an actress. Then, it just so happens that I was asked to be in this movie, The Tribe, by Miroslav, and I was so thankful for it. I was so inspired by the whole thing, and that’s how I begun, and now I’m going to pursue acting after this.”

Most of the actors in the film are first-timers – according to Slaboshpitsky, there are more than 300 deaf actors in The Tribe – but none, not even Fesenko, who is also brilliant in the film, endured as much as Novikova. One sequence in particular is certain to become infamous among viewers of the film. An illegal abortion, played out in one long take, is about as raw and grueling a viewing experience as I have ever witnessed. In a packed house at the Film Forum, the scene left grown men sobbing, and at least one person was so overcome he or she had to be removed from the theater.

Novikova spoke at length about the process of researching and preparing for the scene, as well as the physically and emotionally draining experience of shooting the scene. She said there was a medical professional on set to advise both her and the character performing the procedure, and the shot was repeated over and over until the full impact and realism of the scene could be transmitted on film.

“They explained to us how this goes and what’s this and what’s this process and really broke everything down for us to understand and digest it,” she said. “Once the director felt like we were comfortable with it and we understood what was happening, we filmed it. It took all day, and we kept rehearsing it again and again and again for days, and we kept reshooting it again. If we made a mistake, we shot it again. Again and again. We had to make sure it was done in the right way and capture it, capture the true emotions, the raw, gritty emotions in that moment.”


The sequence – in its preparation, shooting, and final presentation – is a microcosm of the film itself. Slaboshpitsky took it upon himself to present a society rarely considered by the rest of the world, and his responsibility was to show it as it exists. There is no Hollywood sheen, no artificial drama. It is just reality as experienced by an overlooked and underserved subculture. In digging into the muck and brutality, Slaboshpitsky exposes a raw nerve, aching for relief and screaming out in pain. The Tribe is a masterpiece that argues there is no relief coming, and the screams are simply echoes in a silent void.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

New movie review: Love & Mercy

Paul Dano plays the young Brian Wilson in Bill Pohlad's remarkable Love & Mercy.

Brian Wilson is a genius. Full stop. As the primary creative force behind The Beach Boys, he is responsible for crafting some of the catchiest pop melodies this side of The Beatles, and his complex musical and vocal arrangements have been and will be studied by musicians and critics for decades. His contributions to popular music are innumerable, and his influence is as widespread as it is singular. There is no one like him.

It is also indisputable that he has lived a hard life. Every step of the way, he was harassed, abused, and exploited by those around him. His petty, vindictive father terrorized him his whole life. He succumbed to drugs, alcohol abuse, and mental illness. He famously spent three years lying in bed, haunted by the voices in his head and the demons in his thoughts. His greatest gift is also his curse, and though the creative spirit he embodies has been battered and bruised by the world around him, it has not been broken.

The story of Wilson’s life is by turns haunting, surreal, sad, and triumphant and deserves a film of equal depth and complexity. That film is director-producer Bill Pohlad’s tender, beautiful Love & Mercy. Pohlad has spent most of his career as a producer, helping shepherd to the screen films such as 12 Years a Slave, The Tree of Life, and Brokeback Mountain. Here, he takes over the director’s chair for the first time in 25 years, and the results are stunning.

Working from a screenplay by Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner, Pohlad portrays Wilson’s life as a gorgeous, elliptical tone poem about the confused and hyperactive mind of a brilliant artist. Pohlad avoids the pitfalls of most by-the-numbers music biopics by not focusing on dry biography – though the film is impeccably researched and detailed – and instead presenting events as Wilson would have experienced and interpreted them.

John Cuscak and Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy.
The film is split into two parts given roughly equal weight. Paul Dano plays a younger Wilson shown struggling to take the band and its music in new directions with the recording of the now-legendary Pet Sounds. John Cusack plays Wilson two decades later, after his “bed” period and while under the control of psychiatrist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). During this time, he meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who tries to help him break free of Landy’s influence.

All of the performances are superb, and Banks in particular is a revelation. Known almost exclusively for her comedic roles, though some audiences will no doubt recognize her best as Effie Trinket from the Hunger Games films, Banks plumbs depths of emotional resolve and compassion that she has rarely been able to showcase. She more than rises to the challenge, exerting herself as the conscience of the film as Ledbetter is the only person we meet who sees Wilson for the man he is behind the myth.

Giamatti turns in typically excellent work as Landy, whose purposeful misdiagnosis allows him to take guardianship of Wilson and bend and manipulate him to his will with a cocktail of medications and psychological abuse. In an older but not-yet-wise Wilson, Cusack gets a role befitting his immense talent. Through all his lies and fabrications, Landy says one true thing – that Wilson is a boy in a man’s body – and Cusack’s subtle, introverted work perfectly captures that truth.

This half of the movie comprises a more traditional narrative, which is strong, if a bit clichéd and propped up by its wonderful actors. The sequences with younger Wilson, identified in the credits as “Past Brian,” are another matter altogether. In showing the process of creation, Pohlad mixes film stocks, plays tricks with the soundscape, and shuffles our perception of time to put the audience directly in the mind of a musician having an artistic and spiritual breakthrough.

Though the supporting performances are strong, Dano is like a one-man show through this section of the film. An actor who has showed immense promise in films as diverse as Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood, here, he realizes the full potential of his talents. Wilson cannot escape his past as every element of his life conspires to drag him back to a place of pain and misery. Dano embodies this man who wants so badly to please others and express himself artistically but keeps finding these two endeavors to be contradictory. Making full use of his face, voice, and mannerisms, Dano brings to life someone who is simultaneously breaking through and breaking down.

In service of all these wonderful performances, Pohlad provides an immaculately crafted world for his actors to explore and for his to take root. It is hard to think of a recent film that has used sound so well and in so many different ways. From the complete lack of artifice in Wilson’s hammering out of a rough version of “God Only Knows” to the sonic collage of past Beach Boys hits – provided by frequent Trent Reznor collaborator and Oscar winner Atticus Ross – Pohlad creates a universe of sound that is rarely pleasant but always emotionally resonant. This, we can infer, is what it sounds like to be Wilson.


The portrait of Wilson in Love & Mercy is that of neither saint nor sinner. He has done wrong and been wronged. For every triumph, he has been exposed to a trial. While the people in his life have hurt him, he has endured and persevered with help of others. His successes have not inured him to the difficulties of life. He is a genius whose struggles have humbled him. He does not ask for pity or praise. All he needs is a little – well, it’s right there in the title.

See it? Yes.