Wednesday, 24 June 2015

FILM REVIEW: FAR ROM THE MADDING CROWD



20th Century Fox Films

Thomas Hardy's Bathsheba Everdene may lend her name to The Hunger Games heroine but the only arrows being fired in this beautiful looking adaptation (penned by David Nicholls; directed by Thomas Vinterberg) of the author's Far From The Madding Crowd are by cupid. Not once, not twice but thrice.

Such is the allure of Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan, radiant as ever), the farm girl cum heiress, that she draws the attentions of three suitors. The first is Gabriel Oak (a warm Matthias Schoenaerts), a shepherd who proposes to Bathsheba (within the film's first few minutes) before the pair have had a reversal of fortunes; Bathsheba receiving her uncle's inheritance and Gabriel losing his flock and livelihood to an overzealous sheepdog.

Bathsheba politely rejects Gabriel's proposal ("I would want a husband to tame me and you wouldn't be able to do it."), as she does William Boldwood (a vulnerable Michael Sheen), the wealthy neighbour of her uncle's estate who becomes smitten with her following a Valentine's Day prank.

Although the marriage would be advantageous land-wise, Bathsheba is an independent woman; the kind who doesn't ride side-saddle and who is happy to muck-in with the workers when needed. But Bathsheba's also human and prone to romantic fervor, so when the handsome but caddish Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) arrives she throws caution to the wind, marrying in haste and repenting at his drunken leisure.

And while a loveless marriage is some kind of tragedy, that's about as tragic (unusual for Hardy) as it gets in Far From The Madding Crowd. A subplot involving Troy's pregnant lover (an under-utilized Juno Temple), missing her trip down the aisle due to a church mix-up (and thus the reason for his drunken cruelty0, isn't given enough screen time to render it in any way affecting.

Indeed, there's very little in the film in which to get emotionally invested. For all the beautiful trappings -- the sun-dappled cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen; costumes by Janet Patterson -- and fine performances (Mulligan and her trifecta of leading men are all solid), the episodic nature of the story and the almost inevitable ending (even those who haven't read Hardy's novel will guess at and/or be pleased by the denouement) combine to make Far From The Madding Crowd a satisfactory but far from satisfying viewing experience.

Monday, 22 June 2015

FILM REVIEW: LOVE & MERCY



Icon Film Distribution

Biopics of musicians usually follow the same template: birth, rise, fall, redemption, rise. And then possibly death. Regardless of their race, musical genre and status within music history, it too often seems that one musician's life is as standard as any other.

Taylor Hackford's Ray (2004), about the life of Ray Charles, was closely followed by James Mangold's Walk The Line (2005), about Johnny Cash, and other than the two men being of different colour, there was very little difference in either musician's life story. So it was somewhat refreshing when Todd Haynes's I'm Not There (2007), a biopic-of-sorts of Bob Dylan, took the almost revolutionary route of having the role performed by six different actors, male and female, black and white, child and adult.

Director Bill Pohlad's Love & Mercy isn't quite so revolutionary as that film but in splitting the story of Brian Wilson, the creative force of 1960s pop sensations The Beach Boys, into two halves -- with each half having a different actor perform the main role -- much of the musical biopic cliche is avoided (although the parallels, both in story and structure, with Scott Hicks' Oscar-winning Shine (1996) are strong).

Set in the late 1960s and the late 1980s, we meet two Brian Wilsons: one (Paul Dano) at the height of his creative powers but on the verge of a breakdown; and another (John Cusack) on the other side of that breakdown trying to find his way back through a haze of medication and bad advice.

Those drugs and that advice are dispensed by Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giammatti), Wilson's therapist and legal guardian. But it's when Wilson meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a one-time model now Cadillac salesperson, that the possibility of escape and new beginnings for the musician present themselves.

As good as Cusack is in these 'modern' scenes -- an at times incoherent babbler, a lost man-child -- it's Banks who really shines. Melinda may look like a Barbie doll but she's made of sterner stuff, and not one to be dissuaded from rescuing the man she's come to love even when faced with a Svengali-like Landy (Giammatti relishing the 'bad guy' role).

But it is Paul Dano who truly impresses in Love & Mercy. As the younger Wilson, Dano brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role of the musician who literally moves to his own beat; hearing things that no one else can. Of course that sensitivity also makes him vulnerable. Throw in an oppressive father and some LSD, and Wilson's breakdown -- just as his musical experimentation becomes ever bolder -- seems inevitable.

Those scenes of Brian creating and recording his music in the studio, improvising, collaborating, experimenting -- "Can we get a horse in here?!" -- are some of the film's best. Not surprisingly, Love & Mercy boasts both an excellent soundtrack as well as sound design; the growing noise in Brian's head as integral to the story as The Beach Boys' greatest hits.

If the modern scenes don't quite boast that same level of fascination, the strength of Cusack, Giammati and especially Banks' performances will keep you engaged. But like some of those great Beach Boys songs, it's the performance of Dano you won't be able to get out of your head.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

FILM REVIEW: INSIDE OUT



Walt Disney Studios Films/Pixar

Pixar are back! Not that they really ever went away, but with no release in 2014, and Monsters University (2013) and Brave (2012) not living up to their promise -- and the announcement of some unnecessary sequels to fan favourites: Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Incredibles -- it seemed the animation studio which had rarely put a foot wrong (Cars (2006) and Cars 2 (2011) excepted) had run out of ideas.

Not that the premise of Inside Out -- the competing emotions inside one's mind -- is wholly original (1980s sit-com Herman's Head, anyone?) but as applied to an 11-year-old girl, directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen (and the writing team), have created something else: a rich, brightly-coloured adventure full of imagination, wonder and, yes, emotions.

Riley is your typical pre-teen: two loving parents, close friends, a skilled ice hockey player and a generally bright and bubbly kid. And like every other kid -- and parent, and dog, as witnessed in Inside Out -- Riley has five main emotions driving her thoughts and actions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust.

Joy (Amy Poehler) has been with Riley since the second she was born, and as the "eldest" she has assumed control of the command centre that is Riley's mind. It's here that Joy and the other emotions -- Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) -- steer their charge through each day, creating new core memories; the ones she'll keep forever.

But when Riley's father lands a new job in San Francisco, Riley is uprooted from her comfortable mid-Western life, and everything that was once safe and familiar -- to her and her emotions -- is gone. Riley's life is thrown out of whack and so, too, is her emotional command centre.

Joy and Sadness are jettisoned from their post and forced to make their way back before it's too late (Riley -- or rather Anger -- having hit on the idea of running away back to the Midwest where all of Riley's core memories were created). Somewhat ably assisted by one-time imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Joy and Sadness must work together to restore order to the chaos.

If it weren't already brave enough for a children's film to tackle emotional well-being, Inside Out acknowledges that joy and sadness are two sides of the one coin; that one emotion can make the other more sweet or take the edge off.

Joy wants Riley to he happy all of the time but being happy 24-7 is not healthy, and forced happiness isn't happiness at all. (And to be honest, Poehler's Joy is a tad insufferable.) Besides, Sadness is vital: it allows Riley's parents to know when she's vulnerable and in need of comfort and reassurance. Just as Fear keeps us safe and Anger allows us to vent, Sadness provides both a release and a 'waving hand' when adrift in an emotional current.

If that makes Inside Out sound too deep for your average tike, it's not. There's plenty of colour and movement -- it goes without saying that the animation is world class -- and humour for both child and adult alike.

But in daring to go deep, to acknowledge the emotional complexity at childhood's end, Pixar have reaffirmed themselves as not just the premier animation studio but as the foremost producers of intelligent family fare. Welcome back.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

MOVIE TIX GIVEAWAY: LOVE & MERCY



We all know the music, but few know the true story of musical genius, Brian Wilson and his struggles with brilliance and balance. LOVE & MERCY paints an unconventional portrait of the artist by interweaving seminal moments from his youth and later life.

The role of Brian Wilson is masterfully shared between Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave, Little Miss Sunshine) as the younger, 1960s Brian; and John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, High Fidelity) as Wilson in the 1980s. The film explores the many challenges Brian has faced, both from his point of view in his younger years; and from the perspective of his now wife, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) when she meets Brian in his 40s and under the questionable medical care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).

The Beach Boys were already experiencing chart topping success with Surfin’ Safari, I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda, California Girls and Good Vibrations when Brian found himself driven to move in a new musical direction. Whilst this would ultimately lead to the creation of what is widely ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time - Pet Sounds – and songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Sloop John B and God Only Knows; it also lead to the band breaking up and Brian breaking down.

Thanks to Icon Film Distribution, we have double passes to LOVE & MERCY to be won. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed (@TheLennoXFiles) for your chance to win. Note: Competition open to Australian readers only.

LOVE & MERCY Only at the movies June 25.