In cinemas this week: Love & Mercy, Far From the Madding Crowd, Zero Motivation, Eden and Ted 2.
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 (Little Miss Sunshine) as the younger, 1960s Brian; and John Cusack (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’ it also lead to the band breaking up and Brian breaking down. Sam and I both agree that this is refreshingly unconventional dual-era musical portrait effectively gets into Wilson’s fractured psyche and leaves piercing impact. The empathetic performances from Dano and Cusack blend seamlessly, and the sound design is outstanding. Read Sam’s review at the link.
Far From the Madding Crowd – Based on the literary classic by Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd is the story of independent, beautiful and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), who attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer, captivated by her fetching willfulness; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. This timeless story of Bathsheba’s choices and passions explores the nature of relationships and love – as well as the human ability to overcome hardships through resilience and perseverance. This is a lovely story and I rather like the actors. Mulligan plays a strong-willed, independent woman who didn’t come across as being a horrible person at the same time. Rare. Schoenaerts continues to be an effortlessly compelling screen presence, while Sheen is very good too. Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) is an excellent director, his decisions elevating what could have been a conventional period drama into something far more memorable than I expected. Beautifully shot in 35mm, with striking costumes, I felt transported to the period.
Zero Motivation – Set in a remote desert military base, a platoon of young women soldiers, all Israeli conscripts, serve out their time playing computer games, singing pop songs, and conspiring to get transferred to Tel Aviv — while endlessly serving coffee to the men who run the show. Here’s an Israeli film filled with funny, quick-witted, zany women who wield their staple guns like automatic weaponry. If there is a war going on, it’s one against boredom, bad uniforms, dopey rules, and doing everything in triplicate. Debut filmmaker Talya Lavie is Israel’s answer to Lena Dunham: Zero Motivation won the top prize for narrative world cinema at the Tribeca Film Festival. The feisty performances from the young actresses are all effective; the snarky humour found in the mundane certainly draws some comparisons to Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. Through the prism of war and compulsory service, Zero Motivation tackles the complexities of female life – feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, untameable desires, and the search for an identity in a ridiculously bureaucratic environment that strips an individual of one. I’m not sure a female-centric black comedy about the Israeli Defense Forces has formerly existed. Well, it does now, and it is a good one. It is a refreshing and witty, and shows a confident handling of conflicting tone and loose, freewheeling narrative storytelling. (Review at the link).
Eden – Eden is an affecting trip into the electronic dance movement in Paris whose rhythms echo its textures and feeling. Based on the experiences of Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven, the film follows Paul, a teenager in the underground scene of early-nineties Paris. Rave parties dominate that culture, but he’s drawn to the more soulful rhythms of Chicago’s garage house. He forms a DJ collective named Cheers, and together he and his friends plunge into the ephemeral nightlife of sex, drugs, and endless music. Saw this at TIFF, and it ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the festival. Some brief thoughts from the festival at the link.
Weekly Recommendation: Haven’t seen Ted 2. Probably won’t. But with the exception of Eden, which I didn’t really connect with though admired on some levels, I can recommend the others. Eden, I understand, is screening exclusively in Sydney at Golden Age Cinemas, while Zero Motivation will also be a tough one to track down. Love & Mercy and Far From the Madding Crowd have both just screened at the Sydney Film Festival and they were two of the strongest I saw.