Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Musical Weekend

Our tradition of music, especially rock music, oriented watching continues. First up: Love & Mercy (2015). This is an interesting movie about two periods in the life of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys: the creative period in the 60s leading up to Pet Sounds and the troubled Smile, and the 80s, when a broken Wilson is under the control of a Svengali-wannabe psychotherapist.

I've read a lot about the 80s story line, with John Cusak as Wilson. He plays him as troubled, narcotized, and at a remove from reality, but he meets and bonds with Elizabeth Banks, who frees him from the evil doctor (Paul Giamatti). This is not my favorite thread, though. Interleaved with this story is Paul Dano playing Wilson the Beach Boy. This is the part that I loved the most.

I am a long-time Beach Boys fan - Honestly, I get choked up listening to "Shut Down", never mind "In My Room". I know who sounds like "Mickey Mouse with a sore throat". I remember the joy over the release of Pet Sounds and Smiley Smile - so beautiful, silly, and surrealistic ("My Favorite Vegetable"). And I felt like the Paul Danno bits were perfect. Some of the recording scenes matched the pictures from the old albums perfectly. Dano looks a lot like Wilson did (director Bill Pohlad claims that Wilson looked like Cusak during his bad therapy days, but it isn't a familiar look). The band interactions are so perfect - Brian pulling "derr-hey" faces when he can't explain himself, his brothers goofing around, Mike Love being hostile but still family.

Then there are sessions with the Wrecking Crew. Carol Kaye (Theresa Cowles) looks perfect - so do they all. Check and compare with the documentary. The music is amazing too, chopping up Beach Boys classics re-assembling them into cosmic drones. This recreates the process in Brian's head: He started having auditory hallucinations around this period, and a lot of the scenes just show him staring into space while the music swirls around him.

I think it helps to be a fan for this part. It kind of assumes that you know about a lot of this stuff, and sometimes sort of skips over the details - Van Dyke Parks shows up and flounces off without being introduced, but he's very recognizable. As for the later part, I guess it was dramatically necessary, but it sure isn't as much fun.

The second features of the weekend was Robert Zemeckis' I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), an ensemble comedy about kids trying to get into the Beatles first Ed Sullivan show. I don't remember this coming out - it's Zemeckis' first film, and maybe it didn't get a lot of promotion.

A Beatles fanatic (Wendie Jo Sperber), her engaged friend (Nancy Allen), a reporter for the school paper, and an anti-Beatles folk protester finagle a limo ride to New York from the son of an undertaker, along with an anti-Beatles bully. They get into the usual scrapes and mix ups trying to get into the show (including the ubiquitous "radio station is giving away tickets" scene, like in Rock 'n' Roll High School). Allen winds up in the Beatles hotel room and there's a lovely scene of her rapturously caressing their suit, guitars, and left-overs.

Also, super-fan Sperber runs into another, even more obsessive Beatlemaniac, played by the ever-irritating Eddie Deezen. The combination of two of the most grating actors in Hollywood is actually kind of fun. I've always liked Sperber as a kind of all-out unstoppable force of nature, and she meets her match in Deezen. They both were in 1941 (which I like, so sue me), although not as a couple.

Although this is kind of a standard plot, it's well executed. There was a nice Jersey feel to the kids. I did like the inclusion of a couple of haters - the folkie and the bully who prefers the Four Seasons. But the Beatles don't have as much impact as you might expect - I came out of the weekend with a lot more Beach Boys stuck in my head.

Remember, Brian Wilson considered the Beatles to be his biggest inspiration and rivals. I guess we know how that turned out.

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