Love and Mercy

Dir. Bill Pohlad

Before starting the review, I’d like to ask you a question.

Have you listened to The Beach Boys’ masterpiece Pet Sounds?

In all seriousness, if you haven’t done so yet, then do go and listen to it. It’s really good and if I don’t force myself to stop writing about it now then I may use up quite a lot of my 300 words just talking about that, when really this is a film review.

Love and Mercy is a biopic film about the making of Pet Sounds and the aftermath, following Brian Wilson, the mastermind behind a lot of The Beach Boys’ most famous and enduring material, at two different points in his life, instead of taking the usual route of following a famous figure through a significant portion of their lives. He is portrayed by two actors. By Paul Dano during the making of his most celebrated work and the collapse of the subsequent Smile project in the 1960s, and then in the 1980s by John Cusack, when he is deep in the clutches of mental illness, his every move being controlled by the controversial therapist, Dr Eugene Landy.

The film covers enough narrative ground for two films and it does sometimes run the risk of feeling like two films spliced together. The two narratives feel isolated, not really communicating with each other – except for a small joke where Cusack’s Wilson hears ‘Sloop John B’ playing on the radio and asks for it to be turned off. This would usually be a flaw, but in this case it reflects the way in which Brian Wilson felt about himself – isolated or, to paraphrase his own words, he just wasn’t made for these times.

The only problem that I have with this otherwise great film is that the Cusack half wasn’t as enjoyable as the Dano half. The scenes in the studios that recreate the Pet Sounds sessions are exhilarating, as you get to see these great songs being built bit by bit, but there were never really any moments from Cusack’s parts of the film that matched that. In terms of the film as a whole, it’s never anything less than a compelling portrait of an artist in crisis.

Jack Clare

Background image: To High Heaven by Vincent James.

New British Cinema

By Jason Wood and Ian Haydn Smith

If you're somehow bored of Hollywood excess and superhero punch-ups at your local cinema, you'll find plenty in this book to interest you. There have been plenty of success stories in British cinema and this book, written by the editor of Curzon Cinema’s in-house magazine, Ian Haydn Smith, and Jason Wood, artistic director of film for HOME, seeks to explore and celebrate the last few years of British film making. It presents a diverse range of voices - some you'll recognise, some you won't – working across genres and favouring celebration over critique.

Many of these reviews have been conducted over a long period of time and occasionally questions are repeated, with differing answers. Some aren't much more in depth than the interviews that feature in Curzon magazine and some are frustrating in their brevity, especially the interview with Ben Wheatley. His film A Field In England was released across distribution formats simultaneously and yet there is no discussion as to the whys, wherefores or results of that particular experiment.

This isn't the only way in which the book feels like opportunities were missed. There are voices missing – some unnamed directors declined to feature – but where are the writers, the cinematographers, the producers or the digital geniuses of Framestore, who gave us the Oscar-winning effects in Gravity? Although plenty of the directors involved have differing experiences and thoughts on the state of the industry, a more critical approach or greater discussion of the ins and outs of financing and distribution in British cinema would be welcome. What are the challenges and how are we overcoming them?

That said, the book we’re presented with is a fun and fast read. Most of the discussions are interesting and reveal something of a director's process. You don't need to have seen the films discussed (though some do feature spoilers) and hopefully it will compel you to seek them out if you haven't. Those with an interest in British cinema or aspiring filmmakers will find plenty to interest and inspire them here, and you might want to make some space for a few new Blu-rays.

Sean Mason