Tag Archives: Paul Dano

Love & Mercy (2014) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Director: Bill Pohlad
Writers: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner (as Michael Alan Lerner)
Stars: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti

Love & Mercy is the story of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental anxieties and his psychotic decline during his most creative period creating his masterpiece “Pet Sounds” and another project that wouldn’t see light of day to its full potential until the year 2004. The movie is set during his rise to fame in the 1960’s and the escape from his controlling therapist Dr. Eugene Landy during the 1980’s.

I always had an admiration for the “Hits” of The Beach Boys growing up but admittedly I was more of a Beatles fan and never really appreciated the album “Pet Sounds” as a complete entity. The Beach Boys up to the release of Rubber Soul by The Beatles where classed as a typical American surfing pretty boy group that sang about Surfing and California Girls and at one stage managed by the Wilson brothers Father who had already pigeonholed them into the genre for a safe bet and guaranteed income for the band. That all changed at least for Brian Wilson who was blown away by Rubber Soul and inspired him to create a musical collage that each song would be linked in some fashion to the next song.

It is no secret that Wilson had physical symptoms of depression after years of physical and mental abuse from his father and disapproval of his musical direction from fellow band mate and cousin Mike Love, Paul Dano portrays Brian Wilson in the 1960’s and resembles exudes the look of young Wilson perfectly. He learned how to play piano for the role and in some keys scenes in the development of “God Only Knows”, and sings much of the music in the film perfectly.

Dano has the lion share of this period of Wilson’s life but playing the 1980’s version is John Cusack who looks less like Brian Wilson but in my opinion portrays an even more complex version of him battling his demons and expressing how difficult and challenging it is for Wilson to escape his mental anguish and rebuild his life with future wife Melinda Ledbetter portrayed by Elizabeth Banks.

Banks to be fair departs her more well known comedic film roles, and as Melinda Ledbetter, shows her strength and respect for the man she loves through actions and subtle expressions. Ledbetter is the key to Wilson’s sanity and hope and without her strength I’m not sure Brian Wilson would have saw out the 1980’s if this movie is anything to go by. Their first meeting is a rather strange and awkward one in Wilson wanting to buy a car from her showroom. I don’t think I’ve seen Cusack as intense in a role…well ever.

Playing Dr Eugene Landy is the brilliant Paul Giamatti who strangely has almost a cartoon like role in the film as Wilson’s therapist. He really portrays the role almost as a pantomime villain but by all accounts and from what I have read was a close portrayal of a manipulative, violent and controlling person over Wilson’s life. Giamatti really steals all of his scenes and creates an intensity within the storyline.

I felt Director Bill Pohlad did well to capture both periods of Wilson’s life from two different actors without it becoming unbelievable or disjointed. I have seen this done before and failed in a movie called “The Best of Me (2014) in no matter how good a storyline is or how good the direction is, if you miscast the story will fail. Don’t get me wrong for the first 5 minutes of screen time in the 1980’s I was concerned with the casting of Cusack but his performance carried the movie in this period thankfully. Pohlad also let the audience into the studio to see some of the classics being constructed by Wilson and surprisingly to me a bunch of session musicians who albeit where the best at what they do. Interesting as well was showing some of the petty squabbles between Wilson and his cousin Love and Love’s disapproval of some of Brian’s musical choices.

In Summary, If I was to nitpick was the Director not covering the 1970’s in which I have read since watching this movie where as a tumultuous period in which he spent 3 years in his bed suffering depression and drug addiction. Perhaps Pohlad didn’t want to indulge too much in this period for theme and pacing issues (who knows) nevertheless “Love & Mercy” is a fascinating insight into one of the brilliant minds of the 20th Century and is written beautifully with some top class acting on board. If you are a fan of The Beach Boys you will be reminded of the struggles of Brian Wilson, but if you are a casual fan like me you will enjoy, be enlightened and become a slightly more of a fan of the album “Pet Sounds” Highly Recommend.

Swiss Army Man (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh



Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Writers: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Daniel Kwan has created probably the most bizarre, mind-bending film I’ve seen in years with Swiss Army Man. It follows Hank (Paul Dano) who’s marooned alone on an island. That is until Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) comes along or should I say ‘washes up’ on the beach at the most opportune moment and whisks the two on a surreal journey.

It would be fair to say Hank is not in the best of mental states when we first meet him, which is pretty prophetic given the revelations to be had later. He is emaciated, depressed and on the verge of suicide. Stood on a paradisiacal beach, he slips his head into a handmade noose, tip toeing unsteadily on a box and humming unintelligibly away to himself.

Things look to be over before they even begin; that is until he spots the shape of a man (Daniel Radcliffe) on the beach ahead. In his excitement to rush out and meet the stranger, however, he inadvertently falls off the box and almost hangs himself. Thankfully for Hank the rope snaps under his weight. Upon reaching the man, it becomes abundantly clear that he’s long dead. His skin a pale bluish-white whilst his body is limp and lifeless.

To make matters worse, Hank causes the corpse to begin farting violently when he administers CPR. Seemingly repulsed by the continual farting, he dejectedly stalks away, before quickly returning, wrought with guilt, as the flatulent corpse begins washing back out. What follows is possibly the strangest scene that I have ever seen. Hank begins riding the corpse through the waves, using its farts as propulsion. There’s time for a few unnecessary close shots of bare cheeks before the propulsion seems to stops and he ends up under the waves.

When he awakes on another beach it’s perhaps forgivable then that he and the audience thought the whole thing was a dream or hallucination. A packet of cheese crisps tells Hank otherwise, though the rationale observer will still have their doubts, and sure enough the corpse is a short distance away. The two of them have managed to somehow make it back to the mainland, though the lack of signal on the dead mans phone makes it clear that he’s still far from society. The pair then go on an interesting journey together forming quite the budding, little friendship along the way. The corpse who later goes by the name of Manny, begins talking to Hank and showcasing a plethora of different talents that help them along the way. From a source of water and means of starting a fire to a GPS erection compass.

“Manny, I think your penis is guiding us home!” is definitely up there as one of the more memorable quotes in the film. Hank becomes a mentor like figure to the man-child corpse who’s thirst for knowledge is unquenchable; teaching him about societal norms, relationships, sex, masturbation, morality and everything in between. He even goes to the extremes of dressing in drag to appease Manny, who by this point is fixated on the girl in his phones wallpaper and seems to be mentally developing at a rate of knots. He appears desperate to remember her name with the hope that it’ll jolt memories of his life back and help lead them home.

It soon becomes apparent that Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl in the wallpaper and one of the main instigators of the aforementioned erection compass, is really the main driving point of the story. Despite all the absurdity of fart jokes, erections and other immature nonsense floating around on the surface of this film, there’s definitely a serious message being put forward by Kwan and Scheinert here.

The film is narrated by Hank and viewed solely from his perspective, which obviously given the nature of what’s happening throughout with the talking corpse and what not, would lend some validity to theories of it all being a hallucination. The true meaning of the film is deliberately left ambiguous, but it was pretty clear to me from the drag, playacting, inside the makeshift bus onwards that Hank was projecting an imaginary world. This view was only solidified when it became apparent he was hiding out in the woods behind the girls house. My initials thoughts were that he’d actually died in the suicide attempt and everything afterwards was a weird purgatory like world, but the ending fully turned me onto the schizophrenic, split personality disorder theory.

Daniel Radcliffe is the absolute star in a film that’s about as far from Hogwarts as you’re likely to get. It couldn’t have been easy playing a dead man for an entire film and the way he maintained control of his facial expressions, not to mention his body, even as it was contorted into all sorts of awkward shapes, was extremely impressive. Manny, rather strangely for a dead character, was also the more developed of the two leads. Effectively growing from a toddler in mental terms to an adolescent adult and Radcliffe absolutely excelled in portraying this evolution.

Paul Dano also delivered a strong performance as Hank; the lonely, troubled, socially awkward outsider who in his imaginary world at least is looking for a reason to live. It was enjoyable watching both Hank and Manny’s friendship grow as the film progressed and the two actors had bundles of chemistry.

Musically, the score was incredible. Hull and McDowell do a fantastic job of making it seem like the music is actually taking place within Hank and Manny’s minds. It features orchestral arrangements seamlessly blending in with the actors humming to different tunes throughout, including the Jurassic Park theme. I really enjoyed the score in this film and I’m very surprised it hasn’t received any Oscar recognition. It certainly deserves it.

I feel like this film would definitely divide opinion. Superficially, it’s got immature humour in spades, which has the potential to put a lot of people off, but if you give it a chance then it develops into an interesting story. It has the bromance buddy elements between the two leads and underneath is a more serious message about mental health, loneliness and the dangers of modern society’s indifference. Of course, given the highly ambiguous nature of the film, it’s very possible that someone else could watch it and have a completely different theory as to what’s going on. Which is why I have to recommend it.