Tag Archives: Paul Dano

Good Vibrations

Paul Dano, John Cusack share role of Beach Boy Brian Wilson

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Love & Mercy

Starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks & Paul Giamatti

Directed by Bill Pohlad

PG-13

The Beach Boys and their songs about surf, sand, hot rods and girls represented West Coast light, life, fun and frolic in the 1960s. But the story “behind the music” had darker undertones, especially when it came to the group’s leader, Brian Wilson.

This trippy, time-tunnel dramatization of Wilson’s troubled, tortured musical genius bridges two different eras, 20 years apart, with powerful performances and mesmerizing filmmaking that recreates pivotal Beach Boys moments along with other, lesser-known incidents in Wilson’s life long after the group’s heyday.

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Paul Dano as ’60s-era Brian Wilson.

The movie’s most striking feature is its use of two different actors to portray its central character. As younger Brain, Paul Dano is nothing short of phenomenal in an Oscar-worthy performance that captures and channels the drive, innocence, obsession and brilliance that coalesced into the 1960s Beach Boys album Pet Sounds.

The movie toggles back and forth between Dano’s Brian and “later” Brian, movingly played by John Cusack as a shattered shell of man in the mid 1980s, imprisoned in a toxic relationship with a greedy, manipulative therapist (Paul Giamatti) who over-medicates him into a stupor and bars him from contact with his family.

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Elizabeth Banks and John Cusack

Elizabeth Banks is terrific as titanium blonde Melinda Ledbetter, the Cadillac saleswoman who comes into Wilson’s life in 1985, falls in love with him—and leads the charge for his deliverance.

The movie takes its title from a 1988 solo song by Wilson, and if you want to hear it, you’ll need to stay through the credits. It’s well worth the wait.

Although the relationship between Brian and Melinda puts much of the dramatic spotlight on Cusack, Banks and Giamatti, it’s Dano who steals the show. Composing songs at a piano, singing on stage, tinkering in the studio or simply feeling his head swell with a symphony of swirling music that only he can hear (kudos to Oscar-winning composer Atticus Ross for his mood-perfect soundscapes), he conveys the sophisticated scope of Wilson’s prodigious talents, the heartbreak of his tumultuous relationship with his abusive father (Bill Camp) and the fissures that would later lead to full-blown mental and physical breakdowns.

“Who are you, Mozart?” Mike Love (Jake Abel) of the group asks Wilson as he seethes over Wilson taking more and more creative control—and leaving the rest of the Beach Boys on the sidelines. “It’s like you’re making your own record—we’re barely a part of the Brian Wilson band.”

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Beach Boys fans will love director Bill Pohlad’s almost documentary-style recreation of the group’s early promotional videos, album-cover photo shoots and TV performances. Sequences that depict Wilson in the recording studio, working with session players and band mates on what would become the 1966 pop-opus masterpiece Pet Sounds, feel like stolen, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the real thing.

But even more casual viewers will be touched by the romance at the heart of the tale, riveted by the acting, retro-grooved by the tunes, and entranced by the opportunity to learn more about a wounded pop-music Mozart who finally, fatefully found the Love & Mercy that healed him.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Trials & Triumph

Terrific cast, searing true story in Oscar-winning ‘Slave’

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12 Years a Slave

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.98 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

 

With its Oscar for Best Picture capping off a run as one of the most celebrated films of 2013, director Steve McQueen’s epic adaptation of a true American slave’s odyssey is often difficult to watch, but becomes something triumphant to behold. The all-star cast (which includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti) is anchored by the riveting powerhouse performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Lupita Nyong’o, who received the Academy Award for Supporting Actress as Patsy, a fellow captive. Extras include several behind-the-scene features, including Ejiofor reading passages from Northup’s autobiography, on which the movie was based.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Dark as a Dungeon

Twisty, turn-y thriller poses provocative question

Prisoners

Prisoners

DVD $28.98 / Blu-ray $35.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

How far is too far to go when the law doesn’t go far enough? That’s the provocative question this gripping crime thriller asks as Hugh Jackman portrays a distraught father who takes matters into his own hands and hunts down the man (Paul Dano) he believes is responsible for abducting his young daughter and her friend. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the police detective drawn ever deeper into an increasingly dark, twisted case, and Mario Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Melissa Leo round out the solid cast.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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‘Prisoners’ Pounds Its Message(s) Home

How far is too far when the law doesn’t go far enough?

PRISONERS

Prisoners

Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal & Paul Dano

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

R, 153 min.

Released Sept. 20, 2013

Plunged into every parent’s worst nightmare, a desperate father (Hugh Jackman) takes matters into his own hands when his young daughter and her friend disappear and the local police department can’t get answers out of the man he’s convinced abducted them.

With no evidence to hold the developmentally challenged Alex Jones (Paul Dano), who was driving the rattrap minivan seen near the girls just before they vanished, the cops have to let him go. That’s when Jackman’s character, Keller Dover, abducts him, secretly holds him prisoner in an abandoned building, and begins a prolonged attempt to beat the truth out of him.

PRISONERSHow far is too far to go, Prisoners asks, when the law doesn’t go far enough?

That’s not the only question the movie raises, in its brutally direct way, as it plows through a minefield of raw nerves, shattered emotions, shifting moral boundaries and unnerving religious overtones. Most of those questions don’t have easy answers.

What are we to think, for instance, when Dover fortifies himself with the Lord’s Prayer before another grueling session subjecting his captive, who has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old, to almost unthinkable abuse? Or when Dover’s neighbors Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), whose young daughter was also taken, justify their complicity to his plan? “We won’t help him,” Nancy reasons, “but we won’t stop him, either.”PRISONERS

And feel free to overlay any number of social issues, current events, theological debates or other entry points for discussion onto Dover’s declaration that his prisoner is “not a person anymore,” and that “we have to hurt him until he talks.”

Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), seemingly the only cop on the case in the entire (unnamed) Pennsylvania town, tirelessly tracks down clues that always seem to leave him frustratingly short of a breakthrough. Unable to cope, Dover’s wife (Maria Bello) retreats into a prescription-induced haze.

Melissa Leo plays Alex’s aunt, who raised him after his parents died, and David Dastmalchian is chilling as another suspect with a peculiar interest in children’s clothes…and other creepy things.

“Prisoners” has a strong cast with seven Oscar nominations and two Academy Award trophies among them. The movie’s palette of bleak winter landscapes also packs a visceral punch, thanks to ten-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, who’s worked on five Coen Brothers movies and the sumptuous-looking James Bond adventure Skyfall.

But strip away its impressive Hollywood pedigree and it basically boils down to basic B-movie stock, shock and schlock. If you’ve seen anything like it, you’ve probably seen a lot of things like it.

PRISONERSNote the “s” in the title. By the time Prisoners ends after a marathon 153 minutes, it’s obvious it wants to leave you thinking about how you’ve encountered more than one prisoner, in more ways than one. But you’ll also be thinking about how it’s at least half an hour too long, how much of a grim ordeal the whole affair turned out to be, and how director Denis Villeneuve threw in way too much of just about everything, including snakes, some mumbo-jumbo about a “war against God,” and all those mazes, mazes and more mazes that all lead nowhere.

Fans of forensic-investigation and crime-procedural TV shows like CSI might enjoy the twisty-turn-y trip down the zig-zaggy rabbit hole to the end. But as the credits rolled after the final scene set in the darkness of night, in the winter cold, with a frosting of snow on hard, frozen ground, I was glad to “escape” to somewhere brighter, somewhere warmer, and somewhere I hadn’t just seen Paul Dano’s face repeatedly bludgeoned into the consistency of raw deer meat.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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