Movie Review: “Love & Mercy”

There have been several biographic films about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys over the years, and all of them up to this point have been mediocre at best. It all seemed to start with material taken from The Beach Boys and the California Myth or other books that show Brian as the tragic artist always trying to get the approval of his father, or the musical savant of a surf music group that never could “defeat” The Beatles. The movie Love & Mercy, doesn’t really concentrate on the band, but does bring Brian’s struggles to life.

The film bounces between the 1960s (Brian played by Paul Dano) and 1980s (Brian played by John Cusack.) The 1960s period is dead on accurate as Dano captures the catatonic states and music playing in Brian’s head, as he composes much of Pet Sounds. The studio scenes are very familiar sounding to Beach Boys fans who listened to the bonus tracks and rehearsals of the The Pet Sounds Sessions. The other band members are pretty nondescript, with the exception of Mike Love (Jake Abel) being the annoying critic who still wants more surf music. And Brian’s father, Murray Wilson is like a specter that looms over his decent into commercial failure and despair. Dano does a great job here and actually looks the part.

The 1980’s period has most of the movie’s conflict with Cuscak’s Wilson being frequently over-medicated by his psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy (brilliantly played by Paul Giamatti.) When the beautiful Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) finds him car shopping in her Cadillac dealership, the story shifts to saving Brian from his manipulative doctor. Both parts of the movie work seamlessly together, but the latter period has most of the best acting in the movie. Its got Cusack capturing the subtle nuances of the adult Wilson perfectly, to the point where the lack of physical resemblance with the real Wilson almost isn’t an issue. In addition, both Banks and Giamattis performances keep the film from losing momentum.

The excellent sound editing here is also a huge part of this movie, as it brings the cacophony of voices in Brian’s head to life as well as the genesis of “God Only Knows.” If you want to nitpick, they gloss over Marilyn Rovell (Brian’s first wife) and the other Wilson brothers. They also ignore the 1970’s where Brian ballooned in weight, grew a beard and how Dr. Landy initially saved his life (before he turned into the villain.) Overall, an excellent film that is a must-see for Beach Boys fans and even the non-fans will enjoy this.

For more real life vs. movie comparisons Slate has a good article on this.

DVD/Blu-ray Review: “Good Ol’ Freda”

Good Ol Freda

Over the years nearly everyone remotely connected with the Beatles has offered up an opinion or experience about them and their music. The number of Beatle books listed on Amazon numbers more than 7,700. So it is very special that one of the few living connections to those early days of Beatlmania still has a story to tell that hasn’t been told. Freda Kelly, who became president of the Beatles’ official fan club as a teenager, and was soon after hired as manager Brian Epstein’s secretary, is the main subject of the documentary Good Ol’ Freda. Now a modest 60-ish grandmother, Freda has kept quiet all these years as part of the Beatles family, but here she details her story…
Read the entire review at Blog Critics



DVD/Blu-ray Review “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me”

If you didn’t see it during its premier or the follow up concert, now is your chance to own this very thorough documentary on one of the most important bands in the history of power pop. Big Star is better known for their massive influence than hit records or performances. Born in the shadow of the Memphis rock scene of the 1960s it couldn’t catch a break, despite critical acclaim and the legendary Alex Chilton and Chris Bell combination.

The first half concentrates on the Memphis scene at Ardent Records, and studio founder and engineer John Fry giving the group a chance. It seems like a Southern fried Haight Ashbury at the time, with interesting interviews of trippy photographer William Eggleston, Fry and others close to the band. It goes into details on both Chilton and Bell’s background, but often leaves you with more questions than answers. The band interviews are sparse and mainly audio (with photos) and include bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens. The bottom line for Big Star’s commercial failure at the time is clearly record distribution and promotion.

The second half of the film talks mainly about the influence the band’s songs had with the next generation of musicians. How the Posies (Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer) reformed the band and got Chilton to play again till his death in 2010. Musicians Chris Stamey, Mike Mills (REM) and Paul Westerberg (The Replacements) are a few of the many interviews with fans who championed Big Star, a band that managed to find their audience decades later. The extra features on the disc include more details on Bell and Chilton’s childhood, as well as “Big Star in the Studio,” another interview with Fry about the band’s recording style. For the non-fan I would recommend listening to the band’s music first, but for the initiated this is a validation of the greatness that was Big Star.


Good Ol’ Freda coming soon!

Yeah, we’ve all seen movies about people who knew The Beatles, but what about the one person who spent life with the band day-to-day, from the early days till the end. That would be the Beatles personal secretary Freda Kelly. Director Ryan White gives us a documentary of Freda’s 11 years of service with The Fab Four.

The film will open in theaters and iTunes on September 6th.