Film & Theatre

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LOVE AND MERCY - 2015 FILM STILL - Pictured: Paul Dano - Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel Roadside Attractions Release.

The latest film by the accomplished producer Bill Pohlad (Into The Wild, Brokeback Mountain) is certainly more than just a great biopic about the life of Brian Wilson, the leader and founding member of The Beach Boys, and his struggle with mental illness in two stages of his life. It is also a noble attempt at creating a psychological drama similar to Alfred’s Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

In Love & Mercy, rather than witnessing a musician’s rise to stardom and his eventual decline, we are faced with the neurotic ups and downs of a damaged soul. On one side of Brian’s life we find Paul Giamatti, who plays the infamous Dr. Eugene Landy with his rather controversial method of psychotherapy, and on the other side we have Melinda, the second wife and saviour of Brian, played excellently by Elizabeth Banks. Paul Dano, playing the young Brian during the 60s is as captivating as always, and John Cusack as the older Brian is even more so. In Love & Mercy, Cusack turns the years back to the 80s and reminds us of the iconic scene from Say Anything (Cameron Crowe) when he held that jukebox over his head.

It is interesting to mention that in both Amy (the recent biopic about Amy Winehouse) and Love & Mercy, two films dealing with musicians, the father figures are portrayed both as protectors and as controlling influences on their children’s lives. In the end, it must be said that Love & Mercy is certainly one of the best biopics of the last few years.

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To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my very favourite books, so I had mixed emotions about watching The Barbican’s stage adaptation. It’s hard to watch someone else’s interpretation of a story you love, especially when you’ve already imagined exactly how the characters look and act. I wasn’t disappointed however – Christopher Sergel’s adaptation was brilliant, and the performances by the cast, in particular the children playing Scout, Jem and Dill, were both funny and heart-warming.

The play was originally staged at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and still has largely the same cast, but now stars Robert Sean Leonard (House, Dead Poets Society) as Atticus Finch. It opens with the cast reading from Harper Lee’s novel, and drawing in chalk on the stage floor, mapping out the neighbourhood where the Finch family live. This was a great way to set the scene and keep the play true to the original story. The only thing which didn’t quite fit for me, was the accents they used to read the book. It’s set in Alabama, and for the rest of the play all the characters had Southern American accents, so it seemed odd to have the book (which is narrated by Scout) read in native British accents.

The only other adaptation I’ve watched of To Kill A Mockingbird is the award-winning 1962 film version starring Gregory Peck. I actually found Sergel’s production better in many ways, as it didn’t feel as rushed or abridged. True, they did have to skip over certain aspects of the story, but ardent fans should be pacified by the inclusion of Mrs Dubose and her camellias, which was not included in the film. The court room scenes did not dominate the play, as they do in the film, but they were excellently staged with the audience positioned as the jury. Although many members of the cast had relatively small roles, such as those of Bob and Mayella Ewell, they were very well done and the actors made the scenes as uncomfortable as they are intended to be.

For many readers, the book is important as much for its depiction of childhood as its portrayal of race issues in America. An adaptation needs to capture the innocence of Scout and the idyllic nature of her childhood for the full impact to be felt when this crashes down around her. The Barbican’s production did a good job of depicting this, without being overly sentimental. Overall this play was one of the best I’ve seen in London, and if I was disappointed, it was only because it was over so quickly.

 

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Mr. Holmes
Mr. Holmes

Mr Holmes, the latest film by Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), might not be a satisfactory experience for those who are avid fans of the world’s most famous sleuth. Holmes, played flawlessly by Ian McKellen, has long since left his Baker Street adventures. He is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and other physical deteriorations, while living in a small village called Seven Sisters in the south of England.

Holmes, who is now without Watson and his rather popularist approach to storytelling, has to write his own story and he is in this sense more like a writer who is facing writer’s block, than a famous detective with brilliant deductive abilities.

Other than the sublime portrayal of Holmes by McKellen, it is worth mentioning Carter Burwell’s composition, which serves as a requiem for the elderly Holmes, who has witnessed two world wars and is facing the end of the Victorian era with a sense of nostalgia.

 

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Photo: Sundance

Slow West, the directorial debut of John Maclean, is a western/arthouse film starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn. It tells the story of a young Scottish nobleman who, in pursuit of his love Rose, finds himself in the cruel and beautiful world of the American West.

Early on in the story, our young hero Jay Cavendish teams up with a bounty hunter named Silas (played by Michael Fassbender). The difference between Jay and Silas is that Jay knows how to live, whereas Silas knows how to survive, and in a strange sense the two complete each other. Silas is a tough bounty hunter, but Jay’s naivety seems to bring out a sense of paternal love in him – although we soon find out that paternal love is not the only reason Silas decides to escort Jay to his love.

Rose and her father are in fact wanted fugitives; there is a bounty on their head, and Jay is the only person in the West who is oblivious to this. He is being followed by a group of bounty hunters who are also looking for Rose, for less romantic reasons. However despite this, you cannot feel much animosity towards these bounty hunters. As much as you probably won’t be too bothered if Jay never gets to Rose, that does not mean the storyline is not gripping. Just like the beautiful landscape that Slow West is shot in, you accept Jay, Silas, the bounty hunters and all the other random characters Jay gets to meet during his journey, as part of life in the West, for better or worse.

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