Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Love & Mercy, I'll See You in My Dreams

Good Vibrations
(To get into the proper mood for the first review below you might want to listen to the Beach Boys’ eternally-wonderful "Good Vibrations"; especially relevant is a version from their 1966 studio sessions [the original quintet plus Brian Wilson’s touring replacement, Bruce Johnson] with footage shot during various takes, or, if you’d prefer to vibrate with my second review about aging with dignity, here’s the version from their 50th Anniversary Tour featuring Brian in a rare reunion with his old hit-maker-mates [minus deceased Wilson brothers Dennis and Carl], including David Marks, an early short-term replacement in the band for Al Jardine)
Here I am doing my best imitation of one of the
aging Beach Boys on a ferry back from Alcatraz
while fellow travelers wonder why the Feds
didn't just keep me out there on The Rock
 I know that there are movies pulling in a lot more money in the domestic (U.S. and Canada) market than the ones that I’m reviewing this week, including Spy (Paul Feig) at $30 million for its debut (I’ll get to it next time), Insidious Chapter 3 (Leigh Whannell) and Entourage (Doug Ellin) at $23 million, $10.4 million respectively for their opening weekends (no interest from me in either of them; I did see 1 episode of the TV Entourage once, which was quite enough, thank you), along with some I’ve already covered: San Andreas (Brad Peyton; review in our May 29, 2015 posting)—now at $92.1 million after 2 weeks—Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller; review in our May 20, 2015 posting)—up to $130.8 million after a month—Tomorrowland (Brad Bird; review in our May 29, 2015 posting)—at $76.2 million after 3 weeks—and 2015’s clear Big Kahuna so far, Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon; review in our May 7, 2015 posting) with $438 million in domestic dollars (plus another $910 million in overseas revenues, but still short for now of the worldwide $1,510 million haul for Furious 7 [James Wan; review in our April 15, 2015 posting]); yet, despite their relatively-small-showings at the box-office ($2.2 million domestically for Love & Mercy’s opening, a mere $1.85 million total so far for I’ll See You In My Dreams, even after a month on screens) these 2 mean a lot more to me than almost anything else I’ve seen so far this year (including a re-viewing of the fascinating Looper [Rian Johnson, 2012; review in our October 5, 2012 posting] via Netflix DVD this week) so indulge me if you will as I navigate through 2 marvelous explorations of 2 protagonists of a certain age (although the first one's in that age-bracket now, not when he’s depicted in his current biofilm).
                                             Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                 Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad)
This is a creative approach to a biography of Beach Boy-co-founder/pop-music-genius Brian Wilson, using 2 different actors to portray him at crucial times of his career: the mid-1960s writing and recording of the Pet Sounds album juxtaposed with his mid-1980s mental struggles and desperate need to break away from his domineering therapist to regain his life.
What Happens: Much of the artistic impact of Love & Mercy comes from the creative intercutting of 2 main eras in the long career of acclaimed pop musician Brian Wilson: (1) the 1965-66 period that produced the now-highly-praised 1966 Pet Sounds album (although it was a bit of a financial bust in the U.S. at the time of original release, despite containing 4 Top 40 singles—“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “ Sloop John B.,” “God Only Knows,” “Caroline No”—but the more esoteric tone of the other cuts was too introspective at the time for most of the teenage audience [but not me] that just wanted to “dance, dance, dance”) and the definitive-studio-mini-symphony-#1-single “Good Vibrations,” and (2) the mid-1980s when Brian, somewhat-but-not-fully-assuming that he was improving from his fragile-to-distraught-mental-state by being under total control of his therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, was finally liberated from this crazed “medic” with the help of his now-second-wife, Melinda Ledbetter.  However, to recount the constant jumps from one time period to the other in this summary would just get crazily-confusing in its own right so I’ll recount the events of each setting in chronological order, hoping that you’ll see the actual film to appreciate how well they’ve been woven together.  Love & Mercy doesn’t waste time dealing with the formation of the Beach Boys, leading to their string of early hits which established them as one of the most-impactful-purveyors of pop music in the early 1960s; instead we begin in darkness with an audio collage of almost-recognizable-words-and-song-phrases (to help us understand what Brian describes later as the voices in his head, which he’s been hearing since 1963), followed by a quick shot of Brian in bed (another indication of his reclusive years when he could barely deal with his own existence let alone work diligently in the studio or perform in public), then a compressed montage of those early glory years (with controlling-father-manager Murry Wilson [Bill Camp] watching carefully from the wings as the boys performed on stage).

 As we follow actual-time-events from the film, the next crucial one is Brian’s panic attack in December 1964 as the guys are flying to Houston for a concert  (as a high-school-junior just 50 miles away in Galveston at the time, I'd have attended were it not for my own authoritative parent—my mother [with her in command of me, my father rarely even had to raise his voice to get my compliance; I think if she and Murry had been married even the Wilson boys wouldn’t have been allowed out of the city limits to perform concerts]—who wouldn’t let me travel to the “big city” on my own, so I have no idea what happened with that concert, although I think it’s the first one where stand-in Glen Campbell performed).  Most of the rest of this section of the film is devoted to Brian’s (played in these scenes by Paul Dano) studio work in writing and producing Pet Sounds (released in May 1966, a now-platinum-seller lauded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time), a relative bust at the time as its musical directions led so far away from the band’s previous emphasis on surfing, hot cars, cuddly girls, and other desired-aspects of American teenage life.  Lead singer Mike Love (Jake Abel) is shown in his well-known-opposition to this new, more aesthetically-esoteric-approach (especially ranting about “Hold On To Your Ego,” which eventually led to the lyrics being changed) but the other band members—Carl (Brett Davern), Dennis (Kenny Wormald), Al (Graham Rogers [I noted a 6th guy in these recording-studio-scenes whom I assume to be Brian-permanent-stage-replacement Bruce Johnson, but I see no mention of him in the cast credits]) are at best just there to verify their historical existence, although we do get some other verification, that of how impressed the superb studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew (recently featured in a documentary of that name [Denny Tadesco; review in our April 2, 2015 posting], with footage of those actual Pet Sounds sessions) were with what this self-taught-kid (about 23 at the time) was able to concoct as producer/manager of the band (after Brian famously fired his dad), shown in a nice scene with a fictionalized version of drummer Hal Blaine (Johnny Sneed) giving support.

 The rest of this era focuses on one last grand triumph, the 1966 recording and release of “Good Vibrations” (Brian’s “pocket symphony to God,” but, oddly enough despite all of their success, it’s one of the Beach Boys’ few U.S. #1 hits: the others are “I Get Around” [1964], “Help Me, Rhonda” [1965], “Kokomo” [1988]), and the beginning of Brian’s deterioration even beyond the LSD-fueled-distractions and paranoia of this creative studio period with the collapse of his intended-epic Smile (which finally was finished and released in 2004, but as a Brian Wilson project without further input from the other Beach Boys, although recordings from the original 1966-67 era can be found on certain BB compilations or on The Smile Sessions album [2011]).  Perhaps before moving on you’d like to refresh yourself on Pet Sounds; if so here’s about half of it in a cluster of videos of the original recordings (that run only about 18:21 because "That's Not Me"—although I've got another link to that cut noted a few paragraphs below—"I'm Waiting for the day," "Let's Go Away for Awhile," "I Know There's an Answer," Here Today," and "Caroline No" have all been blocked [at least in the U.S.], but why just these songs I don't know, so I hope you get some enjoyment out of this anyway—you'll also have to endure a lot of ad interruptions, sorry); I wish I could find Pet Sounds in mono for you again (I had such a link to the whole album a couple of days ago but it was pulled down before I could even get this posted, possibly because of the release of Love & Mercy), which is more like what Brian would have heard, given that he was practically deaf in his right ear as the result of beatings in childhood from Murry, exacting in his perfectionism and furious in his responses to anything not up to his standards.  (Brian’s superior success to his father as a musician surely played a morbid role in this as well; later Murry replaced physical abuse with a psychological one, selling the publishing rights to the Beach Boys’ songs in order to raise money without Brian’s knowledge or approval).  However, Brian gets the last laugh (sort of) with the eventual triumph of this album and the rest of his storied career, so I'll let him give you a live version of Pet Sounds by him and non-Beach Boy-musicians at London's Royal Festival Hall, 2000 (56:38), in order to fill in those missing tracks from above (plus you also get a rousing encore of "Good Vibrations").

 During the times where we flashforward to the mid-to-late-1980s (or flashback from there to the 1960s, depending on your desired temporal perspective) we focus on Brian’s (now played by John Cusack) first meeting with Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) when he comes to her car dealership to buy a Cadillac, then begins dating her but only under the constantly-watchful-eye of Svengali-like “therapist”-to-the-stars Gene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who accompanies them on dates, browbeats Brian for not eating what and when he’s supposed to, then ultimately orders Melinda to buzz off, as she’s not only getting too close to Brian but also starting to question the constant control that Landy’s exercising (unfortunately, Brian’s allowed Landy to become his legal guardian).  Even as Brian’s returning to the studio (for his 1988 debut solo album, Brian Wilson, on which the “Love & Mercy” song appears), Landy’s there as a tyrannical co-producer as a mirror-image of abusive-father-Murry (an obvious plot device in the film but a likely reality in that it’s documented how the abused of all sorts continue to seek out situations and companions who continue the agony as a response to a known environment by people who’ve not yet been able to break the cycle that's ingrained in them).  Melinda has no choice but to stay away from Brian (due to the combination of the legal-weight of guardianship and the muscle-weight of the bodyguards constantly hovering around), but working with maid Gloria (Diana Maria Riva) she obtains a copy of Brian’s revised will which now leaves most of his holdings to Landy, thereby encouraging Carl and other Wilson family members to intervene, finally freeing Brian from the psychological and over-medicated-control that this maniac had imposed for a number of years.  Marginally in Landy’s defense, he did manage to get Brian off of illegal drugs (although replaced by a plethora of prescribed ones to help keep his patient docile, as part of his wrongful diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia), along with forcing him to lose much of his massive weight gain; however, his absurd “treatment” procedures led to him being legally barred from further contact with Brian as well as losing his CA psychologist’s license.  

 This section—and the film as a whole—ends with credits that tell of Brian’s marriage to Melinda (with a “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” intro on the soundtrack) along with their adoption of children (after scenes where he seeks her out, then has her drive him to see his old Hawthorne [L.A. suburb] home, which has been removed to allow a freeway overpass of the lot, essentially ending this story on a metaphor of the disappeared past, allowing for a newly-devised-future to take over).

So What? This film claims only to be “based on the life of Brian Wilson” in its opening disclaimer, so any complaints about historical inaccuracies must—as usual with these fictionalized docudramas—be minimized in favor of the filmmakers (hopefully) catching the essence of their subject, if not a textbook account based on public records.  Nevertheless, I’ve been a fan of the Beach Boys since the early 1960s, have seen them perform at least 7 times (my specific memories of a lot of things these days are probably as vacuous as Brian’s regarding his “lost” years—unless all of those drugs, prescribed and otherwise, locked in the event-reminders rather than erasing them), have read a lot about all of them, including Brian, and even watched the poorly-received, dismissed TV movie, The Beach Boys: An American Family (Jeff Bleckner, 2000), so I feel I have a reasonable idea about what brought this marvelous group of musicians together, then tore them apart in various ways, including the mental/personal troubles that have plagued Brian for decades (from what I’ve seen in interviews for Love & Mercy and his performance with the temporarily-reunited-band for their 50th anniversary tour in 2012, he seems stable now but somewhat catatonic at times; yet, he knows his life far better than I do so if he’s as satisfied with Love & Mercy as he says he is, then at least for now I’ll accept his opinion and just deal with what I saw on screen).

 In addition to being what can be reasonably argued as an historically-valid-dramatization of aspects of Brian Wilson’s life, Love & Mercy also takes the unconventional-but-effective-approach of using 2 completely-different-actors to portray Brian in these 2 depicted timeframes.  While Dano looks remarkably like his Pet Sounds-era-character (he even does some singing in some of the studio scenes, with his voice then blended into Brian’s, although I could certainly tell the difference between them, despite a decent effort by Dano), there are few who would see Cusack as resembling Wilson (Pohlad claims he does, at least for these depicted years, although I’m still a bit short of being convinced), but that’s not the point here.  Rather, the attempt (successful in this case) is to use an actor who can convey Wilson’s complex combination of sensitivity, occasional-near-madness, and subdued-but-desperate-confusion (while in the car in Melinda’s showroom he scribbles “lonely,” “scared,” “frightened” on the back of her business card so that Landy won’t see it), providing an emotional equivalent of the character (in the same manner that 6 actors—including Cate Blanchett—portrayed fictionalized versions of Bob Dylan in the marvelous I’m Not There [Todd Haynes, 2007]; Pohlad was influenced by that approach, so much so that he brought in Haynes’ co-scriptwriter Oren Moverman to co-write Love & Mercy) rather than a plausible-physical-likeness, with someone such as Michael Madsen or William Hurt (although they’re respectively 56 and 65 now while Brian was only about 44 in the mid-1980s, so they’re not really ideal anyway if the intention is to use a name-brand-actor in the role—however, there was talk of a Love & Mercy Brian Wilson biopic back in 1988 with Hurt [38 then] in the lead, which I think would have worked wonderfully if it were just a contemporary [for the time] story but someone else entirely would had to have been a younger Brian, if that concept was intended to be more inclusive of Wilson’s career, as this present film is).

Bottom Line Final Comments: With full disclosure here, I must admit that I’m not the one to even attempt an objective review of Love & Mercy, as my teen years on the Gulf of Mexico beach in Galveston, TX were greatly informed by the music, fame, and lure of the public image of the Beach Boys (although the standard 6” surf there was hardly what they envisioned with "Catch a Wave"; the first time I saw them perform live [Austin, TX, spring 1967] they even noted they’d just been in Galveston which Mike said “sucked”).  Their songs, their appearance, their constant success in those 1962-1966 years (high school for me) was what spoke to my sun-drenched-generation (although we embraced the British Invasion and Motown as well), helped set me on the road to “California dreaming” (which has continued to resonate in wish-fulfillment-terms since 1984, even though the water around San Francisco isn’t nearly as conducive for swimming as it is down south in Hermosa Beach [close to Hawthorne]), and provided me with an ongoing musical metaphor for my own typically-angst-filled-adolescent-to-young-adult-life with the more contemplative cuts from Pet Sounds.  I’m not saying that in my perception it would be hard to do a poorly-conceived, poorly-executed biography of the Beach Boys or Brian as the musical foundation that propelled them to so much worldwide success (again, there’s that atrocious The Beach Boys: An American Family, noted above), but Love & Mercy has none of those negative qualities.  Although, “wouldn’t it be nice” to have given a bit more depth to the other members of the band (beyond Mike’s self-satisfied-complaints—I still “love” his lyrics, simple as they may be at times [“I better turn on the lights So we can ride my Honda tonight,” from “Little Honda,” All Summer Long album 1964], but his bickering with Brian over copyright, royalties, and performance issues gets old at times, especially coming from someone who supposedly has benefitted from Transcendental Meditation; his version of the Beach Boys is coming soon to my local Alameda County Fair but with only him and Bruce from the original group even though Brian, Al, and David are still out there and available so I haven’t yet decided if I want to see what’s become a semi-cover-band hanging on to a couple of the originals or should I just go with a true version of such to see an honest-Eagles-tribute-group on another day) or to get fuller version of some of these classic hits, but I’ll admit that to do either of those things would turn this film into a longer-than-easily-marketed-experience so I understand conceptually—if not emotionally—why this didn’t happen.

 What this film does have is a successful combination of joy and sorrow, spotlighting the exuberance that Brian feels as he pushes beyond anything (except The Beatles’ late 1965 album Rubber Soul, which he says inspired him to make something with the Beach Boys that would have that kind of presence as a full entity, not just a record with a few hits and some throwaway filler, the standard structure for an album in those days—in turn, Paul McCartney says that he was inspired by the quality of Pet Sounds, which was considerably more successful in England than the U.S., to go Brian one better, leading his group in 1967 to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, still for me the best pop album ever produced, despite my great affection for Pet Sounds—as well as Dylan’s 1966 Blonde on Blonde and, for personal reasons even beyond the fabulous music, Paul Simon's 1986 Graceland) happening in the mid-1960s with teen-driven-rock to realize his studio-crafted-ambitions that were light-years away from the Beach Boys’ previous work (the late 1965 Beach Boys Party! album was a fake, in that it was recorded in a studio in quick manner to satisfy Capitol Records’ demand for Christmastime-product, although it did yield the hot single of “Barbara Ann”).  We also see the joy of older Brian finding a soulmate with Melinda, despite the obstacles that Landy kept putting up, so much so that Brian tracks her down after their enforced breakup, walking in front of her car to force her to stop and reconnect with him.  Yet, there’s sorrow as well, as Brian’s struggles to maintain his sanity as the pressures of composing, performing, managing, all while trying to reach beyond the comfort zone that Mike yearned to maintain, lead him to despair at times even during the Pet Sounds sessions as those closest to him can’t comprehend what he needs (or, at times, imagines) to reach the goals he’s yearning for.  Certainly, sorrow is also a key aspect of the 1980s segment as he’s constantly being hounded by Landy, pushed to despair by this charlatan’s egomaniacal vision of himself as the “healer,” even the “star” of Brian’s career, which admittedly had even worse aspects without Landy’s interventions in earlier years when this acknowledged-musical-genius could barely get out of bed for 3 years due to massive bouts of depression.

 None of these aspects are easy nor fun to watch (not for the real Brian and Melinda either, as they’ve stated in interviews), but as shown in such recent cinematic bios as Ray (Taylor Hackford, 2004) and Walk the Line (James Mangold, 2005), talent alone isn’t always enough to keep a limelight-lit-life in balance, as artists struggle to find private satisfaction in their own choices rather than what their fans, managers, etc. are demanding of them, while often having to battle various emotional/psychological/dependency demons in the process.  Love & Mercy probes into all of this in a manner that’s just as challenging for its audience as it is for its actors (and the real people they embody), never allowing much relaxation as we constantly jump from one era to another, reminding us that no matter how artistically successful Pet Sounds would prove to be that Brian was always facing even more miserable years later on than what he’d encounter at the height of his fame, with only our extra-textual-knowledge of his survival and ongoing accolades to reassure us that we’re not eventually headed for suicide as a relief from all of the imposed pressures.  Maybe I can’t see through my own subjective fog enough to come down harder on Love & Mercy if it might need such a response, but what I do see is a powerful, engaging, soul-stirring, terrifically-conceived-and-constructed film that I can’t recommend more enthusiastically (although I do have consolation that in a change from some of my recent star-assignments I’m more in line with the larger critical community this time, as the Rotten Tomatoes folks have offered 88% positive reviews for this film, almost matched by an 80% positive tally from the Metacritic reviewers; more details in the links far below if you like).

 With a film such as this one there’s a wealth of possibilities to consider for my usual offerings of Musical Metaphors, all of which have already been provided to me by Brian Wilson over the years.  I’ll start with a couple of cuts from Pet Sounds that have always spoken to me about how even this young, rich, praised musician back in 1965 was still feeling and channeling internal emotional distress that seemed familiar to me as well (and would become increasing so as the natural progression away from the stability—like it or not—of home and family transformed into the exciting but also confusing, sometime frightening, years of undergrad college), so in recognition of those ongoing waves of trauma (that ebbed and flowed back then but haven’t necessarily fully gone away yet) here are the statements of shaken identity in “That’s Not Me” at and a lovely a cappella version of “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” at; then, to pep things up a bit with Brian having made it through—at least to some degree—the difficulties that this film explores, here’s him doing a more-recent-live-version of “Love & Mercy” at, very similar to what you get with the film’s closing credits (you may need to boost up the audio a bit on this one).  Finally, if you’d like to put Brian back into context of what most of us remember him best for, here’s a compressed (1:08:00; the concert I saw was considerably longer, making it all the better) video document of the 2012 Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour at, so that you can have “fun, fun, fun” until whoever/whatever represents “daddy” to you takes whatever equates to your “T-Bird away” (you know, it sounds like my therapist license is in danger as well).
Short(er) Takes
                           I’ll See You in My Dreams (Brett Haley)
A widow in her 70s has settled into a comfortable but unchallenging routine with friends and a faithful dog, but when the pooch dies she begins to open herself up to new challenges and relationships, even if she has no idea where they’re going; this is a very low-key story but with excellent acting and an honest sense of what it’s like to get older in our society.
 While the specific characters and events of I’ll See You in My Dreams aren’t based on real people and events as are the depictions in Love & Mercy, what’s presented here certainly speaks to reality for those of us who are now in our Social Security Years (sounds better to me than just “old” or without the medical-complication-connotations of “Medicare Years”), so I’ll start by commending the several production companies (Jeff Rice Films, Northern Lights Films, Part2 Pictures, Two Flints) and the distributor (Bleecker Street Media) for financing this project in the first place, along with commending all of the actors (I’m using my frequent genderless-term here rather than bringing in a separate category of “actresses”; here’s an article that explores that concept as applied to Oscar and Emmy awards) for their effective, unsentimental presentations of what it’s like to age in this society (at least if you’re White and financially-comfortable; I’ll See You in My Dreams makes no effort to acknowledge the vast number of older Americans with nowhere near the resources that the protagonist enjoys) where physical and social options that set the various agendas for this youth-seeking-culture aren’t always so available or interesting to those of us who are finding our versions of peace in what might ultimately best be called our Retirement Years (except for those like Brian Wilson, who at age 72 is 5 years older than me yet still on the road performing, even if he and cousin Mike can’t achieve reduced-animosity arrangements to work together much anymore).  The focus in this film is on 70-ish Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner), a former professional singer who now lives alone in her well-appointed L.A.-area-home (husband Bill died 20 years ago in a plane crash [Danner’s well-informed for this part of her role as her real-life-husband, director Bruce Paltrow, died about 15 years ago from cancer]; Pickles, her doggy companion of many years dies early on in this story, so she puts their ashes side-by-side on her mantelpiece), spending her days drinking white wine (which leads to a drinking-buddy-friendship with her barely-approaching-middle-age pool “boy,” Lloyd [Martin Starr]), and playing cards or golf with her Royal Oaks-retirement-home-(medical-marijuana-)buddies, Sally (Rhea Perlman), Georgina (June Squibb), and Rona (Mark Kay Place), who convince her to try speed-dating, which she finds to be mortifyingly-disgusting.

 However, Lloyd encourages her to join him at a local karaoke-bar where she wows the crowd with a solid version of “Cry Me a River” (although anything would have been a great improvement over his tone-deaf-attempt at “I Think We’re Alone Now”), which gives her some sense that her life isn’t just about bridge, vitamins, and chilled chardonnay, followed by chance meetings with an older, richer, opportunity-embracing-suitor, Bill (Sam Elliott), with the slightly-unsettling/slightly-comfortable same name as her late husband.  Soon, Carol’s spending marvelous time being wined, dined, boated (Bill’s is named So What, but that’s based on a Miles Davis tune—from the aurally-magnificent 1959 Kind of Blue album), and bedded, but then Bill dies suddenly (which came as a surprise to me but not the nurse friend who also attended the screening that Nina and I saw; she noticed his heavier breathing after sex, which does serve as a reality consideration for those of us in our Golden Years—another attempt at an appropriate-age-bracket-name but not so on-the-nose for those not endowed with Bill’s opulence—that emotional desires need to be reasonably weighed against physical conditions, no matter how healthy we’d like to imagine ourselves to be).  Carol’s
heartbroken that she opened herself up to rejoining the world beyond her well-beaten-golf-course-and-supermarket-paths, but with encouragement from her daughter, Katherine (Malin Åkerman), who happened to be in town for some of these plot events during her short visit from the East Coast, along with Lloyd, who offers both a long-needed-home-improvement-duty by catching a rat that pops up periodically in Carol’s house and a current-cheer-up-moment by playing her a song he wrote (he still can’t sing worth a damn, but the lyrics are nice), Carol’s spirits are boosted (with no cheesy romance developing between Lloyd and either of the Petersen women), leading to her adoption of another older dog and the agreement of the “card shark” ladies for them to take a trip to Iceland (maybe I’m even further relating to this film because of our own recent adoption of a getting-older-cat—Bella's roughly 6-10, hard to tell because that’s usually determined by analysis of the teeth but she’s only got 9 of her original 30 left—plus recent discussions with older friends to take a trip to Cuba this winter if proper arrangements can be made—that is, no rafts).  All that remains of Bill is one of his cigars on Carol’s above-fireplace-“altar,” but that’s all she needs to remember him, just as she finds that she really needs only what’s actually attractive to her in the present rather than faded memories or someone else’s arbitrary decisions about how her life should be evolving.

 If your cinematic tastes run (or march forcefully) toward the kinds of options that I noted in the introductory paragraph of this posting, then I might have trouble convincing you that I’ll See You in My Dreams would even be tolerable as it generally moves rather slowly (although the scenes of quickly-cut-speed-dating and pot-medicated-hungry-women-walking-in-the-street-back-from-the-grocery-store-until-stopped-by-a-sympathetic-cop [in their defense, there was no sidewalk, but they may not have even noticed that until after he began his interrogation] are quite funny), focuses visually on a lot of long conversations shot in closeups, and is concerned more with pondering possibilities than with intense drama (or even emotional melodrama)—although Bill’s death is quite an unexpected story element even though at his age (gulp!) you never know for sure if sleep will always lead to reawakening.  However, if that sort of approach to how a film could evolve into a pleasantly-paced, thoughtful, even-tempered-experience finds some resonance with you, then I heartily (as long as your heart’s in as good a shape as mine; my annual checkup and blood tests continue to be encouraging) recommend I’ll See You in My Dreams, as long as you can patiently file into the auditorium behind a good number of fellow patrons using walkers.  I’m not sure if anyone at our screening was under 50, but given that Danner’s just a year younger than Brian Wilson you can’t blame a geriatric audience (OK, not the most-endearing of the several adjectives I’ve tried out in these comments)—which likely is holding back the film’s profits as so many of us see it with Senior ticket prices—for celebrating probably the best role of her screen career, certainly the most prominent lead one, even though she’s had notable previous performances in such work as The Great Santini (Lewis John Carlino,1979), Brighton Beach Memoirs (Gene Saks, 1986),The Prince of Tides (Barbra Streisand, 1991), as well as the Robert De Niro/Ben Stiller/Dustin Hoffman/Barbra Streisand/Teri Polo/Owen Wilson trilogy, Meet the Parents (Jay Roach, 2000), Meet the Fockers (Roach, 2004), and Little Fockers (Paul Weitz, 2010), along with winning a Tony early on for her part in the Broadway production of Butterflies Are Free (1969), and 2 Emmys for the TV series Huff (2005, 2006).  

 To conclude these ...Dreams comments I’ll give you another generous helping of Musical Metaphors, first “Cry Me a River” at https://www. (Streisand again, from a May 1963 broadcast of TV’s The Dinah Shore Show, with Babs’ recording on her 1963 The Barbra Streisand Album; I use this rendition because the singer’s a favorite of my favorite, my wife, Nina [more on her below]), with its dreary black and white imagery and (if I may be so bold) a hesitant-at-first-performance by Streisand, in indication of Carol’s melancholy attitude toward her past life; then, on a more upbeat (also up-tempo) “note,” I’ll offer The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” (from their 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album) at com/watch?v=ViKkjSzdwL4, supposedly at the original key and speed (it was seemingly “Pep”-ped-up a bit more for the album’s final master), as a more celebratory-statement on the options of old age, when we all hope there’ll be someone “mending a fuse When [our] lights are gone,” as we sit wondering “Will you still need me, will you still feed me” when we reach 64 (and many more).

 To wrap up this edition of Two Guys in the Dark ramblings, I’ll continue noting (when relevant to anything else I’m writing about movie-wise) recent concerts that I’ve attended with my marvelous wife, Nina, with our latest being the duo of Tony Bennett (one of her favorites since high school—we’re talking back in the mid-1960s again when Tony wasn’t as hip as the Beach Boys with the teenage crowd) and Lady Gaga, in this case because as we were entering the outdoor Concord (CA) Pavilion we got the “Word” from some Jesus-devotees that we should turn back because of the she-demon about to perform that night.  Their admonitions barely slowed down our trek to the nearest beer stand before thoroughly enjoying the concert (although Ms. Gaga was a bit “devilish” in having her sister/wardrobe-assistant rip out the lining of one of her many costumes so that it became see-through, revealing her breasts [with pasties in their proper places] and underwear, because as she said, “I’m young and stupid” [also pregnant and not afraid to show it; sorry that this photo’s not as sharp as it might be but I had to shoot it from a video screen given our distance from the stage]), but even if the self-proclaimed “Lady Is a Tramp” may be some sort of a demon in certain Christian-eyes, we all have our demons which we’re trying to address, optimally with the help of those who love us giving us comfort on our at-times-rocky-journeys.  I’ve certainly got that love and support
Nina Kindblad enjoying the sunset
on our recent jaunt to Mendocino
(to be fair, some of the booze is mine)
from Nina, to which I’ll dedicate a final Musical Metaphor that reaches back to Love & Mercy, Carl Wilson’s angelic rendition of brother Brian’s “God Only Knows” (from Pet Sounds) at https:// watch?v=iDAO4F0 odW8 (a live version from the Beach Boys’ 1976 Good Vibrations Tour with all 5 of the originals on stage—very infrequent after 1964 where Brian was concerned—but hard to tell that from this video) because that’s how lost I know I'd be without my magnificent-life-companion (a psychic told us that we’ve now been together for 63 lifetimes; if that’s so I can’t imagine why she keeps signing on for another tour of duty but I’m eternally grateful that she does).  I’ll also note that Nina’s instrumental in helping me catch my mistakes with after-the-fact-editing of these blog entries (she’s usually long-ago-asleep when I do the posting) so I’ll further praise her with T.S. Eliot’s dedication to Ezra Pound from The Wasteland (1922), il miglior fabbro (“the better craftsman”—although Eliot himself seems to have borrowed this phrase from Dante’s Purgatorio [the second part of The Divine Comedy, written in the early 14th century] xxvi, 117, referring to Arnaut Daniel, a 12th-13th century poet praised by Dante for both his love poetry and technical virtuosity]; believe it or not, I found a way to reference Eliot’s masterpiece in my review of San Andreas [May 29, 2015 posting], but it if you didn’t choose to explore it more then I'll try to give you another chance—just keep Nina in mind during the few more-uplifting-passages of it).

 That’s all for this time around but I’ll follow up very soon with another review-cluster in praise of a re-release of a group of film masterpieces, Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956), and Apur Sansar (1959), which has been rolling out slowly across the U.S. since May 8, 2015 (NYC), opening in my San Francisco area this weekend (June 12; damn, Oklahoma City got it before we did—so much for our Left Coast-cinema-superiority, although cine-smug Dallas isn’t even on the list oddly enough), concluding with a September 13-27 run in Amherst, MA (sorry to my San Antonio friend, Richard Parker, but it looks like your only option will be with the Austin Film Society on July 5, 12, 21, or 28; however, for one of my only other known U.S. regular readers, Roger Smitter, you’ve already got this trilogy in Chicago [Music Box Theatre] since June 5 if you’re interested).  I have no idea of any of my overseas friends will get a chance at these restored wonders (in stunning 4K video projection) but do keep an eye out if you get the rare chance to see them this way.
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Here’s some more information about Love and Mercy: (13:36 Q & A at the 2015 SxSW Film Festival with director Bill Pohlad, actor John Cusack, film subject/musical legend Brian Wilson, and producer Claire Rudnick Polstein [amateur video quality but at least it’s from the front row of the audience so you get good audio quality of what they're saying])

Here’s some more information about I’ll See You in My Dreams:!ill-see-you-in-my-dreams/cvk9 (16:50 Q & A at the 2015  Sundance Film Festival with co-writer/director Brett Haley, co-writer Marc Basch, musical director Keegan DeWitt, and actors Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, Martin Starr, and Rhea Perlman [sadly, the sound quality here isn’t very good]; actor Malin Åkerman’s in most of the shots but she never says anything)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.



  1. I was very pleantly surprised by all the actors, especially Evan Able as Mike.

  2. Hi Thomas, Thanks for the comment. Yes, I enjoyed all the acting quite a bit too, including Mr. Able. Ken