Elizabeth Banks



I have often lamented the over-preponderence of superhero movies currently dominating the multiplexes. Those who share my misgivings may take some solace in Brightburn, which, although an unashamed slice of shlock, at least gives this increasingly played-out genre a fresh coat of paint (even if the colour in question is undoubtedly a dark shade of crimson). Produced by James Gunn, written by his brother, Brian, and his cousin, Mark, Brightburn is founded upon a simple question. What if somebody with superpowers was actually a psychopath?

Tori and Kyle Brever (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) are the long married couple living in the wilds of Kansas, who have been trying for years to have a baby, with zero success. The late night crash-landing of a vehicle from outer space gives them the unexpected opportunity to adopt its sole passenger, a newborn baby. If this sounds familiar, it should do. It’s a cheeky borrowing of the Superman origin story.

The child, whom they name Brandon (Jackson Dunne), is fairly ‘normal’ until he hits puberty, when he starts to experience anger issues. Quite typical of an adolescent, I’ll grant you, but Brandon also begins to discover that he has some pretty amazing super powers – and, as they develop, so do various unsavoury habits that would give Clark Kent an attack of the vapours – like wearing a seedy-looking costume, spying on any girl who is unlucky enough to pique his interest, unleashing bloody mayhem on those who are rash enough to cross him, and leaving his monicker at the scene of the crime. (Be warned. The film focuses unflinchingly on visceral injury detail. Anyone who is twitchy about eyes and broken glass may want to look away at a key moment in the story.)

So yes, this is shlock, but it’s better produced and acted than most of the films that occupy this genre and manages to generate enough suspense to keep you hooked throughout. There are jump-scares too for those who like that kind of thing. Whilst the storyline doesn’t stand up to an awful lot of scrutiny, you do at least identify with Tori and Kyle’s inner conflict. Coming to terms with the fact that your adopted son is a brutal killer is not the kind of thing anybody would want to have to deal with, but deal with it they must.

And, as the body count steadily rises, they realise it’s time to take a stand…

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney


Love and Mercy

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Music biopics can be perilously tricky affairs. Far too often, they come across merely as karaoke reruns of the original events and only a very few ever succeed (or even bother) to try and probe beneath the shiny surface. Happily, Love and Mercy belongs in the latter category. Bill Pohlad’s film offers two Brian Wilsons for the price of one.

In the 1960’s-set first strand, a bulked up Paul Dano does an uncanny job of portraying pop music’s most celebrated tortured genius, complete with the chubby bewildered features and the pudding basin haircut. The recreations of the band’s early concerts and TV appearances are uncannily accurate. After the Beachboys’ initial successes with their surfing songs, Brian suffers a debilitating panic attack on an airplane, and elects to stay in the studio and create music while the rest of the band head off to Japan on tour.

In the second, 1990’s-set strand, we meet another Brian Wilson, post nervous breakdown and in the clutches of bullying psychiatrist, Eugene Landy (Paul Giametti in a fright wig, looking strangely like Melvyn Bragg.) In these sequences, Brian is played by John Cusack, who is of course a very accomplished actor – but he  looks nothing like Wilson, or for that matter, Dano. The conclusion has to be that the director was trying to make a statement about his subject’s schizophrenic nature but I couldn’t help feeling that he’d have done better to stick with Dano throughout.

Once the two time frames are established the film cuts effortlessly back and forth, between two major stories. In the 60’s, Brian’s mounting confusion alienates him from his fellow band members and family – but here the film manages to nail the creative process of recording better than most other films I’ve seen. It’s wonderful to watch as a pop masterpiece like God Only Knows is assembled virtually note by note, before finally blossoming into the sublime finished product we know and love.

In the second storyline, a heavily sedated Brian, always accompanied by Landy and his henchmen, wanders into a car showroom to purchase a Cadillac and makes a connection with Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks.) The two of them start to date and Melinda quickly begins to realise that Brian is under Landy’s control, every bit as much as he suffered under the tyranny of his abusive father, Murray. But how can she extricate him from his self-inflicted woes? And does Brian even want to be rescued?

This is by no means a perfect film, but it’s intriguing and compelling enough to keep you hooked to the end and there’s some fabulous sounds to enjoy along the way. At the film’s conclusion we get the added bonus of the real Brian Wilson performing the wistful song from which the film takes its title. You don’t have to be a Beachboys fan, but it certainly helps.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney