The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson Out Front And Unplugged In ‘Love & Mercy’: Specialty Preview

John Cusack and Paul Dano star in Love & Mercy.
Roadside Attractions

Considered one of the greatest pop music talents ever, Brian Wilson’s story of tumultuous rise with the Beach Boys in the ’60s to his darkest moments under the thumb of an unscrupulous psychiatrist in the ’80s comes to the big screen in Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate’s Love & Mercy, directed by Bill Pohlad and starring John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti. Sony Pictures Classics will bow period drama Testament Of Youth with Ex Machina star Alicia Vikander. The World War I-set drama, based on a true story, is banking on the appeal of serious entertainment as the studios continue to flex their summer wares in the first weekend of June.

Also in the running for alternative viewing is An Open Secret, the scathing Amy Berg documentary about the sexual abuse of child actors in Hollywood, which Rocky Mountain Pictures recently acquired. It is opening in three cities: Seattle, Denver and New York. In addition, the horror-doc The Nightmare, opens in New York, L.A. and other cities as well as on-demand from Gravitas Ventures, Kino Lorber’s Patch Town in NYC and on-demand, and Visit Films/Monument Releasing’s Australian drama Charlie’s Country, which picked up an acting prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard last year.

Other notable limited release bows include Screen Media’s well-timed soccer (football) film, United Passions, which Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione profiled earlier this week in the wake of the U.S. Justice Department’s indictment of FIFA officials on allegations of corruption. MPI Media Group/Dark Sky Films’ We Are Still There opens Friday in NYC and L.A. and VOD; The Fourth Noble Truth will bow at the Laemmle Royal in L.A. in a self-release, while Magnolia launched Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence Wednesday. Well Go USA is opening Jackie Chan starrer Police Story: Lockdown, while Zeitgeist opened Every Last Child midweek.

Love & Mercylove & mercy poster
Director: Bill Pohlad
Writers: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Cast: John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald, Joanna Going, Dee Wallace, Max Schneider
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Nearly a decade in the making, Love & Mercy is an inside look at Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson’s budding talent as well as his profound insecurities and psychological distress. The film was created with Wilson as well as his wife’s full cooperation.

Covering three decades of Wilson’s life, Love & Mercy reveals the darker and more complex story that lies beneath the Beach Boys’ day-at-the-beach veneer, including Wilson’s battle with mental illness and drug abuse, his years under the influence of therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) and his redemptive relationship with Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), all in the context of his far-reaching talent. John Cusack stars as the older Wilson, while Paul Dano plays the young Brian Wilson.

“We’re bullish on Love & Mercy, we think it’s really going to work,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “The film has steadily been building momentum since we picked it up in Toronto, and Brian Wilson has been out in front promoting the movie with us.” Cohen said that the Beach Boys’ continued popularity bodes well for the title, noting that a poll among moviegoers picked the Beach Boys as the number 2 favored band of all-time, just behind the Beatles. “Brian came out with a new album at the beginning of April and composed a new song for the movie called, ‘Our Kind of Love,'” said Cohen. “The movie also makes heavy use of Brian Wilson’s hits.” Wilson has been heavily promoting the film on his Facebook.

Elizabeth Banks, who stars in Pitch Perfect 2, also has focused attention on the feature, which will go up against Entourage, Insidious Chapter 3 and Spy this weekend. “It’s an uplifting story but goes into dark places,” said Cohen. “It [spotlights] two periods of Brian’s life, intercutting his early career with the mid ’80s when he was at the tail end of a bad period under the thumb of a very unscrupulous psychiatrist. The movie has really been touching people.”

Roadside and Lionsgate will open Love & Mercy in about 450 theaters in every major market. “We [did] a big debut at the Academy, and are positioning it for awards later this year,” added Cohen. “It’s opening pretty wide for us — our biggest, aside from The Conspirator.” (The Conspirator opened in 707 theaters in April, 2011, eventually grossing over $11.5M).

Testament of Youth PosterTestament Of Youth
Director: James Kent
Writers: Juliette Towhidi, Vera Brittain (autobiography)
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Colin Morgan, Joanna Scanlan, Dominic West, Miranda Richardson
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

The origins of the big screen version of Testament Of Youth began when Christine Langan and Joe Oppenheimer of BBC Films were exploring the BBC archive for potential feature films back in 2008. With the centenary of WWI coming up, they eyed the 1979 BBC series, Testament Of Youth.

The coming-of-age story is based on the First World War memoir by Vera Brittain, which became a classic testimony of the period from a woman’s point-of-view. Youth, hope, dreams, love, war, futility and making sense of the darkest times are all key components of ‘The Great War.’ The story begins in the Edwardian spring of 1914, with Vera Brittain – a youthful feminist, free-minded and irrepressible – determined to attend Oxford against her conservative parents’ wishes. She is encouraged and inspired by her brother and his friends, particularly Roland Leighton, who shares her dream of being a writer. But her hopes for Oxford with Roland are dashed as war is declared, and all the young men enlist. She herself gives up her dream of writing, and becomes a nurse. What follows is a story of heightened, urgent love between Vera and Roland – interrupted by the war, as Vera moves closer and closer to the front, eventually nursing Germans soldiers, who help her to recognize the futility of war.

“About a year ago, we were shown a version of the film before it was finished,” said Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker. “It gives a fantastic account of what the experience of that era was like. The movie also has the qualities of shows like Downton Abbey and the romance books that came out of that period. And the direction is just superb.”

SPC is also also banking on the appeal of the film’s cast to bolster audience attention as the film begins its run stateside this weekend. Star Alicia Vikander has received a good amount of attention through her role in the A24 box office hit Ex Machina ($23.6M as of last weekend) and she has other projects slated for this year.

“She’s a major actress in a major moment of her career,” said Barker. “She’s great in the film…What you have with [Testament Of Youth] is serious entertainment that is an alternative to what the studios are offering. If you look over the years, a lot of movies succeed in summer time because there’s a [lack] of quality independent film in the summer. That is why we release all of Woody Allen’s movies this time of year.” (SPC will open Allen’s Irrational Man with Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley in mid-July).

Testament Of Youth will bow in New York and L.A. this weekend, expanding to Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago the following week.

The NightmareThe Nightmare Poster
Director: Rodney Ascher
Cast: Yatoya Toy, Siegfried Peters, Steven Yvette, Age Wilson
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Hybrid documentary The Nightmare has its roots in filmmaker Rodney Ascher’s own experience with the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. He discovered that he wasn’t the only person in a state of motionlessness in bed with the sensation that he was being menaced by a living three-dimensional shadow.

A non-fiction-horror, The Nightmare explores sleep paralysis through the experiences of eight very different people. The common thread is that the people find themselves trapped between the sleeping and asking worlds, totally unable to move but aware of their surroundings while being subject to frequently disturbing sights and sounds. A strange element to these visions is that despite the fact that they know nothing of one another, (and had never heard of sleep paralysis before it happened to them), many see similar ghostly ‘shadow men.’ The film explores both the particular experiences of these eight people through in-depth and sometimes surreal dramatizations in addition to exploring their search for understanding their experience with the phenomenon and how it’s changed their lives.

Ascher received the financing green light pretty quickly in December, 2013. He and producer Tim Kirk met with fellow producers Ross Dinerstein and Glen Zipper who were able to arrange the resources within a week via media group, Content. “Then it was all about, ‘Let’s find our interviewees,'” said Ascher, who directed the 2012 documentary Room 237, exploring interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. “I worked with a volunteer who had seen 237 from Austria and we started going through message boards and YouTube videos.” Ascher did his first interview in January, 2014 in L.A. and after getting the word out, people began sending their stories to the project’s team.

“I started editing the film after the first interview,” said Ascher. “Since we knew [The Nightmare] would be reenactment heavy, I wanted to get a rough cut ahead of shooting them in August.” The reenactments shot over two weeks on a sound stage in Boyle Heights, CA. “There was no written script. I used to be a storyboard artist and we were very specific with what we were going to shoot,” added Ascher. The final phase of editing took place in Silver Lake. The Nightmare debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Gravitas Ventures boarded the project after the event.

“When I showed 237 at Sundance, nobody knew anything about it and I hadn’t done anything before that, so I didn’t have many expectations,” said Ascher. “That movie broke a lot wider than I expected, so I felt there were more eyes on me this time around.” Ascher noted that he asked people in the post-screening Q&A if any of them had experienced sleep paralysis against the initial advice of someone in his group, who worried that if nobody answered ‘yes,’ it would take the wind out of the film’s sails. “But about 15 – 20% of the people in the audience raised their hands,” he noted.

People who have and have not experienced sleep paralysis will have the chance to see The Nightmare at IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York as well as the Laemmle Noho, Laemmle Playhouse and Laemmle Music Hall in L.A. in addition to a dozen other cities Friday including Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Denver and Atlanta. Other markets will be added later in the month.

Patch TownPatch Town
Director-writer: Craig Goodwill
Writers: Christopher Bond, Trevor Martin, Jessie Gabe
Cast: Jon Cor, Zoie Palmer, Julian Richings, Scott Thompson, Rob Ramsay, Alan C. Peterson
Distributor: Kino Lorber

Back in 2007, TV and film director Craig Goodwill (Carlawood) was speaking with a Russian-born script supervisor on a set when the topic of folklore regarding where babies come from came up. In the U.S. and other Western countries, the common childhood story is that babies come from a stork, while in Russia, they come from a cabbage-patch. The conversation morphed into a short film of the same title which debuted at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where it picked up a prize. “I always intended it to be a feature film,” said Goodwill. “[But], how do you make people believe you that you can do it for $275K? Ultimately you start calling in every favor you can.”

Patch Town tells the story of Jon (Rob Ramsay), who has lived a sad life as an oppressed worker at a factory where hundreds of cabbage babies are born. Work on the assembly line is a thankless task of shucking, picking, and processing newborns to go out into the world and to their new adoptive mothers. But when Jon discovers the awful secret that he and all the indentured workers are actually grown-up and discarded toys, he’ll have to take on a villainous corporation to reunite with his long-lost mother, protect his newfound family, and finally find freedom.

“We used 20 minutes of the short film in the feature,” said Goodwill, who is also a producer of the film. “We raised money through TeleFilm Canada and relied on a lot of relationships. We also storyboarded the whole thing so we knew exactly what we were doing.” Also segueing from the short film was most of the cast, though at the last minute, the original female lead had to bow out because of a health issue. “Over the weekend before the shoot, we re-cast our lead and found Zoie Palmer,” said Goodwill. “We shot in January, 2013 in Toronto over 21 days. It was winter, but we had great support from the crew and with Pinewood Studios.”

Patch Town debuted at the Whistler and then Palm Springs, Shanghai and Moscow film festivals. Kino Lorber came on board during the last Cannes Film Festival for its U.S. release. The film will open in New York as well as on-demand day and date Friday, with VSC handling simultaneous release in Canada. Added Goodwill: “It’s been a long journey over 10 years. I told my wife about it on our first date…”

Charlie’s CountryCharlie's Country poster
Director-writer: Rolf de Heer
Writer: David Gulpilil
Cast: David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, Luke Ford, Wayne Anthoney, Dellax Barra, Craig Behenna, Richard Birrinbirrin
Distributor: Visit Films/Monument Releasing

Charlie’s Country is rooted in the Aboriginal people of Australia, but the core of the feature is at its core the story of filmmaker Rolf de Heer’s friend, David Gulpilil.

Charlie (Gulpilil) is a warrior past his prime. As the government increases its stranglehold over the community’s traditional way of life, Charlie becomes lost between two cultures. His new modern life offers him a way to survive but, ultimately, it is one he has no power over. Finally fed up when his gun, his newly crafted spear, and his best friend’s jeep are confiscated, Charlie heads into the wild on his own, to live the old way. However Charlie hasn’t reckoned on where he might end up, nor on how much life has changed since the old days…

De Heer developed Charlie’s Country along with Gulpilil, a veteran actor, as a co-writer after learning that the latter was incarcerated. De Heer went to visit him and found him “lifeless,” though he yearned to make another film. The result is Charlie’s Country, which debuted at the Adelaide Film Festival in October, 2013 and afterward in Cannes the following May where Gulpilil won the Best Actor award in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section.

U.S. based Visit Films boarded the project for international sales ahead of Cannes and the title fielded various offers stateside. “The offers in the U.S. didn’t make sense, and we thought we could do better,” said Visit Films’ Ryan Kampe. “With the blessing of Rolf and the film’s producers, we decided it would be better to have the release go through [our sister label] Monument.”

Monument (which releases about 6 films per year) is targeting a mostly older audience for its U.S. launch at New York’s Lincoln Plaza, though the label is also working with group Australians in Film to motivate U.S. residence from the continent to come out. The organization is also involved with the L.A. bow the following week. Charlie’s Country will also open in Cleveland, Santa Fe, Scottsdale, AZ and in Austin, through the Austin Film Society this weekend.

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