STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (USA/16/147mins) Directed by F. Gary Gray. Starring O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Carra Patterson THE PLOT: In the late 1980s, hip hop group NWA emerged from the Compton California and not only captured the voice of disenfranchised African American youth at the time, but went on to become some of the biggest selling artists of all time. THE VERDICT: STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is named after the first NWA album, which sold over three million copies, and was former group members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre worked with the filmmakers as co-producers.
The cast includes Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr playing his father, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge as MC Ren. Paul Giamatti also turns up as the group’s former manager Jerry Heller. The cast do well with the roles they are given; Jackson Jr’s performance as ice Cube is sympathetic and intimidating at the same time, Hawkins makes Dre the driving force behind the group and Paul Giamatti, fresh from playing a corrupt manager in LOVE AND MERCY, takes on the mantle again.
With Dre and Ice Cube on board as directors, the group were almost always going to come out of the film looking good, but Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff’s screenplay makes them feel relatable and real, as well as the heroes of their own particular tale. The story carefully shows the drug addled, corrupt and violent place that Compton was in the 1980s, with some of the police brutality shown on screen coming off as shocking and vicious. This gives context to the film and the world that the artists came from, but once the film moves away from this opposition, and opposition begins to come from within the ranks, things get messy and much less focused.
Director F. Gary Gray has been quiet since his last cinematic outing with Law Abiding Citizen, but returns to tell the story of NWA; perhaps because he has worked with many of these artists in the past – most memorably, Ice Cube in Friday, which is given a nod in the film. The film is strong to begin with; the audience is given a sense of the time and place that gave rise to NWA calling themselves such, their need to do something with their lives, and their protest song ‘F*** Tha Police’. This takes up the first half of the film, leaving less time to tell a longer story and, once the group begin to go their separate ways, the film struggles to hold everything together. That said, the performances are strong, the soundtrack is killer and although we know these people are not angels, the film makes sure audience sympathy is with them. As well as this, the film captures the energy of NWA’s first album, and it’s infectious.
In all, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is not a film just for the fans; this is an underdog tale, well told. There are times when the film feels messy and, at 2 hours 20 mins, far too long, but it hard not to root for these young artists who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and made some mistakes along the way. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS (UK | France | USA/16/96mins) Directed by Max Joseph. Starring Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal THE PLOT: Cole Carter (Zac Efron) wants nothing more than to be a successful DJ. In order to do this, he knows he has to just create one fantastic track. Cole befriends the hugely successful Paul Reed (Wes Betley), and as the two work on Cole’s killer track, Cole becomes closer to Reed’s girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). THE VERDICT: There is something familiar at the heart of Max Joseph’s WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS – named after a track by Justice Vs Simian – but although we may have seen this story in various different guises over the years, there is enough charm and good humour here for the film to work on it’s own.
Although the character is slightly generic, Zac Efron is warm and engaging in the lead role as Cole; he quickly gets audience sympathy on his side and, even though he loses it at times, he quickly gains it back. Wes Bentley is on fine form as the alcohol and drug addled success who has got lost in his own myth, and delivers brilliant lines such as ‘A spliff!? What are you, French?’ with humour and wit. Emily Ratajkowski plays Sophie well enough; she has her wits about her for the most part, but rarely comes off as anything other than vanilla. The rest of the cast is made up of Jon Bernthal, Shiloh Fernandez, Jonny Weston and Brittany Furlan in small but rather hilarious role.
Max Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer’s screenplay just so happens to be about a DJ from the San Fernando Valley in LA trying to make it, but in reality, could be about anyone trying to make it anywhere. The tale of a man taking a day job he hates in order to make rent is a rather familiar track, as is the story of a group of friends torn apart when someone new comes into the mix. All of this familiarity is saved through the lead character being just charming and engaging enough to keep the audience interested, plus some wonderful scenes where paintings come to life and Cole explains his life through voice over and on screen graphics. The film is a story about growing up and letting go of the dreams that are holding the characters back, as well as fighting for the ones they believe in, while dancing and drinking the night away with pretty people in pretty places. This is a delicate balance done well, and the final moment of redemption is an engaging and touching one, with everything tying up neatly but in a poignant way.
As director, Max Joseph allows WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS to flow along at a decent pace. The music is strong, the sets and costumes bright and colourful, and the relationship between the three central characters is engaging. Ideas come and go, however, with the stylistic touches being dropped fairly soon into the film; this allows the film to focus on the story being told, but also makes it feel more generic than it needs to.
In all, WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS is light enough and fluffy enough to be entertaining and, although there are moments of darkness, they never seem to massively impact on the characters. Zac Efron and Wes Bentley are on great form, the music is strong and, although we have seen stories similar to this before, WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS is bright and colourful, and well directed enough to bring the audience in once more. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
HITMAN: AGENT 47 (Germany | USA/15A/96mins) Directed by Aleksander Bach. Starring Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciarán Hinds, Angelababy THE PLOT: Katia Van Dees (Hannah Ware) finds herself searching for a mysterious man in Berling, when the vicious and ruthless assassin, Agent 47, targets her. Saved from hthe agent’s first attack by John Smith (Zachary Quinto), Katia soon learns that the man she seeks is her father – the man responsible for creating the man pursuing her – and sets out to find her family, and the truth about where she comes from. THE VERDICT: ‘The history of man is defined by war, and war by the men who fight it’, or so we are told in voiceover at the start of HITMAN: AGENT 47. This gives the impression that the agents are the next phase of human evolution, and war between the ‘normals’ and the agents is looming. Such war never really comes in HITMAN: AGENT 47.
Based on a the video game series ‘Hitman’, and written for the screen by Skip Woods and Michael Finch, HITMAN: AGENT 47 is a film about characters whose capacities for love and fear have been removed, making them super soldiers and dangerous assassins. This is all well and good, but it also seems that all of the emtion has been removed from the film as a whole, leaving us with some cool-looking set pieces, but no characters to get to know, and no-one to root for.
The cast is fairly great; Agent 47 is played by HOMELAND’s Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto plays John Smith and Ciarán Hinds turns up as Katia’s father Litvenko. Katia herself is played by Hannah Ware and Angelababy plays the mysterious Diana. None of the cast are really given a chance to show what they are capable of, instead the film seems to rely on action filling in for emotion and heart.
Woods and Finch’s screenplay keeps HITMAN: AGENT 47 heading into clichéd action movie territory for the first act, before steering it away into something else in the second. The problem with this is that while the twist is interesting, characters loyalties seem to shift too easily, clichés still abound and the film seems to be more concerned with looking good – some of the shots are actually rather interesting – than telling an engaging story. As mentioned, most of the characters are cold and emotionless, leaving the audience with no-one to root for, and when the emotion is dead, the set pieces fall flat. As well as this, some profanity was shoved into the final act, but instead of conveying any sort of emotion, it just comes off as awkward.
First time director Aleksander Bach makes the film look stylish, and the use of colour is admittedly great, but there is little here so differentiate HITMAN: AGENT 47 from a video game, in terms of heart or getting the audience to engage with the characters – one single solitary tear does not an emotional core make. Although the set pieces are well shot, it is not long before mysteries are solved too easily, unnecessary quips become tiresome, crosses and double crosses confuse and clichés abound. Some humour may have rescued the film, but since it so steadfastly follows the action movie rules and doesn’t seem to care a jot for story, this seems unlikely.
In all, HITMAN: AGENT 47 is as cold and emotionless as its title character. All of the pieces are there for the audience to root for Katia, but they never quite get assembled properly and while the action pieces are high octane, they fall flat. The whole thing feels like rooting for an iPhone 5 in a fight against an iPhone 6; it doesn’t really matter who wins because the outcome is going to be shiny and sleek either way. Also, having Ciarán Hinds play a 72 year old man just doesn’t feel right. RATING: 1.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
45 YEARS (UK/15A/95mins) Directed by Andrew Haigh. Starring Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine James THE PLOT: Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary when Geoff receives a letter saying the body of a former girlfriend has been found; 50 years after she died. This sets Geoff reminiscing about the past, and Kate becomes insecure about her place in the marriage. THE VERDICT: Based on a short story by David Constantine, 45 YEARS is an examination of a well-established marriage that suddenly hits the rocks. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are well matched in the film, although there are times when Rampling seems less comfortable in her character’s skin than Courtenay. The actress makes up for it in scenes with little dialogue, where she is powerful and engaging, and her portrayal of a woman suddenly realising that cracks are opening in her marriage is painful and moving. The rest of the cast is made up of Geraldine James, Dolly Wells and Richard Cunningham.
Constantine’s short story was adapted for the screen by director Andrew Haigh and, while there are scenes of extreme tenderness and a creeping sense of unease about the film, there are times when the expository dialogue is rather clunky and awkward. This, however, is almost balanced out with some beautifully simple dialogue, mainly from Geoff, who finds this new development in his life causing him to look back; ‘She looks like she did in 1962, and I look like this’.
As director, Andrew Haigh allows Geoff and Kate to dominate the screen, and show the dissolution of the marriage through her eyes; it is her paranoia and her anger that kick start the crumbles in the walls of their relationship, and even though Geoff tries to make up for his week’s worth of indulgence, and his actions causing his wife to feel insecure, it is clear that the seed has been planted, and it has taken root. The chemistry between Rampling and Courtenay is great, although Rampling seems to struggle from time to time, and Geraldine James does well with her role as an old friend on the outside looking in.
In all, 45 YEARS is a strong examination of the cracks that can appear in a marriage seemingly too strong to fail, the power of secrets untold, and the creeping doubts that can surface after years and years. Rampling does well enough, although she is not always entirely convincing, and Tom Courtenay shines in this engaging but slightly patchy drama. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
MISS JULIE (Norway | UK | Canada | USA | France | Ireland/TBC/129mins) Directed by Liv Ullman. Starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Chastain, Samantha Morton THE PLOT: Over the course of a Midsummer’s Night, Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain) and her father’s valet John (Colin Farrell) seduce, reject and ultimately destroy one another. THE VERDICT: The idea of Liv Ullmann directing a film based on one of August Strindberg’s plays is enough to send any cinephile into spasms of delight, but it seems that something has been lost in this translation.
Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell are on fine form in their roles as Miss Julie and John. Both get their moments of quietitude and intensity, and both relish them well. That said, however, there are times where the characters’ turn in emotion seems to come from nowhere and disappear just as suddenly. Farrell and Chastain are well equipped to handle such change, but it often leaves the audience reeling. Samantha Morton plays another quiet, religious but opinionated woman, and does well with the job, but is very much left to the side of this production.
Strindberg’s play was hailed for its naturalism, but precious little of this appears to be on display in Ullmann’s version; the characters’ motivations are never truly clear – other than a desire to punish the other, but this could easily have been achieved in other ways – and their desires often feel rather petty. There is surely a strong statement to be made with this text; the battle to survive, between a man and woman, but the film slowly turns into a game of tit for tat, with each character trying to outdo the other, until it becomes clear that all either of them needs is a good night’s sleep. The choice to move the story to Ireland makes little sense, unless one were to consider the idea that the pagan gods may have possessed the two, or that Liv Ullmann is trying to make a statement on Ireland’s outdated abortion laws, which somehow doesn’t seem likely.
As director, Ullmann coaxes strong performances from her actors, but in putting the entire piece together, leaves the film feeling disjoined. Individual moments work well, but fall apart when compared with what comes before or after, and relentless close-ups give the film a feeling of claustrophobia that was obviously intentional, but doesn’t work. As well as this, the pacing of the film is torturous which, combined with the constant changes in energy and atmosphere, leaves the film feeling endless.
In all, MISS JULIE could have been a blistering film filled with energy, strong performances and a powerful message. As it stands, only one of the three is communicated, and when combined with torturous pacing and oddly framed shots, MISS JULIE lacks the sizzle it needs. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes