This weeks movies reviewed by Paul Byrne including Under African Skies, Victim, The Five Year Engagement, Chernobyl Diaries and more…
UNDER AFRICAN SKIES (USA/South Africa/Light House/108mins) Directed by Joe Berlinger. Starring Paul Simon, Okeyerama Asante, Dali Tambo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Quincy Jones, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri, Oprah Winfrey. THE PLOT: As Paul Simon returns to South Africa for a 25th-anniversary concert celebrating his multi-platinum-selling Gracelands album, we get to meet those involved with the recording of the album, those who love the album (always good to see Oprah Winfrey give an album the thumbs up) and those who strongly objected to Simon breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa. Simon himself argues that he was a little hazy on apartheid when, in love with a cassette tape of African grooves, he headed to South Africa in 1985 in the hope of playing with some of the musicians featured on his beloved African jive compilation. Cocooning himself away in the studio, Simon wouldn’t have seen too many of the placards that shouted out such simple slogans as ‘Paul Go Home’. Having been advised by Harry Belafonte not to break the Artists Against Apartheid boycott, Simon admits that his sneaking over there was a little like taking your dad’s car to meet a hot chick when dad had specifically said you couldn’t have the car. Sitting down with Artists Against Apartheid co-founder Dali Tambo all these years later gives Simon a chance to justify his act of rebellion… THE VERDICT: Musically, Under African Skies is a treat, the explosion of joy captured on that breakthrough hybrid album reignited by the archive footage and the enthusiasm of the musicians involved. It’s when Berlinger (most famous for the Paradise Lost documentary series) steps into the politics surrounding Gracelands’ recording that Under African Skies leaves something to be desired. Was Simon a pioneer or a pariah? Even today, as Simon hangs out with the musicians who made Gracelands so special, he looks achingly white bread to their funky, fun-loving brown sugar. Simon became much more politicized once the shit hit the fan – about three weeks after the album debuted to glowing reviews – but, despite the happy endings all round (hit album, apartheid gone), and the African All-Stars Mea Culpa world tour that followed the album’s release, Simon’s original visit still looks suspect. Elvis or Esso? A rich American musician going to record an album with very poor South Africans isn’t all that far removed from a Dorset builder going to make porn movies in Bangkok. The element of exploitation is definitely there, and it still kinda lingers. Perhaps if Simon had added a little footnote on the recent anniversary edition of Gracelands it might have helped – something along the lines of ‘4,376 Africans died during the making of this album. And 1.3million were badly beaten’. RATING: 4/5
THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (USA/15A/124mins) Directed by Nicolas Stoller. Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, David Paymer. THE PLOT: Segel plays Tom and Blunt plays Violet, their plans to get married hitting enough snags to, well, last five years. Violet’s sister falls pregnant by Tom’s best friend – hey, they’ve got to get married first! Continuing her psychology studies, Violet is offered a place in Ann Arbor rather than somewhere in San Francisco, where they live. Which means promising chef Tom finds himself working at a cheap deli there. Naturally, Violet is doing lab tests on delayed gratification. And there’s plenty more where that came from… THE VERDICT: As with just about every Apatow comedy, good or bad, The Five-Year Engagement long outstays its welcome. Which is a shame, because the first half hour or so is sweetly funny. After that, Segel, Stoller (who co-wrote the script) and Apatow don’t so much delay gratification as put it constantly out of reach. Hey, those end credits are just around the next corner. Just over the next horizon. Tom and Violet are both gradually tempted by the fruits of another. You should be too. RATING: 2/5
HIMIZU (Japan/IFI/129mins) Directed by Shion Sono. Starring Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaido, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Ken Mitsuishi. THE PLOT: It’s the end of the world as we know it, in northern Japan, at least, and 14-year old Sumida (Sometani) is doing his bit by letting camped refugees use the bathtub whenever his regularly absent mum is out. Besides the devastation wreaked upon his homeland, Sumida has a far more pressing problem to deal with – the wide-eyed affections of fellow student Chazawa (Nikaidou). Both teens are unloved (Sumida’s father beats him and wishes him dead; rich girl Chazawa discovers a hangman’s block her parents have been building for her in the living room). Life soon takes a Badlands turn though… THE VERDICT: Based on a 2001 manga, writer/director Sono already had a workable script last year when northern Japan was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami on March 11th. And so his teen disaster survivors tale needed a rewrite, Himizu all the more daring and powerful for it. Far too long,annoyingly repetitive and darkly violent, Sono’s film isn’t one for all the family, but its finale is worth the wait, and the weight. RATING: 3/5
VICTIM (UK/15A/86mins) Directed by Alex Pillai. Starring Ashley Chin, Michael Maris, Ashley Madekwe, Jason Maza, Anna Nightingale, Adam Deacon, Frank Harper, Letitia Wright, Shanika Warren-Markland. THE PLOT: Heading to the windswept, drug-fuelled streets of south London from her native Home Counties, teen Tia (Madekwe) takes a step down the class chain when she moves in with her chav cousin Davina (Nightingale) – and is soon hanging out with the latter’s criminal buddies. Leader of the pack is Tyson (Chin), determined to do the proverbial one last job so he can clear his mum’s gambling debts and raise his little sister. Nice girl Tia is soon head over heels with rough diamond Tyson. Naturally enough. But will true love – and that one final job – run smooth? Ooh, that’s a toughie… THE VERDICT: The first release from Pure Films (founded by Danny Donnelly, creator of the Pure Garage and Pure R&B music labels), and written by topliners Chin and Maris, Victim is yet another low-budget Brit pic that tries to mix a little Ken Loach with a little Kanye West, to make gold-chained heroes out of some working class zeroes. And once again, the resulting film is something of an embarrassment, more grime video than true grit. Still, Ashley Chin is clearly one to watch. RATING: 2/5
CHERNOBYL DIARIES (USA/16/86mins) Directed by Bradley Parker. Starring Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Olivia Dudley, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Dimitri Diatchenko, Devin Kelley. THE PLOT: Deciding that boring old Moscow is really no match for a walk on the wild side of a nuclear meltdown, six holidaying buddies decide instead to visit the Ukrainian town of Prypiat, abandoned since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. Their guide for this macabre excursion is ex-Special Services soldier Uri (Diatchenko), and much fun is had by all, despite his gruff demeanour and little quips, such as “I want you to tell me if you see something moving in the water”. When the gang attempt to go home, their van won’t start. And that’s when they start to see plenty of things moving in the stillness of the night. Suddenly, they’re trapped in Mr. Burns Exotic Zoo. THE VERDICT: As with his creation Paranormal Activity, co-writer Oren Peli makes the most of a small budget and a cheap location here to raise some good old-fashioned frights – and you have to admire his ingenuity and creativeness in doing so. Once you get over the fact that he’s using an ugly, still-painful man-made disaster as his back-drop, of course. Not that Peli and co-writer Carey Van Dyke quite manage to keep the scares coming for the full 86 minutes, a certain scary monsters and super freaks déjà vu kicking in by the third act. RATING: 2/5
SILENT SOULS (Russia/Light House/78mins) Directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko. Starring Yuliya Aug, Yuri Tsurilo, Igor Sergheyev, Larisa Damaskina, Olga Dobrina, Viktor Gerrat. Olga Gireva, Artem Habibulin. THE PLOT: His wife, Tanya (Aug), having just passed away, paper mill manager Miron (Tsurilo) asks his best friend and employee Aist (Sergheyev, who also acts as narrator) to accompany him as he gives his beloved a private funeral in the traditional Merja style. And so, after the two men wash Tanya’s rather large corpse, they head out across country, along with two birds in a cage, heading to a sacred lake, where the couple had spent their honeymoon. Miron clearly loved Tanya, but we sense Aist may have a secret to tell… THE VERDICT: What’s most surprising about this at first typically melancholic and majestic Russian offering is its wry sense of humour. Amidst all the spirituality and sweeping scenery, we have one very unreliable narrator – and thus, we’re never quite sure if what we’re being sold is Pavel Florensky or a pup. All you can do is ride merrily, merrily, merrily along with this dreamlike film, and take much of what we are told about the Merja culture (such as threads being tied into the pubic hair of brides and the recently deceased) with a grain or two of salt. One of Fedorchenko’s previous films, First On The Moon (2005), was a mockumentary charting a Soviet landing on the moon in the 1930s, and you feel he being subtly ridiculous here too. A sweetly curious beast. RATING: 4/5
DELIVER US FROM ANAMOE To mark the 40th anniversary of the rather fine Deliverance, director John Boorman’s 1972 tourist guide to the American deep south will be screening at the IFI on July 4th at 6.35pm. Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds are among the four city slickers who decide to take a trip down a river through the backwoods of Georgia only to find they’ve stumbled into a local hellhole for local banjo-playing, pig-f**king people. The print is taken from Boorman’s own film collection, housed in the climate-controlled vaults of the IFI Irish Film Archive.
A FAMILY AFFAIR This year’s IFI Family Festival has something for every budding little filmmaker and film fan out there. Heck, there’s even some fun stuff for those kids who aren’t drawn to berets. Running from July 5th to the 8th, the festival opens with The Sound Of Film Music, composer and performer Morgan Cook creating film songs and music with the audience for the two shorts, The Magic Piano and The Missing Key. Irish animation is celebrated with Irish Animation Trail, whilst Moon Man, from Schesch Filmkreation and Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon, will have its world premiere at the festival. Other highlights include two features from the Netherlands, Alfie, The Little Werewolf and Kauwboy, two programmes of the latest short family films, The Gruffalo’s Child (the follow-up to the Oscar-nominated adaptation of The Gruffalo) and The Quiet One, a film dealing with integration and set in a multi-cultural Swedish school. The latter screening will be followed by a workshop on Silence And Sound with yoga teacher and animator Siobhan Twomey. For full details, visit ifi.ie.