We review this week’s new cinema releases, including GET ON UP, THE HOMESMAN and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS…
GET ON UP (USA/12A/139mins)
Directed by Tate Taylor. Starring Chadwick Boweman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer, Josh Hopkins.
THE PLOT: Opening on James Brown (Boseman) taking a lone backstage walk to a baying, swaying crowd, we swiftly jump back to 1988, and a bad day for Mr. Brown, as he has a rifle-toting meltdown after discovering the bathroom at his rented-out business HQ has been used. That day ends with a high-speed police car chase along Interstate 20 over the Georgia-South Carolina state borderline.
But before the car chase, we jump back again, twice – first to Brown in 1968, at the height of his powers, and being none-too-impressed at being told by his manager Ben Bart (Aykroyd) that English pop sensation The Rolling Stones are going to close the show, not him. Then we jump back even further, to 1939, and to the 6-year-old soul legend James Brown, in Elko, South Carolina, being raised in a shack deep in the woods by a drunken, violent, randomly absent father (James) and a loving but soon-gone mother (Davis). Dropped off by the former to live with his Aunt Honey (Spencer), the young Brown had a Richard Pryor upbringing, learning the tricks of some dodgy trades at his aunt’s brothel. It was a spell in prison that finally sparked Brown’s musical career, taking over The Gospel Starlighters and turning them away from spiritual to the secular – and into The Famous Flames – once on the outside. And that’s when all the musical majesty and egotistical madness starts…
THE VERDICT: Hot on the heels of the similarly likeable-if-not-quite-Daniel-Day-intense Hendrix biopic, JIMI: ALL BY MY SIDE, this Mick Jagger-produced James Brown biopic certainly captures some of the spark and snark of the true soul brother no.1. Arguably black Elvis, James Brown changed soul music and all that came after him dramatically, largely by using every instrument as percussion. And writing such kick-ass soul classics as Cold Sweat, I Got You (I Feel Good), Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag and Get On The Good Foot.
James Joseph Brown was also the kind of egotist who very likely called out his own name at the point of orgasm. It was an ego that would see Brown change how musicians did business too, taking control over his career in ways that hadn’t been attempted before. Most of it was designed to bring more money into his account, which may explain why he treated his band members so poorly too, with only dedicated sideman Bobby Byrd (Ellis) sticking it out for the long haul, until their friendship finally suffocated.
With the sort of Deep South upbringing that breeds deep soul, Brown was truly remarkable. And it’s the kind of remarkable that a biopic could only hope to hint at. It doesn’t help that director Tate Taylor (THE HELP) delivers a film that’s far more TV3 than BBC Four.
For the real deal, go check out the clips. And go play the music. Ridiculously loud.
Like so many musical icons, drugs and taxes got Brown in the end, but he went out swinging, becoming his own tribute act but, it would seem, partying to the end. Although not shown here, at the end of the infamous police car chase in September, 1988 that led to a six-year prison sentence, the arresting officer alleged that when Brown’s bullet-ridden truck finally came to a crashing halt, “Mr. Brown exited the vehicle singing Georgia and doing his good foot dance”. Now, that’s a legend.
Review by Paul Byrne
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 (USA/12A/123mins)
Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland.
THE PLOT: Immediately after her rescue from The Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in District 13, and at the heart of a revolution against President Snow and the Capitol.
THE VERDICT: Since HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS was split into two films, it has become the norm to split the final chapter in a franchise in half. It worked for HARRY POTTER – just about – since the book was so dense and there was so much going on, but there are times when THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 suffers from being the establishing first half of a larger story.
Jennifer Lawrence, as usual, is in fantastic, feisty and emotional form as Katniss, and once again she is the heart and soul of the proceedings on screen. Sam Claflin, as Finnick, has been moved further to the fore and, while he foes not have a huge amount to do, he has a great speech toward the end of the film, which reveals a lot of much-needed information. Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman bring some gravitas to the situation, as the ones calling the shots. Although this is not a showy role for Hoffman, he is always an engaging presence and it is wonderful to see him on screen once more.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 is a film designed to set up the final instalment of the series, as such, a lot of time is spent establishing the rebellion, the reasons for it and the dirty tricks being played on both sides. Katniss is still a great character, but she comes off as someone with cult-leader traits as the face of the revolution; songs she sings become battle cries, people all but swoon when they see her and she becomes the target of all force shown against the residents of Panem. As well as this however, it does seem like she is a pawn in a much bigger plan that she is not aware of, which is something we have seen in this franchise before.
The screenplay, by Peter Craig and Danny Strong does get bogged down in detail from time to time, but it’s biggest struggle is keeping the exposition of the final struggle interesting. Francis Lawrence, as before, has coaxed strong performances from his actors, but these get a little lost in the to-ing and fro-ing between Capitol and the Districts.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 is a film that deals with the minutiae of a rebellion, and the concessions that have to be made for the greater good. Jennifer Lawrence carries the film ably, but without the Games themselves and without a strong final act, Mockingjay Part 1 feels like a set up, rather than a film in and of itself. Still, the final instalment is bound to be epic.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE HOMESMAN (France | USA/15A/122mins)
Directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, James Spader.
THE PLOT: Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is a woman trying to make it on her own in a small prairie town. When three women in the area become mentally ill and have to be transported from Nebraska to Iowa, Cuddy, and a claim jumper who she rescues, take the task on, and set out across the plains to bring the women home.
THE VERDICT: Hilary Swank, in keeping with most of her career to date, takes on an unglamorous role in Mary Bee Cuddy. While Cuddy is consistently described as plain, Swank makes her a strong and capable woman, but one who is deeply sensitive to the world around her. As the women wail, Cuddy cannot help but be distraught, and when life gets hard it affects her. Tommy Lee Jones plays claim jumper George Briggs as an alcoholic thief with a gentle heart. Although he starts off as gruff and a bit of a joke, Briggs soon reveals himself to be a caring and sensitive man, although this often comes a little too late. The rest of the cast is made up of John Lithgow, Meryl Streep, Miranda Otto, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader – sporting a not half bad Dublin accent – and Jesse Plemons. Each does well in their role, but The Homesman is really about the relationship between Cuddy and Briggs.
The story, co-written by Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley A. Oliver, is based on a novel by prolific writer Glendon Swarthout. At first it seems as though The Homesman is going to follow many clichés, especially in the characters of Cuddy and Briggs, but it soon steps away and into newer territory. The journey that the characters go on is not, as we have seen many times before, towards the West and to a new life, but back to the cities of the East and the comforts this offers. Adding in the notion of insanity in the West is a fascinating one, and while this is never explained, it is strongly implied that a lack of trees, cruelty from men and an unforgiving landscape took their toll on these Victorian women. The characters grow and develop throughout the film, sometimes falling into old habits and sometimes hiding in despair, but virtually no-one escapes unscathed.
As director, Jones coaxes incredible performances from his cast – himself included – and has a strong eye for detail that allows the film to speak for itself. While the pacing feels a little sluggish to begin with, and there is time spent wondering what is actually going on, once the caravan hits the plains, the film comes into its own. Visually, the film is beautifully shot, with blasts of colour punctuating the monotonous landscape.
In all, THE HOMESMAN is an emotionally engaging, bleak and often devastating film about madness in a time when it was not truly understood. Jones and Swank work wonderfully together and, once we get out of the towns and onto the plains, The Homesman is a powerful examination of relationships and the role of women in the West.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (New Zealand/15A/86mins)
Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford
THE PLOT: WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a mockumentary from one half of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS Jemaine Clement, and Taika Waititi. The film follows four vampire housemates in Wellington, New Zealand, as they negotiate life together, the world around them and a newcomer brought into their midst.
THE VERDICT: There have been so many vampire movies in recent years, and so of course there have been spoofs, but WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWSs is a completely different beast; Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have created a film that is awkward, smart and incredibly funny, a film that send up the vampire genre and the vampire myth as a whole, while still managing to be sweet and endearing.
Jemaine Clement is on great form as Vladislav, the self confessed ‘hot one’ of the vampire group. Clement keeps Valdislav at the campy, ridiculous and self involved end of the scale, and his chemistry with the rest of the cast is fantastic. Taika Waititi as Viago is the voice of reason of the group; always trying to mediate and make peace, Viago is a sweet character who believes in love and giving people second chances. Jonathan Brugh makes Deacon the ‘bad boy’ of the group, and the one who almost always tries to stir up trouble, until a newcomer usurps his title. Cori Gonzalez-Macuer and Stuart Rutherford bring the comedy as a vampire/human double act. The chemistry, timing and trust between the central cast is not only endearing, but it is on this that the comedic aspects of the film hinge, and it is why the film works so well as a whole.
Written by Clement and Waititi, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS puts the vampires in a documentary style situation and takes a look at the issues that old world, romatic, gothic vampires face in the modern world. Much of the comedy comes from the ensemble dealing with things like the internet and text messaging, but as well as this, their arrogance and pride in their vampiric lifestyle brings a lot of laughs. On the flip side, the vampires explain their lifestyle to their newest vampire friend, and thus to the audience. As well as this, they borrow from The Lost Boys to play tricks on their prey, make reference to Twilight and incorporate just about every angle of vampire folklore – perhaps apart from the sparkling in sunlight, sigh – to make WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS a self referential, self conscious but very funny piece of work. As directors, Clement and Waititi channel FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS and Waititi’s 2007 film EAGLE VS SHARK to capture the awkward, ludicrous but charming energy of the film.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is an awkward, over the top, self referential and incredibly funny mockumentary, which channels the comedic spirit of THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH and THIS IS SPINAL TAP. The central cast are on fantastic form and, while inconsistencies and potential plot holes abound, What We Do In The Shadows is a warm, funny and surprisingly sweet film, and the perfect antidote to some of the more bloodless vampire flicks we have been subjected to lately.
Review by Brogen Hayes
NO GOOD DEED (USA/15A/84mins)
Directed by Sam Miller. Starring Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Bibb
THE PLOT: Convicted murderer and woman basher Colin (Idris Elba) escapes from jail and makes a bee-line for his former fiancée. When he crashes his car and is in need of help, he finds Terry (Taraji P. Henson) home alone with her children, and decides to toy with her.
THE VERDICT: Thank god for Idris Elba and his performance as Colin, because otherwise there would be absolutely nothing to commend NO GOOD DEED. Elba plays Colin as a panther; a man who stalks a woman throughout her home. Elba moves like a caged animal and, although many of his actions do not make sense, at least he is convincing in the role. Taraji P. Henson, as Terry, is perhaps one of the most annoying female characters seen in screen this year; although she constantly stresses how strong she is and how much she loves her husband, it does not take long for her to flirt with the newcomer in her home, and even less time for her to make all the rookie horror movie mistakes, such as running upstairs and not taking her heels off. Sigh. Leslie Bibb turns up in a tiny role as Terry’s friend Meg, but is quickly removed from proceedings, and Henry Simmons plays Terry’s husband Jeffrey.
Screenwriter Aimee Lagos has churned out some of the most stereotypical characters, and clunky dialogue seen on screen in a long time; women invite strangers into their homes, giggle and flirt and while men prey on them. Dialogue is filled with exposition, and incredibly awkward moments – such as Elba telling Henson ‘Don’t flatter yourself’ after she begs him not to rape her – but motivation is never truly given for the characters in the film.
Director Sam Miller tried and failed to make NO GOOD DEED anything other than an unholy mess, focusing all of his attention on Elba’s performance, while allowing Henson and Bibb to shriek and run around in the background.
NO GOOD DEEDis a hot mess of a film, where characters make stupid decisions for no reson whatever, Idris Elba takes a huge amount of blows to the head and stays standing, and the dialogue is often painful and cringe inducing. If it’s Elba you want, perhaps watch his Sky TV ads over again, they are much more entertaining than anything that surfaces in NO GOOD DEED.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WINTER SLEEP/Kis Uykusu (Turkey/France/Germany/IFI/196mins)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Starring Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sozen, Demet Akbag, Ayberk Pekcan, Serhut Kilic, Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Nejat Isler.
THE PLOT: Set in the rather beautiful steppes of Cappadocia, the historial region in Central Anatolia, Turkey, former actor-turned-writer Aydin (Bilginer) runs a mountaintop hotel on his late father’s estate, living there with his young wife Nihal (Sozen) and his divorced sister Necia (Akbag). When the window of Aydin’s jeep is smashed by the son of struggling tenant Ismail (Isler), the already bubbling tensions within the house quickly escalate. Necla attacks Aydin. Nihal holds a fundraiser for the local school, and doesn’t invite Aydin. Nihal tries to help Ismael, but it angers him. And on it goes. This is not a happy house.
THE VERDICT: As one reviewer succinctly put it, ‘If Chekhov made an extremely long film, this would be it’. All the good and the bad that comes with that are obvious; suffice to say, a love for the slow burn is pretty much a must when it comes to Winter Sleep. Winner of the Palme d’Or, Ceylan’s follow-up to 2011’s sublime Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (which followed his award-winning 2008 offering Three Monkeys) is even more of a test of an audience’s patience, the tantric approach to storytelling making you realise that delayed gratification is all about that luxurious wait. Rather than the big money shot. Give yourself over to Winter Sleep, and it’ll wash over you, like a great afternoon nap.
Review by Paul Byrne
MARY IS HAPPY, MARY IS HAPPY (Thailand/IFI/127mins)
Directed by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit. Starring Thanapob Leeratanakajorn, Chonnikan Netjui, Patcha Poonpiriya, Vassuphon Kriangprapakit, Udomporn Hoglacddaporn, Rossarin Ananchanachai, Wattanapume Laisuwanchal.
THE PLOT: It’s Thailand, 2012, and schoolgirl Mary Malony (Poonpiriya) is her final year of high school, she and her best friend Suri (Netjui) deciding to take a photograph of every single classmate, one by one, on the school’s roof during magic hour. Mary seems to be a little accident-prone, and a little unlucky though – a school trip to the jungle sees Mary being hospitalised after she ingests some magic mushrooms. Her love for M. (Kriangprapakit) goes unrequited, and Mary finds herself in hospital once again when her dodgy, black market phone explodes one more time. And then she finds the suicide note of missing classmate Gift. Oh, and her best friend Suri might be leaving to study in Austria. Is it any wonder that her school doctor encourages her to repeat the mantra ‘Mary is happy’ as much as she possibly can…?
THE VERDICT: Mildly bonkers, in a David Lynch, hey-everything-is-normal-here kind of way, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy reveals its neat line in surrealism and satire early on, as our two main protagonists fret over taking a picture of a beautiful but dead parrot. Think Amelie with acne. That filmmaker Thamrongrattanarit scripted his films around arbitrarily selecting random tweets from a real-life Twitter account (not sure how @marylony feels about that) – and so you end up with a film that’s as fragmented in more ways than one. Two ways, in fact – Twitterdom and tweendom. And as we follow this Alice through her particular Wonderland, Mary imagines her life as a movie. Just to blur the lines even further. As the saying goes, if you’re not confused, you not paying attention.
Review by Paul Byrne