“Straight Outta Compton,” the story of Compton, California rap “supergroup” N.W.A., could have fallen flat, but even while including member Eric “Eazy-E” Wright’s first clumsy attempts at rapping, it hits the right notes. A version of the group’s origin—from E’s bankrolling of his Ruthless label and the recording of the “Boyz-n-the-Hood” single with money earned from drug-running, and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s beginnings as a club DJ despite disapproval from his mother, to O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson’s now-infamous lack of love for the police. “Straight Outta Compton” doesn’t whitewash conflicts within the group, especially Cube’s departure from N.W.A. in December 1989 after a dispute over royalties, Dr. Dre’s alliance and split with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and Eazy-E and Cube exchanging diss tracks. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Asif Kapadia’s enveloping, harrowing, even revelatory second documentary with a posthumous subject is a musical, a tragedy, and a major mash-note to the too-soon-gone talent of Amy Winehouse. “Amy” also portrays a woman who was not so much an addict as someone consumed by feelings, the need to express them, and by brutally intense sensations of love.
Kapadia chose not to shoot video of Winehouse’s friends and family and collaborators. “Previously, I’d made a film called ‘Senna,’ done in the same way,” Kapadia tells me on a Chicago visit. “So it’s like a development, a continuation of that style. The only interviews where I took a camera along, it’s only a couple, it’s people like Tony Bennett and [music producer] Mark Ronson. Everybody else, it was just audio. The intention was to never use the picture. Also, these people have never spoken before. Most of the friends and her first manager and the band members, ninety-five-percent of the people have never been interviewed, never sold a story, never written a book or been on TV. The process was quite long, and a quite painful process for them. It became almost a therapeutic process, just me in this room, a microphone on the table, just the two of us talking, turn the lights down. The worst thing in the world would have been to turn up with a camera crew. But it’s the first time they’ve spoken, you can hear the emotion in the voices.” Read the rest of this entry »
With her fourth feature, the dreamy, low-key “Eden,” Mia Hansen-Løve continues to work in a different style that suits the subject at hand. Based on a screenplay she wrote with her brother, Sven Hansen-Løve, who is also a deejay, her film follows two decades in an unaging young deejay’s life in the Parisian electronic dance scene of the 1990s. Based partly on Sven’s experience, as well as those of Daft Punk, “Eden,” simmers in music and mood but the floppy-haired cipher of a male lead (Felix De Givry) is her least interesting protagonist yet, especially in light of the sharply drawn, nuanced figures of the middle-aged male protagonist of “Father of My Children” (2009) and the young girl center-screen in “Goodbye First Love” (2011). Read the rest of this entry »
The ins-and-outs of love propel the star-making motions of Richard LaGravenese’s “The Last Five Years,” a modest, slightly ragged but oh-so-engaging adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical about the forward-and-back memories of a relationship all but certain to be dashed. Musicals have returned with a vengeance, and Anna Kendrick has arrived as the near-pitch-perfect modern musical star (“Pitch Perfect,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” the perfectly filthy role in “Happy Christmas,” “Into The Woods”). Kendrick plays Cathy, an aspiring actress with a novelist boyfriend, Jamie (a nondescript Jeremy Jordan) who burst to find the words (in music) to recollect a five-year affair. The device: her songs move backwards in time from the end of their marriage, while his start at the beginning and move forward. (Guess where they meet in the middle.) Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Damien Chazelle’s astonishing second feature is a musical, an accomplished short story, like a boxing film, a horror show, a forceful suspense thriller, a bold and bracing memento mori of the will to greatness, male ego, control, arrogance, talent, douchiness, selfishness, desire, hope, transcendence.
Neatly constructed, lovingly performed, tersely spoken, wittily japed, “Whiplash” finds a form from the rehearsal and performance of jazz and the rhythm of forceful, sustained percussion and audacious artistic drive. Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) is Andrew, a young student at a music conservatory whose skills as a drummer are noted by martinet instructor Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Fletcher’s a hard-ass, a drill sergeant in search of one perfect soldier of jazz who could approach what, say, Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker accomplished. Andrew has a line in callow determination and Fletcher is ready to wring his neck with constructive, if eminently cruel instruction. There are other lovingly cast performers, but it’s Teller’s and Simmons’ show. Read the rest of this entry »
“If you want to hear your voice floating in the middle of a beautiful tapestry of frequencies… you’re gonna need a pop group.” I can’t help but have a pooling soft spot shy of a puddle of swoon for “God Help The Girl,” the expectedly twee but crazy-charming lovable coming-of-age musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, also known as the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian. In a candy-colored, idealized, even lovable Glasgow, young fantasist Eve (Emily Browning) overcomes a fistful of emotional problems by learning to become a singer-songwriter and get out into the city with other very cool-looking girls and boys. Read the rest of this entry »
The greatest opening chord in movie history is followed by one of the great cut-up comedies in “A Hard Day’s Night,” combining the immense charm of the young quartet with the intense invention of a young Richard Lester. It’s one second, two seconds at the most, twannggg, and the screen floods with the Beatles, in trim, natty suits and thin ties and the, yes, Beatles haircuts, being pursued up a London side street by a loving, crushing crowd of fans. Those opening two minutes forty-five seconds are one of the most fantastic bursts of joy in any movie I know. And then, you know what? You still get to enjoy the sweetly absurd comedy of the rest of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Plus: weren’t they such pretty, lovely boys? (Even in the company of their friend, the cleanest “clean old man” of them all.) Read the rest of this entry »
Boy already met girl, girl already left boy, that was “Once.” What can a filmmaker do after a success like that? Writer-director John Carney doesn’t fully succeed Twice, but there are sweet and knowing moments throughout “Begin Again,” his latest romance about songwriting and a city, in this case, New York City in autumn. His script’s conceit is that Gretta, a young English songwriter (Keira Knightley) abandoned in New York by her rising-pop-star boyfriend (Adam Levine) would be discovered in an Arlene’s Grocery-like East Village music showcase by a just-fired, hard-drinking, burned-out music label co-owner named Dan (Mark Ruffalo), and record an entire album live on locations in Manhattan. (Accept the premise, you’ll like the smaller bits.) Read the rest of this entry »
Beneath Clint Eastwood’s easygoing, even somnolent direction of “Jersey Boys” lies a wittily constructed screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on their book to the 2005 Broadway musical (Brickman’s other co-writing credits include “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”). But the small strokes of dialogue and rhyming bits of business are smothered by deadly pacing, among other things, including the whisper of “Goodfellas” at its back. The latest of eighty-four-year-old Eastwood’s late career surprises harks back to a filmmaking era that never existed, a backlot-driven, quiet, even spectral elongation of the terse framing and blocking of his mentor, Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). The combination of the gentility of the settings, sometimes-slapstick comedy, shameless profanity, casually staged musical numbers and erratic casting make for an eccentric, underwhelming, but intermittently eye-opening failure. Read the rest of this entry »
What was it Senator Franken’s Stuart Smalley character used to say? “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” In the amiable, heartfelt “Cuban Fury,” Nick Frost takes on the “good enough” mantle. As Bruce Garrett, a large-sized man with an underscaled ego, Frost has a go at an increasingly rare manner of affable, feel-good character comedy. At thirteen, he was set to win the UK’s Junior Salsa Championships, but in the twenty-five years since, he’s become a self-pitying office mouse. The arrival of Julia, a new, American boss (Rashida Jones) perks Bruce up, especially once he learns she’s, well, a secret salsa dancer. Add complications from bullying co-worker Chris O’Dowd and, among other character actors, Ian McShane as his childhood dance instructor, and the genial everyman-Superman story finds its shape. Read the rest of this entry »