Tag Archives: biography

Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo may appear on the surface to be an uninspiring and uninteresting subject for a documentary. After all, despite being one of, if not the best footballers in the world, he is a preening, arrogant superstar more interested in his image and individual glory more than anything else.

However, Anthony Wonke and Asif Kapadia, the team behind the documentaries on the late Formula 1 driver Aryten Senna and singer Amy Winehouse have managed to produce a film that gives an insight into the person as well as the player.

The central themes are his rivalry with Lionel Messi, his desire to be the very best player he can be and his relationship with his family; especially his son.

Without giving too much away, it is his family life and learning about where he came from – a relatively less well-off life in Madeira – that provides the most interest, especially as a football fan.

The major difference between this and Wonke and Kapadia’s previous work is that the subject, Ronaldo, is alive and well and probably had some say over what could go in to the final cut. Whereas Senna and Winehouse were long dead when their life stories were told by the duo.

Ronaldo himself is very divisive. In this and subsequent interviews given around the release of this film he comes across as both very arrogant and very humble. He knows how attractive he is, how good he is at football and how loved he is and he loves to let people know as well.

But also he comes across as an excellent father (to a son he named after himself), a loving son and sibling and somebody who can talk openly and honestly about his strained relationship with his now deceased father and the fact that he does not drink because if his dad’s alcoholism.

Perhaps the one thing it doesn’t make much of is his charity work, how much he does for various charities in terms of both work and donations, and that he does not have any tattoos so he can continue to give blood a number of times a year.

Although including this may have made the documentary come across as sycophantic, too heavily influenced by the player himself and more of a publicity piece than an insight in to the man.

There are better sports documentaries out there; most of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and Senna to name a few. But this is worth a watch, especially for fans of the beautiful game.

If you are a football fan, you might not take anything away from this. You may know enough about the Portugal international already, or your allegiances to certain clubs and nations may have already given you an unwavering opinion on the man.

However, if you do not know much about football, or much about Ronaldo the person, you may just learn that the way he comes across on the pitch and off the pitch are very different.

Ronaldo is in cinemas across the UK right now. Check out the trailer below.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33gTb1v3wds]

Steve Jobs

stevejobs

“If a fire causes a stampede to the unmarked exits, it’ll have been well worth it for those who survive.”

How do you tell the story of one of the most famous tech minds in living memory without making it a complete bore? This was pretty much the question that pushed me to watch Steve Jobs. I mean, he was an interesting guy, with an interesting story, if you’re into that kind of thing; but to spend two hours watching a film about the man that made Apple the brand so many of us rely on today doesn’t sound like an interesting prospect to me.

As it turns out, there are a few ways that you make the film interesting. First and most importantly, you give Aaron Sorkin a copy of Jobs’ biography and let one of the greatest screenwriters working today have a go at bringing one of the greatest salesmen to ever live to the big screen. Secondly, and this one both surprised and impressed me, make the conscious decision to not make a biopic and instead focus on making a drama that just happens to be about the Apple co-founder. Finally, do something original, something a little different to make people stop and take notice and think “OK, that could be… worth a look”, and I admit I fell for this one hook, line and sinker as the film takes the thing we all knew Jobs from, his marketing presentations, and makes them the focus of our time with the man.

Made into three very distinct acts, Steve Jobs is set in the moments before three of these presentations. While not necessarily the most famous of his endeavours, we spend time with Jobs before the announcements of some of Apple’s most important, and the tech genius’ most significant, product launches. Beginning in 1984 with the introduction of the first Macintosh computer, the machine that was to usher in a new era for the company and refresh the look of the already dated Apple 2. We meet Michael Fassbender’s titular Jobs as he is fighting to make his demonstration model do what he promised it would do mere minutes before he is due to show it off. The pressure mounts as Steve is forced to deal with confrontations with his friend and company co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his boss John Sculley (Sorkin veteran Jeff Daniels) and former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterstone).

The confrontations are still going strong into 1988’s NeXT education focussed computer announcement and continue on for more than a decade to the groundbreaking iMac announcement in 1998 as the visionary’s personal and private lives both reach critical mass at the end of the 90’s. Between the daughter he refuses to acknowledge as his own to the friend he refuses to cut loose, Steve’s personal life can’t help but get in the way and force his focus elsewhere whilst he’s trying to prepare for these life changing events. Knowing an appearance from management can only spell bad things, the arrival of Sculley to play the part of Jobs’ boss can only make matters worse. With each presentation the personal stakes are increased and the business pressure is ramped up for the salesman who can’t seem to get five minutes to catch his breath and take stock of what’s going on around him.

The thing about Steve Jobs: The Movie is that even after several attempts, I can’t write a synopsis that sounds interesting. It’s next to impossible to make a film about a guy who sold computers sound like it’s going to be worth your time. But, as it would turn out, it’s very, very good. It’s a great tag-team of spectacular direction from Danny Boyle – those that know me know how much it hurts me to say that – and first rate writing from Aaron Sorkin.

Honestly, I think the boldest move that Trainspotting director Boyle made was to cast a film full of real life people, most of them still alive, with a cast of actors that look nothing like the people they are portraying and then NOT put a few inches of makeup on to make them look like the famous people they are acting like. Boyle took top notch actors, for the most part, and instead of making the film about how much someone looks like someone else, he let the script do the talking and let the stories be told to the audience by the world class group of guys on the screen.

And “world class” is right. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the much loved tech salesman is pure genius, making the role his own as he angrily storms around in the back halls of his audience filled battlegrounds. So convincing is his depiction of the Apple innovator that by the time we get to see him in his now iconic jeans and black turtleneck, we no longer care that he looks nothing like his inspiration; he is Steve Jobs. His now legendary presentations are marred by his inability to cultivate a friendly personal relationship; opting instead for jumping straight to hostility and while that may not have been the ideal way to go about conversations with co-workers, managers and a young girl whom you refuse to admit is yours, it certainly makes for compelling viewing. At Jobs’ side through this entire endeavour is Joanna Hoffman, Steve’s confidant and closest friend and she is the only person that Steve trusts when everything else seem to be falling apart around him. With Kate Winslet in the role that is so important to the subject and the film, an awful lot rests on her shoulders with the fine line between very close friend and something more than that being danced along gracefully by a woman that deserves a supporting actress nod for her efforts here.

With Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen rounding off the cast, with both seamlessly falling into their respective roles, I honestly couldn’t think of a negative thing to say about the choices made in casting if I tried. Daniels’ portrayal of John Sculley, the CEO of Apple and the man responsible for most of the second half of the film, is flawless, seemingly having been in training for Sorkin’s script for three years with his work in the writer’s most recent TV escapade, Newsroom. Similarly, Rogen’s role of Apple co-founder and less famous version of Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, was an interesting choice for both director and actor but it definitely paid off. Having taken a few ideas, and maybe some tips, from buddy Jonah Hill – a guy who cut his teeth with serious films recently with an Oscar nominated real life person role in Moneyball – Rogan’s “Woz” is a splendid one. A man whose bond with Jobs let him get away with so much, but having been scorned one too many times by the marketer that he simply loses his cool is played effortlessly and convincingly by a man most famous for making silly stoner type comedies.

Getting to take a look at how Steve Jobs was in the earlier years of Apple is a real treat and Danny Boyle has done a splendid job of giving us a glimpse of the man’s life through the eyes of those that simultaneously loved and despised him and while the performances are all amazing and each of those representing the real life people responsible for some of the greatest technological advances in recent memory are putting in an amazing amount of work.

The real standout of this show is, as I expected it to be, the writing. I’ve been a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work for as long as I can remember and I don’t think he’s ever written a dud paragraph in his life. In his second movie where he gets to spend some time with the tech sector, Sorkin proves that he is still best-in-breed with his Steve Jobs script. And whilst the film may be a two hour lesson in Sorkin’s walk-and-talk theatre, it’s a damn good one, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Suffragette

image“We don’t want to be law breakers. We want to be law makers.”

Back when I was in school and trying to figure out my “options” for my GCSE years, the one subject I wanted to do without a moments doubt, was history. We’d spent the few years previous learning about the world wars, ancient Egypt and all kind of interesting guff in between so I was instantly sold. Day one of year 10 (more or less 9th grade for those in the States) I regretted my decision instantly. No more wars and politics, no more Egyptians or Tudors. Women was where I would be spending the next two years. Women at work, women’s votes, the whole nine yards. I was livid. I’m not, and wasn’t, anti-woman or anti-feminism or any of that primitive, Neanderthal bollocks. What I was, and still am, is anti-bored off my ass reading about shit that I don’t find interesting.

Luckily, and happily, a few weeks in and it turns out that women in history, and women’s fight for equality and the vote in particular, may be some of the most interesting parts of history that I’ve ever spent time reading about. An impossible struggle that women would certainly never win, made possible by sheer force of will and determination.  It is maybe one of the most impressive feats in history and now, finally, we get a film that promises to tell the story of England’s “Suffragettes” with respect and dignity and what better name for it? Suffragette.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette takes place in 1912 London, just as the movement was hitting its peak and the working class women fighting for the vote are beginning to escalate from the peaceful protests that have failed miserably for so long, to the strong-arm tactics that made the movement famous and eventually got them the vote. It’s at this turning point that we meet Maud, a woman who has worked in an industrial laundry since she was a little girl and is sitting on the sidelines, watching the movement from outside of it and keeping her head down and out of trouble. When the government offer to hear arguments from the women who work in London, Maud is the only person to step up in support of her friend and fellow laundry worker Violet, a proud suffragette who will be speaking at the Houses of Parliament and hoping to garner support from David Lloyd George – the then Chancellor of the Exchequer who would go on to be Prime Minister a few years later – and maybe give the movement some well needed and well deserved traction in government.

On the day of the visit to London’s centre of government, Violet arrives quite badly beaten up and unable to stand in front of the men of the government. Taking her place at the Palace of Westminster, Maud tells her story to a room full of MPs who don’t necessarily agree with her stance or that of the suffragette movement and unwittingly finds herself hip deep in the movement she tried so hard to stay away from. Things get progressively worse for Maud when her usually supportive husband takes a dislike to the path she’s found herself on and begins to resent her for what she is becoming and the ideologies that she has begun to fight for.

As the campaign of not-so-peaceful protesting heats up, so does Maud’s struggle both with her conscience and her family. With odds, and the law, always against her and the suffragettes and the struggle seeming almost impossible at every turn, it’s only a matter of time before something has to give and this long-fought endeavour for women’s equality will come to a head.

I went into Suffragette with very high expectations. The story of these women that put everything on the line to get the most basic of rights that we take for granted nowadays is one that’s always needed telling and it ended telling well. With today’s climate being the way it is, and women’s rights being almost as fragile now as they were back then, there was a lot riding on this film being something of a beacon for women’s rights and equality. Thankfully, the film does a splendid job in almost everything it does and tells its story with a level of class and decency that most films would only dream of getting to, stumbling into clichés all the way through.

Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Maud, the long-suffering laundry worker whose priority is her family over her wanting the vote, is stunning. This woman who fell into becoming the film’s unwitting poster child for the movement led by world famous names like Emmeline Pankhurst and whose biggest challenges come after she starts to fight for her rights. Anyone that doesn’t feel for this woman as her family falls apart and her life is torn to pieces after being pushed to become part of a movement she doesn’t necessarily believe in is completely heartless. Pushing her into the movement are the two most prominent people in Maud’s life outside of her family. Firstly, her friend Violet, a great turn by Anne-Marie Duff; a woman who, along with Maud, is the epitome of the working class woman who were woefully under-represented at the beginning of the last century. Second is local pharmacist Edith Ellin, a woman quite literally scorned by her lack of rights not only to a vote, but to an education as well and has become the de facto leader of the East End’s suffragettes who is willing to put everything on the line for what she believes in. Helena Bonham-Carter (an actress who continues to impress me after all these years, so long as she isn’t in Tim Burton films) takes the part of Edith and owns every scene she is in with a presence that most of the cast can only dream to have one day. You feel the pain and anger with her as she leads her charge into unwinnable battles time after time, unrelenting in her convictions and unrepentant in her actions. She’s simply outstanding.

Supporting these great, great actresses is a stellar cast bringing up the rear. Brendan Gleeson’s detective Steed, a copper clearly conflicted and struggling himself between his commitment to the law and his dislike of the way that these women are being treated is a great fit for this brilliant actor. It’s tough enough to keep the sympathies with the women who deserve it, but his flashes of conscience and compassion make you think twice about out-and-out hating him for what he’s doing. Turning the world famous Emmeline Pankhurst into a cameo role was an interesting decision, skipping past the risk of turning it into a full-blown biopic, Meryl Streep’s Pankhurst is spoken of more than she is seen in this film about a movement for which she was the champion; used as motivation for both the law and the suffragettes, Pankhurst’s walk-on part of Suffragette is as powerful a statement about the fight for women’s rights as any made during the film. Much more time is spent on Natalie Press’ Emily Davidson; the suffragette who – if you don’t know who she is, I won’t spoil anything, but safe to say that a history book or two never hurt anyone – brought worldwide attention to the suffragette movement and the time we spend with her in the film portrays her as a desperate woman who’s running short on patience and time and wants the voices of these women to be heard as loud and as far out as possible.

In certain dark and nasty parts of the internet, places that I sadly find myself passing near far too often, the idea of women’s equality is still a dirty thought and as these horrible notions find their way into more mainstream areas of life, Suffragette may be the most important film made this year. Nearly a hundred years since the first positive legal steps were taken towards equal rights for women, there is no better time than now for us all to step back and take the 105-minute journey with East London’s suffragettes and realise that while plenty has changed for the better, far too much has stayed the same.

Some historical inaccuracies aside, Suffragette is a masterpiece. Powerful, poignant and, from here on out, should be required viewing for everyone.

Legend

legend 2015“Eastenders. They won’t talk to a copper. But they’ll kiss a gangster.”

“London in the 1960’s. Everyone had a story about the Krays”. Funny that, where I grew up in the 1980’s, everybody still had stories, but they were almost always complete bollocks. “My dad knew the Krays” or “my mum’s cousin knows them”. No, they don’t, shut up you twat. Dumb stories like that made me a little interested in the infamous twins and their lives though; and now, 25 years after the last good Kray brothers film, we get Legend.

Tom Hardy takes on the role of both Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Twin gangsters that were treated like rock stars back in the 1960’s when they were rising to power and still are by a country that dotes on them and idolises them as men that took what they wanted and didn’t let anything stand in their way. Jumping straight in as Ronnie is released from the psychiatric institution that is looking after him, having been certified insane towards the end of his first stint in prison. Skipping past the boys’ younger years, their time growing up and their boxing, we meet Ronnie and Reggie as they are reaching the height of their power. Casting watchful eyes across the crime in East London and looking to expand West where the clubs are more than ripe enough for a few very hostile takeovers.

With aspirations of being a big time club owner, Reggie is the classic East London gangster; a man whose words, clothes and hair are all equally slick and has a terrifyingly quiet way about him that sets him apart from the rest of the criminal element in his part of the woods. Softly spoken with a wry smile, he can sweep anyone off their feet with a look and a word. Enter Frances Shea, the young sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie. The naive and impressionable teenager quickly falls for Reggie and his lifestyle, enjoying all the benefits that come with them and the pair are quickly married. Now Ronnie, on the other hand, isn’t slick, or suave, or softly spoken. The polar opposite of his brother, at least on the outside, Ronnie Kray was famous for his lightning quick temper and his inability to make smart, rational decisions once someone had angered him. Arguably the more dangerous of the twins, Ronnie was never too far from trouble during the brothers’ reign.

Legend takes a very small slice of the Krays’ story and puts it to screen for us to absorb. Making Reggie’s marriage to Frances the centre point of the film, we watch the gangster make very quick work of bowling the young lady over and making her his wife. All the while, with Ronnie never too far away, the suave criminal is seeing off competition from south of the Thames and expanding their empire. On the other side of the story, Scotland Yard detective Leonard “Nipper” Read is busy trying to make his career on the twins’ name. Read is relentless in his efforts to bring the Krays and their associates to justice; crossing paths with the infamous duo on more than one occasion and frustrated by their brazenness, the detective pushes back hard against the Krays.

I really don’t know where to begin with Legend; my whole experience was a bit up and down and while I had high hopes for it, the film rarely hit them. In real life, there are parts of the Krays’ story that lasted close to ten years that are given ten minutes screen time, the same amount as an event that lasted probably all of half an hour when it actually happened. No care has been taken to show the progression of time and instead audiences are left to wonder what the hell is going on. The lives of these gangsters was so hectic that just to know that six months, or six years, or whatever, had passed would have been handy.

The script doesn’t seem finished either. While there are some really great lines in it and Brian Helgeland’s brilliance shines through in a few places, it just seemed like a glossary of words Cockneys sometimes say was lobbed at a few pieces of paper and the guys thought that it would be enough. Helgeland’s direction, however, is superb and every scene just oozes class. The twins are regularly on screen together and try as you might, and I tried pretty hard, it’s almost impossible to see the seams with little or no sacrifice to the quality of the shot or the film overall.

Tom Hardy is amazing… for half of the film. His portrayal of Reggie Kray is nothing short of brilliant; suave, slick, with a hint of malice every time he casts his eye across a room. Reggie is cold, calculating and fearless when it comes to his business and his brother. And while his Reggie is great, Ronnie seems to get the short end of the stick. The problem is, while some of his scenes as Ronnie are spectacular, all too often it falls close to being a caricature performance, making it a complete exaggeration of the role to make sure you know who is who and it really isn’t necessary. Ronnie’s character is enough to separate him from his brother and the overplaying of the crazy psychopath role was just a little jarring. With his homosexuality and his temperament played more for laughs than is really right or required, it felt like they were taking the more nasty, brutal character and turning him into a bit of a punch line. The film still portrays him as cold and vicious, but something has been taken away from the man’s edge and it just didn’t sit right.

Hardy is surrounded by a great supporting cast. Christopher Eccleston brings a sterling performance as Nipper Read, the only man that had the guts and the physical size to stand up to the Krays; Chazz Palminteri, making a welcoming return to the big screen as the Firm’s American connection, and Paul Bettany filling to role of Charlie Richardson, the sadistic leader of the Richardson Gang. But standing right next to Hardy, is Emily Browning, playing dual roles herself not only as the slight and shy wife of Reggie Kray; she also acts as the film’s narrator, keeping the viewer informed when the rest of the film fails to and covering up the sub-par script with a nice voice over to soften the blow of the daft writing.

At the end of the day, Legend is a decent film, I very much enjoyed its attempt to be British Goodfellas. But a biopic can be good without it being a decent representation of real life and that is where we’ve landed here; essentially playing itself out like an East End rendition of A Bronx Tale and not really hitting the notes a film about our country’s only real “celebrity” criminals should be. There is no doubt that Tom Hardy is one of the greatest actors working today and he does a splendid job, but a poor script and haphazard story telling mar the performance. Legend is a superb flick, if a little goofy, but it feels like a gangster movie that they added the Krays to for marketing purposes. Considering the subjects of the film, this may be a poor choice of words, but the Krays deserved better than this.

The 35th Cambridge Film Festival: Star*Men

cambridge film festival logoThe Cambridge Film Festival, the UK’s third longest-running film festival returns 3rd – 13th September 2015 for its 35th edition, at the Arts Picturehouse, the Light Cinema and other venues across Cambridge. One of the UK’s most prestigious and well-respected film festivals, 2015 also celebrates Festival Director Tony Jones’s 30th anniversary with the festival, which has been shaped by Tony’s passion and exceptional knowledge of cinema.

This year’s festival features specially selected screenings for everyone, from parents with babies to retirees, the programme offers a diverse mix of films of short and feature length spanning different genres including 7 World Premieres, 55 UK Premieres, with films from more than 30 countries, plus special guests and complementary events and workshops, all scheduled at convenient times and locations. The Cambridge Film Festival is operated by the charitable Cambridge Film Trust and funded by BFI Film Forever. You can find out more about the festival at their website:  http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/

Here at Failed Critics, we’ll be taking a look at a selection of films from this year’s event starting with the opening night gala screening of Star*Men.


by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Make no small plans.” – Daniel Burnham

Documentaries come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s an enlightening investigative piece of journalism by Errol Morris, or a touching emotional film such as Star*Men, they all need to have one thing in common: they have to tell a story. Without it, the audience won’t be engaged no matter how potentially interesting the subject matter may be.

Director Alison E. Rose believes that in Roger the instrument-maker, Donald the theoretician, Nick the visionary, and Wal the observer, she has found a story worth telling. She brings together these four highly respected and exceptionally bright astronomers and friends for a road trip through the Southwestern United States. Having worked together for approximately fifty years, each of the now elderly and mostly retired professors impart their knowledge, wisdom and experience on the viewer with a series of personal reflections on friendship, faith, life, death and their own contribution to the world of science. Indeed, Rose directly poses Professor Nick Woolf the question ‘What did you learn from a lifetime of observing the Universe?’ and is met with a startlingly profound response after a brief thoughtful pause.

To answer the point made at the start of this review: yes, it is a story worth telling. Not only that, but Rose tells it in such a heart warming way with a genuine affection for those involved. After spending so much time apart, witnessing the first reunion of these close chums immediately sets the tone and rebuffs any such notion that Star*Men will be taking a dry, impenetrable, academic approach. Although, there’s no dumbing down of any aspect either.

Those of us hoping for a few nerdy astronomy anecdotes will not be disappointed. With their wealth of life experience, Roger, Donald Nick and Wallace have as many entertaining stories to tell about their research and discoveries as they do about their current situation, crossing seemingly impossible paths (both literally and figuratively speaking!) Through their hikes across rocky terrain as they reminisce about life when they were younger, they provide us with as many smiles as they do thought-provoking self reflection. They stand resolute when tackling without fear a subject such as their impending final journey, death and separation. Each of the group are immensely likeable chaps and it becomes a pleasure to listen to them share their thoughts and opinions with us.

If nothing else, Star*Men will entertain, enthral and make you think throughout its relatively short 85 minute run time. All of this is in no small part thanks to its fascinating blend of characters, the insightful interviews and comments they provide and of course the lovingly crafted direction from Alison Rose.

You can gaze at Star*Men tonight (Thursday 3rd September) at 18:30 at the Arts Picturehouse, or tomorrow at 16:00 over at The Light in Cambridge. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Cambridge Film Festival website.

Straight Outta Compton

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

straight outta compton“Rap isn’t an art… These guys look like bangers.”

Yeah. There’s no way I review this film and avoid admitting that I was one of those pasty white kids that was a massive fan of NWA back in the day. I was around 15 years old when my mate’s uncle gave me a tape with NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” on one side and the debut album from Ice-T’s Bodycount on the other. Outside of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tape I inherited off my old man, it’s the first tape I ever listened to so much that I stretched it beyond use!  The first, and only NWA album with a full roster on it became one of my favourite all-time albums and it’s one of the few rap albums I still own and listen to today; a decent feat considering my propensity for very heavy metal.

I became a huge fan of most things “Gangster rap” and spent most of my teenage years listening to everything that guys like NWA and Ice Cube put out; catching up with their entire back catalogues and standing outside the local HMV for new releases, I was the biggest fan of rap music back in the day and I couldn’t have been happier the day I heard that there was an NWA biopic coming out.

Straight Outta Compton follows the lives of the teenagers that would one day become one of the most controversial groups in not just the history of rap music, but in the entire music industry. NWA was the brain child of a handful of teenagers that were clawing to make a few dollars, not always legally, and needed to find a way to get the lives they wanted and stand out from the crowd. The boys; known worldwide by their now legendary names of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella; get themselves a little studio time and press Eazy-E’s solo track “Boyz-n-the-hood”. A little recognition and a lot of work later, the teens release the one and only NWA album that’s worth owning, “Straight Outta Compton”.

Instantly pushed into superstardom, this is the story of how the rappers dealt with the money and the fame; it tells the story of friendships, splits, solo careers, bankruptcy and what happens when businessmen are allowed to take advantage of artists that, no matter which way you cut it, are just kids.  It’s a tale of how these five guys bucked the trend of safe and censored music and brought a straight-talking style to mainstream audiences just when the world needed them to. Love them or hate them, and plenty hated them, NWA shined a light on the plight of young African-American’s across the United States. With a focus on the awful way people like them were treated by the LAPD, the rappers took the police, and society as a whole, to task with their music and didn’t back down when they were threatened by law enforcement over the content of their music.  We get to see these boys grow up and make their way in the world, we get to share their highs and lows and we get to enjoy their music along the way.

Straight Outta Compton does a great job of telling its story.  Essentially a warts-and-all biopic that really does show what the teenagers went through. From Eazy-E’s drug dealing days to the riots that started on their behalf when they were arrested during one of their sold-out concerts.  However, while director F. Gary Gray and producers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have told a lot of the story and tried not to hold back, there are a couple of very large parts of their story that are missing, conspicuous by their absence. Mainly, while we seem to have gotten a look at all the shady dealings of founding member Eazy-E, a man sadly no longer around to defend himself, I would have liked to have seen the film tackle Dre’s 1991 assault on Dee Barnes, a woman the producer believed to have badly reported on a feud between group members so he, allegedly, grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly smashed her into a wall, with fellow band mates later going on record saying that “The bitch deserved it”.  I’d also liked to have seen original group member, “Arabian Prince” brought up, seeing as he was in the picture long before MC Ren was.  None of this takes away from the film though, which is a scathing look at 80’s and 90’s culture and how groups like NWA were born from it.

With big shoes to fill and massive reputations to uphold, every cast member did a stellar job of representing their characters on-screen. Clearly taking cues from their real counterparts, the actors have taken pride in their roles and learned the characteristics of the legends they are representing; with the always great to watch Paul Giamatti taking on the role of the sleazy Jerry Hellar, the man that made NWA famous but screwed them over at the same time, he slips easily into the role and makes you hate him in every scene he’s in.  Special mention has to go to O’Shea Jackson Jnr. The real life son of rapper Ice Cube has taken on the gargantuan task of bringing his old man’s massive persona to the big screen and has done an amazing job.  In my opinion, Jackson Jnr. is the star of the show, stealing every single scene from his cast mates as he lives and breathes his dad’s life for the almost two and a half hour run time.  Ice Cube’s sneering face, his attitude, his mannerisms are all oozing from the screen as Ice Cube Jnr. makes the role his own and if just one guy gets any kind of award based recognition for this movie, it needs to be O’Shea Jackson Jnr.

Straight Outta Compton is essential viewing for almost everyone. Long-time fans like me and a lot of our generation should get a kick out of watching the rise and fall of one of the most prominent musical talents to grace our tape decks back in the day. Younger fans will get a ton of fun hopefully learning what it was that we loved so much and everybody should sit and enjoy the story of how rap music became rap music.  The story of easily THE most influential rap group ever to grace vinyl was a long time coming and was definitely worth the wait. So sit, relax and enjoy an amazing film with one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear this year and get yourself a glimpse into the past, back when rap music was actually good, not paint-by-numbers awfulness.

Cobain: Montage of Heck

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

I know that in some quarters of the internet and out there in the real world, Kurt Cobain (and Nirvana specifically) are seen as “overrated”. Bracketed into that “good at the time but we’ve moved on now” category by folk who either simply don’t like Nirvana or feel that they somehow grew out of the whole angsty grunge rock thing that went on during their youth. Great as a band who completely changed the sound of mainstream music in an era where 6 minute guitar solos and hair metal were inescapable, but just don’t fit in to a modern world some 25 years later. Once good, now dated. Over. Rated.

But that’s not me. I fucking love Nirvana. Come As You Are was the first riff I properly learnt how to play on guitar, their songs were what me and my friends covered when we jammed together, and they’re the songs I still play first even now whenever I sporadically pick up a guitar. They changed everything for me personally, from the way I’d dress to the bands I’d listen to. Pixies, Wipers, The Meat Puppets, Husker Du; they are in my album collections because of Nirvana. I have very fond memories of discovering their music, arguing why In Utero is their best album (because it just is OK?!) and wandering around the grottiest parts of Wolverhampton looking for the market with the guy who sells the Outcesticide bootlegs.

This may sound controversial, and I can understand why, but I doubt there’ll ever be a better band; better musically, lyrically, influentially, whatever category you like. There are very few bands that equal their talent, their output and their influence, albeit in my heavily biased opinion. They’ve been my favourite band probably since around the age of 13, and they still are at the age of 28 (fuck me, I’m older than Kurt was when he died, that’s a depressing realisation). So, obviously, I was very excited about the idea of a proper documentary exploring Kurt’s life using actual archived unseen home videos and recordings. Crucially, making it stand out from all of the rest, it being the only documentary that was produced with the cooperation of his family.

To that extent, it’s a powerful, emotionally draining and thoroughly engrossing documentary. Director Brett Morgen had unprecedented access to stacks of personal family home videos, exclusive interviews with Kurt’s former friends, girlfriends and family members, as well as rare unheard recordings and demos. For those unaware, the film’s title, Montage of Heck, comes from a cassette tape that Kurt recorded in his youth, mixing songs, clips and weird noises. It seems somehow prophetic that his journal scribbles, sketches, audio recordings and tapings would be stitched together someday and shared with the world in this way. Seeing as much of a full picture as is possible in this format, not just a glimmer of the real man behind the myth; the so-called voice of an apathetic, disassociated youth culture who hated themselves and wanted to die. It’s a very emotionally raw and moving documentary.

Witnessing a particular video that was shot towards the end of Kurt’s short life, clearly stoned out of his mind in a barely conscious state as he tries to hold his infant daughter steady as his wife, Courtney Love, gives her a haircut; it’s deeply distressing. Not only because you’re seeing a man in no fit state to be looking after a child, but because of all of the footage you’ve seen up to that point. To watch this once creative man, this bright light, dim to such a weak ember, is the true tragedy being told here.

Allowing family members and those close to Kurt to have their say in what he was like, it means you get to see not just Kurt the musician, but Kurt the father, the husband, the artist who just wants to stop being a rock icon or considered the voice of a generation. By no means a saint, but a real human being. You learn through the 140 minute run time to discard those old flippant comments you’ve probably read in the interviews he gave, things he’d said that never really gave you much of an impression of what he was really like beyond the fact he hated interviews and the constant prying into his personal affairs and accusations from journalists.

From the videos of him as the blue eyed, blonde haired, carefree toddler, always smiling, playing and singing, on to being the troubled pot-smoking teenager who was passed about from relative to relative because nobody could be arsed to really put in the effort to help him. Right the way through to Nirvana suddenly taking off like a rocket. It all just stings a little. Whatever your opinion about Nirvana’s music is, it’s difficult to watch these private moments of a man who is no longer in this world after taking his own life. An interview with his mum where she describes the first time that Kurt played to her the master copy of Nirvana’s seminal album, Nevermind, it just sends chills down your spine.

On top of all this, you have Cobain’s own music sound tracking the whole production. Sometimes using the actual Nirvana recordings, some stuff recognisable from various bootlegs, live shows, early demos or covers. At first, it did seem slightly jarring. Soundtracking clips from when he was 3 years old with tracks from In Utero shouldn’t have worked, but actually it fit in place snugly. They also animated stories / narrations from his own recordings in the early part of the documentary to fill in gaps where there was no archival footage, which also suited the tone quite well, giving proceedings an almost fantasy-like or mythical atmosphere.

I don’t think that there’s much in the early part of the film that will be new to viewers who already know a bit about Cobain’s upbringing (being shipped from mother, to father and step-mom, to aunts, uncles, grandparents and so on) but it’s still affecting to see honest interviews with these people. It’s well documented that Kurt and his dad didn’t get on, but to see his actual father getting close to tears when thinking about the time he turfed his own son out of their home, both he and his wife (Kurt’s step-mom) blaming themselves to some degree, it gets to you. As does pretty much the whole movie.

montage of heck

What it does lack is a certain something by not having Chad Channing, Pat Smear or more importantly Dave Grohl there at all aside from in old clips. They aren’t interviewed nor really recognised in any way, although in the case of Grohl, it’s fairly obvious why he wouldn’t want to appear given his ongoing legal battles with Courtney Love.

Nor for that matter does it have any interviews with Kurt’s daughter Frances, who co-exec produced the film. But, whether there’s anything for her to add really doesn’t seem clear as it’s a documentary celebrating Kurt’s life rather than his legacy as such. Krist Novoselic, however, does feature in part. Particularly in the second quarter of the movie as its focus shifts to the adolescent Kurt Cobain, during Nirvana’s formation and their meteoric rise. Krist then disappears for a while once Courtney Love makes her first appearance, reflecting what happened in real life in some ways, but it’s a shame he doesn’t really come back into the narrative again. The tensions on the group during their European tour could’ve made for some fascinating material, but I guess that just wasn’t the direction they wanted to take the documentary in. Its intentions are clearly to honour Cobain’s memory rather than drag up old long-since forgotten petty arguments between friends.

If you’ve read any biographies on Kurt Cobain, then you’ll notice Montage of Heck skims some of the more destructive aspects of his life. It doesn’t really cover the Sub Pop / Geffen “selling out” saga, the aforementioned bust-ups between the band, any interviews with Butch Vig or Steve Albini, or anything after he came out of the coma in Rome. It also feels kind of disappointing at the end in not attempting to offer up any real personal opinions from people like his mother, his friends, Courtney or Krist about why Kurt took his life when he did. We find out about his failed suicide attempt and reading between the lines of what Courtney says, that he was terrified of being alone and losing his family, you can just about stitch things together on your own.

However, the whole documentary allows you to see his life as it’s presented; the things he accomplished and the things he perhaps fucked up, and that allows you to make up your own mind about what might’ve been going on with him towards the final year or so of his life – or even to not care at all and just appreciate what he gave whilst he was around, maybe.

Essentially, Kurt seemed like a relatively normal, happy, fun kind of guy who had a difficult home life, but who also fit into the cliché of the tormented artist. Not through choice; he didn’t seem pretentious, like he wanted to be perceived as the tortured genius but in reality wasn’t. But because he was this creative genius who could’ve done almost anything he wanted to do. And pretty much did, I guess. He became the most famous rock star in the world and had the family he always wanted, even if it was for such a short amount of time. He even got to achieve his dream of making millions of dollars and becoming a junkie, as Courtney Love recounts during one of her many interviews.

Sadly, we all know how the story ends so there’s always that looming presence of his eventual suicide foreshadowing every clip, every anecdote. It just makes it all the more harder to see him when he was happy, when he wasn’t suffering from his chronic stomach pain or drug addiction. The happiest time of his life doesn’t even appear to be when he was making music, or when he was playing live or hanging out with band members and friends. From the way it’s portrayed in the documentary, Kurt lived his life fullest when in seclusion with Courtney Love for the six months prior to Frances being born and the few months after. He’s at his most human, his most relatable when seen alive in these moments. He’s young, in love and scared as he may be, he’s just not the junkie manic depressive his reputation is sometimes perceived to be.

I’ve lambasted other similar documentaries about deceased famous and influential people in the past for simply feeling like tributes. Which is nice an’ all, but very rarely makes for interesting viewing and sometimes comes off as mawkish and sappy. I think Montage of Heck avoids that pitfall as well as can be expected. If you are in any way shape or form a fan of Nirvana, or simply know nothing about the man and want to learn more, Montage of Heck is definitely worth anybody’s time.

Wild

Beautiful natural American scenery, a wonderful heart-felt performance from Reese Witherspoon and an honest, interesting story help stop Wild from becoming yet another boring yarn of self-discovery.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Reese Witherspoon as "Cheryl Strayed" in WILD.Have you ever been travelling? Like, really travelling, not just spending three weeks camping? I haven’t. The thought of walking a thousand miles through a desert on my own, wearing ill-fitting boots, lugging around a back-breakingly heavy ruck sack and eating cold watery porridge does not appeal to me, funnily enough.

However, I am lazy and contented. I am also more than willing to give up a little time up to spend an evening in a cinema watching somebody else struggle with all of the aforementioned. Particularly when that film is directed by the Oscar nominated Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria etc) and stars multiple award winning actress Reese Witherspoon in the lead role.

Wild is adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (An Education) from the memoirs of best-selling writer Cheryl Strayed as she hiked 1,100 miles up the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon during the 90’s. A personal challenge that the 26 year old embarked on to liberate herself from her life as a divorced heroin addicted grieving daughter, in order to (for want of a better phrase) find herself. It was a test of faith; not in God but in her own nature. To know that by the time she reached the end of her path, she would not only have moved on from her problems in a literal geographical sense, but also metaphorically.

As strange as it may seem, the story really isn’t about running away from your problems. Cheryl isn’t quitting her life, rather she is just on a different and new path. That’s mostly why I enjoyed Wild. Anybody could tell a story about walking from one place to another. Some people have and in the process bored the tits off of everyone listening. A journey isn’t just about moving your physical presence from one location to another, it’s about a change. A visible and honest growth of personality, maturity and character. It’s not even about Cheryl returning to the person she was before her recent traumatic experiences, because through the use of flashbacks to the time spent with the love of her life, her mother (Laura Dern), we see how she could sometimes be a pain the arse. It’s about accepting and overcoming what has happened. As painful as it is, the grieving process is not yet over for her and as she walks, with each step and bruise on her body, we can see a visible detox from lost, to slowly understanding, to almost-found.

It’s not an entirely satisfactory experience watching Reese Witherspoon’s progression. Nor, do I believe, is it fully intended to be. Scenes leading up to the start of her trek seen in flashbacks, showing Cheryl at her lowest ebbs, such as her marriage falling apart after having affairs with multiple complete strangers, or lying naked in a crack den, mirror aspects of her journey a bit too well. Vallée avoids being explicit in terms of laying things out for you or using too much exposition, but by the same token, images and songs used over and over to beat you into submission is not all too necessary when you get it the first time around.

To expand on that point for a second, the soundtrack is used two-fold. Firstly, cuts of tracks such as the (quite frankly brilliant) haunting folk song El Condor Pasa by Simon & Garfunkel is used to generate atmosphere as it plays over the opening title credits… and then quite a lot of other scenes afterwards. Secondly, as with a lot of other songs throughout, it is emotionally connected to Cheryl’s relationship with her mother and brother. Therefore, whenever you hear it, you too are then brought back to various other scenes without the need to literally see them again. It’s a cleverly employed technique, but can become distracting or artificial in its insistence on frequently relating experiences to one another.

When Carole Petts saw the film at the London Film Festival in October last year, she commented that “the film is a little thin on plot but worth seeing for its redemptive nature and for Witherspoon’s excellent performance”. It’s quite difficult to disagree with any of that. Particularly the final comment. As much as I loved Witherspoon in Election, this performance tops it.

Yes, the path trodden is well worn and despite some dark undertones and genuinely uplifting triumphs that penetrate both the flashbacks and the actual hike, it doesn’t really have a lot new to tell us. Of course that doesn’t automatically equate to an unoriginal and bland film; it’s still a competently delivered story with an actress unlucky to miss out on the best actress award at the Golden Globes this weekend. What I would say is, as a word of warning, if this doesn’t sound like your kind of film before going in, then it most likely won’t be your kind of film once you come out. If you’ve enjoyed the director, writer or actresses previous work at their best, then chances are this will also be of interest to you too.

Wild hits UK cinemas this Friday 16 January and will be featured on the upcoming Failed Critics podcast.

Mr Turner

Mr Turner successfully captures the beauty of JMW Turner’s work whilst remaining itself a believable, entertaining, fascinating period piece full of natural wonder and intelligence.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

mr turner 2To anybody even remotely familiar with my writing in the past, or who knows the kinds of films I enjoy, I think it’s fair to say I would not take offence to anybody labelling me as a philistine.. within context, of course. I love a wide variety of movies. You know those annoying people you sometimes meet and when asked “so what kind of [music/film/novel/other-small-talk-related-topic] do you like?”, they rather indifferently respond “oh, anything really”. Well I apologise in advance because I do pretty much like anything when it comes to films. The only caveat being it has to be good.

And, 99% of the time, not a musical.

Of course, I don’t like every film I’ve seen. But  I like to think that I know a little bit about the films that I do like. Hell, even the books I’ve enjoyed and their authors I’d like to think I know a little bit about them too. However, when it comes to painters or other artists, I’m afraid I belong to the great unwashed masses. To coin a phrase (that Google is struggling to attribute to any particular individual,) “I may not know art, but I know what I like”. Similarly, I may not know JMW Turner, but I know that I like director Mike Leigh’s Palme d’Or nominated period drama based on the final 25 years of the titular character’s life.

‘Pointing out the obvious’ alert! There’ll be three main types of people who will go to see this film: those who know a lot about Turner and his incredible body of work, looking to make sure Leigh has done him justice; those who know a little about him, who he was, what he painted, the time he lived in, and this movie will fill in the gaps; and then there’s the ignorant fools like me who are basically seeing this because of either the cast, directors, or to see what all that fuss at the Cannes film festival was about. At a push I probably could’ve told you he was around in the Dickensian / Victorian era, painted landscapes, and that the Turner Prize is named after him. That’s about it. What’s great about this film then is how it immediately grabbed my attention and held it for virtually the entire 150 minute run time. It wasn’t dumbed down or patronising in the slightest, yet neither was it too high-brow nor intellectual. The balance was just about perfect.

Timothy Spall’s ‘Best Actor’ performance as ‘Billy’ Turner is a fitting tribute to a genius artist. As he grunts, groans and ‘harumph’s his way through a quarter of a century of Turner’s life, you really get a sense of who the man actually was beyond just a signature at the bottom of a painting of boats. What he was like in his private life, how he interacted with his peers and fellow painters, all of his flaws and traits that he possessed, they are all brought to life stunningly by a truly excellent performance. He wasn’t alone. Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Marion Bailey and Martin Savage were all worthy of mention for the part they played in bringing this story to the silver screen.

Whilst that side of the film might not have been a problem for me personally, I can’t help thinking, if only I’d have known just a little bit more about him prior to sitting down in that uncomfortable cinema seat for two and a half hours, I’m sure I would have gotten a lot more out of it. If only I’d have known more about his paintings and art, then there’d have been a whole other dimension opened allowing me to enjoy the film on a completely separate level. All I could do in this regard is watch and listen to the cultured spiffing what-what professorial gentlemen types of Oxford who I happened to be sharing the cinema screen with. With my stereotyping of the kind of crowd there to see an art-house movie, I could hear audible gasps at times for (what I presume were) paintings that they recognised were being brought to life before our eyes. I wish I could tell you which paintings specifically, but even to a philistine like me, it looked breathtaking. And also painstakingly detailed.

Dick Pope was the cinematographer for the film and won the Vulcan prize for technical artist at Cannes – he’s also been nominated for a BIFA this week – and deservedly so because it is an absolutely gorgeous movie. Mike Leigh should almost definitely get credit too for that, but between them, they’ve made early 19th century Britain look beautiful. Well, between them pair and Turner, of course!

In a lot of ways actually it reminded me of last year’s The Great Beauty. Turner was just a larger than life man who had the extraordinary ability to observe the staggering beauty of the world around him, whilst also participating in it. He’s a ship being thrashed by the waves of one of his own seascapes. He’s not portrayed as a saint, nor is he particularly debauched. He’s just a man with his own issues, but that’s all he is. A man with a notepad and a pencil.

It feels like I’m nitpicking in talking about any negatives associated with this film. It’s a film that will take a while for you to digest everything that has occurred, mostly because through the course of the run time, a lot of subtle changes take place. One thing that I noticed immediately after leaving the cinema on my drive home was that I didn’t really get a sense that 25 years had passed. Obviously you can tell time is passing as events unfold, but how much time I was never certain. However, that didn’t effect the quality of the movie. It was inconsequential in the scheme of things.

Ultimately, it’s a moving, beautiful story that looks as good as you would hope. Fans of Turner will presumably enjoy it as much as, if not more so, than the layman like me who just wanted to see a good film. Which, it is.

Mr Turner is in cinemas right now. You can hear Owen review the film on the next episode of the Failed Critics podcast.