Category Archives: Biopic

A Street Cat Named Bob

One Big Issue

Cats. You have to love them right? Not a day that goes past in my office without someone uttering the words “ah fuck it, I’m just going to watch some lol-cat videos”. Who can blame them.

Even if you don’t like cats you have admit that seeing these regal looking animals with buckets of self-assurance get stuck in between blinds or terrified by cucumbers that it is hilarious. If you don’t laugh at lol-cat videos then inside you are dead… or a dog.

Unfortunately A Street Cat Named Bob is not a lol-cat video. Instead it’s the true story of James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) who was a homeless drug addict who found a stray cat. The cat gave him something to live for and helped turn his life around and even led to a book about his life.

The film positions itself as a feel good film and manages to achieve that target with relative ease although I do not believe that this is thanks to any particular craftsmanship from director Roger Spottiswoode.

$8m was the budget for this film which is really cheap. That’s not necessarily a problem. I mean look at Desperado ($7m) or Moon ($5m), both great films shot on low budgets. The problem is that A Street Cat Named Bob is noticeably low budget.

The cinematography is uninspired at best and doesn’t emphasise some of the emotions that the viewer should be feeling throughout James’ journey, whether it be hope at getting himself back on his feet, despair at living on the street or joy because of… well cats!

I’m not sure you would want to watch this as a family film though, I mean it does deal with drug addiction and the withdrawal symptoms of coming off heroine as well as homelessness. If you take your kids to see it then you might have to explain how we, as a people, are complicit in homelessness and also what it means to get high as shit and what the hell an ‘OD’ is.

Probably quite awkward subjects to talk the little ones through yet it’s not particularly aimed at adults either because there is little dramatisation to the events. What you are left with is a middle of the road film that is akin to the X-Factor. Sort of family friendly, non-offensive.

That’s actually unfair because I’d watch this over the X-Factor any day. Treadaway is easily likeable in his portrayal of Bowen and (assuming it really is his voice) provides a touching soundtrack thanks to his daily busking activities. Then there is Bob. He wears a scarf. It’s very cute!

I liked A Street Cat Named Bob but it’s not a must-see film. The story arc is a literal rags to riches true tale that also features a cat – of course this will be a feel good film. This feeling hasn’t been crafted through any particular cinematic skill or vision and for me; that is the film’s Big Issue.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Feel good film
+ Nice soundtrack
+ Cats!


– Not really a family film – not really for adults
– Low budget
– Poor cinematography

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Eddie the Eagle

White Men Can Jump

Eddie the Eagle focuses on the story of Britain’s first Olympic ski-jumper. It’s an enduring legend because he only qualified for the 1988 Olympics due to technicalities in the entry requirement.

In this respect it’s almost like if your cat qualified for the pole vault because Eddie (Taron Egerton) proceeded to come last in all his events by a comfortable margin.

British people love an underdog story. My late aunt would always root for the least likely of heroes and I somehow have hazy memories of Eddie even though I was barely “house trained” when he competed.

If there is one thing that British people love more than an underdog it is an eccentric underdog and Eddie is just this. Taron Egerton manages to enliven Eddie Edwards as a character by some fantastic facial expressions and mannerisms.

As an audience we are given every reason to get behind him. His dad constantly tells him he is not good enough. The same happens with the Olympics committee. He stands out for drinking milk instead of alcohol in bars, he’s not well off and sometimes dresses like he crashed into a 1980’s charity shop.

Eddie has to face a lot of personal criticism and his answer comes from his unwavering determination and dedication to his sport. In an age of cyber bullying where those who don’t fit in are irrationally and relentlessly shunned someone who overcomes this in such a positive way is instantly adorable.

What isn’t quite so adorable is Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) who, in real life, is just words on paper. Apparently he is an approximation of both of Eddie’s coaches and whilst Jackman is enjoyable to watch his role felt obviously staged.

There are attempts to push character progression for Peary but all of it feels too convenient and too staged when compared to bizarre nature of Eddie’s ascension to fame.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing reviews such as this piece of nonsense is that I get to learn things too. Reading up on “true stories” often leads me down a Wikipedia hole that can sometimes turn up facts that can be more interesting than the actual film.

It would be remiss of me to omit Matti Nykanan who was considered to be the best in world at the time. Edvin Endre plays the rather sane and wisely Finnish ski-jumper but after the 90’s he became more famous for drink, drugs, womanising and pop music… oh, he also stabbed someone after losing at a finger pulling contest! Holy shitballs!

Anyway, whilst Jackman’s character may feel like a failure by writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton to produce more than “generic fictional male” the inter-character dialogue is smart and witty, especially since it’s their first writing credits.

Eddie the Eagle, for better or worse, comes with all the expectations of a sports underdog story and is comparable to the likes of Cool Runnings. At times it’s genuinely funny and at others it’s genuinely touching. I think it’s well worth a watch but then again; I am British.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Great underdog story
+ Taron Egerton
+ Funny


– Bronson Peary as coach

– Exactly what you’d expect from an underdog story

 

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The Danish Girl

Coping Gay Men in Copenhagen

If I was to take a wild guess at what percentage of people truly know what it’s like to believe they are the wrong gender; I would estimate less than 5%. Sod it, let’s say it’s exactly 5% for the sake of argument.

I consider myself to be pretty firmly in the other 95%. I don’t know how it feels to be trapped in your own body and I have no desire to be a different gender no matter how cool it would be to have boobs, real boobs, not my flabby man ones!

What I need and what I think 95% of people need from The Danish Girl is something relateable, something to latch on to that answers the golden question: why. Perhaps this is portrayed as an itch you just can’t scratch or some sort of unquenchable obsession or addiction that lives with you every second of every hour.

No matter how this explanation is provided I need it spelled out so simply that even a brain-damaged rock troll could understand it. I need a really good, thought-provoking, script.

What I don’t need is a snivelling performance where the main character looks about to cry at any second; it’s the sort of look a baby gives you when they fall over and don’t know whether to weep or to continue on their mission to smear jam on the TV.

I suppose Redmayne has to be praised for an unwavering physical performance where he even bears all in front of the camera. I hate to use this word but it is a ‘brave’ performance and nothing proves this more than a scene that involves him tucking back his tackle to make a man-gina.

To me though, this became quickly irrelevant thanks to his role being wildly over-acted and the delivery of lines often being so wet they could be used to put out forest fires.

Redmayne isn’t helped by the script that provides very little contextual insight into the mind a trans-gender person and the turmoil that they must be going through ESPECIALLY when the person in question is the first person to attempt sex reassignment surgery.

Instead of being what could have been a vital study of the human psyche the script potters down melodrama road choosing instead to focus on the breakdown of a couple’s marriage to the background of gender politics. Important insights end up being reduced to hollow statements along the lines of “I need my husband back” and “I can’t do that”.

Although the film misses an opportunity it does start promisingly with Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) posing as Lili – his transsexual alter ego – for his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) and then ultimately coming to terms with the realisation that he enjoys cross dressing. As the film progresses it becomes clear that Einar is becoming more obsessive about cross-dressing and even starts to find fancy with the male gender.

As we near the end of the film it becomes clear that Einar has always had these sexual leanings yet almost every moment of the film until this point has told you otherwise. The first half of the film is a coming-of-age or rather a coming-of-gender film only to be written off by his desire to be a woman supposedly existing ever since he was a child.

I can’t understand why Einar’s psyche wasn’t explored further, especially since the visual aspect doesn’t shy away from what is hard to watch, yet the dialogue is a dainty as Lili.

Perhaps The Danish Girl stays true to the book of the same name but the more I watched the more I found myself empathising with Einar even less than I do with grated carrot.

By the end of the film Einer has the first of his two operations and the film draws neatly to a close after an hour and a half. At least that’s what should have happened. In reality you are dragged along for another, punishing, final 30 minutes of drudgery where the film outstays it’s welcome.

It’s not even possible to take much joy from the early 1900s Copenhagen setting because there is only ever 1 main street that is shown, the rest of it being situated indoors but hey, at least the costume department did a great job of selling you on the time period.

Ironically, like Einar, this film is one thing but should have been another. It’s a soppy melodrama that should have been a hard psychological study. It’s a story of marriage rather than a story of gender and Redmayne overshadows his own physical performance with himself… Simply by being a man trying too hard to be a woman.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Brave performance
+ Decent costume design

– Overacted
– Too Long
Difficult to relate to the characters

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The Lady in the Van

Stuck in Second Gear

Every year my girlfriend’s family hold a gathering because, well, it’s just a nice thing to do. I was warned that it would be awful and boring and I’d run screaming because of all the people but in reality it’s a bit of chatting, a couple of board/card games, the occasional walk in the countryside and a few pints here or there.

The first year I attended the grandma came over to me and said “I have been very impressed by you.” I know, I was just as shocked as you that someone could be impressed by me rather hold a mild disdain for my presence. She continued, “You have just sat there and quietly observed everything going on around you and I can see that you are trying to get a feel for who everyone is.”

That’s actually very astute because I consider myself to be an observer. At least, I am until I have a basic handle on the company I’m keeping; after which I will turn up at the wild-west themed party dress in a cow onesie complete with fake udders or a “dress to impress” Oscar themed party dressed as Miximus Decimus Meridius from Gladiator shouting “are you not entertained?” much to the ire of one of managing directors at my previous workplace!

Allan Bennet (Alex Jennings) may not have the extroverted/moronic streak that I sometimes have but he is definitely an observer. In fact, it’s the portrayal of Allan that I found most fascinating in The Lady in the Van. It could be argued that this is because I saw something of myself in Allan but I think there is more to it than that.

If we look at Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith) it becomes clear that the film isn’t really about her. The whole story is told from the point of view of Allan and because of that we learn precious little about Mary’s life. Early on we learn that she has hit, and presumably killed, a motorcyclist which has left her afraid that she will be caught and put in prison. We also learn early on that Miss Shepherd was both a keen, elegant and prized piano player. What has turned her into the crotchety, bitter and thankless old lady remains a rather large void within the film.

Ironically, given that Smith’s character is the one you came to watch, almost all scenes with her are related to her apparent senility and barely develop the character or the viewer’s empathy for her. Because of this she becomes rather one dimensional leaving your fascination to lie with Allan instead.

That said there is one underlying theme to Miss Shepherd that needs to be mentioned and that is the devastating effect of institutional bullying courtesy of the church. This manifests itself by the head nun within a convent routinely berating Miss Shepherd for going against God’s will by playing the piano so your core being is filled with music this causes inner conflict and emotional trauma, which is one potential reason for why she is like she is.

What was most fascinating about Allan’s character is that there are 2 of him. One who goes about his daily life being somewhat socially awkward and not very adventurous and then there is the other Allan who is purely the writer. Thanks to some decent script work you are placed directly into the mind of a scribe as he talks to himself to try to organise and improve his thought process before setting pen to paper.

Whilst this is the most fascinating part of the film don’t expect much more than what you have seen in the trailers. Most of the humorous moments can be seen in the trailer and whilst Maggie Smith’s portrayal of Miss Shepherd is undoubtedly impressive there are no real defining moments to the film as the engine is running it’s just not being revved.

Go See

  • Maggie Smith
  • Insight into the mind of a writer
  • Well scripted

Avoid

  • Miss Shepherd is one dimensional
  • It’s all in the trailer
  • No dramatic high points

Overall

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Steve Jobs

Get Your Retinas on This Display


As a product, both the first Macintosh and the Steve Jobs film were actually pretty decent yet both of these have been a commercial failure.

I regularly look at video game/entertainment website called IGN and in one of their article’s comments section I found people saying “He was an asshole. Why would I want to watch a film about him?”, ” I don’t want to give money to Apple or Steve Jobs” and “I have no interest in his life”, ” There are too many films about him” and “Fassbender doesn’t even look like Jobs”

Those are the more sensible comments I could extract from the childish screaming of the video game community so let’s quickly address these in case you fall into one of the above.

Fassbender. No, he doesn’t really look like Steve Jobs but that’s probably because he is Michael Fassbender and not Steve Jobs. Suspend your disbelief for a second and what lies beneath is an amazingly talented actor who even had the appraisal of Steve Wozniak for the accuracy of his on screen persona.

Apple. I get it, you don’t like Apple but don’t worry the money isn’t going directly to them, they aren’t going to stack it high, set it on fire to it and laugh maniacally whilst wearing manacles, although that does sound fun!

Jobs. Yes, he was an asshole and a bully and probably a sociopath but if you’ve read this far then you know that this is wonderfully portrayed by Fassbender.

In fact, if you scratch beneath the surface, Steve Jobs isn’t really about Steve Jobs and the film isn’t really a film.

I can hear you scratching your heads but let me explain. The film doesn’t follow a chronological narrative of Steve Jobs it is actually the story of how the Macintosh flopped and how Jobs’ next (no pun intended) project flopped before the eventual success of the iMac. All this happens to feature Steve Jobs as our main protagonist.

The film is also curiously broken out into 3 distinct acts that cover the short periods of time before a product launch. The locations for these acts are so limited that it is presented more like a theatre play than a film.

With Danny Boyle at the helm it is easy for Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen to also excel as Steve Jobs, Joanna Hoffman and Steve Wozniak respectively but they never manage to eclipse the fantastic script written by Aaron Sorkin.

At times this film will leave you behind due to the sheer volume of words that are being hurled at you from the stage/screen but the beauty of it is that absolutely none of it is filler. Every word has been carefully sculpted to delve into the inner workings of Apple, Steve Jobs’ mind and any periphery relationships.

The complexity of how Steve Jobs schemes, plots and plans to meet his corporate goals and their effects on those around him feels like a steady, continuous crescendo throughout which is an amazing achievement given there are essentially only 3 scenes.

There is quite a brutal portrayal of how dismissive he is of not only his staff – the people that are the foundations of his success – but also his child who turns out to be the foundation of his humanity. Jobs is depicted as a merciless bulldozer that managed to identify a market that no-one thought was there

No matter what your predisposition is with Apple or with Steve Jobs you shouldn’t pass over this film. Sure, it’s almost everything you already know about Apple, the Macintosh and Steve jobs but follows the ideology of the company by wrapping it’s complexities in a nice user friendly interface.

Go See

  • Fantastic script
  • Well paced
  • Intriguing narrative structure

Avoid

  • Too many of them words to listen to
  • Fassbender doesn’t look like Jobs
  • Not really about Steve Jobs

Overall

4-stars

He Named Me Malala

I Name Her Amazing

What a disappointment. Malala is an incredible person and what she is fighting for deserves to be heard by as many people as possible so it’s disappointing that there was only six people in my screening. One of these was obviously myself and another being my girlfriend.

If you don’t know who Malala Yousafzai is you must have heard of the last part of her story; the part where she was shot in the face at point blank range for speaking out against the Taliban in favour of women gaining an education.

You remember that part right? Well He Named Me Malala is the other part that you probably don’t know. It is the rest of her story. What’s fascinating about this story is how brave, vocal and, quite frankly, tenacious Malala has been. When I mentioned that Malala spoke out; this isn’t like some grumpy teenager retorting “ugh, in a minute” when asked to do the hoovering or scribbling “d) err.. how about no?!” on a multiple choice questionnaire with only 3 answers. No. Malala actively campaigned against the Taliban regime. A regime that only tolerates active compliance.

Because of her campaigning there are television and radio broadcasts from before the time she was shot. These sections are combined with animations, shots of Malala’s home town, interviews with her family, recent news/media coverage and the odd artistic shot of locations. All this is fine but I found that it was all edited in a jumbled up way.

We end up with lots of different plot threads all running in parallel such as Malala adjusting to life in the UK, her old life as a political campaigner, her father’s life as a teacher and so on without any of it really feeling that coherent. I would have been equally as happy, if not more so, to have a chronological breakdown of the events that lead to her getting shot, then how she recovered and what she is doing now. By jumping around the timeline it also lessens the impact of the moment where she was shot because there is never enough time to build drama within the unfolding events.

As a produced documentary it’s actually not that good but forget I said that nonsense because you shouldn’t be watching this to applaud it for being a technically stunning documentary. You most definitely should be watching to celebrate Malala’s strength of conviction her passionate and unshakeable belief that every child should receive an education if they want it.

It’s such a mundane idea that it is easy to take it for granted living here in the UK. To be able to take a step back and listen to first hand experience in being denied this basic concept, this basic right, makes you feel like a small part of big world – similar to standing on top of a mountain. The fact that Malala speaks with blunt logic is also beautifully refreshing in world where politics is run by spineless half truths, blatant scaremongering and ferocious finger pointing!

Malala absorbed much of her activism from her father Ziauddin Yousafzai who opened his own school in Swat in Pakistan to teach children. Part of his core education was to teach people to stand up for what they believe in and to challenge the rules that society dictates. He too was targeted along with his school for speaking out against the Taliban regime and striving for equality so his story is every bit as interesting as Malala’s.

What really shines through above all else is that these people are just ordinary people. Ziauddin just wants to teach people, he has no real desire for power. Malala would rather lead a ‘normal’ childhood but won’t do that until every child is allowed to have a normal childhood.

The Yousafzai’s are an example of how good humanity can be. It’s a crime that they can no longer return to their home but hey the UK is a better place for them being in it.

Watch this film. If you don’t agree with that last sentence then that is just as criminal and in fact you are probably just as much of an issue as the Taliban were in the Yousafzai’s home town.

Let me put it this way; you don’t have to grow a tail and some whiskers and lap it up when the powers that be drop a saucer at your feet filled with policies that say fuck education, fuck free healthcare or fuck the environment.

Doesn’t mean you have to be politically active either. Just make sure you know where your moral compass points and be a decent human to the other humans around you. It’s not hard.

https://www.malala.org/

Go See

  • Malala’s spirit
  • Malala’s Father
  • Life affirming

Avoid

  • Weird story timeline
  • Not as dramatic as you might expect
  • If you are racist/xenophobic

Overall

4-5-stars

The Walk

Phillipe-ing Heck!

“Unlike anything you have seen before”. That’s what we were promised by the trailer.

The curtains roll and Phillipe Petit (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is monologuing at the camera, which I’ve definitely seen before. The camera pulls back to see him stood on the Statue of Liberty, which I’ve seen before. The whole scene isn’t quite coloured right, the wind looks like it’s coming from a wind machine and the CGI sticks out a bit. In short it’s clearly green-screened and I’ve seen that before too.

The film continues to give the whole back story of Phillipe which involves him going to the circus and being amazed at the high wire act. His eyes light up and that’s it; his destiny is laid out in front of him. He knows he needs to do something big with his art: tight rope walk between the World Trade Centre towers.

I know how he feels. I used to be into breakdancing. Used to eat it, sleep it, breathe it. Everything I did in life was far less important than when the next training session was. I wasn’t interested in performing, although I did now and again, but ultimately I wasn’t dancing for other people I was doing it for me, for the art of it.

Phillipe is also concerned with the “art” of his skill. The difference between Phillipe and me is firstly; he was actually good at his art and secondly; he is aggressive in achieving his dreams making him the arrogant character that I’m not. Hey, not everyone can be as awesome as me. Joking aside though Phillipe holds little regard for the charity of friendship so unless you are a real arse-hat you’ll dislike him more and more as the film goes on.

The Walk tries to evoke nostalgia for the 60’s and 70’s but it doesn’t quite stick it’s landing. Some of the costumes feel inconsistent, the music doesn’t quite seem right for the vibe of 60’s/70’s and the film grain doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to mimic VHS or 4K filming. The whole feel of the film languishes somewhere between Ocean’s 11 and The Social Network.

There are some things that the film does do well though. Firstly Joseph Gordon Levitt is very good as Phillipe and the moments that he speak French are surprisingly convincing. As it turns out Levitt can speak French in real life but his accent in this is sometimes a bit wobbly. Given that accents are incredibly difficult and he’s not a native speaker that’s to be expected; I mean the last time I tried to do a French accent I swear the sofa became sentient just so it could laugh at my pitiful attempt.

On top of Levitt’s performance a lot of the supporting cast are invaluable in building Phillipe’s driven, yet destructive, personality. It’s a trait that wouldn’t have been as powerful if the performances and chemistry missed the mark from the likes of Jean-Louis (Clémont Sibony), Jeff (César Domboy) and PJ (James Badge Dale) as members of “The Coup” to walk the twin towers and in the case of Annie (Charlotte Le Bon); his love interest.

Then there is Sir Ben Kingsley who plays Papa Rudy. He plays a critical role in Phillipe’s development as an artist and although he only has a short amount of screen time Kingsley is strong as ever. Gotta love that guy!

About an hour or so into the film and it’s decent enough, ‘good’ even, but not “unlike anything you have seen before“. Even if you take it in the abstract sense where “unlike anything you have seen before” could simply be a connotation for “incredible” or “unbelievable” it still isn’t that.

Then the walk happens. Suddenly everything makes sense. All the mediocrity and little niggles up until now are forgiven. I’ve heard rumour that people were getting vertigo while watching this scene and it’s fully justified. I’m not the best with heights so watching this in 3D made my butt cheeks clench firmly as Phillipe traversed the twin towers. Even his unfavourable character traits seem to break down with a sense of admiration taking it’s place.

The film ends with a little tribute to the twin towers but thankfully it isn’t heavy handed. The film doesn’t feel the need to tell you what happened to them, why they are no longer there or how many people lost their lives that fateful day, deciding instead to treat you like an intelligent adult. It serves up a dose of nostalgia that’s genuinely quite touching and amazingly simple. They are gone, we all know that, but they are still missed.

It’s incredible to think that this is all based on a true story even if it does feel very dramatised in places. It’s just as incredible to think about stepping out onto a high wire over 100 stories high let alone seeing it on screen and in 3D. I willingly forgave all the film’s faults for that final walk where even the Levitt’s accent seems totally fine by the end. I guess I should have expected a really enjoyable film; after all Robert Zemeckis has a long history of very good films, this one however is unlike anything I have seen before.

Go See

  • The wire walk
  • World trade send off
  • Levitt and Kingsley

Avoid

  • Starts badly
  • Doesn’t quite ‘feel’ right
  • Probably not as good in 2D

Overall

4-5-stars

Legend

Trouble and Strife

Legend is a biopic of London’s most notorious gangsters: the Kray twins Portrayed by Tom Hardy as Reggie Kray and Tom Hardy as Ronnie Kray.

It is an odd situation where one actor could easily be Oscar nominated for the best actor AND best supporting actor for the same film.

It probably won’t happen because it sounds stupid but it easily could because Hardy does a stellar job of bringing both twins to life.

The depiction of Ronnie Kray isn’t as good as Reggie because whilst many of his exaggerated character traits provide some much appreciated comic relief they do tend to wander into slapstick territory.

Some people might not like this iteration of Ronnie and will come to this film seeking for a straighter gangster film but I think director Brian Helgeland has done a good job of striking a balance between a cartoon character and vicious gangster.

It’s a Japanese way of moderation; make him unhinged in some scenes but a clown in others. Two extreme polarities yet the overall result is somehow a balanced characterisation of a quirky psychopath.

The brains behind the operation though is Reggie who is smart, charming just as hard as his ‘bruvah’ Ronnie. Reggie is surprisingly likeable but there is still something terrifying that underpins Hardy’s performance.

Is this thanks to a decent script? Is it thanks to incredible acting? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because Tom Hardy is the actor who won the “Most likely to snap and kill someone” in the imaginary awards that I just made up? Again I’m not sure, but I am sure I wouldn’t want to get on Hardy’s bad side – there’s just something about him!

What is more impressive than the individual performances is how good the chemistry is between Hardy and err… himself!? The film somehow portrays a genuine brotherly relationship and even the great fight scene between the two still somehow nails this kinship.

The film doesn’t nail everything; sometimes it swings and hits its own thumb. The biggest throbbing pain is Reggie’s wife Francis (Emily Browning). Wait, i know she’s beautiful but that wasn’t meant to be some sort of innuendo.

Francis actual narrates the film, which doesn’t work in my opinion. I get the desire to show the Krays through the eyes of a 3rd party but a better choice would have been the police who are introduced in the very first scene. They could have even swapped narrators to stitch together multiple narratives into one larger story arc.

Using this approach might have even helped to provide some relevance to the Mafia presence which is – no pun intended – criminally under developed. They are only shown on screen to provide a reason for the Krays rapid accumulation of wealth but otherwise they are like how my mum contacts me: “just phoning you to say hello dear”.

Legend wouldn’t be the same without that Hardy geezer as your main man but a diamond soundtrack help produce a dapper slice of 60’s London.

Definitely worth a butcher’s hook.

Go See

  • Tom as Reggie
  • Kray vs Kray
  • The great soundtrack

Avoid

  • The annoying voice over
  • The mafia
  • Tom as Ronnie?!

Overall

4-stars

Straight Outta Compton

Damn that shit was dope!

Hip-Hop is often misunderstood. It is not actually a music genre but a way of life that combines Music, Art, Dance, Fashion, putting on shows/events and more. The music genre of Hip-Hop is equally diverse but usually contains a beat made by a DJ from older musical samples and a voice spoken by an MC in the form of Rap.

To think that all Hip-Hop is just “Yea, I’m a gangster, fuck chasin’ benjamins cos I got dem hoes in da club” is plain wrong. What you are probably thinking of is a sub-genre of Hip-Hop termed as gangster rap.

Even if gangster rap has become a self fulfilling prophecy in that people want to grow up to be gangsters so they can then rap about it, or worse just pretend to be gangsters, be careful not to underestimate it’s importance.

Gangster rap pretty much started with a group called N.W.A and the course of their history is charted in Straight Outta Compton. Cool, but why do you care about my shoddy abridged music lesson above? Well that’s simple; history, and gangster rap’s role in it, is represented with surprising care and grace in this film.

N.W.A started as a way for a group of disenfranchised youths to voice the frustrations of their social situation to those in the same boat. These boiled down to poverty, drugs, violence and most importantly inequality especially when it came to law enforcement.

The film both eloquently and succinctly explains why they chose to make the music why they did and why it resonated with a wider populous.

The music production and subsequent storyline weaves in and out with the growing tensions of police brutality that culminates in the Rodney King trial where, amazingly, none of the assholes that beat the poor man senseless were convicted of excessive force. Mind blowing!

Cue the L.A. riots where the maxim was taken from the seminal N.W.A song “Fuck Da Police”. The inter-connectivity of music, life and history should be interesting enough for everyone even if you are not a fan of rap or hip-hop.

If you are a fan then you have the added benefit of a well acted and intriguing drama about the N.W.A. members and the surrounding music industry. All of the cast perform surprisingly well given they appear to have been cast because they look strikingly similar to their real life counterparts.

This is especially true for Ice Cube’s own son O’Shea Jackson Jr who plays Ice Cube. You would think that he would be on auto-pilot to play his dad but there is an unexpected level of subtlety and range to his performance.

The actual events portrayed in the film are constantly interesting as we see the band rise to the fame thanks to the music production talents of Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) and the bank rolling of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). We see the infamous break up and subsequent slagging match after Ice Cube leaves, which is brilliantly portrayed and gives further context to the motivations behind the music. We also get to see Dre work with Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marc Rose) under the madness of the gangster Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) at Death Row records.

Whilst the above is far from dull there is never one moment that is truly heart stopping. Even when Eazy-E’s passes away the film doesn’t hit the dramatic heights that other biopics do, which may leave you finding the film slightly flat and a bit slow paced in places.

For want of a different phrase; that’s not the worst crime the film commits. It conveniently paints the band members in a rather positive light. Sure they have wild parties with drinking and scantily clad women so they’re not the role models but there is no mention of any past felonies. I don’t know their life so I can’t say for sure but Dr Dre’s first album is called The Chronic so not even one shot of anyone smoking a single, solitary, teeny, cheeky little spliff? Come on…!

It’s not entirely surprising that they have expressed themselves in a positive light instead of being all gangsta gangsta; after all it was co-produced by both Ice Cube and Dr Dre. Still, Straight Outta Compton is much better than it has any right to be. It is competently acted and produced whilst the story carefully and lovingly articulates not only the rise of some of Hip-Hops highest paid artists but also a fascinating slice of history. If, after all that, I ain’t the one to convince you of it’s quality then check it out for yourself but parental discretion is advised.

*mic drop*

Go See

  • Demonstrates the importance of the group
  • Great soundtrack
  • Surprisingly well acted

Avoid

  • Paints everyone in a suspiciously positive light
  • ‘Shocking’ moments are not that shocking
  • A little bit slow paced

Overall

4-stars

The Theory of Everything

Amazing!… In Theory.

When you think of Stephen Hawking what comes to mind? Brilliant physicist? Tragic crippling disease? One third Dalek? All the above?

So if you had any questions about his life you’d want to know what he was like before his muscular dystrophy, or perhaps how and when he deteriorated, maybe even how he became a household name and how he did so whilst in a wheelchair right?

What you probably don’t care about is how and why his first marriage broke up and how his second marriage came to be.

The theory of everything lingers too long on this part of his life. Maybe I’m alone in this respect but I like to think that people’s private lives are private and apart from anything else I find “hot celeb goss” as tedious as doing household chores whilst listening to white noise and being drip fed soylent green.

That’s not to say that it has been executed badly. Quite the opposite actually. It was as interesting as it could be, but the point is that it’s not what I wanted to see. The start and the end of this film is where it shines for me and a lot of that is down to a more interesting subject matter on display.

The remaining part of that interest is the sheer brilliance that’s drizzled on screen by Eddie Redmayne who plays Stephen Hawking. If you thought that you were watching an extended cut of a Stephen Hawking documentary you’d be readily excused. The on screen representation of Hawking’s diminishing motor system is startlingly realistic. It’s so convincing that it becomes easy to overlook the subtleties that Redmayne’s acting achieves by making Hawking appear to be a slightly nervous geek even among his fellow Cambridge elite.

Redmayne is surrounded by a supporting cast who are all on point and there is a real sense of friendship that shines through that silver screen. Yet this is a biopic through and through, it’s a story that is relatively well known so if you are not interested in his life, his affliction or his works then there is little in the film to tempt you.

Again, my only real gripe about the film is the amount of time devoted to Hawking’s personal life. It’s just not as interesting of visually striking as his formative years and also leaves a rather large plot hole. We see Hawking being lauded for his professional life then nothing for another hour of the film so when we get seeing his career he is suddenly a worldwide superstar who is jet setting off around the world and being ‘papped’ yet we don’t really see this rise to stardom and that is one of the most intriguing aspects of his life.

The only other thing I could hold against the film is its grainy aesthetic to match the 1970s setting. It’s been done a million times before and I it does add a level of realism to the on-screen imagery. In The Theory of Everything though a bit of polish would have been a better choice in my book. There is one moment that comes to mind to illustrate this: Hawking gazes up at the stars in wonderment, the camera then pans up to show the star filled sky but it’s grainy and lacks the splendour that a less grainy film quality could have easily added.

In summation the film is technically excellent. It is superbly acted and has a wonderful, if well known, story that’s well executed. However, insisting on having a major part of the film dedicated to marital life and overlooking the very thing he is famous for did very little for me. I’m certainly glad I saw film but it’s not something with any replay appeal, which to me counts for a lot but not everything… in theory.

Go See

  • Portrayal of muscular degeneration
  • Great performances all round
  • If you want to know a bit more about Stephen Hawking

Avoid

  • Too much time spent on Hawking’s family life
  • Displeasing visual aesthetic

Overall

4-stars