Movie Review // Get On Up – The James Brown Story

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Directed by Tate Taylor, Get On Up tells the non linear story of James Brown’s life. Throughout the film we are thrown to different times in James Brown’s life, from the height of his fame to the moment his mother left his family.

We all know James Brown’s funky music but Get On Up shows us parts of his life that many simply won’t have known about. From his poor background, his father abandoning him, his drug problem which seem to have to have attributed to self insecurities and perhaps depression but definitely anger. His control freak attributes cause his band to leave him. Sidenote: At one point, Brown gets extremely angry to learn that he has lost top billing to The Rolling Stones and it is mentioned in the film that they will never go anywhere. 50 years later, The Stones are still going and Mick Jagger is a producer of his film.

Chad Boseman plays Brown with Dan Aykyord playing Ben Bart, his manager, who at one point, on good ole music business fashion, straps a suitcase of money to a security man’s wrist to get it out of the venue. Who needs banks eh?

On several occasions throughout the film, this reviewer wondered if they screenplay has one eye on heading to the stage. A number of times the character of Brown removes himself from the environment he’s in, addressing the camera, or audience, directly. Something that says this has one eye on theatreland.

If you aren’t familiar with Brown or his music, this is a good introduction to his life and his music and but if you’re a hard core music fan, you’re going to want to hear a lot more about Brown’s music. This film tries to combine the two and while we do find out about his personal struggles, it needs a lot more his Brown’s music to keep the music aficionado. Good but not quite there yet.

Thanks to Damaris for the inviting me to a lovely screening event at NBC Universal in London. Damaris provide resources to community groups about films to help promote discussion about some of the themes in films. They work with all types of groups, Youth groups, Church groups, Rotary Clubs all across the UK.

To get your free resources on ‘Get On Up’ for your community group go to http://www.damaris.org/media/getonup.

You can find out more about setting up a Film Club here

Dead Man Down: Film Review

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DeadManDown_bannerDead Man Down is Niels Arden Oplev‘s first shot at directing a Hollywood movie. He’s best known for his work in the original ‘The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo’. It’s not surprising then, when Noomi Rapace, who played Lisbeth Salander in the trilogy turns up as the female lead here. In Dead Man Down, she plays Beatrice, a scarred car crash survivor, who lives in the apartment block opposite Victor (Colin Farrell).

Victor is part of a gang, a modern day mob and along with Darcy (Dominic Cooper) goes investigating into who or why a gang member ended up in the boss’ Alphonse’s freezer. Beatrice sees something she shouldn’t have through Victor’s window and it all kicks off.

From the trailers released for this film, you get the impression that it’s a more high speed ‘Blow em up’ movie, but there was a lot more depth to it than that. It’s a spiraling maze of planning, plotting and revenge which brings out the best in Colin Farrell’s acting skills as he reveals the depth of his character, Victor. This isn’t Die Hard, even if Noomi Rapace’s character ‘Beatrice’, is at times, a tad too much of whinging damsel in distress.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable two hours which keeps the viewer engaged, decent story, well shot and a great car chase. Standout was Colin Farrell, it’s a long way from Ballykissangel, but he really deserves to be getting the roles Brad Pitt and George Clooney just saunter into, immense talent.

Sound City: Film Review

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SoundCity_bannerDave Grohl has been a hero to many music fans for over twenty years, drummer in Nirvana, sometime member of Queens of the Stone Age and rock god in Foo Fighters, he now has turned his hand to film directing. In this case, it’s the documentary, ‘Sound City’, which follows the life on the infamous Sound City studios in Los Angeles and more importantly the Neve sound desk which helped capture some of music’s iconic sounds. It also shows Grohl to have great vision in the film making process.

The story of Sound City is told through staff and musicians who recorded there, including Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and Rick Springfield to name a few. It also charts the struggle many studios encountered, not only Sound City, as the switch to digital recording took hold. Putting it nicely, Sound City looked like a shithole but the energy and chemistry in the place lead to the birth of musical gems there.

When Sound City closed, Dave Grohl bought the Neve console and took it to his studio. He then got some of the musicians who had previously recorded through the board to come to his studio and put something new down, including a hero of Grohl’s, Sir Paul McCartney.

Here’s the nerdy bit.. as a music lover and an all out audiophile, I loved this documentary. I loved the historical element, recognizing many of the albums that were recorded at Sound City. As someone who has been lucky enough to record on 2inch analogue tape, knowing the recording process and hearing what Dave Grohl said about getting the chemistry back into the music, I adored it. Neve consoles are world famous, they have a fantastic reputation and rightly so. This console was the centre of Sound City. When it was installed, business boomed, but as with many things in the digital age, recording onto tape was no longer financially viable.

The documentary isn’t just about analogue vs digital. Yes, it broaches the subject of the authenticity of digital editing and musical manipulation. Later in the film it cleverly shows how Trent Reznor uses digital music manipulation as a tool rather than a crutch. What ‘Sound City’ captures beautifully are the ‘had to be there moments’. Through good vibes in a studio space, chemistry within a band and with a producer, whether in the original ‘Sound City’ or later in Grohl’s studio when the ‘Sound City Players’ record. It brings us back to why we originally fell in love with music.

This is an interesting and informative documentary and for me has reignited my love of recording. Now I want to go to Dave Grohl’s house and play with his toys.

Sound City is available to stream on volta.ie and is running exclusively in the Light House Cinema in Smithfield from March 15th.

Watch the trailer:

The Album: Sound City Players : Real to Reel is out now, listen to ‘ You Can’t Fix this’ with vocals from Stevie Nicks.


Listen on Soundcloud

Warm Bodies: Film Review

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Warm Bodies is a classic love story of star crossed lovers. In this case it’s an undead zombie boyfriend ‘R’ (Nicholas Hoult) and a very alive girlfriend ‘Julie’ (Teresa Palmer). Leave the Twilight references there because they are definitely not in the same ballpark.

Some epidemic or other has changed the world as we know it and the humans led by Julie’s Dad, ‘Grigio’ (John Malkovich), live inside a high walled commune while many of the infected zombie types have taken residence in the local airport. When a group of friends from the commune, including Julie, have to go to the outside world to get supplies, that’s when the fun starts. To cut it short, ‘Julie’ meets ‘R’ and she makes his cold dead heart beat again.

Ok, that’s pretty straight forward. We’re introduced to this world by R’s inner monologue and his coherence plays beautifully against what others see of R, grunting and shuffling along. The comedy is built up by melding with R is thinking and what is actually happening on screen. He brings Julie to his hideaway to keep her safe, she thinks he’s by kidnapping her. Also, a Shakespeare-esque balcony scene is used to hilariously good effect.

Warm Bodies also features some great one liners, great subtleties in the script and a fantastic soundtrack. How many zombies do you know with an awesome vinyl collection?

Jonathan Levine has done an amazing directing job on Warm Bodies and has perfectly combined the humour, romance and background story to great effect. Palmer is great as the all American good girl and after this Hoult should be spoken of as the guy from ‘Warm Bodies’, not ‘About a boy’ or ‘Skins’.

I’ve seen a fair few of the Oscar contenders but Warm Bodies is my favourite film of 2013 so far. Attention film makers: don’t bother trying to make anything else in this genre. This is the ultimate Zom-Rom-Com.

Go see it!

Men at Lunch – Lón Sa Speir: Documentary Review

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Directed by Seán Ó Cualáin, Men At Lunch looks at the history and myths behind the 1932 photograph, ‘Lunch Atop A Skyscraper’. Taken in Manhattan, as the Rockafellar Center was being built, the documentary looks at the background of ’30 Rock’ in New York, the great depression and how skyscrapers were shooting up, if you’ve no more ground to build on, build up.

In the photograph, we see Central Park in the background, without harnesses, the iron workers eat their lunch, 57 stories up. No room for acrophobia here! Deep in the bowels of the building there is a photographic ‘museum’, which has prints of all the photographs taken and these show that it wasn’t just the iron workers up there. Pictures of photographers taking photographs of other snappers. It really interesting to see how they found out who actually took the photograph.

As for the men who are eating lunch, we are taken on a trip trying to get to the bottom of the identities of the eleven, how lots of people claim one of them is their grandfather and how a photograph in a pub in the west of Ireland has lead to establishing the identities of two of the men.

This is a documentary which both fans of photography and history will enjoy, using interviews, stills and archival footage. Photography fans will enjoy the visual element and the glimpse we get of the archives. For this viewer, the history of New York city is fascinating and we get a real gritty look at how the city was built. Very enjoyable and extremely educating with a dash of an Irish twist.

The documentary runs in the IFI until February 7.

Netflix’s House of Cards Review

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House-of-Cards-PosterToday Netflix launch their original series House of Cards, I was lucky enough to be given a pre-release screener for episodes 1 and 2.

Set in Washington DC, House of Cards centres around Congressman, Majority Whip, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who has been promised to be put forward for the position of Secretary of State. When the newly elected President reneges on the promise, Underwood with the encouragement of his wife (Robin Wright), becomes a Machiavellian wizard who plays his co workers like puppets, slowly pitting them against each other to get what he wants.

Meanwhile Zoe Barnes is a lowly reporter in The Washington Herald, fed up of local county court reports and to start a blog about the real behind the news stories of Capital Hill. She approaches Underwood and in return for anonymity, he feeds her his wealth of knowledge and secrets.

Ok, so far so good in this remake of a BBC mini series and there are many television shows that have similar storylines with different backdrops, including the currently broadcast ‘Revenge‘. In the first two episodes where ‘House of Cards’ comes into its own, is in the boundaries it doesn’t have. Traditional television shows have to adhere to certain criteria, what the network want, language being used, even time of day a show is aired. With Netflix, all of these boundaries are gone, the only thing stopping the creativity of the directors and writers are themselves and if the audience can and will adapt to their style.

First off, this doesn’t look like it’s not going to be broadcast on traditional television. It’s crisp, clean and gorgeous. Having Kevin Spacey in your cast is always a good thing, having him put his money where is mouth is, is better, he’s an executive producer. The depth of the cast also makes you this seriously, Robin Wright (Moneyball, Jenny in Forrest Gump), Corey Stall (Law & Order), Michael Kelly (Criminal Minds) amongst others. Back it up with David Fincher (The Social Network/Fight Club) directing and it’s a heavyweight.

For this viewer, where ‘House of Cards’ exceeds is in bending the rules. Spacey’s monlogues, directly to camera, are fascinating. He introduces the audience to the situation, the location, explains everything going on, he catches you up on the backstory in uberquick time. He turns away from the camera and it’s back to the scene with his fellow actors. After the first or second time of this we know what to expect but it changes. At one point Underwood is being spoken to by Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey), the President’s right hand woman. Underwood sits at his desk, Vasquez is standing, she walks out of shot and mid scene Underwood faces the camera and makes an eye gesture, ‘Yea Right’, before continuing with the scene. Underwood’s behaviours make it impossible to back out, the viewer is an active participant in what’s going on.

That’s not the only thing, when text messages are sent, a dialogue box appears on screen with the message, very multimedia like. And there’s some clever editing, cutting back and forth, especially noticeable when the words ‘Monica Lewins…’ are cut off.

At points throughout also, there are certain throwbacks to Film Noir, especially when Underwood meets Zoe Barnes in public. He always seems to be in the shadow, she’s in the light. His face is never fully seen, we mostly see the back of his head, showing how he wants to remain anonymous in the whole information swap.

People are watching television differently now, most people watch their programmes through Sky+ or by watching boxsets. Not everyone can sit down at the same time every week and watch something, life gets in the way. While Netflix is an online content distributor, House of Cards is a great move into making them a content maker. Whether it’s a television series or a web series we watch, it’s all still moving visual content. If Netflix keep up the high quality production, interesting storylines and add to their catalogue of Netflix Originals, they could completely change the television landscape.