Film reviews: Brand: A Second Coming | Paper Planes

Russell Brand. Picture: Getty Images
Russell Brand. Picture: Getty Images
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Thin-skinned Russell Brand doesn’t approve of this documentary, but it’s unlikely audiences will either, writes Alistair Harkness

Brand: A Second Coming (15) | Rating: *** | Directed by: Ondi Timoner

Russell Brand has disowned this self-initiated documentary project about his determination to bring about a spiritual revolution. Apparently upset that director Ondi Timoner, whom he brought in several years into the project, chose to home in on Brand himself rather than his message (as if the two are mutually exclusive), the comedian urged friends and family to boycott the recent London Film Festival premiere and, according to Timoner, offered to pay investors back in an effort to prevent the film from seeing the light of day. Sadly all that reveals about Brand is that he’s the thin-skinned narcissist his critics always write him off as.

That there’s very little in the film that seems unreasonable – or at least unreasonable for someone who has chosen to conduct their life so publicly – makes his subsequent reaction seem petty. Indeed, he should be happy that Timoner takes him seriously enough to not only interrogate his political philosophy but also explore his efforts to reconcile his wealth and fame with his common-touch appeal.

Timoner – whose documentaries Dig! and We Live in Public are part of the permanent collection in New York’s Museum of Modern Art – gets into a contretemps with Brand late on in the film, and she’s lambasted too by Jeremy Paxman (famously no fan of Brand) for asking stupid questions as she tries to ascertain what the end point of his hodge-podge revolution might be.

But while that suggests it took her a while to get the measure of the man, she does get some revelatory stuff along the way from his family and friends. His awful-sounding dad (some sort of motivational speaker) claims to have made a man out of him by taking him to see a prostitute; his beloved mother, meanwhile, reveals her bewilderment at her son’s claim to be Jesus when he was still a little boy.

Some of the best “what’s he whining about?” insights come from Noel Gallagher, who gets to the heart of Brand’s ability to turn simple problems into abstract moments of spiritual crisis when he mocks Brand for being unable to deal with his then wife Katy Perry’s desire to watch a different film on television from him.

There are plenty of flattering clips of his stand-up shows and TV appearances that do show Brand to be a remarkable talent and an enlightened thinker (particularly good is the well-circulated one of him exposing the vacuity of a highly rated US morning news show). But in the end, the film keeps going round in circles, never quite nailing Brand or making a convincing case for why he matters.

Paper Planes (U) | Directed by: Robert Connolly | Rating: **

Proof that Australian commercial cinema can be just as formulaic as British mainstream movies comes in the form of this naff family film about a kid (Ed Oxenbould) who discovers he has a talent for flying paper aeroplanes. A school competition leads to national and surprisingly well-funded international competitions; meanwhile our hero is also dealing with a depressed father (Sam Worthington) who hasn’t left their house since the death of his son’s mother in a car-crash five months earlier. The melodrama is hokey, the family details bogus (we’re supposed to believe that this modern-day 12-year-old’s sprightly grandfather flew spitfires in the Second World War), and the competition element as predictable as you’d expect.

Listen to Me Marlon (15) | Rating: *** | Directed by: Stevan Riley

Marlon Brando in his own words is the hook for this documentary portrait of the screen legend. Assembled from hundreds of hours of audio and filmed interviews conducted over the course of his career, the film structures his life as a Shakespearean tragedy, beginning with Brando quoting Macbeth and ending with the shooting at his house that led to his son being imprisoned for murder and his daughter committing suicide. Over the course of the film Brando comes across as a sometimes funny, frequently charming guy, whose sexual dynamism in his youth disarms more than a few interviewers. But director Stevan Riley uses the footage to tease out Brando’s haunted nature, suggesting that his fraught relationship with his father was the demon he could never quite escape.

Red Army (15) | Rating: **** | Directed by: Gabe Polsky

Zeroing in at first on the epic face-offs between the Soviet Union and United States ice-hockey squads in the Winter Olympics of the 1980s, Red Army once again demonstrates sport’s viability as a prism through which to view politics. As with chess (and the entire plot of Rocky IV), these clashes on the ice were really clashes of Cold War ideology, but the film does a good job of excavating how the Soviet squad members asserted their individuality as players and how, contrary to cliché-ridden sports commentary of the day, they were influenced more by the artistry of the Bolshoi ballet than the rigid military strategising held over from Stalin’s oppressive regime. What’s really fascinating is the way the story evolves, with director Gabe Polsky following the story post-glasnost as the Russian players became viable commodities in the big-money National Hockey League. With much of the emphasis in the NHL on the strength and savagery of the players rather than their grace or skill on the ice, sport under a capitalist regime proves just as brutal, if not more so.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (15) | Rating: **** | Directed by: Frank Pavich

Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky is best remembered now for making the ultimate midnight movie, El Topo, in 1970, but in the mid-1970s he was on the verge of cracking the mainstream with a big-budget version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus Dune. The film collapsed before any cameras rolled, but its crazy preproduction resulted in a comprehensive book of storyboards, production designs and concept art that told the entire story of the film. That story is the subject of Jodorowsky’s Dune, an entertaining documentary exploration of what might have been, but also what came to be, thanks to the way the unproduced film ended up having a seminal impact on the future blockbuster landscape. Jodorowksy is also an entertainingly frank interviewee, particularly when the subject turns to David Lynch’s disastrous adaptation of the same book.