Film reviews: Good Hair | Seperado! | The Secret in their Eyes | Le Refuge | Marmaduke
Good Hair (12a)**** Directed by: Jeff Stilson
IN GOOD Hair, comedian Chris Rock spotlights a fascinating, and at times truly bizarre, facet of African-American life: the multi-billion-dollar industry that has grown up around the desire of black women – and some black men – to have straight, shiny hair. Working with debut director Jeff Stilson, Rock is on a quest to find out why his pre-teen daughters, bombarded with celebrity images, don't think their natural frizzy hair is "good hair". Armed with plenty of charm, he takes to the streets, barber shops, hair conventions and even travels to India to examine the phenomenon and the physical, psychological, sociological and economic impact it is having on Afro-Americans. Though Rock's affable nature and probing comic instincts ensure the tone is always light and jocular, his discoveries are sometimes jaw-dropping, not least the beyond-parody International Hair Show in Atlanta designed to showcase the latest hair-care products produced by mostly white and Asian-owned businesses. Rock's celebrity interviewees – including actresses Nia Long and Eve – reveal themselves to be a depressingly shallow bunch, but it's lovely to see him bonding with Maya Angelou, who provides some historical context and, for Rock, clearly some much-needed sanity amidst the madness he's encountering.
Directed by: Goch Jones, Gruff Rhys
FANS of Welsh psychedelic rock group Super Furry Animals will know Seperado! writer, co-director and on-camera guide, Gruff Rhys, as the band's sweet-voiced frontman. Non-aficionados need only be aware that his experimental music and willingness to record albums in Welsh have made him one of Britain's more eccentric and interesting cult musical figures over the last 15 years – a reputation that this fascinating tour film/documentary quest/sociological travelogue will likely bolster. Having learned as a boy that he was related to Ren Griffiths, a Patagonian musician whose arrival on the 1970s British folk scene Rhys likens to the arrival of a man from the moon (he wore a red cape and sang Latin-flavoured folk in Welsh), Rhys sets out to track him down by mounting a tour that will follow the path of his own 19th century ancestors who left Wales to escape English oppression and establish a utopian Welsh colony in South America. Shot through with lo-fi sci-fi quirks enhanced by Patagonia's vast western-style landscapes, the end result plays like an endearing fusion of the hit genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? and The Man Who Fell to Earth, with Rhys proving an unassuming, entertaining and insightful guide.
The Secret in their Eyes (15)***
Directed by: Juan Jos Campanella
Starring: Ricardo Darn, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino
THIS year's foreign language Oscar-winner is another typically tame effort that dazzles with high production values rather than genuine artistic achievement. Set in Argentina in 1974 and 1999, it's a murder mystery-cum-unrequited love story that uses its framing device of a retired court investigator writing a book about an unresolved murder to outfit its ripe melodrama with pseudo-smart explorations of the country's troubled history. On the plus side, Nine Queens star Ricardo Darn is heroically soulful and grounded as the aforementioned investigator. Still haunted by the rape and murder of a young bride, his character's attempt to tie up loose ends by penning a novel not only leads him to re-examine the part he played in unsuccessfully bringing the victim's killer to justice 25 years earlier, it reignites the torch he's been carrying for Irene (Soledad Villamil), his no-nonsense boss at the time. The film's conflation of these two obsessions against the backdrop of Argentina's "Dirty War" is by turns terse and terrible, luscious and laughable – opposing impulses symbolised by director Juan Jos Campanella's big money shot: a technically stunning, formally meaningless tracking shot through a packed football stadium that stands out like a beautifully filmed sore thumb.
Le Refuge (15)***
Directed by: Franois Ozon
Starring: isabelle Carr, Louis-Ronan Choisy, Melvil PoupaUd
THE opening scenes of junkie excess in Le Refuge suggest this latest effort from Franois Ozon (8 Women, 5x2) is destined to conform to every drug movie clich in the book as young lovers Mousse and Louie (Isabelle Carr and Melvil Poupaud) shoot up and fall blissfully into each other's arms in an artfully sparse apartment. But when Louie's wealthy mother walks in and finds her son dead, events take a more intriguing turn. Waking up in a hospital two days later, Mousse is informed not only of her beau's fatal overdose, but also that she's pregnant – news that is greeted with disapproval by Louis's grieving family, who encourage her to have an abortion. Instead she decamps to a picturesque seaside resort, where Paul, Louie's younger gay brother, interrupts her isolation a few months later while en route to Spain. As they strike up a tentative friendship and we learn more about Paul's fractious relationship with his late brother and parents, the film morphs into an exploration of the way families fall apart and reform in different ways, with Carr – who was heavily pregnant at the time of filming – digging deep to give us a sense of Mousse's conflicting emotions.
Marmaduke (U) **
Directed by: Tom Dey
Starring: Lee Pace, Judy Greer, William H Macy, Owen Wilson (Voice)
AFTER letting rip with a noxious fart early on in talking-dog movie Marmaduke, the titular Great Dane, voiced by Owen Wilson, defends himself thus: "Hey, it's all I've got." Well, that's the dog's excuse, but given this seems to be the best the filmmakers can come up with, even with 50-plus years of Brad Anderson's syndicated newspaper comic strip to draw inspiration from, what's their excuse? The rest of the film is comprised of the usual naughty dog antics – peeing on the sofa, chaotic bath times, knocking people over – leashed to a rote family saga in which Marmaduke's workaholic owner, Phil (Lee Pace), has to learn to listen to his family more after relocating them from Kansas to California in order to become "top dog" of an organic pet food company. Like all live-action talking animal movies these days, CGI is liberally deployed to allow its four-legged stars to both perform impossible canine tricks (big wave surfing, break-dancing) and have their voices needlessly lip-synched while the human cast (which includes William H Macy and Judy Greer) are left to grin and think of their paycheques. It's as if Pixar never happened.
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