Tag Archives: C

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

Producer: Houston King, Sam Bisbee and Sam Slater
Director: Brett Haley
Writer: Brett Haley and Marc Basch
Stars: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette and Sasha Lane
Studio: Gunpowder and Sky

C

Well, at least they aren’t named Partridge.

“Hearts Beat Loud” is Brett Haley’s follow-up to his two modest, and moderately successful, films about older characters, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (with Blythe Danner) and “The Hero” (with Sam Elliott). Danner takes a supporting role in this film, but it’s not nearly as effective as either of them.

The focus of the script, written by Haley and Marc Basch, is Frank (Nick Offerman), a widower who runs a store in Red Hook where used vinyl LPs seem the sole items on sale; it’s a business that, not surprisingly, is not a smashing success (especially since he sees no need to treat his few customers with much attention), putting him in danger of falling behind in paying the rent to his landlady Leslie (Toni Collette). She’s not pushy about it, though, even suggesting that she can help the shop by adding a coffee bar, but he’s resistant to the idea. It’s also obvious that she’s attracted to him, but he’s too proud even to ask her out.

Frank’s daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is a bright girl at the point of leaving New York to study for a medical degree in California. She’s serious and studious, but also in the midst of a romance with Rose (Sasha Lane), whom she met at an art exhibit.

And Frank has another issue to deal with: his mother (Danner) has incipient dementia, and is periodically forgetting to pay for the items she picks up while out shopping. The police are sympathetic, but it’s clear he’s going to have to make new arrangements for her.

Despite all his troubles, Frank’s main preoccupation remains his love of music. He’s an aging wannabe who still harbors the childish dream of making it as a singer-songwriter, a dream that his friend Dave (Ted Danson), a bartender at a local water hole, suggests he might be wise to abandon.

Frank has long encouraged Sam to play keyboard to his guitar, and despite her protests that she has to study, she indulges him, and in one of their improvised sessions, they come up with the song that serves as the movie’s title. Frank posts it online as being performed by “We’re Not a Band,” and it takes off, eventually even garnering an offer of representation from a record executive. Frank cajoles Sam into collaborating on some additional songs, but when he suggests that she consider giving up, or at least postponing, her medical school plans to grab the chance at a career as his band partner, their very different dreams diverge.

To be honest, this is pretty thin cinematic gruel, and it certainly isn’t made any more palatable by the songs that have been newly fashioned by Keegan Dewitt, which have the blandly formulaic sound of most of today’s pop tunes—there’s so familiar they wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary Broadway musical. The notion that they would excite listeners in major numbers stretches credulity.

But the cast is agreeable. Offerman overdoes the laid-back ex-hippie bit somewhat, but he at least keeps Frank from becoming a strident stage dad, and Danson, whose character is identified as an erstwhile actor who gave up his aspirations to stardom, as he encourages Frank to do, complements him nicely. Clemons shows promise as the daughter who doesn’t want to disappoint her dad but won’t give up her own dreams, but Collette is stuck in thankless role, and the plot thread involving Danner doesn’t go anywhere. On the technical side, the movie is adequate, though its occasional use of musical montages is, as usual, a mistake, italicizing a lack of storytelling imagination.

Ultimately “Hearts Beat Loud” is a good-natured, inoffensive little movie, though it’s as instantly forgettable as the generic tunes its father and daughter compose together.

SUPERFLY

Producer: Joel Silver, Future and Palak Patel
Director: Director X
Writer: Alex Tse
Stars: Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Michael Kenneth Williams, Lex Scott Davis, Jennifer Morrison, Jacob Ming-Trent, Andrea Londo, Big Bank Black, Esai Morales, Atkins Estimond, Kaalan 'KR' Walker, Brian F. Durkin, Terayle Hill, Allen Maldonado, Al-Jaleel Knox, Rick Ross, Antwon 'Big Boy' Patton, Lecrae and Renee Victor
Studio: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

C

Enough of the narrative from the 1972 original (titled “Super Fly”) remains in this 2018 “Superfly” for it to qualify as a bona fide remake, but while the plot is similar, the new version lacks the punch of Gordon Parks Jr.’s predecessor, which remains a groundbreaking classic of the so-called blaxploitation movies of its time. It comes off as derivative not only of Parks’s movie, but of the many tales of street-smart drug-dealers that have appeared over the intervening years, and despite some bracing action scenes, most of it feels rather tired and tame. That’s disappointing, given that it comes from self-styled Director X (Julien Christian Lutz), whose debut feature “Across the Line” (2015) had a gritty urgency this movie lacks—and that “Super Fly,” for all its technical failings, had in abundance.

The hero, or anti-hero if you’re among those who will once again decry the tale’s glorification of the gangsta life, is once more named Youngblood Priest, but now he’s a twenty-something striver on the streets of Atlanta, played by Trevor Jackson, rather than the older, more world-wise protagonist that Ron O’Neal presented forty-five years ago. Sporting sleek dark clothes, an impeccably trimmed beard and a pompadour that’s always immaculately groomed, Priest is a guy who learned the trade of cocaine distribution at an early age from his supplier, Fagin-like martial-arts expert Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams), and along with his less controlled partner Eddie (Jason Mitchell), has kept a clean record with the cops by running his operation out of a seedy-looking furniture store. He also has a couple of devoted babes, Georgia (Lex Scott Davis), who runs an art gallery, and showgirl Cynthia (Andrea Londo), who live with him in his ritzy house and sometimes engage in an intimate three-way with him.

Priest is on relatively good terms with his competitor Q (Big Bank Black), who runs the Snow Patrol, a gang who all dress—despite the Georgia heat—in white ski parkas, in some cases complete with fur collars. (Their look practically invites a synchronized dance routine, but unfortunately it never materializes.) For some reason—jealousy most obviously—Q’s scrawny lieutenant Juju (Kaalan ‘KR’ Walker) bears a seething resentment toward Priest, and tries to shoot him, wounding a girl instead when his intended victim jumps with catlike reflexes out of the way (and then instructs the girl’s friends to take her to the hospital, tossing a wad of cash to them—showing us he’s really a good guy). When an attack occurs on the barber shop that’s Q’s headquarters, he assumes Priest is responsible—and, as it turns out, that’s half-true.

The episode convinces Priest that it’s time to get out of the drug trade and seek retirement in some faraway paradise, and though Eddie is reluctant to go along with the idea, Priest asks Scatter for more product to push so he can quickly build a larger bankroll. When Scatter refuses (during a pupil-teacher wrestling match in which both get to show their skill), Priest decides to trail his supplier to Texas, no less, and approach the drug-cartel honcho from whom Scatter buys the stuff, Adalberto Gonzalez (Esai Morales), to make a deal without a middleman. (Scatter apparently doesn’t notice that he’s being followed for hundreds of miles.) Adalberto is at first so resistant that he threatens to toss Priest out of his private jet at a few thousand feet up, but eventually agrees; and when he finds out, Scatter won’t be happy.

Then there are the corrupt cops on the Atlanta force. One of Priest’s crew, Fat Freddy (Jacob Ming-Trent), gets into trouble with his girlfriends, and the upshot is that on-the-take Detective Mason (Jennifer Mason) and her murderous henchman Officer “Turk” Franklin (Brian F. Durkin) show up at Priest’s showroom demanding a major slice of his profits. Priest suddenly finds himself in the crosshairs of Q and Juju, Scatter (and perhaps Gonzalez, if he doesn’t keep his promises), and the cops (if he doesn’t meet their demands). He’ll have to do a lot of smooth sidestepping if he and his girls have any hope of making a bundle and getting away to the perfect retirement they plan in, of all places, Montenegro (is a crude joke intended by that country’s name?).

First, the positive elements. Despite the complexity of the goings-on, Director X and his editor, listed in some sources as Ann-Carolin Beisenbach, keep the various plot threads reasonably clear, though some of the characters’ motives are obstinately opaque (the fault of Alex Tse’s screenplay). Mitchell, who resembles Tracy Morgan, proves a good comic foil for Priest, and rapper Antwon ‘Big Boy’ Patton, whom you might mistake for Cedric Kyles, is a hoot as Atlanta’s empty-headed mayor. And though Morales makes a fairly stock villain, Renee Victor, who appears briefly as his hard-as-nails mother, cuts an arrestingly amusing figure.

Otherwise the picture is far less sunny. Director X doesn’t bring much finesse to the expository scenes—the first ten minutes of the movie are totally flat—and even the big action set-pieces (the barber shop shooting, an assault on Priest’s home, a car chase toward the close) are pretty sloppily shot and edited, though they’re not entirely without exciting moments. Amir Mkri’s camerawork is in general bland, though the fact that the production design by Graham ‘Grace’ Walker is pretty nondescript—aside from Q’s opening party scene and the interior of Priest’s home—couldn’t have inspired him much.

As for Jackson, the young man is capable of fine acting—his performance on “American Crime” proved that—but here he’s required mostly to pose, preen and go through some action moves (unless stunt players took the falls for him). Perhaps it was the need to protect that hairdo—remarked on sarcastically by a few observers—that dampened his energy level, but his Priest has less charisma than one might have hoped. The rest of the cast do what is demanded of them, but unhappily that’s not much.

This updated “Superfly” is a flashy but strangely flaccid remake of a movie that became iconic, despite (or perhaps because of) its grubbiness.