[Early Review] The Sparks Brothers (2021)

Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ron Mael, Russell Mael
135 mins. Rated R.

When I first heard that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) had directed a documentary, I remember taking a moment to ponder the idea. How would an Edgar Wright documentary actually work? What topic would Wright choose to document? Where would his signature style best be utilized? After the moment ended, I said, “Well, it would have to be a music doc, right?” Yes, as a matter of fact, it was.

The Sparks Brothers is the story of…well, the Sparks Brothers, or perhaps, the band Sparks and the two brothers who have continued to make music for about 50 years, having created 25 albums, and basically being the most underground of musicians, loved by many but never discussed in the pantheon of great artists. As musician Beck eloquently puts it at the beginning, if you get a bunch of musicians together for a conversation, by the end of the night, they’ll end up talking about Sparks (he put it better than I did, but I don’t have the quote in front of me). But who exactly are Ron and Russell Mael? Are they really Americans? How have they persisted, decade after decade, as the culture has evolved? And why does no one talk about them the way they deserve? These are the questions Edgar Wright, fan of the band, puts forward, as we hear from former members of the band and fans like Patton Oswalt, Weird Al, and Mike Myers, as well as the titular brother themselves. The film is a narrative odyssey of a band I never knew.

As stated above, I was familiar with one Sparks song, and I’d only heard that one song one time, and I can’t even remember where, so don’t take this next statement lightly: in less than 2 1/2 hours, Edgar Wright turned me into a Sparks die-hard fanboy. I caught the film last night at an early screening, and all day today, I’ve been listening to their music nonstop. At lunch, I stopped by a record store to see if I could find any old albums. I’ve been humming the music even when it’s not playing. I’m obsessed, and there lies the brilliance of this Edgar Wright documentary. It’s not the style (though the style is great), it’s that he chose a topic that is so universally unrecognized, and he gave a crash course for viewers like me. In a way, this is a sister (or perhaps brother) doc to Searching for Sugar Man, another brilliant doc from several years back chronicling a musician that the public seems to have missed.

We spend a lot of time with the brothers, Ron and Russell, throughout the film, and their onstage charisma works just as well when they’re sitting on some stools being asked questions and walking us through their careers and lives. From the noble beginnings as Half Nelson to all their successes and failures (though I would only refer to these as commercial failures because the music throughout is never less than astonishingly funny, catchy, entertaining, and deeper than expected), we see a band led by two artists in a constant state of rebirth. Sparks is like a butterfly that gets out of the cocoon and then says, no, let me try that again, before jumping back in.

It was also interesting to see the wide berth of fans that the band has accumulated in their time. There are some interesting personalities I wouldn’t have guessed to appear here, like Neil Gaiman and Flea. Hearing how each of them fell in love with the band is just as much fun as hearing the songs themselves.

On that note, Wright makes the strong choice of dissecting the band from their very beginning, understanding that many of the people who watch this documentary will likely not have known much about them. I didn’t, and the doc is at its best when it recognizes this feat. Perhaps the only flaw (if there has to be one) is that the finished film is pretty long, but I’m not even sure what I would cut. I think it takes a bit before it really gets going. I wanted to hear the music of the band, so perhaps waiting on the backstory and childhoods of the brothers in order to anoint viewers with the band as adults might actually have helped, but again, I don’t think I’d cut anything. The film is working to its strengths as it guides us through, album by album, year by year, like a stylistic and frenetic VH1 Behind the Music episode.

I cannot recommend The Sparks Brothers highly enough. Seek this film out, and (dare I say) see it in a theater if you can. I know, you’re probably balking, “But it’s just a documentary!” To that, I would argue that this doc feels, at times, like a concert film and a comedy and a love letter to music, artistry, and pop culture. Edgar Wright’s masterful directing keeps the narrative flow at an accessible level, even for those of us who knew nothing about Sparks going in. It will make a fan out of you, one song at a time.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, click here.
For my review of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, click here.
For the Why I Love…Cinema episode on Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, click here.

Edgar Wright to Direct Adaptation of The Chain

Edgar Wright has been attached to direct an adaptation of Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, with a script to be written by Jane Goldman. The plot’s been described as:

“The Chain tells the story of Rachel, who learns that her 11-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. The only way to get her back is to kidnap another child. Her daughter will be released only when that next parents kidnap another child.”

This will be the first time Wright has directed a film that he hasn’t had a hand in writing.

To me, this sounds wild and weird and twisted and just about everything that I would be interested in seeing. We’ve never seen Wright tackle a genre like this. He’s played in horror with parodies like Shaun of the Dead and more straight horror with the upcoming Last Night in Soho, but never something so straight-laced dark. It’ll be interesting to see how he works this material, and so far, he hasn’t disappointed me yet, so I’m all in on this one. Now, the question concerning casting begin…

So what do you think? Is The Chain the right choice for Edgar Wright’s next project? Let me know/Drop a comment down below!

Wright’s next film, Last Night in Soho, will release in 2021.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2018oscardeathrace] Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Edgar Wright

112 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

 

I missed out on Baby Driver last year. I made the attempt several times to get to the theater to catch it, but each time, I ended up missing out on it. It hit home video and I picked it up, and for months, it sat on my watch pile. Thankfully, I needed to check it off my Oscar Death Race. So here we are.

Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, Allegiant) is a getaway driver who works somewhat freelance for Doc (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, TV’s House of Cards). He suffers from tinnitus, and he plays music to drown it out. He is working his way toward paying off a debt to Doc and finally being free when he meets Debora (Lily James, Cinderella, Darkest Hour), an attractive diner waitress he falls head over heels for. Baby sees a future for him and Debora that is without crime, but when Doc pulls him back in, Baby finds himself in a situation where he is forced to betray everything he knows to escape.

This is the first film from writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) since completing his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, and it’s a hell of a way to break out of the wheelhouse. Wright’s direction is strongly tuned to the music (he reportedly wrote each scene with a specific song in mind and sent an iPod with a playlist out with each copy of the screenplay) so that the film feels like a big concert action film. His writing gives the feeling of larger-than-life characters existing within a realistic landscape.

Ansel Elgort shines as Baby with a performance mostly physical. Elgort uses his body language as dialogue here to react to the building tension, especially in the final act of the film, but everyone in this film feels so strongly placed, from Lily James’s Debora to Jon Hamm (Marjorie Prime, TV’s Mad Men) as Buddy (Buddy was written with Hamm in mind, and rightfully so). I also really liked Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Pilgrimage) as Griff, though I would have liked to see more of him. To be fair, though, Jon Bernthal should be in every film.

I wasn’t all that taken with Jamie Foxx (Ray, Sleepless) as Bats, though. It just felt like he took his character from Horrible Bosses and reused him here. He isn’t terribly interesting and I would have liked to see someone else embody that psychotic thief.

But the real star of the movie here is the soundtrack and Wright’s expert handling of the action set pieces. This movie got my toes tapping more than once throughout the runtime. Wright’s focus on practical driving over CGI as much as possible helps to maintain a good pace for the film, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Baby Driver is one of the best action films of the last decade. It’s an enjoyable romp with terrific performances and a lot of heart both in front of and behind the camera. A passion project from Wright, the movie is similar to the director’s previous work in that it’s wholly rewatchable and endlessly fun. This is one to seek out if you missed it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

July 2015 Preview

 

Wow. Jurassic World, nice job in June. But July is flat-out huge. There are so many major releases and highly anticipated films on the way to a theater near you. So let’s jump in and see what there is to all this mess of movies.

Obligatory Note: Again, I haven’t seen these films at the time of this post. This is merely a discussion based on my abilities to read these films from the outside, and I’m good at it, too, so take it with a grain of salt, and if you see something different, let me know!

 

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Faith of Our Fathers

I’m not really going to get into this film very much. These “Christian” film releases in recent years have all been just terrible. I’m not saying anything about the religion, so don’t put me in that bucket. I’m a religious person by trade, but these films are terribly made. They aren’t well-written. They aren’t well-acted. They aren’t well-directed. They just aren’t good. This one will likely not change that.

 

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Magic Mike XXL

Magic Mike was a critical success due to Steven Soderbergh. It was a financial success due to Channing Tatum and his merry men of male dancers. Soderbergh isn’t returning to direct this sequel, but he is editing and providing cinematography duties to director Gregory Jacobs. I don’t think Magic Mike XXL will deliver on the same critical aspects that the original had, but I happen to think that Channing Tatum’s abilities to carry a film as well as provide high-level pelvic thrusting should bring the sequel to moderate financial success.

 

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Terminator Genisys

Now for the people that won’t be seeing Faith of Our Fathers or Magic Mike XXL. Finally, after hopping around several studios, the Terminator franchise has arrived once again with Terminator Genisys. This film reboots the franchise in a similar way to last month’s Jurassic World, while not retconning the previous films but really focusing on staying true to the original. I love the idea of revisiting the original film in a way similar to the Star Trek franchise, and I think it stays organic to the rhythm of where the series has been heading. Really, it’s the only logical step to take the franchise. Do I think it looks good? Not sure. I think it looks interesting, but this film’s visual effects were not ready when the first trailer released, and I’m not sure if they ever did get finished. I want to like it. I want to. I just can’t say I know it is going to be great.

 

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Amy

The Amy Winehouse documentary doesn’t seem interesting to me. I never found her life to be all that exciting to learn about. I didn’t care for her music, and I can’t say I was surprised when her addiction caught up to her. Skip.

 

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The Gallows

The Gallows is a new found-footage (damn) horror film about a school play titled The Gallows that accidentally resulted in the death of a student during its initial run 22 years back. Now, the school wants to get the play up and going, and several students realize that some stories are best kept from being told. I like this idea but I’m already playing out all the horrible ways that this film will be represented. There are ways to make this film the right way, but I don’t see it happening the right way.

 

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Minions

Minions is the newest property in the Despicable Me franchise. It is presented as a prequel focused on Gru’s minions years before he meets them. Looking at the trailer, I actually really like this film for more than the cute factor. It has a truly morbid sense of style that I think it embraces this morbidity quite well for a film like this. I see definite potential here.

 

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Self/Less

Self/Less is a remake of the 1966 John Frankenheimer film Seconds and is directed by Tarsem Singh. In it, Ben Kingsley plays a man dying of cancer who has his consciousness transferred into the body of a younger healthier man played by Ryan Reynolds. I like the idea, but I’m concerned about the possible connections I was making with Limitless and Transcendence. Elements of this idea have cropped up before to mixed results.

 

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Ant-Man

Well, if you thought selling Guardians of the Galaxy was tough, try selling Ant-Man, the newest member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe hoping to build on the success of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, Ant-Man has an interesting style to it, focusing on creating a fun superhero film to take the franchise back from the seriousness that has been building in the recent films. It looks like a lot of film, but many are aware of the film’s troubles past with previous director Edgar Wright and especially off of Joss Whedon’s personal implosion following the release of the second Avengers film, people will be wary of this one, but I hope it brings people in to at least give it a try.

 

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Mr. Holmes

Ian McKellan is perfectly cast as the 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in 1947. It isn’t related to the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes series or the CBS series Elementary. It also appears to be a much more calculated piece, very much like the original series of stories from Arthur Conan Doyle. Mr. Holmes will be a critical hit, I know it was much loved when it screened at BIFF back in February.

 

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Trainwreck

I like Judd Apatow. I do not like Amy Schumer. He directed. She starred and wrote. I’m not going to waste my time.

 

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Paper Towns

I didn’t see A Fault in Our Stars. I’m sure it was fine. I don’t like when an author’s adaptation is successful, every other property is picked up immediately and thrown at the screen. The same thing happened with Gillian Flynn after Gone Girl. I think Paper Towns actually sounds pretty interesting and I will be seeing it.

 

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Southpaw

Man, Jake Gyllenhaal really wants an Oscar! In Southpaw, Gyllenhaal’s transformation into boxer Billy Hope who is unable to get out of the world of boxing to spend more time with his family. When tragedy strikes, Hope discovers that boxing is all he knows. From an outside perspective, these types of movies become great character pieces but not exactly great films. I foresee Gyllenhaal’s nomination but not much else.

 

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Pixels

I know you want to like Pixels. I want to like Pixels. I know I’m not going to like Pixels. I get the feeling you won’t like Pixels. Damn Pixels.

 

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Vacation

I have a lot of hope that the reboot to Vacation will reinvigorate this franchise. The idea of Vacation is eternal, especially when you keep the family line of the Griswolds with the ever-evolving dynamic with the children. It looks hilarious, too.

 

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

The fifth Mission: Impossible follows in the franchise of three other great action pics and also Mission: Impossible 2. In Rogue Nation, we get the whole team together for another romping globe-trotting pic that sets Ethan Hunt and his team against the Syndicate. This film adds a level of vengeance and finality to the film even though I know that Tom Cruise isn’t finished with this series. I hope Christopher McQuarrie can handle this series and keep it alive because I’ve enjoyed my time with it.

 

So there you have it, here is your final tally.

Best Bets: Minions, Ant-Man, Mr. Holmes, Vacation, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

On the Bubble: Magic Mike XXL, Terminator Genisys, The Gallows, Self/Less, Paper Towns, Southpaw

Likely Misses: Faith of Our Fathers, Amy, Trainwreck, Pixels

 

So what do you think? What are you most excited to see this month and why? Let me know!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Cuban Fury (2014)

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Director: James Griffith

Cast: Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Colman

Screenplay: Jon Brown

98 mins. Rated R for language and sexual references.

 

Nick Frost has spent a lot of time with Simon Pegg onscreen. We as viewers haven’t seen much around starring work for him to know if he is able to carry him own film. Until now. Cuban Fury is about Bruce (Frost, Shaun of the Dead, The Boxtrolls), an ex-salsa dancer who lost his thunder when he was a teen. Now an adult, Bruce is nuts over his new coworker Julia (Rashida Jones, TV’s Parks and Recreation, Celeste & Jesse Forever), who has another suitor in the form of all-around asshole Drew (Chris O’Dowd, TV’s Moone Boy, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel). Bruce finds that he has one major thing in common with Julia that could give him an edge: salsa dancing. Unfortunately for Bruce, he hasn’t practiced salsa in decades. Cue the inspirational Rocky score.

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This film is cute. It isn’t laughably perfect like Hot Fuzz or The World’s End, but it is cute. I would like to tell you that it contains top notch writing like the previous collaborations with Pegg, but it doesn’t. Nick Frost gives a nice but not special performance as Bruce, while Jones and O’Dowd add a few laughs but mostly stay out of Bruce’s main plot. I just didn’t believe the chemistry from any of these characters. I didn’t believe that any of them loved or hated anyone of the others. I didn’t believe that Nick Frost could salsa dance. I didn’t believe that Julia would even go on one date with Drew. I didn’t believe that Ian McShane could teach salsa.

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I thought the film was somewhat likable but mostly forgettable, which doesn’t bode well for Nick Frost considering his Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy with Pegg and fellow collaborator Edgar Wright has come to a close. I hope the next attempt will be more outlandish and comedic, for I see very little room for Frost to fail alone again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of James Griffith’s Cuban Fury? Did you dance or drop at first viewing? Let me know!

31 Days of Horror: Day 8 – The World’s End (2013)

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Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright

109 mins. Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references.

 

I would say that a lot of people had high hopes for the concluding film of The Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy (beginning with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, sometimes called The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy) and in that way, I think people walked out of The World’s End feeling as though it didn’t stand up with its brothers in the world of hilarity. They would be wrong. The World’s End, much like its predecessors, takes warming up and multiple viewings to truly appreciate. As of today, I have enjoyed it more and more through the several times I have viewed it, and I will show you why later.

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The World’s End is the name of a pub. The final pub of a legendary pub crawl that, years ago, Gary King (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead, Mission: Impossible 5) and his friends attempted to complete. The night did not go as planned, and ever since, King has been stuck in a version of his teen years, but now, Gary is ready to give it another go, and to do that, he needs the help of his friends. All but Andy Knightley (Nick Frost, Cuban Fury, Hot Fuzz) are convinced fairly quickly that this could be a fun bit of nostalgia for the boys, but Andy has other memories of that night and the following years. As the friends begin to attempt “The Golden Mile” a second time, strange occurrences lead them to a realization. The small town of Newton Haven is being overrun by aliens.

The World’s End features Pegg’s best performance to date. When originally reading the synopsis, I was shocked to read the role reversal for Pegg and Frost, as usually Pegg would have been the hard-ass of the group and Frost would have played King. Not only does this reversal feel fresh, but Simon Pegg dials in a performance that is equal parts extremely comedic and painfully sad. Nick Frost also controls his controlling character Andy. Also in this film, we get a lot more comradery in the friendships they share with Steven Prince (Paddy Considine, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Double), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan, Sherlock Holmes, God’s Pocket). There is also solid work from Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice, Gone Girl) as Oliver’s sister and Steven’s love interest Sam. The entire cast masters their respective roles and the relationships between them are both complex and relatable. It is a story of bygone friendships, the past coming back to you, and trust, and the film becomes much more personal in that way.

Director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) handles the piece very well, offering us sweeping visuals and dazzling fight scenes (I just love the bathroom brawl). He treats this film, like his previous work in The Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy, as though they were of the genre he is parodying. The music of the film has a very 1980’s feel to it, from the songs to the score, it is an older electric mood, very befitting of the science fiction tale.

The costumes here as well are gorgeously put together, especially Gary’s, who has been wearing the same getup for over 20 years.

Now, I said I would mention some of the interesting background humor. First of all, pay close attention to the titles of the bars, as each one offers some laugh-out-loud hilarity. Notice as well, the background parking lots which contain an awfully staggering amount of the exact same vehicle (I looked it up, apparently it is a Vauxhall Ampera, an electric car, also funny). Now it is true that there isn’t as much callback in the dialogue as is fare in these films, but the callbacks are different. Wright and Pegg’s screenplay has emotional callbacks.

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The World’s End is a hard-hitting comedic gem that will gain appreciation with age, and it contains some of the finest performances of its very funny cast, including the best work from Simon Pegg yet. This film stays with you and gets better with each viewing. Start your callback with this one. Highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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