Movies: biopic on seventies Belfast music scene is glorious
GOOD VIBRATIONS Music Biopic. Starring Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Michael Colgan, Liam Cunningham, Adrian Dunbar, Dylan Moran, Killian Scott. Directed by Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn. Cert 15A
The story of an eccentric and chronically chaotic character who managed a record shop, which closed several times, and started a record label, which never had a Top 40 hit might not seem like ideal material for a movie – a pitch along those lines would almost certainly have you sectioned in Hollywood – but Good Vibrations surpasses all expectations to present us with a classic underdog tale.
The lesser canine in question is Terri Hooley, the one-eyed force of nature who opened the record store of the title in the centre of Belfast in the early Seventies and, following an epiphany at an early punk gig in the Pound bar, decided to establish the Good Vibrations label. It may have seemed like sheer madness at the time – and, to all intents and purposes, it was – but the story is inveiled with such spirit and humour that it's irresistible.
Featuring a central performance of immense power and charm from Richard Dormer, Good Vibrations doesn't shy away from the terrible situation in the North at the time but, crucially, neither does it overly dwell on it. This is down to screenwriters Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, who know the place and period intimately, treat it accordingly and, as a result, get the tone of the film bang-on.
For anyone familiar with the punk scene in Ireland at the time, this film will practically act as a documentary, such is the attention to detail everyone brings to the production. The way Hooley sees the light at Rudi's performance of Big Time in a scuzzy bar is one of two such key moments in the film – the second being when a recording engineer (Liam Cunningham) plays him back what would be Good Vibrations' fourth single, Teenage Kicks by the Undertones – is a lovely piece of film-making from directors Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn, their cameras concentrating on Dormer's face and letting the actor's changing expression guide us through his new-found state of elation.
Not that the film is all full of, ahem, good vibes. The script doesn't shy away from showing us what an impetuous mess Hooley could be at times, not least in the way he let his enthusiasms impact on his marriage with Ruth (Jodie Whittaker) and the cavalier way he approached basic financial practices.
This is a film made and performed with love. By their very nature, music biopics have to play a few wee games with the facts in order to make for a coherent storyline, but Good Vibrations doesn't stray too far into fantasy territory.
It has a joie de vivre which anyone who's ever been involved in music will pick up on immediately – the simmering rivalry between the Belfast bands (Rudi and the Outcasts) and their Derry labelmates the Undertones is subtly and brilliantly handled – and is performed with immaculate skill by all the principals. Oh, and the music is absolutely glorious. HHHHI
TRANCE Thriller. Starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani, Tuppence Middleton. Directed by Danny Boyle. Cert 15A
Following his triumph directing the opening ceremony at the London Olympics, there's a serious amount of goodwill in the bank for Danny Boyle's first feature since he managed to pull off the not-insignificant coup of getting James Bond and the Queen to appear together. And, for its first 40 minutes at least, Trance does maintain the attention.
It begins with a very stylishly staged heist at an auction house, in which an employee, Simon (James McAvoy), is involved in the theft of a valuable painting by Goya.
On making his getaway, Simon is hit by a car, goes into a coma and upon awakening can't remember where he stashed the priceless piece.
Naturally, this doesn't exactly impress Franck (Vincent Cassel), the gangster who organised the raid, but, rather than kill Simon and lose the loot, he decides to send him to hypnotherapist Dr Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to see if she can unblock his memory.
Trance is gliding along nicely at this stage, but badly loses its way around the halfway mark when the screenplay moves away from its initial premise and steers into Inception-lite territory, ultimately frustrating and annoying the viewer.
McAvoy and Cassel are good value as always, but no amount of Danny Boyle's trickery – the overuse of a booming techno soundtrack doesn't help either – can conceal the fact that Trance is more likely to send you to sleep than have you emerging from the cinema in a state of dreamlike rapture. ★★☆☆☆
WEST OF MEMPHIS Documentary. Directed by Amy Berg. Cert 15A
Amy Berg's stunning 2006 documentary Deliver Us From Evil was an Oscar-nominated expose of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and she secured another nomination for this account of another gross injustice.
In 1993, three eight-year-old boys were found murdered, naked and hog-tied, in a creek in the Arkansas town of West Memphis. Within days, three local teenagers had been arrested and charged, amid rumours of Satanic rituals playing a part in the killings. With two of what became known as the West Memphis 3 sentenced to 20 years in prison and one receiving the death penalty, the documentary examines how campaigners felt that the prosecution's case was fatally flawed and worked tirelessly over two decades in an attempt to have the verdicts quashed.
West of Memphis is an absorbing and magnificently made film, one which educates, informs and may well leave you feeling very angry indeed. HHHHI
G.I. JOE: RETALIATION Action. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Jonathan Pryce, Adrianne Palicki, RZA. Directed by Jon M Chu. Cert 12A
Clearly aimed at audiences whose attention span for dialogue stretches no further than five words at a time, the second instalment in the G.I. Joe franchise ditches half the cast of the first film, adds lots of ninjas and is based around some nonsensical plot in which the US president (Jonathan Pryce) has been re-placed by a doppelganger who wants to destroy the world. Utter tripe. In 3D.
THIS WEEK ...
Ahead of a forthcoming sequel, the delightful Finding Nemo (Cert Gen, HHHHH) reminds us just how good those folks at Pixar are with a wonderful story about a clownfish searching for his young son. The 3D reworking is great, too, making this a wonderful cinema-going experience for all ages. Twilight author Stephenie Meyers' post-Bella/Jacob/Edward offering The Host, starring Saoirse Ronan, hits screens today, but the distributors were rather anxious that the media be kept as far away from it as possible. I wonder why.