get this party started: Coogan in 24 Hour Party People.
By Ann Morrow
Hour Party People
by Michael Winterbottom
On June 4, 1976, in a public hall in Manchester, England,
TV personality Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) witnessed a defining
moment in rock & roll: an early appearance by the Sex
Pistols. Among the 42 people in the audience were a young
band called the Stiff Kittens. A Cambridge-educated poseur,
Wilson had the prescience to tape the performance for broadcast
on his show. A few years later, in a huge stadium with airport-size
strobe lights and a sea of ecstatic club kids writhing in
unison, Wilson would witness another landmark event: New Order—formerly
Joy Division, formerly Warsaw, formerly the Stiff Kittens—performing
“Blue Monday,” the biggest-selling dance single in history.
Joy Division and New Order were on Factory Records, the era’s
leading indie label, formed by Wilson and his cool- headed
partner, Alan Erasmus (Lennie James). Factory, and its satellite
club, the Hacienda, put “Madchester” on the map, transforming
a dreary, post-industrial wasteland into an international
hotbed of rave culture. Michael Winterbottom’s gonzo faux-documentary
24 Hour Party People (the title is taken from a Happy
Mondays song), follows the rise and fall of Factory Records
from the perspective of the irrepressible Wilson, who announces
in his best Robin Leach-style narration, “I am a minor player
in my own life story.”
That’s not quite true: The hilariously glib impresario is
a larger-than-life screen presence (Coogan’s satirical performance
is closely modeled on the real Wilson, who served as an advisor
to the script). In fact, much of the film is not quite true:
As Wilson says, he agrees with John Ford’s famous quote that
in a choice between truth and legend, “print the legend.”
This disingenuous attitude affords Winterbottom plenty of
room for comic exaggerations, uncanny re-creations, and blatant
misrepresentations—at one inspired point, the real Howard
Devoto pops up to refute the film’s assertion that he was
sleeping with Wilson’s wife.
And so we have Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis), the mad-genius
knob twiddler, waging psychological warfare on Joy Division.
And dirgey bassist Peter Hook (Ralf Little) fending off rioting
skinheads with a mikestand, and singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris)
suffering an epileptic meltdown onstage. Harris has the frontman’s
jerky, introverted stage movements down cold, and a searing
reenactment of “Twenty Four Hours” is the film’s heartbreaking
high-water mark. Genius has its price, a fact that Wilson
blithely accepts. The mogul’s absurdly intellectual pronouncements—“He
was the Che Guevara of rock,” he declares at Curtis’ funeral—give
the film the flippant distance it needs to maintain the aura
of a vividly recollected rush (conveyed by Robby Muller’s
imaginative camera work). Even God makes the scene, chastising
Wilson for passing on Morrissey.
New wave begets rave, and New Order are followed by the trippy
Happy Mondays, who personify the scene’s hedonistic extremes.
As Manchester falls prey to the drug trade, the band’s thuggish
“poet laureate,” Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham), drains the
label to the brink of bankruptcy with a crack binge in the
Bahamas. Wilson has no regrets: History has been made. After
closing down operations in 1992, effectively ending the era
(beautifully scored by the Happy Mondays’ “Hallelujah”), he
tells a rival reporter that the Factory is like a dandelion,
and its spores are now free to blow far and wide. An exhilarating
testament to creative chaos, this film just might be its most
Directed by Tim Story
Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) is a malcontent. He has a successful
marriage and owns a busy barbershop, but he’s not happy. To
Calvin, the barbershop represents a burden, emotionally and
financially. He wants to build an in-home recording studio
to make a quick buck, much to the dismay of his patient-but-loving
wife. Absurdly, he dreams of building a home just like Oprah’s
five-room guest house (“you know, where Stedman gets
sent,” he explains). Calvin inherited the shop from his father,
and has squandered this inheritance by spending all his money
on failed, Ralph Kramden-style get-rich-quick schemes. When
Lester (the marvelous Keith David), a smooth, Mephistophelean
loan shark, offers $20,000 cash for the business, Calvin snaps
it up. Through the course of one typical day in the shop,
Calvin comes to regret his decision.
is the lead character, but Ice Cube—who also co-produced the
film—knows enough to hang back. This is an ensemble comedy,
with the requisite cast of nutty-but-not-crazy characters:
Ricky (Michael Ealy), the ex-con; Terri (Eve), the woman with
perpetual man trouble; Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze), the African
immigrant; Jimmy (Sean Patrick Thomas), the smug college student;
J.D. (Anthony Anderson), the thief with cosmic bad luck.
The entire cast is quite good—particularly newcomer Ealy as
the troubled Ricky, and Thomas as know-it-all Jimmy—but the
most consistent scene-stealer is Cedric the Entertainer. Cedric
portrays Eddie, the philosopher of the barbershop. Eddie is
like an old bear: Gray and ragged at the edges, he spends
the day snoozing in his chair, growling his comments at everyone,
lording his age and questionable wisdom over the other barbers,
and retreating, easily bruised, at the slightest provocation.
He gets the biggest laughs in the picture with his riffs on
the history of the civil rights movement and the things black
people “need to admit to themselves.” (Hint: One involves
the question of O.J. Simpson’s guilt.) Cedric has the master
comedian’s talent for creating an indelible character with
carefully chosen physical and vocal details. No matter how
obnoxious Eddie may be he’s always engaging.
What Calvin comes to realize—as his employees interact with
customers, and the good talk flows—is that the shop is essential,
both to him and the community. It’s a place where black people
can meet to talk about anything. It gives Calvin his place
in the community. The filmmakers get this theme of empowerment
and identity across deftly, without letting the message get
in the way of the humor.
Will Calvin save the barbershop? The filmmakers employ just
enough restraint and subtlety to keep the film from having
an unbelievable, fairy-tale quality, without spoiling the
happy ending the characters—and the audience—deserve.
Wrong With This Picture?
by Mark Romanek
This film has all the elements of a terrific thriller. There
is a twisted-but-sympathetic protagonist with a fascinating
compulsion, a carefully designed cinematic look, and a dramatic
situation pregnant with horror and dread. Unfortunately, One
Hour Photo is woefully underdeveloped.
Parrish (Robin Williams) is a man who processes film at a
Wal-Mart-style superstore. He is devoted to his customers
and his work, endlessly obsessing over print quality with
the irate Agfa film representative. Sy is particularly solicitous
toward the picture-perfect Yorkin family: Nina (Connie Nielsen),
Will (Michael Vartan), and their 9-year-old son Jake (Dylan
Smith). Nina needs three rolls of film developed in 45 minutes?
No problem. Will needs help finding some computer software
in the store? Sy immediately pages the appropriate salesperson.
Jake has a birthday? Sy gives him a free disposable camera.
He remembers their home address, and kiddingly refers to himself
as the family’s “Uncle Sy.”
Except, as it turns out, Sy isn’t kidding: He lives with the
delusion that he is part of their family. While the Yorkins
reside in a palatial suburban abode, Sy lives downtown in
an antiseptic apartment building. His flat has little furniture
and is largely unadorned—except, of course, for the shrine
to the Yorkins that Sy has installed on one living-room wall.
Evidently, whenever Nina Yorkin drops off a roll of film,
Sy prints copies for himself: The wall is covered with hundreds
of perfectly placed pictures. There are adjustable spotlights,
a rolling stepladder, and a handy magnifying glass to allow
Sy to contemplate his “family” for hour after hour.
As anyone who has seen a movie about a crazed stalker knows,
it doesn’t take much to turn adulation into hate, and serene
contemplation into violence. Watching him sit in his car,
across the street from the Yorkin home, the audience can’t
help but wonder when Sy will act, and what he will do.
Unfortunately, none of this pays off. The film is perfect
in the details, but the details simply don’t fit together.
For example, everything shown on screen is pristine and perfectly
arranged, including the store—not just Sy’s photo area, which
makes sense, but the entire SavMart. If the film were being
presented through Sy’s warped point of view, this would make
sense; however, as specific scenes are set aside as being
part of Sy’s psychosis, this is clearly not the case. The
art direction outsmarts itself.
More troubling are the games writer-director Mark Romanek
plays with audience expectations. When important issues are
raised—like the basic question of whether Sy is disturbed
but harmless or a knife-wielding killer—the film cheats with
coy red herrings and smug camera tricks. It doesn’t heighten
suspense in the manner of Alfred Hitchcock or even Brian DePalma;
it just serves as a distracting irritation.
As for Robin Williams, he is terrific. Playing the opposite
of his comic persona, Williams internalizes his prodigious
energy and produces a powerful sense of frustrated emotion.
Even before he starts to unravel, Sy is seriously scary. That’s
why the film’s failure is such a letdown: It isn’t worthy
of its lead performance.