‘Yardie’ Film Review: Idris Elba Falls Short With Atmospheric Directorial Debut

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

There’s something missing in “Yardie,” Idris Elba’s directorial debut, but I can’t quite place my finger on it. The acting is decent, the cinematography is well-executed, and the music is on point, but the delivery and the tone are completely mismatched. It feels as if the film itself is aching to say something more, but is ultimately muted by choices the freshman director withheld from making.

Based on the 1992 book by Victor Headley, the film opens in 1973 Kingston, Jamaica. There’s a gang war, and young D (Antwayne Eccleston) is being raised by his older brother, Jerry Dread (Everaldo Creary, “Better Mus Come”) while King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd) — a gang leader, don, and music producer — acts a sort of father figure to both. During a concert meant to unite rival gangs in Kingston, Jerry is gunned down, leaving D to be raised by King Fox.

Years later, adult D (Aml Ameen, “Sense 8”) is working for King Fox in whatever capacity he needs, which includes becoming a courier to London where he needs to deliver cocaine to local crime boss Rico (Stephen Graham, “Boardwalk Empire”). While in London, D attempts to reconnect with his childhood love, Yvonne (Shantol Jackson) and their young daughter, who he hasn’t seen since her infancy. The coke deal goes awry, and as D figures out his next step, he must choose between keeping his family safe or taking down the person he thinks killed his brother.

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Though the film offers solid performances from its ensemble, much of Ameen’s work is overshadowed by clumsy narration that weaves in and out at odd moments. Ameen is capable of carrying much of the film’s inner monologues in his own performance, which makes the narration extraneous and baffling.

Graham, a fine actor, does the best he can with the caricature of a drug lord he is given. The problem lies in the script by Brock Norman Brock (“Bronson”) and Martin Stellman (“Babylon”): Rico reads like a parody instead of the actual threat he may pose to D, which isn’t Graham’s fault, but the writers’ and director Elba’s indecisive choices.

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Having not read Headley’s novel, but knowing that it became a literary sensation by being sold outside concert halls and hair salons within the very community it discusses, it would appear that the source material has more to say about warring neighborhoods, and the rampant drugs and crime surrounding them. In the big-screen version of “Yardie,” these ideas are touched on superficially without going deep enough to provide true representation. The film’s tone wobbles between full-on crime drama and the book’s empathetic portrayal of a specific community.

Elba’s film reflects conflict through its soundtrack, relying solely on music supervisor Nick Angel’s choices, which exude both the joy of the Rastafarian lifestyle and the darkness of a country plagued by gang wars. There are moments when an adult D takes the mic and spouts verses that are beautiful, painful and poetic, but this B-story goes nowhere, thus ending any way of having the music save the choppiness of the film’s tone.

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Director of photography John Conroy (who worked with Elba on TV’s “Luther”) also tries to bridge the gaps in tone by allowing the audience a chance to see a side of Jamaica that isn’t typically seen. The country remains as beautiful as we’re used to seeing it, but Conroy makes the dark underbelly come alive in color, showing what a beautifully broken existence it is to live in a world with a stunning landscape surrounded by poverty and crime. On the flip side, however, London could have been presented a bit grittier — instead it feels tidy, despite the chaos Rico and his gang cause.

There’s no question that Elba is a talented actor, but his debut on the other side of the lens falls a bit short. Director need to make decisions to get a story across, and Elba appears to have been too shy or too reluctant to make them. “Yardie” suffers for it.



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‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ Film Review: Annette Bening’s Performance Elevates a Tepid Biopic

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

The life stories of movie stars tend to follow the same arc: struggle, success, obscurity. Even the embellishments don’t vary much: addiction, plastic surgery, financial downgrades, messy personal lives.

The biography of noir icon Gloria Grahame, who won an Oscar for her nine minutes in “The Bad and the Beautiful” and has found a kind of immortality via the character Violet Bick in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” offers little deviation from the norm. So why dwell on the final years of Grahame’s life, when she was reduced to playing supporting roles onstage in mid-tier cities while battling breast cancer?

The only answer that “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” provides is Annette Bening’s marvelously helpless performance as a 50-something Grahame. If you told me that Bening had her spine replaced with titanium, I’d believe you in a heartbeat, so convincing is she as an enduring fortress in movies like “20th Century Women” and “The Kids Are All Right.” The girly, flirty voice that Bening uses as “Gloria” is, initially at least, a shock. The neediness and insecurity that Bening reveals, even as Gloria clings to her final shreds of dignity, are a revelation.

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But director Paul McGuigan (“Victor Frankenstein”) and writer Matt Greenhalgh (“Control”) ultimately let their star down. “Liverpool” is a padded wisp of a drama, the first half’s evocative mystery gradually giving way to the second half’s surface-level reenactments. It’s entirely believable that the middle-aged Gloria didn’t disclose too much of herself to her 28-year-old lover Peter Turner (Jamie Bell, also great), through whose eyes we see the unhappy actress. (The script is based on the real-life Turner’s memoir.)

But the cautious result is that we learn too little of Gloria’s relationships to the parts of her life that seemingly mattered to her most: Her job, her peers, her children, her cancer, and the scandal that made her a pariah in Hollywood. (“Liverpool” refers only obliquely to the sexual relationship Grahame had with the 13-year-old son of her second husband, celebrated director Nicholas Ray. Later, Ray’s son, Tony, became her fourth husband.)

Bening doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to Grahame — a fact that wouldn’t matter, except McGuigan occasionally brings it to our attention via vintage clips of the actress in “Liverpool.” The film toggles between 1979, when Gloria seduces (or maybe emotionally blackmails) Peter, a semi-employed stage actor, and 1981, when cancer has robbed her of her independence.

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Gloria and Peter are no longer together, but he obligingly brings his former paramour to the cramped and distressingly wallpapered home he shares with his graying parents, who have seen all of Grahame’s movies. If Mr. and Mrs. Turner (Kenneth Cranham and Julie Walters) were once starstruck, they aren’t anymore. “She ain’t swanning about Sunset Boulevard,” tuts Peter’s dad. Norma Desmond at least had a mansion.

“Liverpool” fills us in on the fling Gloria and Peter half-enjoyed. She tries to impress him with her oceanside bungalow and stories about her onetime neighbors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Gloria needn’t have tried so hard; Peter’s so provincial he’s bowled over by the idea of pizza delivery. There are a few wonderfully lived-in details like this, as well as a disco dancing sequence full of joy and valid criticisms of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.”

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But as the film progresses, spotting the missed opportunities for narrative tension and character development becomes more compelling than the spare storyline itself. McGuigan makes a grave mistake in muddying up Gloria’s motivations in a pivotal late scene, and the fight between Peter and his plot-necessity brother (Stephen Graham, “Taboo”) over whether or not to inform Gloria’s children about her illness (despite the actress’s protestations) feels numbingly deflated of conflict, especially given the film’s painstaking avoidance of Gloria’s familial tangles.

Gloria’s obsession with playing Shakespeare’s Juliet (a character written as a 13-year-old) also begs the (never answered) question of how she felt about or internalized Hollywood’s dismissal of older or “difficult” women.

Grahame’s contributions to cinema are more than worthy of a reevaluation. Her complications, too, deserve more than this tepid, uncurious portrait.



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‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ Review: Johnny Depp Serves Up a Fifth of Frivolity

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

It’s become difficult to listen to that hard-charging “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme without hearing Michael Bolton strain-crooning about Captain Jack Sparrow (“the jester of Tartuga!”) for the Lonely Island guys in that memorable “SNL” digital short. Then again, the “Pirates” franchise itself has always seemed like an unlikely mash-up of outlaw posture and pop silliness, eschewing any real sense of seagoing adventure for the more readily achievable goals of brand management and CGI swash and buckle.

The good news, though, is that the fifth entry, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” is the most divertingly enjoyable since the first. A professionally crafted brew of action, slapstick and supernatural mumbo-jumbo, it’s less likely to spur timepiece glances than did the last few bloated installments.

You can’t escape the sense that the whole thing, newly steered by the Norwegian directing team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Oscar nominees for 2012’s “Kon-Tiki”), is a cheeky corrective. Though not as resolutely tipped toward weirdness as Gore Verbinski’s sequels were, it’s neither as overstuffed with the nonsense that sunk “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End.” It’s also not as zipless and personality-free as the last one, the Rob Marshall-helmed “On Stranger Tides,” which couldn’t justify its existence, stumbling around as much as the series’ anti-hero, Captain Jack.

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And speaking of Johnny Depp’s scoundrel of self-preservation, his tipsy-turvy antics may no longer be the freshly perfumed brine that subversively pickled what we all assumed was a craven theme-park movie (“The Curse of the Black Pearl”), turning it into a surprise hit. But with the popcorn ethos that animates “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” he’s at least treated like a reliably wiggly wind-up toy again, good for batting about, arranging into crazy positions, and countless batted-eyes double takes mixed with sloshy, cynical one-liners.

When Jack opines on “the unscratchable itch” to his young sailor companion Henry (Brenton Thwaites, “Gods of Egypt”), newly smitten by a beautiful astronomer named Carina (a plucky Kaya Scodelario, “The Maze Runner”), Henry knowingly agrees: love, right? Jack, confused, corrects him: “Scabies.” This isn’t searing wit, obviously, but coming amidst a thrillingly crazy ghost-shark attack and a beach siege by rotting pirates, it’s all just off-kilter enough to feel like a disreputably fun carnival ride.

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The plot, such as it is in the screenplay by Jeff Nathanson (who wrote the story with franchise stalwart Terry Rossio), follows the pattern of the others: intersecting quests that allow for narrow escapes, odd alliances, and parental reunions. Henry wants to lift the curse on his father Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, back briefly), trapped at the bottom of the ocean in the Flying Dutchman, by finding the all-powerful Trident of Poseidon.

Carina, deemed a witch due to her intelligence, says she can find the Trident using “the map no man can read,” a reference to the use of stars to guide ships. They team with Jack, smarting from having lost the trust of his crew after a foiled bank robbery (an impressive opening action sequence in which a bank building is hauled through St. Martin).

Jack’s reasons for locating the Trident are personal, however: he’s become the target of a ghost captain named Salazar (a digitally decayed Javier Bardem), recently unleashed from the Devil’s Triangle and hellbent on securing revenge on the then-newbie buccaneer who vanquished him. Salazar’s murderous rampage against pirates — his risen, rotted ship forming jaws that chomp other vessels — even spurs the return of Geoffrey Rush’s peg-legged scalawag Barbossa to help defend against this newest threat.

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The appeal of any “Pirates” movie is in the aggregate gleam of its many working parts, and this time around, thanks to the energetic direction of Rønning and Sandberg, the shine feels freshly buffed. There’s a dual guillotine/hanging rescue that’s as humorously staged as any in the series’ history; it calls to mind the inventive dash of silent comedy. The elaborate location trappings (ships at sea, island shores, bustling cities) veer between baroquely beautiful and picturesquely lush thanks to Paul Cameron’s colorful cinematography, and unlike the relentlessly dreary night in “On Stranger Tides,” it’s all mostly daytime-set this time around.

The regular houseguests — from Depp and Rush to utility pirate players like Stephen Graham — look game again, while a newcomer like Bardem seems hungry to make his mark and scare the bejesus out of any kids in tow. (Between the sword deaths and the Oscar-winner’s terrifying countenance, this is most decidedly a hard PG-13, parents.) We even get a suitable rock-world replacement for Keith Richards this time around: a delightfully funny Paul McCartney as Jack’s cheerily philosophical, imprisoned pirate uncle.

If you have “Pirates” PTSD, though, discovering the Trident is likely to give you endless-climax hives, and “Dead Men” doesn’t disappoint, devolving into the usual over-the-top CGI operatics. (For starters, the ocean parts.) Afterward, a human-sized surprise is revealed, and it’s easily guessable who’s going to show up, considering Henry’s lineage.

And yet the best thing one can say about “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is that it needs no referential callbacks to be its own admirably playful splash in the summer tentpole waters.

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16 ‘Taboo’ Main Characters, Ranked by How Dirty They Are (Photos)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

“Taboo” is an extremely dirty show. Like, not just in the “trashy subject matter” kind of way but in the “the Prince Regent of England looks like a toad and Tom Hardy bites people’s throats out” kind of way. And also in the “these are not good people” kind of way. So we’re rating the characters of “Taboo” by dirtiness in all the various kinds of ways, from least to most dirty.

16. George Chichester (Lucian Msamati)

The double whammy of apparently being a legitimately good, upstanding person (the only one on the show, among the adults at least), and also being kempt at all times. Good work, George.

15. Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley)

She seems generally good and clear and all that, but being an actor who performs on stage in front of the literal unwashed masses gives her a barely visible sheen of grime.

14. Godfrey (Edward Hogg)

Is the main secretary for the East India Company, so he has to wear relatively clean clothes and probably is expected to not smell like manure most of the time. And then at night he layers on makeup and wears a dress. I can’t help but assume this combination of things requires a ton of bathing since he pretty much looks impeccable at all times.

13. Zilpha (Oona Chaplin)

Seems like she takes a bath every single episode, which I imagine makes her physically the cleanest character on the whole show by default. But her demonic sex sessions with her dear brother James seems like it could be hygienically and/or spiritually problematic.

12. Zilpha’s husband (Jefferson Hall)

He’s an angry drunk! He beats his wife! He falls on the ground a lot! Is extremely insecure! Wants to move to Australia! All of this is problematic, but at least he’s not usually all that physically dirty. In the grand scheme of this show he’s kind of a mundane level of metaphorically dirty.

11. Stuart Strange

Doesn’t appear to ever go outside, he’s extremely rich and I haven’t noticed any dirt on his face yet. He’s very dirty on the inside, though, since he’s the CEO of a globe-spanning corporation in an era without much in the way of regulations.

10. Brace (David Hayman)

We never see him bathe or anything, but he’s a housekeeper. That’s gotta count for something even if he is also a murderer and a man.

9. Solomon Coop (Jason Watkins)

Ole Solomon is the kind of guy who tells other people to do the torture while he watches instead of doing it himself because he’s the only who has to report back to the Prince Regent and for some reason that requires he be physically clean. But he ain’t clean. Not on the inside. Now you know the metaphor of this show.

8. Robert (Tom Taylor)

This is a child who makes gunpowder. Meaning he’s not clean. But he’s also just trying to get by with no vile ulterior motives or whatever, making him the extreme average of this group.

7. Winter (Ruby-May Martinwood)

Is a child who lives in a dirty brothel. We don’t presently have words for that kind of dirty.

6. Helga (Franka Potente)

This madame runs the sort of brothel where everybody being dirty is a selling point. So.

5. Dumbarton (Michael Kelly)

Is an American doing espionage in London, and stages fake cholera outbreaks to hide wherever he’s living. Gets muck all over him and he just leaves it there. Wallows in it, really. Though his dirtiness may be strategic in his capacity as a spy, dirt is dirt.

4. Chomondley (Tom Hollander)

I was gonna say something like “he’s clean enough to be allowed into classy society parties,” but they also let ole Demon Delaney into those. Given that he’s a chemist who is constantly hitting on women I’m just going to assume the worst about him.

3. Atticus (Stephen Graham)

The first time we met this guy he was covered in blood and didn’t even try to wipe it off his face. He enjoys doing murders, but his complete lack of any moral pretension helps him a little bit.

2. Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss)

He’s so physically disgusting it’s hard to imagine this character wasn’t designed as some kind of metaphor by “Taboo” creator Steven Knight. But when he’s onscreen I’m far too distracted by how gross he is to figure out what the metaphor is supposed to mean.

1. James Delaney (Tom Hardy)

His hygiene is aided by his jaunts into the river, but he’s the dirtiest character overall on the show even so because said accidental baths can’t cleanse his blackened heart and soul, man. Also we can’t forget about those demonic sex powers he has.