The late Sharon Jones — genius, honest-to-God lovely person — died too soon. Referred to as “the female James Brown” because of her stage energy and chops, she and the Dap-Kings built up a fervent fan base the old-fashioned way: by playing electrifying shows and putting out records (on vinyl!).
In Miss Sharon Jones!, veteran documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.) catches Jones on a final hurrah, illuminating her personal strength and public badassery. The soul icon would pass on not long after filming ended, a fact that haunts the movie but only underlines its observational narrative, imbuing it with a sense of urgency and wonder at her drive.
Kopple wastes no time in her portrait. In fact, we only obliquely get a sense of Sharon Jones before she became MISS SHARON JONES, notably during a trip back to her childhood stomping grounds in Augusta, GA. But for the most part, Miss Sharon Jones! eschews that kind of biographical context, a somewhat unexpected choice that forces us to simply play catch-up and meet her where she’s at. It’s a canny move on Kopple’s part.
The ear-worm funk of the Dap-Kings is emphasized, as is the interplay between the members and the familial camaraderie of the ensemble. Sharon Jones’ struggles with pancreatic cancer form the crux of the film, along with the way they raise the stakes for an upcoming record release.
Jones seems to exist for the music; she can’t help it. She was born to sing, and that’s exactly what she’s going to do. The scenes featuring her chemo are fraught with tension, less because it might kill her and more because it might silence her. Which, it is clear, is the cruelest consequence in her own eyes.
And then there’s the music. I didn’t walk into Miss Sharon Jones! a particularly enthusiastic fan, although I’ve always found her as good as anyone else on the scene. I walked out a huge admirer, and heartbroken that there won’t be another Sharon Jones record. Maybe you’ll do the same.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in Miss Sharon Jones! But like its subject, it’s honest, raw, and wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a fitting last testament to a woman who refused to be stopped, and the final show is goosebump-inducing. Long live Sharon Jones.
The first feature from Afia Nathaniel, Dukhtar starts as social realist parable and gradually becomes a full-fledged chase movie. A feud between clans is resolved, by the men, with an arranged marriage, but the women are having none of it. Sympathetic characters become monsters, and dubious rogues turn out to be heroes. It’s that sort of affair.
Nathaniel coaxes lovely performances from the central mother/daughter pair and fills the frame with jaw-dropping natural beauty. There’s an undercurrent of outrage that’s impossible to miss, but Dukhtar spends most of its time on the run. It’s not exactly a white-knuckle thrill ride, and leavened by quiet moments that reveal individual histories, but it’s entirely engaging throughout.
Earlier this week, I waxed rhapsodic about Houda Benyamina, and nothing has changed in the past few days. Divines is a must-see explosion of energy and socially-conscious rage, contrasting the dreams and desires of those living on the margins with the limitations imposed on them by bourgeois society. It’s also frantic, entranced by the ways our lives our mediated by technology, and occasionally scattershot, as though Benyamina can’t help but invest her film with every ounce of passion she can muster. I consider this a very good thing.
(Divines is available on Netflix; her earlier, more subdued, and extremely accomplished short The Road To Paradise is streaming, for free, for the next few days on Le Cinema Club.)
Equal parts slasher film and allegory about slasher films, It Follows took the world by storm a while back. If you missed it, here’s your chance. The film’s central conceit — that a relentless menace will stalk you until you pass it off to someone else — can be read in a number of different ways, but the actual machinations of the film force you to get queasily spooked first and consider the implications second. Director David Robert Mitchell stages things with aplomb (the opening sequence is a classic bait-and-switch), and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis shoots Detroit like a place where any numbers of evils might dwell.
A lot of people scoff at the final third, but I think it works well enough (especially if we consider It Follows an exercise in meta-horror). The driving force behind the film isn’t mimetic representation but nightmare logic, and on that level, it succeeds enormously. I’ve already had several nightmares about it.
Feeling good about the world? Darren Aronofsky can fix that for you!
Featuring a brutally affecting Ellen Burstyn and a pre-insufferable Jared Leto, along with Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans in best-ever turns, Requiem For A Dream is an uncompromising nightmare vision of American life. The sound design alone is worth paying attention to, with a score from frequent Aronofsky collaborator Clint Mansell and, I assume, an entire Foley team dedicated to nails-on-chalkboard effects. This is as bleak as it gets, but it’s impossible to shake off.