Film reviews

Drumline

Directed by Charles Stone III
(USA, 2002)

Review by Lois Siegel 

Being a part of a performing group is an experience one never forgets.

Drumline is a film featuring a mostly Black college marching band in Atlanta. This band had fantastic drummers during a time when half-time football shows were competitive.

Devon Miles is an excellent drummer – Nick Cannon, who plays Miles, trained four hours a day for more than a month for this role – but his ego gets in the way. He has his way of doing things, and his show-off attitude puts him in constant trouble. The band motto is “One Band, One Sound.” Devon has to learn to respect that, to learn that life is not just about him.

Devon lives in Harlem and earns a full scholarship to A & T University in Georgia, but he needs the discipline to wake up at 4:38 a.m. to join the band on the practice field. There are two rules: teamwork and be on time. If you are late, you have to run laps or do pushups. He does a lot of both. His conflict is often with the band director, Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), who stresses education and appreciation for musical tradition. Devon has an excellent memory and natural skill for rhythm, but he can’t read music. He has to audition for a place in the band and is successful.

It’s Homecoming 2002 – the Big Southern Classic. The half-time shows are terrific. Rhythms are varied on the big Pearl drums that Devon plays. His team wants to win the National Band Championship. Will Devon’s self-importance get in the way? He has to show his skills while still being part of the band.

Executive producer/executive music producer Dallas Austin loosely based the film on his own drumline experiences.

Ebert & Roper gave this film “two thumbs up.”

Running time: 118 minutes
Available: Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Prime

 

Reviewer Lois Siegel played in her high school marching band in Akron, Ohio.

 

Reviewer Lois Siegel was in her Buchtel High School Marching Band in Akron, Ohio, playing the cornet. Because she was short, the drummers would play their drums on her head while in the stands during football games. Their hats were flat on top.

In the concert band, she played oboe. She also played the cornet one year in the Ohio University Marching Band in Athens, Ohio, which was later voted in the top five in the U.S. She now plays percussion (Bodhran, spoons, snare, dancing marionettes, accordion, shakers) with The Lyon Street Celtic Band in Ottawa.

 

 

La Femme de mon frère

Directed by Monia Chokri
(Canada, 2019)

Review by Paul Green

One-time Québécois actor Monia Chokri – she starred in Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats – has made her directorial debut with this delightful brother-sister comedy fraught with dysfunctional family doings and overtones of frustrated feminist yearnings.

Set in contemporary Montreal and shot in some of the city’s tonier districts – I seem to recognize avenue Beaubien in some scenes. La Femme de mon frère (English title: A Brother’s Love) chronicles in sometimes painful detail the existential quandary in which our 35-year-old protagonist Sophia finds herself when she is awarded a doctorate for her thesis on political philosophy – subject Antonio Gramsci – while at the same time hearing from the department head that she will never work in said department. (She later learns that the position she had hoped for was snapped up by her thesis advisor’s son.)

As poor Sophia (a very engaging performance by Anne-Elisabeth Bossé, another Dolan alumna, from Lawrence Anyways) exits the imposing doors of the classic Ivy League hall where all this has just gone down, a gust of wind catches her thesis, and she is left scrambling in a futile bid to gather up the errant pages in the blowing snow, all to the strains of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. In short, a darkly hilarious opening sequence with a few well-aimed barbs at the internecine politics that must be plaguing underfunded humanities departments these days.

Thus do we find poor Sophia, an unemployed (well, almost) PhD after eight years of postgraduate study, living with her psychologist brother Karim (Patrick Hivon) in a bid to “find herself” and restore her battered ego. This offers some promise, as brother and sister get on very well and Karim seems genuinely supportive.

There is a nice bit at a noisy New Year’s party where Sophia runs into her friend Annabelle, who used to date her brother. Annabelle, played by actor and radio personality Magalie Lépine-Blondeau (recently heard in the title role of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie on Radio-Canada), is an over-achieving young mother who cannot stop rhapsodizing over the precocious antics of her six-month-old son. “I was made to be a mom,” she preens.

This is all a bit much for Sophia, who is pregnant and planning to have an abortion. Accompanied by Karim to the clinic, she encounters the efficient (and beautiful) Eloïse, whose icy reserve is thrown for a moment when she must ransack her office to find a pen. Eloïse is portrayed by Evelyne Brochu from Inch’Allah a few years back.

While the film is a tad overlong, Monia Chokri keeps things moving along smartly with a good deal of lively, fast-paced dialogue (not unlike that of a screwball comedy) and imaginative plot twists. To wit, when Karim realizes that he has met Eloïse before, the two of them hit it off and become an item all over again. Which is fine, of course, except it threatens Sophia’s idyll with her brother. And watching Karim fall in love with the “near-perfect” Eloïse is all it takes to put Sophia more than a little off balance.

In a delightful and well-choreographed set piece, Sophia and Karim go to supper at their parents’ place where Sophia is now staying. Only on this occasion, Karim has brought the lovely Eloïse with him. Sophia, by now feeling much put-upon and convinced that Eloïse has adopted a condescending tone toward her, loses it completely and delivers a hilarious rant against all the evils in the world, most notably, the futility of bringing children into an over-populated world threatened with nuclear conflagration. Brother and sister quarrel, and the dinner party turns into a complete shambles.

And so it goes. There is a disastrous double date, disastrous because Sophia is certain she has been set up by Eloïse. She later lands a position teaching French to new Quebeckers, and this seems to settle her down. And a hopeful closing sequence with couples – they all seem to be from Sophia’s class – moving in little rowboats across a lake in what looks like Parc Lafontaine. This idyllic sequence might be intended as homage to the final shot in Jacques Rivette’s 1974 film Céline and Julie Go Boating.

Funny, smart and charming, I thoroughly enjoyed Mme. Chokri’s debut feature, which I caught at Montreal’s Cinéma Beaubien last summer. A lively soundtrack features, among other delights, Petula Clark singing in French “Un jeune homme bien,” her cover of the Kinks’ 1965 hit “A Well-Respected Man”.

In French with English subtitles.
Running time: 117 min.
Rated PG.
Available at Glebe Video.

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