Ray (15)<br/>Dear Frankie (12A)<br/>Ladder 49 (12A)<br/>Elektra (12A)<br/>Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (PG)<br/>Mean Streets (15)

Georgia on his mind and a shine on his Cadillac
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If any pop musician is entitled to a biopic, it's the late Ray Charles. The child of a dirt-poor washerwoman in rural Florida, Charles went blind when he was aged seven, having already seen his brother drown, and he was orphaned soon afterwards. Nonetheless, he had the incredible will power, not to mention the talent, to become one of pop's greatest innovators, as well as being a wily businessman and one of the first black stars to boycott segregated Southern venues. However, just so he doesn't seem too saintly, he was a womanising heroin addict, too.

If any pop musician is entitled to a biopic, it's the late Ray Charles. The child of a dirt-poor washerwoman in rural Florida, Charles went blind when he was aged seven, having already seen his brother drown, and he was orphaned soon afterwards. Nonetheless, he had the incredible will power, not to mention the talent, to become one of pop's greatest innovators, as well as being a wily businessman and one of the first black stars to boycott segregated Southern venues. However, just so he doesn't seem too saintly, he was a womanising heroin addict, too.

If the story is a one-in-a-million, though, Ray (15) is no more than a serviceable example of the genre - the kind of glossy period film in which every car is a spotless, gleaming design classic, and every suit looks suspiciously as if it's never been worn before. It's commendably honest about Charles's selfish pragmatism, but its only remarkable attribute is the performance of Jamie Foxx, who metamorphises so completely that he's virtually unrecognisable as the cabby from Collateral. But if you want some insight into the soul of Ray Charles, the record shop is still the place to go.

Dear Frankie (12A) stars Emily Mortimer as a Scottish single mum who has told her deaf, nine-year-old son that his absent father is actually a sailor on a ship named the HMS Accra. She even forges letters from this imaginary globe-trotter, so when it turns out that the Accra is due to dock in the local harbour, Mortimer has to recruit a stranger (Gerard Butler) to impersonate him. Despite its high concept, Dear Frankie is a low-key film, with such a moderate pace and a cosy look - porridge-coloured knitwear seems to be de rigueur - that it would be more at home on TV than in the cinema. Still, Andrea Gibb has thought her plot through cleverly, Butler is more credible as an ordinary man than he is as a Phantom of the Opera, and Mortimer, making use of the Scottish accent she honed in Young Adam, is vulnerable enough to let us sympathise with a potentially despicable character.

Firemen are splendid people, and if you know that already then the simplistic, reverential Ladder 49 (12A) has absolutely nothing to tell you.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as a Baltimore fire fighter who, while trapped in a towering inferno, thinks back on his life as an all-American paragon. When he's not saving lives, he's a loving family man, but he always has time to enjoy a beer and a practical joke with the guys at the firehouse. And if that weren't angelic enough, he's even got Irish roots, as the tin whistles on the soundtrack never stop reminding us. The film-makers apparently believe that with someone so fantastic on hand for us to worship and adore, we shouldn't ask for plot or depth or characters who have as many as two dimensions. You'd be better off watching Fireman Sam.

Elektra (12A) belongs in the Superhero Film Hall Of Shame, right next to the dreaded likes of Catwoman and The Punisher. A cut-price, dated and shoddy spin-off of 2003's Daredevil movie - no masterpiece, itself - it stars Jennifer Garner as a ninja assassin who's being pursued by a squad of mystical Japanese villains. It makes several disastrous errors, chief of which is lumbering Elektra with a bratty adolescent sidekick, but what's unforgivable is that it can't even dish up the necessary fight scenes. We sit through what seems like hours of slow-motion introspection before any action comes along, and when it does it's not worth the wait.

Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (PG) is the first third of Theo Angelopoulos's elegy for 20th-century Greece. In three hours it encompasses the life of Eleni, who survives exile, imprisonment, war, bereavement and incessantly grim weather from 1919 to 1949. On the bright side, there's also love, music and motherhood in her life, and, for those with the patience for Angelopoulos's stately art, there are sublime tableaux that merge earthy naturalism with eerily mythical grandeur.

Mean Streets (15) is a semi-autobiographical film (note the initials) made by Martin Scorsese in 1973, and starring Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro as two callow wise guys ricocheting around the streets of Little Italy.

Although Scorsese had made another film beforehand, watching Mean Streets now is like hearing a hungry young rock band proving what they can do by pouring every technique, influence and experience at their disposal into a scorching debut album.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

Comments