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Tragic tale of star who fell to earth

Review: Whitney

By Damon Smith

My first memory of Whitney Houston was an infectious smile framed by tumbling curls of caramel hair telling me - and anyone who would listen - that she wanted to dance with somebody.

The whole world danced with Houston in the summer of 1987, propelling her to the top of the charts.

Staccato bursts of that dance floor anthem open Kevin Macdonald's revealing documentary, which arrives one year after Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal's poignant Whitney: Can I Be Me.

The two portraits of doomed musical genius share some narrative threads, including the importance of best friend Robyn Crawford to Houston's well-being, and the spiral of self-destruction which followed her marriage to bad boy singer Bobby Brown.

Macdonald had unrivalled access to the family's archives and lovingly assembles home movie footage which reveals the humour and the anguish behind the polished stage persona.

Whitney shows boundless affection for its luminous subject but Macdonald's absorbing film is by no means a hagiography as unflattering images of Houston in a stupor are juxtaposed with her failing to hit the high notes in I Will Always Love You. What sets this apart is the suggestion that Houston's downfall may have been precipitated by child abuse.

Friends and family members go as far as to name the person they believe was responsible.

Equally sobering are interviews with her brothers, who recall taking drugs with Houston, and the inescapable feeling that no one in her entourage was willing to drag her back from oblivion when her gruelling schedule paid their wages.

Euphoric live performances are a desperately sad reminder of the immense talent we all lost on February 11, 2012.

Four stars

The First Purge: Prequel hopefully final slaughter

Five years ago, writer-director James DeMonaco terrified cinema audiences with The Purge.

His bloodthirsty horror thriller imagined a night when citizens of America can arm themselves with knives and guns to kill anyone they choose without legal reprisals.

The film spawned two sequels and now Gerard McMurray replaces DeMonaco in the director's chair for a redundant and predictable prequel, which traces the origins of the carnage to a sociological experiment in New York City.

The First Purge doesn't advance the franchise's narrative, other than to pin the blame for the slaughter on one female behavioural scientist.

DeMonaco's script makes familiar arguments about race and class divisions, while it aims barbs at the current US administration.

Balletic, slow-motion death sequences are strikingly similar to the skirmishes in other instalments and the words of defiance that punctuate the final scene suggest that we may yet return to this barbaric vision of hell on earth.

The First Purge will hopefully be the last word from DeMonaco about this alternate universe of "freeing violence".

The first cut is supposedly the deepest, but McMurray's origin story barely leaves a scratch.

Three stars

Uncle Drew: Basketball caper fails to net glory

In 2012, professional basketball player Kyrie Irving aged five decades with the help of make-up and a white wig to portray street smart Uncle Drew in a TV ad.

The wise-cracking old coot became a popular figure, pranking cocksure players with a spring in his supposedly arthritic step and a twinkle in his eye.

This feature-length sports comedy dunks almost as many punchlines as it misses.

The film employs a familiar structure - fearless underdogs put their hearts on the line in pursuit of glory.

The unlikely hero is basketball fan Dax (Lil Rel Howery), who hopes to win the Rucker Classic street basketball tournament with a crew led by star player Casper (Aaron Gordon).

But whena fierce rival steals Dax's well-drilled team, Dax is advised to track down one-time street basketball legend Uncle Drew (Irving).

The retired hoop master agrees on the condition that he can reunite former team mates including Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal).

Uncle Drew is an amiable journey of self-discovery that doesn't deviate from a well-trodden path of cliches and dewy-eyed sentimentality.

Howery is a likeable ringleader, who must overcome a high school trauma to achieve his destiny.

Three stars

Belfast Telegraph

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