Tag: Review

Film Review: Satan & Adam

By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

“There’s never been another artist singing one of their songs on a U2 album.” —The Edge

The artist that The Edge is referring to is Sterling “Mister Satan” Magee and the song is “Freedom For My People,” which appeared on Rattle And Hum.

Mister Satan, along with his musical partner Adam Gussow, are the subjects of the new documentary Satan & Adam, directed byV. Scott Balcerek.

The film chronicles the history of the unlikely pair from the time they joined up on the streets of Harlem on the mid-1980s until present day. And what a history they have.

At the time they met, Mister Satan was a street performer (by choice) who had previous experience making music with legends like Marvin Gaye and Etta James. It’s never specified exactly why he left the business, but he played with such exuberance and joy on the sidewalk, no one seems to question it. He performed for a regular following of fans and passersby who tossed money his way in exchange for prime entertainment.

One day, on the heels of a messy breakup, Gussow found himself walking down the street where Mister Satan was performing and asked if he could join in and play. Mister Satan agreed and soon the two became known as an unlikely but endearing duo—a classic black guitarist/singer with an impressive performance resume and an Ivy-League educated white harmonica player who lacked experience. With racial tensions high at the time in New York, their partnership was a refreshing reprieve from the violence that surrounded them.

Mister Satan and Adam wrote blues riffs that are undeniably catchy and soon they got the attention of Bono and The Edge, who were in town filming portions of the U2 documentary, Rattle And Hum. Phil Joanou, who directed that film, appears in Satan & Adam along with The Edge, and recalls how special the music sounded, “It wasn’t just some guy kinda ‘Give me a buck, come on I’m on the corner. I’m just riffin’ some cover tune.’ This was something interesting.”

Joanou put a brief clip of Mister Satan and Adam in his film and U2 added the song to their album, which brought the Harlem duo a heightened level of exposure and several new fans. Soon Adam convinced Magee to record some tracks in a studio and their popularity exploded, leading to a tour of notable clubs and festivals all across the U.S. and Europe. Though they enjoyed great success, circumstances beyond their control disrupted their rise to fame. The performances came to an end and life continued for them both, but in two very different directions.

With a mix of archival footage (including a segment U2 fans will find quite familiar) and interviews with Gussow and those moved by their music, the story that emerges is that of an enduring, real friendship between two very different men that were united for a period of time by music.

If you appreciate the blues or just want to witness a pleasant real-life “buddy” movie, Satan & Adam will be right up your alley.

Satan & Adam opened in the U.S. on April 12.

(c) 2019, atu2/Kokkoris.


By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

The 2002 film, Man On The Train, by acclaimed French director Patrick Leconte, is re-imagined in a new remake, The Man On The Train, directed by Mary McGuckian, starring Donald Sutherland and Larry Mullen Jr.

Sutherland plays The Professor, a retired literature buff who lives out a lonely retirement in a lavish, hollow mansion. Mullen takes on the role of The Man, a quiet, focused criminal who spends his life not becoming too attached to anything. After the two meet-cute in a small-town pharmacy, The Man seeks temporary shelter at The Professor’s home while he prepares for his next heist.

The Professor, starved for conversation and companionship, attempts to befriend the elusive visitor, while The Man studies The Professor like a textbook. This makes for some very lengthy unintentional monologues by Sutherland, who injects the role with an impressive enthusiasm. Mullen is stoic, yet smart, as his primary listener.

What emerges is a more tender result than that of the original film — in fact, Sutherland and Mullen have such a familiar spark that they form somewhat of an indie-film odd couple. Each knows his place in the world but longs to live in the other’s shoes, if only for a moment. It’s a friendship by thoughtful default.

The film, shot on location in Canada, features gorgeous cinematography, which echoes that of the original French backdrop. The town is quaint; the landscape lush, and an overall air of “good” permeates the vibe. There is almost a sense of sadness in knowing that soon the townspeople’s only bank will be robbed.

Many U2 fans will notice the similarities in Mullen and the character he portrays. He’s a man of few words, he’s tough, he’s strong, he’s handsome and always in control. To say that he’s well-cast would be putting it mildly. Sure, he’s “playing to type” in one respect, but there are also many dimensions of The Man he brings to life that have nothing to do with rock star behaviors.

The Man, perhaps in spite of himself, develops a compassion for his host as he gets to know him. This causes him to reveal more of his life than one would suspect he normally does. In one particularly tense scene in a diner, The Man appears to hold his breath along with the audience as The Professor tries to diffuse a rowdy situation. He’s rattled … and impressed.

Mullen conveys all of these emotions and intentions primarily through his facial expressions and body language. He also somehow manages to get the audience to sympathize with his character, though for all intents and purposes, he’s playing the villain.

The film’s slow pace won’t be for everyone; it’s more artistic than action-packed, but for those who have the patience to see it through, they’ll be rewarded with a thought-provoking and satisfying end.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a beautiful extracurricular career for thespian Mullen.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2011.

Photo credit: Sophie Girau. Courtesy of Tribeca Film.

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