×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Brothers Hypnotic’

Lively, funny and at times philosophical, Reuben Atlas' debut docu chronicles the rise of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble with great sensitivity.

With:
Gabriel “Hudah” Hubert, Saiph “Cid” Graves, Tycho “LT” Cohran, Amal Baji Hubert, Jafar Baji “Yosh” Graves, Seba “Clef” Graves, Tarik “Smoove” Graves, Uttama “Rocco” Hubert, Phil Cohran, Maia, Aquilla Sadalla Graves, Mos Def, Damon Albarn, Prince, Tony Allen.

After spending several years chronicling the rise of fiery eight-member brother band the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, first-time filmmaker Reuben Atlas manages to capture most of the elements that make the group such a sui generis force. Lively, funny and at times philosophical, “Brothers Hypnotic” tackles the challenges of maintaining an independent music career, as well as some knotted generational conflicts, and handles it all with great sensitivity. Docu premiered at SXSW earlier this spring, and ought to have continuing life at fests and on VOD.

Above all else, the film does an excellent job of capturing and contextualizing the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s brand of sinewy musical magic. An idiosyncratic fusion of jazz, funk, Afrobeat and more than a smidge of hip-hop, the group’s horn-dominated arrangements rely on an uncommonly intense interpersonal chemistry, and it’s no secret where that chemistry comes from. Sons of Chicago jazz polymath and Black Consciousness figure Phil Cohran, the brothers all grew up in a huge, unconventional family (though they share the same father, the group’s eight players count three different mothers, two of whom helped raise the communal brood side-by-side), practicing music for hours every day and performing in the Phil Cohran Youth Ensemble.

In forming Hypnotic, the group made a partial break from their father, and the struggle to re-evaluate and reinterpret his uncompromising musical and political ideals for a modern era, while retaining his anti-establishment spirit, becomes ever more acute as the group’s profile rises. In a sense, the band members’ complicated relationships with their imposing paterfamilias form an intriguing microcosm of the tensions between the hip-hop generation and its civil-rights-era forebears, which gives the film a much more potent throughline than the simple “perils of success” tropes in which so many music docs traffic.

First seen playing on the streets of Manhattan (where they reason they can make just as much money as playing in clubs), the group eventually graduates to venues like Lincoln Center and major European festivals. Whereas artistic integrity is something so many contempo artists grouse about before signing on to do a Pepsi commercial, Hypnotic clearly take the concept seriously. They turn down an early contract offer from Atlantic Records, and when they’re given opportunities to play with the likes of Mos Def, Damon Albarn and Prince, they first thoughtfully debate whether the gigs are worth the tradeoff of being seen as someone else’s backing band. Yet this is hardly a dour, Fugazi-like indie operation: After jamming with Prince at an Irish concert, the brothers walk offstage and can do nothing but scream with joy and disbelief.

Perhaps inevitably, given the sheer number of characters involved, the film has occasional difficulty differentiating the various musicians’ personalities — referring to them by order of birth doesn’t help — but nearly all of them exhibit the laid-back, improvisational comedic instincts of veteran street showmen. Even a near-meltdown in a recording studio is softened by the brotherly banter that continues throughout the crisis, and a scene in which two of them endlessly dissect a paragraph-long album review recalls “This Is Spinal Tap” in the best possible way.

In addition to his own footage, Atlas draws from a wealth of archival tapes and homevideo, with understandably variable quality. Yet the sound fidelity is consistently fantastic, befitting a band that sounds more or less the same whether it’s playing on street corners, ritzy concert hall stages or cramped New York City apartments.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Brothers Hypnotic'

Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival (Summer Showcase), June 16, 2013. (Also in SXSW, Hot Docs film festivals.) Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: A Pandora Film Center presentation. Produced by Reuben Atlas, Sam Pollard.

Crew: Directed by Reuben Atlas. Camera (color, HD), Sean Porter, Ari Issler, Dan Fridman, Atlas; editor, Keiko Deguchi; sound, Daniel Brooks, John Mathie; re-recording mixer, Matthew Polis; associate producer, Jamin Mendelsohn.

With: Gabriel “Hudah” Hubert, Saiph “Cid” Graves, Tycho “LT” Cohran, Amal Baji Hubert, Jafar Baji “Yosh” Graves, Seba “Clef” Graves, Tarik “Smoove” Graves, Uttama “Rocco” Hubert, Phil Cohran, Maia, Aquilla Sadalla Graves, Mos Def, Damon Albarn, Prince, Tony Allen.

More Film

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content