If Oscars were awarded on the basis of generating pure joy, this year’s leading candidate would be 20 Feet From Stardom, a delightful and engrossing documentary on the strange life of “should be famous” back-up singers. Spanning four decades and mostly focusing on five incredible female vocalists who have helped everyone from Sting to David Bowie become gold-plated music icons, Stardom manages to be both informative and exhilarating.
A couple of the singers – Darlene Love, one of Phil Spector’s ‘60s girl-group superstars, and Merry Clayton, most celebrated for her scalding duet with Mick Jagger on Gimme Shelter – have some name recognition. The others are less well known, even if their vocal chops are equally impressive. As the documentary unfolds, what fascinates are the different attitudes of these singers. Some, like Clayton, tried and failed to be stars in their own right. Then there is Lisa Fischer, a dazzling vocalist for the Rolling Stones who shuns the spotlight and prefers to make perfect harmonies in the background. We also see one of the singers resort to being a housemaid during tough times, and another who gets some very belated recognition at one of those glitzy Hall of Fame ceremonies.
Those vagaries are nicely counterpointed with smart comments by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler.
But best of all are the many musical moments, when we watch and listen as these awesome singers bring on the harmonies… and transform a good song into something spine-tinglingly memorable.
(20 Feet From Stardom plays Sun.-Wed., Oct. 13-16, at UVic’s Cinecenta).
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS -(Odeon/SilverCity/Empire Uni 4/Westshore) Talented director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy) tells the true tale of a ship captain (Tom Hanks) whose boat is captured by Somali pirates.
MACHETE KILLS -(SilverCity) The irrepressible Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Grindhouse) churns out a lurid, jokily-violent sequel to his drive-in-style splatterfest about a machete-swinging dude (Danny Trejo) with a gory taste for vengeance. Co-starring Mel Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Lady Gaga, and Antonia Banderas.
★★ PARANOIA -(Roxy, 9:10) This overwrought tale of deadly, high-stakes corporate espionage has a great cast (Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford) and a cheesy plot.
THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) In this romantic comedy a dishwasher falls in love with a bride on the day of her wedding. Too bad she’s marrying another dude.
ROMEO & JULIET -(SilverCity) Shakespeare’s immortal romantic tragedy returns to the silver screen in lush period detail, this time in an adaptation by novelist Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey).
★★★★ WATERMARK -(Odeon) The newest collaboration between documentary filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky (Manufactured Landscapes) is a profound and engaging meditation on our complex relationship with water – and especially how our use of technology is affecting the world’s water supplies.
BESHARAM -(Empire 6) This Bollywood-style romantic comedy from India features a delightful rascal of a fellow who lives in a Delhi orphanage … and steals cars to help support his struggling home.
★★★★BLUE JASMINE -(Caprice) Cate Blanchett is headed for an Oscar nomination for her role as an emotionally fragile woman struggling to recover after her life as a glamorous socialite implodes. Complete with a great cast, this is one of Woody Allen’s best films. Ever.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 -(SilverCity/Westshore/Empire Uni 4) The wacky animated comedy about an infamous machine that churns out scary food-animal hybrids was popular enough to merit a sequel. Consider yourself warned! With the vocal talents of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and Will Forte.
★★½ DESPICABLE ME 2 -(Caprice) The 2010 original, about a loathsome criminal mastermind who was reformed by the love of three young orphan girls, was a goofy delight. The sequel, although still clever, is much more scattershot, with an unimaginative plot and unwelcome dashes of mean spiritedness. Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, and Russell Brand supply the voices.
★★★ DON JON -(Empire 6/SilverCity) Talented actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) turned writer-director for this wry comedy about a guy with a porn addiction who is having trouble finding happiness and intimacy with his real-life girlfriend. Beneath the raunch this is a movie with insight, wit and even a bit of heart.
★★½ELYSIUM -(Caprice) Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star in a futuristic sci-fi thriller where the Earth has become a polluted ghetto and the lucky few get to live in luxury on a floating space station orbiting languidly above. Well, that’s about to change. It’s hard to argue with the politics, but this new film by the writer-director of District 9 is too heavy-handed and cliched to take seriously.
★★★½ENOUGH SAID -(Odeon) The latest from delightfully quirky writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Please Give, Friends With Money) features a divorced woman who sets her sights on a man – only to learn that he is the much-loathed ex-husband of her new gal pal. This sweet, clever, sexy, and insightful sort-of romantic comedy stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and, sigh, the late James Gandolfini.
★★★½GRAVITY -(Odeon/SilverCity/Empire Uni 4/Westshore) Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a harrowing, brilliantly-executed thriller about two astronauts aboard a space station who survive an accident only to find themselves drifting helplessly through space, with little hope of rescue or survival.
★★INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 -(Empire 6) The poor old Lambert family once again find themselves doing battle with evil entities from the darkest corners of the spirit world in this nightmarish but rather jumbled sequel. With Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Barbara Hershey.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY -(Caprice) In this prequel to the 2001 animated smash about fuzzy plush-toy monsters, we go back to the early days when Sully (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) met at university.
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES -(Caprice) Only the bones were left after the critics universally savaged this derivative, overwrought tale of a young woman who discovers that she has unusual powers as she gets drawn into a battle involving a band of angel-like creatures struggling to quash a demonic threat to the entire world.
PARKLAND -(Empire 6) Zac Efron and Paul Giamatti star in a drama that recreates the chaos that erupted at Parkland Hospital in Dallas the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
★★★½ PRISONERS -(Empire 6/Westshore) Quebec director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) has been getting great praise for this bleak and violent police procedural about two kidnapped girls and the dad who will do anything to get them back. The superb cast includes Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Melissa Leo. See review.
★★ RIDDICK -(Caprice) Vin Diesel blasts back into outer space for the latest iteration of this gory and terrifying sci-fi series about a fugitive who once again finds himself battling alien predators and bounty hunters who want his head – literally.
RUNNER RUNNER -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) A smart college student with a knack for gambling (Justin Timberlake) hooks up with a sinister offshore entrepreneur (Ben Affleck) who runs an online poker empire from a corrupt Caribbean island. This has become one of the worst-reviewed movies of the year.
★★★RUSH -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore/Empire Uni 4) Gifted mainstream director Ron Howard (Apollo 13) delivers high-octane thrills and lots of human drama as he tackles this biopic about the legendary 1970s rivalry between Formula 1 race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
SMURFS 2 -(Caprice) The blue munchkins are back for more pint-sized adventures, this one involving a sorcerer and a diabolical kidnapping
★★★THE SPECTACULAR NOW -(Empire 6) Spectacular reviews have greeted this insightful and fresh look at the challenges of teenaged first love. Mature themes and emotionally persuasive performances make this of special interest.
TURBO -(Caprice) The latest from Dreamworks Animation is a family comedy about an ordinary garden snail who acquires magic powers – and the chance to achieve his dream of winning the Indy 500. With the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Maya Rudolph, and Samuel L. Jackson.
★★½WE’RE THE MILLERS -(Caprice) Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston star in a crass comedy about a long-time pot dealer who hires a stripper and two feral teens to pretend to be his middle class family as cover for when he smuggles a massive load of weed across the border from Mexico to the States. Intermittently quite funny, this is a case of talented performers struggling with a second-rate script.
★★★WOLVERINE -(Roxy, 7:00) Hairy-faced and Adamantium-clawed Hugh Jackman travels to Japan to confront the diabolical Silver Samurai, in an entertaining Marvel Comics smackdown that combines X-men flair with martial arts and yakuza elements.
Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365.
★★★I’M SO EXCITED! -(Fri.-Sat., Oct. 11-12: 3:00, 7:10, 9:00) Spain’s superstar director Pedro Almodovar returns to his transgressive bad-boy roots with this crazy, highly sexualized comedy about what happens aboard a passenger jet when it seems that they may be due to crash.
THE CROODS -(Sat.-Sun., Oct. 12-13: 1:00 matinee) A prehistoric family taking an unexpected “road trip” into a magical land is the plot of this whimsical animated charmer (which has been getting great reviews). With the vocal talents of Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, and Ryan Reynolds.
★★★★ 20 FEET FROM STARDOM -(Sun., Oct. 13: 3:00, 7:10, 9:00 & Mon.-Wed., 7:10, 9:00) The lives of talented but nearly anonymous back-up singers in some of the biggest bands in the world are explored in a marvellous documentary that includes archival footage and interviews. Featuring Darlene Love, Merry Clayton … and slightly more famous performers like David Bowie, Sheryl Crow, Mick Jagger, and Ray Charles. Anyone who enjoys Motown and R&B will love this ravishing showcase of full-throttle singing. See review.
KRAY (THE EDGE) -(Thurs., Oct. 14: 7:00, 9:30) This year’s “Galichenko Russian Film Night” features Russia’s submission for the 2011 Oscars, a multiple-award-winning dystopic action/love story about Second World War soldiers trapped in Siberia.
THE VIC THEATRE
The newly-reopened Vic Theatre is located at 808 Douglas Street. Info: thevic.ca
CRAZY WISDOM -(Fri., Oct. 11 7:00) A legendary teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is featured in this documentary about the so-called “bad boy of Buddhism” who came to the West and gave highly untraditional teachings.
WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES -(Sat., Oct. 12: 7:00) The Vic concludes its International Buddhist Film Festival with this 2012 documentary exploring the complex interactions between contemporary Tibetan Buddhism and western culture.
★★★THE PRINCESS BRIDE -(Sun., Oct. 12: 7:00) Rob Reiner’s classic, much-loved spoof of fairy tales is this month’s “quote along” movie.
THE ACT OF KILLING -(Mon.-Wed., Oct. 14-16: 7:00) This chilling and highly celebrated documentary features former Indonesian death-squad leaders reenacting and otherwise candidly discussing their roles in the murders of countless citizens.
COMPUTER CHESS -(Thurs., Oct. 17: 7:00) Chess buffs should savour this comedy, set in the 1980s, that features a man-versus-machine chess tournament.
MOVIE MONDAY - is screening Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which should make sushi fans should swoon thanks to its delightful portrait of Japan’s 85-year-old master of sushi, Jiro, the Yoda of raw fish. 6:30 pm Monday in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.