New in Theaters
(Playing at the Durango Stadium 9 unless noted)
20 Feet From Stardom. (Playing at the Animas City Theatre, 128 E. College Drive through Sept. 12)
Many people know what it’s like to be in the crowd of their favorite music artist’s concert, or maybe even snag a fan photo with them. Some just dream of being an audience member. Either way, most don’t know what it’s like to be on that stage beside them or in the recording studio performing with them. But in Morgan Neville’s new documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” that’s what movie audiences get to live through vicariously for 90 minutes. The film profiles a handful of professional back-up singers from the 1960s to the present.
This is a documentary that makes the audience really feel like they are a part of the world they are experiencing on the big screen, both visually and through the singers’ tales. Though premature, “20 Feet” may have what it takes to reach the level of relevancy and acclaim as classic music documentaries like “Woodstock” (1970), “The Last Waltz” (1978) and “Stop Making Sense” (1984).
Neville’s feature investigates and teaches viewers the process of song-making through the eyes of the voices who harmonize in the background and are mostly overlooked by fans. Those background voices put the final, important touch on the music. Profiled singers throughout the film include Merry Clayton, who became forever recognized as the female voice on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter;” Darlene Love, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame vocalist for Phil Spector in the 1960s; Lisa Fischer, a former backup singer for Luther Vandross and tour singer for the Stones; Judith Hill, Michael Jackson’s duet partner in “This Is It;” Claudia Lennear, who started out as an ‘Ikette’ with Ike & Tina Turner; and Stevvi Alexander, who began her music career touring with Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani.
There are some great studio and concert performances included throughout. Particularly memorable are a clip of the Talking Heads performing live with backup singers Edna Holt and Lynn Mabry, and an isolated vocal track of Clayton’s verse on “Gimme Shelter” played to Merry and Mick Jagger’s reactions. We also get some touching moments when Love, Clayton and Lennear reunite for the first time in years to discuss their careers, as well as the singers’ personal stories on how they began recording with popular artists and how it affected their personal lives.
Music legends Bruce Springsteen, Jagger, Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow and Sting as well as producer Lou Adler provide commentary on their moments with backup singers. What’s great about the film is that it doesn’t sugarcoat how hard it is to break through as a woman music artist (especially a woman of color) in show business, and the music legends themselves praise the harmonizers for their support over the years. “20 Feet from Stardom” is a fascinating and intriguing look at the recording process and how performing backup can provide a lot of opportunities for vocalists as well as stunt their own dreams of solo success. There also is some interesting insight into race relations in the music business. As of now, “20 Feet” joins Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” as one of the essential documentaries of 2013 and hard contenders for the Best Documentary category come award season next year.
Megan Bianco – Special to the Herald
We’re all being watched. All the time.
That’s a key message of “Closed Circuit,” an entertaining and well-crafted if not overly heart-stopping British conspiracy thriller starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall. Security cameras are everywhere, giving us birds-eye glimpses of each character, and reminding us that we, too, are never really alone.
Such a concept is hardly shocking in 2013. After all, we write an email, and soon an ad pops up telling us where to buy that thing we sort of mentioned. And of course we’ve learned in recent months not only of secret government surveillance but even the “Boyfriend Tracker” app for our phones. Perhaps we really do live in a post-privacy era.
But if it’s not a shocking concept, the makers of “Closed Circuit,” an intelligent film directed by John Crowley, have certainly shown how creepy it can be. In the London we see here – one of the most watched places in the world, we learn, in terms of security cameras – you never know who’s around the corner, or who’s been in your apartment, leaving a book slightly askew on your shelf. You don’t know who that cab driver or dinner-party companion truly is. You don’t even know which side your closest colleagues are on.
At least, such is life for Martin Rose (Bana) and Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall), two lawyers who become ensnared in the legal case surrounding a horrific terror attack, the bombing of a bustling London food market.
As the film begins, we’re staring, fittingly, at footage from security cameras – eventually 15 of them. Each captures a snippet of life on a busy November morning. In one frame, a truck shows up where it’s not supposed to. In an instant, 120 people are dead.
Rowing peacefully on the Thames, Martin gets a call. The lawyer defending the lone surviving terror suspect has committed suicide. Work pressure and all that. Martin’s been tapped to replace him.
As for Claudia, she’s the Special Advocate, an additional defense lawyer designated by British law to examine secret evidence to be presented in “closed session,” away from the public and the press. Even Martin cannot see this evidence.
And he’s not allowed to communicate with Claudia. This is easy at first, since the two happen to be estranged lovers. They’re ambitious enough not to reveal their past romantic entanglement and thus get removed from the case. But if they’re found out, it could end their careers.
And nothing goes according to plan, of course. As the two are drawn together by circumstance as well as their obvious mutual attraction – this is a movie, remember, and lawyers are extremely attractive in movies, even in those odd British wigs – they find themselves having to meet secretly, blatantly defying their superiors.
A smart script by Steven Knight keeps the action humming along smoothly and concisely – if sometimes, it must be said, a bit illogically.
And the two main actors are a pleasure to watch. Bana seethes with frustration and encroaching fear, and looks wonderful doing it. As for Hall, this terrific actress brings the film much of its humanity, striking that difficult balance of competence and determination tempered by a growing recognition of her frailty.
A top-notch supporting cast features the always excellent Ciaran Hinds as Martin’s close colleague, Denis Moschitto as the frightened defendant, Julia Stiles as an American journalist who’s perhaps digging too deep, and, finally, the wonderful Jim Broadbent as the Attorney General – Martin’s boss. You’ve seen Broadbent as Denis Thatcher and as Bridget Jones’ dad; now watch him play an oily official whose cordial smile seems pasted on his face. Never has an invitation to breakfast from the boss sounded quite so unappealing.
“Closed Circuit,” a Focus Features release, is rated R for language and brief violence. Running time: 96 minutes. HHH out of four.
JOCELYN NOVECK, AP National Writer
Liam Neeson has some atoning to do.
Not because of his hell bent pursuit of vengeance in “Taken” and its sequel, but for the lamentable cottage industry of cheap, imitation thrills those films hath wrought. “Taken” was by no means a groundbreaking achievement. But it was sturdy genre moviemaking, aided by the veteran weight of Neeson.
“Getaway,” starring Ethan Hawke, is not that. Its chief tension derives from the question many moviegoers will ask, biting their nails: Is this the worst movie I’ve seen this year?
Hawke plays former race car driver Brent Manga, a name that even a cartoon character would be ashamed of, and that translates literally as Brent Great. In our first introduction to Brent, he’s motoring furiously through a European capital in a manic car chase.
It brings up an intriguing existential question: Is it still a car chase if we don’t yet know the fleer, the pursuer or particularly care about either of them? It’s an early hint of the overriding trouble with “Getaway”: It tries to put the throttle down before turning the key.
We quickly learn that Brent’s wife, presumably Mrs. Great, was taken in Sofia, Bulgaria. (The setting is arbitrary, except for its low production costs.) The kidnapper (Jon Voight, mostly only heard and seen as lips on the other end of a phone line) demands Brent drive around Sofia, careening through marketplaces and, under his specific directions, causing various havoc.
Brent has little time to deliberate how this will save his wife, and the movie, too, makes scant effort to consider the harm he’s causing. Miraculously, he doesn’t run over anyone despite high-speed maneuvers that would realistically slaughter bystanders like bugs on a windshield.
At some point, Selena Gomez gets in the car, first appearing to be a hoodie-clad carjacker, then revealed as another puppet in the mysterious scheme. Her entry to the film is as smooth as a pop star being shot out of a cannon.
Cribbing from countless adrenaline-fueled concept films, from “Speed” to any Jason Statham movie you like, “Getaway” (not to be confused with the two “The Getaway” films based on Jim Thompson’s novel) tries to ride its thin concept, hoping the fumes of constant engine revving are intoxicating. Director Courtney Solomon splices together footage from cameras inside the car (from which the kidnapper eyes his pawns) and from exterior stuntmen-enabled wide shots.
The action (all at nighttime) is messily and crudely filmed. The plot mechanics are often laughable.
How, then, to explain the film’s sudden elegance in one (and only one) shot that appears toward the end of the film like a parting of the waters? Suddenly, the frantic cutting and the relentlessly grating score dissipate for a lengthy first-person perspective of a car speeding down a rolling, suburban road, gracefully sliding around traffic at dawn.
It’s a diamond that can’t make up for the other 89 minutes of rough.
“Getaway,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for “intense action, violence and mayhem throughout, some rude gestures and language.” Running time: 90 minutes. ½ star out of four.
JAKE COYLE, AP Entertainment Writer
One Direction: This is Us. (In standard format and digital 3-D with surcharge.)
Not reviewed. It’s a “documentary” about a boy band. Move on. Rated PG-13...does that stand for “prepubescent girls”?
Durango Stadium 9
(Next to Durango Mall, 247-9799, www.allentheatresinc.com)
Only God Forgives. (Wednesday only.) Ryan Gosling runs a fight club of sorts in Bangkok with his brother for some rich lady in London. When brother is killed, woman tells Ryan to seek revenge. Apparently, he does. Rated R.
The World’s End. When some guys try to complete an epic pub crawl from their glory days, they find that the world has changed in more ways than one. Rated R.
You’re Next. This is a horror film, so in this case you don’t want to be next. Rated R.
Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. When her mom is attacked and taken from their home in New York City by a demon, a seemingly ordinary teenage girl, Clary Fray, finds out truths about her past and bloodline on her quest to get her back, that changes her entire life. Rated PG-13.
Planes. (In standard format and digital 3-D with surcharge.) If they can make it talk, they’ll make a movie out of it. This one has planes. They talk. Rated PG.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. The next book-to-film installment in this latest mega-gazillion-dollar moneymaker. Rated PG.
Elysium. All the rich folks move to a paradise in the clouds while the poor folks wallow in squalor back on Earth. Some seek a better life. Rated R.
We’re the Millers. Jason Sudeikis creates a family from a bunch of derelicts to cover his drug-running activities. Rated R.
Back Space Theatre
(1120 Main Ave., 259-7940, www.thebackspacetheatre.org)
A Highjacking. If you like Somali pirates like I like Somali pirates, you’ll love this one. The crew of a Danish cargo ship is taken hostage by the pirates in the Indian Ocean and a life-and-death game of negotiation ensues between the CEO of the shipping company and the rapscallions. Rated R.
(102 Fifth St. Next to the railroad depot, 247-8133, www.allentheatresinc.com)
Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Forest Whitaker plays the butler who served Presidents for three decades at the White House. Oh, the stories he could tell...Rated PG-13.
The Way Way Back. An introverted 14-year old tries to survive summer vacation with his mom and her boyfriend (Steve Carell). Rated PG-13.
Ted Holteen and Associated PresS