20 Feet from Stardom

20 Feet from Stardom
Starring: Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer - Dir: Morgan Neville

I must confess to have being deeply disappointed when this film won the Best Documentary Oscar at this year’s awards. Which was a bit unfair of me, since I hadn’t actually seen it. It’s just that fellow nominee The Act Of Killing was such a bold, unforgettable and striking film that no straight documentary – and I include Blackfish, which I admired immensely – could really compete.

But now I’ve seen 20 Feet From Stardom and I understand what the Academy voters were thinking. It’s not in the same innovative league as The Act of Killing, but it’s a very likeable and entertaining film.

It is a film about backing singers. Like all support musicians, backing singers have been regularly overlooked and, as is often pointed out, they can regularly sing as well if not better than the people they back.  

There are a pile of fascinating stories here and fascinating titbits of information, such as the idea that the “British invasion” bands of the sixties were often the ones to give full rein to the legion of fantastic American backing singers they discovered rather than taking them for granted.

The one subject not widely touched upon is why, despite their staggering singing chops, these women remained backing singers. Charisma? Ambition? Something other than luck? But perhaps that’s unnecessary when merely spending time with them is such a pleasure.

Not deeply insightful, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

The original Anchorman film became that rare thing: a comedy that (like The Big Lebowski) grew in stature with time. Thus, very belatedly, we have Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues . I wish I could tell you that it is better. Certainly the plot update to the days of CNN and twenty-four hour news is smart and promising. And Ferrell’s Burgundy still remains one of his best comic creations. Unfortunately, the actors playing his sidekicks are now famous so require plots of their own, reinforcing the line that less is often more, while the story’s attempt at some sort of political satire regarding Fox News is simply confused.   

If you want to sink your teeth into something long, atmospheric and subtitled then you will get great pleasure from wallowing in French television series The Returned. It has, presumably because everything is these days, been called a zombie story. Which is nonsense. Though it does feature people returned from the dead. In a small French Alpine people who have died mysteriously start to return: a girl killed in a bus crash four years earlier, a small boy, a bridegroom... all appear normal and those who knew them struggle to understand what is happening. Are they alive, dead or what? Excellent stuff.

Nick Stahl is an obsessive reporter chasing a story his boss won’t print about Afghanistan. He is Afghan Luke, and the story is about a Canadian sniper, said to cut off the fingers of his kills as trophies. It’s not bad stuff. The aim is obviously an Apocalypse Now-style “madness of war” film as the craziness and contradictions pile up, though the script ultimately fails to bring the necessary horror and outrage to make it to that level. Surprisingly it’s almost a bit tame given the level of violent madness in that troubled country.
Jesse Eisenberg is watchable and makes interesting film choices. So it proves with the quirky and intermittently funny Why Stop Now. It has some problems, but not enough to spoil things. Eisenberg plays a troubled piano virtuoso on the eve of a big music school audition. But he has to get his Mum (Melissa Leo) to rehab first. Problem is, when they get there she is “too clean” so is sent off to – seriously – score one last hit of smack and therefore be allowed into rehab. Off they go to her friendly dealer (Tracy Morgan). Complications, not unexpectedly, ensue...


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