Femme jazz musicians get their due in cheer-worthy 'Girls in the Band'
We're in a very fertile period for music documentaries at the moment, non-fiction films that explore hidden corners of our cultural musical heritage that too many of us never even knew existed. The latest case in point is Judy Chaikin's smart, informative, and rewarding The Girls In the Band. Her subject is the pioneering female musicians who have battled racism, sexism, and every other kind of obstacle to play jazz onstage, from the big band era of the 1930s and '40s, and on into the present day.
Art, technology meet in audacious 'Tim's Vermeer'
It's not the sort of declaration you hear every day. "I want to paint a Vermeer," announces self-described technology geek Tim Jenison. "And I'm not a painter." Why would a seemingly ordinary person who is not an artist even conceive of such a crazy goal, much less pursue it? You might find the answer surprising—or possibly infuriating—but absolutely fascinating in Tim's Vermeer, the new documentary by magicians and Renaissance men Penn and Teller. It's an eye-opening meditation on art, science, and the nature of the creative process.
Still room for surprises in this year's Oscar race
Don't look now, but it's time for the "O" word—and I do mean Oscars. The Academy Awards will be a little late this year, postponed to this Sunday, March 2, so as not to, er, compete with the Olympics, giving oddsmakers, Oscar party revelers, and other prognosticators a little extra time to try to predict the winners.
This isn't nearly as precarious, or as much fun, as it used to be. These days, by the time the Oscars roll around, the other showbiz organizations—Golden Globes, BAFTAs, the industry craft guilds, the Pampered Pooch Hollywood Dogwalkers Association (OK, I made up that last one)—have already handed out their awards, so there are already clear front-runners in several categories. Still, you can always count on the Academy for a few weirdsmobile selections, just to prove how unpredictable its voters are.
Modern pilgrims trek to Santiago in engrossing doc 'Walking the Camino'
You may require a tube of Ben-Gay after you watch Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. Not that it's an ordeal to sit through this movie; far from it. Filmmaker Lydia B. Smith has crafted an engrossing documentary about the fabled medieval pilgrimage route from southern France across northern Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and the international mix of modern-day pilgrims who choose to follow "the way."
But the pilgrimage itself is so enormous, and Smith so skillfully inserts the viewer into every twist and turn of the 500-mile, 35-day trek that the audience starts to feel as physically exhausted as the participants. Happily, as the individual stories play out onscreen, we also begin to share at least an inkling of the particular brand of madness and exaltation that drives these pilgrims on to achieve their physical, mental, and/or spiritual goals.
Love over 50 explored in lively 'Gloria'
Here's something you don't see in the movies every day: a mature (as in over 50) adult woman with a functioning sex life at the center of a film. If you took a wild guess that this is not a Hollywood production, right you are. This marvel occurs in Gloria, a Chilean film about a woman of a certain age determined not to fade away just because she's divorced and her kids are grown. Chile's official entry into the 2014 Academy Awards Foreign Language category, Gloria is powered by a dynamic performance from its star, Paulina Garcia, as a woman who refuses to give up on life.Garcia won the Silver Bear Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for this role, and it's easy to see why. She plays the title character with a mix of cheerful intelligence and asperity, an innate wisdom still tempered with hope. Her quirky, expressive mouth and cool appraising eyes always give the audience something lively to look at onscreen. Director Sebastian Lelio trusts Garcia to provide his film with its life force, and she does not disappoint. As Gloria searches for ways to spice up her days and nights, we empathize with her quest for love, dignity, and respect.