Music

When the Saints Go Marching In

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The Kennedy/Marshall Company/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story (2022)

In a way, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” feels like “Summer of Soul ( . . . Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” with melanin vastly depleted. Directors Ryan Suffern and Frank Marshall seem oblivious at best, ignorant at worst, glossing over glaring questions so as to not hold anyone accountable for apparent inequities on display, making the proceedings as pleasant and inoffensive as possible to make nice with white upper-middle-class boomers who presumably make up their target audience.

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Doing It

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SXSW

MOVIE REVIEW
Charli XCX: Alone Together (2022)

This short (67 minutes) documentary about underappreciated pop star Charli XCX owes a great deal to “Madonna: Truth or Dare” (aka “In Bed With Madonna”). Well, most every music documentary is in the shadow of “Truth or Dare” but here the parallels are explicit. Alek Keshishian’s revolutionary documentary focused on the closed world of Madonna and her dancers on tour; here co-directors Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler focus on the closed world of a singer and her fans (many of whom are gay, hence the movie being shown as part of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival) in private online spaces during the 2020 lockdown. And while Warren Beatty famously whined that Madonna didn’t want to live off-camera, there seems to be no moment of Charli’s life where she’s not performing for a camera. The key difference, of course, is that Madonna’s dancers were professionals, paid to be there, while Charli’s fans – Angels, of course – are teenagers and young adults from around the world, desperate for attention from a singer who puts that desperation to work for her.

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Losing Her Religion

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Andrew Catlin/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Nothing Compares (2022)

In January 2022 Sinead O’Connor’s 17-year-old son, Shane, committed suicide. This hideous fact will no doubt color the reception of Kathryn Ferguson’s fine documentary “Nothing Compares.” Any praise seems callow in the face of her grief and any criticism feels like twisting the knife. This is especially due to the upsetting public display of Ms. O’Connor’s private grief, part of her tendency to live her every thought out loud, which has been at the heart of her public persona since she began gigging in Dublin as a teenager. This blurring of the personal and the professional is different when a musician does it. A similarly confessional artist like Tracey Emin does can blur the lines because her fame is limited and therefore the reaction more controllable. But Ms. O’Connor’s fame and her notoriety are global, and she ripped up her global career when she ripped up a photo of the Pope on “Saturday Night Live” in 1992. “Nothing Compares” limits its focus to the years of her global rise and sudden fall, from 1987 to 1993. If you think of this documentary as a package of the greatest hits, that makes sense. But as with any compilation album, a lot of nuances are lost.

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Rock the Kasbah

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Rita Baghdadi/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Sirens (2022)

“Sirens” is pitched as a documentary about a year in the life of Slave to Sirens, Lebanon’s only all-girl heavy metal band. What “Sirens” is actually about is the difficulty of being gay in a society where gayness isn’t widely accepted. The ensuring drama both experienced and created by band members who are also lesbians is completely fascinating, but it reduces three of the band’s five members to mere window dressing. Their names are barely even mentioned, and that’s just not fair. But this is what happens when drama takes over: the attention follows. We just can’t help it.

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Searching for the Real Love

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Amazon Studios

MOVIE REVIEW
Mary J. Blige’s My Life (2021)

The first two credits that appear in the “Mary J. Blige’s My Life” documentary belong to the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself and producer Sean “Diddy” Combs, one of the masterminds behind the seminal album referenced in the title. Those are a bit concerning given how Prime Video’s other recent music documentary “Pink: All I Know So Far” has turned out. Thankfully, Ms. Blige isn’t interested in a glowing profile of herself. During the film, she revisits an old TV interview during which she appeared evasive and seemed to be lashing out. This movie affords an opportunity to set the record straight and finally answer those invasive and uncomfortable questions with her guard down and the wisdom and introspection that only come with age and experience.

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Family Portrait

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Andrew Macpherson/Amazon Studios

MOVIE REVIEW
Pink: All I Know So Far (2021)

“Pink: All I Know So Far” is the cinematic equivalent of a fawning cover story from a magazine on display at the supermarket checkout aisle – not the tabloids; not Billboard; not Rolling Stone; but People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly. The film follows 20 days out of the pop singer’s 19 month long “Beautiful Trauma” world tour with her husband, Carey Hart, and children, Willow and Jameson, in tow. Although Pink and Mr. Hart insist the 225 tour staff members are also family, none are interviewed on camera.

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A Great Season in Harlem

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Mass Distraction Media/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Summer of Soul (. . . Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) (2021)

A documentary on the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969 – when Woodstock took place upstate – “Summer of Soul” features previously unseen footage from this star-studded but mostly forgotten event, with performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and many more.

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Hot Fuzz

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Jake Polonsky/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Sparks Brothers (2021)

“The Sparks Brothers” is an Edgar Wright documentary; and fun is the operative word. No stodginess allowed! Unlike the incredibly tedious “Summer of Soul (. . . or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)” that also premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Mr. Wright seizes every opportunity to make this a lively experience – yes, he is not above IDing talking heads Nick Rhodes and John Taylor as Duran and Duran.

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Unsung Heroes

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2016 Tribeca Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
Bad Rap (2016)

The documentary “Bad Rap” encapsulates the travails of Asian-American rappers striving to make their voices heard. Some profiled here are relatively well known, most notably Awkwafina, who has parlayed her viral hit into VH1 punditry and bit movie roles. Another is Dumbfounded, an underground artist who recently garnered mainstream attention spitting verses on #OscarsSoWhite and #WhitewashedOut with the viral track “Safe.” Jin, the first Asian-American rapper to score a major label deal following an impressive freestyle-battle winning streak on BET, gets honorable-mention treatment.

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When 'Pirates' Becomes the Pirated

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Central Pictures Corporation

If you were one of the 9 million people who illegally downloaded “Fast Five,” it might not occur to you that 2011 was a magnificent year at the movies. And you wouldn’t be interested in any of the myriad 10-best lists, let alone one you’re about to read from some obscure critic. This is not about fancy art films with subtitles being more legitimate than Hollywood blockbusters. If you pride yourself on being a movie buff, you would insist on seeing “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” in Imax. Then you would agree that 2011 was indeed awesome. But since you already know movies like “Hugo,” “A Dangerous Method,” “The Tree of Life,” “Melancholia” and “The Descendants” to be great, this list champions films that need a little cosmic extra push.

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