Music

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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The Age of Innocence Lost

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Magnolia Pictures

Full disclosure: Due to a professional detour, I saw fewer films in 2010 than in any of the previous 14 years. No self-respecting critic or dedicated movie buff would stand for that, and to change it is a top priority for the new year. But for this annual list-making exercise, it means there are a couple more sentimental favorites in place of critically defensible choices.

Musically, the oversaturating trifecta of Lady Gaga, Eminem and Justin Bieber effectively drove me to the thriving scenes in Japan and South Korea. Unadulterated pop music is making a comeback on a global scale, but folks in Asia craft it exceptionally enough to truly transcend any language barrier.

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Finding Neverland

MOVIE REVIEW
Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009)

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Kevin Mazur/AEG/Getty Images

Genuine tribute or cynical money making ploy? That question has surrounded “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” since the project — a compilation of rehearsal footage and behind the scenes interviews accrued during the run-up to Jackson’s planned 50 dates at London’s O2 Arena — was announced shortly after the King of Pop’s death. By keeping the film shrouded in secrecy, first showing it to most critics last night and at a courtesy screening this morning, Sony Pictures and AEG Live did little to stem the tide of suspicion.

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Die Fidelity

MOVIE REVIEW
I Need That Record! (2008)

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Brendan Toller/Unsatisfied Films

Independent record stores — as with most independent retailers — are dying out. Small chains simply can’t compete with big-box or Internet retailers on price or the “long tail” — the ability to stock small amounts of the majority of items, which sell only very small numbers. But what they lack in mainstream success, the smaller shops make up for with a synesthetic shopping experience that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere. Some call this heart, others authenticity, still others community spirit.

Director Brendan Toller taps into the longing for this experience in “I Need That Record!” via the owners of Record Express and Trash American Style, two shops near his hometown in Connecticut. Record Express’s closing was the impetus for the film, in which Mr. Toller went on a road trip to other small record stores in Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts to discuss how the music industry and retail markets have changed, and what small store owners are doing about it.

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Got the World on Six Strings

MOVIE REVIEW
It Might Get Loud (2009)

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Eric Lee/Sony Pictures Classics

One could argue that in his latest film, Davis Guggenheim — the Academy Award-winning documentarian behind “An Inconvenient Truth” — has outdone the impressive accomplishment of imbuing an Al Gore slideshow with riveting dramatic heft. For “It Might Get Loud,” he’s assembled Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, three musicians who have never been especially prone to talking about themselves or their craft, and gotten them to candidly face his cameras and do just that.

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Yelp It From the Rooftops

MOVIE REVIEW
Echoes of Home (2007)

Christian_Zehnder
Polyfilm Verleih

Folk music has a difficult time of it in this modern world. There’s the need to preserve the old sounds and traditions, but also the need to make them relevant to people now. Without contemporary interest, the music is reduced to museum status and the performers to archivists, but when the music is moved forward into a modern style, it becomes something new and more uncategorizable.

“Echoes of Home” is about three Swiss musicians who are caught between these two conflicting needs. The traditional music of Switzerland is yodelling – the perfect way to ensure sounds and messages are carried across the enormous mountain ranges, and up and down the valley. But this specific need of theirs speaks to something wider within their culture. As demonstrated by the eager mature students featured in an evening class, yodelling seems to be an excellent way for the proper, polite Swiss to really let rip.

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Setting Off the Heavy Metal Detector

MOVIE REVIEW
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009)

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Brent J. Craig/Anvil! The Story of Anvil

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil” documents the tragicomic story of Anvil, the band of Canadian heavy metal rockers that showed some promise in the 1980s before lapsing into relative obscurity. In the best tradition of such ventures, however, it’s really about much more. The film is not a musical hagiography, or an apologia for the band and its commercial failings. It is instead a hopeful testament to the power of unrelenting optimism and the contentment that can come from refining the definition of success.

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