Catasauqua Press

Friday, July 10, 2020

'20 Feet' to summer indie films

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

Summer and blockbusters go hand in popcorn at the movies.

The watershed year for the summer blockbuster marketing mentality of the major Hollywood movie studios was 1975 with the release of director Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," which ushered in the summer blockbuster genre of big-budget, fast-paced, thrilling entertainment.

During the summer and Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year's holiday season, there's "counterprogramming," whereby "indie" (independently-released) films are released, sometimes to critical and box office success.

Examples include last summer's "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," which grossed $46 million, and "Moonrise Kingdom," which grossed $45 million. Both films received mostly rave reviews. During summer 2011, writer-director Woody Allen's acclaimed "Midnight in Paris" grossed $56.8 million.

This summer, Allen's "Blue Jasmine," with Cate Blanchett being mentioned by critics as a possible Oscar actress nominee, is yet another non-blockbuster summer release. The San Francisco-set drama also stars Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay.

With the summer movie season in the fourth quarter, following are some non-blockbuster films of note that are worth seeing.

"Fruitvale Station" is a bio-pic based on a true account about the death of Oscar Grant, a young San Francisco African-American. The story is said to have some parallels with the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case. The film stars Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, and Octavia Spencer.

"Unfinished Song" is a comedy drama about a London widower (Terrence Stamp) who joins a local choir. Also starring are Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton.

"The Way Way Back" is a coming-of-age comedy-drama where Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Allison Janney play the adults. The film was popular at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

"Much Ado About Nothing" is a backyard romp set in the Los Angeles area home of director Joss Whedon ("The Avengers") starring a cast of solid, if not famous, actors. The Shakespearean language is spoken in a contemporary setting, The film, lensed in black and white, has its moments, especially for fans of The Bard.

"The Bling Ring" is a guilty pleasure that takes us into the actual Hollywood home of Paris Hilton, whose residence and those of other celebrities was the target of a group of teen burglars who made off with some $3 million in clothing, shoes and, of course, bling. Sofia Coppolla ("Lost in Translation") directs an all-grown up Emma Watson ("Harry Potter" films) and her posse in the cautionary tale.

"Stories We Tell" is about actor-director Sarah Polley, who lets the genealogy out of the bag, with mixed results for herself, her family and the movie-goer. The film raises more questions than it answers just like real life.

A documentary that you should not miss is "20 Feet From Stardom." Director Morgan Neville reveals the little-known world of backup vocalists, hence the film's title, in that the backup vocalists stand at microphones about 20 feet in back of the stars at the main microphone.

Darlene Love, who sang on producer Phil Spector 1960's teen pop hits; Merry Clayton, of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" (she's the wailing female voice); and Judith Hill, who was to be on Michael Jackson's "This Is It" tour, are among the backup singers featured.

There are interviews with, notably, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger, and great performance footage. The film is inspiring and sad all at once. This is a must-see.

"20 Feet From Stardom," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13) for some strong language and sexual material; Genre: Documentary; Run time: 91 min.; Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "20 Feet From Stardom" includes vintage concert footage of George Harrison singing "Wah-Wah" at the 1971 Madison Square Garden "Concert for Bangladesh"; David Bowie singing "Young Americans" backed by Luther Vandross; Ike and Tina Turner; and Ray Charles and the Raylettes.

Box Office, July 26: "The Wolverine" clawed its way to No. 1, opening with $55 million; scaring "The Conjuring" back a notch, to No. 2, with $22.1 million, $83.8 million, two weeks.

3. "Despicable Me 2," $16 million, $306.4 million, four weeks; 4. "Turbo," $13.3 million, $55.7 million, two weeks; 5. "Grown Ups 2," $11.5 million, $101.6 million, three weeks; 6. "Red 2," $9.4 million, $35 million, two weeks; 7. "Pacific Rim," $7.5 million, $84 million, three weeks; 8. "The Heat," $6.8 million, $141.2 million, five weeks; 9. "R.I.P.D," $5.8 million, $24.3 million, two weeks; "Fruitvale Station," $4.6 million, $6.3 million, three weeks.

Unreel: Aug. 2:

"2 Guns," R: Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington star in the action-comedy about a DEA agent and Naval intelligence officer set up by the mob. Paula Patton and Edward James Olmos co-star.

"The Smurfs 2," PG: The Smurfs are in Paris to rescue Smurfette, who has been kidnapped by Gargamel. It's because Smurfette knows how the Naughties are turned into Smurfs. The voice talent in the animated feature includes that of Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris and Katy Perry.

"The Spectacular Now," R: A high-school senior's philosophy is changed by a female student. Shailene Woodley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miles Teller, Kyler Chandler and Jennifer Jason Leigh star in the comedy-drama.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, lehighvalleypress. com; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@