Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Film Bites: 'Lovelace,' 'My Father and the Man in Black' and '20 Feet From Stardom'

Have been dragging my feet writing about movies lately, so here are few words about three I have seen recently.

"Lovelace": It probably helped that I went into this thinking it wasn't going to be great, but I found Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's biopic about the accidental star of the most famous pornographic film of all time to be well-crafted and entertaining -- if not completely disturbing. Sure, there was a ton of stuff they didn't cover. (If you want it all, I'd recommend the documentary "Inside Deep Throat.") But with all life stories, you have to pick your moments, and "Lovelace" showed how easy it was for an unsophisticated girl with a piece-of-work mother to be easily seduced and then forced into such a life. Amanda Seyfried brought a quirky naivete to the titular character, and Peter Sarsgaard seems like a likely Oscar nominee. My grade: B.

"My Father and the Man in Black":  Following the suicide of his father, Saul Holiff -- Johnny Cash's career-shaping early manager -- director Jonathan Holiff discovers a storage unit filled with letters and audio diaries, including recorded phone calls with Saul's marquee client during his crazed pill-fueled 1960s jags, triumphs at Folsom and San Quentin, wedding to June Carter, and his conversion in the early '70s to born-again Christian. By poring through all of these newly discovered items, the director learns a lot about the relationship between his father and Cash. But ultimately he learns even more about why Saul was never able to be a father to him, a deficiency that scarred the younger Holiff deeply. Hardcore Cash fans will undoubtedly enjoy this look behind the scenes -- Johnny's life is far more interesting than Saul's, naturally -- although at times it makes the film feel a bit exploitative. But ultimately anyone who loves memoirs and biographies -- even non-Cash fans -- will appreciate this familial autopsy and what is revealed. My grade: B-.

"20 Feet From Stardom": Morgan Neville's heartfelt documentary about the life of several backup singers is a treat from beginning to end, pulling no punches exploring the incredible highs and lows of ambitious and talented performers who often spend a lifetime on the brink of fame, but never quite reach it. While Darlene Love is the poster child for backup singers whose talent was exploited but rarely celebrated, it's fellow subjects Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and especially former Ikette Claudia Lennear who shine brightest here here. Don't miss this one. My grade: A.

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