Twenty Feet from Stardom
Darlene Love and Merry Clayton have contributed to some of the biggest musical tracks of all time, but you’d never really know it unless you read the liner notes or someone told you they did. They and many others profiled in Morgan Neville’s documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom are part of the selfless sister and brotherhood of musicians known as background singers. These are the kinds of people who would love to sing on their own (and many have tried, and sadly unsuccessfully), but they can put their ego aside long enough to give a song a hook or some extra oomph.
There’s not a lot of personal flavour to Neville’s work until late in the second half, with the emotion rarely rising above a laundry list of anecdotes and recollections. It’s certainly fun, but one wishes there was more about the personal lives of the singers than just recounting how Phil Spector was a jerk, Mick Jagger was a sweetheart, and how hard it is to make it on one’s own. It’s an unchallenging crowd pleaser, but at least it’s successful at creating good vibes and spreading around some golden nuggets of information that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. (Andrew Parker)
Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
Deceptive Practice is a journey into the realm of modern magic with the multitalented Ricky Jay, a world-renowned magician, author, historian and actor. Touted as one of magic’s greatest, Jay is dedicated to researching, teaching, performing and perfecting his craft. Magicians would normally be reluctant to let their secrets out, let alone allow a documentary crew to peek behind their velvet curtain, but Jay allows directors Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein to do just that.
It’s engrossing and captivating, with a simple premise masterfully executed. On top of showing the multitude of skills Jay possesses as a historian and magician (one of the greatest sleight of hand artists in history to be precise), Jay is also a brilliant storyteller, narrating and spinning yarns that pull his audience into his world even more. Even viewers that aren’t fascinated by magic and know nothing of the vast and storied history of Jay himself should be taken in by his gruff charm and sly grin as he effortlessly pulls off tricks right in front of the camera, many times while talking directly at the audience.
The historical aspect will fascinate those intrigued with sleight of hand but may run long for those who aren’t as invested. Despite this, Deceptive Practice is a damn hard film to dislike. (Kirk Haviland)