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last update 8.Jun.14
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Advanced Style
dir Lina Plioplyte
prd Ari Seth Cohen
scr Ari Seth Cohen, Lina Plioplyte
with Ari Seth Cohen, Ilona Royce Smithkin, Lynn Dell, Jacquie Murdock, Debra Rapoport, Joyce Carpati, Zelda Kaplan, Tziporah Salamon, Dita Von Teese, Iris Apfel, Simon Doonan
dell and smithkin release US May.14 mff,
UK 9.May.14
14/US 1h12
Advanced Style It may not be very ambitious, but this simple documentary still manages to spark interest both through its colourful characters and as an exploration of growing older that provocatively dismisses the rule that younger is better. It's a snappy film packed with people who inspire us simply by being themselves.

Blogger Cohen approaches well-dressed older women in the streets of New York and says, "You look gorgeous and elegant," before asking to take their photo for his website. Over the years, he has discovered a range of striking women who dress in ways that explode with artistry and personality. These are larger-than-life characters aged from 62 to 95 who speak their minds and express themselves just as eloquently through the clothes they wear.

Obviously, Cohen's main goal is to show that ageing is beautiful and that, as Dell says, money has nothing to do with style. Indeed, the point these women make is that the trend-setters have it all wrong as they try to make everyone look the same. "I never wanted to look young," says Carpati. "I wanted to look great!" These women are colourful and often very funny. They effortlessly change long-standing perceptions, and would make a great cast for an ongoing reality TV show.

The life of the party is the articulate, 93-year-old Smithkin, who discovered herself much later in life and started teaching art at age 80 while still performing cabaret shows. Rapoport believes that style is actually healing, reminding that "it's better to live hand-to-mouth than 9-to-5". And because of their exposure on Cohen's blog, these women have been offered work from television appearances to modelling contracts. Murdock danced at the Apollo Theater at age 17, and finally at 81 is thrilled to appear in a Lanvin ad campaign.

So even if the film is, like Cohen, a bit gangly and awkward, the salient point is vital: getting older is a good thing, despite what society tells us. Older people are less self-critical, feeling more comfortable in their skin. So even if as one says, "everything I have two of, one hurts", these lively women are loving this stage of their lives, happy that they no longer have anything to prove. In other words, the movie actually makes us look forward to growing old.

PG themes, language
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Beyond the Edge
dir-scr Leanne Pooley
prd Matthew Metcalfe
with Chad Moffitt, Sonam Sherpa, John Wraight, Joshua Rutter, Dan Musgrove, Erroll Shand, Phurenje Sherpa, Jimmy Kunsang, Callum Grant, Matthew Metcalfe, Pasang Dawa Sherpa, Nima Wang Chhu
sherpa and moffitt release NZ 24.Oct.13,
UK 23.May.14
13/NZ 1h40

Beyond the Edge With a clear, chronological narrative and a skilful combination of old footage, dramatisations and expansive cinematography, this documentary sends audiences right to the summit of Everest with the first team that made it there. And while the story is somewhat familiar, the tenacity on display can't help but be inspiring.

In 1953, Everest remained the last great challenge on earth. After 10 failed attempts that claimed 13 lives, a British expedition set off led by two rival climbers: England's John Hunt (played by Wraight in dramatisations) and New Zealand's Edmund Hillary (Moffitt). Facing mind-boggling obstacles that no one had ever surmounted, it was Hilary and his sherpa Tenzing Norbay (Sonam Sherpa) who became the first men at the top, stunning the world and launching a new era of exploration on the same day that Queen Elizabeth II was crowned.

Short of photographing it using an Imax camera, director Pooley recreates this story on a terrific scale, capturing the grandeur of the mountain with Richard Bluck's epic 3D cinematography and David Long's sweeping score. The dramatised scenes are so cleverly matched with vintage photos and newsreel clips that it's not easy to spot the new footage. And the straightforward style of storytelling helps build the drama as these men push themselves further simply because this is the mother of all mountains.

As the climbers, sherpas and porters set out on their expedition, it's like a full-on military assault, with a carefully mapped campaign that leads the team stage-by-stage, inching their way up to each successive camp. Their progress is sometimes painstaking, as they face a variety of setbacks and some seriously perilous situations (including avalanches and unexpected weather systems) before they can even begin to think about attempting the summit.

This detailed approach beautifully highlights the sheer endurance and bravery of the climbers. Pooley even compares them to astronauts, journeying into unknown territory like the high-altitude "death zone" using the highest-tech equipment available. But what's even more inspiring is the intensity of the physical and mental challenge, the way fear becomes a stimulating factor when you get to the edge of what's humanly possible. As Hillary said, "It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." The film sometimes overstate this, but the awesome 360-degree panorama at the top proves that it's worth it.

PG themes, some imagery
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The Punk Singer
dir Sini Anderson
prd Tamra Davis, Gwen Bialic, Rachel Dengiz, Erin Owens, Alan Oxman
with Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz, Johanna Fateman, JD Samson, Kathi Wilcox, Tobi Vail, Billy Karren, Joan Jett, Tamra Davis, Kim Gordon, Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein
release US 29.Nov.13,
UK 23.May.14
13/US 1h20

london film fest
flare film fest
The Punk Singer Lively and insightful, this biographical documentary traces the life of feminist punk artist Kathleen Hanna, a strikingly strong voice in the music scene from the 1990s until her sudden retirement in 2005. The film kind of races through the story, but is thoroughly engaging and ultimately inspirational in ways we don't expect.

Hanna was always a feisty woman with a lot to say, and she understood that music was the best way to get a message across. In 1989 she formed the band Bikini Kill with Vail, quickly making a name on the grunge-punk scene in Olympia, Washington, with her high-energy performances and pointed political lyrics. Along with the creation of alter-ego performer Julie Ruin, she launched the feminist punk zine Riot Grrrl and formed a second band, Le Tigre. Now after a five-year break due to illness, she's still on the road speaking her mind.

With its fast, involving pace, the film tells the story of a musical movement that has never quite been in the mainstream but has had a major impact on the rest of the pop world. And as its catalyst, Hanna is a staggeringly important figure whose impact is still being felt. Hanna's main goal has always been to fight sexism, and her songs have been boldly outspoken, angrily expressing rage at the system. Essentially, her central theme is a refusal to fit into the male-oriented version of what women should be.

The film is a wealth of amazing photos, rare clips and a fabulous range of musical performances and backstage home movies. And alongside the narrative about her music, the film tells the strikingly moving story of Hanna's marriage to Beastie Boy Horovitz, who has stayed at her side through a very difficult illness that also rarely makes the headlines. After she retired from performing in 2005, it took doctors six years to figure out that she was wasting away due to Lyme Disease.

While telling Hanna's story, filmmaker Anderson provides very little context, rarely linking events to history (or even a calendar) while briskly summarising long stretches of Hanna's story. One of the few resonant links is Hanna's close friendship with Kurt Cobain (she coined the phrase "smells like teen spirit"). But what the film does best is to capture Hanna's force-of-nature personality: commanding, charismatic, articulate and fiercely intelligent.

15 themes, language
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SuperMensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
dir Mike Myers
prd Beth Aala
with Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Anne Murray, Mike Myers, Willie Nelson, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Arnold, Steven Tyler, Sammy Hagar, Mick Fleetwood
gordon and cooper release US 6.Jun.14,
UK 18.Jul.14
13/US 1h25

SuperMensch We've seen biographical documentaries before about important movers and shakers in show business, but never one about a guy this likeable. Shep Gordon is a music manager who created a makeshift family around him over his long, influential career. And this lively, engaging film makes us wish we were part of it.

Everyone who knows Shep agrees that he's one of the nicest guys they've ever met, the definitive "mensch". A Jew with deeply held Buddhist beliefs, he's considered Mr Fix-it and knows pretty much everyone in the business. As a young man, Shep moved to Los Angeles and happened to stay in the same hotel where Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison hung out. Caught up in their drug-fuelled world, he won everyone over and lived the high-life, even marrying a Playmate. And what set him apart was his integrity: he always takes care of his friends.

Gordon's fair and generous approach was at odds with the mobsters who controlled the music industry, and he helped break their grip on it. But this open-handed approach meant that he never found a life partner or had his own children. Instead, he has built a huge eclectic family around him who know about the open-door policy on his Maui home, a sanctuary whenever it's needed. He has also raised his ex-wife's kids and become a father figure to them.

Gordon's story is seriously jaw-dropping, and Myers assembles this doc with a snappy pace, illustrating stories with great archive footage, movie clips and re-enactments. Meanwhile, Gordon's famous friends provide the narration, packing the film with great backstage anecdotes about iconic concerts, stunts and people. All while capturing a terrific sense of Gordon's deeper more thoughtful moments, his larger-than-life personality and his intense libido.

After all, he met the Dalai Lama through his then-girlfriend Sharon Stone. And one of his entertaining anecdotes traces how he spiced up clean-cut Canadian singer Anne Murray's image by having her photographed with the super-cool Teddy Pendergrass. His achievements are astounding (from starting a movie studio to sorting out Groucho Marx's finances), but it's his enduring friendships that resonate strongest. He essentially created Alice Cooper's on-stage persona, and the two have stuck together as best pals ever since. Yes, this guy knows that he's talking about when he says that "fame has no intrinsic value".

15 themes, language, innuendo
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