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last update 14.Sep.14
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Ballet Boys
3.5/5   Ballettguttene
dir-scr Kenneth Elvebakk
prd Carsten Aanonsen
with Lukas Bjorneboe Braendsrod, Syvert Lorenz Garcia, Torgeir Lund, Esther Maria Bjorneboe, Espen Braendsrod, Ria Garcia, Jon Garcia, Bjorg Kristiansen, Nami Kitagawa Aam, Martine Camilla Braenna, Charlotte Froyland, Kamilla Tell Aronsen
Ballet Boys
release Nor 5.Aug.14,
UK 12.Sep.14
14/Norway 1h15

Ballet Boys While this documentary is essentially about three teen boys pursuing a dream to become ballet dancers, it's also an involving story about the friendship between them. With a laconic Norwegian tone, this beautifully shot film is refreshingly honest and open, allowing personalities to emerge while drawing the audience into the boys' stories.

At the Oslo Opera House, three 14-year-olds are working to become professional dancers. Lukas is a bundle of sheer determination who worries about growing too tall and is always tired from his long days of practice. His friend Torgeir is blond and athletic, a natural talent who understands that being a male ballet dancer is rare. Their buddy Syvert feels like an outsider because he's Asian, wondering if maybe he should be an engineer instead. But his parents encourage him to dance. All three are preparing to audition for Oslo's top dance school.

Filmmaker Elvebakk quietly follows these three kids through their paces, including rehearsals, training, performances, travelling to competitions and studying for school. There are also scenes with their families, offering a rounded portrait of their lives. At various points, events threaten to break up their friendship. Syvert decides not to continue with dancing over one summer. And Lukas is offered an audition at the Royal Ballet in London, which would dramatically change life for him and his family.

Scenes are packed with witty observations. The changing room is where these boys can be themselves: goofing around, talking about girls, laughing about how uncomfortable a dance belt is ("It's more invasive than a jockstrap!"). Even here they remain focussed on their careers, wanting the best roles, the top choreographers and to perform with the world's greatest dancers. There's constant pressure to push themselves further as they begin three-year dance-school courses and worry about what else they could do if this career doesn't work out.

Through all of this, Elvebakk finds relaxed, warm humour to explore how ballet demands gruelling focus and constant sacrifices (no parties or girlfriends). "Pain is a huge part of this career," one boy notes. "You totally ruin your body." But the satisfaction of getting it right is incomparable. And the film's most engaging element is the serious/silly camaraderie between three guys who have become close friends in what is considered a girls' world.

12 themes, language
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Finding Fela
dir Alex Gibney
prd Alex Gibney, Jack Gulick
with Fela Kuti, Bill T Jones, Tony Allen, John Darnton, Sandra Izsadore, Seun Kuti, Femi Kuti, Dele Sosimi, Rikki Stein, Yeni Kuti, Kewe Kuti, Paul McCartney

sundance london festival
Finding Fela This lively, articulate documentary tells such an important story that it's impossible to dismiss it just because the structure is out of balance. As with The Armstrong Lie, filmmaker Gibney loses his grip on the subject, splintering the story unnecessarily while almost missing the most important notes.

Fela Kuti was one of the most important men in Africa over the last century: a musician and revolutionary who boldly stood up to Nigeria's oppressive government. He honed his musical skills in jazz clubs in London and Los Angeles before returning to start his iconic venue The Shrine in Lagos. But he was shocked that his government was making a fortune while the people remained poor, so he started singing about it, even in the face of threats and violence. And even with his death in 1997 he challenged Nigeria's state propaganda.

Fela's life is utterly jaw-dropping in its twists and turns. As the film tells his story, it uses a superb range of footage, stills and interviews to offer a sharp outline of 50 years of Nigeria's history since independence. All of this is filtered through the prism of a Broadway theatre group mounting an acclaimed musical stage production on Fela's life in 2009. This aspect of the film is also fascinating, and the stage sequences are terrific for adding musical energy and vivid dance-style depictions of some staggering events.

But the theatrical scenes seem like a watered down distraction compared to the real events, which are much more vivid in the archival material. It's a shame Gibney lets the film drift out of focus, letting the two sides of the film feel like they are battling with each other. Both aspects centre on Fela, but is this a biographical documentary (complete with the derailed-by-drugs element, plus multiple wives and children) or a backstage theatre movie? It becomes hard to tell.

Thankfully the film is wall-to-wall music, and Fela's meandering songs bristle with fiery expressions of political passion. They're also hugely danceable. After taking nearly two hours to trace Fela's rise to fame, Gibney rushes through his final decade in a montage that never quite explains his vital legacy on the continent or his massive impact around the globe. It seems oddly fudged for such a skilled filmmaker, and it makes us wonder if there's a complete three-hour version out there somewhere.

15 themes, language
24.Apr.14 slf
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20,000 Days on Earth
dir Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
prd Dan Bowen, James Wilson
scr Nick Cave, Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
with Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Darian Leader, Thomas Wydler, Martyn Casey, Conway Savage, Jim Sclavunos, Barry Adamson, George Vjestica
cave and minogue release US Jan.14 sff,
UK 19.Sep.14
14/UK Film4 1h37

20,000 Days on Earth A fiercely original approach to the biographical documentary, this relentlessly artful film tell the story of musician, actor and writer Nick Cave with a lush visual sensibility, dark wit and genuine insight. The approach is sometimes a bit pretentious, but it's utterly riveting.

Over the course of one day, which he calls his 20,000th, 56-year-old Cave goes about his daily routine while reminiscing about his life. Born in Warracknabeal, Australia, he lives in Brighton with wife Susie Bick and their twin sons Arthur and Earl. He spends much of his day writing, with breaks to watch TV with the boys. He also visits his songwriting partner Ellis to work on music, goes over his childhood in a session with noted psychoanalyst Leader, digs through his personal archive and has encounters with friends and collaborators Minogue, Winstone and Bargeld.

Filmmakers Forsyth and Pollard sometimes strain to find new forms for the usual documentary elements, but since they're dealing with someone as anarchic as Cave it works. Cave's interview becomes a therapy session in which he talks openly about issues with his father. Comments from friends come as he chats to them in his car. Historical photos and clips are unearthed in a cluttered basement and projected onto the walls. Songs are performed in ad-hoc practice sessions and recording studios.

Through all of this, Cave narrates the film as if he's reading from a poetic journal, exploring much more than his personal history. He is also exploring existential themes, talking about relationships and politics and, most of all, how the creative process has defined every moment of his life. But if this allows Cave and the filmmakers to indulge in over-serious navel-gazing, at least it's provocative and meaningful to the audience.

It also reveals Cave to be a fascinating man with tight relationships that he talks about frankly without betraying privacy. It's a clever line to walk, and it serves the film well, because it digs deep without feeling invasive. And as a whole, the movie is beautifully edited together with the rhythms of his sometimes difficult music, building to a transcendent finale that cuts between performance pieces throughout his career as he sings in the Sydney Opera House. It's a striking portrait of an artist who has achieved success without compromise.

15 themes, language, nudity
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Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Heather Winters
scr-prd Curtis Shaw Child, Desmond Child, Heather Winters
with Roman Shaw Child, Nyro Shaw Child, Desmond Child, Curtis Shaw Child, Angela Whittaker, Joe Marfy, Mary Ann Shaw, Manuel Umo, Ruby Whittaker, Ken Whittaker, Jon Bon Jovi, Deepak Chopra
desmond, angela and curtis with the babies release US 2.Sep.14
13/US 1h13
Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro A relatively simple story is told with such openness and warmth that it can't help but get under the skin, especially with a striking attention to telling, colourful detail. As it explores what makes a strong and loving family, it's all a bit touchy-feely, but the honesty and raw emotion also make it essential viewing.

Roman and Nyro are 9-year-old twins telling the story of their sprawling family. Living in Nashville, their Daddy is Desmond, award-winning songwriter of I Was Made for Loving You, Livin' la Vida Loca, I Hate Myself for Loving You and Livin' on a Prayer (Bon Jovi is the boys' godfather). Their Papa is Curtis, an actor from a deeply religious family. Their surrogate mother Angela is also in their lives, plus an array of grandparents, relatives and friends. Encouraged to be creative from an early age, both boys are bright, articulate and musically gifted. And they understand why their family is important.

Filmmaker Winters assembles this story with an astonishing range of stills and video that go back through the generations. With very different family backgrounds, both Desmond and Curtis grew up feeling out of place in ways that only came unto focus once they understood their sexuality. They felt a spiritual connection with their good friend Angela and asked her to have a child for them. She always wanted to bring a life into the world, but isn't the boys' biological mother ("I was the incubator!"), and had to work out her relationship to them.

Together for 22 years, Desmond and Curtis are remarkably open, exposing their deepest feelings while demonstrating the richness of welcoming loving people into their family. They and their sons know that all families deserve to have the same rights. "How are we supposed to compare our family to others?" the boys ask, showing that they understand the bigger issues much more sharply than grown-ups who would shield them from such "mature" ideas.

The film is beautifully edited to convey a strong sense of who each of these people is individually and how they have come together in a cohesive, healthy way. The birth sequence is almost overwhelmingly moving; watching Desmond and Curtis become soccer dads is hilarious. And it's impossible to miss the point. "Mommy" and "Daddy" are roles that have nothing to do with gender. Understanding and acceptance are gifts you pass down to your kids. And making a movie like this is an activistic thing to do: living openly to help people realise that what they were taught perhaps doesn't apply.

U some themes
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall