“Twenty Feet from Stardom” Sizzles, While “The Heat” Is Just Lukewarm

I’m trying my hand at short reviews today, just for a change. The first is under 200 words, while the second is under 350. Enjoy!

Twenty Feet from Stardom

Twenty Feet from Stardom (Morgan Neville, 2013)

Twenty Feet from Stardom, which opens today at the Charles Theatre, in Baltimore, is one of the best films I have seen this year, so far. A documentary, it tells the story of the backup singers – primarily African-American women – who have lent their tremendous vocal talents to the work of better-known rock and pop artists since the 1960s. We meet Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and relative newcomer Judith Hill, among others. Each of them has a tale both unique and universal to tell. We cry with them, we laugh with them, we sit in awe of their voices. Most of all, though, we marvel at having known so little about the supporting performers of groups like The Rolling Stones and The Talking Heads, or solo performers like Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Michael Jackson. After all, it is Merry Clayton’s gut-wrenching belting of “It’s just a shot away” on “Gimme Shelter” that really makes that song rock. Well, now we know. And we get this information in a terrific movie, to boot.

Go see it.

The Heat

The Heat (Paul Feig, 2013)

The Heat – from scribe Katie Dippold (“MADtv,””Parks and Recreation“) and helmer Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) – will probably please fans of Melissa McCarthy and/or Sandra Bullock, as this is very much a vehicle for the both of them. And, as one of the few – if not the only – blockbuster releases this summer to feature women in primary roles, it’s almost a must-see for that reason, alone. I just wish it were a better and funnier film.

To be fair, this is no worse than many a male-centered buddy movie. However, too many of the jokes rely on the audience finding it funny to watch McCarthy be vulgar and physically gross – that’s old hat now, and I’d like to see her do something new – or to watch Bullock be uptight and in need of loosening up – also routine for her. As I noted in my review of This Is the End, I’m always disappointed when the point of the joke is the crudeness of it, without any additional wit. That said, I did laugh a few times, and chuckled a few more. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know the plot, and can make your own decision as to whether or not you’ll like this. I went in with low expectations, and came out mildly amused. If you do the same, you may have at least half a good time.

One final note – for some strange reason, Ms. Dippold and Mr. Feig have decided to include many crude and rude references to people with albinism, which neither help the film nor advance the plot. Given how much fans of Melissa McCarthy were up in arms over film critic Rex Reed’s derogatory remarks about the star’s weight and vulgarity (which, other than his unfortunate and vicious wording, weren’t all that off the mark in terms of the substance of her appeal, or lack thereof), I’m surprised at the hypocrisy of including such an unnecessary bit of stereotyping in this film. Oh, well – will wonders never cease.

6 thoughts on ““Twenty Feet from Stardom” Sizzles, While “The Heat” Is Just Lukewarm

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