1) 20 Feet from Stardom, director Morgan Neville’s documentary about talented people who sing in the shadows of superstars like Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, focuses on the individual stories of several significant singers. While the film’s lack of a narrative could be a bit off-putting, it has such heart and features so many terrific concert performances, the absence of structure isn’t a real deterrent. In the film’s final sequence, artists like Sting and Mick Jagger suggest the art of the backing singer is a lost one in this day and age of auto-tuned vocals and electronic sampling. The rousing vintage performances we see make us wish this wasn’t the case. The film is showing at the Cedar-Lee Theatre. (Jeff Niesel)
2) To clear the air, The Lone Ranger is nowhere near as good as the original Pirates of the Caribbean. But because the lineage is so apparent — same director, same producer, same star — some very specific comparisons might help us see why. But first, the plot: The Lone Ranger centers around John Reid (Armie Hammer), a big-city lawman returning to his home on the Texas frontier. After a lethal run-in with notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), Reid is resurrected by the Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) and together they seek vengeance on Butch and the fat-cat tycoons pillaging native lands for silver and the transcontinental railroad. And it’s fun, make no mistake. The Wild West and its trappings make for rich cinematic backdrops, and the elaborately choreographed 20-minute train chase sequence at the film’s climax is almost worth the ticket price alone. (Sam Allard).
3) When we last saw super villain Gru (Steve Carell), he had just given up his evil ways to pursue a life of tranquility as father to three orphan girls. That’s essentially where 2010’s Despicable Me ended and the new sequel, Despicable Me 2, begins. If that’s not quite as exciting as a plot to steal the moon, well, then, Despicable Me 2 might not be as fulfilling as its predecessor. And yet, the minions are so entertaining, they practically carry the movie (be sure to stick around for the closing credits where they have some good 3-D fun). (Niesel).
4) You don’t have to know a whole helluva lot about Orthodox Jewish traditions to understand Fill the Void, but it will certainly help. The film centers on Shira (Hadas Yaron), an 18-year-old Hasidic girl in Tel Aviv who hesitates when her parents want her to marry her dead sister’s husband, Yochay (Yiftach Klein). When she initially meets Yochay, who clearly likes her and wants them to marry, she insults him and tells him he should marry her sister’s friend Frieda (Hila Feldman). Drama ensues. The film has rightly been called “Jane Austen for Jews” and the fine performances by the two lead actors carry the movie. It’s showing at the Cedar-Lee Theatre. (Niesel)
5) Nothing quite like a Balkan dark comedy about prejudice to contextualize the advances in American human rights, eh? In The Parade, gay activists enlist a Serbian war veteran-turned-thug to provide security at an upcoming gay pride festival. The homophobia in those parts, coupled with piping-hot ethnic hatreds, is well off all American charts. It’s a compelling premise — gays judge the criminals, criminals judge the gays, both groups discover humanity, etc. — and one that, in defter hands, may have even been an exquisite work of art. As it stands, the tone is sort of goofy, and it comes off as a cross between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Snatch. The film plays at at 5:15 p.m. on Friday, July 5 and at 7:35 p.m. on Saturday, July 6 at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque as part of their Cultural Gardens film series. (Allard).