In Theaters: “Magic Trip”

Just when the festival-goers are anticipating the third Alex Gibney film of the year (hockey doc “The Last Gladiators,” which bows at Toronto next month), regular folk finally get to see the Oscar winner’s first (on the big screen): “Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place” debuted at Sundance back in January and is now hitting theaters in NYC, San Francisco, Berekely and Santa Cruz. Other engagements start next weekend and continue through October (see play dates here). Check out the trailer here.

Co-directed by Alison Ellwood, the doc chronicles Kesey’s cross-country road trip with his Merry Pranksters and their rainbow-colored bus, Further, in 1964. It has actually been on VOD for over a month now, so I guess this isn’t the first time regular eyes have their chance to see it. Anyway, I reviewed the flick back in March from the Miami International Film Festival, and here’s an excerpt:

I don’t see the point. Is its supposed to be a Kesey biopic? Another unneeded celebration of the 60s? A pseudo adaptation of Wolfe’s book? I guess we can later appreciate this doc more once an actual dramatic adaptation of “Electric Kool-Aid” is produced as promised/threatened.

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Trailer: William Shatner’s “The Captains”

Not to be overshadowed too much this past weekend by his “Star Trek” co-star (Leonard Nimoy can be heard voicing Sentinel Prime in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”), William Shatner has received a lot of attention for a new documentary he’s produced and directed, “The Captains.” It’s the actor’s first effort as a filmmaker since the 2002 DTV movie “Groom Lake,” and it will premiere on the EPIX cable channel July 21st as part of a two-day marathon called Shatnerpalooza. In addition to airing the first six “Trek” films, including the Shatner-directed “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” there are some early films and TV shows featuring the actor, as well as another documentary he was involved with, “William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet.” 

“The Captains” is primarily a forum for Shatner to remind us all that he was the first “Trek” star by interviewing the captains from the other spin-off series, including Patrick Stewart (“The Next Generation”), Scott Bakula (“Enterprise”), Kate Mulgrew (“Voyager”), Avery Brooks (“Deep Space Nine”) and Chris Pine, who plays Shatner’s own role in the “Star Trek” reboot. We can already get a taste of Shatner with Bakula via an episode of the Bio interview series “Shatner’s Raw Nerve,” a show I can’t stand to watch because (1) the seat Shatner and guest share reminds me of the “Love Toilet” bit from “Saturday Night Live” and (2) the host regularly (and I guess fittingly) looks constipated.

I also won’t be seeing “The Captains,” because there are at least a thousand documentaries more important and worth seeing this year alone. But I’m somewhat curious about that “Gonzo Ballet” film, about Shatner’s collaboration with Ben Folds and choreographer Margo Sappington. See a clip of that after the “Captains” trailer after the jump.

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Doc News: Gary Sinise, John Lennon, Hot Dogs

– Because there’s not enough “Forrest Gump” reminders at the box office this weekend (Tom Hanks has a new movie, while “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” features a “Gump”-ish opening sequence), you can also experience one on the web. A new documentary about Gary Sinise’s rock group, Lt. Dan Band, which is named after the actor’s “Gump” character and regularly performs at U.S. military base, will debut on the web July 4th. Titled “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good” and directed by Jonathan Flora (“On the Road in Iraq with Our Troops and Gary Sinise”), the award-winning film will cost about $4 to stream on its site. From that cost, $1 will go directly to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which supports a number of charities for U.S. troops. Check out a trailer for the doc, which apparently features interviews with Robert Duvall and Jon Voight, after the jump. [via Fox News]

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Trailer: New Clarence Clemons Doc “Who Do I Think I Am?”

Saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died yesterday following a stroke he suffered last Sunday, was in a number of movies. Among them are “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” Scorsese’s “New York, New York” and of course the recent HBO documentary “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town,” in which he appears as he’s best known, as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. His last film credit (excluding any posthumous soundtrack credits he receives) is also a doc, one that’s strictly about “The Big Man” himself. Titled “Who Do I Think I Am? A Portrait of a Journey” and directed by Clemons’ friend Nick Mead, the hour-long film follows Clemons during multiple trips to China in the last decade to both find himself and simply visit a land where no one knows who he is (here’s where I admit that I never knew him by name before his death). Among the highlights is apparently footage of The Big Man playing sax solo at the Great Wall.

“Who Do I Think I Am?” is currently without distribution, but it screened a few months ago at the Garden State Film Festival in New Jersey. It doesn’t look like anything of interest to anyone but diehard Clemons fans, but that interest has surely increased this week. It also seems a potentially fitting companion to Tom Shadyac’s new soul-searching first-person doc “I Am,” which I think is still playing around the U.S. arthouse circuit.

Check out the trailer for the Clemons showcase after the jump.

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Doc News: Elton John; “Big River Man”; DocPoint NYC

– HBO Documentary Films has picked up Cameron Crowe’s “The Union,” which documents the collaboration of Elton John and Leon Russell, which does make it sound like an advertisement at worst, a making of film for an album at best. Having made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival last month, the cable outlet will give the rock doc its TV premiere in January 2012. Crowe, who was a music journalist before becoming a filmmaker, finally dove into documentary this year with a double dose. His other new rock doc, “Pearl Jam Twenty,” arrives to fans-only delight this fall.

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Trailer: “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”

After the poster for “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” hit last week, I knew the trailer couldn’t be too far off. Of course, Sony (or was it just Yahoo!?) got the film’s recognizable actor-turned-director, Michael Rapaport, to introduce the ad, because stars can sometimes sell audiences on documentaries. Sure, the members of A Tribe Called Quest are stars in their own right, but Rapaport’s goofy face will have you smiling and drawn in before you even spot Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on the screen (following or intercut quickly with some more famous people like Common, Ludacris, Questlove, Pharell Williams and Beastie Boys). By the time the “Can I Kick It?” beats explode, you’re probably already hooked.

But if not, let me remind you all that this is not just a typical music biopic and being a fan of Tribe or any hip-hop is not required. The drama of this group, through its back story and more direct, current documentation, is must see stuff for anyone who enjoys movies. Rapaport has an inquisitive eye in doc-making I wouldn’t have pegged him for, and the result is one of the best non-fiction films of the year. Check out my review from Sundance for more praise and watch the trailer for the film, which opens July 8, over at Yahoo! Movies.

 

Doc News: Judy Garland; Tupac Shakur; Colin Hanks

– Oscar winner Rob Epstein  (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt”) is re-teaming with longtime collaborator Jeffrey Friedman following their sort of venture into narrative filmmaking (“Howl”) for a project involving the late Judy Garlandaccording to 24 Frames. Also on board is filmmaker Steven “Flip” Lippman, who makes short musical documentary  films. This feature documentary, titled “Stay All Night,” will piece together a “re-creation” of Garland’s famous 1961 comeback concert at Carnegie Hall, which was not filmed. However, Super 8mm backstage material has been uncovered, and this will be combined with music excerpts and interviews with people who were there. The idea is not to present a certain record but an experience as close to being there as possible. It doesn’t sound like they will actually be reenacting the concert, which is what the use of the word “re-create” seems to imply. It’s in beginning stages, though, so it will be some time before we see what the trio achieves. Meanwhile, Epstein and Friedman (who are likely just producing “Stay All Night”), are currently still trying to get their Linda Lovelace biopic, “Lovelace,” off the ground.

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Watch Gil Scott-Heron in “Black Wax”

Gil Scott-Heron, who died yesterday at the age of 62, is best known for the spoken-word single “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” His influence on black culture, political poetry and music is tremendous, but what about documentary film? Well the title of his most famous track has been borrowed for the title of one prominent non-fiction film: Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain’s 2003 film on Hugo Chavez, which unintentionally/fortuitously documented the attempted coup in 2002.

And then there is Robert Mugge’s “Black Wax,” a 1983 music doc focused on Scott-Heron as he performs in and walks around D.C. and hangs out with wax figures of political and historical figures. You can’t rent it from Netflix as it appears to be out of print, with new DVDs selling for about $80 on Amazon — VHS copies are only $3, though. There are at least a few clips here and there on the web, one of which — I think it’s the beginning — you can check out after the jump.

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Doc News: Jose Padilha, Michael Moore, Pearl Jam and Queen

– Brazilian documentary filmmaker Jose Padilha (“Bus 174”; “Secrets of the Tribe”) is hopefully not getting too distracted from non-fiction. He’s currently in development on the “RoboCop” remake and is now back in the news with his previously announced South American ‘Triple Border’ project “Tri-Border.” The English-language political action thriller, originally titled “A Willing Patriot” and written by Jason Keller, is currently being re-scripted by Nick Shenk (“Gran Torino”). Add to this the option of the next “Wolverine” movie, as Padilha is reportedly on Fox’s shortlist for directors up for the gig abandoned by Darren Aronofsky. Next up for the director, though, is a segment of “Rio, Eu Te Amo,” the latest in the “Paris, Je T’Aime”/”New York, I Love You,” model of anthologies (aka the “Cities of Love” franchise). I’m still not sure if his short will be fiction or doc, but I expect it’s the former.

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Poster: “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”

Another favorite doc from Sundance is “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” which was impressively directed by actor Michael Rapaport. In my review of the film I stated that it transcends the rap group’s base audience to succeed as one of the best music docs in years, possibly the best since “Dig!” An excerpt from that review:

In spite of its familiar overlying narrative, though, the new documentary about the rap group, lengthily titled ‘Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,’ is still an excellent look at the past, present and possible future of one of the most influential hip hop acts of all time. Directed very inquisitively and skillfully by actor-turned-filmmaker Michael Rapaport (‘True Romance’), it starts out rather conventionally and builds into one of the most engaging music docs in years.

Now via The Playlist we’ve got a look at the doc’s poster and while I understand that it’s consistent with A Tribe Called Quest’s albums as well as the animated sequences in the film, I’m not completely into the design.  I think it reads awkwardly with those street signs in the way of the flow of the subtitle. But that’s just me being picky. Anyway, it doesn’t affect my recommendation and it shouldn’t affect your need to go see this when it opens July 8 (and rolls-out from then).

See a larger version of the poster after the jump.

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