Taking a cue from Fishbone, the California-based rock-punk-ska act at the center of this documentary narrated with relish by Laurence Fishburne, filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler assemble their warts-and-all look at the oddball musical sensations with boundless energy. From the A-list lineup of interviews (Ice-T, Flea, Gwen Stefani, George Clinton) to the wrenching internal divisiveness that came to define Fishbone, there’s little mythologizing rendered by the doc – and it’s hardly needed. As subjects, the band is plenty fascinating on its own: The curious case of charismatic guitarist Kendall Jones, who quit the band in 1993 amid a religious rebirth so intense it led to charges of attempted kidnapping, is approached with raw emotion and blunt, almost humorous honesty. Everyday Sunshine leaves similar recent music docs in the dust by demanding answers to questions that other bands more skittish about things like legacy would rather not think about. (available now)
Special Features: Band commentary, deleted scenes, additional concert footage and interviews
With its minimalist texture, deeply felt direction and the sounds of folk musician Jackson C. Frank (interpreted mournfully by co-star John Hawkes), this breakout vehicle for young actress Elizabeth Olson, whose soul-piercing eyes, bee-stung lips and deep reservoir of pain instantly propelled her to the forefront of young Hollywood last year, is easy to love and impossible not to admire. As the title character who returns to her older sister (Sarah Paulson) years after she ran away to join a cult, Olson struggles to connect with the relative safety of her new environment. Writer-director Sean Durkin’s smart move, however, is his concentration on the parallels between the life of Connecticut vacationers and woodsy survivalists; both sides deal in false security, indoctrination and judgment, making Martha’s transition – impeded even further by her apparent PTSD – that much tougher. Though Olson was rightfully praised to the heavens, Hawkes, as menacing cult leader Patrick, is the film’s secret ingredient. (available now)
Special Features: Featurettes, music video
Capturing the earth-rattling joy and pride of the post-Civil Rights Movement era like no other, Thunder Soul is a deeply felt celebration of a Texas school band that, with the help of heart-stirringly inspirational teacher Conrad O. Johnson (“Prof”), brought funk to the high school band competition circuit. “He didn’t just teach us music,” says one former student. “He taught us to be men.” It’s hard to argue with the film’s sentimental overtures when the Kashmere Stage Band, seen in archival footage and at a 2008 reunion, perform overseas and release singles that rival the greats. Maybe we’re conditioned to expect darkness, but like last year’s other feel-good weeper doc, Being Elmo, you keep expecting the dark clouds to roll in. They never do, though, and the tone remains aggressively uplifting. Especially at a time when arts education has never been on shakier ground, there has to be room for soul. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, unseen footage
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