Andre The Giant. The WWE teamed up with HBO to produce this documentary on a man who was called ‘The 8th Wonder Of The World’. It chronicles his upbringing in France, where, as a result of gigantism (which later became acromegaly), he was 6’3 by the time he was 12 and had the strength of three men. Billed at 7’4 and weighing over 500 pounds, Andre The Giant helped turn pro wrestling from a sideshow spectacle into a global phenomenon that filled arenas and stadiums. Inside the ring, fans marveled at this almost superhuman specimen, making even the largest wrestlers look paltry in comparison. Outside the ring, had an appetite for food, booze and life outlook that matched his size. The film also shows how Andre made his mark on the world of TV and film, with memorable appearances in The Princess Bride, Conan The Destroyer and The Six Million Dollar Man. It also deals with Andre’s health struggles associated with acromegaly and his size lead to a number of internal insecurities. Told with warmth, candor and humor, and with remembrances from Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, family members and more, this is a moving tribute to a man who was truly larger than life. Andre The Giant premieres April 10th at 10pm on HBO, HBO Go and HBO Now. You can also go to www.hbo.com for more information.
The Heart Of Nuba. A doctor’s commitment to a war-torn region drives this new documentary from Kenneth Carlson. It tells the story of Dr. Tom Catena, an American doctor who, despite constant bombing (on orders from its own president, Omar al-Bashir), scant media attention, and the country’s ban on humanitarian aid, courageously serves the needs of the people of Nuba Mountains in Sudan. As the only surgeon within 200 miles, ‘Dr. Tom’ deals with everything ranging from malnutrition to leprosy, right down to grave wounds from the indiscriminate bombings that happen on a daily basis. Carlson goes right in the eye of the hurricane, capturing the urgency of the moment within the hospital, down the warmth and sense of community among the 1 million Christians, Muslims, Amimists and Africans that live there. It’s so immediate that a number of interviews had to be cut short because all involved had to take cover from another bombing. Yes, it’s that intense. But at the core of the film is a doctor and a hospital staff’s fearless commitment to a community that has become an extension of their own families. Intense yet life affirming, Carlson has put together a doc that calls attention to a dire situation but also shows the best side of human condition. A must see doc. The Heart Of Nuba opens in New York this weekend and in select cities on April 27th. You can also go to www.theheartofnuba.com for more information.
Chappaquiddick. The event that nearly destroyed a political dynasty – and forever altered the Presidential landscape – is at the heart of this new film from John Curran. It tells the story of how Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke), a favorite for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972, was involved in a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island that killed Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), one of the ‘Boiler Room Girls’ during Robert Kennedy’s Presidential campaign and a rising star as a political strategist. The film deals with the events right before, during and after the crash, as questions as to why Kennedy waited so long to call the police – and whether or not he did enough to save Kopechne – come to the surface. It also covers how the Kennedy camp – led by father Joe Kennedy Sr (Bruce Dern) and cousin/lawyer Joe Gargan) used all of the family’s political clout to make sure the narrative presented keeps the youngest Kennedy son out of prison. Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s script draws heavily from the accounts presented in the official inquest and leaves a lot of room for the viewer to determine Kennedy’s guilt or innocence and the weight of the shame that would haunt him the rest of his life. In a difficult, nuanced, wonderful performance, Clarke plays Kennedy as both a privileged party boy and a man who could never live up to the memory of his deceased brothers. Mara is just as formidable as the doomed Kopechne, who, despite still being haunted by RFK’s assassination, was determined to solider on make her mark political landscape. The film doesn’t let us forget that she was, and always will be, the real victim. Despite having no extensive dialogue, Bruce Dern is all piss and vinegar as the Kennedy patriarch, who despite a paralyzing stroke, shows his disgust and shame at his son with twisted, cold glares. Working as a mystery, political and family drama, Curran has put his own spin on one of the great scandals of recent memory. Chappaquiddick opens nationally this weekend. You can also go to www.chappaquiddick.com for more information.
Things Have Changed by Bettye LaVette. Though she’s been making records since the early 60s, Bettye LaVette has never made an album featuring the works of one songwriter. Even more incredible is that the Grammy nominated singer hasn’t been on a major label since 1982. Until now. Teaming up with producer Steve Jordan, LaVette’s first album for Verve exclusively features the songs of Bob Dylan but this isn’t your down by the numbers covers album. Recorded in just three sessions with a band of studio mercenaries (Jordan on drums, long time Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell and Leon Pendarvis on keyboards) and a couple of famous friends (Keith Richards and Trombone Shorty), LaVette takes Dylan – classic and deep tracks a and musically shape shifts them into entirely new songs. The title track is a world weary, apocalyptic view of a post 45-America, while ‘Political World’ is giving a Meters arrangement as LaVette goes chapter and verse on just how screwed up things are. ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ and ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ and ‘Emotionally Yours’ are retro-fitted as classic, urgent bare bones soul, while ‘Seeing The Real You At Last’ becomes a biting feminist take on a relationship gone bad. The Swamp rock/funk drenched ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ and ‘Do Right To Me Baby are transformed into matter of fact declarations to the #MAGA supporters. There’s also tributes within the tribute: ‘What Was It You Wanted’ is a nod to her late friend and fellow Detroit native Marvin Gaye peppered with a sly nod to ‘Inner City Blues’. LaVette overhauls ‘Mama, You Been On My Mind’ from a lost lover lament to a powerful elegy for her late mother. Americana overtones fuel ‘Going Going Gone’, and the haunting ‘Ain’t Talking’ has LaVette pulling out all of the dramatic stops with a crushing string section. She’s been around the musical block more than once, and to the abyss and back, but with this album, we are seeing a stirring and exciting new chapter. One of the year’s best. Things Have Changed by Bettye LaVette is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers.
No Mercy In This Land by Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite. The murder of Charlie Musselwhite served as the basis to the follow up of the Grammy Award-winning collaboration master blues harmonica player and the singer-songwriter. The tone is darker and more somber, but the musical path remains: white hot electric blues, and mournful, introspective ballads. At the center of it all is Harper’s soulful vocals and guitar work, with Musselwhite’s incredible harp work running both as a compliment and a counter. An amazing new direction in what has been a powerful and potent combination. No Mercy In This Land by Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite is available now through Amazon, Itunes and all major music retailers. You can also go to www.benharper.com for more information.
Voice Memos by Savannah Jeffreys. It’s hard enough to stand out in the music business. It’s even harder when you are the daughter one of rock n roll’s greatest street poets. But Savannah Jeffreys, who has already opened several of Garland’s shows and appeared on a number of his recent albums, boldly steps out on her own with this new 3-song EP. With a big assist from Logic Pro, Savannah wrote, produced, arranged, plays keys, conceived beats and mixed the EP, showing vocals and lyrical content that are wiser beyond her years. She proves that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, putting together an impressive and promising debut. Voice Memos is available now through Itunes and Spotify.
New York City. What We Ask Is Simple by Hank Willis Thomas. In his 6th solo exhibition at The Jack Shainman Gallery, Hank Willis Thomas continues to explore 20th Century protests in North America, Africa and Europe and how those hard fought struggles for equality, social and economic justice still are being felt today. It also serves as a salute to those who courageously, creatively and fearlessly put their bodies and lives on the line to bring about true change. A moving and inspiring work. What We Ask Is Simple will be at The Jack Shainman Gallery through May 12th. You can also go to www.jackshainmangallery.com for more information.
New York City. Grace Jones. As a ramp up to the upcoming Grace Jones documentary, Metrograph will be host a week long look back at her colorful career on the big screen. It will include her turn as a Bond villain in A View To A Kill; a co-starring role opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan The Destroyer as well as supporting roles in Straight To Hell Returns and Vamp. It will also feature a rare screening of Jones’ eye opening concert/video showcase A One Man Show (directed by former partner Jean-Paul Goude), vintage videos, performances, TV appearances and much more. With a best selling memoir and an eagerly awaited new doc on the way, this is a great chance to see why the world loves Grace. The Grace Jones retrospective will run April 6th through the 12th at Metrograph. You can also go to www.metrograph.com for more information.