Amazing new documentary 'Thunder Soul' will inspire smiles, tears
One of the reasons I go to documentaries in the first place is to meet characters I would otherwise never meet, and to travel to places I would otherwise never go, and to learn stories that might otherwise be marginalized by history. More than with narrative films, I like walking into documentaries knowing nothing, because that journey of discovery can be part of the experience.
I'm casually friendly with Keith Calder, one of the producers of this film, but for the last two years, any time he mentioned the film, I tuned it out. It's hard when you're friendly with people, because if you don't like something of theirs, some of them take it very personally. In Keith's case, I have yet to really respond to something he's been attached to. "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane" is okay, but not overwhelmingly successful, and "The Wackness" left me fairly cold. I like the attempt of "Battle For Terra" more than the execution. And so walking into "Thunder Soul," I was prepared to have to have that conversation again.
Instead, I owe Keith Calder a hug for bringing the story of the Kashmere Stage Band to the screen, because this is one of the most joyous experiences I've had in the theater so far this year. I have never heard of the Kashmere Stage Band before. I love funk music, though, so the soundtrack to this film is half the reason I am head over heels. Who is the Kashmere Stage Band? In the '70s, they were the school band for Kashmere High School, and they were award-winners, world-travelers, and one of the single best funk units working in the world. They accomplished this under the supervisory eye of Conrad "Prof" Johnson, and the film deals with two eras in Johnson's life.
If the entire film were just a look back, that would be enough. The way Johnson built his Stage Band, the way he broke through by composing original funk arrangements for them, the relationships he built with the students and the relationships they built with each other, the afterlife of the recordings from those glory days... that's plenty of story for any film. And director Mark Landsman does an incredible job of making you understand who the Kashmere Stage Band was, who Conrad "Prof" Johnson was, and how the story played out. But where the film makes the jump from very good to great is when the kids of the original era of the Stage Band decide to play together again so they can pay tribute to "Prof," and so he can see just how much of what taught them was retained. This is where Landsman really nails it as a filmmaker, expertly charting the emotional ride, never tipping his hand too much or reaching for cheap sentiment. He knows just how much power there is to this story, and he's smart enough to get out of the way of the people in the film. He doesn't have to ladle on the emotion, because the film builds a natural power out of the events that is more than devastating anyway.
"Prof" is an impressive presence in the film, even old and infirm, and the effect his instruction had on his students and the ripple effect that their success set off within Kashmere High School is an overt lesson in how self-esteem can be infectious. I would recommend this to any educator out there first, but then beyond that, I think it is simply the sort of story that speaks to the best parts of who were are as people. It's great to see people do something really well, and then to see a whole group of people do that thing well together, and to see the way they rally around this one incredible personality... it's the very definition of a "feel-good" movie.
And did I mention the soundtrack? Good god, y'all. Jump back, make me wanna kiss myself. The Kashmere Stage Band was recorded extensively, both live and in the studio, and the film uses all of it to show the power of what these kids and "Prof" all built together. The film has made me go from having no idea who they are or were to being a believer in the power of the Kashmere Stage Band. There are two more screenings of this here at SXSW, and then my belief is we're going to be hearing this title a lot over the next year, and if it turns out to be one of next year's Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Feature, it would make perfect sense. This is exactly the sort of story that a non-fiction film can tell in a way that no fiction film can match, and it's the charge of knowing that you're seeing the truth that really pushes it over. I spent the last 20 minutes with a smile on my face and tears on my cheeks, and I suspect audiences will fall in love with the film as soon as some wise distributor steps up and announces the shocking idea that they actually like to earn money. There's gold in "Thunder Soul," and it's the highlight of my fest so far.
Can't get enough of Motion/Captured? Don't miss a post with daily HitFix Blog Alerts. Sign up now.
Don't miss out. Add Motion/Captured to your iGoogle, My Yahoo or My MSN experience by clicking here.
Not part of the HitFix Nation yet? Take 90 seconds and sign up today.
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
Let Streaming Genie help you.