Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool - Poster

The music of Miles Davis “makes my soul smile,” says Quincy Jones in the new documentary film Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool. “I want to feel the way Miles sounds,” says another of the many voices whose comments fuel the story of the jazz legend with local roots.

Along with the memories shared by childhood friends, fellow musicians, music business associates, historians and several of the women in his life, the words of Miles himself offer candid recollections. Those words are delivered by actor Carl Lumbly who employs the Davis rasp, the result of surgery on Davis’s larynx in 1956.

Davis was born in Alton and raised in East St. Louis. His was a well-to-do upbringing. His father was a dentist who also owned a farm in Millstadt. Despite his family’s economic situation, he experienced the sting of racism in St. Louis and later in other places. An encounter with a New York city policeman in the 60s resulted in significant injuries to Davis.

Director Stanley Nelson has assembled a huge volume of archival film clips and photos to tell Davis’s musical and personal stories. The trumpeter’s talent took him away from home and on the road as a teen. His recording career included the masterpiece album Kind Of Blue, released in 1959. He hired and nurtured several notable jazz musicians including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter, each of whom contributes to the film.

Davis’s periods of drug use are not skipped over. Davis fell asleep at the wheel in 1972 and crashed his Lamborghini. The pain he suffered afterward led him back to heavy drug use and a period in the late 70s when he did not pick up his horn for nearly five years.

Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool is a film that brings new details of Miles Davis’s life to hardcore jazz fans. It also provides a great introduction to music lovers who may be less familiar with the music of Miles Davis because it exists just outside of the mainstream. For those who may know his name but not his story, the film offers a fresh appreciation of a major figure in American musical history.

David Crosby: Remember My Name

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David Crosby has lived a charmed life. Born with singing talent and a baby face (which he disguised with abundant facial hair), he was part of two legendary rock groups and has enjoyed success as a solo performer.

The new documentary film David Crosby: Remember My Name examines his career and his life and reveals flaws and shortcomings along with fame and fortune.

Crosby was a member of the Byrds, the band for whom the term “folk/rock” was coined in the 60s. He later joined Stephen Stills and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills and Nash. (They soon added Neil Young to the group.)

Unlike much of the media coverage of Crosby in the last decade or two, the film does not overemphasize his health challenges. Yes, it does mention them and he and his wife Jan both acknowledge that he’s getting on in years, but the film reveals Crosby to be alive and feisty as ever.

With fewer talking head shots than are often seen in similar films, DC:RMN presents the expected archival images of Crosby’s milestones along with recent performance footage that demonstrates he can still sing.

Crosby himself has a good deal of on-camera face time, sharing memories. And opinions. Praise for Joni Mitchell. Dislike for Jim Morrison. Awareness of reasons why his former bandmates don’t speak to him.

Roger McGuinn tells why David Crosby was kicked out of the Byrds. Graham Nash gives his take on his recent sour relationship with Crosby. Photographer Henry Diltz talks about his recollections and takes some new pics of Crosby.

A memorable segment shows Crosby examining a large photo of the 1970 Kent State shootings and suggesting that he provided key impetus for Neil Young and the band to write and record the song Ohio.

David Crosby: Remember My Name will entertain and inform baby boomers. But will younger viewers care? I think yes, based on the success of recent rock-oriented films (dramatic and documentary).

Current media reminiscences of the Woodstock festival may also generate some interest in Crosby and others who enjoyed their greatest acclaim in the 60s and 70s. No, it’s not a coincidence that the film is being released on the 50th anniversary of that iconic event of modern pop culture.







Superpower Dogs


Dogs are fun. Beloved members of the family. Most people ask little of their dogs beyond companionship.

The dogs featured in the new IMAX film Superpower Dogs are dogs who work. They are trained to rescue and to track.

As is the case with many IMAX films, Superpower Dogs has spectacular visuals. A dog is helicoptered in to find a skier trapped by an avalanche. A dog dives into the ocean to practice a water recovery. Bloodhounds track poachers. These segments have gorgeous aerial shots of the Canadian Rockies, the Mediterranean and the plains of Africa, respectively.

A California beach scene is the setting for a dog who surfs (!) and provides emotional support and delight to special needs children.

The development of Halo, a Dutch Shepherd, as a search and rescue dog begins with her selection in Michigan.  Her story continues throughout the film with her training in multiple locations and her testing in New York.

Superpower Dogs is one of the better recent IMAX films. Its pacing is brisk. Its stars are compelling and charming. Clever graphics illustrate such aspects as the underwater movement of a swimming dog and the internal receptors that give bloodhounds their special talent.

Director Daniel Ferguson has assembled a cinematic canine collection that will certainly please dog lovers and will likely amuse cat persons as well.  is narrated by Chris Evans.





City Of Gold

You’ve tasted Korean, Thai and Mexican food. You may have tasted Burmese, Ethiopian and Iranian food. You may know that Los Angeles is a city with a diverse population. In City of Gold, you learn that Jonathan Gold often begins his reviews with writing in the second person. Hence, my opening paragraph.

Food critic Jonathan Gold wraps his arms around Los Angeles and its diversity. He loves L.A., his hometown. City of Gold explores the food of Los Angeles and the people who cook and serve it. The film also provides insight into Gold the person and his writing.

Gold says, “You’re not going to find food like this anywhere but L.A.” I’d suggest that many cities in the U.S., including St. Louis, offer a wide range of ethnic cuisines prepared with skill and passion.

But this film is about Los Angeles. The sheer enormity of the L.A. metro area and its population from across the world make it possible for Gold to experience meal after excellent meal at favorite dining spots. Gold revels in the smaller establishments, often in the less celebrated corners of town. (He once wrote a series of articles about what’s on every block on Pico Boulevard, which runs from downtown L.A. to Santa Monica.)

Among the spots I like best in the film are taco stand King Taco, which also has a taco truck permanently parked outside, and downtown’s Grand Central Market.

City of Gold has appearances from noted food personalities Andrew Zimmern, David Chang, Ruth Reichl and Calvin Trillin talking about or with Gold. (He and Reichl commiserate over fried grasshoppers.) Gold’s wife Laura Ochoa, who, like Gold, works for the Los Angeles Times, adds her takes about her husband and his work.

Gold, the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize (2007), writes colorfully. Of a spicy dish, he compares it to “a mysteriously pleasurable punch in the mouth.” In an Op-Ed regarding preservation of over-harvested seafood animals, he writes of the “bitter taste of extinction.”

Jonathan Gold the man is a cello player who grew up listening to classical music but later wrote about Gangsta rap. He doesn’t seem like he’d be a truck guy, but he proudly drives a Dodge pickup.

Laura Gabbert directed City of Gold. Her shots of Los Angeles at the end of the day give the city an appealing look that contrast with the gritty look of much of her street level filming.

City of Gold provides a glimpse of the many food choices L.A. brings to the table. Gold is a man who loves his work as much as he loves his city. His passion is obvious. You will enjoy meeting him and, especially, checking out the food he eats.

A Place at the Table

It’s not that people are dying of starvation. But many Americans don’t have the food choices that you and I do.

The reasons are many and varied as A Place at the Table points out. The documentary goes to Collbran, CO; Jonestown, MS and Philadephia, PA to show real people and their difficulties obtaining a nutritious diet.

The two school-age girls in Mississippi and Colorado and the young single mom in Philly are the central characters in the film. Their problems, as depicted, are heartbreaking. The single mom, for instance, finally gets a job, but her pay, which disqualifies her for food stamps she had been receiving, is not high enough to feed her two kids and pay for daycare.

A Place at the Table features celebrities. Actor Jeff Bridges offers his thoughts about the nation’s food problems and mentions Hidden in America, a TV movie from 1996 that starred his brother Beau as a member of the “working poor.”

Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio appears to talk about his efforts as a hunger activist. His wife, Lori Silverbush, is co-director of APATT with Kristi Jacobson.

As do many advocacy films, A Place at the Table offers certain statistics and declarations without sufficient attribution. And, ironically, some of the people described as victims of hunger are, in fact, obese.

While the film encourages a variety of government actions to correct shortcomings, it is not an overly political film. Yes, Michelle Obama has a cameo, but APATT does not engage in bashing of any particular party or administration.

The film does takes aim at the US Department of Agriculture’s price supports, which APATT claims are inordinately high for commodity crops (corn, soybeans, etc.) but low for growers of more nutritious fruits and vegetables. The result is healthy fruits and veggies are too costly and limited funds (and food stamps) go toward less healthy foods that provide more calories for the buck.

The film’s highlights include many upbeat moments: a Colorado church offering a free hot meal each week to any and all, a group of Mississippi school kids learning to prefer honeydew melon as a snack over junk food, the Philadelphia mom sharing her pride in her accomplishments.

A Place at the Table brings attention to vital concerns and offers suggestions for improving conditions in America. But will it reach those persons who can affect change?

In addition to its theatrical run, the movie will be available starting March 1 for download on iTunes. By the way, APATT features cool music from The Civil Wars and T-Bone Burnett.

Step Up To The Plate

The French documentary “Step Up to the Plate” is more about family and generations than about food and restaurants.

Yes, SUTTP does present wonderful shots of beautiful food presentations. But the focus is more on a father, his son and their extended family. The father, Michel Bras, knows it’s time to hand over control of his three-star Michelin restaurant to his son, Sebastien, who has known from an early age that his destiny was to follow in his father’s footsteps.

As Sebastien works to assemble flavors to create new dishes, his father stands nearby with constructive criticism. Dad points out that he is a tougher critic than diners might be. It becomes clear that, while his son will take over, Michel will be nearby.

A quick montage shows print coverage of the restaurant over the years: first one star, then two, then three. The restaurant, in France near the town of Laguiole, has relocated in recent years to a modern structure in an isolated area away from town.

“Step Up To The Plate” does a nice job of telling the story of the people involved in this restaurant as well as its food and its operation. By showing Michel’s elderly parents as well as Sebastien’s young children, the filmmaker gives a good overview of family tradition through its generations, including an affinity for bread spread with blackberry jelly and topped with a slice of the local cheese.

One sequence, in which Sebastien takes a nostalgic visit to his grandparents’ barn, might explain why he uses milk in so many of his dishes: he recalls that, as a child, he would drink raw milk in the barn, moments after it had been taken from the cows.

In just under an hour and a half, we enjoy a visit to the scenic French countryside (with a side trip to Japan), we meet a likeable family and we get an inside look at their restaurant and its leadership transition. Unlike most of the food shows we see on American TV with their quick cuts and short sound bites, SUTTP’s pace is slow and relaxed—the way most of us prefer a fine dining meal to be presented. Savor it.

“Step Up To The Plate” is in French, with subtitles.