Tag: USA-disneyplus

Staff & contributors

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Herbie Mann, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Tony Lawrence, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alka Balbir, Guillaume Tremblay, Katia Krafft, Maurice Krafft, Miranda July

Director: Sara Dosa

Rating: PG

If Steven Spielberg had just decided to do a straightforward cover version of West Side Story, it still would have been a wonder of music, movement, and color. But more than the lush camerawork and impassioned performances from Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, this adaptation is most memorable for its renewed focus on the senselessness of its central turf war. Here, New York City exercises absolute power over the Jets and the Sharks, rendering all this gang violence as a futile attempt to hold on to outdated values in the face of economic desolation. Spielberg might not be able to do much about the story's weaker Romeo and Juliet-inspired parts, but he still finds a way to let this often ridiculed tragic romance serve a greater purpose.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Ana Isabelle, Andrea Burns, Andy Powers, Annelise Cepero, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Ben Cook, Bert Michaels, Brian d'Arcy James, Chryssie Whitehead, Corey Stoll, Curtiss Cook, David Alvarez, David Guzman, Denia Brache, Doreen Montalvo, Feiga Martinez, Gaby Diaz, Harrison Coll, Ilda Mason, iris menas, Jamie Harris, Jamila Velazquez, Jeff Ward, Jess LeProtto, Joe Lanza, José Ramón Rosario, Josh Andrés Rivera, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Allen, Kyle Coffman, Maddie Ziegler, Mike Faist, Mike Iveson, Mike Massimino, Myles Erlick, Nadia Quinn, Natalie Toro, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Patrick Noonan, Paul Niebanck, Rachel Zegler, Reginald L. Barnes, Rene Ojeda, Ricardo Zayas, Ricky Garcia, Rita Moreno, Ryan Woodle, Sean Harrison Jones, Shade Rupe, Skye Mattox, Talia Ryder, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Victor Cruz, Yassmin Alers

Director: Steven Spielberg

It’s hard not to be enchanted by Henson’s furtively creative world, which here is charmingly sectioned into nostalgic archival footage, stop motion art, and clips of Henson’s own experimental films early in his career. Those unfamiliar with Henson might think his story is simply the history of the Muppets and Sesame Street (though even then it would be a full one), but Henson has plenty of other creations too. He’s part of a line of chronically dissatisfied artists who are constantly reinventing and restlessly one-upping themselves, which is why his work evolved into early CGI, as well as The Dark Crystal franchise and films like Labyrinth. This lovingly told documentary tries to match Henson’s heart and creativity, while also showing the darker aspects of his life, such as the effect his nonstop artistry had on his family and health.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Brian Henson, Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Frank Oz, Jennifer Connelly, Jim Henson, Lisa Henson, Rita Moreno

Director: Ron Howard

Rating: PG

Alex Honnold might not be the most relatable guy ever, but his obsession with free solo climbing and his single-minded approach to life makes him so interesting. He's precisely the type of person that chooses to follow his goals, at the expense of everything else. To a certain extent, he has to be — without whole-hearted commitment to the sport, he could literally die. It’s no wonder someone decided to document his climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan wall—a wall that’s 3,000 feet high and hasn’t been free-climbed alone before. The journey is visually stunning and a technical marvel in and of itself. However, what’s most memorable about this film is the character study of Honnold: he has an indescribable instinct that outsiders could only call a death wish. His emotional detachment might make this a frustrating film to watch, but Free Solo serves as a unique portrait of a man who spits at the face of death.

Genre: Adventure, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Rating: PG-13

Surprisingly dramatic for a documentary but without exoticizing its central characters for a privileged audience, The Territory is that rare film that rightfully portrays indigenous peoples as living firmly in the present. In their continuing struggle to protect their land and culture, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people of the Amazon may be vulnerable, but they aren't helpless. They're organized, have access to technology, and know exactly how they want to represent themselves—armed with bows and arrows and defending what's theirs in beautiful, thrilling footage. In this way, even as The Territory ultimately touches on issues that have affected all of Brazil, namely the destructive effects of Jair Bolsonaro's presidency, it still feels like a documentary co-authored by these indigenous people themselves.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau

Director: Alex Pritz

Science Fair is simultaneously a feel-good documentary and a feel-bad one: while inspiring and reassuring for all the brilliant young minds it spotlights, it also has the potential to make your own life accomplishments look paltry in comparison. The former effect is the strongest, though — because you can’t watch high schoolers as young as 14 present pioneering, disease-curing research and inventions and not feel like the future is in good hands.

Science Fair is light on the actual science, which makes it an accessible watch and prevents the film’s focus from mimicking the cutthroat nature of ISEF, the international competition it follows. With a grand prize of $75k and lots of college application-boosting medals up for grabs, the competition amongst the kids is fierce, but Science Fair instead takes an empathetic, celebratory approach so that all of the kids feel like deserved winners. That’s especially true of the more disadvantaged teens: though the competition itself might not take into account all the hurdles they’ve had to overcome even just to get in the room, this compassionate doc definitely does. Even if the science is all Greek to you, it’s impossible not to appreciate and be moved by the determination and resilience of these kids.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster

Rating: PG

Like many American narratives, the history of space exploration is rife with long-buried secrets that are finally coming to the surface. The Space Race is an attempt to collect those secrets and weave a fresh new history that finally celebrates the heroes we should’ve learned about years ago. There are interviews with the likes of space pioneer Ed Dwight (who is responsible for unforgettable lines like “I’m not part of history, but a mystery” and “I had the capability, but not the opportunity) and the first Black man to fly into space, Guion Bluford, as well as surprising information about confidential test pilots, political involvement, and the undeniable influence of Afrofuturistic art and media in the field. But education aside, what gives the documentary an edge is that it’s not afraid to question and at times attack NASA and the government for their racist past. We see celebrated astronaut Victor Glover reconcile his loyalty to his nation with his anger over the murder of George Floyd, for instance. At the same time, others like Dwight wanted to “just talk about space, not the struggle” but were tokenized both by the government and the opposition for their gains. Despite its compact run time, The Space Race covers all these nuances and more to provide a richly detailed and lovingly told new history of space exploration in America.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Charles Bolden, Ed Dwight Jr., Guion Bluford

Director: Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Lisa Cortés

Rating: PG-13

Howard Ashman was at the peak of his career—fresh off Little Mermaid’s sweeping win at the Grammys and Oscars, and concocting the iconic songs that would make up Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast—when he died of AIDS at 40. But even at that relatively young age, Ashman already had a lifetime’s worth of work to show. Howard, the documentary, gives us a glimpse into Howard’s inner and early life, starting with his fanciful and imaginative childhood, all the way down to his formative college years, his foundational work in “off, off” Broadway, and the breakout success of The Little Shop of Horrors the Musical. Disney isn’t the whole picture, the documentary rightfully proclaims, so in between the abovementioned highlights, director Don Hahn inserts pockets of heartwarming anecdotes from Howard’s friends and family, and some of Howard’s own wise words from interview snippets. It’s clear Hahn was a good friend of Ashman, since the documentary often feels like a warm get-together of the people who knew and loved Ashman best. 

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Adam Jacobs, Alan Menken, Angela Lansbury, Anne Bobby, Annette O'Toole, Barbara McCutchan, Barry Peterson, Bill Boggs, Bill Lauch, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Brynn O'Malley, Charles B. Griffith, Chris Montan, Colleen Camp, Dan Rather, Dan Stevens, Danny Glover, David Friedman, David Geffen, Denise Nickerson, Dennis Green, Diane Sawyer, Divine, Don Hahn, Donald W. Ernst, Douglas Seale, Dudley Moore, Ellen Greene, Emma Watson, Estelle Bennett, Fats Waller, Frank Oz, Frederick Coffin, Gary Trousdale, Glen Keane, Howard Ashman, James Monroe Iglehart, Janis Menken, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Orbach, Joan Prather, Jodi Benson, John Herman Shaner, John Musker, Jonathan Hadary, Jonathan Haze, Karen Miller, Kirk Wise, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Kyle Renick, Larry Kramer, Leola Wendorff, Levi Stubbs, Maria O'Brien, Marvin Hamlisch, Maureen Abbott, Maury Yeston, Mel Welles, Melanie Griffith, Melinda Smith, Mena Massoud, Michelle Weeks, Mike Gabriel, Nancy Parent, Natalie Wood, Paige O'Hara, Pat Carroll, Paula Abdul, Peter Schneider, Phil Spector, Randy Cartwright, Richard Beymer, Richard White, Rick Moranis, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers, Roger Ebert, Ron Clements, Ronnie Spector, Roy Edward Disney, Sarah Gillespie, Shirley Ashman, Steve Martin, Thomas Schumacher, Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Vincent Gardenia, Walt Disney, Will Smith

Director: Don Hahn