Rappers bank millions, DJs pack clubs and graffiti artists hang in galleries. But break dancing, the fourth pillar of hip-hop, came and went as a passing fad. Not so fast, says Benson Lee, whose documentary "Planet B-Boy" shows that breaking is alive and thrillingly well all over the globe. The nexus has shifted from the housing projects of the Bronx to the sleepy town of Braunschweig, Germany, where crews from Estonia and South Africa converge to compete in the Battle of the Year.
"Planet B-Boy" follows several teams in the buildup to the competition and singles out a handful of dancers with compelling back stories. But the real attraction are the jaw-dropping dance sequences.
-- Sam Adams
"Planet B-Boy." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West L.A., (310) 281-8223.
Jazz singer never caught big break
Nothing gets a jazz aficionado's juices flowing like the discussion of those not-quite legends whom fate and an uncaring public consigned to the cutout bins. There's a thrill in discovering an unsung genius. Raymond De Felitta's " 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris" takes a personal interest in the late vocalist, whose career seems like an endless string of bad breaks. Esteemed by his peers, Paris guested on records by Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker, and even cut the first vocal take on Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight." But his version of the standard was never released and MGM's attempt to sell him as a star fell flat.
Yet, with a short and sometimes violent temper, Paris seems to have let himself down as often as others did. He is less a victim of circumstances than a tragic hero.
" 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.
Far from the typical teen tale
"Nana," a 2006 box office hit in Japan, is a delightful film with appeal beyond its target audience of teenage girls. Director Kentaro Otani and co-writer Taeko Asano, in adapting Ai Yazawa's popular manga (graphic novel) to the screen, have brought exceptional depth and emotional range to the familiar tale of two young women, both named Nana, trying to make it in the big city. Nana Osaki (Mika Nakashima), nicknamed Hachi, and Nana Komatsu (Aoi Miyazaki) meet as seatmates on a train bound for Tokyo. The Nanas cross paths again by chance and end up roommates. In taking his heroines and their challenges seriously, Otani and his two stars portray a growing emotional maturity that makes "Nana" far more involving than one might expect.
-- Kevin Thomas
"Nana." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. In Japanese with English subtitles. Exclusively at the Imaginasian Center, 251 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 617-1033.
War in Iraq from a medical view
Any film that begins with a cadaver dissection isn't likely to be a cakewalk, yet Terry Sanders' Iraq war-themed, medical documentary "Fighting for Life" is more moving and life affirming than its grim subject matter might suggest. Yes, the movie's blunt combat injury footage is hard to watch but the pure emotion Sanders captures in the military doctors and nurses interviewed -- as well as in the traumatically wounded -- helps ease the film's bleaker moments. Oscar-winning documentarian Sanders ("Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision") takes an intimate, though distinctly apolitical approach; there's no debate over our involvement in Iraq with the film's doctors and soldiers admittedly devoted to "service over self." While this keeps things even-handed, it's still tough to witness the vast human toll depicted here without wondering: "Why?"
-- Gary Goldstein
"Fighting for Life." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.