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'The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story' examines a feuding songwriting team

Also reviewed: 'Fados.'

May 22, 2009|Kevin Thomas;

As a songwriting team, Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman are one of the most successful and honored in history. They have written more than 1,000 songs -- for 50 movies alone -- as well as for television, records, theme parks and the theater. The only songwriters to be put under contract by Walt Disney Studios, they became synonymous with its musicals -- "Mary Poppins," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and "The Jungle Book" among them.

Both brothers reveal a deep affection and reverence for Walt Disney, with whom they formed an unusually close relationship. But with each other, the Shermans, now in their 80s, have had a personal relationship as prickly as their professional collaboration has been fruitful.

Incredibly, Robert's son Jeffrey, a writer, producer, director and composer for film and TV, and Richard's son Gregory, an Emmy Award-winning producer and screenwriter, grew up in Beverly Hills seven blocks apart but never really spoke to each other until the 2002 London premiere of the stage adaptation of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." The two became captivated by the idea of making a documentary on the lives and careers of their fathers.

"The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story" is, above all, a loving salute from sons to their accomplished fathers. Robert and Richard Sherman have strong personalities, and their sense of distance from each other is clear, yet they are loathe to discuss their acrimony on camera beyond acknowledging it -- or, for that matter, just how their collaboration works despite it. But there are hints about an incident in which Richard was at Robert's home in Robert's absence.

"The Boys" is so heartfelt that it elicits a sense that complex creative relationships may ultimately elude explication, leaving Jeffrey Sherman to speculate that the friction between his father and his uncle was what brought their songs alive.

-- Kevin Thomas

"The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story." MPAA rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements, smoking images and some brief language. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. At the Regent in Westwood Village.

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Fado, across generations

"Fados," the final film in Carlos Saura's glorious musical trilogy that includes "Flamenco" (1995) and "Tango" (1998), celebrates Portugal's definitive, enduring musical form with its stately, sensual melancholy laments. Saura, Spain's great senior director, opens his film with images of people walking in the streets and closes with a panoramic view of Lisbon taken from an ascending trolley car.

In between, on a soundstage offering a variety of striking settings, Saura films an array of singers, dancers and musicians. Older singers address mortality and a longing for the past; younger singers explore the expressive powers of fado in a quest for self-discovery; all sing of the eternal yearning for love. Fado, which emerged in Lisbon in the mid-19th century, has its roots in the rural poor and in oppressed colonials. It was the music of the marginalized with a political history that today embraces hip-hop and flamenco.

Saura uses mirrors, scrims, silhouettes, layered images, back projection, overhead shots -- all highly theatrical devices -- yet places them always at the service of the music, singing and dancing; never is his film less than cinematic.

A centerpiece of the film is a tribute to the late, legendary Amalia Rodrigues, a woman of commanding, majestic beauty and presence, who is seen with her pianist in rehearsal, searching out every nuance of a song she is to perform. Unfortunately, "Fado's" other performers are not identified.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Fados." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. In Portuguese with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; and Encino's Town Center.

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