"Searching for Sugar Man"
The combination of a friend's recommendation and my wife's gentle insistence prompted me to get over my usual aversion to documentaries and watch this fascinating story of a failed American musician who became a mega star in South Africa.
Aspiring Detroit folk rock singer "Rodriguez" cut two albums in the early 1970s. The records quickly flopped in the United States, prompting Rodriguez's record label to kick him to the curb, leaving him broke. This forced Rodriguez, despite his Dylan-like talent, into a marginal, shadowy existence, eventually spurring tragic tales of how he killed himself on stage over his musical failures.
But while DOA in America, Rodriguez's albums had become legendary anti-establishment musical masterpieces in South Africa, propelled unintentionally by a totalitarian apartheid government that sought to censor any sort of countercultural thinking.
Tragically, Rodriguez never knew he had achieved such an enormous cult following in South Africa. That's when a devoted South African fan and a music reporter teamed to find out what ever happened to Rodriguez.
Filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul has created a truly compelling movie that manages to deliver real twists and turns without the usual competition-based theme that many documentaries rely on. And the soundtrack featuring Rodriguez's music is a significant bonus; it's like discovering two previously unreleased albums from your favorite '60s band.
Watch it now before someone gives away the surprises. Kids 12 years old and up will be able to appreciate the story (PG-13: language and drug references; one hour and 36 minutes).
Ratings (out of 4 stars):
Overall: 3½ stars
Teens: 2½ stars
Adults: 3½ stars
Seniors: 3½ stars
Should you watch it? Yes -- terrific Oscar-nominated documentary.
"To Rome With Love"
Yes, you've seen this film before from writer-director Woody Allen about anxiety-ridden lovers talking incessantly as they parade through the streets of the world's most sophisticated cities. And if you go for that sort of thing, you'll be satisfied with this version.
As always, Woody throws young "it" actors, along with some veterans, into his frenetic cinematic stew. We've got some chunks of Jesse Eisenberg and a few slices of Ellen Page (who unfortunately comes across as exquisitely annoying) along with dashes of the wizened Alec Baldwin. And, of course, Allen himself co-stars, playing the exact same character that he always does.
The plot will strike you as either excessively recycled or tried and true, depending on your fondness for Woody's movies. I fall somewhere in between and can mildly enjoy a Woody film, especially if I skip seeing half of them. It's romantic and funny, but not very.
Too racy for kids under 12, while teens may chafe at the dialogue-heavy approach (R: sexual themes; one hour and 52 minutes).
Ratings (out of 4 stars):
Overall: 2½ stars
Teens: 1½ stars
Adults: 2½ stars
Seniors: 3 stars
Should you watch it? Yes -- more of the same from Woody Allen.