BDA Homemovies: End of Watch, For a Good Time, Call . . ., The Imposter, Pina 3D and Searching for Sugar Man

January 24, 2013

Monkey note: Yes, this is the blog version. Usually there won’t be any overlap from the column Karen Martin writes for the MovieStyle section but this week there is …

End of Watch (R, 120 minutes) — A maddeningly entertaining piece of pulp fiction, a solid B-movie artfully distressed for the sort of middlebrow audience that might dismiss Dredd 3D as a cinematized first person shooter game. Which means that film critics like me will love it.

And not without reason — the film is carried by two wonderfully natural performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, as beat cop partners working the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles. Brian (Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Pena) are a far cry from the Machiavellian patrol office portrayed by Woody Harrelson in last years Rampart; they’re straight shooters who (for the most part) follow the rules and take their responsibilities seriously. They are willing to give a citizen a break, and they have at least their share of fun at the expense of the petty bad guys they routinely encounter, and they tease each other in the way of smart, masculine teammates who share a locker room but they’re essentially decent people and exceptional cops, capable of heroic selflessness. They’re a lot like the stand-up guys Joseph Wambaugh portrayed in his novels about the LAPD.

Because Brian is filming everything, the majority of the movie is presented to us in the “found footage style” that has plagued low-rent (and some high rent) horror projects since The Blair Witch Project hit big back in 1999. I’m not sure End of Watch needs this sort of gestural flourish at all, and I know that it’s overused in this case. When a moviegoer starts wondering where the image is coming from — is it a perp’s cellphone or one of the officers’ chest cams? — and worse, deciding that there’s no logical place where such a camera could be located if the action we’re watching wasn’t a carefully choreographed cinematic illusion, then you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.

Despite that, this is gritty entertainment in which the good guys (spoiler alert) eventually prevail. Grade: 88

For a Good Time, Call . . . (R, 85 minutes) — Another waste of Ari Graynor, this phone-sex movie is dull, predictable and a little depressing. Grade: 71

The Imposter (R, 95 minutes) — Remarkable, highly re-enacted doc about the French con-man who impersonated American teenager Nicholas Barclay, who as a 13-year-old, disappeared from his San Antonio neighborhood.

Three years later, a kid in a Spanish children’s home claimed to be Nicholas and when Nicholas’ older sister, Carey Gibson, arrived in Spain, she immediately identified the stranger as her brother. Things get weirder from there. Grade: 87

Pina 3D (PG, 103 minutes) — Wim Wenders’ documentary Pina is an act of memorialization and — like Cave of Forgotten Dreams by his fellow traveler in Germany’s New Cinema Werner Herzog — an exploration of the human impulse for creation.

It’s a performance piece that serves primarily as a tribute to the German modern dance choreographer and performer, Pina Bausch, as it presents edited versions of key pieces of her repertoire, performed by her company of four dancers.

Bausch, an old friend of Wenders, died in 2009, just two days before Wenders began shooting the film the two had talked about collaborating on for decades. Under the circumstances, it’s understandable that a tone of hushed reverence permeates the movie, although we might wonder if Bausch herself would have been comfortable with the level of veneration.Onscreen subtitles tell us this is a film “for Pina” rather than about her, though Wenders’ decision to focus on his friend’s work without providing much background information might make it more difficult for the uninitiated to parse the movie. Grade: 86

Searching for Sugar Man (PG-13, 86 minutes) — Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man starts off with a South African record-store owner talking about one of his favorite singers — an enigmatic and political performer called Rodriguez. He released one of the best-selling albums in South African history, a record called Cold Fact that was ubiquitous in the ’70s, an essential disc in the collections of middle-class South Africans. It was as common as The Beatles’ Abbey Road or Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

But then, the record-store owner — Steve “Sugar” Segerman — tells us, Rodriguez “set himself alight onstage and burnt to death in front of the audience …. probably the most grotesque suicide in rock history.” What a sad and shocking end — straight out of a Hollywood B-movie.

Only thing was, neither Segerman nor his friends could confirm this morbid rumor. They couldn’t find out anything about Rodriguez. All they knew was that he was an American, and he mentioned “Dearborn” in one of his songs.

Turns out, Sixto Rodriguez was born and raised in Detroit, and, on the cusp of the 1970s, he was like any number of longhaired, guitar-wielding young men. He gave music a shot, and it looked like he might make it for a while. He recorded two albums — and they both flopped despite the obvious talent on display.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, he was bigger than Elvis — an inspiration to activists.

Eventually these worlds converge, though Bendjelloul cannily holds off the inevitable, letting his story unspool chronologically, through a mix of talking-head interviews, archival footage and a couple of haunting animated clips. Grade: 87

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