Monday, June 27, 2016

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) ****

The 2012 documentary Searching For Sugar Man speaks to the power of music to change the world in the most unexpected of ways. Sixto Rodriguez released only two albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971). After they failed to sell or find an audience in the United States he stopped recording music. A musician based in Detroit, Rodriguez made his living working various manual labor jobs around the city. Few people, even his friends, had any idea he once wrote and performed music. Unknown to Rodriguez and his family, his two albums changed the course of history on the other side of the world.

That's where the documentary picks up the story. The late Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul managed to track down a true mystery man.  For in South Africa the music of "Sugar Man" stood alongside The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. A legend spread that he doused himself in gasoline onstage and died after lighting a match. No one knew for sure. 

Songs like "Establishment Blues" encouraged South Africans to take action against Apartheid policies during the 1970s and 1980s. Without revealing too much, Searching For Sugar Man reveals an amazing mystery that culminates in a magnificent conclusion.

Rodriguez's music style evokes early 70's singer/songwriter: the lyrical punch of Bob Dylan with the smooth, emotive delivery of Cat Stevens. But the power of his words transcends these categorizations.  Themes in Rodriguez's music dealt with life in the inner city of Detroit and the pathos of everyday life.  The fact that music from a specific time and place can connect with people from a completely different culture and history proves art can work magic.

Searching for Sugarman won a much deserved Oscar for Best Documentary.  Music fans have so much to gain from the spirit of this film.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence *1/2

In an underwhelming and disposable sequel to the highest grossing movie of 1996, Independence Day Resurgence lands like a thud in all its gaudy 3-D glory. I'm not sure if anyone was clamoring for a sequel, but whatever? I liked how the original was a throwback to 1950s alien invasion films and the special effects were quite impressive. Watching the original also created a real sense of doom with some scenery chewing performances from Randy Quaid (movies need him back) among others.  

Set 20 years later, the sequel depicts earth recovering from the initial attack and utilizing the alien technology to build a defense against another attack. And shocker: they come back!  And this time its personal!

The only redeeming feature of the sequel is director Roland Emmerich got back many of the original players to come back including Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Bill Pullman, and Vivica A Fox.  Their banter distracts from a thrown together script (with five writers on the credits).  Liam Hemsworth and the rest of the new cast add little beyond emoting comic book dialogue. Will Smith wisely passed, but a cameo would've been welcome. Even though everything was supposed to feel and bigger and better, the final effect amounts to boredom.  Not one memorable image or line of dialogue, routine alien invasion shenanigans. 

If brainless popcorn movies are your thing, you might like this one.  In 30 years when its on late night tv, Resurgence will play much better.

The summer of 2016 is shaping up to be one of lackluster sequels and shaky reboots.  Time to buy that box set of Airport movies.