'End of Watch'
3 stars = Good
The title refers to the end of shift and, on a darker note, the possibility that someone won't make it to the end of the work day.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as a dream team. Unlike the cops who spend much of their time at the precinct house, Officer Brian Taylor (Mr. Gyllenhaal) and Officer Mike Zavala (Mr. Pena) log most of their hours in a cruiser in South Central Los Angeles.
Brian is a bright guy, a serial dater, former Marine and pre-law student who is taking a filmmaking class as an elective, while Mike hails from the streets of East Los Angeles, married his high school sweetheart and is expecting his first child. The pair met at the police academy and have great rapport, swapping personal histories, advice and teasing jokes and always watching the other's back.
The types of criminals, the level of danger and the fusillade of ammo and hatred the men face are light-years away from what TV watchers saw on "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" and even "The Shield."
A cynical veteran (David Harbour) predicts the department will brutalize the youthful officers and make them want to eat their guns, even as a sense of dread starts to pervade the proceedings as the cops become the target of gangbangers who mean bloody business.
"End of Watch" is from writer-director David Ayer, no stranger to the boys in blue after his work on "Training Day" (which won Denzel Washington an Oscar as a corrupt cop), "Dark Blue," "S.W.A.T.," "Harsh Times" and "Street Kings." Anchored by outstanding leads, "End of Watch" has humor, heart and heroic action.
The extras include commentary with Mr. Ayer, deleted scenes, five featurettes: "Fate With a Badge," "In the Streets," "Women on Watch," "Watch Your Six" and "Honors."
'Searching For Sugar Man'
3 stars = Good
The MIA in "Searching for Sugar Man" is single-named Rodriguez, an obscure American singer-songwriter of the late '60s and early '70s. The nation he inspired wasn't the United States. It was South Africa, whence director Malik Bendjelloul sets forth to discover what happened to him.
In his brief heyday, Rodriguez was a folk-rock-blues balladeer WHO seemed a hybrid of Bob Dylan and James Taylor -- with some Arlo Guthrie and Cat Stevens shadings. But his songs were edgier and his words more melancholy, and he sang them only in smoke-filled blue-collar dives at night (with his back turned to the audience), working as a manual laborer by day.
A couple of Motown producers heard and liked and signed him for two potent albums, "Cold Fact" and "Coming From Reality," full of soulful laments about love, drugs, death and social protest.
Rodriguez's albums garnered critical praise but scant sales, in the absence of promotion and radio air time. Rodriguez was quietly dropped by his small Suffix Records label and not heard or heard from again.
In America, that is. Unbeknownst to the artist, bootlegged copies of his albums somehow found their way across the Atlantic to South Africa, where a particularly avid under- and above-ground following developed among the Afrikaans musicians of Cape Town. Songs such as "The Establishment Blues" struck a responsive chord and became anthems for the anti-apartheid movement.
His mystique grew with the demise of his career. Depressed by failure, he reportedly shot himself in the head during a concert or died from a drug overdose. Nobody knew for sure.
Swedish director Mr. Bendjelloul relies on Cape Town record shop owner Stephen Segerman and journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom to follow the clues, plus a mix of music, archival footage, interviews with friends, fans and Rodriguez's adult daughters.
This celebration of a man and his music, which won jury and audience awards at this year's Sundance festival, moves slowly and ultimately reveals the man to be more fascinating than the music. Since the makers tell it as a mystery, let's just say that reports of the gruesome suicide were exaggerated.
'For a Good Time, Call ...'
2 stars = Mediocre
With "Bridesmaids" making a box office bundle and HBO's "Girls" being an Emmy-nominated success, raunchy chick flicks were bound to abound. "For a Good Time, Call ..." follows on the heels of the bawdy "Bachelorette."
There's a smart comedy hiding within the screenplay by star Lauren Anne Miller and co-writer and college pal Katie Anne Naylon. It features two young New Yorkers whose names are, not coincidentally, Lauren and Katie (Ari Graynor).
Lauren and Katie have hated each other since college, when a particularly gross incident establishes Katie as the slutty bad girl and Lauren as the straight-laced, sensible one. Katie has a great apartment that's about to lose its rent-control status, and Lauren has to leave her apartment after a sudden breakup with her boorish boyfriend. Jesse (Justin Long), the girls' flamboyant mutual friend, decides it's time for the ladies to woman-up and become roommates.
There are a couple of awww scenes as the girls evolve into friendship and business partners in their own phone sex line, with entrepreneurial Lauren breaking out of her shell and Katie opening up to her first-ever gal pal.
The story hits a few potholes, but it flies by in just 86 minutes, a credit to the two stars. Both seem naive for young women who have spent time living and working in New York City, but they are a likable pair. You could see them growing up to be friends with the sometimes smart, sometimes sex-crazed ladies of "Sex and the City." They already have the vocabulary for it.
Also this week
• "Twenty Twelve: The Complete Series": The British faux documentary series takes the work place insanity of "The Office" and kicks it up 100 notches with a quirky look at the people behind the scenes of the Summer Olympics held in England.
• "The Men Who Built America": This cable production looks at the likes of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, men with the vision to forge the foundation on which this country was built.
• "Death Race 3: Inferno": The fast cars are off and running again.
• "Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft": Booboo and Fivel Stewart star in this dark look at the fairy tale.
• "The Imposter": A 13-year-old boy disappears without a trace from San Antonio, Texas, in 1994.
• "Scarecrow and Mrs. King: The Fourth and Final Season": Kate Jackson's TV spy show.
• "Chris Hardwick: Mandroid": Cable special featuring Chris Hardwick.
• "Kendra: Season 4": Cable series starring former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson.
• "Iron Man Armored Adventures: Season 2 Vol. 3": More animated tales featuring the Marvel superhero.
• "Fat Kid Rules the World": A story for anyone who has looked for their inner rock star.
• "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning": Only one man can stop an army of Universal Soldiers.
• "Wild Kratts: Lost at Sea": Wildlife explorers Martin and Chris Kratt go under the sea.
• "Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis": Documentary on the TV and film comedian.
-- Rick Bentley,