In 2009, Broadway director and choreographer Bill T. Jones unveiled a musical based on Nigerian artist and political activist Fela Kuti. The popular show introduced a whole new generation to the complicated life of an influential composer and ardent revolutionary.
Alex Gibney's documentary Finding Fela acts as a cinematic complement to Jones' theatrical rendition, charting Fela's rise to fame through archival footage and interviews with key friends, family and collaborators.
A force for social change, Fela challenged the oppressive government with his politicized art and strange lifestyle. But he never gained widespread notoriety in the United States, primarily because his protracted songs wouldn't fit the limited confines of mainstream radio play. Finding Fela deftly explores the creative process behind these mammoth melodies, noting both the instrumental nuance and social implications of the lyrics.
Fela's personal life dominates most of the film's middle portion, including his misogynist views toward women and insane desire to marry upwards of 30 brides. Here we see the delusional need for power and control over his closest allies.
If Gibney's film presents the man himself fairly, moral smudges and all, Jones' musical examines these flaws within a heightened, sometimes drastically intense aesthetic. The adaptation process provides a window into the relationship between fact and fiction, history and myth. When Finding Fela goes backstage to capture some of these mesmerizing moments, it's an insightful and exciting documentary.
Regrettably, Gibney doesn't focus on this aspect for very long. Finding Fela—which opens Friday, Aug. 15, and runs through Aug. 21 at the Ken Cinema—opts to spend ample time on Fela's later years, when his life was dominated by extreme mysticism. At this point, the man himself seems like a distant cipher, one the film has failed to properly corner for a more in-depth inspection.
Bound by Flesh: Conjoined twins The Hilton Sisters perform in a traveling sideshow in this strange documentary about modern-day circuses. Screens through Aug. 17 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Calvary: One day a troubled Irish priest (Brendan Gleeson) is threatened during confession, sending him into a downward spiral of sin and doubt.
Coldwater: On par with his mother’s wishes, a teenager is abducted, placed in a delinquent reform facility and forced to confront the tragic events that sent him there. Screens through Aug. 21 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Expendables 3: The 1980s have officially reassembled for the third time to blow explosions into your face.
Finding Fela: The legendary Nigerian musician’s rise to artistic and political prominence is depicted in this documentary from director Alex Gibney. Opens Friday Aug. 15 at the Ken Cinema.
Let’s Be Cops: Two goofball friends posing as cops for a costume party get sucked into a night of debauchery and danger.
The Giver: Lois Lowry’s classic young-adult novel about a not-so-utopian future gets the big-screen adaptation starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.
What If: Young people sit around and talk about love and friendship and wonder why nothing makes sense. It stars Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan.
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Bridesmaids: Pray for the bride. These ladies can party. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
To Kill a Mockingbird: Scout’s honor, this is one of the great films about civic responsibility and fatherhood. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, on the outdoor patio at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla.
CityBeat 5 Minute Film Festival: A collection of fiction, documentary and experimental films, all under five minutes in length. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, at the Sunset Temple in North Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Watching young Susan Sarandon is sublime, time warp and all. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 14 and 15, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills and at midnight on Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Ken Cinema.
Sabrina: Two wealthy men (Humphrey Bogart and William Holden) fight for the attention of a lovely woman (Audrey Hepburn) who happens to be the daughter of their chauffeur. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16 and 17, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Outrageous Sofie Tucker: The iconic and troubled flapper star from the 1920s gets her very own exposé documentary. Screens at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, at the David and Dorothea Garfield Theater in La Jolla.
Big Men: This documentary focuses on the troubling corruption and economic subterfuge going on in Ghana and other African countries over energy and oil production. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Chasing Choo Choos and One Week: Experience these silent classics on the big screen with musical accompaniment by master organist Donald Mackenzie. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18, at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park.
Godzilla (1998): Matthew Broderick stars in this big-budget stinker that was made to get Riff-Traxed. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, at various theaters. Get details at fathomevents.com.
Familia: A mosaic about mothers and daughters at odds and reconciling their differences. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
The Neverending Story: A mysterious book offers a fantastical adventure for a troubled adolescent searching for answers. Screens at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, at Arclight La Jolla.
Sarah’s Key: A French journalist researches the life of a girl struggling to survive in 1942 and finds that their lives are strangely interconnected. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Scripps Ranch Library.
Point Break: Love is where the surf breaks, bro. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Lady Valor: The Kristen Beck Story: A former Navy SEAL decides to become a transgender woman but keeps her transformation a secret from family and friends. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at Hillcrest Cinemas.
A Touch of Sin: Four violent and engaging stories unfold in modern China, foretelling the institutional and political issues plaguing the nation through globalization and economic boom. Screens through Aug. 14 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Alive Inside: Dan Cohen tries to revolutionize the eldercare industry by giving seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s the opportunity to experience music again with iPods and headphones. The results are staggering. Screens through Aug. 14 at the Ken Cinema.
The Hundred-Foot Journey: The proprietress (Helen Mirren) of a famous French restaurant clashes with the family running a newly opened Indian eatery down the street.
Into the Storm: An onslaught of unprecedented tornados touches down and causes havoc in the Midwest. Global warming is a real bitch.
Step Up: All In: Get your grove on, again.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Watch out for Raphael. He’s a party dude.
Get on Up: The James Brown biopic we’ve all been waiting for from the director of The Help.
Guardians of the Galaxy: American pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his rowdy alien crew become objects of a manhunt after stealing a valuable orb that belongs to a diabolical space villain.
Forces of Nature: See the Earth rumble, explode and spew in glorious IMAX. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Back to the Moon For Good: Watch as teams from around the world compete to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which challenges engineers to land a robot on the moon. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen’s latest cinematic confection follows an English debunker (Colin Firth) brought in to unmask a possible swindle involving a wacky astrologist (Emma Stone).
A Most Wanted Man: Director Anton Corbijn (The American) adapts John le Carré’s famous novel about a web of spies operating in the shadowy confines of Hamburg, Germany.
And So it Goes: Michael Douglas plays a grumpy real-estate agent whose life is suddenly uprooted when he’s forced to care for his estranged granddaughter. It co-stars Diane Keaton.
Code Black: Director Ryan McGarry’s documentary takes viewers inside a notorious trauma bay in an inner-city emergency room that’s known as the “hurt locker of medicine.”
Hercules: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson dons the sword, sandals and skimpy underwear to play the half-god at odds with his immortal brethren.
Land Ho!: Two old friends take a road trip through Iceland, hoping to find a new lease on life, in Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens’ quirky dramedy.
Lucy: Thanks to a drug-smuggling operation gone bad, Scarlet Johansson miraculously begins to use 100 percent of her brain and seeks revenge against the bad guys who put her on the spot.
Sex Tape: During a drunken celebration, a husband (Jason Segel) and wife (Cameron Diaz) make a sex tape, only to find it gone the next morning. A frantic search for it’s whereabouts commences.
Boyhood: Richard Linklater’s epic drama follows the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 6 to 18, charting all the highs and lows in between.
Planes: Fire and Rescue: This sequel to the 2013 animated hit film finds lead race plane Dusty (Dane Cook) forced into working with a fire-and-rescue unit after his engine is damaged.
The Purge: Anarchy: It’s that time of year again to murder, murder, murder, all for the benefit of the good ol’ United States of America. Let freedom ring.
Wish I Was Here: Zach Braff stars as a struggling actor attempting to overcome the avalanche of problems that face his family and parents.
Begin Again: When a forlorn singer / songwriter (Keira Knightley) breaks from her cheating superstar boyfriend (Adam Levine), she finds newfound success with a disgraced record executive (Mark Ruffalo) willing to take a chance on an unknown talent.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Ten years after a virus outbreak pitted apes against men, the two factions forge a fragile peace that’s tested by fear and aggression. It’s directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and stars Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis.
Hidden Universe: Blast off into the stratosphere with this documentary that uses real images captured from telescopes to examine the vast reaches of space. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Earth to Echo: The found-footage film has finally found its way to the children’s-sci-fi genre in this adventure about an alien who recruits a group of friends to help it return home. I’m sure E.T. is suing for copyright infringement.
Snowpiercer: In a frozen post-apocalyptic future, the only human survivors live aboard a high-speed train with distinct class boundaries and brutal restrictions. A revolt by the impoverished tail section threatens to shift the balance of power.
Transformers: Age of Extinction: Boom!
Jersey Boys: Clint Eastwood adapts the popular Broadway play about the rise of musical group The Four Seasons.
22 Jump Street: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return for more violent shenanigans as undercover cops trying to expose a drug ring at a local college.
How to Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless encounter new challenges while trying to bring their species together in harmony.
Edge of Tomorrow: Tom Cruise dies a thousand times in order to find the right info about an alien attack that will destroy Earth. It co-stars a very buff Emily Blunt.
The Fault in Our Stars: In a dramedy starring Shailene Woodley (Divergent), from the writers of (500) Days of Summer, young love is tested when a cancer-stricken teenager falls for her witty foil despite her serious illness.
Maleficent: Angelina Jolie stars as the infamous sorceress who sets her sights on the nubile young Princess Aurora in this big-budget reboot of Sleeping Beauty.
X-Men: Days of Future Past: The latest installment of the popular Marvel franchise finds Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) going back in time to recruit his colleagues’ younger selves in order to save mankind from the evil Sentinels.
Chef: Jon Favreau returns to comedy filmmaking with this story of a well-respected chef who opens a food truck after being fired by a posh restaurateur.
Journey to the South Pacific: Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.