DVD Round-Up: 9/29/2012

Note: To My regular readers (both of you), I will henceforth be combining my Documentary Round-Up and DVD Catch-Up features into a single “Round-Up” recurring feature.  Obviously this means that certain films will not be covered with the depth that they once were, but this will give me the opportunity to cover a larger quantity of films as they come out on DVD and give me more time to prepare my theatrical reviews.  Should I see something extraordinary only after it’s come out on DVD/Blu-Ray I will make an exception and revert to the old format, but for the most part this is the format I’ll be going eith for home video releases from now on.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (8/3/2012)

One of the most common formats for documentaries these days is that of the biographical profile.  You find an interesting person, film them doing their day to day thing, then use stock footage and talking heads to establish how they got there and why they’re so respected.  The mileage you get from these documentaries is entirely dependent on how interesting the subject is.  Jiro Ono, the pre-eminent sushi chef in Japan proves to be… interesting enough.  The film gives the viewer a good look at what goes on behind the scenes art Jiro’s restaurant from the fish market to the table, and also gives a good idea of what Jiro’s dedication has done to his family.  The film could be seen as a larger statement on what it takes to be the very best at any endeavor.  This is not a groundbreaking film, but it serves as a fairly fascinating 83 minutes.*** out of Four

Red Tails (9/2/2012)

Critics hated Red Tails when it came out last January, and I can see why, but I also feel like it was a bit over-bashed at the time.  The film isn’t bad so much as it’s extremely mediocre.  The aerial dogfights in the movie are pretty good, better than most World War II era flight movies that I’ve seen.  The real problem here are the scenes on the ground, which unfortunately come close to Pearl Harbor levels of cliché.  However, I find this more forgivable here than I do in that Michael Bay travesty if only because Red Tails lacks Pearl Harbors pretensions   While that movie was trying to be an epic on par with Saving Private Ryan, this film is mostly just telling the story of a bunch of guys united on the battlefield, and I think some of the corniness is an intentional homage to the aerial combat films of old.  The film is in many ways a T.V. movie with a much larger special effects budget and, when watched at home rather than in a theater, it can be fairly enjoyable.**1/2 out of Four

Marley (9/11/2012)

It’s not always easy loving Bob Marley.  The guy made beautiful music but saying anything nice about him seems to instantly make everyone assume you’re some kind of stoned slacker frat boy.  Anyone trying to make a documentary about his life needs to be able to sort through all kinds of baggage in order to get down to the essence of the man’s life and works.  Kevin MacDonald’s documentary, simply titled Marley does an admirable if not overwhelming job at delving into the man’s life.  There’s no gimmick here, it’s simply a series of talking heads telling a life story accompanied by some good stock footage.  That’s the dignified route to take but I couldn’t help feeling like I was watching a two hour episode of “Behind the Music.”  That’s not an inherently bad thing, but it’s not an exciting thing, and MacDonald also doesn’t uncover much of anything that Marley’s fans couldn’t already get from other sources already.  Still, if anyone is looking for a good overview of the reggae icon’s life this is as good a place to go as any and I can’t really blame the filmmakers just because I was already pretty well studied on the subject.*** out of Four

Wanderlust (9/16/2012)

I’ve never been a huge fan of either Paul Rudd or director David Wain, but to my surprise the latest film from the duo has proven to be pretty solid.  The film is a gentle send-up of hippie commune types and it wrings some pretty good humor out of that lifestyle while also working as a more traditional Judd Apatow-esque comedy.  Paul Rudd still proves to be a rather bland presence all told and I’m still no fan of his co-star Jennifer Aniston, but the rest of the ensemble is pretty solid and really improves the over-all product.  Not everything in the film works and it will never be mistaken for something that is truly great, but enough of it works to make it decidedly rental-worthy.*** out of Four

John Carter (9/28/2012)

Seeing John Carter you know in your bones that what you’re watching is a failure but it isn’t entirely easy to place your finger on exactly why that is.  The production values are quite good and there are some pretty decent action scenes.  The notion that they were going to turn Taylor Kitsch into a star was daft, but for the most part the acting and writing in the film was above average.  I think the root problem is that the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel upon which it’s based simply does not have the relevance in 2012 that director Andrew Stanton seemed to think it did.  In fact I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s generally a bad idea to try to make faithful adaptations of pulp novels, without exception audiences seem to reject every adaptation of pulp stories that nostalgic filmmakers throw at them.  The only time that pulp adaptations work are when filmmakers make original projects like  Indiana Jones and Star Wars which re-imagine the stories to make them more cool and relevant and this film most certainly does not do that.**1/2 out of Four
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