DVD Round-Up: 12/29/2012

 

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (12/22/2012)

Modern art has increasingly become a popular subject for documentaries in recent years, and the legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic isn’t half bad as far as these subjects go.  The film uses the creation of Abramovic’s MoMa retrospective as a mean of looking at her life and work while also examining where she currently is in her personal and professional life. Abramovic’s performance art is quite avante garde, definitely not for the closed minded, I can’t say I entirely understood it or liked it but there was clearly a lot of thought and work put into it.  Judging by the work you’d probably expect Abramovic to be some kind of eccentric weirdo, but in her interviews she’s actually relatively down to earth and understandable.  From the documentary I probably would have wanted a little more biographical detail and more insight into the work she does training her acolytes to recreate her past works from the retrospective.  Instead the film spends way too much time obsessing over her latest piece, which involves people sitting down in front of the artist and allowing her to stare at them.  That’s easily the least cinematically interesting of all the Abramovic performances that are documented here and I don’t see why it gets so much screen time.*** out of Four

The Amazing Spider-Man (12/22/2012)

I’ll admit to my bias up front:  I’ve believed that the idea of “rebooting” the Spider-Man franchise the way they did just five years from the end of the last trilogy is a gross and crassly commercial decision that was made for no good reason except for a desire to keep the rights to the character.  If anything I’m surprised that the movie ended up as competent as it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that overall it’s quite lackluster.  For one thing, the movie makes the ludicrous decision to make its audience sit through a mostly unaltered version of the Spider-Man origin story all over again for no good reason.  This makes the first half of the movie a total snooze, and things don’t really get much better once it finally transitions into a film of its own.  The Lizard is quite simply a lame villain and Spider-man’s fight against him does almost nothing new or interesting with the increasingly tired super-hero genre.  The film has its moments, but in a year that gave us The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers there is no reason in the world to accept this thing as “good enough.”**1/2 out of Four

Indie Game: The Movie (12/23/2012)

The title is a bit blunt, but Indie Game: The Movie is a film that should be taken seriously among the year’s best documentaries.  Directors James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot do a very good job summarizing the state of independent games before launching into an examination the making of two separate indie game projects: Super Meat Boy and Fez.  I’m pretty familiar with both of these games, so it was cool to see the people involved in their creation.  Beyond that, the documentary does a great job of maintaining a cinematic feel throughout the proceedings.  At its heart this is a “talking heads” documentary but it doesn’t really feel like one because the filmmakers do a lot to switch things up and keep the film fresh throughout.  I’m not sure what the film would be like for audiences who don’t play video games, but it certainly worked for me.***1/2 out of Four

Red Hook Summer (12/29/2012)

After spending a decade making bigger budget movies and documentaries, Red Hook Summer marks Spike Lee’s return to making charmingly messy statement films like Jungle Fever, Crooklyn, and Get on the Bus.  The film follows a kid named Flik Royale who grew up in an affluent section of Atlanta as he spends the summer with his highly religious grandfather in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.  The main issues addressed in the film are the black church and the interactions between the affluent and less affluent members of the black community.  That said, the movie is at its strongest when it’s focusing in on the experiences of Flik and the many eccentric characters which populate Red Hook.  Spike Lee has a very strong grasp of what this community is like and I enjoyed his take on youthful summer aimlessness.  That said, this movie is far from perfect.  The biggest problem is that the film has a really uneven cast.  Clarke Peters gives a great performance and there are some other good actors sprinkled in, but the two amateur child actors who are front and center in the film just aren’t very good.  The film also goes off on a handful of strange tangents which would probably sink most movies, but I’ve come to expect a certain degree of messiness from Spike Lee’s personal work and don’t really mind it.  This will never be considered one of Spike Lee’s best films, but I enjoyed it in spite of itself.*** out of Four

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (12/29/2012)

Much like Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, this documentary deals with a major figure in modern art.  Unlike Marina Abramovic, Ai Weiwei does not have the luxury of working within the accepting confines of the New York art community, rather he is at war with the repressive Chinese regime.  Ai Weiwei is one part artist and one part activist and many of his art projects take the form elaborate jabs at the power in his home country and these jabs do not go unnoticed.  The communist party is openly hostile to Ai Weiwei and this documentary shows him fearlessly standing up to their attempts to silence him.  Ai Weiwei seems like a really cool guy and I’m glad this documentary helped me learn about him.  I can’t say that Alison Klayman’s work behind the camera necessarily did a whole lot to shine a unique light on the subject, but I can’t complain too harshly about this when the material is this interesting.***1/2 out of Four
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