DVD Round-Up: 1/1/2013

 

Dark Shadows (1/1/2013)

1-1-2013DarkShadows

I’m not sure what it is about this film and Tim Burton’s recent output in general which engenders such hostility.  I don’t think anyone will see Dark Shadows as some kind of new classic, but it’s hardly the disaster I’d been led to believe.  What Burton has made here is a dryly comic fish-out-of-water story that pretty effectively uses both its period trappings and a characteristically off-the-wall Johnny Depp performance.  When the film goes wrong it’s because it’s trying to be a Hollywood blockbuster with a budget becoming of its star’s fame.  Had this been made for about $50 million instead of $150 million it probably would have been a lot better managed and likely would have had some extra spontaneity and spunk.  I mostly enjoyed it for what it was, but my experience may have been influenced by the fact that I had very low expectations and that that I watched it well after the end of its advertising campaign which gave away most of the film’s best gags.

*** out of Four

How to Survive a Plague (1/1/2013)

As someone who was very young during the early 90s, I’ve never exactly understood that decade’s absolute fixation with the AIDS virus.  This documentary went a long way towards explaining just how devastating the crisis was to those in the midst of it and also how members of those communities were able to help bring the epidemic under control.  The focus here is on an activist group called ACT UP, which helped bring awareness to the problem and pressure the powers that be into doing something about it.  The documentary employs a couple of talking heads, but a majority of the storytelling is done through the use of some very well chosen and edited archival footage.  The film builds up a very clear and concise narrative with a very effective dramatic arc that had me riveted throughout.

**** out of Four

1-1-2013HowtoSurviveaPlague

Sleepwalk With Me (1/5/2013)

1-5-2013SleepwalkWithMe As someone who’s been known to listen to Public radio occasionally, I was familiar with comedian Mike Birbiglia’s stories about his sleepwalking bouts and how they affected his career and relationships.  It’s a good story and Birbiglia has told it effectively over the years, but I’m not sure it was ever meant to be the source for a truly great movie.  That it has become a source of a film that’s “pretty good” may be a bigger accomplishment than it sounds.  Birbiglia’s life story is a little thin all told, and the film is ultimately kind of about nothing, but it does feel fairly true to life.  It also seems to offer a pretty solid look at what the life of a small-time standup comedian can be like.  I wouldn’t call it an overly funny movie, but I did giggle a few times at it.  I suppose it ultimately makes sense that this was produced by the people who make “This American Life” because it casually amuses in much the way that program does, but I maybe expect a little more than that out of a film that’s they’re charging money for.

*** out of Four

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap (1/6/2013)

As a Hip Hop fan I’ve been interested in this documentary ever since I heard that it was being made and I was more than a little interested by the fact that it was being directed by Ice-T.  Seeing the film I admired the sheer number of interviews that were filmed for the project, but that’s also kind of the film’s weakness.  The film barely has time to scratch the surface with most of the interviewees and it also doesn’t really organize them into any kind of real narrative.  Also, for all the breadth of subjects on display here Ice-T barely touches on any artists from the South and very few artists who are under 30 years old.  The Dirty South is hardly my favorite regional variation on Hip-Hop but it seems like a serious omission just the same.  Ice-T may have been better served turning this project into a web-series or podcast or something that would have allowed for more in depth interviews with all the subjects.

**1/2 out of Four

1-6-2013SomethingFromNothingTheArtofRap

Your Sister’s Sister (1/6/2013)

1-6-2013YourSister'sSister In my cinematic adventures I’ve largely ignored the “mumblecore” movement, which seems to consist of microbudget films made by and for hipsters who are in some kind of strange competition to see who can most moderately enjoyable movie about people who live uninteresting lives.  However, I was fairly impressed with how well this one came off.  Make no mistake, this is a movie which more or less takes place in a single location and is almost entirely consumed with the petty travails of three upper-middle class thirty-somethings, but it’s pretty well written and the film has come up with a somewhat original predicament for said thirty-somethings to be involved in.  It’s certainly a minor achievement, and I’m glad I waited until it was on home video to watch it, but it’s a solid little indie.

*** out of Four

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