DVD Round-Up: 1/25/2013 (The “Year of McConaughey” Edition)

One of the stories circulating through the film world in 2012 was the notion that Matthew McConaughey was finally leaving behind the dopey romantic comedies he’d been relying on in recent years and had become a prolific presence in more challenging fare.  In this edition of the DVD round up we’ll look at three of the films he was in during that year and also take a look at a pair of unrelated docs.

Killer Joe (1/17/2013)

I wasn’t a huge fan of the last William Friedkin/Tracy Letts collaboration, 2007’s Bug, but their follow-up makes it look a whole lot better by comparison. Killer Joe has one big asset in its favor: it has Matthew McConaughey doing everything in his power to create a memorably sadistic villain in the form of the film’s titular character.  Beyond that though we are left with an exceptionally un-noteworthy story about a bunch of morons who accomplish nothing in the process of an idiotic crime scheme.  Little is done to expand the story beyond its stage origins and I found the film to be downright juvenile in the way that it tried to shock and offend its audience.  I wasn’t offended by anything here, but I did roll my eyes at a bunch of it.  The film is watchable, but this does not feel like it was made by the masterful auteur behind The French Connection and The Exorcist, nor does it feel like it was made by capable craftsman who made To Live and Die in L.A., The Hunted, and the aforementioned Bug.  Rather, it’s made by the goofy provocateur that made Cruising and Jade.
** out of Four

Detropia (1/20/2013)

This documentary is about Detroit… all of it.  The film builds no particular narrative and tells no specific story.  Instead it gives its audience a variety of vignettes about various aspects of the city and presents them without a whole lot of connective tissue.  Some of these vignettes are indeed interesting and the filmmakers do capture a handful of fascinating moments, but overall I found this documentary to be a very unsatisfying mess.  Pretty much the first thing that they teach you in High School composition classes is that you need to start out with a thesis that is limited enough to support, and there’s no way in hell any documentary is going to be able to support a goal as wide as the painting of an entire city’s economic and cultural status.
** out of Four

Bernie (1/21/2013)

It’s so easy to take him for granted, but there are few American indie-directors who are even close to being as consistent as Richard Linklater.  When his latest film, the black comedy Bernie, came out earlier this year I more or less ignored it but now that I’ve seen it I certainly regret the decision because in its own modest way this is a real gem.  Jack Black (in a role that stretches his persona in interesting ways) plays a well liked East Texas man who forms a strange relationship with an older widow who is viewed as a royal terror by the rest of the town.  The film takes the Citizen Kane approach of viewing its subject from the point of view of everybody but its title character.  The whole thing is based on a true story, which gives Linklater the opportunity to utilize various people who knew the participants as interview subjects in pseudo-documentary interludes throughout the film.  This paints a very interesting portrait of the town, but it’s not just an enjoyable quirk; its essential to the film’s third act which really explores a sort of cult of personality that was built around Bernie that really affects his destiny in certain ways.
***1/2 out of Four

Head Games (1/22/2013)

As someone who listens to a lot of sports talk radio in the morning, I’ve heard more than a little bit about the controversy surrounding head injuries in sports.  This documentary, which features interviews from a number of the figures at the forefront of research into the topic, is a pretty good overview of the issue even if it doesn’t necessarily uncover anything new or particularly juicy.  The film is at its most interesting in its first half-hour to forty-five minutes when it gives a good overview of how the issue was first uncovered and how it came to prominence as a major issue in athletics.  After that though, it begins to drag as it begins to re-iterate itself.  In general this is a pretty conventional and unnoteworthy documentary, which is surprising coming from the director of Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters and I’m not surprised that it never really caught on as a theatrical feature.  Instead I’m surprised that it wasn’t cut down and presented as an entry in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, because it definitely feels more like a TV production.
**1/2 out of Four

Magic Mike (1/25/2013)

One of the strangest stories in the world of cinema in 2012 was the pop culture ascendance of the film Magic Mike.  Its subject matter (male strippers) made the film a surprise box office hit as female audiences flocked to the film as a sort of “girls night out” aid.  Normally I’d stay far away from such a film, but this one was made by a respected director and I heard a lot of good things about the film (even if it wasn’t entirely clear if these recommendations were sincere or ironic).  Those familiar with Steven Soderbergh’s career will quickly recognize this as part of a string of low budget experimental films he’s made including Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience, and Haywire.  I wasn’t much of a fan of any of those films and I wasn’t a fan of this one either, but it is indeed a more respectable effort than it looks.  There are a number of stripping scenes that the movie forces the audience to sit through (or allows the audience to enjoy depending on your perspective), but this is in service of a very realistic and detailed look at the less than glamorous lives that these guys live and it’s not at all dissimilar to the life lived by the female prostitute in The Girlfriend Experience.
**1/2 out of Four
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