DVD Round-Up: 7/2/2013

Broken City (5/25/2013)


It used to be that Russell Crowe was one of those actors who was really selective about which roles he took and whose very presence was a sign that a project was really something to pay attention to.  Crowe still hasn’t gone the Pacino/De Niro route of taking whatever role is thrown at him, but if he keeps showing up in mediocrities like Broken City he’s bound to diminish his brand quite a bit.  He wasn’t alone though, director Allen Hughes (one half of the Hughes Brothers team) actually assembled a pretty solid and over-qualified cast to appear in this cookie-cutter crime film including Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, and Kyle Chandler.  On paper the movie is really promising and it’s filmed perfectly competently, but Brian Tucker’s screenplay is just not worth all the fuss.  It’s a typical “uncover the conspiracy” story and its interest in urban politics and corruption has been addressed much more intelligently and successfully on TV series like The Wire and The Good Wife.  It’s a watchable and moderately entertaining film, but definitely nothing to go out of your way to see.**1/2 out of Four

Gangster Squad (6/4/2013)

Speaking of crime movies that inexplicably manage to round up a vastly over-qualified cast, here’s another one.  Gangster Squad will forever be remembered as “that movie that needed to cut out a scene after the Aurora shooting,” largely because that fact is a lot more interesting than anything that’s in the actual movie.  Let’s put it this way: if you want to see a movie about detectives in 1950s L.A., you should see L.A. Confidential.  If you want to see a movie about a squad of cops teaming up to go after a flashy gangster, you should see The Untouchables.  And if you just want to see some action scenes set in 1950s L.A. you should just play the video game “L.A. Noire.”  That’s the problem with tying to make a film about gangsters, there are so many great crime films out there that there really just isn’t room for something like Gangster Squad which simply uses trench coats and Tommy Guns in order to wallow in violence for the sake of violence.  What’s more, this film’s near-celebration of vigilante violence is just gross enough to push this beneath the level of mediocrity and into the realms of the offensive.** out of Four 6-4-2013GangsterSquad

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (6/18/2013)

6-18-2013PussyRiotAPunkPrayer The arrest of three members of the Moscow based punk group/activist collective Pussy Riot happened just a little over a year before the HBO premiere of the documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, so if nothing else the filmmakers were really efficient in getting their film about the incident out really quickly.  Maybe a little too quickly.  I paid a decent amount of attention to the incident when it was going on (mainly because I was amused that it was forcing newscasters to say the word “pussy”) and since that was so fresh in my mind there wasn’t a whole lot of new information to be found in this documentary.  There are a couple bits here and there that manage to go behind the scenes and better clarify how the group works and what led up to their infamous “punk prayer,” but there isn’t really too much of that.  The documentary is effective at telling the basic story and I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t already familiar with the story, but those looking for new insights will be disappointed.*** out of Four

Upstream Color (6/26/2013)

The powers that be couldn’t be bothered to give this film a real theatrical release, so I’m not going to bother writing a full review for it either, though I’ll admit that it’s odd to be reviewing it alongside the rest of the early-year-release crap that will be filling out this round-up.  Shane Carruth made a pretty big splash in 2004 with his micro-budget triumph Primer, but then he seemed to disappear.  But he’s managed to come back this year with a film called Upstream Color, which is much better made than Primer but also much more confounding.  Primer was only confusing because it had a really complex time-travel plot, but this one is difficult mostly for its unconventional style and general weirdness.  In fact I’m not exactly sure how I could summarize the film without making it sound even more bizarre than it seems while watching it.  My usual criteria when faced with judging a film I didn’t really understand is to ask whether it made me want to re-examine it and understand it better, and in this case the answer is a definite “yes.”  The film is too well made in its own odd little indie way and Carruth is someone I sort of trust to know what he’s doing, but I’m definitely going to need to watch this one again before I find myself definitively embracing it.***1/2 out of Four 6-26-2013UpstreamColor

Mama (7/2/2013)

7-2-2013Mama Guillermo del Toro needs to be a lot more careful about which projects he decides to lend his name to, because he’s going to seriously dilute his brand if he keeps attaching “Presented Guillermo del Toro” to lame horror movies like Andy Muschietti’s Mama.  This movie isn’t quite as vacuous as Del Toro’s last charity case, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but that’s not saying much.  To be fair, this does at least have a semi-original setup involving children being raised in the wilderness and coming back home with a demonic protector, but once the actual horror starts this becomes yet another by-the-numbers J-horror inspired haunting movie with an un-scary CGI ghost at its core.  Good performances by Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (AKA Jaime Lannister) make this at least tolerable and there are one or two decent moments along the way, but there’s no really worthwhile vision at the film’s center to elevate it into the ranks of the memorable.** out of Four

One response to “DVD Round-Up: 7/2/2013

  1. Gangster Squad is definitely stupid as hell, but I must admit I had fun with it. Not a film I’d jump up to defend, but a guilty pleasure for me. I do agree though that the film does not deserve the cast it has.

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