DVD Round-Up: 11/11/2013

Oblivion(10/2/2013)

10-2-2013Oblivion

Maybe we’re wrong to expect big budgeted science fiction releases to be legitimate events.  The new Tom Cruise film Oblivion is most definitely not an event and it oddly feels exceptionally unexceptional because of it.  It’s a movie that rubs me the wrong way, but I’m kind of trying to figure out exactly why.  Part of it is that the movie is a hodgepodge of ideas from better sci-fi movies like Wall-E, I Am Legend, and Moon.  Another part is that Tom Cruise is maybe a little too generic a presence in the film to really make his character all that interesting.  Also I don’t think it delivers all that spectacularly as an action film or as an effects vehicle.  It doesn’t really fail too badly at any of the above mentioned things, but it doesn’t stand out either, in fact the movie just doesn’t stand out in general.  I didn’t care much at all about the various plot developments as they were happening and generally found the movie to be this really forgettable and mediocre experience.

**1/2 out of Four

V/H/S/2(10/5/2013)

V/H/S was an anthology film that consisted of five short horror films and a framing story.  It got some definite buzz within the genre community, but I wasn’t really a fan of it at all.  I still wanted to check out this sequel though because I heard from some fairly reliable sources that this sequel was an improvement over the original.  I’ve got to say, I kind of feel like I was lied to.  I will give the film one thing: the third short, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans’ Safe Haven, is really cool.  It’s ambitious, it has time to build into something, and once it gets going it really cooks.  Outside of that highlight though, its more of the same bullshit we saw in the first V/H/S.  The acting is almost uniformly terrible, the found footage gimmick is usually wasted, the VHS motif mostly amounts to nothing, and the frame narrative is mostly worthless.  The films have brief moments of inspiration here and there, but most of them are failures.  So, we have ¼ of a good movie here, and that’s just not good enough.

** out of Four

10-5-2013VHS2

Room 237 (10/13/2013)

10-13-2013Room237 When Room 237, a documentary that presents various interpretations people have of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, premiered at Sundance almost two years ago the big story surrounding it was that it could well be withheld from public exhibition by copyright laws.  Fortunately lawyers at IFC Films were confident enough about the fair use clause (or just confident enough that Warner Brothers had better things to do than sue over a semi-obscure documentary) that the film has been made available to the public.  The film essentially uses clips from The Shining and a variety of other films in order to illustrate a half dozen audio interviews with people who’ve developed theories about the film which range from plausible (that the film is a metaphor for genocide) to the psychotic (that the film was Kubrick’s confession for having allegedly helped fake the moon landing).  After Room 237 came out a lot of critics took against it because of hot “out there” a lot of the theories are, but I think these critics are maybe taking the film in the wrong spirit.  The film is essentially supposed to be a big brainstorming session amongst Kubrick acolytes and like any brainstorming session a lot of the ideas aren’t actually going to be on target, but it’s only by trying out some really wacky thoughts that you’re going to come up with a genuine innovation.  If nothing else Room 237 is a tribute to just how rich a source The Shining is because there aren’t a ton of films that will generate this much food for obsessive thought.

***1/2 out of Four

The Lords of Salem(11/2/2013)

I wasn’t a fan of Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, The House of 1000 Corpses, but after he directed The Devil’s Rejects I was something of a believer.  However, after enduring Mr. Zombie’s terrible Halloween remake and its equally terrible sequel I’ve kind of lost faith in the guy all over again.  Still, I held out hope that he could rebound if he returned to working with an original intellectual property.  As such I gave his latest film, The Lords of Salem, a shot but after watching it I’m sort of left with more questions than answers about where I stand on the subject of Rob Zombie.  There’s a lot to like about The Lords of Salem: Zombie has created a creepy scenario, he gets a lot out of his low budget, and at times he does seem to know exactly the right tone to set.  However I don’t think that Zombie’s vulgar “rock and roll” style doesn’t really work here much better than it did in the Halloween movies.  This style worked in The Devil’s Rejects, mainly because that movie wasn’t really trying to be scary, but this one is and most of Zombie’s flourishes just undercut the tension and distracts from the creepy atmosphere.  The film’s ending in particularly comes off as trippy rather than scary.  I think that if Rob Zombie is going to have a future as a filmmaker he’s going to have to either drop his usual schtick or he’s going to have to stop trying to be taken seriously as a horror director and maybe explore other exploitation genres to explore.

** out of Four

11-2-2013TheLordsofSalem

The Great Gatsby (11/11/2013)

11-11-2013TheGreatGatsby Like many people, my first and last exposure to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was in a high school English class and while I respected the book I still kind of treated it as homework.  I didn’t really remember a lot of the specifics of the plot, but I did remember getting the impression that it was a very somber book which only really used decadence as a backdrop for a rather melancholy story.  Needless to say, this seemed pretty far removed from the gaudy liquor soaked extravaganza that started to play out in front of me after I popped Baz Luhrmann’s recent adaptation of the novel into my Blu-Ray player.  The film isn’t quite as iconoclastic as his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but his style still seemed more at home in that earlier film, in part because we’re more used to seeing Shakepeare get staged in radical ways and in part because we’ve seen that play get adapted more often and audiences were a lot more hungry to see it get a new and unexpected coat of paint.

I really found Luhrmann’s approach far removed from the adaptation I wanted to see, but the film’s problems run deeper than that.  In fact the film actually calms down quite a bit in its second half and starts behaving the way you’d expect a Fitzgerald adaptation to behave… and this doesn’t actually work much better than the first half.  I think part of the problem is that I don’t think the film’s cast really worked particularly well.  Di Caprio is good enough at doing what he needs to do (look suave and give mysterious look), but I found Carey Mulligan’s Daisy uninteresting, Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan stiff, and Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway extremely awkward.  Beyond that I’m kind of left to question if making a film out of this novel is, ever was, or ever will be a good idea.  I don’t think the novel’s structure and perspective really lend themselves all that well to cinema and given that this actually is a pretty faithful adaptation in word if not in spirit, that’s a pretty big problem.

** out of Four

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