DVD Round-Up: 1/17/2014

The Wolverine(1/9/2014)


For The Wolverine to have been considered a success of sorts it just had to do one simple thing: not be as bad as X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  I’m happy to report that the film certainly cleared that extremely low bar.  Of course the movie starts out on one of the most ridiculous images put on screen since Indiana Jones nuked the fridge, but things do improve a bit from there.  Unlike the movies in the main X-Men series this movie seems to be largely disinterested in the “mutants as racial/sexual minorities” allegory, although it does fit in with the larger continuity of the series better than I expected it to.  Rather, this seems to be a bit more character focused and given the relatively low-key nature of Wolverine’s powers the action is a bit less over the top than what we usually see in superhero movies.  Also, I think Hugh Jackman maybe deserves some kind of medal for his willingness to stick with this character.  Wolverine is one of the few action movie characters of recent times to be a believable badass and he’s in fairly good form here.  In spite of all that, I can’t say I found the story here to be wildly interesting and the villains felt fairly generic.  There were some cool action scenes, but nothing that really blew me away.  In fact I could say that about most of the movie; it’s just kind of a middling entrant in the superhero genre and those looking for such a movie have plenty of better and worse options.

*** out of Four

A Band Called Death(1/10/2014)

I’m not sure if Searching For Sugar Man was a blessing or a curse for the documentary A Band Called Death, but I’m leaning towards the later.  That Sugar Man was the most popular doc of 2012 may have helped raise the profile of this similar documentary (about an overlooked protopunk band finally getting their due) but at the same time I feel like this story kind of pales in comparison to the one being told in Sugar Man.  For one thing, I feel like the Rodriguez’s story (which involved an obscure musician being wildly popular in a foreign country without even knowing it) simply feels a little more extraordinary than Death’s more pedestrian tale of a band that simply failed to score a record deal before finally being rediscovered by cratediggers thirty years later.  Additionally, I think Searching for Sugar Man did a much better job of showcasing its subject’s music and making a case for its importance.  I didn’t personally find anything over compelling about the few snippets of the band’s fast garage rock aside from the fact that it was released all of one year before The Ramones’ first album, and it’s even less impressive when you consider that there were other Detroit area bands like MC5 and The Stooges who were already pretty damn close to “inventing” punk before Death came along.  In short, I think that while there were some interesting things to be gleamed form this film, one “obscure musician gets recognized” documentary was probably enough.

**1/2 out of Four


Prince Avalanche(1/11/2014)

1-11-2014PrinceAvalanche It’s amazing how a narrative can build around a director’s career in such a short amount of time.  In the case of David Gordon Green that narrative is that he was an indie director who “sold out” in order to make terrible Hollywood comedies.  I guess this is sort of true on its face, but it gets overstated.  First of all, he only made three studio comedies: one of them was great (Pineapple Express), one sounded interesting but is by all accounts bad (Your Highness), and one was by all accounts best forgotten (The Sitter).  Yet when you hear some people talk about it you’d think he’d turned into a hack of Tom Shadyac proportions.  People were so fed up with his career as the maker of Hollywood comedies that they welcomed with open arms his decision to return to serious indie fare.

I’m also glad that he’s making indie films again, but I kind of wish he’d made his comeback with a better film than Prince Avalanche.  To David Gordon Green’s credit, he’s found an interesting location to set a film and he’s also found a pretty good concept in having two guys bond while repainting a road.  However, I really did not like the way that Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsh’s characters were written at all.  The two guys talk and act almost like overgrown children, and not in a particularly funny way.  This is kind of a problem when your movie consists entirely of conversations between these two people.  The movie is really a pale imitation of the dramatic sweep of David Gordon Green’s early movies and it’s not as funny as Pineapple Express.  I’m hoping it’s just an awkward transitional effort that will lead to better things in the future.

** out of Four

The Act of Killing(1/15/2014)

The Act of Killing is almost certainly the most talked about documentary of the year.  Pretty much every website and podcast I’ve come across has at some point stopped and discussed the film, and after months of hearing things about the film it almost seems like an anti-climax now that I’ve finally seen the thing.  The film is in part about the mass killings that occurred in Indonesia during the mid-sixties, but really it’s about the lack of guilt that’s seemingly felt by those who carried out the purges.  Because the regime which ordered the execution is still in power, these men are actually held up as heroes by the establishment and their actions have almost become a thing of folklore.  With this film, director Joshua Oppenheimer has decided to follow two of these former perpetrators as they attempt to film stylized reenactments of what they were doing during this era.  These rather bizarre reenactments are interesting because they’re these odd little expressions of how these people view their pasts, but I’m not sure that they were the most successful aspect of the film.  In general I was more interested in seeing these guys just talk about what they did and I was generally unsettled by their casual demeanor while doing so.  I almost feel like I would have liked the movie better if it had been a straightforward interview piece, but I still like the film I got quite a bit.

***1/2 out of Four


The Lone Ranger (1/17/2014)

1-17-2014TheLoneRanger The best thing that can be said about Gore Verbinski’s big budget adaptation of The Lone Ranger is “it had its moments.”  There are many who wouldn’t even grant it that, but it does.  I think it’s a rather frustrating film because I can kind of see the skeleton of a good movie buried somewhere in it but its outweighed by a lot of problems.  I think the biggest problem is that the original radio and TV show that the film is based on is not and never was very good and certainly wasn’t the right source material for a massive blockbuster in 2013.  I think the image of a masked gunfighter is just kind of lame and I don’t think many people under 60 really associate with the character one way or another.  I also think the film was hampered by a desire to recreate whatever magic had been captured by the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which is a dubious goal in the first place because that franchise got old fast and is even more misguided because the style just doesn’t match the setting very well.  The biggest fallout of this approach is Johnny Depp’s performance, which I found to be simply grating on almost every level.

However, the Lone Ranger license and the POTC spirit do course through the film during its strongest moment: a really fun chase/shootout thing across two moving trains set to the William Tell Overture that works both as an action climax and as an elaborate Buster Keaton tribute.  If Gore Verbinski had managed to maintain that kind of energy throughout the film and turned it into a sort of highly visual screwball comedy he might have been on to something.  Instead, what he’s made is a very slow and almost boring mess of a movie for most of its running time.  For most of its second act it feels like it’s just frittering away time as it goes down what is at its heart a pretty formulaic story about a hero’s origin.  That it goes down a bunch of other strange paths like the inclusion of a weird frame story does not help its cause either.  So at the end of the day I can’t completely dismiss the film but I can just kind of wish that its final set-piece had been turned into a short film or something.

** out of Four 

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