DVD Round-Up: 2/3/2013

You’re Next(1/25/2014)

2013 has been a truly terrible year for horror cinema in which pretty much everything that’s come out has ranged from being over-rated to being just awful.  I was kind of hoping that You’re Next, a home invasion thriller about a family being attacked by people in animal masks, would be the horror savior of the year but I’m afraid its left me disappointed once again.  The film is part of a breed of self-aware horror films that seems to believe that its use of horror clichés is okay so long as it points out that they are clichés just so you know that they know that what their presenting is kind of silly.  It’s the same thing that Cabin in the Woods was doing last year, but at least that movie had the conviction to really lean into its satirical side.  This one on the other hand stands as a film that’s too deconstructionist to really be scary but also not deconstructionist enough to simply thrive as a sort of meta exercise.  It ends up feeling like a movie made by people who understand the mechanics of a gory slasher movie, but who have no idea how to create that tone of dread which really fuels those movies and even if they did it almost certainly would have been killed dead by their smart-alecky sense of humor.

**1/2 out of Four

Cutie and the Boxer(1/29/2014)

In thinking about the lives of artists, there are generally two predominant stereotypes: the starving young artist who struggles to make a living while being unrecognized by those who don’t “get” his work and the smug older artists who can get away with all sorts of douchey behavior while selling his work for millions.  The documentary Cutie and the Boxer is an interesting reminder that this binary is a bit simplistic because it’s about an older artist who has been recognized in art circles but who is nonetheless barely able to make rent payments each month.  The documentary follows Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, a pair of married Japanese artists who have been living in New York for upwards of forty years as they prepare for a joint Gallery show.  The film does a good job of portraying what these two artists’ lives are like and I was very fond of the way it used animated versions Noriko’s art as a means of presenting backstory.  However, the film is more of a portrait than a story.  Nothing overly eventful happens during the period in which these two are being filmed so the film is really more about giving the audience an idea of how the two got to this point than about turning its footage into a real narrative.

*** out of Four

2 Guns (1/31/2014)

I have some fondness for the “buddy cop” sub-genre of the action/comedy, but pretty much every one of them that’s been made in the last… oh, fifteen years, has been pretty lame.  It’s a genre in need of some serious re-invention and the new Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg film 2 Guns is a good example of why.  It’s the kind of movie you catch one day on basic cable, enjoy while you watch, and then never think about ever again.  That’s partly because it really has almost no high concept to distinguish it at all.  I guess the story set-up in which two undercover cops are actually investigating each other instead of real criminals is a somewhat original starting point, but, not really.  The action here is serviceable at best, the comedy isn’t overly funny, and the two movie stars at the film’s center don’t really do much to make their characters unique or memorable.  It is quite possible the most mediocre film ever made and I’m baffled as to what motivated its makers to put this much effort into creating such a thing.

**1/2 out of Four

Leviathan(12/7/2014)

Leviathan is a film produced by the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab that is ostensibly about a commercial fishing vessel.  It’s sort of a documentary, but, not really.  The film has no voice over, no talking heads, almost no audible dialogue, and no intentional narrative arc to speak of.  Rather, what they’ve done is place a number of small consumer grade cameras throughout this ship and managed to film it from a ton of weird camera angles in an attempt to get a new perspective on what life is like on this vessel both from the perspective of the fishers and the fish.  The movie is extremely experimental, and I thought some of the things they were doing were… kind of neat.  There were certainly a handful of shots they managed to get that I would have liked to rewind and watch over again, but I can’t say I got much out of sitting down and watching all 87 straight minutes of the thing.  That said, it’s good that things like this exist and I wouldn’t be too surprised if in the future we see filmmakers taking some of the tricks that were developed here and incorporating them into more rewarding narrative films.

** out of Four

We’re the Millers (2/3/2014)

In my mind, We’re the Millers is destined to be remembered as “that 2013 R-rated comedy that was bad, but not quite as bad as Identity Thief.”   If nothing else I view it as a missed opportunity because I do think that the film’s central high concept (that of a pot dealer hiring a bunch of degenerates to pose as his family for drug smuggling purposes) did have some comedic potential.  The problem I think is that the film’s cast just wasn’t up to snuff.  I’m not a huge Jason Sudeikis fan, but I think the bigger problem is just that the rest of the people cast as his “family members” are just not overly funny performers.  Jennifer Aniston certainly has some screen presence, but she is not known for improvisational comedy, and it shows.  The logic of the film’s story also kind of breaks down at a certain point: I’m not sure why these people keep thinking they’re obligated to stick together once the border has been crossed for example, and the distances involved in the road trip don’t make a whole lot of sense either.  Despite all that, I wouldn’t say I hated We’re the Millers so much as I merely disliked it.

** out of Four

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