DVD Round-Up: 8/2/2014

Enemy (7/17/2014)


I don’t know about this Denis Villeneuve guy. I mostly like his breakthrough feature (2010’s Incendies) but was not among the supporters of his 2013 Hollywood debut Prisoners and am even less fond of his latest film Enemy. This latest effort is doubly disappointing because it has an intriguing premise and clearly has a couple good ideas under the hood. It tells the story of a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who, upon renting a movie and seeing an extra in the background, comes to learn that he has an exact double walking around: someone who looks and sounds exactly like him. So far so good, but things quickly go off the rails, in part because this screenplay some very peculiar notions about what someone in this situation would do. Personally, I think that if most people were in this guy’s shoes they’d just shrug it off, but this guy’s initial reaction is to freak the fuck out and start to have a breakdown. His double ends up responding to the situation in similarly insane ways and his wife proves to be a similarly paranoid lunatic. In general I just found the behavior of almost everyone involved in this to be contrived and unbelievable and found their various states of mind to be rather unbelievable, and when your movie is a psychological thriller that is a deal breaker. The actors involved try their best to make this work, and Villeneuve does have a couple of interesting visual ideas (certainly wins the award for best use of a CGI spider), but I don’t think he was able to elevate this material at all.  At the end of the day this might just not be the movie for me.  I generally don’t respond well to dream logic, and dream logic is pretty much the only thing that can explain why these characters are acting the way they are.

*1/2 out of Four

The Unknown Known (7/25/2014)

This latest documentary from Errol Morris features a long-form interview with none other than Donald Rumsfeld.  I suspect that Morris envisioned this as a sort of post-Iraq follow-up to his Oscar winning 2003 documentary The Fog of War, which was a fascinating interview with the Vietnam-era defense secretary Robert McNamara, but Rumsfeld proves to be a much less forthcoming interview subject.  Maybe it’s because he has a lot less distance than McNamara did or maybe he’s just delusional, but Rumsfeld has very little new to offer here beyond the old company line and Morris is rarely able to really open him up at all.  You can almost tell that Morris doesn’t think the actual interview went all that well, because he basically tries to turn the film into a rumination about how words and ideas can be twisted in order to escape scrutiny.  I will say, he does almost manage to salvage the project with his style; no one can spruce up and visually present an interview quite like Morris and he does a lot here to keep things fairly interesting, but the central interview is a failure and at the end of the day there’s no amount of pizazz that can change that.

**1/2 out of Four


Stranger by the Lake (7/26/2014)

7-26-2014StrangerbytheLake Stranger by the Lake is a French film set at a lakeside beach that has become an isolated gay cruising spot.  It’s been called a thriller, but I don’t know that that is an entirely appropriate label given that its tone is relatively relaxed for much of its running time.  The film’s best element is its grasp of tone.  The action almost never leaves this beach and you do get a good idea of why these men start to view it as this almost Eden-like escape from their lives, albeit one that has an under-current of danger.  It’s a rather quiet film with no music besides the ambient nature sounds that are constantly in the background.  I was not, however, all that impressed by the film’s story or characters.  Because the film is so laser focused on these men’s lakeside experiences we really don’t come to know much about them besides their sex lives and even the main character is something of a cypher.  There is also a key decision made in the film (involving who the main character starts a relationship with) that made little sense to me and seemed to go completely unexplained.  Also it has one of the more frustratingly abrupt endings this side of Like Someone in Love.  I do however suspect that telling a completely logical story is not really this movie’s objective, rather I think it might be some kind of allegory for the allure and dangers of gay promiscuity during the era of AIDS.  I am ultimately going to say that this is a good movie, in part because of its command of tone and because of its overall uniqueness, but I do have some pretty big reservations about it.

*** out of Four

Maidentrip (7/27/2014)

Maidentrip is a documentary about a fourteen year old Dutch girl named Laura Dekker who became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world alone in a sailboat. When I first started watching the movie I was expecting something a little different; I was confusing this story with another story of a teenager who attempted to set the same record and failed in dramatic fashion. When I realized that what I was watching was not All is Lost Jr, but instead basically just the video diary of a precocious rich girl’s dream vacation, I was a little disappointed. I don’t want to come off like I had hoped to see this kid drown or something (the story I had been thinking of ended with a coast guard rescue), but I do think this story is lacking in a certain drama and sense of danger. Looked at for what it is, this is a pretty well edited and put together documentary. The footage (almost all of it shot by Dekker herself) was taken with a pretty decent camera, and director Jillian Schlesinger judiciously adds in maps and other visual aides to make this trip more clear. Still, at a short 82 minutes I still kind of found myself losing interest in this story and think it might have worked better as a 30-odd minute documentary short than as a feature, because once you get past the portrait it’s painting of this girl’s personality and the rigors of her trip this isn’t really an overly thematically rich story.

**1/2 out of Four


The Raid 2 (8/2/2014)

8-2-2014TheRaid2 The original The Raid (AKA The Raid: Redemption) was indisputably awesome; easily the best martial arts movie to come along since I don’t know how long.  This sequel came with high expectations, and I don’t know that it exactly lives up to them.  I’ll start with the positive: the action scenes here are still awesome, director Gareth Evans puts every cent of his increased budget onto the screen and proves to be uniquely gifted at filming fight scenes.  The problem is that The Raid 2 isn’t nearly as good of a vehicle for these action scenes as The Raid.  While the original film thrived in its intense simplicity, this one takes the form of this really convoluted Infernal Affairs-wannabe crime story that would be deadly boring if it wasn’t periodically interrupted by amazing bloodshed.  The film runs a full 150 minutes and it’s also really has almost nothing to do with the original film aside from the fact that their protagonists are supposedly the same person, in fact I feel like the movie generally would have been better received if it had just been titled something different.  Despite the flaws, this movie is still definitely worth seeing if only for the actions scenes and moments of transcendent brutality.

*** out of Four 


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