DVD Round-Up: 12/2/2014

Blue Ruin (11/12/2014)

Blue Ruin is a revenge film about a disheveled vagrant who comes out of homeless obscurity in order to kill the recently released man who had murdered his parents years earlier. This plan eventually spirals out of control and re-ignites the feud between the vagrant and his potential victim’s family. It’s kind of a hard film to talk about because it is exceptionally well and doesn’t really have any substantial flaws to speak of, but which still feels kind of unremarkable just the same. The film is certainly an excellent calling card for director Jeremy Saulnier, who also serves as the film’s cinematographer, which is an important distinction because the film looks a hell of a lot more professionally shot than many of the indie flicks I’ve been seeing recently. The film also does a really good job with a largely unknown cast and there are some really well staged scenes scattered throughout the film which really elevates things. However, as well crafted as the film is I really didn’t think there was a whole lot to this story. On paper this is a pretty standard revenge story aside from the fact that it doesn’t overtly glamorize the central character’s quest for blood. I suppose that’s preferable to the more conventional revenge narratives being sold by the likes of The Equalizer and John Wick but I still don’t know that it’s as unique as it perhaps thinks it is. There are plenty of other movies out there which argue that revenge only begets cycles of revenge and aside from that I don’t think this movie really has all that much to offer.

*** out of four

12 O’Clock Boys (11/15/2014)

I am something of a fan of documentaries about “inner city issues” and the new documentary 12 O’Clock Boys finds an interesting entry point into a number of those issues. The film focuses on a group of young African-Americans in Baltimore who have begun illegally driving dirt bikes and ATVs through the city while doing wheelies and various other tricks. I was vaugly familiar with this phenomenon because of a Meek Mill music video but didn’t really know that it had a name or what its origins were before seeing this documentary. It doesn’t really come out and ask it too often, but I’m pretty sure the central question that the film is trying to ask is whether or not the police, the media, and society are being unfair to these bikers and if similar activities would be met with more approval if these were suburban white kids instead of poor black kids. Personally I think that might be the wrong question because I don’t know that any of the 12 O’clock boys would really be all that interested in this hobby if it wasn’t illegal and frowned upon by authority. To me it seems like this is meant to be a way to snub authority figures without having to delve into the world of drug sales and other harsher varieties of crime. Director Lotfy Nathan does probably deserve credit for having found this topic, but he never really seems to get ideal access to this world, most of the film focuses on outsiders and periphery participants, specifically a young kid named Pug who aspires to one day be one of these kids. Ultimately I feel like a better movie could have been made with this material, but 12 O’Clock boys did provide some good food for thought just the same

*** out of Four

We Are the Best! (11/20/2014)

This Swedish film about a group of middle school aged girls in the early 80s who form an amateurish punk band has gained something of a following over the last year.  “Formed a band” is perhaps misleading.  The movie does not seem to be implying that what we are watching is the beginnings of a band that will one day become a big thing, rather this merely seems like a sort of hobby/game for a group of bored tweens.  Of course Punk Rock is an ethos that is so rooted in raw energy that to call any punk band “amateurish” is perhaps to miss the point.  I think that the film is suggesting that these girls are, in their own small potatoes way, more “punk” than a lot of the punk bands that went on to fame and fortune.  Overall, it’s a decent enough slice of life, but that isn’t necessarily what I usually look for in a movie, I’m more into stories that feel a little more substantial both to the characters and to the viewers.  Also, I’ve got to say that from a visual persective this movie leave a little bit to be desired.  Stories about punk rock probably shouldn’t be to expensive and elaborate, but this just kind of looks half assed in a handful of respects.

*** out of Four

Korengal (11/28/2014)

The 2010 documentary Restrepo was one of the greatest documentaries ever made about the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.  It was a really tense look at a camp in the middle of a volatile region of Afghanistan and the soldiers who fought to control the region.  Now, four years later, Sebastian Junger has made another film about the Restrepo camp.  This isn’t exactly a sequel; it takes place at the same time as the first film and is made up of footage that was shot at the same time as the footage that was used in Restrepo.  Instead of using Restrepo’s cinema vérité approach the film is actually largely built around a number of interviews with the various soldiers who were at the Restrepo camp which were shot after they arrived home.  The film is less about the combat situations and more about what day to day life is like at the Restrepo camp.  There is some value to this footage as it gives a different and perhaps more accurate picture of what life was like for these guys than Restrepo (which cut out more of the boring lulls) did, but as a film its significantly less compelling.  It feels more like it should have been some kind of bonus feature on the Restrepo blu-ray rather than a feature film unto itself because it generally feels like a very minor work in comparison to its predecessor.

**1/2 out of Four

Chef (12/2/2014)

Chef is John Favreau’s return to independent filmmaking after making back to back Iron Man movies and Cowboys Vs. Aliens, and it’s not afraid to point this out.  The movie is meant to be a pretty blunt allegory for Favreau’s own career given that it’s about a guy who considers himself an artist who just can’t soar while under the dictating control of a businessman trying to get back to his roots and make something special.  Here’s the thing though… Chef is many things: it’s amiable, it’s entertaining, it’s charming, but it is not by any means bold art meant to challenge anyone.  It’s certainly not the film equivalent of an innovative gormet resturaunt, and given that it’s filled with celebrities I don’t think it can really claim to be the film equivalent of a scrappy food truck either.  Really this is the film equivalent of something like an Applebees or something, and there is a place for such things I guess, but if you’re going to talk a big game about breaking from “the man” and bringing out your inner artist you’ve got to come out swinging with something a hell of a lot stronger than this.  I don’t want to be too hard on the film, it does work as breezy entertainment and a lot of its look at the culinary world seems authentic.  I’m going to narrowly give it a pass, but it writes checks that it can’t cash and that kind of makes me disrespect it more than I otherwise might.

*** out of Four 

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