DVD Round-Up: 12/28/2014

Locke (12/13/2014)


Does anyone remember “The Hire”?  It was a series of short films commissioned by BMW which were all starred Clive Owen and were directed by various A-List talents.  It was an idea that was sort of ahead of its time given that Youtube hadn’t even been invented when they premiered on the internet, but as far as advertisements go they were pretty damn good.  I think that if BMW ever got it in its head to pay for one of these films to be expanded to feature length it would have looked a lot like Locke, a film starring Tom Hardy which takes place entirely in and around a BMW X5.  It’s also a bit like that movie Buried from a couple years ago which took place entirely within a coffin and mostly involved frantic phone calls from the protagonist.  Locke is less of a thriller and also probably less of a visual experience.  The film, which deals with a man who has his career and marriage both seemingly fall apart over the course of some 90 minutes of phone calls, could almost be a radio play if not for the fact that seeing Tom Hardy’s performance probably adds to the proceedings.  It’s an interesting little movie, but it isn’t as novel as some people are claiming it is and the situation at its center seems a little contrived.
*** out of four

The Dog (12/20/2014)

Dog Day Afternoon is a film that’s so associated with the macho mannerisms of Al Pacino that most people usually forget that it was actually somewhat ahead of its time in its focus on a gay character and its references to a transsexual character.  Thirty some years later those themes have been expanded on in a documentary about the life of the real life bank robber who inspired that film.  At the center of the film are a series of interviews with that former robber that were conducted by the filmmakers before his death in 2006.  The film paints him as a flawed man with many of the characteristics you’d expect of a petty criminal from the 70s, but he’s also pretty frank about his homosexuality and what the life of a publicly “out” homosexual was like in the early 70s.  The true story shown here doesn’t really contradict a whole lot of what’s seen in Dog Day Afternoon and I must say I don’t think that many people would really be all that interested in this story if it hadn’t been the subject of a classic film.  At the end of the day it was a fairly routine robbery and frankly don’t really understand why it was such a media story at the time.  Still, this documentary works pretty well if only as a companion piece of its older cinematic sibling.
*** out of Four

The Babadook (12/20/2014)

12-20-2014TheBabadook I’ve long resisted the trend of watching movies through streaming and VOD while they’re still in theaters, but this time I was dealing with a movie that only ever showed up in one theater in my city and it was frankly not a very nice theater.  That’s a shame because The Babadook is one of the best horror movies to come along in a while and I feel like it could have actually done pretty good with general audiences were it not for its strange title which sounds like something Adam Sandler would say on a particularly silly day.  Actually, the film’s high concept (an evil pop-up book) probably isn’t the easiest thing to explain to general audiences either, but those willing to look past these barriers will find a lot to like in the film.  The movie centers on a single mother trying to raise a “special needs” child who can be a real handful at times.  One evenening a strange pop-up book shows up in this child’s collection which seems to be summoning a strange demon called The Babadook who begins haunting the family.  As the film goes on, this “Babadook” starts to feel both like an actual supernatural force but also like a manifestation of the mother’s frustrations with her child and her situation.  The film is really well executed, but I will say that it was a bit more reliant on existing horror formulas then I expected from a movie that’s been touted as the savior of horror cinema.  It’s basically The Ring meets The Shining and it actually sits a bit more comfortably amongst contemporary haunting movies like Oculus and Paranormal Activity than I expected.  Still, the film’s commitment to a psychological/metaphorical reading along with its avoidance of cheap jump scares does raise it above the competition.
***1/2 out of Four

I Am Ali (12/24/2014)

If there’s anyone in the world who probably doesn’t need to have their life documented further it’s probably Muhammad Ali.  This is a guy who’s already been the subject of numerous documentaries, a feature length biopic with Will Smith, and untold pages of written text.  A new documentary about his life is going to have to be pretty damn good to really stand out, and I don’t think Clare Lewins’ I Am Ali really is.  The film is somewhat awkwardly structured around a series of interviews with various with people who knew him.  It’s kind of an odd structure to lean into considering that Ali is currently, you know, alive (though you wouldn’t know it from watching the film).  Given his health ailments it is probably understandable that they weren’t able to get an interview with Ali himself given his health ailments, but maybe looking into what Ali is like now would have been more novel than listening to various other people talk about his glory years.  That’s not to say that there isn’t some material of interest here, Ali is one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century and a movie would have to be downright incompetent not to make something worth watching out of his life, but this still feels a little too mediocre to get a pass.
**1/2 out of Four

They Came Together (12/28/2014)

12-28-2014TheyCameTogether They Came Together is not a horrendously conceived effort, but it has the misfortune of hitting something of a trifecta of comedic tricks that are like kryptonite to my funnybone.  By and large, I really don’t like spoof movies.  The spoof genre is more or less built on pointing out formulas and clichés that most filmgoers are already well aware of and then feeling smug about noticing them.  There’s a reason that the most commonly spoofed genres are horror movies and romantic comedies, and that’s that these genres are so repetitive and formulaic that pointing out patterns in them is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel.  There are ways to make spoof films that I’ll enjoy, but making them in the tradition of something like Airplane! is not the way to do it.  I really can’t stand these kind of comedies that are constantly breaking the fourth wall and seem to exists in odd comedy worlds where everyone seems to be functionally retarded and acts of random absurdity occur almost on a whim to get a laugh.  From this cast and crew I was expecting something a little smarter than what I got.  I recognize that my distaste for this kind of comedy is not necessarily in line with popular opinion and there’s a very good chance that this will work better than average for people who like this kind of thing, but for me it was like nails on a chalkboard outside of one or two jokes that land.
*1/2 out of Four 

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