DVD Round-Up: 1/15/2015

Night Moves (1/15/2015)

I haven’t been the biggest Kelly Reichardt fan over the years but I do think she’s an interesting talent.  I thought her breakout film Wendy and Lucy was a decent enough slice of life but I didn’t understand the extent of the critical hype for it and I just plain didn’t understand her follow-up film Meek’s Cutoff.  Her latest film, Night Moves is probably her most accessible work but also her least exciting.  The film revolves around eco terrorism, which immediately reminds me of a similarly themed movie from last year called The East, which took the form of a more conventional thriller but was also perhaps more successful within that mold.  Night Moves is also a thriller of sorts, but perhaps a more restrained and realistic one.  The film is all about three people who commit and act of eco-terrorism and then have to deal with the guilt once it turns out this act had more fallout than they expected.  In a sense it’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with left wing activists, and it isn’t bad at being that exactly.  It’s shot fairly well and it has some pretty decent performances in it, but I can’t say that the execution here is so great that it will stick out in my memory for all that long and the story itself isn’t quite enough to hang the movie on either.  All in all, I’d say this movie is pretty okay, but it’s nothing too special.

*** out of four

Finding Fela (1/17/2015)

It’s sometimes easy to remember how culturally isolated the world of popular music can be.  90% of the musicians we consider to be icons seems to be American, British, or Canadian.  Every once in a while a Jamaican or a Latin American will break through if we’re feeling adventurous, but for the most part ethno-centrism tends to win the day.  That’s why it’s occasionally nice to be reminded that other countries have their own icons which, in their own sphere, are just as important as someone like Jimi Hendrix is to us.  One such figure was Fela Kuti, who was a major icon in his native Nigeria but who was completely obscure pretty much everywhere else.  Fela was the subject of this documentary from Alex Gibney which seeks to both tell Kuti’s life and also explain why he was a revolutionary figure in Nigeria.  The film does a pretty good job of laying the story out, but it runs a tad long and is also brought down by its use of behind the scenes footage from the making of a Broadway play about Fela’s life.  This material about the Broadway show threatens to take over the documentary at times and almost makes it seems like a marketing tool for the play rather than a biographical documentary.

*** out of Four

Calvary (1/20/2015)

When I saw the movie In Bruges back in 2008 I mostly saw it as a comeback for Colin Ferrell but the actor who really got a career boost from it was almost certainly Brendan Gleeson, who went from “that guy” status to having a sort of second career as the star of dark Irish comedies directed by members of the McDonagh family.   This latest movie is from John Michael McDonagh and is probably the least violent of the three McDonagh/Gleeson movies we’ve seen so far and almost certainly the least flippant.  The film concerns a priest who is put into a state of crisis when one of his confessors says that he’s going to come back and kill him, not for any slight on the priest’s part but as revenge against the Catholic Church as a whole.  The film has the usual McDonagh wit but it does take its themes of spirituality and institutional responsibility seriously.  Looking back on it I feel like the movie rather impressively walks a fine line but I’ve got to say that I wasn’t really feeling it while actually watching it.  The narrative is a little too episodic and prone to tangents for my taste and I have long thought that John Michael McDonagh’s writing was never quite as sharp as his brother’s.

*** out of Four

Virunga (1/22/2015)

When I tossed on Virunga I can’t say I was overly stoked.  All I really knew about it was that it was about an attempt to preserve a park with endangered gorillas, which kind of led me to assume that it would be yet another movie about wide-eyed middle class activists self-riotously fighting “the system.”  Fortunately the situation at the center of this runs a lot deeper than that.  This is actually about a group of local forest rangers (who more closely resemble commandos than cops) that are trying to protect an important national park in the Congo from a group of rebels and from the oil company which is in cahoots with said rebels in certain ways.  Yes, Gorillas are ultimately part of why they’re trying to save the park, but that’s kind of secondary to the documentary and more of a McGuffin of sorts than anything and the film isn’t overburdened with nature footage.  The real attraction here is the way it profiles the various people who are dedicated to saving the park.  What’s more, this is better produced than most documentaries with subject matter like this.  It’s got very clean photography and is edited to give the film a real narrative flow.

***1/2 out of Four

Love is Strange  (1/31/2015)

Love is Strange is an unassuming little indie about an elderly gay couple who have their lives upended after they marry and one of them is fired from the Catholic school he works at forcing them to find new living accommodations.  I don’t want to sound like I’m insensitive to how unfair the firing being depicted in the movie is but… I don’t know, not being able to afford a New York apartment just strikes me as kind of a flimsy problem to build an entire film about and both characters face the problem with the kind of stiff upper lip that suggests both have faced much worse.  Still, if you’re going to make a relatively low stakes character drama this is probably the right way to do it.  John Lithgow and Alfred Molina both give really strong understated performances and a number of the interactions in the film ring pretty true.  It would be fair to say that this is a character piece more than a plot oriented narrative, and if what you’re looking for is a small movie about pleasant people put through mild tumult, this will serve that purpose well.  Personally, I wasn’t really feeling it.

*** out of Four 

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