Home Video Round-Up: 9/1/2015

Chappie (7/11/2015)


Not since M. Night Shyamalan’s fall from grace have I seen the film community so dramatically abandon a director as they have with Neill Blomkamp after two straight critical failures.  His latest film, Chappie, has a couple of defenders out there but it was largely derided by critics and ignored by audiences.  It didn’t help that it had a really bizarre marketing campaign that initially made it looks like a family movie of the E.T. variety before revealing that it was actually an R-rated action movie that was more of a piece with Blomkamp’s previous films.  Then again I wasn’t really in sync with the critical consensus around Blomkamp’s first two films (I thought Distict 9 was good but a bit over-rated and actually saw Elysium as an improvement) so I was willing to go into Chappie with an open mind.  On a basic story level there’s not really a whole lot new to chew on here.  I said in my Ex Machina review that I’m kind of sick of the old “how human are robots” theme and the same goes for this movie.  The movie also borrows shamelessly from Robocop in a number of ways and it also has some really dreadful performances from Sigourney Weaver and a woefully miscast Hugh Jackman.

All that having been said, I kind of admire this movie’s weirdness.  Essentially what Blomkamp has tried to do is use a mainstream Hollywood budget to make a movie that is not only set in a foreign country but also steeped in that country’s youth culture.  Specifically, the film draws from the Africaaner “Zef” sub-culture exemplified by the rap group Die Antwoord, who star in the movie as a pair of gangsters raising a robot.  To go all in on potentially alienating trappings like that without regard for the commercial ramifications is ballsy, especially in a film climate that is increasingly trending towards a sort of culturally homogenous blandness.  That the film seems to have been rewarded with nothing but derision for this brave choice is a little disappointing.  If this were a Korean or Japanese film I feel like a lot of audiences (at least film buff audiences) would have been a little more patient with some of its stranger tendencies.  As it stand I can’t quite go so far as to call this a particularly “good” movie, and Blomkamp definitely needs to re-invent himself fast, but the film does have some interesting things going on with it and definitely doesn’t deserve the hate it gets.

**1/2 out of Four

Jupiter Ascending (8/1/2015)

This is why original ideas have such a hard time getting greenlit in Hollywood.  Of course this is only “original” in technical sense that it’s not officially based on an original IP… and that it’s kind of nutty.  Really though, this is not a movie that deserves the “visionary” label that some people tried to put on it.  The Wachowski’s last movie, Cloud Atlas, was the real deal.  It took some really “out there” ideas and applied them to a story that was interesting and meaningful.  Jupiter Ascending… not so much, it’s just kind of an odd amalgam of YA clichés and poorly explained space opera stuff.  Frankly it kind of feels like the Wachowskis were trying to sell-out by making this movie and failed spectacularly at doing so.  They did fail kind of interestingly though.  This is still the directorial team that made The Matrix and they do create some pretty decent action scenes and render some decent special effects and that does keep the film somewhat watchable.  There’s also some interesting art direction here and there, the Wachowskis clearly put some thought into creating this world but they fail spectacularly at presenting it in an understandable and building a compelling narrative around it.

** our of Four 


Wild Tales (8/23/2015)

8-23-2015WildTales I don’t really know what to do with this.  Anthology films are always a little hard to review; do you try to rate each segment individually then come up with some kind of average to see if the movie as a whole is worthwhile?  Or do you maybe try to see if the film has a sort of throughline that carries it?  It complicates things further when the anthology is done less as a series of short films from different directors (which usually end up being so hit and miss that they don’t really warrant serious consideration one way or another) and more as a single director’s unified vision.  In this case we’re given a movie composed of six separate vignettes with no narrative intersections but something of a common theme.  All of the stories are about revenge, but not revenge of the deep and relentless variety that movies are usually about, rather this is about the kind of impulsive and hotheaded actions that are taken in heat of passion.  The segments actually kind of started to remind me of those old Dave Chappelle “When Keepin’ it Real Goes Wrong” sketches, and there is indeed a sort of dark humor that runs through the film.  The film is very well made and consistently entertaining, but I’m not sure I would have given it a competition slot in Cannes or a nomination for Best Foreign Language film.  Frankly, I was kind of surprised when I learned that director Damián Szifron was forty years old and already had two feature films to his name.  This is the kind of movie that you usually expect to come from a hotshot right out of film school who has a lot of energy and technical ambition but whose ideas maybe aren’t as deep as he thinks they are.  The movie has the hutzpah it needs but not a lot of depth.  Still, there’s no denying that this is a really fun movie and I’m excited to see what Szifron does coming off of this.

***1/2 out of Four

Kingsman: The Secret Service (08/26/2015)

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the other film this year besides Chappie which seemed to have a weird disconnect between the tone of the trailers and the content of the final film.  The advertising made it look like Harry Potter but with spies instead of Wizards, but the actual film is a characteristically crass R-rated Mark Millar adaptation.  I’m not exactly sure whether that version of the movie would have worked better, the tone would have probably fit more but on the other hand the idea of making a cruder and more violent James Bond style spy flick is sort of the film’s novelty and to eliminate that would almost be to miss the point.  In general I would say that the tone would have been enjoyable enough but the movie is kind of undermined by Matthew Vaughn’s rather obnoxious visual style.  Vaughn is a director who can restrain himself and does a pretty good job for most of the film but when the action scenes startup he can’t help but overdo it and add a bunch of weird CGI touches that I didn’t really care for.  The film also has a decent cast with some good young talents as well as an unexpected action turn by Colin Firth.  It’s a flawed film, but I’m feeling generous and I guess I’ll give it a pass for being a fun movie with some interestingly subversive edge, but it could have been better.

*** out of Four


What We Do in the Shadows (9/1/2015)

9-1-2015WhatWeDoIntheShadows I’m generally pretty skeptical about comedic mockumentaries.  More often than not the mockumentary format is used as an excuse to throw together ramshackle improve fests and while the new film from Jemaine Clement (who is one half of Flight of the Concords) and Taika Waititi (who is some other guy from New Zealand) isn’t completely devoid of its genre’s weaknesses it is notably more thought out than mockumentaries usually are and it actually feels like the people involved put some real work and craftsmanship into it.  The film concerns a group of vampires boarding in a house in New Zealand and their petty squabbles.  It plays on a pretty standard comedic convention where supernatural beings are revealed to be pretty regular folks who react to their strange powers in mundane ways.  I wouldn’t say I laughed out loud to many times while watching it but the comedic moments, while not wildly original, were well executed and clever throughout.  The film never quite develops a particularly meaningful arc and maybe would have worked better as a TV show or as a series of sketches, but I enjoyed it just the same.

*** out of Four


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