Home Video Round-Up: 12/2/2015

Love & Mercy (11/25/2015)

11-25-2015Love&Mercy

Given how long music critics have speculated and argued about the psycho-drama that is Brian Wilson’s life it’s maybe surprising that it’s taken this long to make a movie about the Beach Boys and that when it finally came out it did so in a rather low key and independent fashion.  Well, maybe it isn’t so surprising.  Wilson was never the kind of “monster of rock” that they usually make big budget musical biopics about maybe a small scale biopic suits him.  This film employs a unique structure which intercuts the story of the younger Wilson played by Paul Dano recording “Pet Sounds” with the story of the older Wilson played by John Cusack as he’s recovering from his breakdown but is still under the thumb of a domineering therapist who maybe doesn’t have his best interests at heart.  I was a little weary that the filmmakers were taking on this unconventional structure just for the sake of taking on an unconventional structure, something that I worry that some filmmakers are doing now just to avoid the hostility that critics have for linear biopics these days.  As it turns out, I think this structure was used for the right reasons but I also don’t think it really worked spectacularly, in part because I think one half was simply executed a lot better than the other.  The Paul Dano segments are an interesting recreation of rock history told in a dignified and low key way, the John Cusack segments by contrast feel rather underwhelming.  I don’t think John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks are great in their respective roles and it doesn’t help that the film turns Banks’ character into this almost saint-like figure whose interest in Wilson is never made particularly clear.  Overall, it’s a pretty decent movie for anyone with an interest in the subject matter, don’t know that it’s going to be enshrined in the annals of great musical biopics.

*** out of Four

3½ Minutes Ten Bullets (11/29/2015)

I was pretty interested in the “loud music murder” trial when it was going on in part because I’ve always been fascinated with just how angry African Americans playing loud music in their cars seems to make old people and secondly because it seemed like a counter example of the Trayvon Martin case where the justice system actually seemed to work.  However, watching the new HBO documentary about the case I couldn’t help but think “man, some news stories just really don’t need to be turned into feature length documentaries.”  True crime and courtroom documentaries are at their best when they keep you guessing and make you re-think your assumptions and as such this documentary was very much at a disadvantage because this case proved to be exactly what it looked like from the beginning: the story of a jumpy white guy with a gun making a psychotic decision that left a black teenager dead.  The documentary doesn’t have a whole lot to offer beyond what you could have learned from the initial news reports about the event.  You get a little bit of a glimpse at what the whole ordeal was like for the family of the deceased, who reacted pretty much exactly how you’d think they would… and that’s about it, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the presentation but there’s just not a whole lot of insight.  Skip the movie, google a couple of newspaper articles about the case and you’re probably good.

** out of Four

11-29-2015ThreeandahalfMinutesTenBullets

Heaven Knows What (11/28/2015)

11-28-2015HeavenKnowsWhat Heaven Knows What is a low budget New York indie adaptation of an unpublished memoir by its star Arielle Holmes about her experiences on the streets while addicted to heroin and in the throes of a relationship with another junkie who could be rather abusive.  As you can probably guess this isn’t what you’d necessarily call a pleasant watch.  These kind of drug addiction dramas were something of a staple of independent cinema in the 90s when movies like Drugstore Cowboy and Another Day in Paradise told similarly miserablist stories but felt a lot more passionate and relevant while doing so.   This certainly feels pretty authentic but it never quite built the necessary empathy for its characters and doesn’t do a whole lot to help make you understand why these characters would want to live the way they do.  Also, the film has a really misguided synth score by Paul Grimstad and Ariel Pink which feels like it belongs in It Follows or something, not in a gritty drama about street life which probably shouldn’t have any score at all.  As micro budget indies go, this does have some good things going for it and Holmes’ acting is quite strong, but I never really saw much of a point to the whole thing.

**1/2 out of Four

Best of Enemies (11/30/2015)

Much as everyone seems to think reality TV is garbage, most people seem to agree with the notion that arguments between windbag pundits are ruining the discourse.  And much the way reality seems to be watched by a lot of people in spite of the universal naysaying people still seem to enjoy watching said pundits yell at each other.  The new documentary Best of Enemies seems to posit that the debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley during ABC’s coverage of the 1968 Party conventions was sort of the genesis of this state of affairs.  Of course the film is also something of a requiem for an era of more enlightened discourse.  As much as Vidal and Buckley bickered and argued they did at least seem to be intellectual giants rather than trained partisan hacks and they spoke in a way that didn’t seem to pander to the lowest common denominator.  I guess the biggest lesson I took from the documentary, which combines original footage from these debates with a pretty impressive roster of talking heads providing background, is that things can get out of hand very quickly when you make exceptions and loosen the standards.  Letting the discourse turn to borderline fisticuffs seems harmless and fun when you have the likes of Buckley and Vidal doing it, but once the floodgates open and the imitators start trying to do the same you’re setting yourself up for a world of Tucker Carlsons and Glenn Becks.

*** out of Four

11-30-2015BestofEnemies

The Overnight (12/2/2015)

12-2-2015TheOvernight What is it about movies about millennial yuppies that make me so angry?  I’m a millennial myself so I guess it’s not a matter of simply being angry about the “kids these days” and I don’t get too worked up about the movies that depict other kinds of privilege so it’s not a matter of class warfare.  Maybe it’s just the way these movies just blithely assume you’re just like the films’ characters and are going to relate to them when more often than not I fucking don’t, and even if I did, so what?  “Relatability” always seemed like a rather shallow and narcissistic thing to demand of a movie and these movies tend to coast on it, and given that this was produced by the king and duke of hipster bullshit the Duplass brothers and starred Jason Schwatzman and Adam Scott, so I expected to be in for a bumpy ride.  To the film’s credit, this does diverge from some of the usual hallmarks of this genre.  It’s not set in Brooklyn, the characters are a little older than usual, and there’s no indie rock soundtrack but it’s still pretty firmly entrenched in upper-middle-class yuppidum of the worst kind.  The film is about two married couples who have a dinner party and then end up in a sort of game of liberal one-upmanship in which the hosts do something open-minded and European and the guests who are desperately afraid of looking square go along with it.  In other words it’s a movie about juvenile peer pressure carried into adulthood… and some borderline swinger shit.  I can see how this would work for somebody but it certainly wasn’t for me.

** out of Four

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