Home Video Round-Up: 12/16/2015

Inside Out (12/3/2015)

Contrary to what some may think, I take no relish in being a Pixar skeptic.  In the case of Inside Out I had nothing but high hopes: the reviews were great, the concept had a lot of promise, everything about it seemed like it would be the best movie the studio ever made, and yet I left it somewhat disappointed.  Let’s start with the positive (and before you get it twisted, I do think there’s a lot of positive here).  I do think the basic high concept of rendering the inner workings of a human brain using these anthropomorphized feelings is cool and the film does a pretty good job of setting this up and making it clear to the audience.  I also think that the “real world” story of the girl and her discontentment with having moved is well executed and was well chosen for the purposes of this movie. What disappointed me about the movie is the way it felt compelled to be this adventure narrative with Joy and Sadness trying to get from one end of the brain to the other for reasons that seemed a little contrived and the details of that journey just didn’t seem worthy of the rest of the movie.  I also wasn’t too crazy about certain aspects of the film’s visual style, which seemed a bit less film-like than some of Pixar’s other movies.  My other problem is a bit more philosophical the movie seems to set up the human mind as being almost entirely a slave to the Id.  Why are feelings and emotions in the driver’s seat of the mind in this movie?  Where’s the avatar of rational thought?  I just like to think that people are more in control of their own minds than this realization allows it and that just didn’t quite sit well with me.

*** out of Four

Amy (12/4/2015)

Asif Kapadia has emerged as the leading master of the biographical documentary as he makes these films that feel highly cinematic even though his movies are made entirely of archival footage and don’t even bother to show their talking head interviews on screen.  If only he could apply this treatment to a figure that I care about.  I hadn’t even heard about Ayrton Senna before he made his 2010 documentary Senna and while I had certainly heard of Amy Winehouse before he made this latest documentary I pretty much only knew her from her song “Rehab” and was otherwise unfamiliar with both the rest of her work or with the details of her fall into substance abuse.  That is a problem because unlike Senna, which more than convinced me that its subject was a hell of an F1 driver, this movie never really converted me into an Amy Winehouse fan and without that extra investment in the subject I never really found a particular reason to care about her downfall.  I don’t want to come off as callous, I’m certainly unhappy to see the way Winehouse suffered, but at the end of the day her downfall was not too different from a number of other “behind the music” stories and I can’t say I found it uniquely interesting.  This perhaps makes me wonder if I would have been as interested in the film Cobain: Montage of Heck if I had a similar indifference towards Nirvana, the answer is probably “no.”  Still, this is a well-researched and dignified documentary  and I can see why it’s gotten a higher profile than your average rock-doc.

*** out of Four

Dope (12/9/2015)

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival two movies came out with the most buzz: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Dope.  I didn’t much like the former movie at all and that bad experience actually kind of put me off seeing the later… that and flashbacks to the last Sundance movie to fetishize 90s hip hop: The Wackness.  That proved to be a poor decision because Dope proved to me the much more enjoyable of the two 2015 Sundance champions.  The film is set in modern day Inglewood but focuses on a handful of misfit young people there who generally live outside the urban plight around them and are obsessed with 90s hip hop culture.  The movie comes out the gate with a great deal of energy and begins feeling like one of those “one crazy day” narratives before going off in another direction in its second half.  I feel like I might have liked it if the movie had stuck to the simpler path it was going down in that first part but I get why they took that second approach as well.  It’s not a perfect movie by any means but it has a lot of energy, a good sense of humor, and a cool soundtrack that makes sure it remains a pretty entertaining romp throughout.  I look forward to seeing what writer/director Rick Famuyiwa does next.

***1/2 out of Four

Meru (12/14/2015)

There have been quite a few documentaries about mountain climbing in the last decade or so but I can’t say I’m terribly familiar with the sub-genre.  I can’t say I’ve even seen the famous Touching the Void so I may have been a little uninformed going into this latest mountaineering doc, but I must say that I was pretty impressed with it.  The film focuses on a trio of mountain climbers who have set out to ascend up the challenging side of a peak in the Himalayas that no other team of climbers has ever successfully made it up, at least not on the challenging side.  A big part of why movies about mountain climbers have become popular is that they make for some really good looking scenery and this is no exception.  Now, all the footage of the film’s central climb was show by the climbers themselves (specifically by the film’s co-director Jimmy Chin) so they didn’t exactly have time to stop and ensure that every shot in the movie during this section is picture perfect but they are certainly using expensive cameras and they pretty capably document what goes into a climb like this.  Really though, it wasn’t the climbing footage that hooked me into the film so much as the interviews in it which do a pretty good job of giving sober explanations of the decisions that go into these climbs as well as what was going on in these climbers’ personal and professional lives leading up to this climb.

***1/2 out of Four

Tangerine (12/16/2015)

We often look at movies in terms of their plotlines but that’s frequently a mistake, especially when you’re dealing with a movie like the recent indie hit Tangerine, which thrives because of pretty much everything except plot.  The basic story is really simple: a transsexual hooker hears that her boyfriend/pimp has cheated on her so she decides to track down the “fish bitch” who’s sleeping with him to drag her to a confrontation with said boyfriend/pimp.  Not a lot going on there, but the film thrives on its depiction of this West Hollywood milieu as well as its general energy.  The film was famously shot on an iPhone, which would suggest that it would look like a micro-budget nothing, but that’s not the case.  A professional DP was used and it really does look like a “real” movie except that the camera movement is noticeably more fluid and different from the norm.  I wouldn’t recommend this for every movie but it definitely works here.  On top of that the film is something of a sly meditation on infidelity given that the main character spends most of the movie outraged that her man has been sleeping around and yet she also hypocritically has an occupation in which is kind of predicated on homebreaking.  If I have any complaint about the movie it’s that when the pimp that the prostitues are seeking finally does come into the film he’s kind of lame, really just the in really inauthentic element of the whole thing.  That said, this is the kind of exciting and dangerous material that we so rarely get out of independent film anymore and for that if nothing else I’m pretty appreciative.

***1/2 out of Four

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