Home Video Round-Up: 2/7/2016

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (12/22/2015)


I’m always a sucker for documentaries about forgotten moments of film history, which is why I definitely enjoyed Mark Hartley 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood, which chronicled the rise and fall of the Australian B-movie film industry.  Hartley is back again, this time to help explain why Cannon Films, makers of all the second rate action films that litter VHS rental spots during the 80s, came to be.  There have always been entities like Cannon Films over the course of film history, in the 50s there was American International Pictures, in the 2000s the infamous Asylum pictures was doing something kind of similar.  Unlike Not Quite Hollywood, which was dealing with films that people like Quentin Tarantino are willing to go to bat for, this movie is dealing movies that are pretty indefensible and most of the interview subjects are upfront about the fact that 90% of what this studio made were garbage.  Still there is something very amusing about how brazen the two Israeli immigrants who ran this studio could be about making Id driven schlock like Missing in Action and American Ninja.  The documentary itself is mostly just notable for how incredibly fast paced it is.  They spend very little time digressing into the personal lives of anyone involved or even what the principals were doing before they broke into film, it picks up right away and never stops.  The movie is on Netflix Streaming right now, and that’s the perfect medium for it because I don’t know that it really feels that much like cinema proper.

*** out of Four

Jurassic World (12/18/2015)

Earlier this summer I watched in detached shock as Jurassic World somehow managed to become the year’s highest grossing pre-Star Wars and not even by a close margin.  Domestically the damn thing has earned almost two hundred million dollars more than its closest competitor (Avengers 2) and this was in spite of the fact that no one seemed to even particularly like it.  Of course not that many people hated it either but nothing about it seemed like the kind of thing that would spark a major public phenomenon and despite the box office numbers it sure didn’t feel like the public had dinosaur fever.  I watched all this from the sidelines because the movie just didn’t look that good to me and I wasn’t going to just rush out and see it just because everyone else was.  I was kind of hoping the movie would prove me wrong but no, it’s pretty much exactly the mediocrity I thought it would be.  There are a couple of things about the movie I did kind of like, namely seeing the way a dinosaur theme park would function if it was open to the public, but my enthusiasm kind of ends there.  The human characters in this movie are simply awful: just the most boring of stereotypes and the writing in the movie is at best bland and at worst annoying.  The movie seems to be trying to adopt some of that self-referential snark that’s so popular now but it doesn’t have the conviction to dedicate itself to it.  What’s more, the movie was actually kind of weak in the one department I expected it to excel at: the visual effects.  The dinosaurs in the movie don’t look terrible exactly but they are quite clearly CGI and frankly I think they looked better in 1993.  There is a veneer of competence to the movie and mostly is entertaining enough to pass the time but it is so damn bland that I’ll have probably forgotten about it in a month.  $650 million, really?

**1/2 out of Four


Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (1/5/2016)

1-5-2016SteveJobsTheManinThe Machine [Disclaimer: I saw the version of this on CNN, which fit the 128 minute film in a two hour timeslot with commercials, so my viewing may have been compromised by edits] Alex Gibney is a filmmaker who makes at least two documentaries a year at this point and I’ve argued in the past that this heavy workload has not really allowed him to evolve his style or really put anything special into any one of his documentaries.  That appears to still be the case with this slick and professional but ultimately workmanlike Steve Jobs documentary.  The film has a rather unusual format in that the first two thirds of the film is the kind of linear biography one would expect out of a jobs doc and functions as little more than a highly abridged version of the famous Walter Issacson book, so far so dull, but then in its third act the movie decides to take a turn and give us all the dirt on Jobs all at once including his collusion with other tech companies to blacklist employees, his thug-like treatment of a tech journalist, and some very shady accounting practices.  It’s interesting that all the less than flattering aspects of Jobs’ life are focused entirely on his occasionally ruthless business practices, which makes it an interesting contrast to the Aaron Sorkin/Danny Boyle biopic Steve Jobs, which focused almost entirely on the failings in Jobs’ personal life.  If you’re looking for a compressed 2 hour account of Jobs’ life there are certainly worse places to look than this, but it’s nothing too special.

*** out of Four

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (1/9/2016)

I tried to get into this, I really did but man, I just don’t get it.  The film is essentially a set of tenuously vignettes, some of them with recurring characters but no real story per se.  It’s kind of a comedy of an incredibly wry variety, but I wouldn’t say I found it remotely “funny” and I don’t think it’s really going for laughs so much as its trying to just hit this specific and rather uncomfortable tone throughout.  I’m not even really sure what to say about this thing, there isn’t really a lot there to criticize, I found it befuddling and rather boring but there must be something there right?  Well, every once in a while one of the vignettes does come off a bit more striking than others but all of them just seemed really random and… kind of pointless.  I don’t know, I think maybe I was asleep at the wheel on this one, there’s probably a video essay out there that might deconstruct this for me and make me feel stupid for not understanding this which is why I’m not coming out against this with more force but as it stands I have little use for this thing.

*1/2 out of Four


Dreamcatcher (2/7/2015)

2-7-2016Dreamcatcher Dreamcatcher is a documentary about a woman named Brenda Myers-Powell who runs a foundation in Chicago that seeks to help women leave the world of prostitution.  The obvious reference point for this would be The Interrupters, which also focused on a non-profit that sought to help people on the Chicago streets (in that case gang members).  This certainly isn’t as good as that earlier film, but it definitely has its strong points too.  If I had a real problem with the movie it’s that it doesn’t have a terribly interesting arc, it just sort of drops in on Myers-Powell at a random point, follows her for a little while, and then ends and I can’t say that anything wildly fascinating happens over the course of that time span but there are nuggets of interest to be mined along the way.  Ultimately I’d say it’s a pretty average doc, but hopefully it brings some attention to this cause and helps bring the Dreamcatcher organization some support.

*** out of Four

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