Home Video Round-Up: 7/11/2016

Look Who’s Back (6/13/2016)

6-13-2016LookWho'sBack

It’s easy to get a somewhat inflated idea of what foreign cinema is like since the only movies that tend to “cross the pond” are the ones that are going to appeal strongly to the artistic tastes of film aficionados who aren’t afraid of subtitles.  The truth though, if you look at the charts of the films that actually make money in their home markets is that people in other countries are just as capable of making crap as anyone else and more of it is going to come to the surface as streaming services like Netflix buys up populist garbage with the intention of reaching those foreign markets and decide to throw it up on their U.S. pages as well while they own the rights.  That seems to have been what happened with the “edgy” German comedy Look Who’s Back, which is a pretty good example of what happens when these things aren’t vetted ahead of time by the festival circuit.  The film is about what would happen if Adolf Hitler spontaneously reappeared in modern Germany and explores this by more or less stealing the Borat formula or creating a narrative by stringing together sequences in which unsuspecting members of the general public interact with a comedian who’s deep in character.  In this case they’re interacting with someone impersonating Hitler and we’re supposed to be shocked at how casually people are responding to this situation.  Unlike Borat however very few of the people he’s trying to punk are really fooled by this charade and we’re supposed to be surprised when they assume that what they’re seeing must be some sort of comedian and act accordingly… which is in fact the case, they are indeed interacting with a comedian.   Really though, the “man on the street” element isn’t the biggest problem here, that dubious honor would go to the scripted elements, which are painfully amateurish and unfunny.  There are hints of a smarter movie to be found around the edges here and there and I will also acknowledge that a lot of this material probably does play a little differently to German audiences who may come to this material with a very different set of cultural baggage, but from where I sit this is toothless, inept, and worst of all unfunny.

* out of Five

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (4/20/2016)

Robert Mapplethorpe was a photographer who rose to prominence in the fine art world during the 80s primarily for taking some fairly shocking photographs in the underground gay BSDM world.  The film’s title, “look at the pictures,” implies that the film will be as interested in Mapplethorpe’s art as it is with his personal life and that is borne out by the film.  The photos themselves do live up to their reputation both in terms of their black and white composition and in terms of their rather graphic nature.  The photos were actually subject to an obscenity trial at one point and I was a bit surprised that this wasn’t a larger part of the film though maybe I shouldn’t have given that it mostly happened after Mapplethorpe’s untimely death.  There are a lot of biographical profile documentaries like this out there and this one is one of the better ones.  The film seems to get all the necessary talking head interviews and generally takes it subject seriously and at times critically rather than simply having the experts interviewed fill the movie with banal praise.  I can’t say I was familiar with Mapplethorpe before this movie came along and I can’t say I plan to seek out more of his work as it’s pretty far outside of my usual interests, but the film worked well as a one-time primer of an artists whose work is at least worth considering.

***1/2 out of Five

4-20-2016MapplethorpeLookatthePictures

Deadpool (6/29/2016)

6-29-2016Deadpool I avoided this movie when it was in theaters because it looked… obnoxious, and if I had paid to see it I probably would have been a little more annoyed by it but seeing it at home I can relax and enjoy the parts that work.  The film has opted to lean in on the irreverent 4th wall breaking elements of the character and have also leaned in on some of the violence and crudity that the character stand out in comics.  This isn’t really the kind of humor and I would probably say that only every third or fourth joke really landed for me but some of them did indeed land and felt clever rather than irksome.  It was also probably the right call to go all-in on this direction rather than half-ass it because this kind of snarky attitude generally works better for me when it’s the entire point rather than an interruption to an otherwise straightforward story.  Another reason it’s probably a good thing that they went in this direction is that without all the humor and irreverence this would be a really second rate superhero action movie.  The movie has less than a third of X-Men: Apocalypse’s budget and it shows, the special effects aren’t great and everything feels rather small in scale by modern blockbuster standards.  What’s more it’s clear that director Tim Miller is kind of a second or third tier talent who doesn’t do a lot to make the film feel like something more than it is and the film also suffers from having some really weak side characters and villains.  Honestly I’m not exactly sure why I’m so inclined to give this one a pass, maybe just low expectations, but I did mostly enjoy myself while watching it.

*** out of Four

Mavis! (5/4/2016)

Before watching this documentary about Mavis Staples my exposure to the Staples sisters was largely confined to their appearance in The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese directed documentary about The Band’s final performance.  At least that’s what I assumed, but there were certainly songs by the group in this documentary that I did recognize and the documentary does make a pretty good case for that group’s importance and the importance of Mavis Staples, who was the group’s only consistent vocalist and key member.  So, as a bare bones educational documentary about a music group this is probably worth a look but man is it a bland piece of filmmaking on every other level.  Mavis Staples is clearly a very charming person with great integrity and spirit… and that makes her a kind of dull subject for a profile documentary like this.  The filmmakers probably can’t be blamed too much for that but they can be blamed for not being able to find some other angle to approach her and her group’s history.  The documentary is informative, but not particularly artistic and I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who isn’t already really curious about the life of Mavis Staples.

**1/2 out of Five

5-4-2016Mavis

Triple 9 (7/11/2016)

7-11-2016Triple9 I’m beginning to think that David Simon has kind of ruined movies about cops and gang members for me, at least the ones who claim to be streetwise but completely lack authenticity and insight.  It’s a big part of why I can’t stand the Davie Ayer ouvre and while that guy didn’t have anything to do with this movie it certainly reminded me of him.  The movie was actually directed by a guy named John Hillcoat, who started his career in incredibly promising fashion with a film called The Proposition but it’s mostly been diminishing returns since then and this is clear his low point (so far).  The film actually has an incredible cast but it kind of doesn’t matter because all the characters are these bland macho cop/criminal stereotypes and the story is basically just a cookie cutter Heat ripoff about bank robbers/dirty cops involved in a convoluted scheme that I was barely interested enough to follow.  There are some fair to decent action scenes here and there but nothing too standout and while it’s a decent looking movie the style isn’t cool enough to carry the movie either.  Just a really forgettable effort… literally, I watched the damn thing two days before writing this and I only barely recall simple plot details from it.

*1/2 out of Five

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