Home Video Round-Up: 8/7/2016

The Club (7/15/2016)

7-15-2016TheClub

One of the under-appreciated world filmmakers is probably the Chilean director Pablo Larraín, who’s done a lot to create something of a filmmaking renascence in Chile.  Oddly he’s now made two straight movies that have kind of been overshadowed by Best Picture winners.  His 2013 film No felt oddly similar to Ben Affleck’s Argo despite not having that many overt plot similarities, and now his latest film deals with some similar subject matter as Spotlight.  The film is set in a house where pedophile priests (and some priests who’ve been disgraced for other reasons) have been placed by the Catholic Church after they’ve gotten in trouble.  I think I liked the setup for this movie a lot better than the payoff.  There’s a great scene early on where the priests have to react to a man shouting accusations at them in front of their house and you’re excited to see where things are going but once the investigator arrives you feel like you’re just watching someone come to conclusions the audience has already made and his conflicted views about the way the church is handling things never really becomes a palpable conflict.  I also didn’t care for this greyhound racing related subplot that sort of takes over in the last act.  It’s an admirable bit of filmmaking but hardly Larrain’s best and not really worthy of its weighty subject matter.

**1/2 out of Five

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (7/28/2016)

I think this movie was done a disservice by its trailers.  Everything about the advertising campaign for this movie was trying to sell it as a zany comedy or perhaps as a broadly comedic satire, but that’s not really what the movie is going for.  In fact I don’t even really know that I’d call it a comedy at all even though there are more moments of levity in it than there is in your average movie set in a warzone.  The movie is largely a character study based on the memoir of an actual war reporter who finds herself oddly fulfilled when she starts reporting on the ground in Afghanistan.  The movie makes the role of the correspondent seem like a kind of hazy experience where intense on the field experiences are intercut with boozy antics back at “the base” to ease the tension.  There are a number of interesting little details about the life of a correspondent here and there, and in general it’s an interesting circumstance to observe, but the film doesn’t really have too much of a plot arc and you can kind of see what the character’s trajectory is going to be pretty early on.  Still, this is a lot more interesting than its weak reception upon release would have you think.

***1/2 out of Five

7-28-2016WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru (7/30/2016)

7-30-2016IAmNotYourGuru I don’t know a lot about Tony Robins and I have little respect for the self-help industry.  If it weren’t for the fact that Joe Berlinger had his name on this thing I doubt I would have considered even watching this thing and even with that famous documentation’s name on it I certainly went in with a lot of skepticism.  The film is not some kind of expose of Robbins and instead takes a rather uncritical look at highlights from one of his week long seminars.  Because Berlinger never really states his intentions and because this at least seems to be made independently albeit with Robbins’ participation the film puts you in the place of making up your own mind as to what the directors’ agenda is and how you should feel about what you’re witnessing.  I can certainly say that I wasn’t particularly impressed by Robbins teaching or lecturing or whatever it is you call what he’s doing.  He does seem to give out some decent advice here or there but his overall message seems to range from obvious statements that any therapist could give to complete gibberish that mostly seems to over-complicate fairly simple pieces of advice so as to make people think they’re paying for much more profound lessons than they actually are.

I don’t know that the guy is a total con artist as there probably are some weak willed people who will benefit from this sort of thing and if they can do it with one $5000 seminar that might ultimately be cheaper than years of therapy, but towards the end of the film its revealed that a decent number of the people in these crowds have actually been to these seminars multiple times, which both suggests that this doesn’t work in the first place and that these “breakthroughs” are not all that useful in the first place.  Ultimately I feel like what I’m watching is a secularized religious gathering, Robbins basically seems to be using the same manipulative tactics as some kind of televangelist and the semi-cultlike extent to which these people seem to depend on him is kind of disturbing.  As for Berlinger’s filmmaking; he does a pretty good job of keeping his distance and concealing his intentions, but he tips his and in the film’s last ten to fifteen minutes when he films Robbins’ commencement speech for the seminar with the utmost sincerity, going so far as to intercut clips of the island and happy people as Robbins gives a feel good lecture with the most minimal of substance to it.  Clearly Berlinger has drunk the kool-aid of all this to some extent.  However, whether he intended it or not the film did give me a lot more to think about than most documentaries and it’s always nice to have such a good opportunity to exercise my critical thinking skills.

***1/2 out of Five

Zootopia (8/3/2016)

Animated films rarely live up to their hype for me but Zootopia is about as close as one has come for quite a while.  On a basic aesthetic level this is one of the better uses of anthropomorphic talking animals that I can recall seeing (with the possible exception of the decidedly less family friendly BoJack Horseman).  The film chooses interesting animal avatars for each of its characters and does a pretty good job of hiding some of the obvious questions that this animal world would seem to bring up (like what the predatory animals eat now that they’ve given up their hunter ways).  The movie does a really serviceable job of making the characters interact in ways that do feel like legitimate (albeit more PG) interactions between modern adult characters and does a pretty damn good imitation of real buddy cop movies.  The animation is also pretty strong.  Those eyes on the rabbit look really good and the film does a pretty good job of making this wacky world filled with animal-people of various sizes interacting in ways that seem interestingly functional and plausible.  There are a couple of stupid moments like a corny Godfather parody in the middle of the film and I kind of hated the film’s theme song, which wouldn’t be such a problem if the movie didn’t lean into it so much especially at the end, but that is still ultimately a minor quibble.

Of course the thing that really makes the film stand out is its interest in relevant topics like race relations, transcending the prejudices directed at you, and identifying one’s own prejudices.  Most family movies end with some pabulum along the lines of “you can be anything you want to be” or “we’re all the same deep down” but this movie actually seems interested in working towards a message like that rather than wedging it in at the end as if to meet some kind of educational content quota.  Now I don’t want to oversell this too much because, when compared to the better live action dramas a lot of this thematic messaging is still pretty broad and simplistic but in the middle of Disney animated movie it does seem pretty bold.  I also like that this isn’t trying to be a perfect 1 to 1 allegory to the human world.  For instance, depending how you look at it the predators in the film could be seen as allegories to either the white people (former power holders who have “evolved” out of their oppressive ways) or the black people (minorities that are wrongly seen as violent and dangerous by the public).  The movie never really comes up with a terribly profound conclusion about any of these issues, but I have to admire the attempt.  This is about as good as I can ever expect a family movie about talking animals to ever be.

**** out of Five

8-3-2016Zootopia

High-Rise (8/7/2016)

8-7-2016High-Rise High-Rise was often described as “Snowpiercer but in a building instead of on a train” which is a pretty unavoidable comparison.  Both are about contained environments segmented into different class sections and both devolve into chaos because of it.  The difference is that High-Rise is a bit less science fictiony and action based and a bit more nuanced, possibly to its detriment.  I had thought that Snowpiercer was a bit broad and on-the-nose in its allegory but at least you understood in no uncertain terms why the have-nots in the back of the train would want to violently revolt against the haves in the front.  Here on the other hand the middle class people who are causing all this trouble seem to be vastly over-reacting to slights that seem kind of petty in the grand scheme of things.  The movie doesn’t do nearly enough to establish that these seemingly fairly comfortable “lower level” people actually had legitimate grievances and that makes pretty much everything that comes afterwards feel really strange because of it.  Another advantage that Snowpiercer has over this is that it establishes that the outside world is a frozen hellscape, making it logical that the people would have to fight it out on the train, here we’re left to assume that the outside world is fairly hospitable and this begs the question as to why these people don’t just leave when the going gets tough.  Ben Wheatley is of course a skilled filmmaker and he certainly shoots his scenes well and manages to keep some interest throughout, but his allegory doesn’t hold together and his characters are uninteresting, making the movie as a whole kind of a waste.

** out of Five

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One response to “Home Video Round-Up: 8/7/2016

  1. Disappointed to here you were underwhelmed by High Rise. I feel like I’ve been hearing about that film for the better part of a year and am looking forward to giving it a go. On the other side, it’s cool to here you thought Zootopia was pretty good. That movie’s success played a pretty big part in me deciding to catch up with this Disney resurgence and I finally finished with Big Hero 6 about a week ago.

    I’ll also keep an eye out for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which I mostly dismissed up until now.

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