Home Video Round-Up: 9/13/2016

Louder Than Bombs (9/3/2016)

 

 

Louder Than Bombs is the third film and the English language debut for director Joachim Trier and… man it looks really great on paper but like Trier’s Norwegian films it’s a movie that’s ultimately easier to respect than it is to love.  This film is sort of set up to be something like Ordinary People but for the 21st century in that it’s about a family of sad wealthy people overcoming grief.  Perspective is shared pretty evenly between an adult older brother, a teenaged younger brother, and a father who are all dealing with the death of the family matriarch in different and sometimes destructive ways.  At times I wish the film had just chosen one or maybe two of these perspectives and stuck with it as the movie at times feels a bit unfocused.  Jesse Eisenberg’s character may be the odd one out.  I liked him when he was interacting with the father and the brother but his own storyline feels undercooked and never really resolves in an interesting way.  Otherwise the movie moves along with some interesting ideas here and there but rarely really breaks out into being something overly memorable in its totality.  It’s kind of a frustrating movie in that it constantly threatens to become something special while never really achieving it.  Also, the DVD that Sony put out for this thing is straight up defective.  Every DVD player I have kept thinking it was pirated (it wasn’t, I rented it from Netflix) and the audio kept cutting out after twenty minutes or so and I had to keep restarting it.

*** out of Five

The Mermaid (8/17/2016)

Stephen Chow seemed like he was going to become a big deal in the mid-2000s after Shaolin Soccer and Kung-Fu Hustle both became cult hits with the latter going so far as to almost break into the mainstream.  Then he seemed to just sort of disappear.  It turns out that outside of a break between 2008 and 2013 he actually has been making successful movies this whole time but there just hasn’t been as much of a drive to make them succeed in the west.  In China he’s actually becomes something of a major box office force and his latest film, The Mermaid, has gotten a lot of attention in the entertainment press because it’s made almost a half a billion dollars even though it’s only had the most minimal of releases outside of Asia.  Like Chow’s previous works this is a big budget comedy that employs a lot of special effects and physical comedy.  Our subject this time is a billionaire who becomes a target for assassination by a group of mermaids because his latest land development puts them in danger.  The woman they send to take him turns out to be a rather inept killer and also ends up falling for him, hijinx ensue.  The movie is… pretty nutty.  I can see why no American distributors really took a chance on it: it’s too idiosyncratic and foreign for the mainstream but also too broad and silly for the arthouse crowds that would normally be open to a foreign release and also a bit too lighthearted and technologically unaccomplished for the genre crowds that got behind Chow’s earlier works.  The CGI in the movie also isn’t great and the movie leans more into 3D effects than most Hollywood movies would.  Still, there is a sort of loopy charm to it and some of the physical comedy moments are well staged and it’s hard to get too mad at a movie where an octopus man finds himself cooking his own limbs at a hibachi restaurant.

**1/2 out of Five

Weiner (9/9/2016)

The central question about the new Anthony Weiner documentary Weiner is probably whether the life of its subject is a tragedy or a farce or both.  We’ve certainly seen promising politicians brought down by sex scandals before be never so hilariously.  This is a man who could have made a difference were it not for his compulsion to post pictures of his dick on the internet.  Honestly this guy probably wouldn’t have gotten so much attention had he had the decency to just fuck a couple of prostitutes like a normal cheater given that he wasn’t much of a national name before the scandal (I certainly hadn’t heard of him) when you indirectly give the media access to a photo of your junk there’s really no coming back from that and Anthony Weiner gets a lesson in this over the course of this documentary, which was filmed as he attempted to make a comeback by running for mayor of New York.  This is one of those documentaries that may or may not be made by skilled filmmakers but really doesn’t have to be because the cameras have made their way into a situation that’s so dramatic and interesting that all the director needs to do is sit back and let the cameras roll, which is more or less what they do here as the movie takes a pretty straightforward vérité approach.  Whether this was made through luck or skill, this is a compelling doc worth a look especially if you’re interested in the interplay of media and politics.

***1/2 out of Five

Mountains May Depart (9/5/2016)

One of the most important directors making movies in mainland China is a guy named Jia Zhangke, who I’ve been meaning to check out for a while and his latest work seemed like as good a place to start as any.  The main theme of Zhangke’s work seems to be a sort of conflicted unease about China’s emergence as a world power and its embrace of certain Western values.  Here this unease plays out as it follows a set of characters over three separate segments: one set in 1999, one set in the present, and one in the near future and each of them showing the costs and benefits of moving away from traditional values while also functioning as very human stories.  I don’t want to give away too much but I will say that each of these segments is interesting in different ways and that the various actors do a great job of aging subtly in each of these parts.  If the film has one weakness, and most critics seem to agree on this, it’s the third segment which moves away from the woman who seems to be the central character and goes in some directions it probably shouldn’t have.  Still, even that part has some interesting things going for it, namely a great performance by Sylvia Chang and a pretty perfect final shot.  It’s not a perfect movie but it’s still a very strong effort by an important filmmaker who I’m going to have to keep a much closer eye on.

**** out of Five

Keanu (9/13/2016)

Ever since “Cappelle’s Show” ended Comedy Central has been desperately searching for another 30 minute sketch comedy show that could replace it and the show “Key and Peele” was about the closest they came to finding one in at least a decade.  That said, I personally always found it a little hit and miss.  Aside from their famous “Anger Translator” bits they pretty much gave up on doing conventional comedy sketches in favor of some really weird stream of conscious stuff, which sometimes hits (I won’t be forgetting “Prepared for Terries” anytime soon) but often just didn’t hit my wavelength.  That inconsistent tone also sort of pervades Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s debut feature Keanu, which always comes this close to feeling like a real movie before descending into stonery weirdness.  Like the show this is about 20% social commentary, specifically it’s an exploration of what it means to “not be black enough,” and about 80% riffing on the strangeness of a lot of people putting themselves in harms way over a kitten… and some of it works.  I guess in final analysis this basically like one last “Key and Peele” sketch and your mileage with it will probably correspond with how much you like the show.

*** out of Five

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