Home Video Round-Up: 9/27/2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (9/15/2016)

I’ve always enjoyed the Lonely Island “digital shorts” and in general I’ve always enjoyed the comedic stylings of Andy Samberg both on SNL and on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” so I was a little disappointed when his recent film project failed pretty badly at the box office, a parody of modern pop music in the form of a “Spinal Tap” style mockumentary called Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.  This is the kind of comedy that values laughs over all else, and one of the things that sometimes gets sacrificed is internal logic.  For example, the film takes the form of a glossy self-serving popstar documentary of the Justin Bieber: Never Say Never or One Direction: This Is Us variety, yet it still airs a lot of dirty laundry that an image conscious celebrity would almost certainly try to keep under wraps.  Additionally, it’s kind of a major plot-point that this character’s biggest mistake was trying to go solo when he’s better off with the group he started in, but we’re given little to no indication that the music he did was any less stupid than his solo stuff.  Still, the movie does make some decent jabs at the current moment in celebrity culture and has some enjoyably loopy moments along the way.  I’m not sure that the mockumentary format was the best approach to take but it does make it stand out a little more.  Overall I’d say the movie is a mixed bag and I don’t really regret skipping it in theaters, but it’s worth watching on HBO or Netflix or something when you want your fix of this sort of thing.

*** out of Five

The Fits (9/17/2016)

When the first Paranormal Activity movie was out there was a theory going around (one which the sequels contradict) which suggested that the central couple actually weren’t the victims of a ghost or a demon and that the strange happenings were actually caused by the female lead having telekinetic powers she doesn’t understand or know how to control.  Under that theory everything was happening was caused by her subconscious frustration with her boyfriend and got more extreme as he continued to act like an aggressive dick.  As best as I can tell there’s something similar going on in the micro-budgeted and decidedly not horror tinged indie The Fits, about a girl whose dance troupe is suddenly plagued by violent fainting spells.  At least that’s my best guess because this movie does not really have what you’d call a conventional narrative.  There isn’t a ton of dialog here, it’s generally not very plot heavy, and the characters aren’t really introduced in a whole lot of detail.  The movie is certainly very well shot and I’m excited to see what its director, Anna Rose Holmer, does next but I’ve got to say I don’t really get what she’s going for with this one.  The story telling is quite oblique and its ending after a very brief 72 minutes seemed really abrupt.  There’s certainly some thematic resonance in there, perhaps about gender roles or about adolescence but I’m not sure what exactly that message is supposed to be.  It’s certainly an interesting movie, but I think not a fully formed one despite the confidence of its production, and it didn’t really speak to me.

*** out of Five

The Nice Guys (9/21/2015)

When you look back at the height of Shane Black’s tenure as a Hollywood screenwriter you think about movies like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout which probably did have an irreverence that set them apart from some of the competition, but in many ways they also basically blend in with a lot of the other action movies of the time at least from afar.  Yet now we’ve come to a point where a Shane Black buddy action movie is seen not as another spin on a well-represented genre so much as it’s seen as mana from the heavens in a world filled with CGI driven blockbusters.  As such I think the reaction some people had to The Nice Guys when it came out earlier this year was a little over the top, but I did think it was a pretty witty and enjoyable little movie.  I do think that Shane Black can be a little snarky and annoying when he’s allowed to run wild but he’s a bit more restrained here than he was in his directorial debut Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (which I found a bit over-rated) and the cast and crew largely seems to be pretty game.  I guess what really holds the movie back for me was that it all just seems more than a little bit like a pointless romp, and there’s a place for pointless romps in cinema but I can really only get so excited for them.

*** out of Five

April and the Extraordinary World (9/23/2015)

I’ve been meaning to get better grasp on some of these foreign animated movies that show up on Oscar night in the animated film category and thought a good place to start catching up was with the latest film from the GKids distributor (the company that releases most of those movies) called April and the Extraordinary World.  The film is a sort of steampunk adventure movie about a teenage girl who comes into possession of a super-serum and must contend with a five-generation old Napoleonic Empire and a race of super-smart lizard people and somehow feels more coherent than that last sentence makes him sound.  I wouldn’t exactly call this an animated film for adults as it isn’t particularly profane or nasty but it doesn’t really play like a “kids” movie either.  Rather I think it’s fairly comparable to what I’d expect from a Japanese anime film in content if not style.  This is exactly the kind or world building science fiction that you get from some of the better OVAs and has the kind of simple adventure narratives and simple character developments you tend to get from that genre.  The art style seems to be influenced by Fraco-Belgian comic strips of the Hergé, Tardi, and Salverius variety and while the look isn’t mind-blowing it is certainly interesting.  Generally speaking I though the “extraordinary world” here was a lot more interesting than April and the basic plot through-line is nothing too special.  In many ways I feel like this would have been better serves as a TV series or limited series that could more fully explore this world because that backdrop is a lot more interesting than the story playing out in the foreground.

*** out of Five

The Jungle Book (9/27/2016)

Making a live action remake of the 1967 Disney animated movie The Jungle Book certainly seemed like a terrible idea before this came out, but the joke was probably on the doubters given that the movie turned out to be a critical success and a sizable financial hit when the movie came out this spring.  The biggest reason that the whole enterprise seemed dubious was that most of the characters were animals, meaning that the special effects team needed to not only make believable creatures but also believably make said animals talk.  The fact that the film comes pretty close to pulling this off is probably enough to make this thing a win.  I say “pretty close” because it did take some time from me to warm up to these effects as at times I thought they kind of entered into “uncanny valley” territory.  Beyond the technical achievements the movie does have some stuff going for it.  For one, the movie’s voice casting is pretty immaculate with just the right celebrities voicing each one of the characters.  However, I do feel like the movie could have stood to make an even cleaner break from the 1967 movie.  The film’s plot is pretty episodic at times and certain segments seem to be included more out of an obligation to that earlier movie than because they’re really necessary to the story at hand and one attempt to incorporate one of that movie’s songs really falls flat.  This also just felt like another kids movie that doesn’t really feel like it earns its life lesson at the end.

***1/2 out of Five

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