Home Video Round-Up: 1/22/2017

Florence Foster Jenkins (1/12/2017)

The story of the real Florence Foster Jenkins, a woman from the early 20th century who achieved a certain infamy for her inept opera singing, is one of those true stories you pick up from sources like NPR or as the historical oddity anecdote that gets thrown at the end of a newscast as a sort of “news of the weird” kind of thing.  Every once in a while though someone tries to make a whole movie about this sort of thing and that’s what’s happened with Stephen Frears’ film Florence Foster Jenkins.  To the film’s credit, it mostly seems to realize that Jenkins’ story is the quirky curio that it is rather than some grand peek into the human condition and presents it accordingly.  Meryl Streep is up to her usual high standards in the title role and Hugh Grant is surprisingly effective as her husband as well.  The film is light, kind of frothy fun, not sure what else to say really.  Catch it on HBO or something on a night when you don’t have anything better to do or maybe watch it with a family member who is allergic to more challenging movies but also isn’t that into action movies or funnier comedies.

Gleason (1/13/2017)

Whoever works at the marketing department at Open Road should probably be fired because the trailer they cut for their documentary Gleason pretty actively made me not want to see their movie.  That trailer made their movie, a look at a former NFL player who was revealed to have ALS, look like this incredibly corny “triumph of the human spirit” and I had no time for that.  Fortunately the movie is a lot more dignified than the advertising would have you believe.  The film is actually a pretty intimate look at what Gleason and his wife are going through as this guy is slowly debilitated while the disease takes hold.  The film gives you a pretty good idea what the two of them are like and they are people you don’t mind being in the company of.  Occasionally we do get glimpses of his football fans rallying around him and that is a bit lame (I would have preferred a version of this about people who aren’t semi-famous) but the movie does a pretty good job of showing that while this support is meaningful it often doesn’t really change their lives and or lighten the load.

Anthropoid (1/14/2017)

The title “Anthropoid” refers to Operation Anthropoid, an occurrence in 1942 in which two Czech agents trained by the British SOE parachuted into Prague with orders to carry out the assassination of Nazi third in command Reinhard Heydrich.  Operation Anthropoid is something of a footnote in much of the world but in the country it happened in, the former Czechoslovakia, it’s an extremely important moment and the high point of their resistance movement.  It is then probably not a surprise that the new film about the operation was largely funded by Czech money out of a desire to spread word of this event outside the country’s borders via a Hollywood looking production.  To their credit this national pride has not led to this becoming a patriotic tract which ignores the difficult nuances of the situation and the film is very willing to weigh in on the moral gray area of carrying out an operation that will likely lead to the deaths of thousands of civilian through Nazi reprisals.  However, I’m not sure that the film’s British director Sean Ellis has quite the passion for this subject matter that the producers do and a lot of the lead-up to the assassination is kind of stiff and the characters never really jump off the screen as particularly interesting.  That said, once the assassination scene does arrive the film picks up a lot and leads up to a finale that’s very well done.  I wouldn’t necessarily call the movie a must-see, but there’s enough there to make it worth a rental.

Cameraperson (1/21/2017)

Cameraperson is a sort of video collage that documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson put together mainly using outtakes from documentaries she photographed for other filmmakers and some of her home movies all presented without voiceover and simple captions establishing the various sources.  The title card at the beginning explains that she believes this collage will serve as a sort of autobiography and I’m just not so sure that’s what I got out of it.  We certainly get a good idea of the various places that she’s been in her career and the breadth of her work as well as a vague sense that she has a family, but beyond that we are told very little about her personality and outlook.  Perhaps if she actually were the director on these movies I could see a pure career retrospective being a bit more impactful, but if all she’s doing is pointing the camera in the direction that the various directors told her to I don’t see how much that’s really going to reflect on her beyond the various kinds of jobs she took.  I suppose that could be the point; that it’s about a simple worker trying to do the most she can in her oft overlooked role, but is that really enough to make this a great piece of work?  I don’t know.  The movie is a bit more watchable than you’d maybe think given the description and there is something a bit hypnotic about it all for the first hour or so, but as we returned to various locations over and over again it all got a bit tedious.  The film has been getting some rave reviews from sources I respect, so maybe I’m just missing something, but as of now I can’t help but kind of shrug my shoulders at the whole thing.

Jason Bourne (1/22/2017)

I don’t know that I’d say the first three Bourne films form a perfect trilogy or anything, but they were certainly solid and by the time they got to The Bourne Ultimatum the style they’d come up with had been pretty much stewed to perfection.  With Greengrass and Damon leaving well enough alone Universal went ahead and made a Bourne film with neither of them and by all accounts it didn’t go well (wouldn’t know for sure, didn’t see it) but now a few years later Greengrass and Damon are back and… the results are kind of underwhelming.  Truth be told this fourth (or fifth depending on how you’re counting) Bourne film isn’t really bad so much as it’s unneeded.  The action scenes here are all alright I guess, but nothing comes close to scenes like the car chase from the first film or the fist fight from the third film and the story is basically a whole lot of “meh.”  We never really reconnect with our hero in any interesting way and the villains are largely retreads of villains from the previous films.  It’s like Greengrass made the whole film because he thought making one Edward Snowden reference in a major motion picture would automatically make this some kind of hyper relevant and necessary film, but it really isn’t, it mostly just feels like a standard case of Hollywood trying to milk a cash cow that’s run dry.

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