Home Video Round-Up: 2/7/2017

The BFG (1/26/2017)

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Roald Dahl was the author of a number of strange children’s books that not too many kids actually care that much about, however a disproportionate number of his fans seem to grow up to become film directors and as such we seem to get a whole lot of Roald Dahl adaptations that no one asked for.  The latest Dahl adaptation to bomb at the box office was made by none other than Steven Spielberg, which truly baffles me because this movie both seems unlike anything Spielberg has ever made both in style and quality.  Very early on while watching The BFG I quickly found myself saying “what the fuck is this shit?”  To call this movie an oddity would be an understatement, it exists on a whimsical level that is impenetrable and operates on a bizarre fairy tale logic that is hard to get a grasp of and its plot goes in a direction about half way through that is frankly insane.  Its protagonist is a kid with minimal distinguishing traits and her giant friend is a weird simpleton whose relationship with said protagonist is frankly creepy.  On top of all that the movie is just a big fail on a technical level.  The little girl seems completely detached from all the CGI around her and the giant is this freakish creature from the uncanny valley with weird gravity defying hair.  Steven Spielberg feels completely out of his element here as even his most childish of family films tend to be more grounded than this and if anything this gives me a newfound respect for the works of Tim Burton as this kind of thing is clearly harder than it looks.

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Little Men(1/28/2017)

I skipped this movie in theaters because it looked like another “small” movie about life in New York and movies about life in New York are something of a plague in the world of independent cinema.  This one is better than most however, mainly because it’s not about twenty-somethings with first world problems.  Instead it’s about thirty-something’s and teenagers with first world problems… but I’ll take what I can get.  The movie is about a landlord who inherits a store from his father and has to decide whether or not to raise the rent to market value, thus pricing the shopkeeper out, which is complicated by the fact that his son has befriended the shopkeeper’s son.  Not exactly the most relatable predicament in the world, but I can’t say I’ve seen a movie about that recently.  I don’t get the impression that this shopkeeper is going to be completely destitute if she’s forced to re-locate and I don’t know that the landlord is going to be to broken up about the decision a year later so… not the highest stake either.  Having made these dismissive smartass observations, I will say that the movie is pretty well executed and the fact that it’s told about 50/50 from both the parents and the kids perspective does give it a certain extra bit of interest.  The movie is pretty easy to label a “trifle” and… yeah I don’t think that’s unfair, but if you’re in the mood for a sort of low stakes drama about the dynamics of privilege it’s worth a look.

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Jim: The James Foley Story(1/29/2017)

1-29-2017JimTheJamesFoleyStory As the title would suggest, Jim: The James Foley Story looks at the life of James Foley, the photo journalist who was beheaded by ISIS militants in 2014, an incident that probably would have sparked a war if Trump had been president at the time.  Brian Oakes’ documentary is a difficult one to talk about as it basically just follows the usual talking head documentary format and while it’s pretty good at what it’s trying to do you can’t help but think there isn’t a lot of “there” there.  There’s little about Foley’s life that would surprise you as it seems pretty similar to that of most war correspondents: he as a bright young man who became dedicated to getting the truth out and then ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s all very tasteful and whatnot but is it a cinematic accomplishment?  Ehh, maybe not, but at the same time not every documentary needs to have some innovative gimmick so maybe I shouldn’t complain too much.

Captain Fantastic (1/31/2017)

Captain Fantastic was about the closest thing to an indie hit that we had this summer until Hell or High Water came along.  The film concerns a strange situation in which a man has chosen to raise his family out in the woods, homeschooling them and having them “rough it” out in the wild because he’s disgusted by modern American society.  That seems farfetched but the whole situation reminded me a lot of the family depicted in the 2007 documentary Surfwise, like, reminded me of it to the point that I’m surprised there hasn’t been a lawsuit.  The film does a pretty good job of giving you an idea of why such an arrangement could be tantalizing and sort of romanticizing it while also taking the cons of such an arrangement seriously.  Viggo Mortenson is solid here but I don’t know that I would have nominated him for an Academy Award.  I do like the assortment of kids they found to fill out the family though and I think the film is generally written with a degree of wit that made the movie roll along pretty effectively.  At the end of the day I don’t think the movie is terribly special but it’s certainly a very watchable little movie that mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do.

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Under the Sun (2/2/2017)

2-2-2017UndertheSun North Korea is a country/tragedy that I seem to find endlessly fascinating and will watch pretty much any movie or documentary about.  Because of that country’s secrecy and image consciousness it’s extremely hard to film much of anything there that the government doesn’t want you to film, which is something a lot of documentarians take as a challenge.  Case in point: Vitaly Mansky Under the Sun, a documentary about a young girl entering the countries Children’s Union which Mansky agreed to make under all the government’s meticulous requirements only to then sneak all the outtakes out of the country and include in the version of the film shown abroad along with title cards annotating everything that was manipulated by the government.  As I said before, pretty much any footage taken in North Korea is of value but I’m not sure we learn much of anything about the country from this other than that they’re regressive and controlling of its image.  Honestly I’m not sure why North Korea bothered letting these guys in to film, if they wanted to make a propaganda film for internal consumption they should have just done it themselves and if they thought anyone outside of the country was going to be fooled by the film they wanted to make they were delusional.  This movie is an interesting project, but perhaps more for the story behind it than for the film itself.  If you do decide to watch it I strongly recommend doing some of the research into the backstory first because it doesn’t always explain itself well.  It kind of seems like a movie that was made to be shown at film festivals with Q&As.

A Man Called Ove (2/7/2017)

A strange thing happened this fall: a movie Swedish movie called A Man Called Ove opened up at my local arthouse and for months on end seemed to just keep playing there.  There aren’t that many arthouse screens in the city so normally the turnover at these places is really fast, especially if the movie isn’t a super buzzed about awards contender and Ove certainly didn’t seem all that buzzed about.  Critics didn’t seem to care about the movie and bloggers didn’t seem to care about it but clearly it was finding an audience.  Eventually I discovered that the movie was based on a fairly popular novel, which explained its apparent success to some extent, but beyond that the movie was apparently just a very warm and accessible movie: what Harvey Weinstein used to call a “friendly foreign movie.”  It concerns an old guy who’s extremely grumpy and angry at the world for a variety of reasons but mainly because his beloved wife recently passed but who gains a new lease on life when a new neighbor moves in next and starts to reach him through some simple empathy.  The movie is fairly well made and certainly watchable, I was about ready to give it a soft pass until I thought about it a little more and came to the conclusion that it was utter bullshit.  Ove’s dead wife is basically a manic pixie dreamwife in the film’s flashbacks (an endlessly chipper woman with no interior life who exists to bring light into the life of a male protagonist) and the neighbor is basically a manic pixie dreamfriend.  In the real world behaving like a misanthropic recluse does not attract saintly women to come into your life to bring you out of your shell, trust me I know.

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