Home Video Round-Up: 7/15/2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (6/25/2017)

When John Wick came out in 2014 it certainly didn’t look like much, but the response to it was quite strong and it’s become something of a cult classic of the action genre.  When I finally caught up with it I could sort of see why.  It had some really strong fight/shootout choreography and it had a rather unapologetic brutality that I approved of.  It was basically bringing the kind of action seen in Asian films like The Raid into the Hollywood mainstream and doing it pretty well.  Unfortunately it was also dumb as a sack of rocks.  It was a very silly little revenge story set against some rather strange world building about a ritualized world of assassins.  The film’s sequel is even weirder and expands on this assassin’s guild ideas in ways that suggest that they hadn’t fully thought out a number of the rituals in the first movie because this world makes less and less sense the more it gets explored and simply doesn’t hold up if you think about it too much. Of course the plot isn’t necessarily the most important aspect of these movies, the action is, and for the most part John Wick: Chapter 2 does deliver on that front.  It doesn’t necessarily bring the gun-fu style of the first movie up to eleven like I might have hoped; in general it’s just kind of more of what we got before.  There’s definitely fun to be had here by action fans but I don’t know how much more steam this franchise has and if given the choice I’d probably lean towards the first movie rather than the second simply because that one had simplicity of purpose that propelled it.

**1/2 out of Five

T2: Trainspotting (7/4/2017)

The original Trainspotting is something of a classic, I won’t deny it that, but it isn’t necessarily a movie that’s precious to me.  I probably watched it when I was sixteen or something and was bingeing through all sorts of great movies at a rapid pace and Trainspotting was just kind of another one of them.  That is maybe where I’m at a disconnect when it comes to this 20+ year later sequel, whose appeal seems to mostly be drawn from the prospect of seeing these characters that you’ve built a lot of nostalgia for after all these years.  Truth be told, I barely even remember some of the supporting cast here (Renton was always front and center to me) and seeing them in middle age didn’t really fascinate me too much.  Some of the film’s attempts to tap into the modern zeitgeist were sort of interesting, some not so much.  Danny Boyle is able to inject the film with energy as he usually can, but I’m not sure this was as appropriate for this movie given where these characters are in life at this point.  It’s like the point of the movie is that these guys are no longer youthful and yet it also sort of lacks the conviction to actually make them act their age for fear that this would be boring.  Frankly I feel like Danny Boyle, now an Academy Award winning director, should be above going back to the well like this and so should a lot of the cast.  Trainspotting has often been called Britain’s Pulp Fiction, and god help us if Quentin Tarantino ever decides we need a sequel to that.  Also, what the hell were they thinking with that title?

** out of Five

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (7/4/2017)

Nobody Speak is a documentary that looks at a pair of recent incidents which seem to be red flags suggesting that the moneyed class are trying to use their influence to silence the free press: the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker lawsuit and the purchase of the Las Vegas Review Journal by the Adelson family.  These are both stories worth considering but they’re not exactly obscure, both were covered pretty extensively in the press while they were happening and Brian Knappenberger’s documentary does not really bring a whole lot of new information or perspective to either of them.  Knappenberger also tries to link these cases to the general hostility towards the press that Donald Trump has been fermenting, but in many ways that feels like something of a separate issue to me as that hostility long predated Trump and probably can’t be blamed on the actions of any one rich asshole.  It also doesn’t help that I find the documentary’s take on Hogan/Gawker affair to be a bit preachy in its analysis.  It is very possible to both support the free press and also think that posting a covertly filmed sex tape is a violation of privacy worth suing over and the fact that the dude funding said lawsuit is a vindictive asshole doesn’t really change that.  Had the film actually gotten access to Peter Theil or Hulk Hogan and tried to understand their side of the story we might have gotten something kind of unique and interesting instead we’re just given a news summery which I’m not sure will be all that useful to anyone who would be interested in it in the first place.

** out of five

The Defiant Ones (7/13/2017)

I’ve long hesitated about reviewing multipart TV docs within the context of movie reviews but I’m making an exception this time because… well, because this thing is awesome and I want to talk about it.  This four part HBO documentary mini-series is ostensibly about the lives and business partnership of Dr. Dre and music mogul Jimmy Iovine and in covering them the film also chronicles the rise of gangsta rap, the formation of Interscope Records, and the business maneuvers that would eventually result in a multi-billion dollar deal with Apple.  The story of Dr. Dre, N.W.A., and Death Row Records has of course been recounted several times before this so there is a degree of redundancy here but I’ve rarely seen the story contextualized as well as it is here and we get perspectives we normally don’t get.  For example, everyone knows the story of how Suge Knight signed Tupac by bailing him out of jail but few people know he did it with money that Iovine advanced him for that purpose as is revealed here.  The film also has incredible access to the people involved in all of this with a rather staggering number of talking heads interviewed giving a range of perspectives, including some people who aren’t necessarily coming off great in the other interviews.  The basic filmmaking on display here is also really strong with director Allen Hughes clearly having a lot of money and resources to work with.  Hughes has found a treasure trove of relevant footage and has a seemingly unlimited music clearance budget.  Politics does stymie the film in a couple of places (they avoid mentioning Jerry Heller at all costs and its depiction of Suge Knight is… restrained) but it’s also not afraid to delve into some darker moments that have been discussed before like the Dee Barnes incident.  This is in many ways a movie that feels like it was tailor made to appeal specifically to me and my pop culture interests and I’m not sure how broad its reach will be amongst those who aren’t endlessly fascinated by music from the 90s, but for those who do care about this stuff it’s an incredibly well made piece of work worth checking out.

****1/2 out of Five

Okja (7/15/2017)

When the movie Chappie came out a couple years ago I suggested that it was a movie whose strange mixture of Spielbergian whimsy and R-rated adult material would have probably been better received if it had been made in a foreign language by a Japanese or Korean director than by a South African working with a Hollywood budget and the recent critical acceptance of Bong Joon-Ho’s new movie Okja suggests I was right.  This oddity concerns a little Korean girl who finds herself in the middle of all sorts of intrigue when the genetically modified pig she’s been raising is called back by the corporations that placed it with her father and she needs to go on a mission to save it.  I’d say the film’s first problem, and it’s a doozy, is that it is dependent on making its audience sympathize with the bizarre CGI hippo/pig thing that Joon-Ho has put at the movie’s center and to care about whether or not it gets saved simply because some kid has formed an irrational bond with her father’s livestock.  I don’t know, I’m not really a pet person so maybe I’m just never going to be on the wave length of a movie like this but this one certainly didn’t hook me in.  On top of that the movie is filled with insanely broad performances from all the English/American actors involved (the movie is something like 75% English language) and its anti-corporate politics seemed rather juvenile.  Bong-Joon Ho’s last movie, Snowpiercer was over-rated in some circles but it at least had some fun genre elements to enjoy.  This thing on the other hand is just a big mess of weirdness and I genuinely like it less than the aforementioned Chappie.

** out of Five

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