Home Video Round-Up: 9/22/2017

Song to Song (8/13/2017)

Terry, buddy, you really need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.  I’m about as big a fan of Terrence Malick’s early films as you get and I even defended him through To the Wonder but his last movie Knight of Cups lost me in a big way and while I like this follow up a little bit more I still think the path he’s been going down is proving to be a stylistic dead end.  I think part of the problem with these last two films may simply be that making movies about the idle rich brings out the worst in him.  Seeing these people float through the life of luxury has the effect of making his usual style look less like poetry and more like a perfume commercial.  The film is a bit more structurally understandable and coherent than Knight of Cups, which does make it a bit more enjoyable to watch, and it does also have all the usual beautiful photography and imagery you’d expect from a Terrence Malick film.  Eventually film historians are going to have to reckon with this era of Malick’s filmography and I suspect that these movies are going to have their defenders.  I’m not completely closed off to the idea that there isn’t something to these last two films I’m missing, but one first viewing they really just seem like these aimless if pretty montages that were cobbled together in editing rooms.

**1/2 out of Five

Free Fire (8/19/2017)

Free Fire has been described as a movie long shootout, which is both true and kind of misleading.  The film is about a group of criminals in the 70s who meet up at a rundown warehouse for a weapons deal but things go south and people start shooting.  The rest of the movie does involve a lot of shooting but it doesn’t necessarily play out like a frantic action scene.  Characters quickly take cover at various points of the building and start taking shots at each other a few at a time and occasionally yell at each other.  It’s sort of like if Reservoir Dogs dispensed with the flashbacks and most of the talking and went straight to the Mexican standoff and had the shooting go on for a hell of a lot longer.  It’s not a terrible idea but I can’t say that the various characters really grabbed me and some of them (looking at you chronic over-actor Sharlto Copley) are downright annoying and when bodies start hitting the floor it never quite had the impact it was supposed to.  Also, the sheer amount of endurance a lot of these guys have seems a bit ridiculous and at times it was hard to even tell which of these mutton chopped 70s guys was on which side.  I still think Ben Wheatley is an interesting filmmaker but each movie he’s put out since Kill List has kind of been a letdown in some way or another and I hope he can turn things around soon.

**1/2 out of Five

Ghost in the Shell (8/27/2017)

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the original anime version of Ghost in the Shell and I actually remember not being a big fan of it (Akira is my sci-fi anime of choice, thank you).  To my eyes, this live action version in many ways plays to both the original film’s strengths and weaknesses.  Most notably, the film does a pretty good job of translating the anime’s visuals to live action in some interesting ways and the action scenes mostly work.  Oh the other hand this remains a fairly cold and humorless narrative with themes that somehow seem both on the nose and rather muddled.  The anime remains the superior product both because it did it first and because it’s a bit tighter and just comes off a bit more naturally in that format, but this isn’t necessarily the hatchet job that some people will make it out to be.  Ultimately I kind of wish they’d just used all the effort they put into creating this elaborate science fiction world and put it towards creating a different, better, and more original story.

**1/2 out of Five

The Fate of the Furious (9/17/2017)

There was a certain sense of finality in the way that the last Fast and Furious movie, Furious 7, ended.  Brian was leaving the crew, and events that occurred while the movie was filming made that seem particularly true, but it looks like the show is going to go on and they are continuing to make films into the post-Paul Walker era.  Truth be told I don’t know that I missed Paul Walker too much here as this is enough of an ensemble franchise at this point but I do think that soldiering on so quick was a mistake just the same if only because this is a franchise that could use a break.  This is the third straight movie they’ve made which has more or less put Dom’s crew in the position of being super spies working for the government for various reasons, and while I do think there’s an opening for such a franchise given what’s been happening to James Bond lately, I do think the pressure of making each of these movies bigger and crazier than the last is starting to get to them.  This one in particular is really pushing that line between “fun stupid” and just “stupid stupid.”  There is enough silly energy here to keep it from being a true failure though and there was enough in the way of standout action sequences that I certainly wasn’t bored by watching it.  Still if I’m comparing it to the Bond franchise this is more of a Tomorrow Never Dies than a Goldeneye and they’re going to need to do better if they’re going to give this thing some real longevity.

**1/2 out of Five

All Eyez on Me (9/22/2017)

Since his death in the September of 1996 Tupac Shakur has basically joined the ranks of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain among the martyred young American musical icons and even without that mystique he’s widely been considered one of if not the greatest rappers ever.  I think a big part of his appeal is that he has something to offer to pretty much any kind of Hip Hop fan.  If you go to a rapper looking for biting social commentary he had something for you, if you want gritty street stories he had those, and if you just wanted some party songs he had some of those too.  He was the son of Black Panthers and a student at an art academy but also someone who sported a “thug life” tattoo and got involved in various violent confrontations including the one that ultimately ended his life.  The man was multi-faceted and filled with contradictions, and the biopic All Eyez on Me isn’t unaware of this but it also doesn’t illuminate it in a particularly interesting way either.  Critics seem to have picked up on this and the movie currently sits at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes because of it, and that seems a bit harsh to me.

The film certainly has a number of strong elements, not the least of which is Demetrius Shipp Jr.’s really strong performance as Tupac which is really uncanny in its imitation at times.  The movie also does a pretty decent job of fitting the many events of Tupac’s life into a reasonable running time and it’s generally pretty competently made.  That said, this kind of straightforward “birth to death” musical biopic seems a bit redundant at this point.  Unlike Straight Outta Compton, which was set over a shorter period of time and could feel more like a story and less like a character study, this film feels a bit too surfacey and a bit lacking in real creativity.  The movie also seems oddly disinterested in Tupac’s actual music and doesn’t really spend a whole lot of time actually showing him performing or recording much of it.  Still, I do think the movie fares better than the Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious from a handful of years ago, in part because it seems less interested in smoothing over the rougher aspects of its subject’s life and does as good a job as one could expect of keeping it from descending into hagiography.  Over the years there have a litany of Tupac products released so I suspect that this won’t be the last movie that gets made about him and I hope the next one finds an approach that’s more worthy of his legend, until then this one will do well enough.

*** out of Five

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