Home Video Round-Up: 10/31/2017

Gerald’s Game (10/16/2017)

Though I read a lot of Stephen King books in high school, Gerald’s Game is one title’s I never read, in part because I never wanted to be seen reading it and have to explain what it was I was reading.  To my young mind the novel’s premise, which involved bondage sex, seemed wildly dirty and I couldn’t imagine anyone ever making a movie out of it.  Fast forward a decade and “Fifty Shades of Gray” is a mainstream property and “Gerald’s Game” seems a lot more acceptable by contrast, especially given that its bondage sex scene is not consummated.  The story involves a middle aged woman who’s gone to a remote cabin with her husband and after he’s handcuffed both of her hands to a bed he suddenly has a heart attack and she’s left chained to the bed with the key out of reach and starts having hallucinations of her husband talking to her and of a strange looking bald man who may or may not be the grim reaper.  This is certainly a high concept movie what with its single room setup and lack of real supporting characters.  One could perhaps imagine a version of it being performed as a stage play give or take a couple of moments… including one incredibly gory moment that is decidedly not for the squeamish.  Mike Flanagan directs the film well and has an eye for some signature visuals, but some of the writing is not great (the hallucinations are basically an excuse for inner-monologue, and King is not always the best writer of inner monologue) and while Carla Gugino is good in the lead role her performance is not necessarily the tour-de-force required of someone who needs to 100% carry a film.

**1/2 out of Five

Strong Island (10/21/2017)

The usual line on documentaries is that they should be made by people who maintain some objective distance, but there are other approaches, like the one used for the film Strong Island.  The documentary is directed by Yance Ford and tells the story about how his brother (an African American) was killed in 1992 by a white person during an argument and how the police and district attorney did nothing to bring him to justice.  The central case of the film is not necessarily the most elaborate and isn’t filled with twists and turns.  The appeal to the movie is less the case itself and more the effect it had on the family.  Yance Ford makes for an interesting subject given the quiet dignity he shows while a lot of the painful facts of the case are dredged up and it’s compelling to hear about this family’s private In the Bedroom.  Obviously this movie is increasingly relevant in a post Trayvon Martin world, I don’t know that it’s a story that’s going to change many people’s minds about the value of black lives but seeing the long lasting torment of the family of one of these victims can add a piece to the puzzle.

***1/2 out of Five

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (10/22/2017)

This Noah Baumbach film ended up going straight to Netflix despite having a number of stars and a major director, which may say a bit more about just how rich Netflix has gotten moreso than the film’s quality.  In fact this is probably the best feature film to debut on that platform, though that’s relative.  The film stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel as the sons and daughter of an aging artist played by Dustin Hoffman who are dealing with their various feelings about their father and about their current situation.  The film’s set-up, with upper-middle class New Yorkers coming to grips with a large than life patriarch, is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums but the style here is obviously quite different and perhaps has more in common with what you’d expect from other films about worried New Yorkers like The Savages, Please Give, and Little Men.  Adam Sandler has been getting a lot of attention for appearing in a respectable movie and doing a decent job in it, but I do think he’s perhaps been the beneficiary of low expectations.  Ben Stiller is just as good here but is getting half the credit simply because he’s done similarly good work in Noah Baumbach movies before.  Baumbach’s films, and really most movies of this New York indie scene, tend to be a bit iffy for me.  His movie are never “bad” but my interest in them almost seems to vary by the mood I’m in when I watch them.  This one only did so much for me, the story just felt a bit too familiar and while I liked a lot of the cast and characters the scenario just didn’t generate enough interest to push it past other similar movies for me.

*** out of Five

Icarus (10/26/2017)

Sometimes the best stories just fall into the laps of the most unlikely people.  Take the (rather poorly titled) documentary Icarus, which was directed by a guy named Bryan Fogel.  Fogel is an amateur cyclist who competed in a major bike race in France but suspected that some of his competition was doping, and experience that inspired him to make a Super Size Me style documentary where he would start taking steroids and show on film the steps he would take to beat his drug tests and thus expose the system.  Not a terrible idea for a documentary, but that’s not what the project ended up being because in the process of making that silly high concept movie one of the experts he was consulting with turned out to be a key figure in aiding the Russian Olympic team in beating steroid tests and much of the film ended up following him as he became an enemy of the state in Russia and ended up defecting to America and blowing the whistle on Putin’s entire operation.  I’m not necessarily sure that Fogel was the best person to be telling this story but he does do an adequate job of bringing this crazy story to the screen and it’s definitely worth watching.  The movie sold for a record breaking sum to Netflix at Sundance, but its profile hasn’t quite been as high as it could be.  Part of that might be the crappy title, but part of it might also be that it’s been somewhat surpassed by real events.  When we’re worried about Putin invading his neighbors and stealing elections and sowing mass discord within the country, worrying about him cheating in the Olympics just seems kind of quaint.

***1/2 out of Five

1922 (10/31/2017)

This year Netflix decided to step up their original film production arm and to do it they decided to purchase a pair of heretofore un-adapted Stephen King works and adapt them themselves and release both in October.  1922 is the second of these and unlike Gerald’s Game I actually have read the novella that this one was based on and quite liked it.  The story and film examines a Nebraska farmer who comes into bitter conflict with his wife when she proposes selling their farm and moving to the city with their son.  Not liking this option the farmer proceeds to kill her.  The rest of the story deals with the fallout of this both emotionally and otherwise and the various horrific manifestations of the farmer’s guilt.  Given a choice between this and Netflix’s other King adaptation I think I like Gerald’s Game slightly more.  That movie is a bit more unique and has more in the way of memorable imagry and is just generally a little better made.  However, I think 1922 has source material to work with that fits a bit more naturally to the format of film even if it has to use a voice-over in a slightly clunky way.  The film needs to stretch things a little to hit feature length, which may have been a bit of a mistake as the final film actually feels like it could benefit from a trim or two.  Ultimately I think the bigger problem is the film’s star, Thomas Jane, who I don’t really fits this rural character too well and adopts a rather silly voice throughout.  Had this movie gotten a theatrical release I feel like its shortcomings would have been even more clear, but I wouldn’t dismiss it as glorified straight-to-video trash either as it has scope and doesn’t necessarily feel cheap.  It’s ultimately just a pretty decent above average horror movie.

**1/2 out of Five

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