Home Video Round-Up: 1/14/2018

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (1/1/2018)

Rumble was a surprisingly high profile documentary which sought to examine the contributions of Native Americans in the development of rock and roll.  If the film’s aim was to prove that the Indian influence was central to the genre I can’t say it was overly convincing.  It’s best argument comes fairly early on when it looks at the Indian populations that were in the south which intermixed with the African American population and may have helped influence early roots music and blues.  There’s something to that argument, but most of the rest of the documentary consists of highlighting the careers of a couple of important artists like Link Wray who were indeed important rock artists but whose heritage doesn’t strike me as being overly central to their music and the mere fact that just about every major Native American in rock can seemingly be chronicled in one movie kind of works against the movie’s thesis.  In theory you could probably make a compelling argument that just about any ethnic group has a claim to rock and roll if you cherry pick people from the history of the form and the fact that a certain percentage of its most famous participants have happened to be Indians shouldn’t be that much of a shocker.  That having been said, if you view this less as an argumentative essay and more as simply a collection of interesting little Behind the Musics it works a lot better.  It’s got a very strong collection of talking heads and some of these stories are pretty genuinely interesting in and of themselves.

*** out of Five

Logan Lucky(1/6/2018)

I’ve never really been the world’s biggest Steven Soderbergh fan.  The dude has made some great movies but I don’t really get why he still manages to draw as much praise as he does when he makes mediocrities like Side Effects and Haywire.  Similarly I was pretty surprised that the movie that caused him to come out of his (admittedly probably doomed) retirement was this rather fluffy riff on his “Oceans” movies.  Those Oceans movies were successful firstly because they were well staged elaborate heist movies and secondly because they reveled in this extreme Rat Pack style Hollywood glitz.  Logan Lucky promised to be the opposite of that: an elaborate heist movie about poor West Virginia “rednecks” and it does more or less deliver on what it promises… but why would you want that?  Let’s face it, Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are no George Clooney and Brad Pitt as far as star power and given that that Oceans formula was already running out of steam I don’t know that this was enough to jump start it.  There’s enough entertainment here to make this worth streaming or something on a lazy Saturday but let’s hold Soderbergh to a slightly stronger standard than this.

*** out of Five

LA 92 (1/7/2018)

This is the second L.A. riots documentary I’ve seen this year, although I think it actually came out first and I think most people would have seen it before Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992, which is the more straightforward of the two and the one more interested in providing standard context.  This documentary has no talking heads, no narration, and minimal title cards; it’s instead edited together entirely out of news reports and home video footage from the era.  Together this footage does put together a pretty clear narrative and gives a pretty good portrait of how the riot occurred and how it affected various people.  There really isn’t a whole lot to say about it, if that description sounds interesting to you you’ll mostly get what you’re promised.  I’m not sure I would have been as interested in it if I had been old enough to have watched all this stuff on the news back in 1992 but with a lot of it being relatively new to me it certainly felt like a unique look at what was actually a pretty extreme moment in recent American history.  Certainly a more daring and visceral movie than Let it Fall, but maybe brings a little less new information to the table, both will work depending on what you’re looking for.

***1/2 out of Five

Lady Macbeth (1/13/2018)

Despite its title the new film Lady Macbeth is not a retelling of Shakespeare’s play so much as it’s a new story with the “Lady Macbeth” archetype at its center and with a similar fatalism to the famous play. Set in 19th Century England the film depicts a woman who’s forced into a pretty bad situation at the hand of her psycho husband and his doubly psychotic father and responds with a touch of psychopathy of her own.  It’s a pretty dark little piece of work, like if Neil LaBute trying to make Downton Abbey.  The film is also notable for placing a number of black actors into its period England setting.  This isn’t race blind casting, these are characters of color and I’m not sure how anachronistic this is or isn’t but it does bring something to the table that we don’t normally see in movies like this.  I’m not sure if all of this ultimately amounts to a whole lot more than a sort of “Black Mirror” style nihilism minus the technology but the performances are quite good and it’s an interesting exercise just the same

***1/2 out of Five

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (1/14/2018)

The title “Small Enough to Jail” is a reference to the phrase “Too Big to Fail,” which is invoked because the documentary covers the prosecution of the one and only baking institution which faced charges in relation to the 2008 financial crisis: a tiny consumer bank operating out of New York’s Chinatown called the Abacus Federal Savings Bank.  The film is clearly on this bank’s side and views them as a folksy “American Dream” operation beset by a government investigation that is unfair at best and a discriminatory witch-hunt at worst. To its credit the film does feature interviews with the people from the District Attorney’s office, which is kind of rare in these kind of documentaries, though I do have my suspicions as to how much of those interviews are lost in the edit.  By the end of the film I’m not entirely convinced of the bank’s innocence, in part because I know that in the mortgage industry it’s very easy to do some bad stuff without really thinking about it that way, but I do have reason to believe that they weren’t trying to run some kind of mass scam.  Of course technical guilt and innocence probably isn’t what director Steve James is most interested in here so much as the question of whether it’s fair that this is the institution that’s being gone after.

***1/2 out of Five

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