Home Video Round-Up: 8/22/2018

Thoroughbreds (7/16/2018)

Thoroughbreds is a movie that really seemed to come and go when it was released in theaters earlier this year.  The film, a story about two teenage girls who plot to murder one of the girls’ stepdad, seemed to sit in this NetherRealm where it wasn’t ever going to really get a mainstream audience but also wasn’t really fare for the art houses either.  Seeing it though I can see that there are some fairly admirable qualities to it.  First and foremost I quite liked the performances by both of the teen girls.  The film features another interesting appearance by The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke is particularly noteworthy as someone who’s a diagnosed sociopath.  Both performances do sort of fit in the tradition of the “goth girl” of the type that Chloë Grace Moretz or Christina Ricci might have played in the past, but they do make them interesting just the same.  The basic story is certainly something reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, but that was a slightly more sympathetic look at a pair of younger teenagers who sort of lose track of reality to violent ends.  The characters in this movie are older and very much aware of the difference between right and wrong and the movie treats it with a sort of sterile meticulousness.  You can tell that the guy who directed this (a first timer) really, really, really likes David Fincher movies.  Nothing wrong with that really and I’d like to see what he does next.  As for this one, well, I like it but I kind of get why it’s been viewed with a sort of critical and commercial antipathy.  As a movie I rented for a night it was satisfying but I’m not sure it would have been overly rewarding if I had made a special trip to a theater to see it.

*** out of Five

The Bleeding Edge (7/27/2018)

Kirby Dick might now be as big a name as Michael Moore but there are few other well-known documentarians who are as dedicated to making films that are openly activist in nature.  Dick’s documentaries as of late have focused on taking down anti-gay politicians and on exposing sexual abuse in places like the Catholic Church, the military, and college campuses.  His most recent film, The Bleeding Edge, focuses on unethical practices in the medical device industry.  That is perhaps a less loaded topic than some of his other projects but perhaps a valuable one given that it’s shining a light on something that is not already a major topic of conversation in progressive circles.  Dick’s argument is pretty straightforward: that the medical device industry doesn’t get the same public scrutiny that big pharma rightly gets and that they are dangerously under-regulated as a result.  To illustrate this Dick goes to his usual format of finding and profiling a handful of people with tragic experiences in the topic at hand and interspersing these stories with context provided by talking head experts.  It’s not a very flashy or innovative style, but it works well enough to deliver the message.  Some of these stories are, well they’re kind of gross, they describe malfunctions by devices that sound like rather horrible ideas in the first place and they also outline how these things manage to get FDA approval through a loophole that should have been closed a long time ago.  Probably not going to be a wildly popular doc, but offers some food for thought.

*** out of Five

Borg Vs. McEnroe (8/1/2018)

When Borg Vs. McEnroe came out internationally last year and domestically this year it ran into a rather unenviable commercial position of being too much of a conventional sports movie for the arthouse crowd and too “not entirely in the English language” for the jock crowd.  The film looks at the rivalry (which didn’t seem to be all that personal) between Swedish superstar Bjorn Borg and the then controversial newcomer John McEnroe and uses their legendary finals match at the 1980 Wimbledon tournament as its framing story.  The film uses the two tennis players as a contrast in styles with Borg being a highly disciplined “iceman” and McEnroe being the “fiery” upstart that he was.  It probably would have been a lot easier to make McEnroe the hero of the film given his underdog status and his arc of rising to maturity by the end and to have made Borg something of an Ivan Drago style villain what with his somewhat robot-like training regimes, but instead the film seeks to see how Borg ticks and show how the two maybe weren’t as different as it would appear.  It tries to do that anyway but I’m not sure the movie probes quite as deeply as it wants to.  It does a good job of laying out Borg’s childhood and how he was once just as wild as McEnroe before trainers made him into what he became, but in many ways that narrative runs out of time and rests too much of his behavior on a single moment. Meanwhile McEnroe seems to get a lot less exploration, which seems odd given how much of a two hander this is supposed to be.  There are a couple of flashbacks to his past as a gifted rich kid but that never quite adds up to what he was like as an adult.  Aside from that there just seems to be something a bit stilted about the scenes here.  Director Janus Metz Pedersen certainly films the tennis sequences quite well and he gets decent performances out of Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf (which was an inspired bit of stunt casting) but the two halves never really congeal and the movie is never really able to escape its sports movie trappings and is also never able to simply embrace them either.

*** out of Five

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (8/15/2018)

“Come Inside My Mind” is a slightly ominous title for a movie about a guy who famously ended his life by suicide.  That might not be the most enjoyable mind to come into, but I think the idea was more to suggest that this would be an examination of his mind as quick witted comic rather than an exploration of the demons that led to his untimely demise.  Still, this is being made not very long after Williams’ passing and as such a lot of interviewers are still pretty glum when they talk about him, which at times makes the film almost play out as a sort of wake, which I’m not sure was entirely intentional.  A lot of the film consists of stock footage of Robin Williams being Robin Williams both onstage and in movies and on talk shows.  Often these clips are shown in montages that run a rather long time and sometimes even seem like more of a focus than the various interview subjects.  Of course given how much of an amusing person Williams is that’s not exactly unwelcome.  The film also doesn’t seem terribly interested in looking at some of the more controversial aspects of Williams’ career like the joke stealing accusations from his early stand-up comedy days.  So the movie doesn’t delve too deep into Williams’ personality, isn’t willing to be warts and all, and doesn’t exactly conjure up the right atmosphere to be funny so I’m not exactly sure it’s a movie with a purpose, but some of the interview tidbits (especially the ones about the final days) are of some interest and it’s not an unenjoyable watch.

**1/2 out of Five

You Were Never Really Here (8/22/2018)

This Lynne Ramsay film which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival has been accused by some of being little more than a legitimized Liam Neeson thriller, which I don’t think is exactly fair.  In very broad strokes, sure, it is ultimately about a guy on a mission to save the child using his “very particular skills” but it isn’t really an action movie and it is more interested in the psychology of someone who would do that than the Taken movies are.  I think the movie I’d be more inclined to compare it to is Drive, which was also about a mercenary with a screw loose trying to find redemption through saving a female, though this one leans a little more towards the gritty and less towards the 80s synth soundtrack.  Coming from me that comparison is not entirely a compliment as I liked Drive but generally found it to be a bit over-rated back in 2011 and this movie strips away from some of the elements I liked about it.  Ultimately this is a movie where the execution is significantly better than the substance.  It looks great, Joaquin Phoenix is good in it, it generally sells itself quite well but the conspiracy/kidnapping plot is ludicrous and I don’t think it delves as deeply into the psyche of its main character as it tries to make you think it does.  Worth watching for the craftsmanship but I don’t think it’s going to stay with me.

*** out of Five

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