Home Video Round-Up: 9/12/2018

Lean on Pete (8/25/2018)


In the spring and early summer we saw the release of two horse adjacent indie movies: The Rider and Lean on Pete.  Neither of these movies made a whole lot of money but critically the “winner” was probably The Rider, which sort of overshadowed Lean on Pete.  I’m not sure I agree with that consensus or disagree with it, both of those movies just kind of exist on that same “interesting but not remarkable” level that stands out more in the early summer when we’re kind of desperate for counter-programing.  Lean on Pete is the third major film from Andrew Haigh, who broke out with the movie Weekend and explored even more interesting territory with 45 YearsLean on Pete is pretty clearly my least favorite of his three movies but it’s not without its charms.  The film focuses on a teenager who finds himself hanging out near a rural racetrack and forms a bond with a horse named Lean on Pete.  That one sentence description makes this sound like a sentimental family movie but it’s more of a hard edged social realist movie than that, something closer to Kes than Secretariat.  The movie also doesn’t necessarily follow the structure and formula that you expect it to and becomes something of a Gus Van Sant style portrait of a young man on the fringes of Pacific Northwestern society.  This is kind of a hard movie to lay a final verdict on.  It goes in different directions than you think but not so different that I would call it some kind of groundbreaking effort.  It’s a movie that’s certainly good but not particularly memorable.

*** out of Five

The China Hustle (8/27/2018)

This Alex Gibney produced documentary has the rather unenviable task of trying to explain an aspect of the financial system that would not intuitively make for thrilling viewing.  In essence what the film is looking at are Chinese companies that are being traded on the U.S. stock exchanges which are not nearly as large as they claim to be on their reporting and in some cases may not be legitimate companies at all.  For example, one case study in the film is of a paper company that was supposedly very successful but upon investigation on the ground was revealed to basically be one dilapidated factory with puddles of water all over the floor and hardly a single truck going in or out on a given day.  The film follows a group of American investigators who make their money by finding scam Chinese stocks like this, shorting them, and then presenting evidence of their fraudulence in order to drive the price down significantly.  In addition to following these people the movie goes into some of the reasons why this happens, including the fact that it’s apparently not illegal in China to lie to foreign companies, and why this could be a pretty big problem.  Trading in stocks that turn out to be garbage in the real world was a huge part of what caused the 2008 mortgage crisis, and while this little practice probably isn’t going to be a disaster on that scale there does seem to be the makings of a bubble if too many of these Chinese stocks turn into toxic assets, and if that happens this will seem like a very prescient documentary.

*** out of Five

Disobedience (9/1/2018)

Disobedience is not a bad film at all but it doesn’t feel like a particularly notable one.  The film concerns a love triangle of sorts involving a woman played by Rachel Weisz, a woman played by Rachel McAdams she had a lesbian affair with as a teenager, and that woman’s husband, who she married because of the expectations of her ultra-orthodox Jewish family.  That could be the setup for something a bit naughtier and more subversive but this movie takes itself very seriously, almost to the point of being kind of dull.  Weisz and McAdams both give very good performances and director Sebastián Lelio (in his English language debut) manages to give the whole movie a nicely tasteful treatment that seems to capture the sub-culture at the film’s center accurately but I also never particularly cared about the proceedings.  Had this been made around 2005, when simply having a story about homosexuals in a relationship in a studio financed film was still novel, I think this would have felt a lot more groundbreaking and interesting.  Let’s make no mistake, 2018 isn’t exactly a paradise for gay representation, but I still kind of need a little more from a movie like this to really make it stand out.

*** out of Five

Minding the Gap (9/5/2018)

Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap is one of those documentaries that was clearly meant to be one thing when it started filming and over a long time of shooting morphed into something bigger and better.  The film could perhaps be viewed as something of a Hoop Dreams story (the film is, perhaps non-coincidentally produced by that film’s director, Steve James) in that it began as a look at a trio of young amateur athletes, in this case skateboarders, but becomes more of a look at lower class contemporary American life.  Of course that comparison only goes so far.  For one thing the film only runs about 93 minutes and covers a much shorter length of time than Steve James’ masterpiece and it also has the distinction of having been directed by someone who is more or less one of its subjects: a skateboarder who started out filming his friends in Rockford Illinois as they act like the usual rambunctious skate kids but continued to follow them as they entered the adult world somewhat with varying degrees of success.  As the film goes on it begins to center around one issue in particular which I’m not going to reveal at this time but it is tackled in a very serious and impactful way.  I wouldn’t call it a perfect documentary as Liu is not always able to document his own side of the story with complete objectivity and some of the subjects here are more interesting than others but it’s still a very impressive piece of work.

**** out of Five  

Tully (9/12/2018)

Screenwriting careers are not always easy to keep going, especially ones where you’re coming up with original ideas and speaking with an original voice.  As such I wasn’t always sure if we’d be seeing much more from Diablo Cody after her big Oscar winning breakthrough with Juno, but she seems to have stuck it out pretty effectively.  Her latest film (and I think it’s fairly safe to say she’s the bigger creative force on it than director Jason Reitman) is Tully, a film about a middle aged woman whose just given birth to her third child and feels like she is beyond stressed.  To cope with the pressure her brother-in-law hires a night nurse for her whose job is to watch the child at night and wake her up when it needs feeding.  The film largely concerns her relationship with the night nurse and how these women and their outlooks contrast with one another.  The film’s depictions of the frustrations of parenthood certainly ring true and the cast certainly brings these moments to life and paint quality character portraits.  I had a couple of issues with the film as I watched it but the film actually managed to clear a lot of them up by the time it ended.  Not quite a movie that fills me with excitement but a strong piece of work to be sure.

***1/2 out of Five

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