Home Video Round-Up: 9/21/2018

American Animals (9/13/2018)

This film gained a certain degree of infamy earlier this year because it made some sort of deal with MoviePass so they’d hawk it on their app and they actually have their logo at the front of it.  It’s kind of an odd film to try to launch a career on as it does have a bit of an experimental hook in that it doesn’t call itself a documentary and plays out like a regular feature film for something like two thirds to seventy five percent of its running time but it also includes documentary style talking head interviews with the real people involved in the story it was based on.  That’s a potentially intriguing format but I really don’t know why anyone involved thought this story was of a group of college students coming up with a half-baked heist scheme that goes nowhere was deserving of this much fuss.  There might be something in their about suburban angst and boredom to be found but it doesn’t do much to highlight the relevance of why these idiots did this rather senseless crime.  There also just isn’t a whole lot of material to be found here in general, it feels like it has more the makings of a “Dateline” segment than a feature film and given that the documentary elements feel kind of tacked on as padding and as a means of trying to fool people into thinking it’s a more interesting movie than it really is.

** out of Five

Crime+Punishment (9/16/2018)

Policing has become an increasingly hot topic as of late and into that debate comes Crime+Punishment, a documentary which takes a hard look at the practices of the NYPD.  Specifically the film is about a group of twelve New York police officers who are suing the department because they say that they’ve been illegally ordered to fill arrest quotas and have had their careers curtailed in retaliation for their refusal to participate in this practice.  I was expecting the film to be a bit more focused on the quota system as a concept and laying out a case for it along the lines of Ava DuVernay’s 13th but the film ended up being a bit more personal and verite in nature.  The film follows some of the police in question as they explain the situation they were placed in as well as the Serpico angst of being viewed as an outsider within the force.  The film does not include any talking head interviews or “experts” in the movie but it does fill in some of the gaps of that by also following a private investigator who has been working on the case for a while and has collected a lot of stories about how this quota system has effected the communities at hand.  The movie probably could have done a little more to lay out some of the evidence the cops at hand had assembled and I’m not sure that a test case involving someone wrongfully imprisoned at Rikers is as relevant as the filmmakers think it is but for the most part this is pretty impressive both as a work of issue advocacy and as a portrait of the struggles of going up against the system.

**** out of Five

Upgrade (9/18/2018)

Upgrade was a movie produced by Blumhouse Productions which goes against the studio’s usual MO by not really being a horror movie so much as dark science fiction actions film… or maybe it is a horror movie.  It certainly has the violence you’d associate with a horror movie at times and there’s a sort of “Black Mirrror” darkness to the science fiction that one might call horror in a certain way.  Personally I’d be more inclined to simply think of it as a nasty little B-movie about a guy who gets augmented by a computer system that gives him special powers but also seems to increasingly control him.  The scenes where the computer “takes over” and allows him to fight with superhuman senses are really well executed and give the handful of action scenes in the film a unique feel.  I also admired its rendering of certain aspects of the future and the film’s ending, but there are downsides to being what is essentially a B-movie.  In particular I feel like the film kind of cheaped out when it came to casting.  I wouldn’t say there are too many actors here that are “bad” exactly, but the film probably would have benefited from some more familiar faces to lend a little more gravitas to the film and add a little flavor.

***1/2 out of Five

Active Measures (9/20/2018)

Given the absolutely depressing chaos that recent politics has been I can say pretty conclusively that the last thing I generally want to do is see even more of Donald fucking Trump when I’m watching movies.  That having been said, if you like me only have it in you to watch one documentary involving the recent presidency this is the one to watch.  Active Measures is not particularly concerned with Trump’s policies, attitudes, or rhetoric, instead it keeps its focus squarely on his connections to Russia and makes the case from top to bottom that he was essentially planted by Putin as a sort of Manchurian Candidate.  That is of course a seemingly farfetched claim on its surface but the film does a very good job of both establishing how Russia has done this in smaller countries and also about how far back Trump’s ties to Putin and to the Russian mafia goes.  This is all presented in a fairly impersonal “just the facts” style with a lot of archive footage and interviews with a  lot of credible people including Hilary Clinton, John McCain, and the former president of Georgia as well as a murderer’s row of journalists and former intelligence figures.  There’s not a lot here that wasn’t already readily available in various articles and news stories but the film manages to lay these little clues and hints out into an argument that fits together pretty well.  At the end of the day the film is better at finding a whole lot of smoke than it is at conclusively proving a fire, and I’m sure that Trump’s base will just dismiss it as “fake news” but for those of us looking for some explanation of the last two years of madness this gives an answer.

**** out of Five

Ocean’s Eight (9/21/2018)

I’m not sure how widespread the whole “gender flipped reboot” thing is going to end up being, but as franchises to do that to go the Ocean’s series was probably one of the better options, in no small part because it’s a franchise a lot of people like but which isn’t, like, a generation defining touchstone like Ghostbusters.  Additionally the film makes the smart move of existing within the continuity of the original films, making its protagonist the sister of Danny Ocean.  It’s actually been a pretty long time since I last watched Ocean’s Eleven, it’s a movie I consider to be fun and stylish but it isn’t a new classic or anything in my mind and I’m not the biggest fan of either of its sequels.  Given that I would put Ocean’s 8 squarely in the number two slot in a ranking of the series for whatever that’s worth.  The movie does assemble a pretty strong cast, one that maybe doesn’t have quite the star power of the original films but does have fewer weak links.  I also think The Met was well chosen as a location for this gang to be robbing and has that same aura of reality and sophistication that the Las Vegas casinos gave to the original film.  On the downside there are aspects of the heist this time around that I don’t think come together perfectly in the way you want movies like this to, and I’m also not sure it ever quite as the same sense of identity that that first movie had with its overt Rat Pack revivalism.  All in all it’s pretty efficient entertainment, which is more or less what the original film was, but like the original film there are limits to its importance.

*** out of Five

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