Home Video Round-Up: 11/28/2018 (New on Netflix Edition)

22 July (10/19/2018)


When I heard that Paul Greengrass was making a movie out of the 22 July Norwegian terrorist attacks I was excited but nervous.  Greengrass has managed to make some really powerful movies out of real life tragedy in the past like United 93 and Bloody Sunday but there were still any number of ways this could have been politically off or just in bad taste.  What I didn’t expect was for the film to be so mundane just as a piece of filmmaking.  Greengrass’ previous movies about national tragedies were constructed to more or less be feature length re-enactments of the events in question, that’s sort of what the first third of this movie is like as it follows the shooter carrying out his plan, but it lacks the same visceral feel of his other films.  Captain Phillips worked in large part because of the two personalities at its center and because there was a certain thrill in all the procedure of dealing with the situation.  United 93 lacked the personalities but still worked as a thriller in large part because you had a long time to sit with the passengers as they went through their ordeal and also because there would be incredible excitement once they started to fight back.  22 July has neither of these advantages; none of the victims have the gravitas of a Tom Hanks and the killer is cold and not even a little bit relatable like Barkhad Abdi was, and unlike United 93 there’s really not a lot of tension in the shooting spree as the victims are basically defenseless.  The film would then seem to be more like Bloody Sunday, but that movie gained a lot of power because it was about a very controversial moment in history and by recreating it the film was trying to get to the bottom of what happened and why.  There isn’t a similar mystery around the 22 July attack, it’s quite clear who did what and he was abundantly clear about why.

Greengrass seems to have known his usual approach wasn’t going to work this time so he adjusted into what is in many ways a more conventional movie that focused as much on the aftermath as on the event.  That section focuses on the trial of the shooter and is told from the perspective of the shooter’s highly conflicted lawyer and from a survivor of the shooting who is doing his best to overcome his injuries.  These scenes really do not play to Paul Greengrass’ strengths as a filmmaker and they’re also hampered a bit by the fact that everyone is being played by unknown Norwegian actors speaking English.  The sections with the lawyer are generally lacking in procedural detail, the film doesn’t really explain the points of Norwegian law that are at play (and some of them are indeed quite confusing), we only get the most cursory glance of the far-right world that inspired the killer and the lawyer isn’t really developed enough to get much of a deep dive into his conflict about taking this role in the trial.  The material with the surviving kid is frankly kind of cheesy.  I generally hate movies that are trying to be “inspirational” and a lot of this stuff feel more like the makings of a “movie of the week” than a hard hitting Paul Greengrass docudrama.  There are some interesting moments here and there.  The story is certainly topical and moments of the shooting sequence work better than others, but while watching it I couldn’t help but think “a documentary about this would be a lot better” and that’s never what you want to think when you’re watching a movie based on true events.

**1/2 out of Five

Shirkers (11/16/2018)

This personal documentary focuses in on a woman named Sandi Tan and discusses her youth in Singapore leading up to an attempt she made to make a French New Wave inspired movie with some friends and colleagues which was never finished because one of her friends named Georges Cardona stole all the footage and ran off without explanation.   From there the movie becomes something of a mystery/investigation type thing with Tan trying to figure out what happened to Cardona and why he took the footage.  Tan certainly seems like an interesting person who seems to have done some creative stuff in her youth and what we do end up seeing of the movie she was making does look kind of interesting.  I also like the tone she chose for this documentary, in part because she seems to keep things in perspective and tell her story in a fun and lighthearted way rather than trying to make it out to be some super serious injustice.

***1/2 out of Five

Hold the Dark (11/15/2018)

Jeremy Saulnier has emerged as one of the more promising young directors in recent years with Blue Ruin and Green Room (the “Color + four letter word that starts with R” films), two movies that I didn’t like as much as others but which were certainly made with a lot of skill.  With his third movie though I think the guy might have kind of struck out.  Hold the Dark, a film set in Alaska and following Jeffery Wright as a wolf expert who finds himself in the middle of some rather odd and rather violent hijinx seemingly caused by some kind of Native American wolf demon, certainly has some of the strong visual appeal that his previous films had but it’s story does not have the same simplicity.  Honestly I’m not exactly sure what is going on in this movie for a lot of its runtime.  There are certainly individual scenes in it that work and it has an interesting cast and it looks like a good movie, but the script is an utter mess that feels like it never really came together they way its makers intended.

** out of Five

Filmworker (11/24/2018)

As someone who has a habit of looking up all things related to Stanley Kubrick the name Leon Vitali is not entirely new to me.  Vitali was Kubrick’s assistant and right-hand man during the latter part of his career, he acted in Barry Lyndon and continued on in behind the scenes worth throughout the shooting of The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut and after Kubrick’s death Vitali sort of became his spokesman and the go to expert whenever Kubrick’s movies were being restored or re-released.  That’s kind of the part of his career I was most familiar with given that he was often interviewed whenever Kubrick’s movies came out on DVD or Blu-ray etc.  I must say I was a bit surprised that anyone else cared enough about the guy to make a somewhat high profile documentary about him.  Of course the big attraction here is to learn about Stanley Kubrick and his work habits through Vitali’s anecdotes and to get some anecdotes about the fights to maintain the integrity of his films on home video.  There are some interesting stories to be sure, but I think I got a better portrait of Kubrick’s work habits from the documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (which Vitali was interviewed for).  All told this thing would be great as a DVD/Blu-ray extra but as a stand alone film that got a theatrical release it doesn’t seem so essential.

*** out of Five

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs(11/28/2018)

Quentin Tarantino has said that a director needs to make three westerns to officially be considered a “western director,” which means that the Coen Brothers have surprisingly beaten him to the punch in that regard at least if you’re willing to count their 2007 triumph No Country for Old Men as a sort of modern western.  That movie represented the genre at its absolute bleakest and while their adaptation of True Grit is a lot lighter than that it’s still a pretty reverent take on the genre.  With their new western anthology film for Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, they seem to be letting loose a bit and having a little fun with the genre and bring more of their parodic sensibilities to the table.  This is most evident right out of the gate with the film’s first segment, which is a sort of hyper-violent riff on westerns of the Roy Rogers variety and the second segment feels like of like a Spaghetti western but with a particularly morbid little joke of an ending.  In fact almost all of these stories end with a bit of ironic gallows humor and some of them are quite dark.  Individually I’d say I enjoyed all of them but I’m not sure that they collectively add up to anything particularly profound.  There are very few authors who can make their short stories collections feel as important and vital as their novels and the same is probably true of filmmakers and anthology films like this.  I view this thing as being a side project rather than a core entrant in their filmography, but as side projects go it’s really fun and well made.

**** out of Five

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