Home Video Round-Up: 12/8/2018

Crazy Rich Asians (11/29/2018)


Crazy Rich Asians was an absolute sensation when it came out this summer.  Critics loved it, many a think piece was written, and it became a $170 million smash at the box office.  Given that big wave of hype I must say that now that I catch up with it on Blu-ray all I can really do is think: “is that it?”  Don’t get me wrong, I sort of get the appeal.  The cast is great with nearly every notable name in Asian American comedy showing up and there’s fun to be had with all the decadence and wealth on the screen. Director Jon Chu also manages to give the film a pretty ambitious look as far as romantic comedies go.  So what’s the problem?  I think the film is trying so hard to bring the comedy that it never really makes the romance work.  Henry Golding is the weak link here, or at least his character is, he makes something of a bland screen presence and since we don’t really see the beginning of his and Constance Wu’s relationship I don’t know that I really understood or believed their connection.  What’s more his behavior in the movie is rather suspect.  The way he just kind of springs his family wealth on his girlfriend and tosses her into the deep end without preparation is kind of a dick move and it feels like it should be more of a source of conflict in the movie than it is.  Beyond that, I don’t know, there felt like a few too many characters to keep track of and it also has a slightly strange ending where a character makes a logical decision and then just kind of throws it out ten minutes later out of sheer convention.  Admittedly this generally isn’t my kind of movie so it was going to be an uphill battle to get me on board, and this didn’t really manage it, which is disappointing because all the buzz really had me thinking this would be something a bit… more.

**1/2 out of Five

Free Solo (10/28/2018)

Ernest Hemmingway was once quoted as saying “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”  Of course what he meant by that was that those were the only sports where the athletes risked their lives to participate.  I’m perhaps not man enough to see quite the same valor in these life risking pursuits as Hemingway did I did sort of see where he was coming from while watching the incredibly tense mountaineering documentary Free Solo, which follows climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to climb up the El Capitan cliff in Yosemite without ropes or other safety equipment, a feat which no one before has achieved or even attempted.  Going in I had kind of expected the majority of the film to consist of footage of his fateful climb but there’s less of that in terms of runtime than I expected and more of the film is about the run-up to that attempt including a portrait of Honnold’s personality and history along with the various preparatory climbs he did in training.  The film also doubles as a sort of making of for itself as it shows how the filmmakers were able to get their footage and also how they weighed the ethics of filming and in some ways encouraging Honnold’s risky venture.  While watching the film I was curious why so much of the runtime was spent on the preparation but when they finally get to the big moment you start to understand what they were doing because on his big climb Honnold kind of makes what he’s doing look easier than it is.  It’s only from seeing all those dry runs that you realize the full extent of how amazingly difficult what he’s doing is.  It’s plainly one of the greatest athletic achievements put to film and the film surrounding it really puts that into perspective.

**** out of Five 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (7/3/2018)

The original Jurassic World was totally lame so I will say I was going into its sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with pretty low expectations.  I will give it this: it’s a little more cinematicly creative than the first movie and generally forges more of an identity of its own for the series.  Still there’s a lot wrong here.  For one thing the premise is that a volcano is going to erupt and kill all the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar… and the characters in the movie seem to think this is a bad thing.  These are genetically created monsters that cause deadly disasters in every movie and our principal protagonists should know better than anyone that they should plainly be exterminated.  However Universal knows how much money these movies make so they need to have them try to save them from the island for some reason.  Then in the film’s third act it becomes a fight between the bad guys, who want to profit from saving the dinosaurs from the island and potentially unleashing them on the world, and the good guys who… also want to save the dinosaurs from the island and potentially unleash them on the world.  The final decision made by these “good guys” is positively psychotic, but there are some semi-interesting set pieces along the way and new director J. A. Bayona does at least have a little more of a vision than Colin Trevorrow for whatever that’s worth.

** out of Five

Dark Money (12/4/2019)

As I write this we have just gotten through a very long and at times rather frustrating mid-term election cycle.  The democrats ultimately did pretty well but they had to fight for every inch because the republicans were playing as dirty as ever in places like Georgia and Wisconsin.  In some ways the new documentary Dark Money almost seems quaint at this point.  Special interest groups illegally funneling money into campaigns and sending misleading mailers… yeah, that almost seems like small potatoes, but there is something to seeing the details of one of these things happening on the ground.  The film follows an investigation into shenanigans happening in republican primary campaigns in Montana in which moderate republicans were being pushed out in favor of more extremist republicans, seemingly because of illegal campaigning being done by a well-funded “right to work” group.  The film takes on an investigative “All the President’s Men” type approach by following a journalist named John S. Adams as he uncovers all this.  His achievements are laudable, but the overwhelming amount of nonsense going on in the world this small victory feels so minimal as to barely matter, but I guess I’m glad someone’s trying to keep an eye on things.

*** out of Five

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (12/8/2018)

When this Sicario sequel was announced I was not on board for a variety of reasons.  For one, I didn’t think that the original Sicario was all that great to begin with and the sequel if anything seemed to be leaning into all the stupidest elements of the original.  Also the title they went with after several changes sucked.  Anyway, I think my first instinct was right.  The things that made Sicario sort of work were Denis Villeneuve’s skillful direction and Emily Blunt making for an interesting protagonist.  With both of those things gone we’re really just left with an action movie that takes itself way too seriously and some really unlikable protagonists whose actions the movie is no longer really challenging very well.  The plot rests on the very politically touchy notion that terrorists are known to cross the Mexican border, which is stupid, and the film’s solution to this of sparking a drug war through some borderline fascistic tactics is kind of cringe inducing.  The movie does challenge a couple of the toxic ideas it brings up by the end, but not really strongly enough and the story is generally kind of dull and hard to follow.  I had very little use for this movie.

*1/2 out of Five

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