Home Video Round-Up: 3/22/2019

Fyre/Fire Fraud (1/20/2019)

I can’t say I had more than a passing interest in the Fyre Festival debacle when it was going on but my interest perked up when I learned that there were two documentaries were being released around the same time, one from Netflix and one from Hulu, providing an apples to apples comparison that’s like catnip to film critics.  Netflix’s documentary, Fyre, is the more straightforward of the two.  If you only watch one of them watch that one and if you plan to watch both watch that one first.  It’s the one that’s more interested in telling the story from beginning to end and sort of letting you see the train wreck happen in slow motion as various people duped into working on the thing recount the chaos that was going on behind the scenes.  It’s also the only one where someone recounts having been asked to perform fellacio on a customs agent in order to get a shipment of bottled water into the country.  The Hulu documentary, Fyre Fraud, is a bit more experimental and ironic.  The film incorporates a more discussions about how that whole thing fit within the zeitgeist of the time and is more interested in sort of viewing it as a symptom of a decadent society.  That said, it ultimately views the whole disaster as being a much more deliberate act of fraud while Fyre seems more interested in painting the whole thing as a sort of extreme example of millennial start-up arrogance that sort of snowballed into a debacle of epic proportions.  The two documentaries don’t really overlap as much as you might think and aren’t the exercise in redundancy they could have been.  The side by side viewing experience of the two is interesting, but I’m not sure I’d call either individual film a must see.

*** out of Five

Velvet Buzzsaw (2/27/2019)

Velvet Buzzsaw was a movie that debuted at Sundance and then showed up on Netflix less than a week later.  Sundance would seem to be a rather odd place for such a movie to show up as it doesn’t seem particularly independent and it also doesn’t seem particularly artful.  The film is the work of Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy, who’s starting to have a rather Shyamalan-esque career trajectory, and its rather blunt satire of the art world combined with a rather Final Destination like horror film is a swing and a miss.  The film’s horror side does provide a couple of semi-interesting kills but for the most part it plays out like an extremely lame episode of The X-Files and its satirical elements ultimately feel rather toothless and played out.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s character and performance are completely ridiculous and the rest of the characters aren’t much better.  As a modern art world satire Ruben Östlund’s The Square puts this to shame and just about any more conventional horror film will appease that audience better than this will.

*1/2 out of Five

High Flying Bird (3/20/2019)

Steven Soderbergh was once rather famously fired from the film adaptation of Moneyball for “creative differences” and it would appear to be that his latest film about the behind the scenes machinations of the NBA, High Flying Bird, is his chance to finally get the chance to get a front office sports film out of his system.  That said this also fits pretty well into a sort of series of super low budget movies he’s been making about the unglamorous realities about certain occupations like prostitution (The Girlfriend Experience), stripping (Magic Mike), and even action heroism (Haywire).  He used to rather pointedly make these movies on digital cameras but now that that format is pretty much the standard he’s making movies like this on iPhones now just to keep that experimental vibe.  High Flying Bird is a bit more verbose than some of those other movies, in part because it’s about a sports agent and those dudes are nothing if not talkative and also because this is generally a bit more story based and really revels in shoptalk.  I did however get a little lost in all the dealings, particularly towards the end where the movie is trying to make it look like its protagonist is really pulling off some sort of grand power play that frankly doesn’t seem all that grand.  There are other strange touches like these interviews interspersed in the film which don’t seem to connect that much to the plot and how the ending makes it seem like the whole film is really just leading up to a plug for a book, but it’s generally an interesting watch even if it’s not a slam dunk (sorry).

*** out of Five

The Inventor: Out For Blood in the Silicon Valley (3/21/2019)

Alex Gibney is probably the most boring recognizable name in the world of documentary film.  When you see his name on a movie you’re almost always pretty sure what you’re going to get: a professionally made if slightly soulless exploration of a topic at hand which will ultimately kind of end up making ambiguous points about society.  When he’s working with a topic that I’m unfamiliar with this is usually “good enough” but when he tackles an issue that I already know a decent amount about his lack of probing depth becomes a little more apparent.  Such was the case with this film about Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal, which provides a decent overview of the events and can act as a jumping off point for discussions about it, but which really doesn’t have an overly original take on the issue and isn’t doing anything very formally inventive.  Is that a terrible thing?  No.  In fact I think I’ll probably be giving this one a pass as well simply because there’s nothing overly wrong about it but the guy’s general blandness is pretty apparent at this point and the dude isn’t going to be able to get by on Cs and Bs forever.

*** out of Five

The Dirt (3/22/2019)

The not so secret strategy that Netflix employs in their quest to become the ur-media company is to try to get their own version of what everyone else is doing.  “Bojack Horseman” is their Comedy Central show, “13 Reasons Why” is their MTV show, “The Crown” is their BBC show, etc. This has been a bit harder to do with movies simply because, despite the massive pile of money they’re sitting on, they really aren’t in a position to spend the kind of money that would compete with the biggest studio tentpoles and competing with the smaller movies usually requires them to fund the more esoteric ideas of auteur filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers.  Still you do see them doing stuff like that around the margins, particularly with their recent fairly high profile release: the Motley Crue biopic The Dirt, which I’m sure was in production before the release of the wildly popular Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody but which is almost certainly Netflix’s attempt to get in on the post-Straight Outta Compton musical biopic wave.

As this is based on the bestselling tell-all biography of the same name, the film firmly focuses in on salacious details of band’s backstage debauchery.  In some ways this is a strength as the film does have enough self-awareness to know that Motley Crue wasn’t exactly the greatest band in the world (I would personally consider them a guilty pleasure at their very best, and pretty awful more often than not) and because of this the film lacks some of the reverence and self-seriousness that often weighs down these things.  In place of any real interest in music the film more or less revels in Wolf of Wall Street-like behavior including some rather rampant misogyny.  This approach could have could have worked if this had been made by someone with a great deal of skill and finesse but instead it was directed by “Jackass” co-creator Jeff Tremaine, a guy who has made a career finding there to be something admirable in idiotic and dangerous behavior and he really leans into grossest aspects of this band’s career without any real sense of satire or reflection.  In the film’s second half it starts to feel more like a conventional biopic and at this point it does start to delve into some of the consequences of this behavior like heroin addiction and vehicular homicide but unlike most biopics where you like the characters before they were corrupted by drugs and fame, these guys seem like total dicks from the very start and as such you really have no reason to root for them once “the bad times” come around.

Really though, what pushes this movie into the realms of the terrible has less to do with morality and more to do with just general incompetence.  Like most critics I thought Bohemian Rhapsody was pretty lame, but watching this thing I’m almost tempted to give that thing an apology because if nothing else this movie does highlight what that movie did right… which was mainly that it was made on a very large budget and it had a lot of good music in it.  Bryan Singer may be a monster in his personal life and he’s hardly a great auteur but he is a fairly skilled Hollywood craftsman and sequences like the Live Aid performance did deliver.  By contrast The Dirt feels cheap and borderline incompetent.  The visual style is bland and it does basically nothing to bring the band’s music to life.  The cast is also pretty lousy but I hesitate to really blame the actors given that the writing in this thing is just brutal.  The dialogue is completely unnatural and much of the storytelling is done through snarky voice-over.  It tries to incorporate a bunch of 24 Hour Party People style fourth-wall breaks.  In general the whole thing just reeks of being a second rate imitation of a cinema genre that is kind of disreputable to begin with.

* out of Five

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