Home Video Round-Up: 5/22/2019

Glass (4/17/2019)

Review Contains Spoilers

I take M. Night Shyamalan’s failures, and he’s had many, personally because in the early days I saw a lot of potential in the guy and stood up for him longer than most.  Seeing him make nothing but ill-conceived crap for something like fifteen years has been pretty painful and I include his supposed comeback film Split in that.  I’m not sure why that movie managed to become a critically tolerated box office success but I thought it was mediocre when it was at its best and pretty lame when it was at its worst but I was excited by its final shot which revealed that it was actually part of the same “cinematic universe” as Shyamalan’s second film UnbreakableUnbreakable was one of the triumphs of the director’s all too brief run of clear success and I’d long wanted to see a sequel to it, but I wasn’t too excited about the Split guy being in the middle of it and at the end of the day the M. Night Shyamalan of 2019 is not the M. Night Shyamalan of 2000.  I was rooting for Glass however and I do think there are ways he could have pulled it off but I don’t think he really did.  For much of the movie I found myself thinking “this is stupid, it should be pretty easy for Bruce Willis to prove he’s bulletproof, why doesn’t he just do that and shut this psychologist up?”  So for most of the movie’s actual runtime I was kind of rolling my eyes, then the movie revealed its big twist which actually does reasonably respond to my earlier objections but also opens up new issues which probably make even less sense: namely that if this secret society is tracking down and killing powerful people and they’ve known about Mr. Glass this whole time why in the hell would they let Bruce Willis run wild for nearly twenty years, he shouldn’t have been that hard to track down.  Honestly I think this whole thing would have worked better if they hadn’t tried to tie it into that earlier film and had just created original characters that the audience wouldn’t know from the jump really are super powered and who wouldn’t have caused the previously outlined plot hole.  Also couldn’t that “game changing” security footage have just been dismissed as a CGI/trick photography hoax?  On the positive side, I do think this is one of the better crafted movies Shyamalan has made in a while.  It’s rarely boring to watch and has more of interest to it than Split does and the climactic battle was at least a moderately interesting set piece.

**1/2 out of Five 

Homecoming (4/19/2019)

I’ll say upfront: I’m not the world’s biggest Beyonce fan.  In fact I’d say that more often than not I’ve found her to be pretty massively over-rated (though with the way some people talk about her it would be impossible for her not to be over-rated).  But then she put out the Lemonade album, which was in many ways the first thing she did that really truly lived up to the hype, or at least came close to it.  The good will from that project appears to have led to the rapturous response to Beyonce’s headlining set at Coachella in 2018, which is documented in this concert film.  Judging from the movie that concert seems to have indeed been quite the spectacle.  A whole lot of techniques were employed on stage to keep things interesting and Beyonce certainly sounded pretty good.  The whole concert employed HBCU and black fraternity imagery as a theme, which is something that some people seem to view as being a slightly more profound idea than I do, but for the most part no complaints about the actual concert.  Of course the concert films that really rise above the level of being merely a direct to DVD document of a show are the ones that either really document the cultural context of the show (like Woodstock or Gimmie Shelter) or the ones that find some unique way of filming the performance at hand (like Stop Making Sense or The Last Waltz).  I’m not sure that this really does the former as the occasional “making of” interstitials prove to be fairly perfunctory and I’m not sure that it achieves the latter as the film struggles to really film the backing band and its occasional visual touches like randomly using retro filters mostly comes off as a distraction.  So yeah, these “best concert movie ever!” hosannas are mostly hype, but if you heard all the buzz about that Coachella set and want to see what it was like this is a perfectly acceptable documentation.

***1/2 out of Five

Escape Room (4/24/2019)

I didn’t have very high expectations for Escape Room (did anyone?) but I did think it had potential to be a fun thriller.  It is, after all basically a redo of the movie Cube but with more elaborate set design and that kind of high concept thing can work if done well.  Unfortunately this is not done well.  The characters in it are mostly dumb and unlikeable and aren’t being brought to life very well by the film’s mostly unremarkable cast.  I also don’t think the various rooms/puzzles are even very well-conceived, or at least I had a problem with most of them.  Like, the first person to die in this is killed completely arbitrarily rather than for any real failing in the game and I’m still not exactly sure ow that defibrillator challenge was supposed to work.  Say what you will about Jigsaw but at least when he built deathtraps for people he did it with internal logic and fairness.  So even in this film’s modest B-movie ambitions it didn’t really deliver.

** out of Five

Knock Down the House (5/11/2019)

Knock Down the House was intended as a documentary that would follow four strongly progressive female candidates as they sought to challenge four moderate U.S. Congressman in primary elections.  I suspect the initial plan was to follow all four more or less equally, but to the film’s luck one of the women it followed was a young Bronx bartender named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, meaning that the filmmakers managed to be there on the scene during the rise of one of this moments most influential political figures.  Obviously this was a coup for the filmmakers but it does mean they have to rather awkwardly reduce the screen time for the other three primary challengers (who, spoilers, all end up losing pretty badly).  So those three are short-changed, but, it’s kind of hard to complain too much about this as they are pretty clearly part of a less compelling story than Ocasio-Cortez’ campaign.  I almost wish they had just jettisoned them off into a separate film where they wouldn’t have been competing for attention.  On the other hand, I’m not sure that the Ocasio-Cortez part of the film would have been made better by adding additional footage, and if it had I maybe would have rather gotten more from Joe Crawley’s side of the campaign if that had been possible.

So as a rather straightforward on the ground documentary the film works pretty well.  As a broader political statement I take some issue with it, which likely has a lot to do with my own biases.  The film is essentially an attempt to cheerlead a group called the “Justice Democrats,” which is an organization focused on challenging the Democratic “establishment” rather than Republicans, which to my eyes seems to be a rather counterproductive move that distracts from the real enemy.  The film basically takes it as a given that the four candidates at the center are a genuine improvement over the people they’re challenging and largely overlooks the case to be made that the people they’re challenging are in place because they’re the ones best positioned to win in their respective districts.  They ultimately haven’t been that successful and this documentary somewhat unintentionally shows why: Ocasio-Cortez’s narrow victory required a big confluence of circumstances including a safer than safe district, a uniquely out of touch incumbent, and an incredibly media savy and charismatic candidate.  Without those things going right a lot of these people don’t have a chance and are likely to cause more damage than good.  Even with that being the case there wouldn’t be that much harm in these quixotic runs except that the media has hypnotized themselves into thinking that the Ocasio-Cortezes of the world are the rule rather than the exception and in doing so they put an inaccurate and to many voters less palatable face on the party.  Is any of that the fault of this movie?  No, and in some ways I don’t think I’m being entirely fair to it, but it would have been that much better and more useful if it had done a little more to draw attention to all of this than it does.

*** out of Five

Serenity (5/22/2019)

Well that was weird.  If ever there was a movie that seemed to be for nobody it was Serenity.  The first half of the movie feels like one of those “mid-budget adult targeted dramas” that everyone bitches about Hollywood not making anymore while also serving as a much needed reminder that a lot of the “mid-budget adult targeted dramas” that they were making back in the 80s and 90s kind of sucked.  The whole setup plays out like some sort of especially hokey erotic thriller about a Florida fisherman being hired by his ex-wife to kill her asshole rich second husband.  Everything about that first half makes this look like a total waste of time, but then there’s this crazy twist in the second half which has a Glass-like effect of making some of the stupid stuff from before seem a little less stupid while simultaneously introducing problems that are even more inexplicably stupid.  So you’ve got a movie that won’t even let you pick your poison.  Do you want something that’s uninspired and dull or something that’s sophomorically over-ambitious?  Well, you’re stuck with both kinds of awful here and each half will kind of cannibalize whatever meager audience the other half may have interested.

* out of Five

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