Home Video Round-Up 8/10/2019

Greta (6/10/2019)

On my review of Serenity I mentioned that parts of that movie made it seem like the kind of mid-budget movies that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore and that it was also kind of a reminder that the mid-budget movies that Hollywood used to make often kind of sucked.  Well, here’s another example.  Greta is a thriller about a young waitress who befriends an older woman after returning a purse she finds on a subway.  Quickly she learns that this woman, Greta, is a stalker with many a screw loose.  It starts out a bit like Play Misty For Me, then diverges into Misery with touches of Audition.  In other words its pretty derivative, but the bigger problem is that it’s not particularly well written and it kind of goes nowhere.  Isabelle Huppert gives a reasonably good performance but she’s totally slumming it and Chloë Grace Moretz never really builds a terribly memorable character.  It’s not a terrible movie and certain sequences do work, but I’m honestly not sure who the movie Greta is for.  It certainly isn’t a movie that’s made for “the kids” but the older audience it’s presumably targeting is going to know how cliché ridden this movie is and it’s definitely not made for any kind of arthouse crowd.  This is a movie that probably should have gone straight to VOD or maybe even Netflix because it certainly isn’t something you want anyone paying for a ticket to see.

** out of Five

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (6/16/2019)

Given that the world seemingly got Lego Movie Fever back in 2014 I was a little surprised when, earlier this year, the world seemed to greet that movie’s sequel with absolute indifference.  It didn’t even seem to be a function of the film’s quality given that it mostly seemed to get positive reviews from those who saw it, but when it came out audiences seemed to just say “thank you, next.”  This might be an illustration of how much that first movie benefited from being a sort of sneak attack that vastly exceeded audience expectations and the reception of this sequel perhaps says something about how quickly novelty can become passé.  Truth be told, I think there is a pretty clear decline in quality between the two.  Watching this was actually something of a reminder that it had actually been a while since that first movie came out because I hadn’t seen it in five years and the sequel definitely plays out under the assumption that you remember and care about this characters, which I kind of didn’t on both counts.  I’m not the biggest fan of cheap meta-humor and these movies use a lot of it.  The first Lego Movie was just barely walking on that line between clever and obnoxious and the sequel definitely jumps over into obnoxious in a lot of ways.  It gets a little better later on when the film more clearly establishes itself as a manifestation of a conflict between a brother and his sister, but I kind of take issue with how that plays out as well.  It seems to frame the brother as being kind of a jerk for not playing along with the sister, but to my eyes it seems like the brother and sister’s interest are rather incompatible and that there’s nothing unreasonable about him wanting to do his own thing without her stealing his shit.  The ending where they come to terms with one another felt like a bit of an unearned deus ex machina, which is something of a function of the fact that they’ve created a world where their main character ultimately have very little agency over their fate.

** out of Five

Her Smell (7/6/2019)

Despite my usual attempts to keep up with these things for whatever reason I have not encountered the work of Alex Ross Perry until now despite a lot of it getting pretty high marks from critics.  My understanding is that his movies are generally character studies which focus on flawed people who can be hard to like but who do have some good qualities at their core and that certainly describes the movie at hand.  The focus here is on a female alternative rock star who goes by the name Becky Something and is played by Elisabeth Moss.  We don’t see a lot of Becky Something’s “good years” in the movie as it opens up at a point where she’s already a trainwreck going through all the usual Behind the Music drug addiction combined with pampered egomania.  The film is structured in such a way that you basically pop into Becky’s life at five different moments and watch one elongated scene in each of them.  Some of these scenes are meant to really go on uncomfortably long and really make you soak in how dysfunctional this woman is.  Elisabeth Moss is quite strong in this but it can definitely be hard to watch at times but all the unpleasantness is leading somewhere.  This isn’t really a movie that’s going to rock my world and I don’t know that I’m ever going to revisit it but it is a pretty strong piece of work for what it’s trying to do.

***1/2 out of Five

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (7/19/2019)

If there’s one thing I’m starting to learn by giving family movies a chance it’s that the people making them are working on a sequel they tend to operate under the assumption that their target audience has been watching the predecessors on repeat every day leading up to the new movie because they don’t feel much of an obligation to slowly re-introduce audiences to their worlds.  It’s particularly jarring for this series, which has taken the entirety of a decade to complete itself.  A kid who was nine when they went to see the original would be eighteen by now.  Pixar can get away with that kind of thing but I’m not sure Dreamworks can and I must say having seen this five years after rather casually watching the rather disappointing second installment of this trilogy I can’t say I was really feeling the desire for closure that the people making this seem to have assumed I’d have going in.  I’ll give them this: they do manage to give this thing a fairly definitive ending rather than baiting yet another sequel and in some ways it almost feels like they only revisited the whole series out of a sort of obligation to finish it even if they didn’t necessarily have a great idea for the rest of the movie.  The middle section, which is a sort of battle with a moustache twirling villain who nonetheless doesn’t seem like that much of a threat, is largely forgettable and the side characters felt downright obnoxious this time around.  Honestly I think it was probably a mistake to make this a franchise in the first place, neither sequel has come close to recapturing what worked about that first movie.

** out of Five

Under the Silver Lake (8/10/2019)

The world kind of seemed like David Robert Mitchell’s oyster after the release of his very well received horror thriller It Follows, which was something of a precursor to the recent trend of sophisticated indie horror movies.  However, pretty much from the moment of its Cannes premier his follow-up film Under the Silver Lake took on the aura of the sophomore slump (even if it was his third movie), and having finally seen the movie I can’t say that I disagree with that assessment.  Rather than make another horror movie Mitchell has opted to make a languid druggy Los Angeles neo-noir.  The only problem is that he’s far from the first person to have the idea of making a languid druggy Los Angeles neo-noir; the movie lives in the shadow of other similar movies like The Long Goodbye, Inherent Vice, and even The Big Lebowski.  I might even go as far as to compare it to Richard Kelly’s disastrous sophomore effort Southland Tales (seriously, young filmmakers, stop making movies named after L.A. neighborhoods) in the way it wants to be challenging but ends up just feeling confusing and empty despite some kind of interesting scenes here and there.  It doesn’t help that the film’s protagonist is ill-formed and unlikable and that the film’s gender politics is… debatable. It’s not a complete waste as the parts that work are certainly interesting, but ultimately the whole thing just comes off as an act of hubris from a filmmaker who bit off more than he could chew.

** out of Five

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