Home Video Round-Up 9/22/2019

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (9/8/2019)

I was hesitant about reviewing this as an official 2019 release as it was a movie which played in TIFF in 2018 to some good reviews but didn’t get picked up by a major distributor and to the best of my knowledge never played in any theaters before getting a fairly unceremonious VOD release.  Honestly I mainly watched it because I was about to cancel my Hulu membership and decided to quick watch some of the 2019 movies on there before I did.  The film is basically a single location Reservoir Dogs like thing but it’s set at a compound where militia types are held up and are panicking because there was a shooting at a police funeral and they believe they will be blamed for this.  On the positive side I think the movie looks really good and manages to do cinematography in low light darkness a whole lot better than any number of movies with much bigger budgets.  The movie also has an ending which is kind of interesting.  However, if you’re going to make a movie about straight-up domestic terrorists you’re going to have a bit of an uphill climb in trying to get any kind of sympathy or even investment in them from the audience.  The aforementioned Reservoir Dogs was also certainly about unsavory people, but those people had personality, these people just aren’t that memorable.  All in all, despite there being some talent behind this I can’t exactly say it was a grave injustice that this didn’t get picked up, it feels small but not in a charming way and there isn’t much of an audience for it.

**1/2 out of Five

The Great Hack (9/9/2019)

And in the “we need to immediately make a feature film out of every news story” department we get this film about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  There isn’t really a whole lot to say about it aside from the fact that it’s a slick but not overly revelatory overview of the scandal.  We are given some behind the scenes access as the director follows a subject of the investigation named Brittany Kaiser as the scandal starts to become a big media story but her testimony in the film never quite amounts to a fully argued case and I’m not entirely sure how on the level she is.  Ultimately there’s not a lot here you couldn’t have gotten from simply following the media coverage at the time, which isn’t an automatic deal breaker, but I’m not sure it presents everything in an ideally clear way either.  It’s a movie that’s too muddled for people who don’t know much about this story to use as a starting point but not substantial enough to give people who were paying attention anything new.

**1/2 out of Five

Dogman (9/10/2019)

When Matteo Garrone made the 2008 film Gomorrah he was greeted as one of the premier directors of world cinema and while he’s made a number of well liked films in the years since then he’s never really had a breakout hit and I’m not sure that he’s quite lived up to his reputation.  Honestly I was never really sold on him in the first place.  Gomorrah, to me, was an interesting twist on the mafia crime film but it didn’t really work for me as a cinematic experience and I had similar problems with the execution on his follow-up film Reality.  His newest film, Dogman, has kind of the opposite problem in that it’s an easier watch than those two films were but its ambitions are lower and it generally feels less important an accomplishment as a result.  The film revolves around a meek dog groomer and his odd one-sided friendship with a local bully.  This bully is a gigantic person who’s big enough to basically get anything he wants by brute force and has basically no qualms or morality as a result.  He’s a truly awful person with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and yet this dog groomer seems to be willing to defend him.  That central friendship kept me interested but I ultimately felt a bit let down by the film’s ending which, rather than shed new light on why he would be friends with this guy, instead sort of just bluntly put an end to things.  I’m not really sure what the point of all this was supposed to be in the end and I don’t think the movie itself will prove all that memorable to me.

*** out of Five

The Edge of Democracy (9/21/2019)

Around the world and at home we’ve seen a disturbing rise in far right wing parties and politicians and last year we learned that even multi-racial societies like Brazil were not immune from this when they elected the horrendous Jair Bolsonaro to be their president.  I had expected this documentary to be about that guy’s rise but it’s actually more about the political scandal that sort of set the table for Bolsonaro’s rise, a scandal involving the left wing party that was in power for many years and was seemingly successful but who seem to have occasionally dipped into some of the country’s more corrupt practices in trying to get things done.  The documentary seems to suggest that the investigation into that corruption experienced some serious mission creep and really turned into a total witch hunt.  The film’s director, who also narrates the film, is open about her biases in all of this, which is admirable but also makes it a little hard to quite grasp how much to trust all of this.  The scandal at the center of the film is incredibly complex and the movie struggles to really present all of it while also giving needed context (the film was plainly made with a non-Brazilian audience in mind), and while I sense that what she’s saying is true the film also doesn’t feel like its showing all the facts, though to be fair I’m not sure a two hour film ever could provide all the facts.  In many ways I kind of wish the film had spent less time explaining the details of the scandal and more time explaining who the Brazilian voters are and how and why they responded to this so strongly.  It did definitely provide some strong food for thought though and I’m ultimately glad I watched it.

*** out of Five 

Missing Link (9/22/2019)

Laika has long been a studio more beloved by critics than by general audiences, and that’s only gotten more true as time goes on.  If the place weren’t being run by an heir to the Nike fortune it likely would have gone bust by now, but I’m certainly glad they persist.  That said, not all of their problems are simply the fault of a small-minded public and their latest film was probably their biggest boondoggle both critically and commercially.  Made for $100 million dollars (about $40 million more than their other films) and yet it barely made more than $15 million at the box office.  I’d like to say this failure was unearned, and to some extent it was because the movie’s certainly better than that, but it is certainly a movie that didn’t play into the studio’s strengths.  People like Laika because they make these quirky gothy stop-motion movies that are different from what the conventional animation studios do but with Missing Link they seem to be selling out a bit and taking on a more conventional family movie sense of humor and adventure and frankly I liked them better when they were being goths.  The film follows an arrogant 19th Century cryptobiologist who seeks out a Bigfoot in Washington and upon realizing that Bigfoot is a nice guy agrees to take him to the Himalayas to seek out the Yetis who are rumored to be there but are chased by some bad guys who have too much time on their hands.  It’s not without some charm and the stop motion effects are good, but that darkness you hope for from this studio isn’t really there and the story and characters just seem kind of stock.

*** out of Five

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