Home Video Round-Up 11/29/2019

Dolemite is My Name (10/27/2019)

Dolemite is My Name tells the story of Rudy Ray Moore, a stand-up comedian who created the character of Dolemite for his routine and this culminated in him starring in an odd Blaxploitation film same name and this film more or less chronicles how that got made.  The original 1975 Dolemite is something of a cinematic deep cut; African Americans of a certain generation probably know about it and people who are pretty deep into old exploitation movies know about it, but it’s hardly a household name.  I’ve seen it, and it’s pretty weird.  It’s very badly made but you do kind of sense that it’s in on the joke so you’re never quite sure whether you’re laughing at it or laughing with it.  But if nothing else it is a movie that makes you wonder “how the hell did this come to be” so it is an understandable that it was selected for this kind of “making of” treatment.  In the role of Rudy Ray Moore is Eddie Murphy, who does seem to be having a lot of fun with the role even if it’s not really a perfect imitation.  He gets Moore’s look and mannerisms right but doesn’t seem to even try getting the voice perfect (no small thing given that he’s playing a very verbal comedian) and more or less keeps his usual speaking voice.  That’s not a huge problem though.  The film is pretty clearly modeled after Ed Wood (which was written by the same pair of screenwriters) and The Disaster Artist and we’ve also seen this treatment given to a Blaxsploitation film vis-a-vie Mario Van Peebles’ Baadasssss!, so I’m not sure the world was begging for yet another movie using this formula and I don’t know that this brings a whole lot new to the table in the grand scheme of things.  Still, there were a lot of fun stories from that set and they’re presented in a fun way here and that makes this a nice breezy little watch.  There are certain movies that deserve better than what Netflix can give them, but this is one for which that treatment is about right, could have made for a pretty good HBO film too.

*** out of Five

Echo in the Canyon (10/30/2019)

If there’s one thing I’ve always found rather odd it’s the assumption that one needs to be from a specific era in order to enjoy that eras popular culture.  I, for example, am a millennial but I like classic rock just fine.  So when I see movies about rock and roll from the 60s being accused of simply existing to exploit baby boomer nostalgia I cringe a little… but this documentary is guilty as charged.  The film looks back on the mid-60s Laurel Canyon music scene which was host to several important bands like The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and The Mamas and the Papas.  There are probably some interesting questions to answer about what these acts have in common and how this neighborhood would influence them, but the film doesn’t really do much to explore much of any of this.  Instead it largely rests on these softball interviews that seem to elicit no real introspection from anyone beyond platitudes about what an “amazing” time the 60s were and how wonderful it all was.  The film also doesn’t really have much in the way of archival footage of the music at issue and the film instead keeps cutting back to footage from a tribute concert that was done by a bunch of younger artists doing covers versions.  This was presumably done to re-assure the old people watching that this music is still important to “the kids” even though most of the “young” artists doing the covers are a bunch of Gen Xers who are themselves well past the point of relevancy in the music world.  This thing is just half-assed and lame.  It took intense willpower to even bother writing more about it than “OK boomer.”

*1/2 out of Five

Dragged Across Concrete (11/26/2019)

When you title your movie “Dragged Across Concrete” you’re pretty effectively messaging that you’re making a movie that isn’t for everyone.  Given director S. Craig Zahler’s previous two films Bone Tomahawk (which shows a guy getting split in half down the middle) and Brawl in Cell Block 99 (which has multiple scenes of people getting their heads stomped in) I went in to this prepared for it to make good on its title, but in some slight (and I do mean slight) ways this was a less graphic Zahler vision.  I mean, it’s still all kinds of violent and wouldn’t be overly palatable to mainstream audiences, but at the very least it doesn’t literally show someone being dragged across concrete.  Instead this movie is more interested in reveling in its rather unconventional structure and in testing how willing its audience will be to follow some really unpleasant characters.  In total the movie is told from four perspectives: that of some extremely violent criminals, that of some less violent criminals, that of some very dirty cops (one of which is being played by known unpleasant person Mel Gibson), and an innocent bystander who somehow still manages to be kind of unlikable in her own way despite objectively being the most sympathetic person in all of this.  It’s a nasty little movie, I’m not sure it quite lives up to its ambitions and the Mel Gibson stunt casting might not have been such a good idea but it flows differently than most movies and it’s an interesting little project.

*** out of Five

One Child Nation (11/23/2019)

This documentary takes a look back at China’s “One Child Policy,” which is one of those things you would hear about from time to time without really taking the time to stop and think about how massive and impactful such a thing would be.  There’s definitely room in the world for a probing and insightful documentary about that strange attempt at societal engineering but I’m not so sure this is it.  Directors Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang were both born under the one child policy before emigrating to the United States and seem to take the concept very personally and much of the film is set within the realm of the personal.  Wang narrates and frames the movie as a sort of personal journey into the concept but doesn’t seem to have access to many major players in the formation of the policy and instead seems to spend a lot of the movie interviewing family friends who had some role in experiencing or carrying out the policy.  The film is plainly geared towards non-Chinese audiences who wouldn’t be familiar with the policy at all and as a simple primer on the concept I’m not sure it’s as clear or efficient as a recent Last Week Tonight segment that John Oliver did on the topic.  Beyond that I’m not sure this really has a whole lot to say beyond a number of personal accounts of this policy negatively effecting people, which of course isn’t without value, but I maybe would have liked a bit more context or perhaps a slightly more provocative point behind it all.

*** out of Five

The Report (11/29/2019)

Scott Z. Burns’ The Report sounded really promising when people were talking about it out of Sundance and it seemed like it would be a major release this year, but then Amazon dialed back their theatrical release plans, other Adam Driver movies lapped it in relevance, and by the time it was actually available it seemed like an afterthought.  Truth be told though, I’m not entirely sure it deserved better.  The film focuses on the lengthy after-the-fact investigation into torture techniques that were used on alleged terrorists during the Bush era which according to the movie were both inhumane and also completely ineffective.  It’s worthy subject matter and as a delivery method to sort of “set the record straight” on the topic the film is at least worthwhile and it was also interesting to see it take a shot at Zero Dark Thirty by name.  However, the film this has been most readily compared to has been Spotlight and that comparison really does this film no favors.  That movie was a triumph of understatement, it depicted a years long investigation and managed to make the reporters at the center of it seem heroic while still ultimately depicting them as calm professionals doing their jobs.  Here they don’t really have it in them to do that and instead they make Adam Driver’s character into this crusading hero who tirelessly seeks the truth and indignantly shouts when the CIA tries to bullshit their way out of accountability.  So, in that sense this kind of takes the conventional way out and in many ways it feels kind of like the overly self-righteous Bush era “issue movies” that seemed important at the time but kind of feel embarrassing in retrospect.

*** out of Five

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