Home Video Round-Up 1/7/2021

Run (1/2/2021)

This Run movie really came out of nowhere for me… to the point where the first handful of times I heard the title I had assumed it was referring to the HBO show of the same title that aired earlier this year.  It doesn’t have a name director behind it, it hasn’t had a festival run or gotten awards buzz, and Hulu hasn’t given it much of an advertising campaign that I’ve noticed.  It’s something that easily could have gotten lost in the shuffle but it did have one asset that did get it some notice and that was a juicy if rather silly lead performance by Sarah Paulson, who is playing a single mother to a teenage paraplegic who comes to start suspecting that she actually doesn’t have as many health problems as her mother has been telling her.  So what we have here is a high concept thriller that’s something of a mix of Misery with the Munchausen by proxy story element that’s been infiltrating cinema ever since the Gypsy Rose Blanchard case brought that particular disorder to popular attention.  Paulson certainly chews up the scenery pretty well and Kiera Allen is pretty good as a protagonist and the movie is generally well shot and paced.  That having said, while there isn’t anything inherently “wrong” with the movie it doesn’t really have a whole lot going for it either.  The psychological dynamic here is not particularly deep and ultimately just feels like a pretty routine “psycho lady stalks someone” thriller and its slim 90-minute runtime really doesn’t give it much time to really build tension up or give us anything terribly memorable as it heads toward a slight twist ending that isn’t as impactful as the film thinks it is.  If you need a time killer there are worse options than this but I doubt I’ll remember this thing in two weeks.

**1/2 out of Five

Collective (1/3/2021)

They say that the monoculture is dead, but I think we’ve finally found something that will finally unite the masses: a documentary about systemic corruption in the Romanian healthcare system!  But seriously this is a very good movie.  The film is a sort of vérité expose that follows a group of journalist and later a health minister as they look at a major scandal that swept the southeastern European country after a fire at a nightclub killed dozens of people and it was discovered that a number of the casualties would have survived had they not gotten bacterial infections at the hospital as a result of diluted disinfectant being used in them.  The film is partly investigative, sitting on the ground in a newsroom as a paper uncovers this and the bribes and criminality that led to this.  In the film’s second half it shifts to following Vlad Voiculescu, the new minister of health brought in to clean up this mess.  Voiculescu proves to be a fairly interesting figure as he’s essentially trying to do the right thing but has inherited quite the mess and often finds himself having to patiently answer for the several mistakes of his predecessors.  I do feel like the movie could have benefited from breaking from its vérité style a bit here and there to give audiences some charts and graphics to clear up the timeline and a couple of other points and I also think it goes off the rails just a little towards the end as it get off of the inciting scandal and moves into some areas of partisan Romanian politics, but looked at as a whole this is a very interesting movie about a subject I was completely unaware of and was worth my time.

**** out of Five

Words on Bathroom Walls (1/4/2021)

I added Words on Bathroom Walls to my Netflix queue after hearing some vaguely positive things about it without really knowing much about it, which was probably a mistake because I didn’t really realize it was a pretty straight YA romance kind of thing.  Not YA in the “dystopian sci-fi” kind of way but more of a “story about a high schooler with a problem gets a girlfriend” kind of thing.  It’s about a teenager who is diagnosed as a schizophrenic after having a breakdown in class and ends up switching to a Catholic high school as a result where he meets a girl who catches his fancy and ends up hiring her as a math tutor and this leads to a romance.  In the meantime he is also dealing with some time-honored teenage things like hating his stepdad and dodging bullies.  There are some likable elements here; particularly the film’s leads Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) and Taylor Russell, and I’d say the visual filmmaking here is also acceptable to good.  But man, these coming of age YA things sure do have a rigid formula don’t they?  They flatter teenagers by making them seem a lot deeper and more thoughtful than they really are while using quirky techniques (in this case turning his schizophrenic hallucinations into characters) to spice things up and provide a narration device.  I’m not familiar enough with mental illness to say whether this portrayal is “accurate” or not but I wouldn’t say it’s overly insightful and as someone who’s too old for this shit, there wasn’t much for me here.  That said I’m sure there are younger audiences for whom a lot of this will seem a lot more original and could enjoy this, so I don’t want to come down too hard on it.

**1/2 out of Five

A Most Beautiful Thing (1/5/2021)

The documentary A Most Beautiful Thing looks at a quartet of African American men from a dangerous area of Chicago who, as teenagers, were part of a special program a Harvard-educated philanthropist tried to set up which would form a rowing team out of a “troubled” school.  The program only lasted about four years in the late 90s and was ultimately viewed as a failure and shut down since the team only did okay and it didn’t end up getting anyone any scholarships, but the four veterans of the program ultimately ended up doing relatively well in life and viewed the experience as a helpful one.  As such the four of them ended up re-uniting and decided to try taking up the sport again to compete in a local boat race that’s open to the public.  Part of the problem here is that the heart of the interest here is what happened when these characters were teenagers and were first entering this rowing program, but the cameras weren’t really on then so most of that material needs to be covered through retrospective interviews and the bulk of the movie is about the old guys trying to do it again, which is kind of a separate issue from the questions of privilege and opportunity that the film’s premise raises.  If I were to use a word to describe the documentary filmmaking it would probably be “over-produced.”  The film’s score is overbearing and non-stop and it feels a bit too much pressure to present these over-edited montages of the neighborhood in question.  The film is narrated by the rapper Common, a guy who I’ve heard described as a “human ted talk” and the film kind of takes on his aura of “inspirational uplift” while not always getting to the root of why we should feel uplifted.  There isn’t much explanation as to why this sport associated with Ivy League blue bloods would be any more helpful to “the youth” than basketball or soccer or any other sport.  That said, the people themselves are interesting in their own ways so there’s some thought-provoking material along the way, I just wish there was a better movie telling their stories.

** out of Five

The Prom (1/7/2021)

The Prom is TV super-producer Ryan Murphy’s first feature film directorial credit since 2010 and frankly doesn’t make a particularly compelling argument that he should quit his day job.  The film is an adaptation of a musical that ran for less than a year on Broadway and I must say I’m rather befuddled as to why Murphy felt a compelling desire to adapt this of all musicals and how he managed rope in a pretty top level cast to do it.  The film stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, and Andrew Rannells as a group of narcissistic Broadway stars who need some good publicity after their latest show flops and latch onto the cause of a lesbian teenager in Indiana who isn’t being allowed to take her girlfriend to the Prom.  At the risk of seeming Pollyannaish I must say that seems like a rather dated premise.  Even in Indiana (home state of Mayor Pete Buttigieg) I don’t think that many people are flipping their wigs over gay people at proms, and even if they are I don’t think they’re getting a lot of tractions in their cause.  I’m sure gay and lesbian youth still face all sorts of pressure within their families but the public discourse has most definably moved on to trans issues and even those mostly aren’t being handled the way they are here. The film probably would have saved itself a lot of trouble by having this be set in 2007 instead of 2020.  The movie wants to act like it’s above the cluelessly papered Broadway stars trying to address this issue in a tone deaf and unhelpful way, but frankly I think the movie itself is fairly guilty of that which it seeks to satirize.  A lot of this would have been less of an issue if the film simply had better music but it doesn’t really.  The songs here aren’t terrible by any means but there weren’t any tunes I found overly memorable and most of them feel pretty specifically tailored for the stage rather than screen.  There are a couple of bits and pieces here that are alright and the movie is rarely what you’d call “aggressively bad” but as a whole I found it to be quite uninspired and forgettable.

** out of Five

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