Home Video Round-Up 3/9/2021

Freaky (2/16/2021)

Freaky is a Blumhouse produced horror comedy from a director named Christopher Landon, who is probably best known for the Happy Death Day movies, which applied the Groundhog Day time loop formula to the slasher movie and with his follow-up he’s kind of trying to do the same thing with the Body Swap comedy (Get it? Freaky as in Freaky Friday).  Here you have a Jason/Leatherface-esque slasher villain played by Vince Vaughn who (through running into a magical knife) ends up swapping bodies with one of his would be victims played by Kathryn Newton, so you have a teenage girl inhabiting the body of bulky 6’ 5” Vince Vaughn while the killer takes over the body of the Newton character and starts going on a killing spree while no one suspects her.  As tends to be the case with movies using this high concept you get quite the actor’s showcase with Vaughn talking like a valley girl pretty believably, but Newton has a bit more of a challenge on her hands.  I don’t think the film did a whole lot to really make this killer interesting from the beginning and watching this teenage girl try to act like Jason and it quickly becomes apparent that these characters are only really interesting because of their imposing size and looks.  Landon might have been better served by making his killer a wisecracking villain like Freddy Krueger than Jason so that the other side of the body swap had a bit more to work with.  On the bright side, with this movie Landon had a greenlight to delve into R-rated violence he wasn’t able to use in the Happy Death Day movies and while there’s nothing unprecedentedly gory here there is definitely some solid bloodletting that genre fans will enjoy and the film employs some decent Scream-like genre riffs, so I think the film will mostly leave most people interested in the high concept reasonably satisfied.

***1/2 out of Five 

The Mole Agent (2/26/2021)

Like scripted features, documentaries can have a pretty wide variety of different aims and approaches and The Mole Agent is a decent example of this.  Those looking for a documentary with more of a journalistic approach will likely be a bit weirded out by it as, even though it sort of presents itself as an investigation, it’s a bit more staged than something you’d see in a more traditional documentary.  The film follows a private investigator tasked with looking into a Chilean nursing home where there have been some allegations of neglect and abuse, and to investigate they employ a senior citizen to be their “man on the inside.”  That’s an interesting idea for an investigative piece, but they also convince the home to let their camera crew in, ostensibly to document this one new patient’s integration into the home.  That would seem to be something that would kind of undo the investigative aim as the home would almost immediately be on their best behavior knowing there’s a camera crew around, and sure enough the film kind of gives up on really probing the home once the guy is in there to be more of a rumination on aging and the way this guy gets along with his fellow residents.  I must say as someone who was looking forward to an exposé that was a bit of a letdown, but I did like the setup, where they kind of go out of their way to make this seem like a “man on a mission” doc complete with a private eye office with Venetian blinds.  Good watch if you’re into the True/False type documentary scene, but not really my jam.

*** out of Five

Martin Eden (3/4/2021)

Martin Eden is an adaptation of the 1909 Jack London novel of the same name but with the action transposed from California to Italy by Italian filmmaker Pietro Marcello, who didn’t have much of an international profile before this film but who will likely be watched a bit more closely going forward.  The film focuses on a proletariat guy looking to rise above his station to marry a rich girl and he sort of drifts through the various labor uprising and class wars of his time writing short stories and books and getting into debates.  I certainly liked a lot about how the film is made; it has this really cool looking retro look that makes it feel like a European film of the late 60s or early 70s and I also quite liked Luca Marinelli’s performance in the title role and a lot about the general vibe of the film.  However, I don’t think the romance that sets off the plot is very well established and I also found its dive into class politics to be a bit… on the nose.  Eden often seems less like a character and more like a mouthpiece for various philosophies about capitalism and socialism (both of which he rejects to some degree or another) which feel like they would be more interesting in a novel where they could be expanded on in meaningful ways instead of just brought up as some cursory notion of individualism that never really adds up.  At times it felt like this kind of gave off the vibe of being a better movie than it actually was but I must say I was still kind of taken by it just the same.

***1/2 out of Five

The Three Deaths of Marisela Escobedo (3/6/2021)

This documentary that’s been on Netflix for a while is kind of a blend of True Crime reporting and social activist documentary as it follows the case of Marisela Escobedo, the mother of a woman who was killed in an act of domestic violence by a man who appears to have had ties to a cartel.  The evidence was clear, the dude confessed (and in doing so directed the police to the victim’s body), and even basically confessed again at the trial but was inexplicably acquitted, a ruling which was eventually overturned on appeal but not until after he’d fled and became a fugitive.  All through this Escobedo is relentlessly protesting and demanding accountability and doing everything in her power to make sure that her daughter eventually gets justice but, well, one of the deaths in the title is literal.  In general the whole story kind of makes the Mexican legal system look pretty bad and corrupt, though I don’t know that any system should be judged by its greatest failures.  Beyond that I’m not sure there’s a specific “point” to all of this beyond telling an elaborate story that was apparently a pretty big news story south of the border and to draw some inspiration from Escobedo’s persistence but it all sure seems kind of hopeless in the end.  The documentary itself is slick and professionally made and has most of the interview subjects you’d expect but I’m not sure it ever quite sets itself apart as something particularly special.

*** out of Five

Another Round (3/8/2021)

Another Round is a movie I’ve been kind of avoiding all year, in part because I’m kind of unfamiliar with its director’s work (largely because his most famous film and logical starting point The Celebration is difficult to obtain) and I feel somewhat unqualified to jump in on his latest without the background considering he’s been a pretty big fixture in Danish cinema for a while.  The film is something of a comedy, albeit a rather dry one about a group of high school teachers who become inspired by a paper they read which suggests that people are more functional when they have a raised blood alcohol content and decided to engage in a not terribly scientific experiment where they drink enough to be just below the legal limit at all times.  The movie seems to be trying to be something of an exploration of alcohol consumption without being about actual alcoholism, though it does look at the ways people can use intellectual ideas to justify irresponsible behavior but the movie never quite comes to any clear cut easy answers on the topic of drunkenness.  Thing is, I’m basically a teetotaler and there’s a lot about this movie that I don’t really relate to and I think there’s a lot of subtleties to these characters’ drunkenness that I’m not really picking up on.  I can appreciate the performances and see some of the points the movie’s trying to make about middle aged ennui, but I didn’t find it particularly “funny” and I don’t think this was ever really going to be something that was for me.

*** out of Five

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