Home Video Round-Up 9/26/2022

Cha Cha Real Smooth (9/10/2022)

The most buzzed about movie coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was most likely Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth, a quarter-life crisis movie about a college grad who finds himself working as a “party starter” at New Jersey area bar mitzvahs.  The film was picked up by AppleTV+ for $15 million, not a record breaking number but certainly an attention-getting sum and one that naturally had a lot of people asking “is this the next CODA?”  Well, no, it isn’t.  In fact I kind of suspect that if this had been released to theaters like a normal movie it would not have made that $15 million back and that this would have one of those movies that people went nuts for at Sundance only to not connect when released to “the wild.”  That does not, however, mean it’s bad.  It’s not, it’s fine.  I think if this were made something like ten years ago it would have been made as a “mumblecore” movie though I’m not 100% sure I can prove that it isn’t already that outside of the fact that it has a slightly larger budget than those movies tended to and no one is literally mumbling in it.  The “Bar Mitzvah party starter” premise is mostly just a hook for this to rest on, it’s mostly about a love triangle in which the Cooper Raiff character comes close to starting a relationship with a woman in her thirties with an autistic daughter and a fiancé.  That plays out well enough, but there are some problems here.  For one, I’m not sure Cooper Raiff was quite the right actor for this even though he’s essentially playing himself in certain ways.  The film is very specifically about a twenty two year old and Raiff reads older than that even though looking it up he’s actually only twenty five and was likely even younger when this filmed so this might be an irrational complaint but it did stand out to me.  I also think the film just generally could have used a bit more comedy in general because it all feels a touch grim for a film about a situation which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that high stakes.  Beyond that my response might just be a touch persona, this is a movie about a guy who’s an extreme extrovert, and that’s just not going to be the easiest thing for me to relate to and I think relatability matters with this kind of movie.
*** out of Five

We Met in Virtual Reality (9/17/2022)

Well, here’s one for the “is this a documentary” format: a movie that’s entirely computer animated but still counts as a doc.  This film was “shot” entirely through captures from the VRChat platform, which is kind of a hub where people with VR headsets can hang out together in avatar form.  So you’re basically looking at a bunch of footage from what to my eyes looks like a very janky and bug-laden videogame, though it’s not really a videogame because there’s no real “game” to it, it’s more just a series of elaborate meeting places.  Adding to the surreality of all this, most of the people in VRChat seem to go around these virtual worlds decked in these rather pervy anime avatars and the extent to which this whole thing is kind of porny is addressed in a segment set in a VR strip club in which said pervy anime avatars make subtext text by getting decked in lingerie and give virtual lap dances to other VR avatars.  The movie, however, takes a more positive view of the whole thing and is focused on the positive friendships and even romantic relationships that spark out of this bizarre creation.  The movie also very deliberately never breaks out of the game to provide any images whatsoever of what any of these people look like in their corporeal form, which can be a bit frustrating but I guess it kind of mirrors the experience of existing on this platform and having to kind of take it on faith that the people around you are “on the level.”  Once you get past the format the film’s narrative is actually very conventional, which I think is by design in order to ground things.  I left the movie not too surprised that people can find love in VR, though I’m not exactly sure why doing so would be fundamentally different from finding it in a chatroom or a dating site or in “World of Warcraft” or any number of other online spaces we’ve been hearing about people getting married in over the years.  Not a terribly probing doc but the novelty of the format makes it worth a look.
*** out of Five

The Sky is Everywhere (9/19/2022)

The Sky is Everywhere was kind of dumped unceremoniously onto AppleTV+ in February of this year and hasn’t been talked about too widely, in large part because it looks like (and is) a pretty standard “coming of age movie based on a YA novel” type thing, but I was at least a little interested in it since it was helmed by Josephine Decker (of Madeline’s Madeline and Shirley fame).  Sure enough, I do think Josephine Decker brings some interesting visual ideas to the table with this; the film’s Northern California setting is a nice change of pace from the suburbia these things are usually set in and Decker has some neat tricks up her sleeve to depict the protagonist’s state of mind.  That said this is definitely a YA adaptation and is pretty in line with some of that genre’s more tired tropes.  The story concerns a teenage girl who is living with the grief of having recently lost an older sister who had a heart condition and follows her in her grief as she starts a romance with a boy from her school.  The film is pretty willing to make its protagonist a particularly unwound bundle of nerves and hormones.  Even before her family tragedy she was the kind of girl to have allegedly read “Wuthering Heights” twenty three times and is seemingly made even more “extra” because of her grief, so in short she can be a kind of annoying person to outside observers but I do think the film is at least aware of this and that it’s by design.  That’s not an easy thing to pull off and while she gives it an admirable try I’m not sure that star Grace Kaufman is quite able to pull this off and I also don’t think Decker ever quite elevates this from what it is as much as it needs to be.  But as far as movies for the young and confused go, you can do worse than this, but I can also see why it didn’t catch on, it isn’t really “arty” enough to break out of its YA origins but maybe is a little too unconventional to fully connect with mainstream teens as well.
*** out of Five

Sidney (9/23/2022)

“Authorized biographies” usually shouldn’t be viewed as the last word on a subject, but they serve an important purpose.  Letting a subject get out the official “company line” on themselves is often useful and telling and more often than not will get you most of the way there even if they can be guarded and curated accounts.  The new Oprah produced Sidney Poitier documentary, simply titled Sidney, can fairly be fairly described as the documentary equivalent of an “authorized biography” and like with the book equivalent of that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The filmmakers were able to get an interview with Poitier himself at some point before he passed away which is kind of an important thing to begin with as Poitier was not someone who gave out interviews easily late in life.  That interview is the backbone of the film to some extent but they’ve also wrangled a very impressive roster of side commentators including his family members, print biographer, as well as a lot of fellow actors of the next generation like Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, Spike Lee, and many others.  I don’t know that there’s much here that will be too surprising to anyone who’s followed Poitier’s life previously but it’s all laid out and presented here in a very clear and professional way.  It’s not the most creative or enlightening doc you’re ever going to encounter but it also pretty well delivers on what it promises on and it’s hard to complain about it too much.
***1/2 out of Five

Luck (9/26/2022)

It’s become increasingly clear to me how easy it is to take Pixar for granted.  They’ve been doing what they do with a certain standard of quality that it seems like people don’t give their best movies the credit they deserve anymore and hold their lesser movies to something of an unfair standard.  And nothing puts into relief how easy Pixar makes what they do look than when you watch another studio try to imitate Pixar and then fall flat on their face in the process.  That’s certainly what happens with the new direct-to-AppleTV+ animated film Luck, from the newly formed Skydance Animation Studio that was formed in part with the co-operation of former Pixar chief John Lasseter.  The film’s very concept feels like something Lasseter found in his former studio’s “reject” bin while he was on his way out.  Specifically the film feels like a particularly lame version of Inside Out except instead of being about feelings working inside someone’s minds it imagines a world where all the good and bad luck in the world is manufactured in a magical factory and through some contrived silliness our protagonist finds herself following a talking cat into this alternate dimension and getting into fairly predictable hijinks.  The animation here isn’t quite incompetent per se but it’s plainly second rate, something closer to what you might expect from an ambitious TV cartoon than from a feature film with noticeably less detailed characters who are much more dully designed.  By most accounts the Pixar process involves years of tinkering and revision to perfect their projects and I suspect this movie didn’t have that luxury and that extends to its notably witless and half-assed script with noticeably half-baked world building, inelegant dialogue, and banal messages.  And don’t get me started on the way this movie shoehorns Madonna’s “Lucky Star” into itself in the dumbest ways possible.  Maybe Skydance Animation can get on its feet and make something of itself after this disaster, but if they are they’re going to have to find an original voice because they clearly aren’t going to do it by being a dime store Pixar.
* out of Five

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