Home Video Round-Up 12/21/2022

Cow (12/16/2022)

Andrea Arnold is a filmmaker who seems to have sort of disappeared since making her film American Honey and this year we finally learned way; her time was divided between making the second season of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” (which Jean-Marc Vallée apparently took back over at a certain point) and also making this documentary, which chronicled several years in the life of a dairy cow.  The film kind of plays like an on land version of the fishing vessel documentary Leviathan in that the camera is focusing in largely on non-human subjects with the human workers on the periphery.  Arnold has said she “wanted to show [audiences] her consciousness. I wanted to show the character and the aliveness of a nonhuman animal.”  I must say, if the goal was to make this animal look particularly intelligent and emotive then it didn’t really work on me, it kind of just seemed like a dumb animal being put through the motions to me.  She says that her intention was not to make a movie advocating for veganism but, I must say I don’t believe her about that because I’m not sure what else this is supposed to be or what anyone not coming at it from that angle are supposed to take away from it.  I suppose this is a well-made as something with these goals is ever supposed to be but it probably requires a different perspective and a different set of assumptions than I possess and it didn’t really work at all on me.
** out of Five

Disenchanted (12/17/2022)

Well here’s another movie watched for the silly and stubborn reason of insisting on getting every minute I can out of the month of Disney+ I paid for and this one was really misguided.  This “sequel” to Enchanted seems to fit into what seems like a distressing trend at Disney: sequels that are made with streaming in mind and kind of feel like the cheapo direct-to-video sequels of old despite having been legitimized with most of the first movie’s original cast, and the fact that it was directed by uber-hack Adam Shankman kind of tells you their ambitions for this.  The movie is set at least ten years after the events of the first film (though it’s taken fifteen years to make) and begins by the family formed at the end of that film moving from New York (an essential and defining setting in the first movie) to the suburbs in what sure seems like a move intended to cut costs on this.  If not for the presence of Amy Adams and other legit stars I would almost suspect this was meant as a backdoor pilot for some sort of Disney Channel sitcom adaptation of the franchise, which might have been the better road to go down actually.  Now, I suspect that, but I also suspect that the real problem here is that they took a script that was meant to be for a sequel made a couple years after the original and held onto it even though it’s been a decade and a half and a lot of the developments here don’t really line up with that, namely the fact that the Amy Adams character still seems bizarrely oblivious to the norms of her new home despite having lived there for a decade.  Beyond that the Disney parody of the whole franchise just feels dated and played out.  There have probably been more film parodies of pre-Renaissance Disney Princess movies at this point then there were actual pre-Renaissance Disney Princess movies and the cut production values just make this one not feel like a real movie at all.  Complete waste of time for everyone involved, they should have left well enough alone.
* out of Five

If These Walls Could Sing (12/19/2022)

I’ve come not to expect much from documentaries that are made for Disney+, at least outside of their National Geographic stuff or certain one-offs like The Beatles: Get Back.  In fact that Peter Jackson Beatles documentary almost certainly had something to do with their greenlighting of this documentary about the recording studio which was made famous by that band.  However, this is not a Peter Jackson archival footage epic, it’s a puff piece that mostly exists to string together some interviews with famous rock stars like the two surviving Beatles, Elton John, Jimmy Page, John Williams, and members of Pink Floyd.  They even somehow manage, likely through extensive editing, to get profanity free interviews out of Liam and Noel Gallagher from Oasis.  These interviews try to stay on the topic of the recording studio but at the end of the day there’s kind of only so much to say about the place beyond the fact that it’s a place with some good microphones and nice acoustics.  For the most part these artists are telling highly abbreviated career stories, many of them not terribly related to Abbey Road, that anyone interested enough in classic rock to be watching something like this will have already heard before and in less truncated form elsewhere.  If you just want an easy watch that will give you a couple fun stories, I guess this will be inoffensive enough viewing, but to me this is really a wasted opportunity that does nothing to probe any deeper than the very top of the surface level and just isn’t good enough generally.
** out of Five

The Invitation (12/20/2022)

When Get Out showed up on Sight and Sounds Top 100 Movies list I rolled my eyes a bit at a recent horror movie like that being canonized so quickly, but I heard one person argue that this choice made sense because even now it’s the movie people reference back to when talking about politics infused horror.  I don’t think that argument entirely holds up to scrutiny because a hit movie spawning imitators is relatively common and this trend has not really been going on that long.  However, it is certainly true that there are people trying to copy that movie’s success and I don’t think we’ve quite gotten as clear a ripoff of that movie yet as The Invitation.  The film is essentially “Get Out but at an English estate.”  In this case the person of color is a woman rather than a man and she’s lured there because she’s a long lost cousin rather than because she’s dating someone from the family but otherwise it’s the same basic idea, but its social satire isn’t nearly as sharp and when it finally does flip into horror movie mode in the third act it does it in a much less creative way.  Outside of its unoriginality there’s not a ton to say about it.  Nathalie Emmanuel (AKA Missandei from “Game of Thrones”) is a pretty good screen presence and deserves better than this and the basic core filmmaking is largely competent but unexceptional and the movie isn’t remotely scary.  Not worth anyone’s time except to gauge where this “social horror” trend is going and how it can go wrong.
** out of Five

McEnroe (12/21/2022)

I’m not exactly sure why it was decided that 2022 was the year we needed a new movie about troubled tennis star John McEnroe, but we got it just the same.  Actually we’ve gotten a lot of McEnroe related projects lately like the experimental doc John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection and the scripted film Borg Vs. McEnroe.  It is perhaps interesting that he’s so well remembered given that he was only playing champion level tennis for about four years in the early 80s, but it isn’t really the tennis that he’s remembered for is it?  No, he’s remembered for cursing out umpires and showing up in tabloids.  Ostensibly this doc’s job is to try to get to the bottom of why McEnroe was so pissy, and I’m not sure it ever really does come up with an explanation, in no small part because McEnroe himself doesn’t seem to really know and this is very much an “authorized documentary” on his part.  The film doesn’t really seek out sports journalist to be its talking heads, instead mostly opting to stick to McEnroe himself, his friends and family members, as well as fellow athletes like Billie Jean King and his one-time rival Bjorn Borg.  We get some dishy talk about his disastrous marriage with Tatum O’Neal, though she (perhaps understandably) did not choose to participate herself, and the film never really gets into McEnroe’s second life as a commentator.  All in all I can’t say I’m terribly impressed by the doc, which is made professionally enough and provides a biographical overview well enough but otherwise really isn’t much to write home about.
**1/2 out of Five

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