Home Video Round-Up 12/30/2022

Meet Me in the Bathroom (12/22/2022)

Meet Me in the Bathroom is a documentary adaptation of the book of the same name by Lizzy Goodman, which was an oral history of the 2000s New York rock scene typified by bands like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and LCD Soundsystem.  I was a bit too young and too uncool to really get into these bands at the time, but their careers were highly sentimentalized by the music critics I grew up reading so I’ve been familiar with their reputations even if they aren’t really my thing.  The documentary is not terribly interested in deflating the legend of any of this and it is kind of wild seeing a movie chronicling events within my lifetime looked at through the same language of cultural shifts and rises and falls that I tend to associate with documentaries about decades prior.  Given the oral history nature of the source material it will not be too surprising that this is largely told through interviews with the various bands and of course it also has a pretty sizable amount of archive footage to work with.  The film also tries to fit the emergence of these bands within the larger cultural context and historical events that occurred in New York at the time, with September 11th being the most obvious of them.  At the end of the day this is still definitely a documentary for the initiated and I’m not sure it has that much to offer people who aren’t already into these bands and as someone who is himself only kinda/sorta into them I’m not sure it was really for me.
*** out of Five

Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva (12/23/2022)

Here’s another installment of “The Movie Vampire tries to understand modern commercial Indian cinema.”  This particular movie was made by a studio that was a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox, meaning it’s now owned by Disney and as a result the film is streaming on Disney+, which is probably appropriate because this seems like Bollywood at its most Disney-fied.  As the “Part One” in the title suggests this is meant to be the first part in not only a series but a whole “cinematic universe” dubbed the Astraverse, which already has its own logo and everything.  It also has something of a color palate and effects style that feel inspired by the MCU and many of its characters could sort of be called superheroes, though the more direct inspiration may be various YA franchises as no one here is wearing capes and tights or the like.  It’s set in the modern day and follows a “chosen one” type who has powers he doesn’t understand and appears to be one of many people who possess powers given to them by “astras” that came down to earth as part of mythological shenanigans thousands of years ago.  On some level it seems to be trying to do with hindu mythology what something like Percy Jackson did with Greek mythology, though that’s a little more awkward given that Hinduism remains a prominent world religion in a way the Greek pantheon does not.

Despite all this Hollywood influence, this is still firmly a work of Bollywood.  It opens with this massive musical number and stars this slightly too old movie star at the center of it who’s this totally pure of heart hero who literally helps orphans with his free time and he and the movie’s love interest basically fall instantly in love within the first forty minutes without the slightest suspense that they won’t end up with each other.  From there it’s kind of action-movie-plot by numbers and ends on a moderately well done set piece.  The special effects and action choreography aren’t quite up to Hollywood standards but they’re not too far off and despite some quirks like the musical numbers this doesn’t come off as one of those wacky gonzo Indian productions you see weird clips of on Youtube.  In that sense this could be a decent gateway Bollywood movie if you want to get in on the shallow end of the pool, but like the MCU films it borrows from I’m going to guess serious fans of the form view this as kind of safe and soulless if well executed in its own way.  Personally, as someone for whom the Bollywood style has never really been that appealing, this sanding down of the edges did make this go down a bit easier for me, but on the other hand if I just want a simple little MCU type thing Disney is already providing me with plenty of that and if I’m going to go through the trouble of overcoming the language and cultural barriers of foreign cinema I kind of want to be rewarded with something more than this.
**1/2 out of Five

Hold Your Fire (12/28/2022)

On January 19th 1973 four African American men entered a Brooklyn sporting goods store with guns attempting to steal more guns, the police were alerted and arrived quickly, so the attempted robbers took hostages and a standoff began.  This was a year after the incident that inspired Dog Day Afternoon as well as the Munich Olympics disaster, so the NYPD had been putting a lot of thought into hostage negotiations so they utilized a “police psychologist” named Harvey Schlossberg for negotiations this time and that made at least some difference.  The film looks back on that “siege” from the sides of both the police and the hostage takers, whose stories diverge pretty sharply.  The police frankly say a lot of stupid stuff in these interviews; they have a perspective of crime that you might expect retired cops from the 70s to have and they sound pretty unreconstructed in the time since.  I’m not exactly sure the former hostage takers are exactly on the level either, they seem rather defensive and not everything they say totally adds up either, so I think both parties are spinning things but the Rashomon of all of this is not necessarily a bad thing for the movie.  This is not a particularly flashy or highly budgeted documentary.  You can tell they simply filmed the various interviews in the homes and offices of the subjects and didn’t put a lot of work into giving them any special lighting or framing and you can also tell it was edited on a laptop, but the film does get a variety of perspectives and gets to some interesting points about the era in question and the nature of law enforcement.
*** out of Five

The Woman King (12/29/2022)

African history is unfortunately a topic that is beyond woefully under-discussed in both cinema and in culture as a whole.  The reasons for this are legion, but the fact that modern Africa has quite the death of films made above a certain budget level mixed with Hollywood disinterest have made movies like The Woman King something of a rare novelty.  In some ways this works in The Woman King’s favor: this setting isn’t over exposed and it’s giving people a needed education.  But in many ways this also gives The Woman King a bit of a burden I’m not sure it overcomes; there aren’t a bunch of other more serious minded movies about this subject matter so if this turns out to be Hollywood pabulum that can make it feel like it’s really doing a disservice to the subject matter.  Unfortunately I would say this leans more towards “disservice to the subject matter.”  The film is set in the Dahomey kingdom in West Africa circa 1832 and deals with the interaction between colonizers and local slavers in the area, which is a pretty complex and interesting story potentially, but the movie isn’t very interested in diving into that complexity.  Rather, this seems to want to be the African version of Braveheart, which is not a good thing to aspire to because that movie is dumb and wildly over-rated to begin with.  The one thing that Braveheart does have going for it though are large scale bloody battle scenes and this movie kind of lacks the bloodlust for that.  Director Gina Prince-Bythewood is a talented filmmaker but it’s readily obvious that action scenes aren’t where her passions lie, in fact she seems to have regressed in that department since making The Old Guard, and what action that is here is rather bloodless and tame.  It’s a movie that wants to be able to inspire kids but it’s about a time period that doesn’t really lend itself to that kind of treatment, I don’t think the movie really works.
**1/2 out of Five

What We Leave Behind (12/30/2022)

What We Leave Behind is a personal-level documentary from filmmaker Iliana Sosa looking at the past life and current condition of her grandfather Julián Moreno.  Moreno is, in the grand scheme of things a fairly ordinary man who lived a pretty average working class existence; he lives in Northern Mexico and did some migrant work in the United States in his younger years and then later made trips North of the border pretty regularly in order to visit his children and grandchildren after their emigration.  There are some similarities to be found with the 2020 documentary Dick Johnson is Dead here as both films are about women coming to terms with an elderly relative’s impending mortality, though this lacks that film’s meta concept and playfulness.  Honestly the film kind of lacks a hook more generally.  Moreno is kind of an interesting guy to observe for a little while but I kept waiting on the movie to reveal either some surprising biographical detail about him or use his story to make a broader point about U.S. border policy or something and it never really does, or if it does it’s very subtle.  The film’s title suggests that it’s very much meant to come from the perspective of an emigrant looking at the disconnection that results from living away from one’s roots, which is kind of an interesting take but the film very rarely gazes inwardly or directly tackle the feelings of the people who did the “leaving behind.”  The film is rather short, clocking in at about 71 minutes and yet I think it might have had more impact as a short-form documentary coming in at 40 minutes or so.
**1/2 out of Five

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