Home Video Round-Up 1/27/2023

Till (1/21/2023)

I’m going to be honest, at this point I tend to view studio made films about well-known black history events with a certain suspicion.  I’ve seen a lot of them and they often tend to be rather safe and sanitized version of events made more to inspire children than to really probe the events in question.  There are exceptions of course, but for every Selma there are two Marshalls or 42s.  Till a film about the death of Emmett Till and the events that followed it, sits somewhere in the middle of that spectrum because on some level it is still definitely a straightforward movie made with mainstream sensibilities in mind on some level, there was definitely some more thought put into it.  The film was directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the director behind the indie film Clemency, who seems to have a knack for making films about women in psychologically taxing situations and for directing internally wounded performances.  She’s cast Danielle Deadwyler in the central role of Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett, and it proved to be a pretty smart choice.  Deadwyler is not a particularly famous name and that may well have limited the film’s box office somewhat but she was clearly the right person for the role and managed to really nail the interior anguish required and the film also does a good job of showing Emmet Till while he was alive as well.  The film isn’t quite able to find the perfect structure for its third act, starting out as a kind of courtroom drama that maybe lacks suspence because the audience knows where it’s going and never quite manages to make her activist arc compelling either, but when it needs to work it works quite well.
***1/2 out of Five

Retrograde (1/22/2023)

Retrograde is a documentary about the last years of American occupation in Afghanistan before the pullout and mostly follows one squad of American soldiers there as well as one Afghan general on the ground.  They say that journalism is the first draft of history and this feels like a bit of a “first draft of history” kind of documentary as it’s sort of close to the ground and tends to shy away from making overt statements about the overall pullout.  The characters it follows certainly seem to be against it, but they don’t exactly seem to be impartial observers and the film isn’t exactly laying out any kind of detailed argument for why we should have stayed longer or how the pullout could have been done more effectively.  That said, anyone doing reporting on the ground in a warzone has got to have some guts and there is definitely something to be said for getting an on the ground eye on initial reactions to this situation and there is interest there.  I don’t know, if you just want some raw footage of this whole situation this documentary does offer that but I feel like something as controversial as this needs a bit more of a statement to be made if you’re going to turn it into a movie and I’m not entirely sure this movie knows what it wants to say.
*** out of Five

To Leslie (1/24/2023)

One of the biggest shockers at the Oscar nominations announcement this year was Andrea Riseborough’s “shocking” nomination for the largely unseen film To Leslie, but if you’d been following Oscar prognostication circles in the weeks leading up to nominations you knew it was at least a possibility as she’d earned some pretty high profile supporters in Hollywood who were advocating for her heavily on social media.  I will say, there’s a reason this movie hasn’t been more widely seen, it’s quite boring.  It’s not incompetently made or offensive or anything but it does feel like a Sundance also-ran from 2004 or something.  The movie follows an alcoholic woman whose driven away her grown son and most of the rest of the family with her addict antics and gets sort of a last chance at getting her shit together by getting a job at a motel.  Marc Maronco-stars as her boss at the motel and it otherwise doesn’t do a whole lot that we haven’t seen in other better addiction dramas.  I don’t know that I’d go to bat for Riseborough’s performance either though I do see why it would have its fans.  This is engaging in the ever-popular Oscar bait tactic of taking an attractive movie star and having her “bravely” pretend to be an ugly lower class crone, and she doesn’t exactly do that poorly here but I can definitely think of other female lead performances this year that deserved that spot more including Danielle Deadwyler in Till, which seems like the one that was most likely pushed out.  Anyway, this isn’t some lost gem and I don’t recommend it.
** out of Five

A House Made of Splinters (1/25/2023)

Hot tip, this newly Oscar-nominated documentary is up for free on the BBC iPlayer, so if you have a VPN and are willing to tell some lies about having paid a “license fee” you can watch this there and get ahead on your Oscar viewing.  This is one of two documentaries nominated this year that touch on conflict between Russia and the Ukraine but only obliquely.  It was shot at a short term group home in Eastern Ukraine for children who need to be separated from their parents.  Some of the advertising suggests that they’re separated because of the conflict but that’s not really the case, most of them seem to have been separated for more mundane CPS reasons (abuse, neglect, drug/alcohol abuse, etc) and I’m not sure conditions at the home would be that wildly different if this were filmed at a comparable home anywhere else.  I suppose what makes this one different is that the filmmakers really seem to have been given a lot of access to these kids, in a way that occasionally borders on seeming a touch invasive, but it mostly stays on the right side of that.  The film ends up focusing on a kid named Kolya who’s really been acting out a lot and seems to be heading toward juvenile delinquency and even allows the filmmakers to follow him on some hellraising outside the home.  Ultimately the movie does come together pretty well and paints a picture of this home and it’s most dedicated worker pretty well, though I can’t say it’s doing anything too radical in its style.
***1/2 out of Five

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (1/27/2023)

When A24 released this movie in the early summer I considered going to it largely out of loyalty to that studio but man, that trailer just made it look really twee and annoying.  So I skipped it and patiently waited for it to show up on some sort of streaming service, and waited, and waited, and at some point it became clear that my cheapskatedness would backfire this time and if I wanted to see it I’d have to give in and pay the $5.99 to stream the damn thing.  Well played A24, I guess, and the thing that finally made me break down is that the movie got its anticipated nomination in the Best Animated Feature category at the 95th Annual Academy Awards.  I must say I find that nomination curious, firstly because of the film’s quality but even moreso because, well, by my estimation this is not an animated movie at all so much as it’s a live action movie with an animated central character.  I might even go so far as to suggest that Avatar: The Way of Water is closer to being an animated film than this is.  But regardless, is the movie any good?  Well, let’s just say that this is intensely not for me and pretty much everything that I found unappealing about the trailer I also don’t really care for in the movie.  There are some clever moments here and there in the movie and I found some of the moments where its protagonist, a sentient walking and talking seashell, comes up with clever ways to live inside of the movie’s semi-empty house but the movie never quite seems to know how smart this character is supposed to be.  He’s supposed to be clueless enough about things like the internet to need them explained and yet he’s also supposed to be smart enough to make sense of a news magazine show like “60 Minutes” so I don’t really get what this is going for.  My understanding is that this is all based on a series of Youtube shorts and I think that feels like a better medium for this because there are individual sections of this that are clever but sitting with it for ninety minutes was kind of tiring.
** out of Five

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