IR BD Review: THE BEACH BUM [Neon/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

The trajectory of Matthew McConaughey’s career always belies a sense of adventure but also intention. However the particulars are interesting in what he is drawn to. Many are not commercial possibilities but more have to do with the nature of existence and sometimes not in a mainstream capacity. “The Beach Bum” as directed by Harmony Korine, director of “Kids”, is one of those weird amalgamations where it has a sense of style married with a stream of consciousness narrative. McConaughey plays Moondog, a poet extraordinaire who has fallen under the weight of his own ego, not by a sense of want but by a sense of wantlessness. He can do whatever he wants but chooses to live in a perpetual stupor through which to experience life in its most base or most full. With a cast of characters that includes Zac Efron, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence and Jimmy Buffet, the randomness of the proceedings is decidedly excessive. The idea of hanging out at local bars, mansions on Star Island and on boats is an alluring addiction for an actor but is not the complete reason McConaughey goes on the odyssey. Korine is seemingly shooting on very small or non-intrusive camera with available light. Some of the shots of Star Island take almost shots exactly to the spot of Scarface nearly 40 years earlier but doing so with an Oscar winner on the edge of night is a pretty guerrilla approach and does give the proceedings a bit of rawness. The aspect of no guilt versus the conundrum of the true outlay of who Moondog wants to be is left up to the ether. While society tries to contain him and make him expressive of their expectation, he throws it to the wind. McConaughey’s character is weird enough to hang on both edges of society and not adhere or belong to either one. One sequences has him trashing his own mansion with a gang of homeless people (who may or may not have been actual homeless people). There are fleeting perceptions of connection and love but without reflection or barely there impact in this man’s existence. Moondog is the tweaked out uncle of earlier McConaughey stoner ideologies but one slightly but not fully formed. While most of the man, through the design of the actor, is disguised in a haze as his wearing of women’s summer fashions becomes more pronounced, there are very lucid moments (though fleeting) of enlightenment. And the final resolution though bathed in metaphor is soundly and justly arrived at. Moondog is happy in his dingy boat, drifting through the bay of Miami on his back with a PBR in hand. Originally this reviewer had heard about this film at SxSW but it quickly disappeared in terms of an actual theatrical release. It again is an interesting addition to McConaghey’s filmography but, like many not completely full formed but an interesting experiment. The question is how many more of these moderately budgeted films will he be allowed to make before he moves into current Nicolas Cage territory…which by the way Nic is perfectly happy with since it allows him to explore those notions that fascinate him, as they obviously do with McConaughey. The problem in addition also lies with the trailers, as included on the disc. They tell the whole story of the film when simply a more abstract approach would have worked better than the more mainstream perception that might have been attempted. The BUM TV spots were never seen but have that abstract nature to them of Moondog offering advice in the Psychic Friends approach but in bad VHS style. These are inspired in a weird sort of way. The locations in Miami look beautiful on the disc and some spots are off the beaten path which at times, despite the yacht purveying mentality of the shoot, is interesting because the jumping of geography has the locations ranging up and down the coast of South Florida. “The Beach Bum” in an interesting experiment but one despite its intention seem incumbently both free and restricted under its own weight.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

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IR BD Review: GRETA [Focus/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

In playing the abject plot points of a thriller, the essence of the noir and gender roles always can play a basis in the plot. By changing the dynamics, the intention can become darker in behavior and motivated by different inklings of character. Granted the idea needs to be motivated but it also has to have the right actors making the progression work. “Greta” as a movie is interesting in its set up but gets a little sloppy in terms of its irony as it moves towards its conclusion. Isabelle Huppert gives a dynamic approach to a reverse sort of Hitchcock anti-hero/villain whose focus seems idealized but slowly falls into disrepair. Chloe Grace Moretz works in the same dynamic but in reverse with a inherent bravery that shows a lack of fear and focused intention. The ideology is understood yet the choices and decisions of each show a vicious nature and naivete respectively. However the want from both sides can and is misdirected a times.

Moretz’s character is completely correct in her response but also short sighted in her impact. All the characters see through the other’s lies which is why it is harder for the less experienced protagonist to outfox an older, more cunning adversary. Maika Monroe plays an additional key role in Moretz’s roommate and while her plot intuition and points are valid, her actions can be foreseen. Director Neil Jordan, known for his movies such as “The Crying Game” and “Interview With A Vampire” knows how to approach this kind of film with uneasiness but also with a sense of the macabre which made “Interview” such a dynamic film. Jordan’s films aren’t for all viewers but do approach the essence of human behavior in an alterior way. The way he approaches little details either in the way that Isabelle Huppert orders her wine or deals with her new dog gives the characters a sense of pinpoint accuracy without pure psychological definition.

New York gets a couple of moments though the main interiors seem to have been shot mostly in Toronto. While the film keys nto almost a “Rear Window” motif on the imprint of the initial trailer, its essence becomes more of a psychological thriller in the full viewing. The dark hues of shadows that are hallmarks of Jordan’s work are very much in play within the movies in the night time scenes. The wide shots in the entrances of the subway systems in New York also relay the claustrophobic expanse of the underground world.

The deleted scenes add some small elusive details that don’t summarily affect the plot but the aspect of the firing of Moretz’s character, Huppert’s research of her protege per se and a family member’s subsequent runaround in the legal system in NY do give a greater sense of the world and the requisite plot machinations. The “Enemies & Friends” featurette shows the essence of what appealed to the actresses from different perspective, not the least being creating a psychological thriller with 3 female leads that does not need a male focal point to help drive or resolve the plot. All said, “Greta” is an effective psychological thriller with a degree of tension balanced with formulaic structure using a different construct to propel its characters.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: SERENITY [Aviron/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

When “Serenity” was released earlier in the year, the essence of the cast and what seemed to be a noir structure gave it definite want-to-see possibility. Matthew McConaughey’s choices are always divisive but he has a certain idea of almost existential progression in most of his roles. The idea for example of making “Sea of Trees” or “Free State Of Jones” perceives to this thematic structure of his work. This film is no different though its blend of high concept and locale might be too much for some viewers to take or give patience to. With a director like Steven Knight, known for “Peaky Blinders”, the blend does have possibility but this is not Christopher Nolan or “Interstellar” for that matter. The comparison obviously moves in play since Anne Hathaway is a catalyst of sorts here as well as she was in that previous movie though in a different structure. The vamp structure she employs here might be a function of not just the plot but the rules that are set forth in the narrative. This blend of what motivates characters and indeed what their ultimate goals are is an interesting quandary within the story.

The film was shot on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off of South Africa so the locale has an otherworldly quality in that the viewer almost can’t place where it is. Many of the characters are caricatures in this way but again that is a function of the plot without giving anything away. In selling a movie, subtlety and the way a film unfolds is much more criticized than ever before which made this specific release even tougher.

What “Serenity” does have is almost an 80s genre twist while similarly on a restrictive budget but with decent or at least recognizable stars. Diane Lane plays a character that is almost a piggy bank at times for McConuaghney’s Dell. Again when it all is said and done…her character makes sense within the structure even if it is light. Dijmon Honsou who also starred with McConaughey in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” also plays a structural part in the idea. He becomes a voice of reason but also one that unbalances the motivation. Again a specific notion of the plot. Even Jason Clarke as the baddie per se, has a specific arch that is meant as a commentary on what the underlying structure of the story actually is.

Towards the end, the breakdown of exposition might have been too much for audiences to handle because, while it is an intriguing idea, the dialogue, even though it is meant to be stilted at times, overplays its idea. The exposition, in addition, tries too hard even though there are holes in motivation and plot which are too glaring to ignore. Also, some of the sequences and the imagery, especially the jump cuts and McConaughey’s venture through water, may be symbolic but mostly function flat. In terms of technical, the transfer brings out the beauty of the location but the slipshod nature of some of the visual effects takes away from some of the power certain sequences could have had. There are no additional material on the disc, so the movie simply functions on its possibilities which may in time form an idea of one of those genre movies that tried but didn’t quite connect. However it might be one that will be revisited in years to come.

C+

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: A PRIVATE WAR [Aviron/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

The interplay of energy and depression in “A Private War” is an interesting progression of sorts simply because it standardizes in a way the ideal of extreme situations. Marie Colvin, a real life journalist who was killed in Syria as she was covering the crisis there speaks to the personality of those who take on the most dangerous of jobs, not to fight but to try to understand the psychology and emotions of war…especially civil ones and why such battles are fought. The movie in its narrative leads to the progression and the realization of Marie at some point that despite wanting a family and a baby at certain junctures, those instincts were not as powerful as those leading her into war zones. And, as with most dopamine highs, the lows are reflected even more viciously. Rosamund Pike continues her portrayal of suffering yet extremely vital women who make certain choices to progress their lives further. She doesn’t seek understanding in terms of her character but does seek attention which is an interesting diametric. Of course human nature dictates a sort of deadening of the sense of regular life. Pike is never vain and shows her character in all of her realness while understanding how society changes in different modes of structure.

While most people, even her editor at the newspaper doesn’t quite understand her motivation, Jamie Dornan’s character Paul, a former soldier turned photographer does understand her travails. Dornan’s character is a thankless role per se and is quiet a lot of the time but is also an interesting choice for the actor who does take on more character based roles in comparison to his “Fifty Shades” work which undeniably follows him. The visual milieu of the story is also interesting. The director Matthew Heineman lets the story unfold in almost jump cut progression of Marie’s life as if her existence is almost *and realistically) schizophrenic. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, a genius in his own right, gives the movie an uncommon realism in its photography. While some visual effects are used, he uses Jordan in a very visceral way without betraying that it is not actually Syria or Iraq.

The eventual countdown towards Marie’s eventual loss in Syria seems inevitable but not empty. She was able to bring her perceptions to the masses even if sometimes she couldn’t fully interpret them on a personal level herself. Pike’s moments of breakdown with the character speak to this. When she is simply left alone in a shot in a hotel room with the camera resting on her does one get a full sense of the character she is portraying.

The extras on the disc are specific to the movie but don’t necessarily add any new insight. In “Becoming Marie Colvin”, Rosamund Pike’s perception of shrinking 2 cm because of the tense poise of Colvin does gives her movement credence as does Colvin’s real life photographer Paul Conroy speaking to Pike’s attention to detail as he watched her performing through a monitor. The “Women In The World Summit” Q&A makes sense but does not reveal any undeniable morsels. Finally, Annie Lennox speaking to the writing of the “Requiem” song for the end credits in the final featurette is brief but, in speaking to the opening verse, her explanation makes one realize exactly how she was capturing this woman’s journey.

“A Private War” is an intricate and perhaps overlooked element of the award’s season but speaks to Aviron Releasing approaching unique stories and mid-range pictures, which unfortunately, in the current moviemaking climate, is difficult to maintain on a theatrical level.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Blu Ray Review: SICARIO – DAY OF THE SOLDADO [Sony Pictures Home Entertainment]

Following up on a singular film like “Sicario” is a hard prospect. The essence is that bigger isn’t always better but also the texture of certain films cannot be replicated. Denis Villenueve (who elected to make “Blade Runner 2049” instead of this film) had such a specific notion of the texture with its sheer brutality and overtones along with a protagonist point of view and an extended superstructure which made it extremely unique. “Day Of The Soldado” fares better than most sequels simply because the ideas behind it are even more prevalent than when the first film was made and even since this sequel itself was released in theaters with everything that is happening along the Mexican border near San Diego. The essence is that the two lead characters of Matt and Alejandro (as played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro respectively) have to grow and be held accountable in certain ways for their actions. Of course, there is no way to parallel or even come close to the conclusion of the original “Sicario” which this reviewer initially stated in a way as a “reverse Scarface” after seeing it at the premiere in Cannes a couple years back. Here there is no true segment like that though one involving Alejandro in the desert is pretty wrenching and oddly enough sets another structure in motion that might be interesting to contemplate should the story continue. The director in Stefano Sollima, an Italian filmmaker who made the TV series “Gomarrah” on the mafia in Italy was a great choice but again is no Denis. However with original writer Tye Sheridan writing the sequel and completely understanding the machinations  of his world and Darius Wolski who has shot “Fight Club” & “Se7en” for David Fincher, the behind the scenes elements are up to scale. Even Isabella Moner who helped lead the most recent “Transformers” movie shows a definite range as the kidnapped daughter of a drug lord here and holds her own. The Special Features on the disc are succinct and very intuitive of the characters and what the film is trying to achieve from the locations and “making of” to hyperfocusing with the actors on what makes the characters tick. “Day Of Soldado” is not its predecessor but it does a good job in trying to maintain the bar.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR DVD Review: BROTHERS [Well Go USA]

The essence of mainstream Chinese cinema reflects in certain values and textures of the mythic. In Brothers, the ideal reflects back in the war in the 1920s between the nationalist and the communist factions in China. While the ideology is not specifically addressed, the specific story is integrated between two brothers indoctrinated into the army but ultimately through circumstance they find themselves on separate sides. The filmmaking structure of the technology according to the behind the scenes bonus features began in 2010 and the film was purely made on a stage with green screen. The look of the film reflects that mostly of “Sin City” and, to a lesser point, “300” (made in 2005 and 2006 respectively). Creating whole battle sequences on water and on mountains in this way is interesting but obviously labor intensive as the film didn’t come out until 2016. The conflict involves the older brother Wang and the younger brother Chen coming to terms with the men they have become and their loyalty to those they serve. The underlying narrative structure involves Chen being assigned after a particularly brutal battle to escort some female musicians to a place called High City for a performance. His brother, now part of an assassin squad, finds them and their conflict of ideals begins. While the dialogue is very matter of fact, the texture of the relationship makes definite sense as it does rouse to an almost blindsided conclusion until the resolution is structured. The bonus features also speak to the two actors’ approach to their perspective characters but the enclosed trailer does give away too much of the plot. “Brothers” shows the continually evolving market’s ability to try new things while remaining in certain element of mythic themes resonant to the individual.

C

By Tim Wassberg

IR Blu Ray Review: PAPILLON [Bleecker Street/USHE]

The accessibility of a remake always depends on the people making it and the necessary ramifications for such a pursuit. The ideal behind “Papillon” which was previous made as a movie in the 1970s starring Steve McQueen & Dustin Hoffman is one of showcase. Most younger generations wouldn’t have had a perception of such a story, especially one that begins in the 1930s. But like most great stories worth telling, the essence borders in the mythic. Charlie Hunnam portrays Papillon. Hunnam definitely has an eye for unusual material with literical overtones which might not necessarily give breathe to his marquee value but definitely marks him differently. He turned down “Fifty Shades Of Grey” right before he was to shoot it. While “King Arthur” didn’t succeed, “The Lost City Of Z” was an interesting choice. The challenge is obvious within “Papillon” for him but like “ A Prayer Before Dawn” from A24 earlier this year, the power of the story might not have been enough to connect with audiences. The aspect of Rami Malek, who now has reached a mainstream perception with his lead role as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, playing Louis Dega nicely complements Hunnam’s Papillon much like Hoffman to McQueen. Malek brings a quite reserve and nervousness to Dega which again shows his dynamic range as compared to say his work on “Mr. Robot”. The locations are interestingly vague yet specific. It starts out in Paris in the 1930s, all shot on soundstage. Most of the actual prison and interiors seems to be have been shot in Serbia. There is an old world dirtiness to the proceedings while including a sense of history. The essence of Malta is definitely felt in Devil’s Island (who many may recognize from the ending of 1980’s “Popeye”) The themes of escape and abandonment versus a sense of belonging resonate throughout the film. The film does get a bit esoteric during Papillon’s isolation time which is a creative choice but unbalances the progression. In terms of extras, there are a nice selection of deleted scenes though only two specifically give a specific enhancement to the film in terms of detail: one being the escaping band of criminals negotiating with a village of lepers and the other being Louis finding a sense of piece in gardening and caring for animals. Both scenes show a sense of gentleness both in Papi and Louis that maybe gets lost at times in the savagery of the prison. “Papillon” didn’t necessarily need to be made but those involve definitely show their passion in these continuing stories that need to be told.

B

By Tim Wassberg