Thursday, June 22, 2017

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: THE MUMMY

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on THE MUMMY (2017, 110 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
There is a new ‘Universe’ in town… the Dark Universe.  “What?” you may ask.  Yeah, Universal Pictures has launched a monster universe, exploring the classics.  For me, this could go either way.  I am a huge fan of good horror and monster films.  I spent many Saturday afternoons watching ‘Creature Feature’ with Dr. Paul Bearer.  (I still have an autographed picture of him somewhere.)  THE MUMMY will either help to add this universe to my “Look Forward To” list or make me sad to put another extended project to bed… or grave, if you may.

THE MUMMY is our first opportunity to explore this new line of cinematic reboots.  The early reports before release brought some potentially disappointing news, that the project was passed around like a cheap… well, you know.  And then, Tom Cruise had free rein to make some of the bigger decisions.  Based on this revelation, the studio seems to be grasping at straws, hoping to find some ‘universal’ traction. 

To speed this along, I walked out having to agree with everyone else who called it a garbled mess.  In truth, even with my often lenient criticisms, they were completely right.  The story was very disjointed.  But I also saw two or three styles reflected in the whole that each could have been a recipe for a good flick.  It felt like a mix of an old-school horror jumper, an action film similar to LEAGUE OF EXTRORDIANARY GENTLEMEN, and a continuous ode to the core monster films.  This includes Brendan Fraser’s THE MUMMY, which made me happy.  Director Alex Kurtzman, is a longtime producer and writer.  So, shame on him for allowing this to happen.  Should have just ran with one style and have completed a much more cohesive project.

The lady leads give you okay performances.  Annabelle Wallis (of ANNABELLE AND KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD) as the Mummy, is visually perfect but you never connect enough to care… and they tried to get you there.  Sofia Boutella (of STAR TREK BEYOND, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, and the coming ATOMIC BLONDE) tries to be a hard-nosed archaeologist but did not pull it off.  It felt like a lot of hot air and a pushy stereotype, failing keep pace with the more successful female empowerment roles these days.

Thanks to all the hands in the pot, we get a Frankenstein movie.  Sorry Cruise, you are not a Denzel Washington.  You do not have the true work ethic or vision he does.  So Cruise, why would you think it was a good idea to provide input on something that was not originally yours?  You should know your limitations. 

So, why go see it?  Because, the lack of continuity actually gives you something you never expect.  All promises are broken to the audience.  No true thread to follow to know the direction or how this story concludes.  That, in some twisted way, is the inadvertent genius of the film.  The special effects are impressive, the sets are striking, and the finale is nothing you anticipate.

Grade: C

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

A few years ago, the thought of a studio remaking one of their own classics elicited eye rolls and comments about how there is nothing original being produced in Hollywood anymore. 

Enter Jon Favreau; by turning THE JUNGLE BOOK into a live-action film, he created a classic on top of a classic.  Even though the film was heavy on CGI, Disney put all of their creativity, money, and faith into the project, and, along with perfect casting, created another version of the same film that worked so well that it stopped my eye rolling as effectively as a slap upside my fat head.

But then came the news that they were remaking BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and my eyes reverted to my teenage years again (you know, rolling all over the place) (and looking for hot babes).  The casting of Emma Watson sounded like an interesting choice—okay, if I’m being honest, she was the only reason I felt any interest at all in seeing the film. Her beauty and grace onscreen has set my heart to swooning on several occasions (if you haven’t seen her perfect performance in PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, get off your toilet and go watch it RIGHT NOW).

What makes this movie an entity unto itself is the fact that, even after watching the original again, the vision here is so fresh and visceral that you can’t even compare it to the source material.  You probably already know the story, so I won’t bore you with the particulars of the plot.  What sold me, however, were my two favorite musical numbers from the first being outdone with this outing.

“Gaston” is even more rousing and funny this time around, mostly due to the performances of Luke Evans (THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS) as “Gaston”, and the hilarious Josh Gad (“Olaf” of FROZEN fame) as “LeFou”.  Their chemistry and timing are perfect; Evans captures the suave cockiness of the character, while Gad swoons and cheerleads like no other supporting character has before.  And “Be Our Guest” becomes an even grander and more glorious stage production than it was the first time around.  Once again: perfect casting.  With Ewan McGregor leading the charge as “Lumiere”, the number is more humorous, and soars to new heights—yes, with plenty of CGI, but the quality of the animation is just as convincing here as it was in JUNGLE BOOK.

There are a few new musical numbers, but the most striking (and not in a good way) is a song for The Beast.  While I like Dan Steven’s performance of the cursed prince, his singing voice just doesn’t match up to everyone else in the film, and that particular scene falls a bit flat.

Director Bill Condon (DREAMGIRLS, MR. HOLMES) does one hell of a job with his cast, and with a story that, while it has been done before, hasn’t been done quite like this.  This is a must on Blu-ray; your speakers will thank you for it, as will your flat-screen TV.  And, Disney does a nice job with the special features, including a doc concerning the women of the film, behind-the-scenes production work (including those wonderful sets), and The World’s Most Entertaining Table Read. 

Disney’s next re-imagining—because these have become more than your typical remakes—will be PETER PAN.  Considering that this is a property that has failed other production companies in the last few decades, I’m surprised that they are going in this direction.  But with the successes of JUNGLE and BEAUTY, who the hell am I to judge?  I just hope they stick to the current formula they are using, because it is we the audience who win in the end.  (Okay, Disney ultimately wins, because we are handing over our money, but you get the point.)

Grade: A- (and only because of that one particular BEASTLY number)
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

-- T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

“Riots and Bad Voiceovers: The New Season You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

“Riots and Bad Voiceovers: The New Season You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

(2013--, NR—definitely for MATURE audiences, 13 episodes, NETFLIX)

Well, kids, it’s that time of year again—time to binge another show.

I know, I know; it’s summer, time to go outside and enjoy the fresh air, get a tan, frolic in the fields and roll down hills and other outdoorsy crap.  But the girls of Litchfield Penitentiary are back, and goodness, do they need your attention.

Season five picks up exactly where the last one left off—which makes sense for the series, as the fourth picked up right where the third ended.  Only this time, it’s at the very start of a prison riot.  Following last season’s shocking death, the women-only prison is in an uproar, and the girls are taking hostages.  I normally do not do spoilers, and you won’t find any in this review.  Just know that the season takes place over the course of three days, so it is faster paced than normal.

Also, there are more technical issues that I found kind of distracting.  I’ll try to be brief…

1)      Continuity: you ever watch a movie where a glass of water someone is holding is half empty in one shot, full in the next, and then down to a third?  That’s continuity.  All I’ll say is watch Red’s sleeve.  Or rather, what she has up her sleeve.  There are other examples this season, but that drove me freaking nuts.
2)      Voice overs: in the first two episodes alone, the re-recordings are horrible.  Audibly, it sounds as if the actors are talking through a paper-towel tube, or a really old cell phone.
3)      Editing: also in the first two episodes are three or four extra seconds to scenes that have no reason being there.  Honestly; television isn’t known for extra-long scenes.  It was like someone forgot to yell “cut!”, and everyone just kept staring at each other a while longer.
4)      Writing: yes, television (even in this new age of streaming television) is a way to escape the ordinary.  But that doesn’t mean you expect abject whimsy in a show about a woman’s prison.  While TV is a break from reality, you typically want something that adheres to some semblance of normal physics and laws.  And this season breaks a couple of those laws.
5)      Time: we are well past the point of the stars being able to pull off the “ten years ago” look needed for the flashbacks.  There are several instances where this looks and feels horrible.  Putting a wig on Danielle Brooks (“Taystee”) and pretending she is eighteen years old no longer works—nothing against Ms. Brooks, but the actress is almost ten years older than that.  I’m not making a comment about her age or her looks (she’s really pretty hot); what I’m saying is that I would have a hard time pulling off forty at this point, and there could have been more of an effort to try and make her look longer than throwing long hair on her head.

Now, the positives in this season are many.  The aforementioned Danielle Brooks does a wonderful job as Taystee comes into her own, finding a voice for the character that we have only seen hints of previously.

But my favorite, once again, is two-time Golden Globe winner Uzo Aduba as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren.  Having already won two Primetime Emmy’s for her portrayal of a woman suffering from mental disorder(s), her Suzanne is a constant and needed shift in tempo and heart.  She perfectly captures the hardships and heartbreaks of Suzanne’s struggles, pulling you into her trips with a gentle hand, showing you how her world really is, then roughly shoving you away to bear witness to her insanity.  I would expect a third win for the job she does this season.

Everyone else in the cast is great, but Ms. Aduba and Ms. Brooks get the most screen time, and this season is the better for it.  As disjointed and lackadaisical as the first episode seems (honestly, for a show in its fifth season, you would think the people behind the scenes would know how to carry momentum from one season to the next), give it a few episodes to get used to the many, many different plots to catch up with the rest of the season.  Not the worst season, and not the best; but if you watch this for any reason at all, do it for Taystee and Crazy Eyes.  Artists, I tell ya.

Season Four Grade: B
Series Grade: B

-- T.S. Kummelman