Thursday, July 19, 2018

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: TAG

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on TAG (2018, 100 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
Reviewing movies can have some benefits.  It lets you risk choosing those questionable films… hoping for some possible renewed life in a tired genre.  Like, say… Comedy.

Slap me in the balls!  This was not a refreshing, ice-chilled drink-of-a-film, refreshing to the comedic palate.  I could only have wished to choke on the ice cubes to end the dull pain from the brain freeze.

Based slightly on a group of friend’s tag game, one that has lasted years, TAG does nothing beyond what you would expect.  In fact, you will find all the horrible cliched roles spouting drab lines.  As it goes, the story centers around five friends who took the game of tag too serious.  Every May, for the full month, the last tagged friend will hunt down one of the others, using elaborate ruses to get close for the tag, then they join forces to continue on to the next.  What makes this year’s month of tag different is that Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the only one of the crew to have never been tagged, is getting married and says this is his last year.  

Starring a strong cast, Ed Helms (Hogan) and Isla Fisher (Anna) lead the charge as a committed couple.  ‘Committed’ being the key term.  They seemed to have the most fun.  Then along the way, you get Jon Hamm (Bob), Lil Rel Howery (Reggie), and Jake Johnson (‘Chilli’).  They are shadowed by a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca, played by Annabelle Wallis (THE MUMMY, ANNABELLE).   It was this original article the movie is based on. 

To break it down to its simplest parts:

Ed – the quirky friend needing redemption.
Jon – the playboy friend.
Lil Rel – yes, the ‘token’ black friend – typing this makes me shake my head in this age of cinema.
Jake – the stoner friend.
Annabelle – the naive on-looker to tell the story through.

The collection of scenes and one-liners was forced, leaving you wondering about the lost opportunities.  Director Jeff Tomsic (nothing stands out as notable to distinguish his career) should have smelled something flat and unappealing with this script.  Yes, the camaraderie could have been genuine if the actors cared in the slightest.  I felt no sense of real friendship, just mucked-up moments put together to fill the time. 

Skip this one… as I know you probably already had.  I’m sure you didn’t need these words to verify what you already knew.  Only spoiled, lumpy milk here.

Grade: D

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - A QUIET PLACE

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

For a while there, it seemed like Hollywood’s love of horror cinema was growing stale.  In some ways, it is.  Take the ‘James Wan Invasion’, for instance: honestly, do we really need another INSIDIOUS film?  Or another spinoff of a minor baddie?

Oh, yeah, that’s right—he’s currently working on TWO MORE OF THOSE.  Stale?  How about unoriginal and horribly rehashed.  Honestly—what moron woke up one morning in L.A. and thought, ‘what the world needs is a SAW PART EIGHTEEN!’.  One of the key components of the successful horror film isn’t repetition, so much as it is the rules those films set up.  With the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, it was easy: don't fall asleep.  GREMLINS was a bit more complicated: don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight, and no bright lights.  When the rules get broken in a horror film, bad stuff happens.

Yet there are still some original ideas out there that make for one hell of a ride.  IT FOLLOWS took the FRIDAY THE 13TH rule of “if you have sex you die” and flipped it, and Jordan Peele’s GET OUT was just a plain old diabolical take on race and society.  Now you can add A QUIET PLACE to that list of low-budget stunners.

What actor/writer/director/”The Office” alum John Krasinski does in A QUIET PLACE is so subtly effective that it creates a sense of dread and foreboding that never quite lets up.  It is a genius move, insomuch that it creates near-impossible odds for an expectant family in a post-invasion world.  Picking up months after an alien invasion, the Abbott family has learned to adapt; the invading aliens cannot see all that well, but darn, do they have sensitive ears.  You learn early on the means they must go to soften their footsteps, muffle their speech, have quiet nookie.  One peep could bring certain death, so theirs is a hesitant, softly muted world—and that, kids, is this horror film’s great rule.  Silence is the key to survival.

There are several terribly smart things Mr. Krasinski does with his feature directorial debut.  One is to have wife Emily Blunt star opposite himself; the chemistry between their characters doesn’t seem forced in the least, and you can tell through each tender moment of silence that they are the loving parents of a close-knit family.  The child actors also excel in their roles, most notably that of deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, who’s restrained portrayal of a teen girl searching for her place in a world where she doesn’t know if she’s being too loud is wonderful to watch.  Noah Jupe as brother Marcus also does an amazing job, showing unending range in his facial expressions alone.  Mr. Krasinski cast his film well, and his tight directorial style works wonders with that ninety-minute run time.

Another smart thing: that ninety-minute runtime.  He tells exactly the story he needs to, without any time-fillers or extraneous plot.  There is nary a wasted breath (or sound) made here, and the film keeps a patient pace.  It starts, quite literally, at a walking pace, and builds momentum until that breakneck, powerful ending.  No spoilers, of course, but suspense and tension building seem effortless filmmaking techniques here.  If Hitchcock was alive and still making contemporary horror films, this is what it would look like.   

Of course, the best way to enjoy this masterwork is in the Blu-ray format.  The scenery looks gorgeous, even in the film’s grittier moments.  And yes, sound is one of the most important devices used, so turn up that surround sound!  The special features include your typical behind the scenes doc, which sheds more light on those fine actors.  The standout feature, however, is the one dedicated to creating the sound of the film.  Not many releases include an in-depth look into sound editing, so this one is a treat, and should totally set this up for at least one Oscar nod (everyone remember that I said that, ‘cause I’ll remind you that I did once those Academy Award nominations are released next year…).  The only thing missing is a doc on the creature design, which would have been interesting to see.

Paramount Pictures has already greenlit a sequel, but I doubt it will be a continuation of this particular story.  Since Mr. Krasinski will be involved, I would expect something a bit more original than the usual sequel fare.  After all, you don’t create something this original and follow it up with more of the same.  That would be just plain insidious…

Film Grade: A
Special Features: B
Blu-ray Necessary: Most definitely

- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, July 12, 2018

‘SKumm’s Thoughts’ - ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

‘SKumm’s Thoughts’

I like to think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as being bipolar.  Now, I’ve never shied away from speaking publicly about that particular diagnosis (much to the embarrassment of my family, I’m sure), so I kinda know what I’m talking about—so all of you pundits and people that are members of the “You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About Institute of Asshats” can just shut yer yaps.  Because I’m kind of an expert.

For those that aren’t experts, here’s a brief explanation: bipolar “disorder” isn’t just about extreme bouts of anger—those moments could be considered the lows.  What no one ever talks about are the highs, the opposite effect of that anger.  It doesn’t necessarily make you dance in the streets with a giant, goofy grin on your face, but it does give you a feeling of euphoria.  In my case, it makes me spend money on gifts for other people.  Trust me—there is a big plastic tub in my room with presents.  I started Christmas shopping for this year THREE YEARS AGO.  And that tub does give me a big goofy grin.

As far as Marvel is concerned…anybody see AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR?  (Mild Spoiler Alert!) Remember how certain characters seemed to die?  It was, by far, the most serious and dark Marvel film to date.  Almost depressing in the feelings of dread and doom directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed to capture.

With ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, well…I’m happy to say you get the other end of the spectrum.  Returning director Peyton Reed not only stays true to his method of storytelling from 2015’s ANT-MAN, but he ups things a notch.  He smoothly and without any heavy-handedness makes the viewer more emotionally invested in the characters—yet he does it all with a dose of humor unique to this little corner of the MCU.  Which really makes this a better movie than its predecessor.

In this installment, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) figures out a way to rescue his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm.  He just needs Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) help to do so—well, he and Pym’s daughter Hope (the badass Evangeline Lilly).  There are several elements that turn this story about a rescue operation into something more, and I’d be giving away too much by describing them all to you.  There is the comedic action, the easy banter between Lang and Hope, the nearly unbearable cuteness of Lang’s daughter (played with amazing timing by Abby Ryder Fortson).

But then there is the guy that stole the first film.  You know who I’m talking about—that smooth criminal turned erstwhile danger-buddy.  The Man with the Plan, the man that goes to great lengths to explain EVERYTHING: Michael Don’t-Interrupt-Me Pena.  Watching him here is like watching him in the first film, only with a few more cans of Red Bull.  Honestly, who would’ve thought that a man that was known for such serious roles on “NYPD Blue”, “The Shield”, and the amazing END OF WATCH had impeccably honed comedy chops like this?  He completes this film, lifts it into that happy end of the spectrum high up in the atmosphere where the air is thin and makes you giddy.  Yes, he’s that damn good.

And for all the reviewers complaining about not having a terribly menacing and super bad villain, I say this: at its heart, this is a rescue caper hidden inside a comedy.  It isn’t Thanos.  You’re kinda missing the point.  This is, essentially, good summer fun.  If you are looking for brooding heroes and death dealing baddies, you went to the wrong movie.  Enjoy the euphoric end of the bipolar universe for a change and have some fun.

Because Thanos will be back next year, and I’m sure he’ll be sucking the remaining fun right out of the MCU.
Grade: A