Wednesday, September 19, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - DISTORTED

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Well folks, I’m not going to waste your time on this one.  No need to have 90’s ‘flashbacks’… if you were even born or remember those times.

The story focuses on a couple, Lauren (Christina Ricci of CASPER, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and SPEED RACER) and Russell Curran (Brendan Fletcher of FREDDY VS. JASON, RV, and AIR BUD), who moves into a SMART building.  At the start, you are led to believe that Lauren might be a borderline schizophrenic, having visions and nightmares.  She is your unreliable protagonist that drives the plot.  You are never sure how real her visions are.  So, when unusual events and the building seem to be twisting her reality, you are left wondering. 

In point, DISTORTED hinges on the audience’s fear of being watched, someone seizing control of a fully-automated building to mess with the residents… or whatever.  This is where the movie failed for me. Yeah, you could have pulled this off about two decades ago, but we are living in different times.


Having flashing images on the TV and other weird things, the undertone of a hidden agenda at play, is easy enough to sniff out. Her visions are mainly used as a way to interject jumps and scary pictures to create tension.  We, as a society, have advanced far beyond this fear thanks to the Information Age.  Everyone already knows that we are constantly watched, one way or another.  The government, cell phones, and even Amazon knows everything about you.  The 90’s and early 2000’s had a rash of movies on this topic…  BAIT, ENEMY OF THE STATE, CONSPIRACY THEORY, HACKERS, JACOB’S LADDER, THE TRUMAN SHOW, THE MATRIX (if you dare)… plenty of Orwellian stories.  DISTORTED did nothing to add to the genre.  Oh, and John Cusack, in his brief moments, didn’t offer anything to elevate the project. 

As the credits rolled, I didn’t even consider investing more time by watching the Special Features.  If you need the Special Features to explain the awesomeness of a film, you have failed.  To add, finishing this review se…

Film Grade: D-
Special Features: uhhh…
Blu-ray Necessary: Absolutely Not

 -- James S. Austin

Thursday, September 13, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - MILE 22

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

Directors sometimes find actors they prefer to work with, and stick with them through thick and thin, through good movie and bad.

Peter Berg is no exception; he and Mark Wahlberg have worked together on four films, and have another in pre-production.  Those movies (LONE SURVIVOR, DEEPWATER HORIZON, PATRIOT’S DAY, MILE 22, and the upcoming WONDERLAND) combined did not quite make enough money to justify this eclectic pairing.  It isn’t that either of them are bad at what they do; Berg is also responsible for COLLATERAL, the darkly hysterical VERY BAD THINGS, and the critically well-received BATTLESHIP.  Wahlberg—hell, Marky Mark was in the phenomenal BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE DEPARTED, and TED.  So, them jumping from project to project together comes as a surprise, considering that they aren’t as commercially successful together as they are apart.

Not that this film belongs solely to either of them; Berg has a style unlike many filmmakers, in that you don’t always realize you are watching a Peter Berg movie.  And Wahlberg…while he may be the brunt of jokes on SNL, he is a rather capable actor.  In MILE 22, he captures the frenetic energy of a government agent with obvious mental health issues.  His condition is never labeled, but it doesn’t need to be.  The viewer grows accustomed to his tics and idiosyncrasies quickly enough.  But the other actors in the film may be what drive you to enjoy it.

Rhonda Rousey and “The Walking Dead’s” Laura Cohan play two badass agents on James Silva’s (Wahlberg) team, who are tasked with transporting a foreign agent twenty-two miles (bet you didn’t see that one coming…) to a plane to get him safely to the U.S.  It seems he has the location of some radioactive material that could be used to blow up a whole bunch of innocent civilians, and he has provided the CIA with a disc detailing the location that is on a self-destruct countdown.  As if that timetable weren’t enough, the plane does not plan on sitting on foreign soil any longer than it must, and the route to safety is lined with assassins.  And targets, really.  “The Package” is played by Indonesian martial arts expert and actor Iko Uwais (THE RAID).  His acting is fine, but he’s really here to put on a stunt show—and he does, with a feline-like ferocity that, while fluid at times, is dramatically effective in its brutality.

The pacing of the film makes for a fast hour-and-a-half; Berg and screenwriter Lea Carpenter waste no time with fluff.  Even the secondary storylines, like for Cohan’s Alice Kerr, a divorced mom forced to communicate with her daughter and her ex through an app which doesn’t allow cursing, is a quick, effective breeze.  You get just enough to like certain characters before they get thrown into the mix.  This is streamlined storytelling at its finest.

The only problem is that it isn’t necessarily something you have to rush out and see.  At times, the action onscreen is difficult to follow, thanks to cinematographer (and Berg favorite) Jacques Jouffret, who likes to pull you in close to witness the effect of bullets and bombs and hand-to-hand combat.  It occasionally makes the editing during those scenes feel clunky, as it isn’t an effect that Berg uses consistently.

For some reason, there is a sequel in the works.  Hopefully Berg and Wahlberg manage to create something a bit more solid and meaningful next time.  And no, a film doesn’t always have to have a message on morality or make a social statement—what it should do, at least, is make a mark on its own genre.  And this one doesn’t quite get there.
Grade: B-

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - HEREDITARY

‘Blu-ray or Bust’
HEREDITARY (2018, R, 127 minutes, A24/PALMSTAR MEDIA)

It takes a lot for a film to get a vocal response out of me.  Typically, it is when a film is so bad that I cannot help but curse at the screen, begging for something other than the obvious, something better than what I am watching.

With horror films, my occasional vocal tirades come at the expense of idiot characters.  These colorful and quite obscene bursts of verbal abuse typically begin with the words “stupid”, “moronic”, and “douchetard”.  If there is anything I hate more in a horror film, it is one that breaks its own rules, or is populated with dipsticks and jackasses.

Yet when I found myself cursing at HEREDITARY, it was not at the expense of a stupid character or a poorly written script; rather, it was because writer/director Ari Aster did something I was not expecting, and jolted me from my typical movie watching position (see: relaxed) (and no, not from standing on me head).  If there is any one word to describe the utter hell through which he puts his characters, I know not what it is.  The movie is dreadful, horrifying, and sadistically beautiful.  He crafts a tale so wrought with menace that once it is over, you wonder how you survived it.


The tale revolves around a family that has just lost its matriarch.  After her funeral, things begin to get a bit…sketchy…at their house.  The fact that Mr. Aster allows the family to carry this film shows his trust in their abilities, and likewise, their trust in the material.  There isn’t a single performance which does not resonate in some way with the viewer.  From first timer’s Milly Shapiro portrayal of thirteen-year-old “Charlie”, who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere (even at home), to teenage son Peter (played by Alex Wolff of JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE) grappling with the quilt of death and the banality and doubt of high school, there are no minor characters who get pushed to the side.  Even Gabriel Byrne as dad Steve, who is struggling to keep his slowly disintegrating family together, shines at what he does.

Yet ultimately, this film belongs to Toni Collette.  As mom (and daughter to the deceased) Annie, she encompasses the difficulties of motherhood in a way that belays all guilt and minor transgressions.  One moment she looks horrified at something she has said or done, and the next she is doing herr damnedest to not be driven mad by what is going on around her.  Her performance here is a wonder, a bout of artistry which makes for an electrifying performance.  Expect a nomination from the Academy next year, if not a straight out win.  Yes, she’s that good.

The Blu-ray release includes several deleted scenes, and a making of doc.  But it’s the photos of the tiny houses that Annie makes for a living, little models of life which she uses to give her a more factual look at life, which are truly chilling.

The year isn’t over yet, but you can already mark this as the best horror film of the year.  Watch it with the lights off and the surround sound turned up, and when you’re through, call me so we can start our own support group.  For Aster, this is as good of a debut film as you are likely to ever see.

Film Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Oh hell yes

- T.S. Kummelman