Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Blu-ray or Bust" - MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION


"Blu-ray or Bust"
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015, PG-13, 131 minutes, BAD ROBOT/SKYDANCE)


I hate to admit it, but lately, I’ve kinda been enjoying Tom Cruise movies.

I know, I know, I’m supposed to not like him (see: JACK REACHER, ROCK OF AGES, KNIGHT AND DAY), yet lately…well…he hasn’t really been acting all Tom Cruisey now, has he? (see: EDGE OF TOMORROW, OBLIVION, M:I: GHOST PROTOCAL)

ROGUE NATION furthers the anti-Cruise Cruise movement; not only does he get beat up and beat down, but he also seems more willing lately to let other actors shine.  Like someone slapped him a good one, right in that chiseled kisser of his, and said, “HEY! BITCH-CAKE! There’s other people in the movie, you know!”


Case in point: Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner.  Pegg plays scene stealer “Benji”, the electronics guru of the bunch.  He is not the only source of comedy in the film, but he is one of the most reliable as far as the Average Joe moniker goes.  Yes, he’s a spy, but he’s a down-to-earth nerdy spy.  Renner is unflappable as head honcho “Brandt”, who keeps busy trying to keep the CIA off of Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) back for a good portion of the film.

There, however, is where ROGUE missteps.  In a plot-point not unfamiliar to the franchise, the IMF is shut down, and the agents are left to fend for themselves against 'The Syndicate', an unseen criminal organization responsible for several disasters/attacks.  The stunts and action scenes are as over-the-top thrilling as you would expect, including a motorcycle chase that blows away the boring one from the second film.  But some of the plot seems rehashed, and not as fresh as GHOST PROTOCAL was.  There really is only so much you can do in a spy film to make it seem fresher than the others in the market, which is where some of those crazy-ass stunts come into play.

And there are several set pieces designed to thrill and keep you on the edge of your seat.  Cruise serves as a producer on this film, and his adrenalin-rush boyish charm is stamped all over this production.  Not a bad thing; seeing him do his own stunt-work keeps the movie feeling real, makes the danger involved an imminent and palpable third character.


Of course I’m going to demand you see this on Blu-ray.  There are at least three different versions on the format, and it all depends on how deeply you want to infiltrate the filmmaking process.  The best includes a piece on the on-set editing, and another that shows more behind-the-stunts than you thought you ever wanted.  Very good presentation on Blu-ray, and worth the extra dollars.

As of this writing, the sixth installment of the franchise is in pre-production.  Whether the money behind the films can keep the sequels improving with each one remains to be seen, but this much is true: since J.J. Abrams directed the third, I’ve all but been able to forget the second one.  Keep ‘em coming, Tom, just be careful.  Good luck trying to top that motorcycle chase.
           
Film Grade: A-
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

- T.S. Kummelman

Friday, December 18, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015, 135 minutes, PG-13)


The Quick of It -
To start, no spoilers here. 

As was a tradition from years back, seeing a release on this level the opening night is a must.  I can appreciate not having to wait until midnight before the movie starts and go to an early-eve showing instead, but still would have gladly roughed it.  The energy in the theatre is not to be missed when there is such a devote following like this franchise has garnered.  You get to see people "dressed" for the occasion, cheers go up when the music kicks in, and a clapping audience when credits role. 


Sitting in the reclining theatre seat and seeing THE FORCE AWAKENS marked the end of a long hiatus.  All my trepidations over my issues with the previous films were finally put to rest and I got to experience a space opera in this new era of filmmaking being done right.  As with STAR TREK, JJ Abrams once again rejuvenates a Sci-Fi franchise with solid writing and thrilling action, making this my top STAR WARS movie.  Don't get me wrong, there are moments and clips that will never be matched in greatness but this was the most well thought-out episode to date.  The core characters are interesting and the plot flows, a symphony of epic situations. 

There are some stumbles but you have to overlook the logical parts of your brain sending out warnings when a space opera is involved.  The previous films have proven audiences can still do that.  There are a few questionable calls and plot holes but they can be forgiven.  I could have done with at least one more strong baddy to contend with for the good guys.  That would have amped up my fanboy for this new trilogy and leave me more excited for the next installment.


All the parts are there to know this is set in the STAR WARS universe.  The awesome score by John Williams, the incredible scenery and memorable aliens, and the endearing droids will keep you giddy in your seat.  You almost forget that this was not directed by Lucas... oh wait, no, not true.  This is what you imagine Lucas was thinking when he made his films while in the director's seat.  Thank you JJ, thank you. 

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Blu-ray or Bust" - ANT-MAN


"Blu-ray or Bust"
ANT-MAN (2015, PG-13, 117 minutes, MARVEL STUDIOS/DISNEY)


I understand now why Marvel saved ANT-MAN as the big ending to “Phase Two”.

Borrowing a page or two from IRON MAN by making an everyman actor into a larger than life hero, ANT-MAN is an origin story with a bit more panache to it than some of the other prior attempts.  (I’m referring to Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN, which, at the time, seemed pretty cool, but now just seems pretty corny) The polished Marvel Studios, which occasionally stumbles (THOR: THE DARK WORLD), played it smart this time by bringing the storytelling a bit more down to earth.

Ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) can’t hold a job due to his criminal record, until he is convinced by retired scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to don the suit he once wore himself to fight evil.  An easy enough synopsis to write, but, oh, does Scott have some issues.  An agile cat-burglar, he seems to lose much of his finesse once he dons the suit which shrinks him down to the size of a pesky picnic crasher, which is one of the few details of an otherwise tight script that seems to get lost in the shuffle.  At one point, we see Scott performing a form of parkour, but then has problems with agility once he goes all micro-Scott.

And the villain, scientist Darren Cross (an over-the-top Corey Stoll), plays to stereotype too easily.  Another mad scientist, Marvel, really?


Yet it is Rudd’s performance as a dad trying to reconnect with his young daughter that grounds you to his character, no matter how shady his past.  Rudd possesses an ability to make you like him; there is a charm and twinkle to his eye that belies the gravity of his situations.  If you were ever in a tight spot, this is the guy you want on your side.

Hopefully, there will be another solo ANT-MAN film, because lemme tell ya’, if they don’t make another movie with Michael Pena, I’m going to be a wee bit pissed.  As Lang’s ex-con buddy “Luis”, Pena, like the world’s greatest thief, steals every frickin’ scene he is in.  Writer Edgar Wright (whom bowed out of the directorial chair during production) may have written a great comedic character, but the life with which Pena infuses said character is a feat which solely belongs to him.  If there were a Super-hero Academy Awards, he would win Best Supporting Character.  He’s that good.


The special features are what you come to expect from the great machine that is Marvel, including an interesting doc on micro-photography.  And it is nice to see the studio still keeping things honest; in an age where other studios make you purchase the 3-D version to get all of the special features, I’m happy to say that Marvel is still including the same features on each release.

You would think that AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON would have been the big finale, but, once again, the studio ended its second bout of super hero flicks with a bang, and with intelligence.  ANT-MAN may not be bigger than ULTRON, but it is, thankfully, better. 
           
Film Grade: B+
Special Features: B+
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

- T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Eggnog and Abject Caroling: The Other Christmas Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX"

"Eggnog and Abject Caroling: The Other Christmas Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX"

Comedy/Holiday Favorites

A VERY MURRAY CHRISTMAS
(2015, TV-MA, 56 minutes, NETFLIX ORIGINALS)


You owe it to Bill Murray to watch this entire show.  And to yourself.  But more for Murray.  In what winds up having the greatest last twenty minutes of any Christmas variety show ever produced, Murray and company give you a tale of a failed Christmas special with more cameos and guests than you could shake a pine branch at.  The first half is charming and occasionally humorous.  The best part is finding out what a reliable singing voice Murray possesses, and how much Chris Rock needs lessons.  But the biggest surprises (and laughs) come at the forty-two minute mark.  You may not like Miley Cyrus, but that young lady blows every other performance of “Silent Night” you have ever heard completely out of the water.  And George Clooney accompanying Murray on a vaguely dirty “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’” is, quite possibly, the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.  Watch it, and be amazed.

Documentary

I AM SANTA CLAUS
(2014, NR—definitely an “R”, 89 minutes, DOUBLE WINDSOR FILMS)


Ever wonder what all of the Santa Clauses in the world do between Christmas Day and Thanksgiving?  This film explores not only the ins and outs of being Santa, but what it takes to become one in the first place.  Director Tommy Avallone and his crew follow several incarnations of the famous elf year round, giving you behind-the-scenes insight into the everyday lives of these special men.  There is a religious Santa, a lovelorn gay Santa, a Santa living off of social security, and other Santa Clauses from all walks of life.  One rather interesting story in the film is the transition of real-life professional wrestler and author Mick Foley’s transition into Santa Claus.  The film is informative, touching, and at times, downright hilarious.  Ever seen a drunk Santa?  Or a sexy bear Santa?  At a Bear Convention, no less?  This movie's got you covered.  Just keep the kids away from this one, okay?  F-bomb droppin’ Santa Clauses should not be witnessed by the young-un’s.

Epics

Sometimes, the best way to spend Christmas is with an epic adventure, or a timeless tale from the past.  So if you find yourself with two-and-a-half hours to kill on Christmas day, spend it watching something like, say…

GLADIATOR
(2000, R, 154 minutes) 


Still a great story, and masterfully told by Ridley Scott.  A Roman father goes from warrior to slave in this bloody tale of vengeance and retribution.  Russel Crowe is the hero, Joaquin Phoenix the douche-canoe bad guy, and the gorgeous Connie Nielson is the resident hottie (you’ll remember her as the femme fatale in THE ICE HARVEST).

Or, if testosterone and something more holiday-like is your thang, try:

LOVE ACTUALLY
(2003, R, 134 minutes) 


Okay, not really an “epic”, but it is long, and tells several tales of people connecting with one another, and the myriad types of love there are.  Funny, refreshing, and not too corny, it is the overall scope of the stories which make this something of an epic.  And the run-time, that, too. 

Holiday Staples on Netflix

Comedy/Crime

BAD SANTA
(2003, R, 91 minutes, COLUMBIA PICTURES)


In case a peek into the real lives of Santa Clauses wasn’t your thing, I present to you Billy Bob Thornton and a foul mouthed elf.  Thornton plays a mall Santa whose sole purpose in life is to steal as much as possible, spend eleven months of the year drinking and paying for sex, then doing it all over again in December.  The supporting players in this film represent a treasure trove of comedy: Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Tony Cox, and awkward Brett Kelly all get laughs, but this is a movie made for Billy Bob’s gruffness and style.  BAD SANTA is all about inappropriateness, bad behavior, and redefining what you really think about creepy mall Santa Clauses.   This is the movie you put on to drive away the old ladies and the church group.

THE ICE HARVEST
(2005, R, 92 minutes, FOCUS FEATURES/UNIVERSAL)


You’ve probably heard me clamoring over this tidy little tale of dastardly doings before, but you are going to have to hear me say it again: THIS FILM IS AWESOME.  It’s not a Christmas movie for the kiddies, but rather a cautionary tale for parents. And great noir.  And a richly drawn character drama.  And the funniest dark comedy you will watch all year.  Forget the fact that it has the best ensemble of any modern era holiday film, and forget that it is directed by Harold Ramis.  You are not supposed to like anyone in this story, but you will.  You aren’t supposed to find any redeeming qualities in these characters, but you will (for one of them, at least—and only then when that poor schmuck asks for pancakes).  Kick off the holiday season with thieves, murderers, strippers, MORE Billy Bob Thornton, and John-freaking-Cusack.


Remember, kiddies, if there is a genre you want a nice, shiny example from, let us know.  Otherwise, I’ll just keep watching whatever the heck I want to.  Which means I win.  You don’t really want me winning all of the time, do you?...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: KRAMPUS



The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on KRAMPUS (2015, 98 minutes, PG-13)


The Quick of It -
This was a guilty pleasure for sure.  KRAMPUS could be described as A CHRISTMAS STORY and CHRISTMAS VACATION have a run-in with GREMLINS, said with a Tim Burton flair.  A boy wished his Christmases could be as they once were and be rid of the family madness... and "someone" happened to be listening.

Writer-director Michael Dougherty, his only other feature length credit as a director being TRICK 'R TREAT, put together a fantastic Christmas tale that will be told through the ages (why a PG-13 rating rather than an R).  Visually, KRAMPUS was a haunting winter wonderland filled with fiendish pleasures.  The soundtrack by Douglas Pipes was a perfect blend to touch on the silly and dramatic moments, enhancing the overall tone of the setting, with sounds of bells, chains, and choirs chanting to create a macabre aural experience. 


The elements of a strong satirical-horror flick were in place.  This lovingly-dysfunctional family consisted of comedic stereotypes headed by a German matriarch to relate the lore, and the formula worked to highlight the punishments they deserved.  His Highness of Santa's darkside, surrounded by his impish minions, made for a great villain with devilish tricks.  I am still not sure if I'm sold on their interpretation of his facial design but it was effective.  Overall, this was an entertaining movie and I will add it to the growing list of holiday viewing, next to ELF and DIE HARD.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - SPY



'Blu-ray or Bust'
SPY (2015, R/UR, 120/130 minutes, FEIGCO ENTERTAINMENT/20TH CENTURY FOX)


Okay.  So.  This came out a few weeks ago.

STOP JUDGING ME, I WAS ON VACATION.

Kind of.  Okay, fine, I spent most of my money on Christmas shopping on Amazon (OMG, have you seen the freaking Lightning Deals?!?) and couldn’t afford to movie-shop.  And I was kinda watching Christmas movies.  And the first season of “Arrow”.  But this film is kind of important; if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to, and not just because of the star power that is, quite possibly, the best comedic actor of our time.

You have to wait for over an hour for Melissa McCarthy to let loose.  During that time, you are treated to the usual Paul Feig comedy.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are a few chuckles along the way.  But the majority of the best laughs are provided not by McCarthy herself, but rather by her costars, and one in particular.


In a performance so out of place, so unexpected, none other than Jason Statham carries the first half of this film.  Honestly, he gives a performance that not only is a textbook definition of what a supporting actor should be, but he steals the first half of this film.  From his delivery to the lines spouting from his tough-guy jaw line, he turns in a performance as hilarious as it is unnerving.  His obvious self-deprecation of a genre that made him a star is such perfect casting that he is this year’s answer to Sandra Bullock.  (You’ll remember the performance she turned in for her film with Feig and McCarthy, THE HEAT, which was an amazing comedic feat in and of itself)

But at that hour and ten minute mark, you can feel the film shift gears, and not in an unpleasant way.  To go from a male carrying the first half to McCarthy letting her bad-girl shine through.  Feig, although losing much of his comedic momentum by the final act, makes a strong case for men directing strong female leads in today’s cinema.  Interesting to hear the actresses of Hollywood up in arms about their treatment by the system that, currently, has a director and a star that seem to make very funny movies together.

At the point when Statham passes the comedy reigns to McCarthy, her abrasive, angry CIA agent “Susan Cooper” not only carries the film to the finish line, she does so with such brutally spat dialogue that you wonder how anyone on screen was able to keep a straight face. This may not be the funniest film of all time, but it may be the funniest of 2015.


The Extended Cut on Blu-ray is the only way to watch this film.  From the engaging soundtrack, which occasionally throws an exclamation point on an already good punch line, to the action on screen, this is a funny action film and should be watched as such.  The special features are numerous, including gag reels almost as amusing as the film itself.

Feig’s next project, while controversial, reunites him with McCarthy.  For those pundits who are crying foul at a remake of GHOSBUSTERS, I say this: give Feig a chance.  While I am a big fan of the original, I’m curious to see the spin he and McCarthy put on a classic.  The performances he elicits from his actors is nothing short of amazing, and while McCarthy may be great at her job, it is the surprises, like Statham and the rather unsung Rose Byrne, that make these films funnier than they have a right to be.

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

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: CREED



The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on CREED (2015, 133 minutes, PG-13)



The Quick of It -
I admit I am not one of the Rocky fanboys from long ago.  I know plenty who are and live through the 'Rockyisms'.

Mickey - "You're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!"

CREED is a true Rocky flick in almost all respects, carrying the 39-year-old film's legacy into the modern era.  The elements of life's hardships and personal struggle are there, as is the core of a good Rocky film.  The story tells of Creed's bastard son, Adonis Johnson, who gets put into group homes at an early age and then works hard through his fists to get out from under his father's shadow. 

The technique used to put the audience into the boxing ring was on par with some of the best fight movies.  It was beyond what I remember from any of the past or recent boxing films and made you dance in the footwork and feel the physical blows.  The choreography between sparring fighters and the camera put you in the action and reminded me how I did once enjoy the sport of boxing.  Sadly, the top boxing cards have been disappointing fights as of late and the tradition of boxing has been tarnished with shame and doubt.

Mickey - "Your nose is broken."
Rocky - "How does it look?"
Mickey - " Ah, it's an improvement."

Michael B. Jordan's acting range has been called into question based on his previous endeavors (FANTASTIC FOUR, FRUITVILLE STATION, CHRONICLE... "All My Children") by his sometimes uncharismatic presence and one dimensional character parts.  But re-teaming with director Ryan Coogler (from FRUITVILLE STATION), Jordan makes complete sense and shows he can play lead effectively.  The synergy in the simpler scenes and his everyday-man approach is a credit to both. 


Sylvester Stallone reprising his role as Rocky was effective in the plot building but seemed forced with poor integration when progressing his subplot.  Unlike Schwarzenegger's return as the Terminator, Stallone's performance did not need to carry the film.  Stallone did do well as showing an aged fighter and who is struggling with his loses.  All you could do is cringe and shake your head as you watched an icon suffer, even though fictional.

Mickey - "Why do you wear that old sweaty thing?"
Rocky - "It brings me luck."
Mickey - "It brings you flies."

CREED is a great addition to the ROCKY collection and any fanboy should find it an acceptable passing of the torch.

Grade: B

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: NO ESCAPE

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on NO ESCAPE (2015, 103 minutes, R)


Remember a guy who started out quietly in the movie industry, made a splash in BEHIND ENEMY LINES with Gene Hackman, and then big as a comedic actor? Sounds familiar, right? Part of the Wilson brothers… no, not the singin’ sisters--I'm thinking Owen Wilson, who still has a little spunk as an action / drama star after doing that long laundry list of comedies – ZOOLANDER, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, THE INTERNSHIP, HALL PASS, WEDDING CRASHERS, ZOOLANDER, SHANGHAI NOON, MEET THE PARENTS… whoo… etc... that takes care of that. NO ESCAPE didn’t make the biggest blip on the ‘critic's radar’ but is one exciting and traumatic ride. Wilson plays a father sent overseas with his family for his job but finds himself trapped in country while a coup erupts.

Writer-Director John Erick Dowdle takes all the things that could possibly go wrong while sent out of the country and puts this family through every trial. And, I don’t mean the frilly wine tasting and cheese eating fun, this isn’t Paris… too soon?... But wait; he then throws in the charismatic Pierce Brosnan as the quick-thinking Brit sent over to work with the previous government to help them survive. I wish he would receive greater recognition for these costarring action roles over these past few years. Liam Neeson gained major notoriety as an aged action hero, but Brosnan is crushing these parts lately, and not a word. He is never a bad addition to these castings.


The wife and children to Jack Dwyer (Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins, and Claire Geare respectively) were also great casting choices as they made you attached to their dilemma in a way that invested you in their survival. You can see the turmoil and fear in their eyes as they must escape (and do) the unthinkable. (I think these child-actors may need a few rounds of therapy to fix any damage caused… yeah, that bad… or good, whichever.)

NO ESCAPE may not be on your ‘must-see’ list but I think this film is a great example of Wilson’s range and a check list of why to never leave the great ‘U. S. of A.’ without first checking the news.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Obscurities and Abject Pandering: What You’re Missing on NETFLIX"



"Obscurities and Abject Pandering: What You’re Missing on NETFLIX"

NEW ARRIVALS

JESSICA JONES
(2015, NR—definitely for MATURE audiences, 13 Episodes, MARVEL STUDIOS/NETFLIX)



Hell’s Kitchen, New York, is a seriously rough neighborhood.

In Netflix’s latest original series/Marvel event (which takes place in the same town as "Daredevil"), the title character of "Jessica Jones" is one bad-ass lady.  Played by the versatile Krysten Ritter, and by keeping to the basic formula already presented in "Daredevil", Jones is a former hero/private investigator caught up on the wrong side of a bad guy.  Said evil doer is played by the wonderfully psychopathic David Tennant (taking a big step away from his previous role as The Doctor in "Doctor Who").  He is, indeed, a guy of low morals.  Thankfully for that rough neighborhood, so is Jessica Jones.


If Kilgrave (Tennant) is the opposite (maniacally speaking) of Vincent D'Onofrio’s "Wilson Fisk", then Jones has that demeanor the Daredevil was so afraid to adopt.  She kicks ass first, asks questions later.  Not to say that she isn’t haunted by her choices or actions—for the majority of superheroes, that seems to be where their greatest weakness lies.  But our Jessica has a bit more fun embracing her powers.  From the comments she and the lesser characters make, to the littlest and most subtle of actions, the humor here is just as gritty and dark as the series itself.

And unlike the "Daredevil" series, this hero is not the only goodish person on the show with superpowers.  I don’t want to spoil your fun, so I’ll not divulge too many secrets here.  But just keep in mind that Netflix does have an endgame, and it involves Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, and at least two other characters all appearing together in a future series called "The Defenders".  Kind of like "The Avengers", but with a much longer running time... and more blood... and more swear words.


This is where I think Netflix has established a stranglehold on the adult comics market.  This is not your regular terrestrial show, like "Arrow" or "Flash", where there is not a whole lot of moral ambiguity or PG rated language (see: "crap" and "gosh-darn-it").  By making the shows that take place in a gritty setting, and allowing a certain hardboiled-ness to permeate the dialogue, complimented with interesting camera work, Netflix has put its own unique spin on the market.  Kind of like how you know you are listening to a Prince song; it has that certain rhythm, that distinct voice, that absolutely awesome funk to it that separates the melodic piece from the rest.

The show is not perfect, not yet; some of the plot points of the co-starring characters get pushed off to the side and, in at least one case, abandoned and forgotten.  Which is a shame, because to watch Carrie-Anne Moss as Jessica’s sometimes employer and possibly corrupt attorney Jeri Hogarth is to see the best performance of her career.  She doesn’t chew the scenery so much as she lovingly grips it and starts squeezing the life out of it.  Yes, she’s that good.

The show is binge-worthy, but, as I must play the devil’s advocate, remember that season two will not be around for another year.  We will get the sophomore season of "Daredevil" between now and then, and if Netflix sets up future series the way I think they will, we may be seeing a regular rotation of four or five series every three months or so.


If they keep to the tempo of their first year, then someone please lend me the money to move to Hell’s Kitchen—I don’t want to miss anything.

Series Grade: B

Put me to work, dammit!  Suggest a queue for me to review, and get creative!  The holidays are here, surely you want to know the best Christmas action movies!!

T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - TERMINATOR GENISYS





'Blu-ray or Bust'
TERMINATOR GENISYS (PG-13, 2015, 126 minutes, SKYDANCE PRODUCTIONS/PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

“You are going to love this movie.”

That’s a quote from James Cameron, director of the first two installments of the franchise.  Apparently, when they asked him for a quote to put at the very top of the Blu-ray release, he was either talking to someone in a coma, or shooting up or snorting his lunch that day.  Honestly, that’s the only thing I can imagine:  Jim Cameron, slamming his face into a Tony Montana-sized pile of cocaine, and pretending a Titanic model is a big-ass machine gun.  That, or they were talking about THE LEGO MOVIE.

GENISYS is an attempt to reboot the sputtering franchise with new faces, new twists on the plot line(s), and new action sequences.  Some of this, they pull of wonderfully.  But when decent actors have to read dialogue written by someone that watched too many 80’s action films (and I’m referencing the ones that went straight to video), you long for the times when more attention to detail was commonplace.

There are one or two effects that the CGI just doesn’t seem ready for, and this also makes the film suffer.  The makeup effects are good, the props look great, and the sets are wonderful and big and blow up nicely.  The human exposition, not so much.

A conversation about time travel leaves one of the characters to utter the “classic” line “talking about time travel makes my head hurt.”  Really?  Your crappy dialogue is making my ear-holes bleed.  And the locker room conversation between the new Kyle Reece (Jai Courtney) and the new Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones”) is so steeped in re-used and over-done banter about an off-screen character that you wonder how many films the screenwriters borrowed/stole dialogue from.


This is not a movie that picks up where the last one left off (thank the Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus).  Because of that nifty, ever-present plot element called “time travel”, director Alan Taylor is able to reimagine the series itself.  By borrowing plot points from the first two films, he is able to wrap up any similarities in the first half of the film.  There are stumbles along the way, interwoven with some intense (and some trite) action sequences.

But the reliance on the time travel aspect to reboot the franchise is the same thing that leaves so many gaping plot holes, and some parts that just don’t make a whole lot of sense.  This movie is not horrible, but surely Paramount was looking for a better reboot than this.  The best thing about this film is the original Terminator himself:  Arnold Schwarzenegger has the best lines, and pretty much the best acting, in the whole film.  Go figure.

The special features are a bit long for the movie that came out of all their hard work, but the behind-the-scenes stuff is good.  The best doc is the second one, unfortunately titled “Infiltration and Termination”, which gives you more info on filming locations than most docs include.  If you insist on watching this film, the only way you should watch it is on Blu-ray; MOST of the effects look great, and the booming sound helps the overall feel of the film dramatically.

For a film that opened dismally in the US, the International Market may have secured a sequel.  No official announcement has been made yet, but grossing over $400,000,000 worldwide has to count for something.  Although the fact that only eighty-nine million of that staggering number is from the U.S. box office should also tell you something about the International Market…

Film Grade: C
Special Features: B
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: SPECTRE





The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on SPECTRE (2015, 148 minutes, PG-13)

"You're a kite dancing in a hurricane Mr. Bond."  - Blofeld

The Quick of It -
The fear of losing my favorite Bond is now very real.  While watching Daniel Craig's fourth film, my senses seemed heightened as I watched, wanting every second to last.  SPECTRE may not be the best of the collection, but what do you expect when trying to compare it to CASINO ROYALE or SKYFALL.  Expectations cannot be continued at such a high level.  But SPECTRE still hits to the core with intense action and a culminating storyline that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  You don't get to breath until about three-quarters into it, which may be why critics and fans complained about the pace slowing.  I, for one, saw it as the only chance to build on the characters outside of the nonstop action sequences and then to prepare you for the final push towards the epic conclusion. 

The acting never faltered, taking you out of a scene.  The characters each had their own motivations that ultimately moved the plot forward to the finale, which could be the end of Craig's tenure (rumors are all over the place).  Each played their part with the typical Bond flare.  Even Dave Bautista (Mr. Hinx) made you cringe and twist as he continually beat the crap out of Bond.  As if ever doubted, Christoph Waltz was the perfect choice to head the Spectre organization, the reason for Bond's continuing misfortune.  And the surprise gift was Andrew Scott playing 'C'.  You should recognize him as Moriarty from the "Sherlock" TV series.  Even though his role was not as crucial for the given conflict implied by the story, his screen presence made you pay more attention to a peripheral character (saying that anyone could have played the role but Scott made it far more notable). 


If nothing else, this film continued the Bond tradition of spectacular settings.  This made the film seem to tip its hat to the previous films by finding those highly exclusive and exotic locations.  As another tribute, the theme song 'Writing's on the Wall' by Sam Smith lived up to what was to be expected and, after hearing it a more few times, gave some depth in regards to Bond's past with its sorrowful melody.  Director Sam Mendes should be proud to have had a chance to be called up to direct another Bond film, and how the beautifully crafted piece fits into one of the top movie franchises of the world.

Grade: A

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - POLTERGEIST



'Blu-ray or Bust'
POLTERGEIST (2015, PG-13/NR, 93 minutes, MGM/GHOSTHOUSE PICTURES)

I love me some Sam Rockwell.

The actor, who seems rather picky with the roles he chooses, is one of the better character actors working today.  His quick wit and delivery makes him an easy choice for a leading comedic role, and his dramatic performances have been underappreciated for some time now.

But apparently, Sam must have been drinking his lunch one day when he agreed to star in the un-scary remake of the classic Tobe Hooper film POLTERGEIST.  Honestly, where the hell did his integrity go?  Does some weasel of a studio exec have compromising pictures of Rockwell with a lemur and two stoned midgets?

The script, written by a guy used to writing kids films (David Lindsay-Abaire) is mostly stupid.  Gone is the charm of the original.  While there are some delightful moments with the kids interacting with each other, overall, the script is dull.  It follows some of the plot points and “scary” bits from the original, but trying to modernize certain aspects of the film was a mistake.  Also, cutting out other storylines from the first because you spend too much time exploring the new stupid parts is… well… STUPID.

Remember that nasty preying mantis-looking ghost at the top of the stairs that brings Jobeth Williams to her knees?  Gone.  The pool?  Nope, not there.  (Even a freaking kiddie pool would have worked better than the bubbly goo…)  Practical effects?  Ha.  CGI is the true monster here.  Well, that and THE STUPID SCRIPT.

As much as I like Rockwell, stay away from this one.  The only good parts of the film happen before any of the “oh crap, my daughter is in the flat screen TV” stuff does.  And the special features?  Who cares.  The last thing I want to see is a doc about how to write a stupid script, or how to make a bad movie thanks to a STUPID FREAKING SCRIPT.
                                   
Film Grade: D
Special Features: D-
Blu-ray Necessary: Only if you are the same person that liked the remake of THE THING.  Then yes, by all means, buy the most expensive version of this film you can find.  Then, go buy a copy of the stupid script online, and kindly beat yourself in the face with it.  A LOT.

T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Obscurities and Abject Pandering: What You’re Missing on NETFLIX"


"Obscurities and Abject Pandering: What You’re Missing on NETFLIX"

NEW ARRIVALS

Horror/Drama

LET US PREY
(2014, NR--hard "R", 92 minutes, FANTASTIC FILMS)


This not-so-subtle and oh-so-bloody little gem from The Emerald Isle is a tale of evil, retribution, sin, and Good Vs Evil, played out in a small town police station.  New kid on the force Rachel (Scottish actress Pollyanna McIntosh) has a rather eventful first night on the job when the jail becomes populated with all sorts of evil doers, including a few murderers and a mysterious man that seems to wreak destruction by playing with matches.  A slight biblical overtone adds atmosphere to this thriller, which brings out the worst in its players.  You may sympathize with one or two of the characters; however, to intone Yoda: like them, you will not.  As serious as this film is (great acting, even better cinematography, and a careful and caring script), it is a fun ride.  And it proves a lifelong lesson: playing with matches is bad.  Seriously, kids, don't do it.

STARRY EYES
(2014, NR--hard "R", 98 minutes, SNOWFORT PICTURES/DARK SKY FILM)


Talk about unlikely performances... all of the acting here is fine, but it is (in what should be a star-making turn as "Sarah") the performance of Alexandra Essoe that gives this film its fright factor.  In a brave and totally unhinged performance, we see the mental and physical transformation a struggling actress goes through in order to land that 'gateway role'.  Gory at times, and absolutely visceral in its dealing with human nature (and beyond...), writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer have crafted a tale of horror that should leave you thinking.  And that ending is not a trick, it is perfect.

Drama/Thriller

THE GUNMAN
(2015, R, 115 minutes, STUDIO CANAL)


In Sean Penn’s first attempt to pull a Liam Neeson, the actor does a fairly believable job as a retired private security/assassin trying to move on from his troubled and violent past.  However, someone from his bloody time in the Congo is out to murderize him, so he sets out to get answers.  Never mind the fact that we are rooting for a cold blooded killer, Penn’s acting, which never is bad, shines through a script that would have had a younger actor yawning.  You feel his age, his sorrow, and his will to survive... especially when the biggest reason for him to keep drawing air into his lungs is the gorgeous Italian actress Jasmine Trinca.  She also happens to be the biggest problem I have with this film: she’s way too young for him.  Of course, Hollywood has no problem casting a younger woman to play the love interest of an aging star, but seriously, I’m forty-freaking-six years old—WHERE THE HELL IS MY HOT ITALIAN BABE?!?  Now, you will notice that, while Netflix classifies this as “Action”, I do not; while the film does have some rather exciting action sequences, this is not a spy movie.  It is not a Liam Neeson or Bruce Willis film.  Penn is all about character, and the pacing of this film follows the classic thriller formula.  Worth the watch.

Drama/International

LA MANTE RELIGIEUSE
(THE MANEATER) (2012, NR—strong “R”, 93 minutes, 7E HEART PRODUCTIONS)


This French film will surprise you in that you think it is about one thing, and it turns out being about something else entirely.  The bisexual Jezabel (the gorgeous and sultry Mylène Jampanoï) is a promiscuous painter living the high life (literally) when she meets Father David (Marc Ruchmann).  Her pursuit of the one person she cannot have is what drives the story, but don’t think for a minute that is all this film is about.  Filled with poignancy and simple flair, this is a movie that begs you to think afterwards.  It is a drama, so the subtle moments of humor are helpful, but this is a love story deep down.  Bask in its tragic glory.

You see what happens when you leave me to my own devices?  I’m still watching horror movies after Halloween has passed!  Put me to work, dammit!  Suggestions are always welcome, so get creative!  The holidays are right around the corner, and I’m always up to new challenges!

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: PAN





The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on PAN (2015, 111 minutes, PG)

The Quick of It -
Well, I bit the bullet on this choice and made it this week's viewing.  I was not sure if this was going to be worth the time but it showed promise, and when you don't have a clear 'must see', you go with horror or the unusual.  In this case, I have to say I am angered with Disney's marketing plan.  The trailer and promos didn't quite portray who the true target audience was.  From now on, I will not trust them again on their live-action remakes (except for THE JUNGLE BOOK, that is on my 'must see' list).  This was clearly a kid's movie and should have been presented so.  The production value was decent but had troubles with some CGI elements.  It had the classic over-the-top dialogue for characters to build and highlight the drama, a typical writing style for the youngin's, but a turn-off for me and probably most adults.  The story is interesting but simple, and brings magic to the horrors of a war-torn world.  There are those who will completely enjoy the Neverland ride, I'm just too tall...

Grade: B-

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"Blu-ray or Bust" - JURASSIC WORLD




"Blu-ray or Bust"
JURASSIC WORLD (2015, PG-13, 124 minutes, AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT/LEGENDARY PICTURES)

When I first saw this film, I was in a very crowded theatre, sitting next to Andre the Giant’s bigger brother.  Well no, I don’t know that for sure, but I hate basketball, and I can’t think of any other super tall dudes for a comparable behemoth.

When I originally reviewed this one, I mentioned that it had the power to (mostly) suck me out of my social anxiety disorder long enough to enjoy the film.  Now, in the privacy of my own home (okay, it’s really the front bedroom of my mommy’s house, but I’m a single parent, so bite me), I have the opportunity to pick this summer popcorn flick to pieces, like a less educated and less eloquent Roger Ebert.  A Roger Ebert that was high on methamphetamines and Cherry Coke.  Yeah, that sounds about right.

I was totally prepared to just lay into this sucker the second time around… however… dang my low expectation monitor, I LIKED IT EVEN BETTER THE SECOND TIME AROUND.


If you have seen any of the prior films, or saw the trailers for this one, you already know what it is about: kids go to park with real living dinosaurs, the biggest one breaks loose and starts eating people, chaos ensues.  Only this time around, there is a bit more humor, and a bit more attention on the characters themselves.  The biggest charm of JURASSIC PARK was its grounded feel; the characters you saw on-screen seemed like normal people.  That changed some with the next two films, both of which seemed more intent on upping the dinosaur factor and trying to out-do the last.

Have no fear: there is one big, new, badass dino on the loose.  And the special effects here are done convincingly enough.  But it is the almost loving development of every character, and the perfect casting, which steals the show.  Even though sometimes the detail of the sets is more distracting than the dinosaurs are… which gives us a nice segue into the bonus features…

…the first of which is star Chris Pratt (Star Lord) and director Colin Trevorrow “interviewing” each other—pretty cheesy, but Universal more than makes up for it with the second feature, a half-hour “show” that takes you behind the scenes and offers segments on almost every step of the process involved in making this humongous film.  By including interviews with the cast and Steven Spielberg himself, we are treated to certain aspects of filmmaking you don’t normally get to see.  Like what it is like to work with a thousand screaming extras, and how big some of those sets really were.  The studio has done rather well with the special features lately, and here the information is detailed and well worth the watch.


The next Jurassic film is due in less than three years.  The most hopeful thing about the sequel?  Not only will Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard be reprising their roles, but Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly will be back as well.  For the sake of entertainment and a dang good time, let’s hope they keep the momentum going.
           
Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Uh, let’s think about this for a minute… IT’S FRICKING DINOSAURS, OF COURSE IT IS NECESSARY.

-- T.S. Kummelman