Friday, July 31, 2015

"SKumm’s Thoughts" - X-FILES: WEEK I






"SKumm’s Thoughts"

X-FILES - WEEK I
“The X Files” (FOX, 1993, 9 Seasons)

At this very moment, while you are reading this, Mulder and Scully are busy protecting you from invading alien forces. On January 24th of next year, the classic supernatural procedural returns to Fox with a limited, six episode run. I, for one, am giddier than an extraterrestrial with a human subject and an unlimited supply of latex gloves. I won’t bore you with tales of how this show changed my life (I don’t think it did, really, other than to give me a reason to be in front of the TV at the same time every week), or how it changed the scope of television.

However, at the time this show came out, there was nothing else like it on television. By taking the classic odd-couple scenario and throwing them into a new supernatural situation every week, creator Chris Carter knocked procedural television on its posterior. The first season made “Fox Mulder” and “Dana Scully” into household names in an instant. The writing was tense, humorous, and had a slight paranoid bent that would increase in later seasons. But the ending of the first season also showed that some storytellers were not afraid of a shocking death or two—decades before “Game of Thrones” came to HBO. The following effort represents the best episodes of each season, and not just because of the bigger alien conspiracy. Each season had its own share of 'monster-of-the-week' type episodes, and in some cases, Mulder and Scully barely made it out alive. In those instances, the show reminded you of what it really was at its core: the greatest mashup of Kolchak/"The Twilight Zone"/Stephen King short stories ever presented on terrestrial television. Pun thoroughly intended…

Now keep in mind, I am not giving you a breakdown of every single episode—I am letting you know which I think are the best to watch. Some are 'Monster-of-the-Week' episodes (“MOTW” from here on out), and probably aren’t necessary to see for the upcoming new season. But some are just too darn good to pass up! And yes, much to the delight of my children (read that last bit again, but put on an exaggerated sarcastic voice), I have painstakingly watched every single episode again, for the good of all mankind. Or, at least, for my Faithful Thirteen readers. You are your own Lone Gunmen, kids.

SEASON 1

Episode 1: Pilot
Important because it is the first episode, duh! It sets up the idea of Scully not just as the science to Mulder’s faith, but also lays a foundation as Scully the Spy—a plot device that comes up a few times in the first two seasons, but is pretty much forgotten by the third season. It also let’s you in on the device that will drive you mad: Mulder sees all of the paranormal stuff happen, and Scully comes in at just the wrong time…

Episode 2: Deep Throat
Test pilots go wonky on an air force base, and Mulder gets a friend in the government. “Deep Throat” won’t be the last one that will help him, but his aide helps set up the shady UFO conspiracy.

Episode 3: Squeeze
Doug Hutchison (“Horace” from “Lost, and creepy “Percy” from THE GREEN MILE) guest stars as Tooms, a liver eating, gooey Stretch Armstrong. His performance, which is repeated in a later episode, is the basis for every MOTW episode that follows. He doesn’t say much, but he doesn’t have to. Dude is creepy.

Episode 4: Conduit
A peek into Mulder’s childhood, and what motivates his staunch belief in extraterrestrials. And that all ET’s are bad.

Episode 10: Fallen Angel
More UFO madness! Mulder goes off by himself, gets arrested, and makes a short-term friendship with a guy with an RV that could double as a set for “Hoarders”. Also, aliens seem to have a thing for Max…poor bastard keeps gettin’ beamed up…not that Scully will ever see it…

Episode 13: Beyond The Sea
Best performance of the first season, hands down, goes to Brad Dourif as psychic serial killer “Dobbs”. He is disturbing, funny, and shows you what good use Chris Carter made of the wide variety of genre actors available to him. This one concerns the death of Scully’s dad, and a serial killer is on the loose. A busy, tight, effective episode.

Episode 14: Gender Bender
Sometimes, you wish the episodes are longer. Such is the case with this evil cult episode, which ends way too quickly. Not only does Scully get horny, but it’s another genre nod from the writers: sex kills. And, apparently, gender doesn’t matter all that much.

Episode 17: E.B.E
Our introduction to The Lone Gunmen—three book-smart dudes that ruin every other show that features scientific go-to people. They only show up once in the first season, but these well thought out characters become recurring and important tools in future episodes. In “E.B.E.”, Mulder and Scully chase a truck cross-country that just may have an alien tucked inside. And Mulder gets a big lesson in just how far Deep Throat’s reach is (notice how I shied away from any inappropriate jokes with that last line?) (…I got more than a few ready to go…).

Episode 21: Tooms
The creepy dude is back, but no one will listen to Mulder’s perfectly plausible explanation as to why he should not be released upon the world again. So, he stalks him. Hutchison gets to talk more in this episode but it’s his sly look at Mulder when he’s leaving the courtroom that will remind you what this show is really about: making you as uncomfortable as the network censors will allow. Also, we get to meet Walter Skinner - boss from hell, or crafty confidant?

Episode 24: The Erlenmeyer Flask
As season finale’s go, this one is a doozy. There are alien viruses, nasty green stuff, and a shocking death.

Up Next: Seasons 2 & 3, and introducing the “Digital Drawback” feature—you’ll get it when you see it…

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: MR. HOLMES







The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:

on MR. HOLMES (2015, 104 minutes, PG)

So, this summer seemed to have some lulls in its release weekends for movies. There have been a few times when browsing over my options for the week where I didn’t get that burning excitement to race off to the theatre (and I don’t mean THAT kinda burning excitement you sickly minded...). I would either choose the least likely to disappoint or one worth reviewing regardless of my taste.

I’m not going to lie; MR. HOLMES was not on my list of ‘must see’ and was the - least likely to disappoint. I know, right? If you know me at all, I am a die-hard Sherlock fan… in every way. I have read the stories, watched the shows, seen the old TV movies, and even wrote my own Sherlock story while in college as a tribute to Doyle’s work. I’m not completely sure why this choice was difficult, but I have a theory.

My first thought was having Ian McKellen as Mr. Holmes could become a possible sore point in my collection of everything Sherlock. I couldn’t handle a second go after McKellen played my favorite mutant (Magneto) who ended up way off point for my taste. I wanted a more virile and imposing actor to fill that spot, which he is not, especially not at the age he completed the project (61 at the time).

My defunct attitude was quickly changed as the story of MR. HOLMES unfolded. Based on the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin and screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, this beautifully crafted tale shows Sherlock in his later years struggling with senility and having outlived those he cared for most. The cast included Laura Linney (of CONGO, MYSTIC RIVER, and THE TRUMAN SHOW) as his frustrated housekeeper Mrs. Munro and a young Milo Parker, her son. Laura played a moderate antagonist, but not enough to feel she was interrupting the flow. For an emerging child actor, Milo crushed this role. He put you ground level for the story and made your heart soar or stumble down a darkened crack when needed.
 

Watching Sir McKellen work as both an engaging investigator in his later years or as an aged senior, retired and hiding away from the bustle of the world, who occasionally needed help with daily tasks made you believe in the story to the utmost. As most people have seen someone slowly consumed by age, your heart breaks as he struggles to write one last story, one intended to correct Dr Watson’s more lighthearted version.

With the acting clearly on point, the equally jaw-dropping cinematography of the English countryside, and the story held together by an intricate weaving of words, this film is worth more than just one watch. Bill Conden (DREAMGIRLS, THE FIFTHE ESTATE (which connects Conden to Benedict Cumberbatch, another Sherlock)) demonstrates his talent to not get in the way of capable actors and writers, bringing the production together as a director to create a memorable addition to the Sherlock corpus. And, I promise, no burning sensations afterwards.

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - EX MACHINA







'Blu-ray or Bust'

EX MACHINA (R, 2015, 108 minutes, DNA FILMS/A24)

Seriously. Why is the freaking future taking so long to get here?

I WANT A SEX ROBOT.

Why can’t I have Scarlett Johansson as the delightful little voice in my ear? How about Pris, but maybe without the homicidal tendencies? Hell, I’ll even settle for Maria from METROPOLIS. Right now, however, I’d like to have my own Ava… who isn’t really just a SEX ROBOT. She is the invention of a guy who spent too much time watching WEIRD SCIENCE as a kid, and now, as a horny geek on steroids, has created the perfect woman.

No, the ‘horny geek’ is not me—if it was, you think I’d be busy writing these reviews that only thirteen people (at best) ever admit to reading? Gosh no, me and my Sex Robot would be a little too busy with…things…like, laundry…and…car maintenance…

Therein lies the heart of the matter of EX MACHINA. Of course there is the classic moral dilemma of whether a computer or robot should be allowed to be self-aware, and what the implications of that awareness could mean to us more fragile humans. But there is also the ambiguous nature of said machine’s creator, and what his true purpose may be. The focus of the visual part of this film is ‘Ava’, played with amazing presence by the lovely Alicia Vikande. You come to look forward to each session visiting code writer ‘Caleb’ (Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, who has been in more films than you realize, but outshines them all here) has with Ava, and by “session”, I don’t mean anything of the dirty nature.


Caleb’s job is to see how well the machine passes for human, but not in a physical sense. And here is where we get to the mental part of this film; creator ‘Nathan’ (Oscar Isaac, capturing the over-confident zeal and bullish nature of a man who believes he is God) represents one of four emotions on display here (you can figure out the other ones, you know I don’t do spoilers). Each character here is exactly as their pretenses and flaws are meant to be. Each one is desperate to reach their intended goals, which, in the end, is really a lesson in how to be human.

When the violence comes (as it inevitably must), it is with a childlike curiosity, which grounds this film. It is poetic, horrible, but entirely necessary. The only part of this entire production which nagged at me was the fact that, waaaay back in 2013, a film called THE MACHINE told a slightly similar story, only there was all this military crap involved. It was still a very good film (available on Netflix, by the way); the ‘cyborg’ in that film was played by the very talented Caity Lotz. And her character’s name?

Ava. (I come to you not to make accusations, but to present parallels.) (And curiosities.) (I’m like a sick carnival barker…)

The special features are immersive and well worth the effort of watching all ninety of them. Okay, it’s more like ten or twelve, but there is a lot of information in there. This really is a must on Blu-ray—the effects are breathtaking, the soundtrack effective, and the harsh contrasts of bland coloring is like a character unto itself. Excellent production, excellent execution (yeah, there’s a pun there somewhere…).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in my garage. Building a sex robot. See you in a few years.

Film Grade: B++ (sorry, THE MACHINE clouds my judgment…)
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“Big Hair and Phones With Cords: The Old Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

“Big Hair and Phones With Cords: The Old Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

This week’s theme is courtesy of one of the Faithful Thirteen: I was challenged to review the best films from different era’s available for streaming. And what other time to pick than when the world was so uncertain, when the future hung in the balance, and when we were faced with that most indomitable and confusing period of our lives: puberty. That’s right, I’m talking about the 1980’s, when I graduated from high school, started working, got a car, finally got a girlfriend, and realized that girls were most definitely not as easy to acquire as they were onscreen (and was anyone in my high school really surprised that my one and only girlfriend looked a lot like Linda Hamilton? Seriously?). So I present to you the best of that era available to stream. To quote Marty DiBergi, “Let’s boogie!”


Family/Kids/Adventure

PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE
(1985, PG, 91 minutes, WARNER BROTHERS)


This is the film that introduced director Tim Burton to the world. I recently re-watched this tear-inducing comedy classic with my niece and nephew, ages 3 and 7, respectively. The fact that it captivated them as much as it still captivates me says much for a film that not only stands the test of time, but does so with a childlike glee that borders on insanity. A quick synopsis for anyone that has never seen it: some nefarious character has stolen Pee Wee’s (Paul Rubens, making iconic his character that he developed as a member of the comedy troupe “The Groundlings”) bike, and what follows is his journey across the U.S. to reclaim his most prized possession. There are more quotes and references from this film that you see in everyday life, be it from friends or other forms of media, than most other films. Just be sure that next time you stop off for a bite at a local truck stop, tell ‘em, “Large Marge sent ya.” And can someone please tell Amazing Larry to keep it down…

Sci Fi/Action

THE TERMINATOR
(1984, R, 107 minutes, ORION PICTURES)



Speaking of overly quoted films, James Cameron’s classic story of a soldier sent back in time to rescue the mother of a revolutionary from the clutches of a cyborg sent back in time to kill her still resonates to this day. Shot guerilla style in the night-time streets of Los Angeles, and made for only a little more money than PEE WEE, this is the one which breathed new life into the action scene. By combining elements of several genres, and leaning on the teachings of legendary director Roger Corman, college physics major Cameron was able to make you buy into the whole time travel bit with no questions asked. This was a time when practical effects were in their heyday, and some of the sequences he filmed are not just effective, they are beautifully rendered and brilliant in execution. I know you’ve already seen it, but go watch it again. Even the bathroom scene, when the Terminator looks the fakest, is awesome. It’s Arnold, and he kicks ass.

Horror

There were so many good horror films from the 80’s, and my two favorites are not available to stream: John Carpenter’s THE THING and John Landis’s AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. But the best available I would have to rank as an almost-tie. Hold on, let me try and work this out: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was iconic, bloody, and allowed Wes Craven into our brains. He made a household name of ‘Freddy Krueger’, and created so many disturbing effects and sequences that it had audiences on edge. Forget all of the sequels—there were a few good ones, but the first is still the best. And then there was THE LOST BOYS, released at a time when snark and horror seemed to breed unhindered across the film screen and the straight-to-video market. This Joel Schumacher classic combined teens, humor, and horror into an unthinkable R-rated gem. Featuring Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, he yanked popular matinee idols of the PG-13 realm and thrust them into an adult-ish realm of cool bloodsuckers that sparkled, yet had a decidedly evil undertone.

But, the best available to stream?

H.P. LOVECRAFT’S RE-ANIMATOR
(1985, UR, 85 minutes)


Director Stuart Gordon not only brilliantly paid homage to the source material he modernized it. He made a classic horror film reminiscent of the haunted house and mad scientist films of previous decades and threw in a good-sized helping of gore, camp, psychological horror, and outright outlandishness (head-in-the-tray scene, anyone?...). And while it did spur two inferior sequels, this is the finest example of the period: gore, humor, a great cast and crew whom took their jobs very seriously, and Barbara Crampton’s boobs.

Comedy: A Tie

Comedy/Musical

THIS IS SPINAL TAP
(1984, R, 82 minutes, EMBASSY PICTURES)


This proved another tough genre to choose from. There are a surprising number of great comedies from the ‘80’s on Netflix. Classics like MR. MOM, THE BLUES BROTHERS, and 48 HRS(*) are all fine examples of the comedies being produced by an industry over-laden with its share of films that weren’t nearly as good (meaning anything with Shelly Long and/or Whoopi Goldberg). Yet rising from comedic obscurity like an evil, midget phoenix with serious mental issues was the fictional band ‘Spinal Tap’. This mockumentary takes itself so seriously that even the lyrics to the music (sung and played by the stars themselves) are hysterical. Writer/director/actor Rob Reiner, together with some of the funniest comedic actors of the time, crafted the sharpest, wittiest parody of rock-and-roll you will ever see. With lines like “you can’t really dust for vomit” and “we’ve got armadillos in our pants”, this film really couldn’t lose. And the cameo’s…see if you can spot Billy Crystal, Paul Shaffer, and Bruno Kirby…but speaking of lines and comedians…

Comedy/Action

BEVERLY HILLS COP
(1984, R, 105 minutes, PARAMOUNT PICTURES)



…Eddie Murphy’s first starring role was such a commercial success, he seemed to skyrocket from his gig on Saturday Night Live to charismatic movie star overnight. However, 48 HRS had the distinction of also being one of the most racist films of the eighties. You wonder at how Murphy was able to tolerate the blatant derogatory nature for most of co-star Nick Nolte’s lines—hell, Nolte’s character “Jack” had an apology for Murphy’s “Reggie”, and even THAT was racist! While 48 is an important film only because of its horrendous treatment of Murphy’s obvious talent, and his ability to outshine it, his more iconic role of the ‘80’s was as detective Axel Foley in COP. The role cemented his status in Hollywood in a unique way—not only was he genuinely funny, he made a great action star. With 48 HOURS, his sharp wit, impeccable timing, and willingness to suffer every Hollywood stereotype that was thrown at him sent a wake-up call to Hollywood. But with COP, he showed that a talented black man could indeed carry a film, and should be trusted to do so. Pairing him with two not-so-intelligent partners made this the first of several films, which pushed the odd-couple dynamic into action film history (see: RUNNING SCARED, MIDNIGHT RUN, LETHAL WEAPON—all films of the 80’s, all capitalizing on this film’s success). But it also relied on the best attributes of each star, which made this film, at its heart, a hard-hitting comedy. It was also the first of his films that cast him as a regular guy, and not just as a black guy. This could be the best, and most important, comedy (if not the birth of a comedian) of the 1980’s.

Make up a queue kids and put me to work! Suggestions are always welcome, and your objective is to try and stump me—come up with the weirdest sounding queue you can think of! I double dog dare you!

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: ANT-MAN




The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on ANT-MAN (2015, 117 minutes, PG-13)

Superheroes come in many shapes and sizes. This one is a bit small...

Some critics found ANT-MAN entertaining and light-hearted. Others found it lacking, using cliché story points and seemed quickly pasted together. I found both to be true.

The jokes were plenty and kept with the Marvel formula. The film is good for a filler in the MCU and a fun-flick. But I found it to be an average addition to the collection. The simplistic approach to Ant-Man plays out well enough but I believe the director switch-a-roo may have been too much. Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, THE WORLD'S END, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) was to direct and was the major contributor to the screenplay. When Wright left, Peyton Reed (YES MAN, THE BREAK-UP, BRING IT ON) took over the project in mid-stream and did not fallback to regroup. We will never know if this was a good or a bad move on Marvel's part.

.... don't read further if you want to like the film and not be swayed by an over-thinking critic ...


Truth is, I enjoyed it without putting too much thought on the subject. The effects were great and were the strongest part of the film. Paul Rudd, disliked by many, was not as bad as people feared. This role fit his personality and he pulled it off, so suck on that haters. The bad guy, Darren Cross / Yellowjacket, played by Corey Stoll, was plain horrible, and I don't mean in the nice way. They made him out to be a particle-twisted, mad scientist. It felt like the typical approach from Marvel, to not have morally-ambiguous antagonists, keeping with a clear excuse to not have 'naughty' humans responsible for atrocious acts. Think about it; if you're not a deranged alien, you are either insane, mind-altered, or overly power hungry. They should have taken a page from 'Daredevil'! Marvel missed their chance to have an interesting villain, and will never catch up to DCU with this continued softballing.

The proof of rushing the production is with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly's roles and how they were portrayed as both their father-daughter relationship and contributors to the overall story. Knowing that these two fine actors can perform, I felt they were disconnected from their parts. I was not convinced, like I was watching clips from practice shots and the actors not fully vested in the roles. The transfer to screen made it more a collage of emotions with abrupt changes than a seamless development in their characters.

Like I said, it is worth a watch and better than some of the MCU films, but you will not find the strong writing you get from the CAPTAIN movies or the humor from GUARDIANS, and definitely not as octane-paced as an AVENGER movie. ANT-MAN will always be trapped in the second-rate category thanks to the need to compare it with the other MCU films, and the possible flubbage in not regrouping after a change in director.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - IT FOLLOWS




'Blu-ray or Bust'
IT FOLLOWS (R, 2015, 100 minutes, NORTHERN LIGHTS FILMS/DIMENSION)

The people who watch horror films can be a fickle bunch.

There are those purists who want their horror movies to be serious; there can be no joking and no straying from the typical formula. There are those that are collectors of awesome deaths. Honestly, who didn’t love seeing Kevin Bacon get impaled with the speargun by Jason? Or Johnny Depp getting sucked into his own bed by Freddy? There are those who can tell you the exact kill order in every single TEXAS CHAINSAW film. Some horror fans hate gore, others hate CGI, and others cheer on the bad guy.

Then there’s me. I enjoy every stinking type of horror film there is. The only thing I ask (and I don’t think I’m asking for too much) is that the movie doesn’t suck. Over the last few years, there are a couple of films that, to me, stand out as 'Horror Movies That Didn’t Suck'. That list includes THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, YOU’RE NEXT, and MAGGIE. You will notice that the last twenty-five PARANORMAL ACITIVITY “movies” are not on the list (because they all have a suckfactor—yeah, I just made that word up—of three million)(and six).

You can add IT FOLLOWS to the 'Didn’t Suck List'. In fact, I’ve got plenty of room for this awesome little doozy on my 'Top Ten Films of The Year'. A lot of other reviewers compare this to the rules set up by classic 80’s slasher films, the foremost of those rules being that if you are a teenager, and you have sex, you are dead meat (sorry, Kevin Bacon). While that is the basic premise here, the story, written by director David Robert Mitchell, delves much deeper than teenagers spending the majority of the film running from the slasher. Don't misunderstand, this is what they are doing. The difference is that the director takes the time to develop these characters. He gives his actors a chance to explore not just the moral dilemmas that push the story forward, but also their relationships with each other.

The rules of the film are simple: boy has sex with girl, tells her he just passed “it” onto her, and tells her to run, and at some point bang some other dude so she can pass it onto another victim. Otherwise, if “it” catches up with you, bad things happen to you. Like maybe you get Kevin Baconed.

“It” takes whatever human shape it desires. Oh, and it cannot be stopped. It’s like a herpes infected, armor-plated crab from Hell. A perfect and impervious villain whose sole reason for existence is to kill. And the greatest trick this film pulls off is that its antagonist WALKS. It does not run after its prey, it does not rush in for the kill. It is slow, methodical, and it will keep right on coming at you.


Technically, this is filmmaking perfected. There are long, slow, sweeping pans which create such a sense of paranoia in the viewer that you cannot help but see danger in every person walking in the background. The lighting seems natural in every scene, the music accentuates every scene, and the attention to every second of the story is continuity heaven (except for one glaring mix-up with a magazine, but I’m probably the only perv that noticed).

The special features are thin; you get a commentary track done by film critics (sometimes helpful and informative, other times tediously inadequate—we know you like the movie, but we’d kinda rather be listening to the director), and an interview with “Disasterpiece” (responsible for that totally effective soundtrack) and that’s about it. Therein lies the only drawback to this Blu-ray release—not enough stuff!

While only Mitchell knows what his next project is, let us hope it is something as original and effective as this. And while I hope he sticks with the genre (his voice is too fresh to make this his only foray into horror), I’ll just be happy to see him do another film... as long as some of his characters get Kevin Baconed.

Film Grade: A
Special Features: D
Blu-ray Necessary: Hells yes!

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: MINIONS



The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on MINIONS (2015, 91 minutes, PG)

The Quick of It -
There is a reason MINIONS topped the box office and became the second most opening weekend grosser for an animated movie. There is, but I'm not sure why. Half the movie is in babble-speak. It's like watching a dubbed movie with some half-crazed mumbler speaking in tongues the whole time. Ah, who am I kidding... everyone wants to have a set of minions.

Three doofs make their way into and out of trouble more times than I care to count. As heroes, they are villain-assistants who are searching for a master. So, you see, we have lost our minds as Americans, again rooting for the bad guy... but in the most lovable way.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - MAGGIE

 
 
'Blu-ray or Bust'
MAGGIE (2015, PG-13, 93 minutes, GRINDSTONE ENTERTAINMENT/LIONSGATE)

It seems as though every time you turn around, there’s a damn zombie.

When “The Walking Dead” premiered almost six years ago, it was amidst a dry market. The last undead work of note had been ZOMBIELAND the prior year. And while there has never really been a shortage of zombified fare, everything else around that time, including the quickly decomposing RESIDENT EVIL flicks, kinda sucked. The success of that show sparked a resurgence in Hollywood’s love of the flesh-eating corpses—or, I should say, the B-movie market’s love of a quick buck. How else do you explain A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE and ZOMBIES VS STRIPPERS?

With a rash of new productions comes everyone’s own take on the genre. From George Romero’s classic stiff legged zombies to Zack Snyder’s super-fast eaters of the living, everyone has their own ideas as to how to realistically as possible portray a rather implausible idea. It also seems as though, after the box office collapse which was WORLD WAR Z, Hollywood has learned that a mega-budget does not always equate box office gold.

Welcome to the world of eight-and-a-half million dollar, low-budget awesomeness.

With MAGGIE, writer John Scott III and director Henry Hobson, both first timers, deliver us a film that is excruciating in idea, detail, and execution—and is totally worth every long, heartbreaking take. The disease which afflicts humanity in this imagining is one that works slowly. The focus is more on the human journey to zombiehood than it is about people getting eaten, and makes for a moving experience. The surprise of this film is the emotion, the connections you see, feel, and come to rely on as the story unfolds. This is a story about the love of a father for his daughter, and, ultimately, the love she feels for him.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as “Wade”, a farmer trying to protect his family from the plague decimating humanity. When his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin, who can’t seem to escape the horror genre—and we really are the better for it) contracts the “necroambulist” virus, Wade decides to keep her at home until the last moment. It seems that it can take six to eight weeks for a victim to finally turn, and at some point during this time, the victim is supposed to be taken to “quarantine”, where they die. It is Maggie’s struggle to retain her humanity, and Wade’s efforts to come to terms with the inevitable end, that drives this film.


And if you think that Ah-nold isn’t capable of carrying a dramatic film, oh, dear, are you in for an eye opener. I hate to spoil anything by telling you that he had a “dramatic coach” listed in the credits, but that coach is a freaking genius. The fact that Schwarzenegger is able to actually make you care about the connection he is slowly loosing with his dying daughter is not something you should take for granted.

The special features are few, but give you enough insight into the process of making this particular love story. As all of the effects were practical ones—no CGI here—you don’t get much in the "how did they do that" category. What’s important is WHY they did that…

Just go into this film knowing that every aspect of it is there to tell a story. It is pondering, it is emotional, and the careful eye of cinematographer Lukas Ettlin sets a tone that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled. Enjoy the subtle, caring performances before the next TERMINATOR film is released and makes you forget about…oh…wait…

Film Grade: A
Special Features: B-
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freakin’-lutely

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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

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

This week’s theme is courtesy of one of the Faithful Thirteen: I was challenged to review “end-of-the-world type movies”. I’m going one step further, and calling it ENDS-of-the-world…you get destruction, world-changing aliens, and desolation. And if this doesn’t whet your appetite for visiting the far corners of the globe, I guess…well…you shoulda come up with your own suggestion, then! Now go watch things blow up and freeze. Leave me alone, I’m busy, got kids to neglect…

NEW ARRIVALS

Science Fiction/Drama/Foreign

THESE FINAL HOURS
(2013, NR (solid “R”), 87 minutes, 8TH IN LINE/XYZ FILMS)


If you have to face the end of the world, by all means, DO NOT DO SO IN AUSTRALIA. Those eff'ers are crazy. When an asteroid sends a tidal wave of fiery death hurtling around the world, every single Australian goes around the bend to Looney Town. All, that is, except for James who is a selfish player in his normal 'not-gonna-die attitude' way of life, and Rose, a young girl separated from her father. James is hell-bent on going to a friend’s end of the world party and all his rescued passenger wants is to be reunited with her father. This could have been a simple 'odd couple' road movie, but the acting is too good and the story too painstakingly crafted to allow this to become anything less than a story about doing the right thing. James is played by Nathan Phillips (WOLF CREEK, “The Bridge”), and he does a more than capable job of convincing you he is a total ass-spigot at the start. But watching how he and Rose (the amazing Angourie Rice) connect with each other amidst the chaos of imminent doom is a lovely and haunting thing to see.

Sci Fi/Drama/War

MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT
(2014, R, 119 minutes, VERTIGO FILMS)


This JARHEAD/THE HURT LOCKER/MONSTERS mash-up works for several reasons, but only if you are paying attention. A group of new recruits from Detroit are dropped into the Infected Zone of an undisclosed foreign country. It seems the alien behemoths from the first film have infected a desert in the Middle East and the U.S. military is hot on eradicating them. The only problem is locals are being caught in the crosshairs. The collateral damage is bad enough to give the insurgents an entirely new reason to hate the troops. So not only are our boys in camo having to fend off giant monsters from space, they also have well-armed militants to contend with. This makes for a nasty mix of violence. I’m sure there are military purists whom will tear this film apart, but it is the fastest moving two hours I’ve spent on Netflix in a while. Yes, the film borrows from several other classics, but hey, we’re talking about entertainment here, people. And the blending of genres works well for this film. My only gripe is that I’d have liked more monsters; that subtle use of them in the first film worked amazingly well, but here it kind of leaves you wanting. And don’t worry if you have yet to see the first one, it is not necessary to enjoy this movie. Although you really oughta watch that one, too…

Documentaries/Action and Adventure

ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE
(2013, PG, 91 minutes, ANTZWORKS)


I do not have the vocabulary necessary to do this film justice (but you kinda already know that going in…). Anthony Powell, a New Zealander who works in communications on Antarctica, took a whole bunch of cameras and retrofitted several to take time-lapse shots of the most unique continent on the planet. What he captured is the absolute best non-CGI special effects on film. ANTARCTICA gives you a year-long perspective of what it is like to live thousands of miles from a McDonald’s (Hell, if you ask me) or a Walmart (uh, Heaven, hello!). Half of this movie is focused on the unforgiving winter, a time of darkness and the most breathtaking views of the Milky Way you will ever see without use of a Hubble. By splitting time between the human experience and the natural wonder of it all, Powell captures a bit of every aspect of life (and death) on the loneliest place on earth. You can’t help but smile at the people who return when Spring arrives; pansies one and all, and the tougher blokes who managed to survive the winter suddenly overcome with social anxiety…wait, I found my brothers and sisters, and they live AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FREAKING WORLD. Again, amazing photography, and some truly unique people who are part-time residents of a world that has hurricane-force winds in the winter. Watch it with the lights out, and a blanket close by.

Make up a queue kids and put me to work! Suggestions are always welcome, and there are a few in the works for the weeks ahead. But I’m always up to new challenges!

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: TERMINATOR GENISYS







The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:

on TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015, 126 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
Last week, I passed this one up for TED 2. This week, I Arnold'd into a chopper. GENISYS is a true reboot for the franchise. They did well with making you feel the connections with the original TERMINATOR but the convoluted time paradox theme sent it spiraling.

The movie is a great one-watch. The action is real and the effects are great. There are plenty of plot twists and extreme action sequences to fill the time.

Weird as it may sound, Arnold seemed the strongest character. The others were muddled and shallow archetypes, lost in explaining what was happening. I scratch my head thinking that the writing is reminiscent of an 80's movie while Arnold was a modern film's character, if that makes any sense. Yeah, right??

Well, my hesitancy was founded concerning the breaking of the time rules for story purposes but it was better than I was expecting. I'm not saying though that this the reboot that TERMINATOR deserved.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust’ - WHILE WE’RE YOUNG



'Blu-ray or Bust’
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (R, 2014, 97 minutes, A24/SCOTT RUDIN PRODUCTIONS)

My first official Charles Grodin movie was MIDNIGHT RUN. Loved the film. The chemistry between Grodin and Robert DeNiro was this amazing, wonderful slice of movie-making hilarity. His easy delivery, his wit, that look in his eyes that told you he was letting you, the viewer, in on the joke. He could be deadpan, sarcastic, flippant, and just plain fun to watch.

Between 1988 and now, Grodin got old.

His role in writer/director Noah Baumbach’s WHILE WE’RE YOUNG seems almost an insult to the legend of Grodin, who has exactly two funny lines in the whole film. That is just one of the mysteries at the heart of a movie that wanted to be the hipster version of THIS IS FORTY, but becomes something…less, which surprised the hell out of me. One of my favorite films of 2012 was Baumbach’s FRANCES HA, a movie that managed to pull feelings of happiness and despair right out of you with a seemingly casual smile. YOUNG is definitely not that film.

YOUNG stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a slightly older couple coming to grips with the fact that they are over the age of forty and childless, while their friends are popping out babies like magic vaginal Pez dispensers. Enter younger couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), two twenty-somethings with bohemian tendencies who appear to be the easy answer to all of the growing pains plaguing Josh and Cornelia.

After twenty minutes, I was ready to turn this off. But you don’t do that to Charles Grodin. So I waited. Don’t get me wrong; there are a few amusing moments along the way. Cornelia attending hip-hop dance class is rather amusing, as is one interaction between Grodin and Stiller. But every scene that Grodin is in, he looks pained. He looks old. He looks as if he has a whole lot more he wants to say but cannot because this is Baumbach’s show, and he apparently is a censorious dictator who won’t allow anyone to let his or her character breathe. This is a big change from the carefree and loose way that Greta Gerwig carried her way through FRANCES HA, and it is a bit depressing.

This is not to mention the fact that the latter part of the film switches gears entirely. The story shifts so suddenly that you actually feel bad for the script. We see a character go from trying to interject some life into his situation to watching him struggle to show how righteous his ideals truly are. It pained me to see the actor have to move his character into full-blown “look at me!” mode at the drop of a hat (literally).

The special features, of which there are six, last for a total of nine minutes. Seriously. Grodin gets his own one-minute doc, while the director gives himself a full two minutes. (Insert heavy, disheartened sigh here) There is nothing revealing at all about the “special” features, and you get absolutely no insight as to what went into making this boring mess. I expected to see a documentary that showed how everyone on the set kept from nodding off during the production…

Perhaps this is a film best appreciated by the aforementioned hipsters. Or just people that live in New York. As a flailing forty-something geek myself, I had problems connecting with this film on any level. If I were more of a Woody Allen fan, maybe it would have resonated more. But it didn’t. It just pissed me off by including a comedy legend in a role that should have been for…say…anyone that is naturally un-funny. Anyone but Grodin.

Film Grade: D
Special Features: F
Blu-ray Necessary: Not for any reason at all

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: TED 2





The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on TED 2 (2015, 115 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
When stepping up to the glass, decisions have to be made. The dilemma this week - TERMINATOR GENISYS or TED 2. Normally, I would have quickly decided on the action flick. But after seeing the last trailer for TERMINATOR, I couldn't do it. I won't throw my opinion on what made me think it could be a waste of time, but it was enough for me to jump ship - sorta like Arnold jumping from the helicopter to smash his face into the blades of the pursuing helicopter.

I have to say that after watching the sequel to TED, I'm not sure which of the two was better, really. Seth MacFarlane's humor shines through. You get your musical tributes, guest appearances, and the side humor. (Liam Neeson's bit is enough to say this film is worth the watch!!!) MacFarlane shows his growth in movie writing and longer story development. The giggle-pacing is better and he gets you when you are least expecting it. If you are feeling down, this will take all your sorrows away. Not sure the giggles I would have had in GENISYS would have been appropriate. I think I made the right decision.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - THE LAZARUS EFFECT




'Blu-ray or Bust'
THE LAZARUS EFFECT (2015, PG-13, 83 minutes, BLUMHOUSE PRODUCTIONS)

As “Quicksilver” in XMEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, Evan Peters had one of the most wonderfully executed and well scripted scenes in 2014.

He ran in slow motion around a room, modifying the trajectory of bullets and fists and cookware. It was funny, it was thrilling. It was a beautiful, meandering ballet with a suddenly violent and satisfactory end.

Evan Peters is in THE LAZARUS EFFECT, and he has one of the worst off-screen deaths ever. You don’t even realize he’s dead until a few minutes later. It sucks.

Olivia Wilde was in a movie called DEADFALL, and she was naked. She’s kinda hot. She showed decent acting chops in “House” and “The Black Donnellys”. She, also, is in LAZARUS EFFECT. Not hot. Kinda sucky.

Ray Wise was in “24”. He was “The Devil” in the TV show “Reaper”, and he was an Army general in BIG ASS SPIDER. The dude was in stuff that just sounds cool. He is also in LAZARUS. And it still sucks.


See, this is what happens when a studio takes a worn out idea, throws it into a contemporary setting, and says “make it PG-13”. You get a big pile of suck. Billed as a “horror” film, they forgot to add the actual horror to it... unless you like the same scare tactic repeated nine thousand times in a movie. How many times have we seen the “don’t spin around because you know she’s going to be RIGHT FREAKING BEHIND YOU” bit? And how many times do we have to see it in the same flipping film? I’ll tell you: nine thousand.

Working on an experimental drug that brings the dead back to life, a freak accident leaves a scientist dead, and her partner with the ultimate dilemma: inject her with the drug, or be the douche-canoe that couldn’t save Olivia Wilde? So she comes back, only she’s bad now, and starts offing the small cast. Even though this flick is less than an hour and a half long, she doesn’t kill fast enough for my taste. It would have been different had this movie an “R” rating. It would have been different if the story wasn’t so darned predictable.

You want a better movie? Go watch THE HOLLOW MAN, the film this mess wants to be. Small group of people locked in a lab, one of ‘em is nuts, and there is an unrated version (see: boobies). Also, a whole lot of Special Features you may actually want to watch.

The downfall of LAZARUS is that you have a great cast, and they all seem to really be into what they are doing, which is filming a crappy script. The only rote scare tactic that was missing was a cat jumping down from a cabinet. Can’t find a cat? Ooo, I know—have the guy turn around and she’s RIGHT FREAKING BEHIND HIM!

I’d yawn, but I think I already disconnected my jaw with the last one.

Film Grade: D

Special Features: (Who cares? Seriously. Unless the special features are the cast talking about how great any other film on the planet is, would you really want to waste your time?!?)
Blu-ray Necessary: Aw, hell no.

The Smartypants Spoiler Synopsis: dog dies, doc injects dog with hooch, dog comes back as nasty dog; Olivia Wilde dies, doc injects Olivia Wilde with hooch, Olivia Wilde comes back as nasty dog, kills everyone. Boom.

T.S. Kummelman