Wednesday, September 30, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - PITCH PERFECT 2



'Blu-ray or Bust'
PITCH PERFECT 2 (PG-13, 2015, 115 minutes, UNIVERSAL)

The Barden Bellas are back.  And as much as I adore Elizabeth Banks and Anna Kendrick, part of me wishes they weren’t.

It isn’t that the performances are bad; the always reliable Kendrick (50/50, and the TWILIGHT films, which I forgive her for, because she’s so damn cute) returns as “Beca”, as do the rest of the misfit toys that make up the group.  These misfits include the gorgeous Alexis Knapp (COUPLES RETREAT, PROJECT X), Brittany Snow (HAIRSPRAY, JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE), and the usually hilarious Rebel Wilson (BRIDESMAIDS, PAIN AND GAIN), who plays “Fat Amy”.  The biggest problems lie with the addition of Hailee Steinfeld, whose character “Emily” is just downright annoying at times.

This is by no means the worst sequel ever made; Banks is a reliable director, and the cast works well with what they have to work with—which is a script that, at times, feels contrived and too well plotted.  The charm of the first movie was that it was surprisingly funny, and did not adhere to the typical Hollywood formula.  This time around, some of the scenes run too long, and some of the jokes seem too forced.

There are several moments that are quite funny.  Most of those involve Banks and veteran comedic actor John Michael Higgins (“Arrested Development”, “Wilfred”), who return as competition announcers Gail and John.  Much of their back-and-forth sounds improvised, which makes it that much better.  Everyone else in the film appears restrained by the script, but these two look like they are having the most fun.

 
The plot of the film is such: the Bellas are humiliated during a birthday performance for the President when Fat Amy’s pants split from the back to the front, spilling out her lady-parts.  To regain their reputation and to be admitted back into the school a capella program, the ladies enter the World Championship, and their rivals this time are a daunting German group called “Das Sound Machine”.  The Germans are all about production, so the Bellas have to step up their game, regain their confidence, and find their group voice to overcome the dastardly good…yeah, okay, that totally sounds like a frigging Disney movie or After School Special.  But that’s exactly how parts of this movie feel.

And Steinfeld… if her character had only one quirky trait, it would have been a more honest performance.  But to go from giddily psychotic one minute to mousy and demure the next totally belies the possible capabilities of this talented actress.  Her performance in TRUE GRIT was phenomenal for her age, and her inclusion in this film feels more like a payday than it does an interest in the material.

Thank goodness Keegan-Michael Key as an abrasive record producer is on hand to steal every single scene he appears.  The absence of Fat Amy’s humor is obvious, and Banks couldn’t have picked anyone better than Key to pick up the slack.

The special features include several extended music performances; quite frankly, I was worn out of the a capella bit by the time Amy is rowing a boat across a lake and singing solo to her boy-toy.  The gag reel is underwhelming—even some of the mess ups appear forced.  I’m sure everyone had a blast filming it, but that feeling did not come across in the finished product.  The musical premise of this film necessitates that you get this on Blu-ray.  No, there are no special effects to feast your eyes on, but your ears will appreciate the effort.  The groups cover several different genres, and it sounds better in digital surround

If you are a big fan of the first film, do yourself a favor and stay away from this one.  It doesn’t seem so much re-hashed as it does overdone.  And in case you were worried, PITCH PERFECT 3 is already in pre-production.  Just don’t expect me to review it… I’ll be busy… watching HUNGER GAMES or pulling my teeth out or something…
           
Film Grade: C
Special Features: D
Blu-ray Necessary:  If you like the music, yes.  If you don’t like the music, why the hell are you reading this review anyway?

Friday, September 25, 2015

"SKumm’s Thoughts" - X-FILES - Week VIII



"SKumm’s Thoughts"

X-FILES - Week VIII
“The X Files” (FOX, 1993, 9 Seasons)

Why Mulder Went Bye-bye

The end of season seven was the mother of all cliffhangers.

Mulder is abducted, Scully is pregnant, “dogs and cats, living together!  MASS HYSTERIA!!”  But you could feel the set-up happening throughout that season; with the tone of the show, how that season began, and how it proceeded, was all about a change of the guard.

Think about it:  David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had been at it for seven years straight.  Plus a freakin’ movie!  So when Duchovny entered contract negotiations, the future of the show wasn’t so much in question as HIS future on the show was.  Chris Carter, benevolent demi-God that he is, realized that Mulder’s character was starting to fray a bit.  There were too many plots afloat by this juncture to end his role as lead on the show suddenly, which would leave too many unanswered questions.  The fans would have jumped ship—many of them did during season eight anyways.  Make major changes to a show which features the best chemistry between two leads, and you are bound to lose a few viewers.

Remember what happened to “Moonlighting”?  “Cheers”?  At least those leads got to get it on before the demise of the shows, even if that is what caused them to fail…

The big differences, besides Scully getting a new partner before slowly being written out of the show herself, are these: during the main titles, Duchovny’s name only appears during the episodes he is in, which was roughly half of that season’s shows.  Scully has taken over the role of believer, and her new partner, John Doggett, is the skeptical one.  Anderson does an excellent job making the transition believable.  Half the time, she seems lost without Mulder, and the look on her face when she is struggling with a plausible yet fantastical explanation is a wonderful touch.

So the seventh season was an end of times move, and season eight had the audacious task of transitioning to a new beginning (the ninth and final season).  Carter took the entirety of the seventh to work Mulder out, and all of the eighth to try and get you used to the changes.  Carter never lost his vision, but losing his leads would mean the death knell of a beloved show that broke barriers and boundaries, and provided years of entertainment for a voracious fan-base.

(Next week: Season Eight)

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: BLACK MASS



The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on BLACK MASS (2015, 122 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
I may not be the best person to review a 'based on a true story' film.  They always seem lacking to me... and this is the case here, possibly justified.  Don't get me wrong, these movies are at the core a tough project to capture on film, to have a real-world pacing that promises to keep the audience engaged.  For me, BLACK MASS struggles, almost to the point of dragging ass along the carpet in short spurts.  The acting is above par, which is no surprise with such an intense cast.  The cinematography and on-screen character interaction are strong, as director Scott Cooper proved he can in OUT OF THE FURNACE.  But the story seemed so ephemeral and never pushing into the darker history of the man that is James 'Whitey' Bulger.  The narrative treatment of having the tale told through third party perspectives may have been intentional and clever, but this style of storytelling made the process lackluster in the end.  The action you hope to see is quickly glossed over or never touched.  You almost feel that everyone involved was afraid to expose the greater demons hidden deeper in the truth for fear of retaliation.  Who knows...

Grade: C+

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

“Blu-ray or Bust” - FURIOUS 7







“Blu-ray or Bust”

FURIOUS 7 (2015, PG-13, 137 minutes, MEDIA RIGHTS CAPITAL/UNIVERSAL)

Allow me to make one thing perfectly clear: I hated the first film.  Couldn’t even finish watching it.

The acting was horrible and the writing horrendous (my butt produces better dialogue on Taco Salad Tuesdays).  It was trying to be POINT BREAK with cars.  I made it an hour in and got to a scene where Vin Diesel (at the time, I remember wondering if that was his stripper name, or did he find it at that awesome rest stop called “South of the Border”, stamped into the bottom of a snow globe—MADE IN VINDIESEL, or something of that nature) is sitting at a picnic table, trying to act.  The “dialogue” was such that it broke the state of stupidity the film had thrown me into, and I was able to flee the room, screaming like a bee-stung infant, able to cling to the tiny part of my intelligence that still remained.

I have not watched any of the other films since then.  Steered clear of them, like a recovering crack addict stays away from pipe cleaners.  So why attempt to watch one of the sequels now?

Because of ‘The Rock’.  And, Diesel’s acting has improved markedly since that first turd hit the screens.  And because if this film represents the finale of the late Paul Walker’s career, I figure I should at least find out what all of the fuss was about.

Turns out, this film is better than the first.  It isn’t great; it is not a cinematic masterpiece, it isn’t a flawless example of how great film can be, and it certainly is not a lesson in physics.  The key is to go in looking to be entertained.  That is what these films are: high adrenaline stunts in settings that try to outdo the previous crazy-as-hell spectacles of eye candy.  The story itself is not very complicated; it can’t be, or its target audience would be bored and confused.  The story is about a crew of speed and reckless endangerment junkies being hunted down by the brother (Jason Statham) of the baddie from the previous film.  Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the last thirty films—I didn’t either, and I wasn’t lost.  The only things you should know going in is that Walker’s character has a wife (the sister of Diesel’s “Dom”) and a baby, and Michelle Rodriguez cannot remember a thing from the previous movies (which I suspect is on purpose—I mean, does she really want to remember?  I wouldn’t…).


The rest is cars driving out of airplanes, cars building-hopping, and cars zooming through the streets.  The Rock shows up with a gun as big as his own guns, Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson are on hand to crack wise, and the director, James Wan, lets us see how big his mental testicles really are.

Again, it’s entertainment for the sheer sake of entertainment, and if the tribute to Walker at the end feels like it runs a wee bit long, forgive the filmmakers; no matter how much I hate the first film, this is a seven film franchise.  If it were not successful, if it did not have a fan base, none of the spectacle would matter.

There are several special features on the disc, included a thirty-minute long piece during which Wan breaks down several key scenes (aka, stunts).  They also show you how they did the stunt with the C-130, which is pretty cool.

Diesel and Statham will both be on hand for the next installment of a franchise that, from this outing, is starting to resemble THE EXPENDABLES in that they are attracting other action stars.  One of the biggest payoffs of this film is watching Kurt Russel back in action.  And, it will be interesting to see what stunts they can come up with for the eighth go-round. Mark my words now: they’ve conquered land and air—aquatic cars, anyone?

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

T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

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


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

NEW ARRIVALS

Drama/Crime/International

THE SUICIDE THEORY
(2015, R, 96 minutes, SEVEN8 MEDIA)


This Australian film is one of the best character driven thrillers available on Netflix right now.  Steven (Steve Mouzakis, of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and I, FRANKENSTEIN) is a hitman hired by Percival (Leon Cain, from Fox’s short lived “Terra Nova”) to kill him.  It seems Percival has had a difficult time dying by his own hand and wants an assist from a professional.  Needless to say, a friendship forms between the two as Percival survives each murder attempt by Steven.  To say much more about the plot would ruin the experience.  Just know that this exquisitely crafted tale of absolution is more about the tragedy of man than it is his strive for retribution or forgiveness.  The performances by Mouzakis and Cain are wonderfully detailed; Steven has nothing left to lose, and the gay Percival wants to lose what he is left with—his life.  A mind-blowing journey that shows how people react to that one tragic moment when life suddenly and irrevocably changes.

Drama/International/Action

THE DEAD LANDS
(2014, R, 107 minutes, GENERAL FILM CORPORATION/XYZ FILMS)


Filmed in New Zealand and spoken in that country’s native Maori language, this film of retribution and spirituality centers on the son of a dead chieftain.  His village slaughtered by another tribe, he sets off to deliver repayment to the spirits with the aid of “The Monster”, the brutal inhabitant of a cursed part of the forest.  What follows is a bloody, unapologetic look at how these Polynesian people lived, and survived.  The cinematography alone is worth the watch, but the story is complex and the characters rich.  The representation of the Maori mysticism is wonderfully rendered; makes you wonder at what is missing in today’s “civilized” world…

Sci Fi/Horror

EUROPA REPORT 
(2013, PG-13, 90 minutes, WAYFARE ENTERTAINMENT)


I should start a regular feature here called “Because You Didn’t Listen the First Time”…if I were to do that, this film would definitely be one of the first I would re-tell you about.  This quiet little voyage to one of the moons of Jupiter is surprising in its attention to technical detail, its detailed story, and the Lovecraftian bent that makes you want to watch it a second time.  Starring Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9, MALEFICENT) and Anamaria Marinca (FURY, “The Missing”), a deep space mission starts losing crew members after unearthing an organism beneath the ice of Europa.  Not to mention that they have the worst luck of any astronauts in history…  This is a tight, well-spun tale that will keep you guessing.  And thanking me for reminding you about it.

BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T LISTEN THE FIRST TIME:

EUROPA REPORT
(2013, PG-13, 90 minutes, WAYFARE ENTERTAINMENT)

See what I did there?  I’m such a stinker…okay, try this one:

UP IN THE AIR
(2009, R, 109 minutes)


George Clooney leads a stellar cast including Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in a movie written and directed by Jason Reitman (JUNO, YOUNG ADULT).  The smooth and debonair Clooney plays corporate shmuck Ryan Bingham, a man tragically caught up in the frequent flyer miles game as he travels the country firing people at other companies.  There are some funny honest moments here that makes this film one of my favorites in Clooney’s extensive career.  He plays a jerk that knows he’s a jerk, but wants to think better of himself.  And hit frequent flyer royalty.  And Kendrick…(insert thumping heart emoticons here…)

Make up a queue kids, and put me to work!  Suggestions are always welcome, so get creative!  I’m always up to new challenges!  Halloween is lurking right around the corner, and I already have a challenge for next time involving foreign horror—but it’s a long month…hint, hint…

T.S. Kummelman

Friday, September 18, 2015

"SKumm’s Thoughts" - X-FILES - Week VII



"SKumm’s Thoughts"

X-FILES - Week VII
“The X Files” (FOX, 1993, 9 Seasons)

Season 7 marks the beginning of the end; continuing the storyline from last season’s end, there is an obvious shift in focus.  Mulder no longer seems to be THE main character on the show.  While there are a few great episodes, the season, as a whole, feels much different than the prior ones.  And more confusion; sometimes, Scully is a believer; other times, she isn’t.  It’s almost as if someone is being written out of the show…

SEASON 7

Episodes 1 & 2: The Sixth Extinction
This two-part wrap-up to last season gives us a psychic Mulder, a true believer in Scully, and a nefarious smoking man.  Also included is a major surgery, that you will have forgotten about after the third episode starts... because everyone else seems to have forgotten about it, too.

Episode 3: Hungry
Unique in that this episode focuses entirely on the MOTW, the shift in perspective continues.  Both of the agents seem minor players in this gory morality tale of a burger flipper with a rather suspicious eating habit.  Greatly drawn characters and performances to match make this one of the better episodes of the season.

Episodes 6: The Goldberg Variation
The guy with the best luck on the planet runs afoul with the mob and Mulder falls through a floor.  MOTW, but fun.  It seems that some of the best episodes now are the ones with no ties to the alien conspiracy.

Episode 7: Orison
In this episode, Scully kicks some ass.  Seriously.  This MOTW episode is important as it lays the foundation for Anderson to be the front-runner of the show, an unsubtle hint at the future of “The X Files”.  Bringing back a weirdo from a previous episode, a serial killer is back on the loose, and he has Scully in his sights.  Poor bastard.

Episode 9: Signs & Wonders
"Snakes... why’d it have to be snakes?"  In this season’s requisite religious episode, the agents are pitted against a backwoods preacher that plays with reptiles.  Cool ending, poor execution.  No pun.  (Digital Drawback: An older woman... with a bouffant hairdo?!?  Also: the world’s worst staple remover.  Also, that ending...)

Episode 10 & 11: Sein und Zeit/Closure
The death of another minor character (aren’t they running low by now?) and the kidnapping of a little girl keep the agents busy flying coast to coast, and Mulder almost has a breakdown.  Also, another unsubtle hint at things to come:  Mulder gets some closure pertaining to his sister.  And the journey to said resolution goes totally against some of the prior conspiracy points established as cannon.  Not the only example of questionable writing this season…

Episode 12: X-Cops
Enjoyable MOTW shot by the cameramen of the “Cops” TV show.  Mulder and Scully chase a shapeshifting entity around a neighborhood in Los Angeles.  I honestly believe they were chasing Gozer, but nobody ever listens to me....  Also, the absolute worst ending to an episode EVER.  It feels like more and more often, Carter doesn’t know how to end some of these shows.

Episode 17: All Things
Written and directed by Gillian Anderson, Scully is at the forefront.  And the way this one starts will leave you guessing for the entire episode.  Shows you just how talented Anderson is, both in front of and behind the camera.  A former professor/lover is on his death bed, and Scully runs around town suffering from the worst case of ennui in X Files history.

Episode 19: Hollywood A.D. (The One With Gary Shandling and Duchovony’s Wife Tea Leoni)
A screenwriter follows the agents around as they try to solve the mystery of a bomb going off in the catacombs of a big church.  An atypical MOTW, as the only real supernatural bent comes at the very end.  And it is kind of a “did you really just do THAT, Chris Carter?!?” sort of moment.  Yet still a nice deviation from how serious most of the other episodes of this season were.  Look for the scene in which Scully teaches Leoni how to run in heels... funniest moment of the series, period.  (Digital Drawback: that ending...)

Episode 21: Je Souhaite
A genie grants three wishes to two morons, and craziness ensues.  A fun episode, especially seeing Scully having fun with an invisible corpse.  Yep.  I said it.

Episode 22: Requiem
The season finale, after a season that seemed to stay far away from the alien conspiracy at all costs, slaps us in the face with a questionable future.  Krycek and the Hot Blonde are back, the Cancer Man is still dying, there is a UFO in the woods of Oregon, and then there is all the green alien blood and the alien bounty hunter.  Mulder takes a trip, and Scully trips out.  (Digital Drawback: wavy lasers, and I SAW THE DEAD GUY BLINK.)

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, September 17, 2015

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





The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 

on THE VISIT (2012, 94 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
Mr. Shyamalan has returned to the scene.  Following his last outing with AFTER EARTH, THE VISIT is a story about a brother and sister visiting their grandparents for the first time.  As with all Shyamalan films, he weaves a tale that leads you to the hidden truths.  What makes this film a worthy watch is the gems of levity sprinkled throughout.  Yes, this film is a tension-horror but the boy, Tyler, played by Ed Oxenbould (from the extremely lengthy, thesaurus-jumble of a title, ALEXANDER movie and other smaller projects) crushes his role.  The genius of the script with his delivery will convince you I am right, and you will know what I am referencing when you hear it... Shakira.  Olivia DeJonge is overshadowed by Oxenbould's performance but yet is a great compliment in the pairing.  The grandparents Peter McRobbie (a filmography that could choke a horse) and Deanna Dunagan (mostly a "lady of the small screen") make for loving grandparents... sorta.  The plot and conclusion are easy enough to figure out, so no surprises (and I think intentional, not meant to completely deceive the audience).  But that is okay, the ride is still worth it. 

Grade: B-


Side Note:  Although the U.S. found AFTER EARTH lacking, the rest of the world made the movie a financial success.  Unfortunately, the same happened to THE LAST AIRBENDER, which was an abysmal imitation of the show.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - CHAPPIE




'Blu-ray or Bust'
CHAPPIE (2015, R, 120 minutes, MRC/COLUMBIA PICTURES)

My favorite movie of all time is Ridley Scott’s ALIEN.  When I first saw the film at the ripe old age of 10, I had no freaking clue what I was watching.

Three Stephen King books and four years later, when I watched it a second and third time, I finally understood the artistry and wonder that cinema could truly be.  And with Scott’s release of BLADE RUNNER in 1982, it cemented him in my mind as 'The Master' of science fiction cinema.  Spielberg was good, but Scott was…bloody realistic.

Fast forward to 2009, and Neill Blomkamp bursts upon the scene with a truly masterful vision of a post-alien invaded South Africa in DISTRICT 9.  The man’s voice and vision were rich and pure, and, like Scott, was showing the world the possibilities in science fiction cinema again.  Science fiction, at its classic core, is all about morality, and the struggle of man to survive in an alien or advanced environment.

But instead of following it up with another masterpiece like Scott did, he hit a barrier with ELYSIUM.  The movie just wasn’t that good.  Again, I wasn’t sure I had any freaking clue but I was watching—and not in a good way.  It was entertaining, yet his voice had gone from visionary subtlety to screaming at the world like an angry baby.  Not everyone’s sophomore film turns out to be an instant classic, so you have to cut the guy a little slack.

And now there’s CHAPPIE, Blomkamp’s third feature film.  Whereas it is better than ELYSIUM, it still isn’t BLADE RUNNER quality.  It is at its core a muffled morality tale with some nifty action sequences, bookended by the world’s most annoying female voice.  In a move that borders on insanity, Blomkamp hired rappers “Ninja”, who plays toughie bad guy “Ninja”, and Yo-Landi Visser as—wait now, did he?  Yep.  Her character name is Yo-Landi.  Wonder how much peyote Blomkamp has been snorting?


Chappie himself is voiced by Blomkamp favorite Sharlto Copley, whose mechanized voice gives the robot the right amount of emotion, which can be interpreted as “angry thug” by the time you get to the climax.  The only real standout here is the special effects; not even an over-the-top Hugh Jackman as a corporate baddie can save this, personality wise.

The movie isn’t all bad; it is entertaining, but Blomkamp’s voice seems toned down.  Morality isn’t at the forefront.  Jackman’s “Vincent” doesn’t want to destroy Chappie because of the implications of his artificial intelligence, he wants to stop him to make way for his big and bulky ED-209 rip-off.  Apparently, it's all about the Benjamins.

Now, Blomkamp needs to step up his game.  He is currently in development on the next ALIEN film.  He better get his voice back.  He better not screw it up like those ALIEN VS PRETADOR dork holes did.  If he goes back to his DISTRICT 9 roots, we could be in for a pleasant surprise.  If not…well, at least Scott starts principle photography on PROMETHEUS II in February.

Film Grade: C
Special Features: B
Blu-ray Necessary: For the effects, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, YES.  But for the World’s Most Irritating Female Voice?  I think not.  That’s one example of how you DO NOT want your surround sound turned up…

Friday, September 11, 2015

"SKumm’s Thoughts" - X-FILES - WEEK VI




"SKumm’s Thoughts"

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

Hopefully, you’ve watched the first X-Files movie, THE X FILES (aka, FIGHT THE FUTURE).  Season six picks up shortly after where the film ended, riding high on the film’s momentum and success.  And on its big budgeted coattails, the sixth season is bigger, bolder, and louder than all the previous seasons.  The influence the film makes is obvious in the cinematography, the stories, and the musical score.  This is the season that will re-inspire your binging of The X-Files, just in case you were starting to get burned out…

SEASON 6

Episode 1: The Beginning
The X-Files have been reinstated, but guess who isn’t running them anymore?  Mulder and Scully don’t let that stop them, however, as they track one of the belly-aliens to the West, where it is killing people.  The psychic chess champion is back, as are all of the major players.  This episode looks like a movie, plays out like a movie, and ends as you fully expect it would.

Episode 2: Drive (The One With Bryan Cranston)
Before he was making meth in a camper, he lived in a trailer.  Cranston guest stars as “You Call Me Mister” Crump who has a condition that will kill him if he isn’t moving over seventy miles per hour.  And he’s got Mulder for a chauffeur.  Which is good, because we all know how Scully drives… (Digital Drawback: The Mullet)

Episode 3: Triangle
Mulder winds up on a British luxury liner which disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle in 1939... and there are a bunch of Nazi’s on board.  Swell.  But the real story here is the breakneck “action” scene which has Scully going from office to office trying to obtain info that could help pinpoint Mulder’s last location.  Shot in a way that leaves little room for error, this “long-take” incorporates a few tricks to make it stretch the entire length of a segment between commercial breaks.  Anderson does a hell of a job keeping the pace, and even though you might be able to discern where the actual breaks in filming were, the choreography of the scene is a wonder to behold.  Oh, and: The Lone Gunmen.

Episodes 4 & 5: Dreamland/Dreamland II (The Ones With Lenny)
Mulder switches bodies with Michael McKean, a guy that works in Area 51.  Wasted opportunity, in that Mulder uncharacteristically doesn’t try to delve deeper into the mysteries there.  But totally awesome to see McKean and Duchovny act like other people.  Also important - McKean is reprising his role of Morris Fletcher for the revival airing next year.  (Digital Drawback: while the opposing reflections dance is kinda cool, they don’t quite match…)

Episode 6: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (The One with Ed Asner and Lilly Tomlin)
Fun episode in which two ghosts screw with Mulder and Scully on Christmas Eve.  Not required viewing, but oh my stars and garters, how I want that study!

Episode 7: Terms of Endearment (The One with Bruce “Ash” Campbell)
Ash stars as a guy with two wives, trying to have the perfect babies.  Only he may not be an actual guy.  Good performances with a classic twist that totally leaves the ending wide open for future shenanigans.  Required viewing because HEY!  It’s Bruce "Freaking" Campbell.

Episodes 11 & 12: Two Fathers/One Son
Veronica Cartwright (from Season 5, episodes 13 & 14) is back after her abduction, and she isn’t quite the woman she used to be.  This arc includes The Mystery Train and the Eyes-Sewn-Shut Alien Brigade.  (Digital Drawback: Wait…when did the window on the van break in the opening scene?...) (D.D. #2: That is, quite possibly, the hairiest ear hole on the planet.  Seriously.)

Episode 13: Agua Mala
Arthur Dales, the guy that started the X-Files way back when is back, and living in Florida.  A hurricane stirs up a deep-sea nasty and he calls in the agents to investigate.  A fun MOTW episode, and the production value is reminiscent of earlier improved quality.

Episode 14: Monday
A woman keeps reliving the same day over and over again—the day her boyfriend robs a bank and kills everyone inside, including Mulder and Scully.  Another well-written MOTW, which seemed predominant this season.  Has nothing at all to do with the alien conspiracy but it is an edge-of-your-seat ride.

Episode 18: Milagro (The One With John Hawkes)
Hawkes guest stars as a writer living next to Mulder whose written creation comes to life (wish I knew how he did it—if I can figure it out, my room is going to be jam-packed with dirty bikini models and several loofas).  As has been hinted at since season five, we get more hints as to Mulder and Scully’s true feelings for each other.

Episode 19: The Unnatural
This time it’s Arthur Dales’ less famous brother telling Mulder a story of days gone by.  Mainly, about a baseball playing alien.  And racism.  And the alien bounty hunter is back.

Episode 21: Field Trip
MOTW, yes, but an excellent tale that again belies the humble beginnings of this show.  Makes you appreciate the influence the film had on this season.  The agents are investigating the sudden decomposition of a husband and wife on a mountainside.  And there are mushrooms.  Yummy.

Episode 22: Biogenesis
This is the episode that rocks Scully’s world and sees Mulder institutionalized.  If you’ve felt a sort of disconnect from Mulder lately, this one kind of seals the deal.  That feeling bleeds over into Season Seven—but hey, I’m getting ahead of myself.  This season finale deals with ancient Indian writings, a big-ass space ship, and religion. (Digital Drawback: why does the space ship keep disappearing?  And is that the same rock in the background?...)

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"SKumm's Thoughts" - BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS




"SKumm's Thoughts"
BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS (2015, UR, 86 minutes, FORTRESS FEATURES/SCREAM FACTORY)

Ahhh, work!  That sunny place you look forward to every Monday morning, the place where you can go to get away from your troubles and be free!  The place where your boss is trying to actually kill you!

Taking the ideals laid down by OFFICE SPACE and FRIGHT NIGHT, BASTARDS throws everything in the microwave with several sharp, metallic utensils, and sets the timer for 80 minutes after covering the mess with tinfoil.  This is a flat out horror comedy with barrels full of fake blood.  And, unfortunately for you, it is in EXTREMELY limited release.  Meaning it is only playing at one theatre in Florida right now.

Good luck.

Fran Kranz (THE CABIN IN THE WOODS) stars as “Evan”, on office drone that is sure he is a shoe-in for sales manager... until an old college enemy steps in and takes the job.  The resulting vampire takeover is funny (most of the time) and gory.  The highlight of the cast is Evan’s best friend “Tim” (Joey Kern of TV’s “Chosen”); Kern’s delivery and his chemistry with every other cast member is palpable, and downright hilarious.  Plus, the dude is a spitting image of an early Matthew McConaughey. 

Written and directed by Brian James O’Connell (who also gives credit to a comedy troupe he is a member of—they call themselves “Dr. God”), there are a few jokes that are just too obvious.  Sometimes, the movie threatens to fall into SUPER TROOPERS territory, which is a shame.  This film is too good to cheapen itself.  But redemption usually lies right around the corner, and typically from the wonderful supporting cast.


Another charming aspect of this production is the reliance on practical effects.  No CGI needed, as no one ever feels the urge to fly or sparkle.  Refreshing, in that, even if you know where this film is headed, you are unsure of the path which it will take.

Lucky for you, the movie is currently available On Demand.  It is well worth the seven bucks for the rental.  It isn’t perfect, but for a low budget film with a watchable cast and a humorous script, it beats some of the turds currently available in every cineplex across the country.  Hell, the title alone should be worth the seven bucks…

Grade: B

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD




'Blu-ray or Bust'
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015, R, 120 minutes, VILLAGE ROADSHOW/WARNER BROTHERS)

George Miller is a lunatic.

The man who brought us one of the greatest action films of all time, THE ROAD WARRIOR, has tried to outdo himself.  Yes, it has been decades since we saw Max Rockatansky roaring across our screens, and we the viewers are the better for it.

Tom Hardy stars as “Mad Max”, a widower ex-cop trying to survive the apocalypse.  He encounters Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, unrecognizable yet still awesome), a woman trying to escape The Citadel with five women who have been used as breeding stock for the sickly warlord Immortan Joe (and if you think Miller’s knack for coming up with interesting names is the awesome part of his personality, you ain’t seen nothing yet—one of the character’s names is “Toast the Knowing”…).  What results is a carefully choreographed ballet of mayhem.

This film starts with an action sequence, moves on to a chase scene, gives you three minutes to breathe, then jams a race scene into your gob.  It is two glorious hours of the best practical effects and stunt work you will see this year.  The action does the talking; there is not a whole lot of dialogue in this film, but you won’t notice; Miller makes it a point of telling you in the special features that these characters really only talk when it is necessary.  He gets his point across with action, and allows his actors to express everything you need to know by their reactions to the destruction going on around them.


There really is no weak link in the characters to speak of.  Whereas BEYOND THUNDERDOME was an exercise in egos, FURY is a love letter to the vehicular stunts and feministic escapism of the seventies.  No, there is not a whole lot of orated exposition on the plight of post-apocalyptic women.  You know what has been done to them is wrong, and you root for them for reasons other than that they are all gorgeous and half-naked.

The special features on the disc are all must-sees.  One thing you will notice while watching the film is the attention to detail; the documentaries included drive that point home.  From the construction of the vehicles to the deconstruction of the characters, there are so many minute details you will have missed the first time that you’ll want to revisit the film again to try and catch it all.  This is a must on Blu-ray; explosions, flying dust and bodies, and the desert never looked as pretty as it does here.

While another MAX film has been announced (titled THE WASTELAND), a release date is unknown.  I’m perfectly fine with it taking him another decade or two to come out if it means the same amount of love he poured into this outing.  There’s nothing like an insanely gleeful post-apocalypse to get the adrenaline pumping.

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

T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, September 8, 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

BYZANTIUM
(2012, R, 118 minutes, DEMAREST FILMS)


The best vampire films are usually the ones that have no sparkle to them.  Lately, auteurs of the classic genre are being more poetic and artistic than, say, oh, ANYONE AND EVERYONE THAT HAD ANYTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH THE STUPID “TWILIGHT” “MOVIES”.  Sorry.  Case in point is the beautifully haunting tale of a mother and daughter trying to survive in a seaside town.  Their secret is that they themselves are the hunters, each having been transformed centuries ago.  The portrayal of modern undead survival is gritty and visceral, gory at times but painfully realistic with every emotion on display.  Yes, deep down, this is a love story.  But it is also about sacrifice and need, and rises high above crap like, say, oh, FREAKING “TWILIGHT”.

Sci Fi/Drama

INFINI
(2015, R, 110 minutes, STORM VISION ENTERTAINMENT)
 


Straight-to-video science fiction is usually a marketplace for turds.  Cheaply produced with horrible actors and even worse directors, these “films” usually fall in the category of “so bad they suck mosquito nipples”.  But occasionally, you come across an amazing piece of filmmaking.  Well acted, well written, and awesomely produced, INFINI is probably THE BEST science fiction film you will find on Netflix right now.  I know, because I’ve watched some pretty stinky turds.  Starring Australian actor Daniel MacPherson, the film centers on a tiny mining station at the edge of the universe, and the lone survivor of a contagion trying to get back home to his pregnant wife.  A military rescue team is sent to retrieve Carmichael, and all hell breaks loose.  MacPherson is stellar in his performance as Whit Carmichael; in fact, the entire cast does a great job.  And the production value of this film…the attention to every tiny detail is absorbing and fascinating.  There is some CGI, but the practical effects are done well enough so that any animation you see is more a compliment than it is a distraction.  Be prepared to be engrossed after the first fifteen minutes; there is an unrelenting building of tension that releases its grasp on you only when the credits start to roll.  In fact, the unexpected climax of the film is not a gun-fight or a race against time, but rather a psychological exercise in proving a lie to be truth.  I rank this one right up there with EVENT HORIZON.  Don’t pass it up.

Drama

WHITE GOD
(2014, R, 121 minutes, FILMPARTNERS/MAGNET RELEASING)


This Hungarian coming-of-age tale is like a fractured fable for adults.  Lili is a young girl forced to stay with her estranged father for three months; the problem is that he despises her mixed-breed dog, and one day sets “Hagen” loose on the side of a busy highway.  The subsequent chain of events constructs a plateau with some startling images.  At times the film will take your breath away, and at others will make you cringe at the fallacies of man.  There is a lesson in love and growth here; as we watch Lili, played by the wonderful Zs√≥fia Psotta, mature through her adolescence, we too see Hagen’s journey through cruelty at the hands of his “masters”.  Terribly moving, absorbing, and original, watch this one before Hollywood snaps up the rights and ruins this remarkable film with a remake called “Dog-mageddon”…


Instead of: BURYING THE EX (a not-so-funny horror comedy about a guy’s domineering ex-girlfriend that comes back from the grave—good effects, bad writing)

Watch: ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (zombie cheerleaders trying to finish high school—it’s a horror film, it’s a comedy, it’s a social commentary—in short, it’s awesome)

Instead of: AREA 51 (a boring-ass “found footage” film of three people breaking into the famed military base—it takes over fifty minutes of “movie” for them to get onto the base, and then another twenty-five to get abducted…and you’d rather see these horrible actors meet horrifying deaths than think aliens are taking them as plausible representations of the human race…)

Watch: THE MONSTER SQUAD (the 1987 “family friendly” film has enough bad language and slurs to make you wonder how you made it through your childhood without a filthy mouth—a group of adolescents go up against classic movie monsters)

Make up a queue kids, and put me to work!  Suggestions are always welcome, so get creative!  I’m always up to new challenges!

T.S. Kummelman

Friday, September 4, 2015

"SKumm’s Thoughts" - THE X-FILES


"SKumm’s Thoughts"
THE X-FILES ( 1998, PG-13, 121 Minutes, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX)

Yes, this is where Season Six would be.  However, Fox went and pulled a fast one on fans after the fifth season—they went and made a big production out of things.

Originally titled THE X FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE, which, if you ask me, is a stupid sounding title, the film made almost a hundred million worldwide in its theatrical release.  Not bad for a hit TV show’s first foray into Hollywood, but probably not as much as the studio was hoping.


Yet you shouldn’t judge a movie by its returns, I always say (which is probably the main reason why I don’t have a job in the industry) (besides the obvious reason of location).  The film itself is a tight, engaging tale.  Several themes are revisited from the show, Mulder gets to cuss, and the gore-factor is amped up a bit.  Season six starts off with a “previously on” bit that flashes a few scenes from the film, but not enough to tell you what happened.

The movie is an important watch because of the story—events from the film are mentioned in the first half of the season, and you don’t want to be totally lost.  Normally, I don’t do spoilers.  Yet the fact that I wound up having to rent this online shows you that that is probably the only way you are going to have access to the film.  It isn’t on Netflix, and I could not find it at Best Buy, Target, or Movie Stop.

Therefore: SPOILERS.

There is an alien borne of the black goo in the ground, unearthed by some kids. Government types swoop in and take over the area.  Mulder and Scully are on a homeland security case that goes horribly wrong.  They are investigating that when they get wind of the alien conspiracy having something to do with the destruction of the building they were trying to protect.  From there, we get more bees, more of “the X-Files is shut down,” more of The Smoking Man, more conspiracy, a moment when Mulder and Scully ALMOST make out, a bee-infected Scully, a clandestine cure, a trip to the Antarctic, and a giant freaking UFO.

That’s the major stuff, anyways.  A good film, well-paced and well told.  And you really should watch it before you start on the sixth season.

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: A WALK IN THE WOODS





The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on A WALK IN THE WOODS (2015, 104 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -

Well, it seems the trend to push movies that have a 'get back to nature' theme is hot in Hollywood.  A WALK IN THE WOODS stars Robert Redford (Bill Bryson) and Nick Nolte (Stephen Katz) as estranged friends coming together to walk the Appalachian Trail.  Based on the book by Bill Bryson and directed by Ken Kwapis (also known for THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS and LICENSE TO WED), this one unfortunately doesn't carry that deeper look into the human condition, to make you think long and hard after watching.  If nothing, it inspires you to load up and head out on an arduous hike.  Where Reese Witherspoon's WILD highlighted a woman coming to terms with the lose of her mother, Bryson and Katz struggle with their silver years.  The story is there and subtly told, but this one is a tired tale that many other films have reflected on and been more meaningful.


Watching these two very different personalities clash plays out more like a more grounded friendship than an 'odd couple' formula, which was refreshing.  I will have to say that the hardest part watching them play older roles is realizing that they are indeed older actors.  As this generation's old guard in Hollywood transitions out of their careers, I wonder who is there to take there place.

Grade: B

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: on THE GUNMAN




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

The Quick of It -
In this action / drama, Sean Penn plays a sniper (Terrier) working for a corporation who is running 'covert missions' in the Republic of Congo.  The story starts off with his being tasked to kill the Minister of Mining.  This assassination requires him to go underground afterward and has a major impact on his psyche over the long term.  Jumping eight years forward, he returns to the Congo and is quickly made the target of a hit squad.  The plot follows his progress in discovering who wants him dead. 

I would imagine director Pierre Morel (known for TRANSPORTER and FROM PARIS WITH LOVE) had an easier time with Sean Penn as the lead but I almost expect there could have been difficulty.  Penn is such an intense actor, and with his directing background, you would think strong personalities on the set could clash but there is nothing to believe this the case as I watched.  The style in which it was shot, the movie (based on the novel "The Prone Gunman" by Jean-Patrick Manchette) almost felt like a 'based on a true story' film and had an agenda to shed light on the turbulence in the Congo.  But this also doesn't disrupt the high level of cinematography for the chosen locations and a pace that culminates in a thrilling conclusion. 


I went in not sure I would enjoy but was pleasantly surprised.  The location choices with the intense level of skill used in the gunplay sold me on this at first 'questionable choice' for a review.  Penn still keeps to a high level of choice projects and it pays off.

Grade: B

PS - Sean Penn proves that Hugh Jackman has at least eight more years as Wolverine.  He is totally ripped!