Sunday, November 12, 2017

“Trapped by Circumstance: The Hopeless Stories You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX and HULU”



“Trapped by Circumstance:  The Hopeless Stories You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX and HULU”

NETFLIX:

THE MIST
(2017, TV-14, Season 1 - 10 episodes approx. 42 minutes, DIMENSION TELEVISION)


Stephen King has truly made a name in Horror for a contemporary author.  His stories may not always be the best available for consumption, but he puts interesting material out there so that others can exploit and monetize… and we benefit.  His story ‘The Mist’ was a great theme and later made for a terrific film.  Now, we have a series.  This is not a bad show when consider they creators pulled together a large cast and juggled a number of subplots.  There are some questionable decisions made by characters that seemed unnecessary or should have led to more obvious choices.  I will say there is enough bloodletting and creative scenarios that lead to disaster that keep you interested in each group’s situation, and for completely different reasons.  That is why this at first glance time-waster, since they have cancelled further seasons, will not leave you in ‘the mist’.  You will find yourself welcoming it.

AMERICAN VANDAL
(2017, TV-MA, Season 1 - 8 episodes approx. 34 minutes each, 3 ARTS ENTERTAINMENT, CBS STUDIOS)



You want something unusual?  You want something never told with the usual approach?  AMERICAN VANDAL is your go-to high school, AV Club documentary-style series.  I am the first to shy away from high schooler targeted stories but after ‘Freakish’, I must have an open mind for certain offerings.  The cleverness of this tale comes with the pacing of the reveals, the smartly edited 30-minute episodes, and no faltering from the young actors that keeps the story moving.  Even with the phallic emphasis, making light of true-crime studies, the serious nature portrayed in this presentation comes off with just enough care to have you watching to the end.


HULU:

FREAKISH
(2017, TV-14, Season 2 - 10 episodes approx. 30 minutes each, 3 ARTS ENTERTAINMENT)


To continue on the journey of these unlucky teens, Season 2 struggles.  It tries too hard to have ‘spectacular’ reveals.  The drama is also amped up to make you feel something for each character, it comes off as a afternoon soap by the time you are done.  I am a bit older than the expected audience and I did not fall into the needed empathy to keep me interested.  The gore doesn’t help to entice either, they slacked this time around.  Of course, the numbers of the original crew dwindled, and the added drop-ins did little engage my curiosity in their particular plights.  By the finally episode, I wanted the ‘freaks’ to consume everything.


-- James S. Austin

Thursday, November 9, 2017

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - THOR: RAGNAROK



“SKumm’s Thoughts”
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017, PG-13, 130 minutes, MARVEL STUDIOS/WALT DISNEY PICTURES)


Regular readers will recall the fun I had lambasting THOR: THE DORK WORLD four years ago.  In fact, I make it a point to include a new insult of that particular film in every Marvel review I do—partly because it’s fun, but mostly because I still want my $13 back.

Well, THOR: RAGNAROK can keep my money.  (Okay, look, I work part time at a movie theatre, so I saw it for free, but you get the point.)  Director Taika Waititi (totally giggle every time I say his last name out loud) (and by the way, he is the dude that directed the masterfully hilarious WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS) has crafted a hybrid of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and IRON MAN that works… no, you did not read that wrong.


See, here’s the thing: yes, the film is funny, and the action scenes are pretty thrilling.  But the highlights of this film don’t have a whole lot to do with the titular (yes, I’m using that word on purpose, you can thank the director) character.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t a THOR-thing, either.  You get a whole lotta Hulk, you get the scene chewing Cate Blanchett as Thor’s evil sister, you get Doctor Strange, and you get Jeff ‘Freaking’ Goldblum.  It is with these characters that you get your biggest laughs (not so much with Cate, but she does garner a few chuckles), and the longer lasting impressions.  Plus, there is a character made out of rocks, one with tattoos on her face who could be a future romantic interest for Thor, imprisonment… any of that reminding you of GUARDIANS yet?  And the Iron Man thing—I’m sorry, but Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) owns the market on snark when it comes to the Marvel Universe.  Most notably in his dealings with the boy in IRON MAN III; the quick and easy banter, the sarcasm—RAGNAROK is literally dripping with these elements.



For the most part, they work, but there are several instances in which the jokes fall a bit flat.  And relying on one Led Zeppelin song (twice, no less) to add buoyancy to the moment and not include any other relative music?  Seriously?  Instead, Waititi relies on a score that sounds ripped right out of a bad eighties film.  On second thought, thanks for playing “Immigrant Song” twice—it was a nice break from that terrible score.


The plot summary goes something like this: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds out he has an evil sister, who kicks him and Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who also hijacks several scenes) out of Asgard so she can take over the joint.  They both wind up on a planet whose ruler (Goldblum) encourages people to beat the tar out of each other in a coliseum.  As usual, no spoilers, but if you’ve seen the trailers, you know the plot already.

While I did enjoy the third standalone Thor film, it did not resonate with me as much as it does with so many others.  Don’t get me wrong—it is a good film.  It just sometimes feels as though Whytitty and Company are trying too hard to help the GUARDIANS blend in with the regular Marvel Cinematic Universe without actually incorporating any of them into the script. 

Then again, if this is a two hour and twenty-minute apology letter for THOR: THE CRAP WORLD, apology accepted.

Grade: B

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - THE DARK TOWER



‘Blu-ray or Bust’
THE DARK TOWER (R, 2017, 94 minutes, SONY PICTURES/)


In a year that saw a rebirth of the Stephen King influence upon the world of entertainment—between two new shows streaming on the Audience Network and Spike!, and two new films premiering on Netflix, not to mention a new book release the author wrote with one of his sons—you just know there is going to be a misfire at some point.

Lawdy, how I hate that it started with one of my favorite King books.  It took four writers—one of them being director Nikolaj Arcel, who did such a wonderful job with the original Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO—to screw up a King masterpiece.  Four.  And I don’t think any of them had any clue what they were doing.


A quick synopsis: a kid named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) keeps having dreams of a bad dude and a gunslinger.  The bad dude is The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and the gunslinger is Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), two sworn enemies from Mid-World.  One is hell bent on destroying the Dark Tower, and the other is sworn to protect it.  Jake gets drawn into the battle, there are a couple of fights, and then the movie ends.  Boom.


Now, allow me some time to complain: there is a better version of this movie out there somewhere, floating around in the universe, and probably written and filmed by someone else.  This film is too short, too convoluted, and way too serious about itself.  And it is told from entirely the wrong perspective.  By centering the film around Jake, the brilliant minds (see: SARCASM) behind this steaming gob of moist trash have pretty much taken the role of Roland out of the grand scheme of things.  It turns the effort of storytelling into a poorly paced children’s book written by drunken squirrels.  The majority of the acting is bad, except for Elba and McConaughey, who look like they know everything going on around them is utterly ridiculous.  Crack-addicted howler monkeys could have written better dialogue.  Jackie Earle Haley is practically wasted in his role; again, with dialogue and abundantly stupid characters, no one is safe from the obscurity which is threatened with involvement in this “film”.  All they can do is their job.  Which is a shame, because those three actors are quite the artists when it comes to the craft of acting.  To have their talents wasted on a bad SyFy movie (sorry, “Sharknado”) is a shameful sacrilege.

The best thing about the film is the score by Tom Holkenburg (also known as “Junkie XL”).  The man that wrote the music for DEADPOOL and BATMAN VS SUPERMAN crafted the absolutely singular redeeming part of this film.  Which means he probably didn’t have to watch any of it, and was told to write something sweeping and epic with a western twinge—you know, THE EXACT FREAKING OPPOSITE OF THIS FLICK.


This is usually the part where I break down the special features for you.  But, seriously, who cares?  They do nothing to help define this silly mess, other than to let you know that there is so much more to the tale that they couldn’t figure out what to do with it all.  It will just anger you, so just watch the first thirty seconds of the Blooper Reel so you can hear everyone making fart noises with their mouths. 

Because that really sums this one up.  It’s just a messy fart noise from an angry penguin’s face.  Don’t bother with this one, just wait for IT to come out on Blu-ray in January.

Film Grade: D
Special Features: Hate to repeat myself, but, dude—I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the one the behind-the-scenes doc that actually had Stephen King in it.
Blu-Ray Necessary: Better to adopt a mentally deranged octopus with a shoe fetish

-- T.S. Kummelman