Wednesday, January 31, 2018


‘Blu-ray or Bust’

It is actually snowing outside as I write this review; it adds a little something to the cold ambiance of this film, in that it makes me feel comforted to know I’m not stuck in the wilderness with bad dialogue (only due to the fact that I am not currently speaking to myself…).

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US wants to be a love story.  It also wants to be a survival story, an adventure story, a drama, and a tale about Human Vs. Nature.  What it turns out to be is a convoluted mess with five really good actors that aren’t given enough to do—except for Raleigh and Austin, but we’ll get to “them” in a moment.

Idris Elba (“Luther”, THE DARK TOWER) and Kate Winslet (TITANIC, THE DIVERGENT SERIES) star as two air travelers that charter a small plane when their flights are canceled.  The plane, piloted by Beau Bridges, and co-piloted by his dog, crashes in the mountains, leaving Beau thankfully dead.  I say “thankfully”, because he doesn’t have to stick around for the rest of the bad dialogue.  He gets an out, gets to go play golf or count all of his money… or audition for better roles.

Idris and Kate, however, are forced to muddle through dialogue that leaves you hoping for an avalanche.  Or for the Titanic to fall out of the sky and land on the director (Hany Abu-Assad, who hasn’t directed anything else you have seen) (and I whole-heartedly encourage that you keep it that way).  It isn’t that our two stellar actors aren’t good, so much as it is that they aren’t given anything good to do here.  Or say, as if I haven’t stressed that point enough.  Honestly, there was better dialogue in BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.

This film has two—technically, three—saving graces.  One of those is cinematographer Mandy Walker (AUSTRALIA, HIDDEN FIGURES); she captures the landscape beautifully, making the environment the most stunning thing about this film.  The mountains and cliffs are daunting when they need to be, lending a majestic and foreboding feeling to the film which, quite frankly, isn’t quite captured by the script itself.  It is not enough to save this film, and Walker’s talents—like Ms. Winslett’s and Mr. Elba’s—seem wasted here.

But the biggest waste of talent?  Raleigh and Austin, who take turns playing Dog.  Dog is the heart of this film; he is the one character that does the most saving of other lives (I counted—really, what the hell else was I gonna do?), and he is obviously the only one having fun.  Our main characters do a lot of frowning and looking lost, even when (spoiler alert!) they finally do The Nasty.  You ever see two confused people making out?  It’s like watching two koalas wrestling, just not nearly as cute or entertaining, and you don’t feel like there’s an actual winner in the contest.  But Dog?  He always knows the score, and has more fun tromping through the snow than the actors had playing tonsil hockey.

Oh, and Ms. Winslett’s thin t-shirt during the cabin scene should also be POINTED out.  I won’t say why, but from a totally non-professional standpoint, its performance is TITILLATING.

There are special features, but, seriously, who cares?  If they are half as exhausting as the dreadful dialogue, you’ll be ready for a long winter’s nap thirty seconds in.  I’m sure this is not a career-ending picture for the actors involved (especially not for Raleigh and Austin, I hope!), and this just plays out as a studio obligation for them.  Just keep in mind, it is not an obligation for you.  Just stay away—in fact, keep a mountain between yourself and this stinker.

Film Grade: D+
Special Features: It wasn’t good enough to sit through those as well…
Blu-ray Necessary: Oh hell no

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, January 25, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - THE SHAPE OF WATER

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

Guillermo del Toro is like that weird kid in school—you know, the one always drawing imaginary creatures and wearing Slayer t-shirts.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I write about imaginary creatures and wear Beastie Boys and ALIEN t-shirts.

But imagine that kid with a lot of money and influence (see: NOT ME).  What would be his best avenue for spreading his ideas and musings?  On film, of course—and his latest creation is one which deserves a heckuva lot more attention than it is getting.

At its heart, THE SHAPE OF WATER is a love story.  It is also a love letter to monster movies of the fifties, a film about prejudice, a musical, a story shaped by the wonders and horrors of humanity, and soulful communication without words.  Sally Hawkins (PADDINGTON, GODZILLA) plays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning lady at a facility which houses unique “assets”.  She and her partner Zelda (Octavia Spencer of THE HELP and HIDDEN FIGURES) are tasked with cleaning a lab housing an amphibious humanoid (Doug Jones, “Star Trek: Discovery”, HELLBOY), an asset captured in South America and transported to the lab by Richard Strickland, played with joyous, evil abandon by the versatile Michael Shannon (MAN OF STEEL, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL).  Strickland is your typical vile government official who understands only that the creature is important because of its difference to humans; he wants to take it apart, while the scientists wish to study it.  And somehow, Elisa, amidst all of Strickland’s torture tactics and fear, falls in love with it.

There are elements to this film that seem eerily familiar to other del Toro works, from the oppressive bad guy to the misunderstood creature.  By setting the story in the era during which fear of the Soviet Union and rage against people of color reign supreme, he adds a number of aspects to the film which mirror the fantastical aspects of his script.  Like CHRONOS and the brilliant THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, del Toro has crafted a fairytale for adults that need a good fable.  And never has his voice seemed clearer, and never has his visual style appeared so vividly.  Working with a small budget (no CGI here, kids), the filmmaker creates a world within our world, making it at times tonally reverent, and at others strikingly harsh.  And you’ve never seen Sally Hawkins quite like this; her body language alone should be taught in film schools, not to mention how she makes you believe that beauty really could fall in love with the beast.

I mentioned a few weeks ago how I’m usually dead wrong when it comes to picking the Oscar winners; after all, I’m just that weird kid with a laptop, internet access, and an opinion.  And a butt-load of movie inspired t-shirts.  But what del Toro pulls off with such a small budget (under twenty-million is considered small for a genre busting “horror” film) should earn him a Best Director win at the Academy Awards.  The performances he elicits, and the sets he built—hell, the story he crafted and imagined in his head, to see it come to life onscreen… well, other directors have won for less.  When you consider that he had a hand in every conceivable detail, from the lighting and the color schemes to the obvious stuff like acting and cinematography, del Toro’s performance here is one that should be revered and, yes, lauded.

Weird kids of the world unite—that other awkward kid from shop class has made himself a masterpiece.
Grade: A+

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - AMERICAN MADE

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

I enjoy making fun of Tom Cruise sometimes.  He always seems to… well, tom-cruise-it-up whenever he stars in a movie.  By that, I mean to say that he has a natural knack of reminding you EVERY STINKIN’ TIME he’s onscreen, that he’s Tom Cruise, and you’re welcome.

In recent years, he managed to rein himself in a bit.  TROPIC THUNDER, EDGE OF TOMORROW, even the last couple of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films—they all seemed more like movies that had Tom Cruise in them, rather than showcases for him to tom-cruise-it-up.  Then he did a remake of THE MUMMY, and I got to have a bit of fun again.  He produced and starred in it, and it was more of a vanity piece than it as a kick-start to a new Universal Monsters franchise. What sets AMERICAN MADE apart from the last flick?

He didn’t produce this one.

MADE succeeds—and I’m using that term generously—where so many other Cruise films have gone wrong (see: giving him too much say in the making of the film).  Sure, there are the usual Cruise touches: his boyish smile, his swaggering charm, seeing him fly an airplane.  But he isn’t given the chance to tom-cruise-it-up, and it saves the film from being a disaster.  Based on the true story of drug/gun/people smuggler Barry Seal, the film recounts the CIA whipping boy who wound up as a key figure in the Iran-Contra Affair.  At times, it plays out like so many other films that captured that seminal time period; you can usually pick out these “historical” pieces by their soundtracks, and this one uses music you have heard used before.  You also get the usual storytelling gimmicks ala GOODFELLAS, BLOW, etc.

Sarah Wright, while a fine actress (and boy, do I mean fiiIIIiinne), plays Barry’s wife Lucy, but she is not given a whole lot to do here.  This is, after all, a big story, and it has Tom Cruise in it, not to mention a whole lot of other characters.  Some of whom we don’t get enough time with, although we are expected to be familiar with despite their seeming lack of importance.  And perhaps that is where some of the finer points of this “historical” narrative become lost; we have seen so much of this before, in other films, that the outcome to some situations—even the resolution of Barry’s story itself—seems reused, and predictable.  The more shocking parts of this real-life story found their way into other films, so they don’t sit as heavily as they should.  Then again, one of the minor characters even points out at one point that violent deaths are in store for them for dealing with the Columbians, so we are left to ponder whether Barry is as smart as Cruise—or we, for that matter—wants him to be.

Which is another point to mention; there are moments where it seems Barry is the smartest person in the room, but those moments are too far between to convince that he is ever really in control.  More often than not, we are left to marvel at the low level of intelligence our main character actually possesses.  Early on, it is established that despite his job as an airline pilot, Barry’s level of education seems to be stuck in middle school.  Which makes you wonder how safe you really are flying the friendly skies.

There are several special features, including one on Cruise’s aerial stunt work, an interview with Barry’s real-life son, and interviews with other cast members.  All mentioning how this is an important piece of American history, which it is.  I just wonder if it couldn’t have been told more solidly, and with a bit more care for its minor characters; there are good performances here, but you shouldn’t have to seek them out. Or write a list of who’s who so they make more sense later.

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

-- T.S.Kummelman