Thursday, November 15, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - THE GRINCH

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

In the year 2000, Ron Howard reimagined the Dr. Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with a live-action film starring Jim Carrey.  There has been much debate over the film’s merit, as it stretched a classic twenty-six-minute television cartoon into a movie four times that long (not to mention the fact that it starred one of the most frenetic comedic actors of the time), and most viewers either loved or hated it.

Count me as one of the latter; something about the Who’s of Whoville brought to life really creeped me out, and I thought the casting of Mr. Carrey seemed out of place.

So why would Universal give it another try?  Why would the same studio take a film that, despite the mixed reviews, was highly successful at the box office, and remake it?

In short, because they could do it better.  This animated retelling may be the best iteration of the story yet—and I’m including the Boris Karloff led Warner Brothers cartoon in that.  I know, I know: blasphemy.  But the wunderkinds at Illumination have crafted a story that is touching, relevant, and extremely funny, and have wrapped it in sharp animation that pays homage to its predecessor and creates a sense of wonder which overshadows prior attempts.  There is something glorious about seeing all those lights in Whoville, and the attention to detail in the animation is precise and breathtaking.

Directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, working from a script by Tommy Swerdlow and Michael LeSieur, keep the pacing consistent throughout.  There are no lulls in the storytelling or the laughs, and the cast does a wonderful job in making you care about the goings on of a tale you probably already know.  The standouts are Pharrell Williams as the narrator, whose lyrical delivery makes you want to reread the book (out loud, and with his voice), and young Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who.  Ms. Seely does a fantastic job capturing the nuances and attitudes of a child (probably because she is one, but her comedic timing nears brilliance in certain moments).  Benedict Cumberbatch is an interesting choice for The Grinch; he is confident and spontaneously erratic (when needed), and at times seems to channel only the better moments of Jim Carrey’s attempt at the role.  Yet he makes it his own when it comes to his delivery and his commitment to the material; whereas Carrey never seemed to stop being Carrey, you feel the change in Cumberbatch’s Grinch.  Occasionally, though, you wish Cumberbatch would just let loose a little more; his delivery is, again, confident, but his it also sometimes falls flat. 

The only drawback to the production is Tyler the Creator’s version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”.  There really isn’t any way to beat or outshine Thurl Ravenscroft’s classic baritone voice, and the studio seems to get this by only using a brief twenty or thirty seconds of this attempt.  But said attempt is a mumbled mess, and honestly, pairing Tyler the (I am so not writing out his entire name again, as the only thing I think he created here is a new way to sing with a mouth packed full of stale sugarplums) with singing children is weird.  Weird, and creepy.

The rest of the soundtrack is perfectly chosen.  Danny Elfman’s score is inspired and complimentary to the action onscreen, and never once feels presumptuous or rudimentary.  If anything, Elfman’s music adds additional layers to the animation, if that’s even possible.

This is one of those films that bears seeing twice, as there are many details you will probably miss the first time around (including the lovely diversity within the populace of Whoville).  And to pull it off without any low-brow humor or fart jokes just shows the amount of respect the filmmakers have for the source material.  Congratulations to Universal for allowing Illumination to take the reins on this one, and to all those involved (except for Tyler the Agitator) for creating a film I will definitely be adding to my yearly Christmas watch list.

Grade: A-

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - REPRISAL

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

There are times that I really, REALLY enjoy writing these reviews.  Mostly it is due to my excitement at being able to recommend something I really enjoyed, and other times, it is the joy I experience in coming up with new insults.

Thank you, Brian A. Miller (VICE, THE PRINCE) for giving us REPRISAL.  This is the third time he has directed Bruce Willis, and the third time that effort has sucked toad anus.  Seriously—movies don’t get as dumb as this one.  It is like watching a kid playing with those cheap store-brand cars, the ones that want to be Matchbox Cars but look and act more like crap with wheels that don’t spin.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing Mr. Willis, or even Frank Grillo (CAPTAIN AMERICA), to poop toys.  While both are fine actors, neither one really acts their collective pants off here.  In fact, there are only three people taking this film seriously: the director (Miller), first time screenwriter Bryce Hammons, and “Legends of Tomorrow’s” own Jonah Hex, Johnathon Schaech, who is so excited to be playing the bad guy that he overacts his buns off.

The story revolves around a bank manager (Grillo), who’s branch is robbed one day by an occasionally violent baddie (Schaech).  He wants to clear his name so he can go back to work, therefore enlists the help of his neighbor (Mr. Willis), a retired cop, to track down the murderous thief.  At least, that’s the brief reason given to justify his motivation.  His neighbor’s motivation?  He’s retired, what the hell else does he have to do?  And, just as importantly, the bad guy’s motivation?  HE’S THE ANTAGONIST, HE DOESN’T NEED ONE.  If the fact that the bank manager and the retired cop figure out where the bad guy is hiding out through an extended and tedious montage doesn’t bother you, then you should definitely follow this film up with the other two frog-butt sucking movies I previously referenced.  Otherwise, please read on.

You know how you can skip from chapter to chapter on your Blu-ray player?  For this one, you should be able to skip to moments of absurdity and/or idiocy.  And they should have titles, like “Chapter 1: Dumbass Plot”, or “Chapter 7: How Cop Cars Skid Out During Chase Scenes When the Pavement Isn’t Wet”.  Maybe even “Chapter 20: When the Daughter Finally Speaks Above an Incoherent Mumble.”  There is so much wrong with this film, and everyone’s involvement with it, that you wonder how something this terrible could actually be regurgitated by Hollywood, and directly onto our eyes.  That’s right, folks: you could save yourself the time and trouble of watching this “film” by paying someone to throw up on your eyeball.  Same difference, really.

There are special features, but, really, who cares?  The last thing I want to watch is a bunch of people saying nice things about each other and the film when that is probably the best acting on the disc.  The special features should have titles commiserate with that of the film: “The Making of Reprisal: The Lengths We Went to To Ensure This Movie Was the Mental Equivalent of an Acidic Enema”.  And “The Casting of Reprisal: Actors That Thought This Would Be More Entertaining Than Watching a Competition Between Growing Grass (not the fun kind) and Drying Paint”.  “The Music of Reprisal: How to Play the Drums and a Tuba with Your Fart Hole”.

In summary: poop.
Grade: F+ (the “+” is for actress Olivia Culpo, the only spark of beauty in an otherwise crappy affair)
Special Features: F- (just because)
Blu-ray Necessary: If you buy this on Blu-ray, somehow, somewhere, entire colonies of cute puppies and kittens will simultaneously explode.  Please—don’t kill the puppies.

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, November 1, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Remember when there was a certain charm to the Marvel Universe?  It was a happy time, when Thor and Hulk bickered with their fists to perfect comedic timing, when Tony Stark’s wit and sarcasm were hilarious exclamation points to the action and kept everything feeling light and relatable?

And then the MCU got all dark and mysterious.  Okay, not really mysterious.  It was more like heavy-handed storytelling and origin stories which all followed the same blueprint.  Even the first ANT-MAN was guilty of that: hero comes into a superpower/supersuit, hero has to learn about defending the people and the greater good, hero battles someone that has the same type of superpower/supersuit.  But what set the first film apart from the rest of the MCU was its reconnection to the humor that charmed us in IRON MAN and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  It was an origin story, yes, but it was also a crime caper.  It felt fresh, because it set itself apart from the rest of the pack by not reaching further than its geographical confines.

With ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, returning director Peyton Reed not only stays true to his method of storytelling from 2015’s ANT-MAN, but he ups things a notch.  He smoothly and without any heavy-handedness makes the viewer more emotionally invested in the characters—and he does it all with that lighthearted humor which is becoming unique to this little corner of the MCU. 

In this installment, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) figures out a way to rescue his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm.  He just needs Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) help to do so—well, he and Pym’s daughter Hope (the badass Evangeline Lilly).  There are several elements that turn this story about a rescue operation into something more, and I’d be giving away too much by describing them all to you.  There is the comedic action, the easy banter between Lang and Hope, the nearly unbearable cuteness of Lang’s daughter (played with amazing timing by Abby Ryder Fortson).

Mr. Reed is smart enough to know that a film cannot rely on its title heroes alone; like the first film, the character that nearly steals the show is Michael Pena’s “Luis”, the fast-talking ex-con who tells a story like no other.  He is on point again, and even better than before. 

Keep in mind when watching, however, that whereas ANT-MAN was a crime caper, this one is a rescue mission.  Meaning, there is no need for a super-bad villain, one promising destruction of a city or the world.  This story is kept within Lang & Company’s little corner of San Francisco, and that’s just fine.  It helps keep the goings on more relatable, and the tone lighter. 

There are several special features, including a gag reel and two deleted scenes.  The docs deliver the usual, but what’s missing is more Luis.  For some reason, the Whale Boat Guy gets his own unused takes, but for a studio that was Luis-heavy during the film’s marketing campaign, not including more of him in the special features is a misstep.

ANT-MAN will be back in action in the next INFINITY WARS film, but that will be a brooding sequel to that last heavy, heavy AVENGERS film.  With any luck, he and The Wasp will continue on into the next phase of the MCU; I’m sure it will need a little (pun totally intended) levity following the end of the current one.
Grade: A
Special Features: B-
Blu-ray necessary: Absolutely

-- T.S. Kummelman