Wednesday, December 23, 2015


"Blu-ray or Bust"

I hate to admit it, but lately, I’ve kinda been enjoying Tom Cruise movies.

I know, I know, I’m supposed to not like him (see: JACK REACHER, ROCK OF AGES, KNIGHT AND DAY), yet lately…well…he hasn’t really been acting all Tom Cruisey now, has he? (see: EDGE OF TOMORROW, OBLIVION, M:I: GHOST PROTOCAL)

ROGUE NATION furthers the anti-Cruise Cruise movement; not only does he get beat up and beat down, but he also seems more willing lately to let other actors shine.  Like someone slapped him a good one, right in that chiseled kisser of his, and said, “HEY! BITCH-CAKE! There’s other people in the movie, you know!”

Case in point: Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner.  Pegg plays scene stealer “Benji”, the electronics guru of the bunch.  He is not the only source of comedy in the film, but he is one of the most reliable as far as the Average Joe moniker goes.  Yes, he’s a spy, but he’s a down-to-earth nerdy spy.  Renner is unflappable as head honcho “Brandt”, who keeps busy trying to keep the CIA off of Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) back for a good portion of the film.

There, however, is where ROGUE missteps.  In a plot-point not unfamiliar to the franchise, the IMF is shut down, and the agents are left to fend for themselves against 'The Syndicate', an unseen criminal organization responsible for several disasters/attacks.  The stunts and action scenes are as over-the-top thrilling as you would expect, including a motorcycle chase that blows away the boring one from the second film.  But some of the plot seems rehashed, and not as fresh as GHOST PROTOCAL was.  There really is only so much you can do in a spy film to make it seem fresher than the others in the market, which is where some of those crazy-ass stunts come into play.

And there are several set pieces designed to thrill and keep you on the edge of your seat.  Cruise serves as a producer on this film, and his adrenalin-rush boyish charm is stamped all over this production.  Not a bad thing; seeing him do his own stunt-work keeps the movie feeling real, makes the danger involved an imminent and palpable third character.

Of course I’m going to demand you see this on Blu-ray.  There are at least three different versions on the format, and it all depends on how deeply you want to infiltrate the filmmaking process.  The best includes a piece on the on-set editing, and another that shows more behind-the-stunts than you thought you ever wanted.  Very good presentation on Blu-ray, and worth the extra dollars.

As of this writing, the sixth installment of the franchise is in pre-production.  Whether the money behind the films can keep the sequels improving with each one remains to be seen, but this much is true: since J.J. Abrams directed the third, I’ve all but been able to forget the second one.  Keep ‘em coming, Tom, just be careful.  Good luck trying to top that motorcycle chase.
Film Grade: A-
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

- T.S. Kummelman

Friday, December 18, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015, 135 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
To start, no spoilers here. 

As was a tradition from years back, seeing a release on this level the opening night is a must.  I can appreciate not having to wait until midnight before the movie starts and go to an early-eve showing instead, but still would have gladly roughed it.  The energy in the theatre is not to be missed when there is such a devote following like this franchise has garnered.  You get to see people "dressed" for the occasion, cheers go up when the music kicks in, and a clapping audience when credits role. 

Sitting in the reclining theatre seat and seeing THE FORCE AWAKENS marked the end of a long hiatus.  All my trepidations over my issues with the previous films were finally put to rest and I got to experience a space opera in this new era of filmmaking being done right.  As with STAR TREK, JJ Abrams once again rejuvenates a Sci-Fi franchise with solid writing and thrilling action, making this my top STAR WARS movie.  Don't get me wrong, there are moments and clips that will never be matched in greatness but this was the most well thought-out episode to date.  The core characters are interesting and the plot flows, a symphony of epic situations. 

There are some stumbles but you have to overlook the logical parts of your brain sending out warnings when a space opera is involved.  The previous films have proven audiences can still do that.  There are a few questionable calls and plot holes but they can be forgiven.  I could have done with at least one more strong baddy to contend with for the good guys.  That would have amped up my fanboy for this new trilogy and leave me more excited for the next installment.

All the parts are there to know this is set in the STAR WARS universe.  The awesome score by John Williams, the incredible scenery and memorable aliens, and the endearing droids will keep you giddy in your seat.  You almost forget that this was not directed by Lucas... oh wait, no, not true.  This is what you imagine Lucas was thinking when he made his films while in the director's seat.  Thank you JJ, thank you. 

Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Blu-ray or Bust" - ANT-MAN

"Blu-ray or Bust"
ANT-MAN (2015, PG-13, 117 minutes, MARVEL STUDIOS/DISNEY)

I understand now why Marvel saved ANT-MAN as the big ending to “Phase Two”.

Borrowing a page or two from IRON MAN by making an everyman actor into a larger than life hero, ANT-MAN is an origin story with a bit more panache to it than some of the other prior attempts.  (I’m referring to Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN, which, at the time, seemed pretty cool, but now just seems pretty corny) The polished Marvel Studios, which occasionally stumbles (THOR: THE DARK WORLD), played it smart this time by bringing the storytelling a bit more down to earth.

Ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) can’t hold a job due to his criminal record, until he is convinced by retired scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to don the suit he once wore himself to fight evil.  An easy enough synopsis to write, but, oh, does Scott have some issues.  An agile cat-burglar, he seems to lose much of his finesse once he dons the suit which shrinks him down to the size of a pesky picnic crasher, which is one of the few details of an otherwise tight script that seems to get lost in the shuffle.  At one point, we see Scott performing a form of parkour, but then has problems with agility once he goes all micro-Scott.

And the villain, scientist Darren Cross (an over-the-top Corey Stoll), plays to stereotype too easily.  Another mad scientist, Marvel, really?

Yet it is Rudd’s performance as a dad trying to reconnect with his young daughter that grounds you to his character, no matter how shady his past.  Rudd possesses an ability to make you like him; there is a charm and twinkle to his eye that belies the gravity of his situations.  If you were ever in a tight spot, this is the guy you want on your side.

Hopefully, there will be another solo ANT-MAN film, because lemme tell ya’, if they don’t make another movie with Michael Pena, I’m going to be a wee bit pissed.  As Lang’s ex-con buddy “Luis”, Pena, like the world’s greatest thief, steals every frickin’ scene he is in.  Writer Edgar Wright (whom bowed out of the directorial chair during production) may have written a great comedic character, but the life with which Pena infuses said character is a feat which solely belongs to him.  If there were a Super-hero Academy Awards, he would win Best Supporting Character.  He’s that good.

The special features are what you come to expect from the great machine that is Marvel, including an interesting doc on micro-photography.  And it is nice to see the studio still keeping things honest; in an age where other studios make you purchase the 3-D version to get all of the special features, I’m happy to say that Marvel is still including the same features on each release.

You would think that AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON would have been the big finale, but, once again, the studio ended its second bout of super hero flicks with a bang, and with intelligence.  ANT-MAN may not be bigger than ULTRON, but it is, thankfully, better. 
Film Grade: B+
Special Features: B+
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

- T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Eggnog and Abject Caroling: The Other Christmas Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX"

"Eggnog and Abject Caroling: The Other Christmas Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX"

Comedy/Holiday Favorites

(2015, TV-MA, 56 minutes, NETFLIX ORIGINALS)

You owe it to Bill Murray to watch this entire show.  And to yourself.  But more for Murray.  In what winds up having the greatest last twenty minutes of any Christmas variety show ever produced, Murray and company give you a tale of a failed Christmas special with more cameos and guests than you could shake a pine branch at.  The first half is charming and occasionally humorous.  The best part is finding out what a reliable singing voice Murray possesses, and how much Chris Rock needs lessons.  But the biggest surprises (and laughs) come at the forty-two minute mark.  You may not like Miley Cyrus, but that young lady blows every other performance of “Silent Night” you have ever heard completely out of the water.  And George Clooney accompanying Murray on a vaguely dirty “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’” is, quite possibly, the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.  Watch it, and be amazed.


(2014, NR—definitely an “R”, 89 minutes, DOUBLE WINDSOR FILMS)

Ever wonder what all of the Santa Clauses in the world do between Christmas Day and Thanksgiving?  This film explores not only the ins and outs of being Santa, but what it takes to become one in the first place.  Director Tommy Avallone and his crew follow several incarnations of the famous elf year round, giving you behind-the-scenes insight into the everyday lives of these special men.  There is a religious Santa, a lovelorn gay Santa, a Santa living off of social security, and other Santa Clauses from all walks of life.  One rather interesting story in the film is the transition of real-life professional wrestler and author Mick Foley’s transition into Santa Claus.  The film is informative, touching, and at times, downright hilarious.  Ever seen a drunk Santa?  Or a sexy bear Santa?  At a Bear Convention, no less?  This movie's got you covered.  Just keep the kids away from this one, okay?  F-bomb droppin’ Santa Clauses should not be witnessed by the young-un’s.


Sometimes, the best way to spend Christmas is with an epic adventure, or a timeless tale from the past.  So if you find yourself with two-and-a-half hours to kill on Christmas day, spend it watching something like, say…

(2000, R, 154 minutes) 

Still a great story, and masterfully told by Ridley Scott.  A Roman father goes from warrior to slave in this bloody tale of vengeance and retribution.  Russel Crowe is the hero, Joaquin Phoenix the douche-canoe bad guy, and the gorgeous Connie Nielson is the resident hottie (you’ll remember her as the femme fatale in THE ICE HARVEST).

Or, if testosterone and something more holiday-like is your thang, try:

(2003, R, 134 minutes) 

Okay, not really an “epic”, but it is long, and tells several tales of people connecting with one another, and the myriad types of love there are.  Funny, refreshing, and not too corny, it is the overall scope of the stories which make this something of an epic.  And the run-time, that, too. 

Holiday Staples on Netflix


(2003, R, 91 minutes, COLUMBIA PICTURES)

In case a peek into the real lives of Santa Clauses wasn’t your thing, I present to you Billy Bob Thornton and a foul mouthed elf.  Thornton plays a mall Santa whose sole purpose in life is to steal as much as possible, spend eleven months of the year drinking and paying for sex, then doing it all over again in December.  The supporting players in this film represent a treasure trove of comedy: Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Tony Cox, and awkward Brett Kelly all get laughs, but this is a movie made for Billy Bob’s gruffness and style.  BAD SANTA is all about inappropriateness, bad behavior, and redefining what you really think about creepy mall Santa Clauses.   This is the movie you put on to drive away the old ladies and the church group.

(2005, R, 92 minutes, FOCUS FEATURES/UNIVERSAL)

You’ve probably heard me clamoring over this tidy little tale of dastardly doings before, but you are going to have to hear me say it again: THIS FILM IS AWESOME.  It’s not a Christmas movie for the kiddies, but rather a cautionary tale for parents. And great noir.  And a richly drawn character drama.  And the funniest dark comedy you will watch all year.  Forget the fact that it has the best ensemble of any modern era holiday film, and forget that it is directed by Harold Ramis.  You are not supposed to like anyone in this story, but you will.  You aren’t supposed to find any redeeming qualities in these characters, but you will (for one of them, at least—and only then when that poor schmuck asks for pancakes).  Kick off the holiday season with thieves, murderers, strippers, MORE Billy Bob Thornton, and John-freaking-Cusack.

Remember, kiddies, if there is a genre you want a nice, shiny example from, let us know.  Otherwise, I’ll just keep watching whatever the heck I want to.  Which means I win.  You don’t really want me winning all of the time, do you?...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: KRAMPUS

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on KRAMPUS (2015, 98 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
This was a guilty pleasure for sure.  KRAMPUS could be described as A CHRISTMAS STORY and CHRISTMAS VACATION have a run-in with GREMLINS, said with a Tim Burton flair.  A boy wished his Christmases could be as they once were and be rid of the family madness... and "someone" happened to be listening.

Writer-director Michael Dougherty, his only other feature length credit as a director being TRICK 'R TREAT, put together a fantastic Christmas tale that will be told through the ages (why a PG-13 rating rather than an R).  Visually, KRAMPUS was a haunting winter wonderland filled with fiendish pleasures.  The soundtrack by Douglas Pipes was a perfect blend to touch on the silly and dramatic moments, enhancing the overall tone of the setting, with sounds of bells, chains, and choirs chanting to create a macabre aural experience. 

The elements of a strong satirical-horror flick were in place.  This lovingly-dysfunctional family consisted of comedic stereotypes headed by a German matriarch to relate the lore, and the formula worked to highlight the punishments they deserved.  His Highness of Santa's darkside, surrounded by his impish minions, made for a great villain with devilish tricks.  I am still not sure if I'm sold on their interpretation of his facial design but it was effective.  Overall, this was an entertaining movie and I will add it to the growing list of holiday viewing, next to ELF and DIE HARD.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

'Blu-ray or Bust' - SPY

'Blu-ray or Bust'

Okay.  So.  This came out a few weeks ago.


Kind of.  Okay, fine, I spent most of my money on Christmas shopping on Amazon (OMG, have you seen the freaking Lightning Deals?!?) and couldn’t afford to movie-shop.  And I was kinda watching Christmas movies.  And the first season of “Arrow”.  But this film is kind of important; if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to, and not just because of the star power that is, quite possibly, the best comedic actor of our time.

You have to wait for over an hour for Melissa McCarthy to let loose.  During that time, you are treated to the usual Paul Feig comedy.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are a few chuckles along the way.  But the majority of the best laughs are provided not by McCarthy herself, but rather by her costars, and one in particular.

In a performance so out of place, so unexpected, none other than Jason Statham carries the first half of this film.  Honestly, he gives a performance that not only is a textbook definition of what a supporting actor should be, but he steals the first half of this film.  From his delivery to the lines spouting from his tough-guy jaw line, he turns in a performance as hilarious as it is unnerving.  His obvious self-deprecation of a genre that made him a star is such perfect casting that he is this year’s answer to Sandra Bullock.  (You’ll remember the performance she turned in for her film with Feig and McCarthy, THE HEAT, which was an amazing comedic feat in and of itself)

But at that hour and ten minute mark, you can feel the film shift gears, and not in an unpleasant way.  To go from a male carrying the first half to McCarthy letting her bad-girl shine through.  Feig, although losing much of his comedic momentum by the final act, makes a strong case for men directing strong female leads in today’s cinema.  Interesting to hear the actresses of Hollywood up in arms about their treatment by the system that, currently, has a director and a star that seem to make very funny movies together.

At the point when Statham passes the comedy reigns to McCarthy, her abrasive, angry CIA agent “Susan Cooper” not only carries the film to the finish line, she does so with such brutally spat dialogue that you wonder how anyone on screen was able to keep a straight face. This may not be the funniest film of all time, but it may be the funniest of 2015.

The Extended Cut on Blu-ray is the only way to watch this film.  From the engaging soundtrack, which occasionally throws an exclamation point on an already good punch line, to the action on screen, this is a funny action film and should be watched as such.  The special features are numerous, including gag reels almost as amusing as the film itself.

Feig’s next project, while controversial, reunites him with McCarthy.  For those pundits who are crying foul at a remake of GHOSBUSTERS, I say this: give Feig a chance.  While I am a big fan of the original, I’m curious to see the spin he and McCarthy put on a classic.  The performances he elicits from his actors is nothing short of amazing, and while McCarthy may be great at her job, it is the surprises, like Statham and the rather unsung Rose Byrne, that make these films funnier than they have a right to be.

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

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: CREED

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on CREED (2015, 133 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
I admit I am not one of the Rocky fanboys from long ago.  I know plenty who are and live through the 'Rockyisms'.

Mickey - "You're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!"

CREED is a true Rocky flick in almost all respects, carrying the 39-year-old film's legacy into the modern era.  The elements of life's hardships and personal struggle are there, as is the core of a good Rocky film.  The story tells of Creed's bastard son, Adonis Johnson, who gets put into group homes at an early age and then works hard through his fists to get out from under his father's shadow. 

The technique used to put the audience into the boxing ring was on par with some of the best fight movies.  It was beyond what I remember from any of the past or recent boxing films and made you dance in the footwork and feel the physical blows.  The choreography between sparring fighters and the camera put you in the action and reminded me how I did once enjoy the sport of boxing.  Sadly, the top boxing cards have been disappointing fights as of late and the tradition of boxing has been tarnished with shame and doubt.

Mickey - "Your nose is broken."
Rocky - "How does it look?"
Mickey - " Ah, it's an improvement."

Michael B. Jordan's acting range has been called into question based on his previous endeavors (FANTASTIC FOUR, FRUITVILLE STATION, CHRONICLE... "All My Children") by his sometimes uncharismatic presence and one dimensional character parts.  But re-teaming with director Ryan Coogler (from FRUITVILLE STATION), Jordan makes complete sense and shows he can play lead effectively.  The synergy in the simpler scenes and his everyday-man approach is a credit to both. 

Sylvester Stallone reprising his role as Rocky was effective in the plot building but seemed forced with poor integration when progressing his subplot.  Unlike Schwarzenegger's return as the Terminator, Stallone's performance did not need to carry the film.  Stallone did do well as showing an aged fighter and who is struggling with his loses.  All you could do is cringe and shake your head as you watched an icon suffer, even though fictional.

Mickey - "Why do you wear that old sweaty thing?"
Rocky - "It brings me luck."
Mickey - "It brings you flies."

CREED is a great addition to the ROCKY collection and any fanboy should find it an acceptable passing of the torch.

Grade: B

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: NO ESCAPE

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on NO ESCAPE (2015, 103 minutes, R)

Remember a guy who started out quietly in the movie industry, made a splash in BEHIND ENEMY LINES with Gene Hackman, and then big as a comedic actor? Sounds familiar, right? Part of the Wilson brothers… no, not the singin’ sisters--I'm thinking Owen Wilson, who still has a little spunk as an action / drama star after doing that long laundry list of comedies – ZOOLANDER, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, THE INTERNSHIP, HALL PASS, WEDDING CRASHERS, ZOOLANDER, SHANGHAI NOON, MEET THE PARENTS… whoo… etc... that takes care of that. NO ESCAPE didn’t make the biggest blip on the ‘critic's radar’ but is one exciting and traumatic ride. Wilson plays a father sent overseas with his family for his job but finds himself trapped in country while a coup erupts.

Writer-Director John Erick Dowdle takes all the things that could possibly go wrong while sent out of the country and puts this family through every trial. And, I don’t mean the frilly wine tasting and cheese eating fun, this isn’t Paris… too soon?... But wait; he then throws in the charismatic Pierce Brosnan as the quick-thinking Brit sent over to work with the previous government to help them survive. I wish he would receive greater recognition for these costarring action roles over these past few years. Liam Neeson gained major notoriety as an aged action hero, but Brosnan is crushing these parts lately, and not a word. He is never a bad addition to these castings.

The wife and children to Jack Dwyer (Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins, and Claire Geare respectively) were also great casting choices as they made you attached to their dilemma in a way that invested you in their survival. You can see the turmoil and fear in their eyes as they must escape (and do) the unthinkable. (I think these child-actors may need a few rounds of therapy to fix any damage caused… yeah, that bad… or good, whichever.)

NO ESCAPE may not be on your ‘must-see’ list but I think this film is a great example of Wilson’s range and a check list of why to never leave the great ‘U. S. of A.’ without first checking the news.

Grade: B-