Wednesday, December 28, 2016


‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Approximately five thousand and two people were shot in the making of this western.

Seriously. At one point, “Sam Chisolm” (Denzel “If You Need My Filmography You Shouldn’t Even Be Watching Movies” Washington) walks into the middle of a dusty, lifeless street. He is surrounded by corpses, both townsfolks and bad guys alike, all deader than doornails. And it looks like there are roughly five thousand corpses in the background.

I’m not complaining; the old west was, apparently, a really violent place, and we are lucky anyone made it out alive to continue the human race. In Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 classic of the same name, you get the feeling that there was an R-rated film lurking in here, but it got lost in the marketing stratagem. I mean, all them dead folk, you’d expect a bit more blood on account of it being so dang violent. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all about a good shoot-‘em-up. But there isn’t a whole lotta new in this modern-day retelling of a group of gunslingers coming together to fight off bad hombres.

The original film, written by SEVEN SAMURAI legend Akira Kurosawa, was about American cowboys saving a Mexican town from banditos. This one is about seven cowboys fighting off an evil land baron in America; it doesn’t have the same heroic feel that the first film did. Granted, there are some beautifully shot scenes, and the writing is tight enough. But again: there is not much new on display here that you haven’t already seen in other, better westerns. Also, the camaraderie amongst our heroes isn’t fleshed out enough; much of it is assumed, and most of those assumptions are based on stereotypes. There is a certain underlying bigotry to that age and time, and it is glossed over much more than it is paid attention to. Basically, there are not a whole lot of socially redeemable moments amongst a band of hired guns that are made out to be BFF’s, and it is kind of obvious in its lacking.

And the moments of intimate death…it’s as if new screenwriters Richard Wenk (16 BLOCKS, THE EQUALIZER) and Nic Pizzolatto (“True Detective”) were trying for a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN feel, but pulled back on actually dictating the violence. The cinematography by Mauro Fiore (TRAINING DAY, AVATAR) is exceptional, but at times reflects the hesitancy you feel from the rest of the film.

There are several special features, each about eight minutes long; while it is fun to see Pratt making jokes, what is more entertaining is seeing the cast giving props to real life gunslingers. Yes, they also tend to go on about each other, but the fact that all of them seem appreciative of being able to re-make such an iconic film is refreshing, despite the finished product.

While it is nice to see such an eclectic cast together, sometimes the result isn’t what you’d hoped for. Fuqua has a number of documentaries in the works, and of course Washington, Pratt, and Vincent “Kingpin” D’onofrio are stars in their own right, I cannot imagine this being a springboard for any of the other actors. It wasn’t because of their performances, but is because of what Fuqua did with those performances: not much.

Film Grade: C
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended, if you must

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - SUICIDE SQUAD

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

When I first saw SUICIDE SQUAD in theatres, I, like many others, was disappointed.

The editing was too jumpy, the story seemed unfocused, and it just didn’t feel as fun as the trailers had been. I enjoyed Will Smith’s “Deadshot”, Margo Robbie’s “Harley Quinn”, and Viola Davis as The Meanest Woman in the World. Everyone else felt… well, kinda bland.

Thank The Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus that DC and Warner Bro’s are committed to a director’s visions. As with the previous release of BATMAN V SUPERMAN’s “R-rated” cut on Blu-ray, another film exists—one better than what was released in theatres, one that nails all of the previous flaws it exhibited in theatres. But like the last Superman film, I worry that it is too late.

The story itself is about a bunch of villains forced to team up to save the world. What has become a regurgitated idea is a bit more fleshed out with the extra eleven minutes, and gives us more insight into what makes these people as bad as they are. Harley, for instance, gets more screen time; her street psychoanalysis of her teammates is truer to the nature of her comic book character than all of the well-timed one-liners she has in the film. Smith as “Deadshot” is even better than you would expect; his is the conscious of the film, a deadly Jiminy Cricket that knows he’s bad, and has reasons for being so. He might be a serial killer for higher, but he has an all too human side to him.

Then, there is Jared Leto’s “Joker”. While I still believe that Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the iconic madman was truer to the “Batman” TV series, and Heath Ledger’s was a pure exercise in insanity (a brilliant one, mind you), Leto comes closest to the comics than anyone else. Like, EVER. He is a maniacal, violent, sadistic genius who needs no backstory. He just is.

The rest of the characters are perfectly cast, right down to Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s “Killer Croc”. If anything, this is quite a diverse cast, and is deserving of respect at least for its use of great character actors from so many different cultures and peoples. While much of Hollywood can still be accused of white washing (see every freaking movie about ancient Egypt for examples), DC opened up a lovely bag of ethnicities this time around.

The special features are plentiful, and all are worth the watch. The story behind the original Suicide Squad comics, and how the filmmakers got to this version, is an interesting watch; it is refreshing to see a studio take the time to interview the original creators, and give them an equal say in the development of their characters.

Despite the negative reviews, SQUAD made more than enough at the box office to garner a sequel—of sorts. Robbie will reprise her role as Harley with another off-shoot of the DC Universe called “Gotham City Sirens”. Writer/director David Ayer will be back as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Leto reprise his role. The other characters, however… while a direct sequel may not be necessary, as a fan, I would appreciate a continuation in the series. It is good to know that the studio didn’t drop Ayer and his vision completely; they just waited to share it for the video release.

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

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: MISS SLOANE

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on MISS SLOANE (2016, 132 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
MISS SLOANE is not a simple film in any aspect by any means.  I would say there are many ways to potential interpret what you are seeing.  Talking with someone who had not seen the film and heard about some blurb saying that, “this is the film that the NRA ‘does not’ want you to see,” I realized the brilliance of the film.

Directed by John Madden (of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, and THE DEBT) and written by Jonathan Perera, amazingly the only writer, puts you in the heart of the lobbyists’ playground and sends you quickly into a tailspin.  The story centers on Miss Sloane, who is a well-renown lobbyist, who takes on supporting a bill that goes against one of the most powerful entities in politics, the NRA and 2nd amendment ‘enthusiast’. 

With such an impressive cast, there still were a few standouts.  Jessica Chastain (of THE MARTIAN, ZERO DARK THIRTY, and THE HELP) as Miss Elizabeth Sloane is commanding and attention-drawing.  You cannot look away for fear of missing her next play and catch those softer moments, which were quite rare.  To compliment her is Gugu Mbatha-Raw (CONCUSSION, FREE STATE OF JONES, and JUPITER ASCENDING) who has shades of innocence and driven by pure heart.  One other crucial binding element is Mark Strong (of KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, and SHERLOCK HOLMES).  He plays Rodolfo Schmidt, the president of a small law firm championing for the bill, who convinces Sloane to leave her prestigious company to aid him in this herculean task. 

Now, you would believe that a film centering around anti-gun ideals, it really is only a peripheral piece to the whole.  In fact, both side get a fair shake on their arguments, not actually taking a full side.  The bill, featuring the Heaton-Harris Amendment, is to add more to the current process in purchasing a gun, wait days and the requiring a background check for all purchases.  The topic remains slightly grayed rather than pushing an agenda.  And that my friends is the beauty of the picture.  The plot is driven by Miss Sloane and the process of acquiring votes for a bill, not a bunch of fluff and single-minded psychological warfare to sway your opinion. 

This pick for my film to review was a difficult choice since I try to avoid anything overly political.  But, I was proven a wuss for doubting.  The story was told so well that it did borderline on having that ‘based on real events’ feel.  They would have only needed to change the tone on a few subplots and add a bit more ambiguity.  So you might consider pushing this one up higher on your ‘to watch’ list.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016, 101 minutes, PG)

"If you must blink, do it now."

The Quick of It -
When a movie opens with such a powerful line, you know you are going to experience something exceptional.

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is that something exceptional and fills you with a sense of adventure and wonder.  It’s about a courageous boy who must find his way to better understand the secrets of his past, and where his future lies.  Once only thought tales he retold to crowds in town to earn some coin, he finds out how true they are and must quest for three powerful items to protect himself from his single-minded, and awfully cranky, grandfather.  They are legendary pieces his father once sought; the Sword Unbreakable, the Armor Impenetrable, and the Helmet Invulnerable.  During his journey, he meets some unlikely characters that help him complete these arduous tasks and to find his place in the world.

This film comes out of the Laika studios, and they give us a 3D stop-animation marvel.  You would expect this to be out of one of Japan’s highly regarded studios, but it was developed out of our own backyard.  Travis Knight, making this his directorial debut, helms KUBO.  He comes straight out of their animation departments from previous hit films, having worked on PARANORMAN, CORALINE, and THE BOXTROLLS.  The writing is tight and tells far more than a simple fiction.  The original crafter is Shannon Tindle, with credit for the screenplay going to Marc Haimes and Chris Butler.     

As sad as it sounds, I care little for the voices involved… since there were no discernable reasons to believe they flubbed the film.  They include Art Parkinson (DRACULA UNTOLD and SAN ANDREAS), Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, and ‘The Matthew of McConaughey’.  There was no way this going to be a disaster, and probably why I have little regard.  Using familiar voices from recognizable Hollywood titans instills a subconscious comfort level that allows for a certain level of creditability. 

The stylized imagery, the traditional Japanese sounds and music, and the skillfully-crafted action makes this one of my top films for 2016, even when surrounded by a plethora of box office ‘big boys’.  The beginning alone will sell you on the magical journey he must take.  Kubo entertains a crowd with his shamisen, telling a fairy-tale with animated origami creatures and shapes that dance around and shoot fire, among other things.  This storytelling technique reaches out to the real audience, setting the stage for the magic-realism that surrounds this tale, making you not question what you are about to see.

So no questions… this is a must watch.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

“Fantastically Ugly Sweaters and Abject Caroling: The Other Christmas Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

“Fantastically Ugly Sweaters and Abject Caroling: The Other Christmas Stuff You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

While there are some notable omissions from this list, there are still a few classics and almost-classics for the holidays. Recently, Netflix lost the rights to BAD SANTA and THE ICE HARVEST, and DIE HARD hasn’t been available to stream in, like, EVER. However, there are a few good ones here, whether it be for family viewing or not-so-kid-friendly time.

(2015, NR (treat it as an “R”), 99 minutes, COPPERHEART ENT.)

Oh, those wily Canadians! Christmas in the fictional town of Bailey Downs is in full swing, and so are the axes! Four mostly unrelated tales make this a film that delves into holiday legends (Krampus) and mythological beings (changelings), as well as a nifty “teenagers trapped in a haunted school” segment, and Santa battling the undead. Add William Shatner as a booze-swigging disc jockey trying to keep it together during Christmas Eve, and you have a whole lot going on in this bloody little flick. Plenty of dark humor and holiday SPIRITS (sorry, forgot to insert the PUN ALERT! bit…) for the adults in the family.

Additional Horror Selections: DEAD SNOW/DEAD SNOW 2—neither one of these has anything to do with Christmas, but there’s snow, and nothing says “Happy holidays!” quite like snow. And Nazi zombies.

Comedy/Bill Murray

(1988, PG-13, 101 minutes, PARAMOUNT PICTURES)

If I even have to tell you about this film, there’s clearly something amiss with your priorities. Murray plays a modern (for the late 80’s, that is) Scrooge to an all-star cast of characters, including musician-turned-actor David Johansen as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the scene stealing Carol Kane as a toaster-wielding Ghost of Christmas Present. The backstory of a big TV production makes for a nice follow-up to the “Very Murray Christmas” special…speaking of which…

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

I reviewed this last year, so I won’t make too much of a fuss about it again. But if you didn’t watch it before, do so NOW. While Bill Murray is as charming and fun to watch as always, 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.

Additional Comedy Selections: THE REF pits high strung thief Denis Leary against a dysfunctional family during a holiday heist gone bad; THE PRINCESS BRIDE—nothing at all to do with the holidays, but watch it with your kids if you haven’t already. Seriously. They laugh, you laugh, EVERYBODY HAS A GOOD FREAKING TIME. And some movies were made for watching with family during the holidays. This is one of the best.


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

I told you about this one last year, and I’m going to tell you about it again. Director Tommy Avallone and his crew follow several incarnations of Saint Nick 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’s from all walks of life. There’s even the transformation of real-life professional wrestler and author Mick Foley 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 movies’ got you covered. Just keep the kids away from this one; F-bomb droppin’ Santa’s should not be witnessed by the young-un’s.

Romantic Comedy

(2003, R, 134 minutes)

This romantic charmer 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 a Christmas must-see. That, and Liam Neeson playing a single father…heartbreaking and masterful, his performance is.

(2005, PG-13, 96 minutes, NEW LINE CINEMA)

Ryan Reynolds is a skinny success story; returning to his hometown for the holidays, he reconnects with the funny and ever-so-attractive Amy Smart, who last remembers him as a chubby teenager. There is a rather smarmy humor to this film, which takes liberties with the high school reunion genre and makes romance as unromantic as possible. Watch out for Anna Farris; her comedy chops are borderline brilliant here. The toothpaste scene alone is worth watching the entire film for.

Science Fiction/Action


Okay, once again, NOT a Christmas movie. Think of it as Netflix’s gift to you, though. Billed as “science fiction/horror”, this light-on-the-horror, heavy-on-the-action film is what every ‘Sci Fi Channel Turd of the Week’ wishes it could be: smart, entertaining, and fun. Borrowing from several other films, this movie, while occasionally retreading old themes, still feels fresh. The effects are great, the plot moves quickly, and the cast is all in. Not a bad actor in the bunch, and nobody does anything too stupid. Well, okay, a kid does, but kids are stupid anyways, am I right?!? This movie really deserves its own review, but I’m including it here because, if anything, it delivers exactly what you want: a couple hours break from the crazy holidays. Besides, Bruce Greenwood is in it. And nothing says Christmas like Bruce Greenwood… (okay, I mighta stretched for the last one…)

-- T.S. Kummelman