Thursday, January 28, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: RIDE ALONG 2

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on RIDE ALONG 2 (2015, 102 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
We have a return of the buddy-cop duo of Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.  If you were a fan of the first, this one should not disappoint.  This film starts where the previous left off.  Ben (Kevin Hart) has just become a cop fresh out of the academy and is planning his wedding with his fiancé Angela (Tika Sumpter).  James (Ice Cube) gets a lead in a case that points to Miami, and with Ben desperate to prove his potential at being a detective, he takes Ben along to show him that he is doomed to fail.

With Benjamin Bratt as the suave but corrupt business mogul and Ken Jeong as the nerdy hacker added to the formula, Miami seems the place to be.  Bratt gives you the Spanish culture, highlighting dancing and lust, while Ken shows us the disturbing side of geekdom when supplied with large amounts of cash and fetish needs.  

The ladies of the cast were also most notable, Tika (of 'The Haves and Have Nots') and Olivia Munn (of MAGIC MIKE and IRON MAN 2).  They make for some unforgettable moments and compliment their counterparts in the story.  The chemistry in the writing and delivery between Tika and Kevin seems to work beyond the screen.  Theirs is something I could only hope for... :(  (Yeah, I just emoticoned.)

Ice Cube still carries that same 'attitude' that we just recently got the chance to witness and possibly understand where it comes from in the STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON bio'ish-pic.  His eyes tell you so much with that dark glare, even when his shades are on.  I could only wish to have that superpower.

I have to say I am appreciating this return of buddy-cop films as they help to lessen then seriousness surrounding other films.  We also get treated to some 'Miami Vice' glam in choice scenes, and now we have an updated 2016 version - women swimming in overhead tubes in a swimsuit shop and pet alligators... okay, maybe still the same.  The chance to laugh at senseless shenanigans makes for a great time and a break from adulting.

Grade: B

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


"Blu-ray or Bust"

I would like to be able to say that “gangsta rap” made me who I am today.

Unfortunately, no amount of gangsta rap can turn someone into a white, slightly over-weight, single dad with mental issues and a room at his mommy’s house. No, I blame all that on a lack of gangsta rap, quite honestly (and, well... GENETICS).

You see, when N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” dropped in record stores nationwide in August of 1988, I was preparing for my second year of college. I was listening to Prince, The Beastie Boys, and The Rolling Stones on my Walkman. The closest I got to controversial music that year was trying to memorize the lyrics to 2 Live Crew’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. Thank the Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus for MTV.

Although, even with MTV, I was rather ensconced on the East Coast side of life. At that time, rap music seemed almost more of a novelty than an art. Seriously; “The Fat Boys”? You expect me to take a trio of fat guys seriously?!? Not to re-mention 2 Live Crew, which was essentially dirty porno music with a singular purpose: to shock. That singular purpose for a product can be attributed to most anything in life. Like Frito Lay’s Bean Dip. It’s just a can of beans, a single layer dip with one sole reason for being: to make Frito’s Scoops even tastier.

Such was rap music (for me, at least) at the time. And then comes a group of bad mother effers talking about police brutality and the brutality of the streets, and all I want to do is ride my ten speed bike to work and to the mall and not have to worry about drive-by shootings or gangsta’s or why all of the rappers keep calling each other the fricking N-word.

Obviously, instead of being straight out of Compton, I was, way back in 1988, straight outta Palm Harbor. Ruthlessly pleasant Palm Harbor. The exact polar opposite of Compton, CA.

So, no, N.W.A.’s first studio album did not have much effect on me. I almost wish it had. Ultimately, the album is not just an exercise in free speech so much as it is an exercise in freedom. Freedom to be yourself, freedom to express what influence the current cultural environment can have on a young man and his family and friends. It has a sh*t-ton of curse words in it, but if you take a moment to actually read some of the lyrics, you’ll see how eloquently much of it is written. These men were poets, they were artists, and theirs was a voice unheard by much of the world.

Hopefully the release of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, the biopic of the life and death of absolutely the most influential rap group to ever exist, will cause a resurgence in album sales. The film is not great (the flaws are minor, although director F. Gary Gray spends too much time on Eric “Easy E” Wright, which causes some missteps in the flow of the story), but it is damn good. And it is important to watch every single special feature included; it is the only way to get the full impact of what these artists created. That, and you get to see the pressure the actors playing the parts put themselves through in order to actually be able to perform as the group.

Buy it on Blu-ray. The music kind of demands it. As does the performance of Paul Giamatti as a skeezy manager. And then there is one O’Shea Jackson Jr, who happens to capture his father’s (Ice Cube) presence, mannerisms, and lyrical ability with spooky and uncanny accuracy.

So while I may be perpetrating a stereotype by saying that I will be purchasing the soundtrack to this film, I would like it to be known that I will also be RE-purchasing that most seminal of albums “Straight Outta Compton” as well. Due to the influence of my own cultural environment, I may have never been able to appreciate the honesty of N.W.A.’s lyrics, but I can at least respect how they approached their art, and turned rap music into actual music and not just a singular novelty.

Besides, I can use it as my life soundtrack right now. ‘Cause pimpin’ ain’t easy, kids; pimpin’ ain’t easy.

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

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"SKumm's Thoughts" - THE FOREST

"SKumm's Thoughts"
THE FOREST (2016, PG-13, 93 minutes, AI FILMS/LAVA BEAR FILMS)

In real life, there is a forest in Japan that distraught people go to kill themselves.

In real life, there are several producers, two screenwriters (the third one involved in the following, Nick Antosca, gets a pass, but only because he was a writer for the defunct TV thriller “Hannibal”), and a certain director that really should considering spending time in the aforementioned forest. 

Like, they should build a summer villa there.

Except for the alluring Natalie Dormer, THE FOREST is a freaking mess.  Her acting is superb (she plays twins, one looking for the other, who apparently did what the producers should have done and wandered into the suicide woods), she looks stunning even when she is covered in leaves, and her eyes mirror the haunted landscape like no other actress.

But everything else sucks.  The story is basic enough, and therein lies one of the several problems plaguing this “production”. By the time we start getting answers, you really don’t care anymore.  And then, when said answers come, you are left wondering “why?”  Not “why did this character do this,” or “why did that ghost do that.”  No, it’s more like WHY DIDN’T I GO WATCH STAR WARS VII AGAIN?!?  Or, WHY DIDN’T I STAY HOME AND STICK A FORK IN THE WALL SOCKET FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF?!? (AGAIN?!?!)

The landscape itself is brilliant for the first twenty-five minutes.  After that, you wonder why you are looking at extraneous shots of snails and moss.  Beyond that, it is dismally boring.  You would think that, for a haunted forest, there would be more going on in it.  But there isn’t.  And it sucks.  Surely, there are better places than this to kill yourself in.

Normally, I like to give you more than a few paragraphs-worth of my opinion, but this “movie” just doesn’t warrant it.  What does warrant my “attention” is the state of horror films today.  For instance, please note the rating: PG-13.  Outside of about three James Wan films, a clear marker for a movie that is targeted solely at teenage girls that want a quick scream followed immediately by irritating giggle-fits is that blasted PG-13 rating.

You see that rating for a horror film, you have a ninety-percent chance of witnessing celluloid stupidity.  And for a film that begins promisingly enough (the way the story unfolds for the first fifteen minutes is a unique and lovely bit of storytelling, but as soon as the script wanders outside, well, IT GETS STUPID), you can add this as the official fore-runner in Most Imbecilic Productions of 2016.

The least we can hope for is that every spirit haunting the real-life “suicide forest” will plague every person responsible for this snooze-fest—except for Natalie, of course.  Please, Ms. Dormer—stick to playing queens on cable television.  You kick ass at it, and deserve so much better than this…

Grade: D (only because of Dormer and that first few minutes—otherwise, this one doesn’t even deserve a rating)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - THE MARTIAN

'Blu-ray or Bust'

I would like to start off by saying that Ridley Scott is the man.

That sounds kinda weak...

Ridley Scott is THE MAN. That sounds better. See, Ridley knows a good story when he hears one, and with Andy Weir’s book “The Martian”, he knew he had a damn good yarn to spin. Wherein lies the famous director’s ability to not screw with the source material too much. He is a visual storyteller with a literary conscience, and it soars to new heights with his adaptation.

What seems like a simple tale of survival becomes so much more than that when you put lead acting responsibility on Matt Damon’s shoulders. He brings the character of Mark Watney to life so well that he is exactly what I envisioned when reading the book. His delivery, his comic timing, his inflections and reflective poses…it has been a while since I had such a tough time deciding which I liked better, the book or the film.

In this case, Ridley gives us the scientific details the book did with a little less aplomb. Author Weir is a self-proclaimed science geek and former software engineer, so you know the science behind every step of this story has got to be as accurate as possible. Whereas Weir could make you feel a teeny bit mentally inferior at times, Ridley reigns all that science in and gives it to you practically. He keeps to much of the same language, dialogue, and story points that Weir did, but he does it with Damon’s voice, and it changes things dramatically.

In these ways, the movie out-shines its literary origin. Ridley knows best what to trim, what to keep, and, in some instances, what to blatantly ignore. The mark of a true visual storyteller is to do just that: show you the story. Sometimes without dialogue, sometimes with such grand vistas that you totally believe the movie was filmed on another planet. His previous science fiction epics which took place on other-worldly venues (PROMETHEUS, ALIEN) would be right at home in the same universe as THE MARTIAN; the landscapes may be bleak and unforgivingly brutal, but they are beautiful just the same.

There are many moments in this story that register deeply—one is comedic (Rich Purnell, played by Donald Glover in a way that screams "HERO!" to every person that suffers from social anxiety), the other harkens back to that vicious elements idea (Watney looking out upon the planet he is the sole inhabitant of). The wonder that is Ridley, though, should also be pointed in the direction of screenwriter Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS, “Daredevil”). What looks like a simple re-telling is so much more when you see how parts of Weir’s book were given significant nods despite their omission.

If you do not purchase this film on Blu-ray, there is something inherently wrong with your brain. Your surround sound demands it, and your eyes demand it. Ridley has always been a man that expects you to rely upon all of your senses when watching one of his films, and MARTIAN is no exception. The special features includes a rare gag reel, which is great not just because of the occasional laugh, but also because you get to see the director in his element, doing what he does best.

THE MARTIAN has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, and each category for which it is nominated is deserving. However…at some point, the Academy is going to have to start appreciating the greatest visual storyteller of our time.

You see, Ridley Scott was not nominated for Best Director. And when you think about how effective, efficient, and prolific of a storyteller he is, you wonder at the audacity of an institution that sometimes puts technical achievement aside in favor of a fan vote.

Smooth one, Academy. AGAIN.

Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Hell yes

--T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: THE REVENANT

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on THE REVENANT (2015, 156 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
There are those films that are released during the course of the year that seem like they are flying under the radar, not as hyped as the superhero or summer blockbuster flicks.  And some those quiet steppers find themselves treading towards the 'big-boy awards' waters.  THE REVENANT is one of those films, and it is not surprising.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has taken on the more artsy projects like BIRDMAN, BABEL, and BUITIFUL in the past.  THE REVENANT sits oh so close but offers more to a broader audience.  Based in part on a novel by Michael Punke, this film resonated with me much like other atmospheric films like THE GREY and APOCALYPTO.  Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who is known for a long list of credits, to include GRAVITY and SLEEPY HOLLOW, does not falter when given a man vs. environment project, that find a way visually to accentuate the way of life in this period piece.

There have been many (probably too many to be comfortable with) films that I would have put on the short list to be recognized by the industry and not make the cut.  This is not one of those that has fallen to snobbish arrogance or good ol' boy favoritism, and I am thankful for that.  I only had to see the trailer to know what I was in store for and was treated with much more.  I will say that I wished it had a little dash of mysticism sprinkled in concerning the lore of a revenant and leaving it more open for discussion, but I'll deal.

The acting across the board is fantastic and riveting, you are not once pulled out of the setting for this long run-time.  And I will admit that Mr. DiCaprio was not an actor I respected, until I saw him in SHUTTER ISLAND and INCEPTION, and retraced him back to BLOOD DIAMOND and some of his other earlier work.  Tom Hardy has had my attention since INCEPTION and WARRIOR.  Under their shadows in this film is Will Poulter creeping out (using that phrase as he is to be Pennywise in the upcoming IT) to make his youthful way in Hollywood and leave his mark here.

I am grateful that this film is receiving the attention it deserves.  You should rush out and see THE REVENANT on the big screen while you can, to be sure to get the full experience.  The bear scene alone is a must.

Grade: A

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - SICARIO

'Blu-ray or Bust'

When it comes to Oscar worthy films, this last year was kind of slow.  There were a butt-ton of movies that came out in 2015—no less than three hundred Hollywood films were released—but when it comes to standouts, or “Oscar favorites”, there were only a few that come to mind.

SICARIO is one of those few.  Starring Emily Blunt (EDGE OF TOMORROW, LOOPER) as a young FBI agent who finds herself recruited for a hands-on role in the war on the Mexican drug cartels, this film thrusts you into the passenger seat with her driving.  It is her perspective we witness the chaos, and hers is the only conscious morality you can rely on.  She is recruited to the battle by shady Government spook Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), whose right-hand-man is an even more mysterious figure.  His side is never clear until the very end—and even then, you kind of knew it all along.  That right hand is none other than Benicio Del Toro, and he shines.

Honestly, they all do.  This film has “Oscar-bait” written all over it.  The acting is great; Brolin is a wonderful, barely controlled bundle of mayhem, and Del Toro is his exact opposite: smooth, calculating…there is almost a hidden poetry to his violence that makes you want to see him work.  They make a formidable pair, and the life they breathe into their characters is a sight to behold.

Blunt, fresh off her last stint with action-God-wannabe Tom Cruise, gives what is easily the best performance of her career.  Thoughtful, honest, and desperate to not let everything that happens around her change her moral stance; hers is the struggle that defines the film, and keeps the story grounded.

But even if all three of them deserve an Oscar, so does writer Taylor Sheridan for his tight script, Denis Villeneuve for his efficient direction, and, most importantly, Roger Deakins for his brilliant eyeballs.  The cinematographer has a total of seventy-four films under his belt, and you have probably seen every one of them.  He captures not only the New Mexico landscape and the great big sky above it in a majestic way, his interiors of the cities and streets of Mexico itself is amazing.  From the moment he takes you on a car-ride through the volatile streets of Juarez, up until you are running through the night with infrared cameras alongside Blunt and the gang, down into a dark tunnel, he creates an atmosphere that is both claustrophobic and provocative.  But it is the way he and director Villeneuve make you a participant in this film that seals the deal.  From Blunt’s thoughtful and loaded silence to the revving of engines and the distant popping of gunfire, you see it all, feel it all, and will more than likely feel just as lost as her character does.  You are swept up into a giant wave, and you have no choice but to ride it out.

This is a must on Blu-ray.  From the gunfights to the quite somberness of sneaking into a tunnel, the visuals and sounds are best witnessed in the high quality format.  Also, this release has what could be some of the best docs released on a disc this year.  The first one, “Stepping Into Darkness”, gives you an immersive look into how the film was made.  From the production design to the cinematography, you get a taste of everything.  The second focuses on the three main characters, and offers insight into how the visual art is used to create a character.

While the Oscar nominations will be released on the 14th, I have hopes that this film will lead the race.  I count at least six people involved with this production that deserve a nice, shiny statuette.  You put a production like this together, you figure someone in Hollywood might notice…
Film Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freakin’-lutely

Friday, January 8, 2016

"SKumm's Thoughts" - A Love Letter To J.J. Abrams

"SKumm's Thoughts"
A Love Letter To J.J. Abrams

Dearest J.J.:

I love you.  Not in an “I want to mate with you” way.  It is more like a “will you take my first born child as a gift” kinda way.  Seriously.  (Sorry, Brandon)

To say that you have become the Savior of Hollywood would be like saying humans need air to live.  It’s just one of those obvious statements that, if uttered aloud, anyone standing nearby would scream “NO DUH, JACKASS”, and hit you with a stick to emphasize their point.  What you did with the “Star Wars” franchise…

But to exalt in your awesomeness by only bringing up your latest stroke of genius is doing you a disservice.  What you did with “Star Trek” was, literally, unbelievable.  Not only did you reboot a series which floundered miserably after the last four Hollywood iterations, but you did it with brains, humor, and no little amount of fascinating technique.  I even enjoyed INTO DARKNESS, and I have been threatened by die-hard Trekkies over that admission.  (By the way, I now refer to them as Trekorists—those people are psychotic, and I fully expect an entire landing party of them to try and shove a photon torpedo up my Romulan one sunny day.)  You could quite possibly be one of the smartest fanboys on this stinkin’ planet; for the Trekorists that didn’t understand how certain plot-points of INTO DARKNESS were possible (future-Spock set it up in the first one, you freaking morons) just shows a certain lack of…oh, I don’t know…CEREBRAL FUNCTION.

And for those arguing certain points of THE FORCE AWAKENS… I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, other than to say that, while some of the points were valid (another Death star?  Come on, man; surely the First Order could have come up with a different freaking weapon of mass destruction by now…) (and that isn’t spoiling anything, so for anyone that hasn’t seen AWAKENS yet that thinks I just spoiled the whole film for them, please go pound sand with your face), most were made by those people that stand around at the truck stop with a Schlitz’s in one hand and the sports page in the other, telling their buddies how they woulda won the big game and how much of a tool the head coach is.  Don’t listen to them, Mr. Abrams.  They, too, are Trekorists.

I’m sorry to see that you will not be directing the next installment of the “Star Wars” franchise.  I fear for how the universe you re-birthed will continue.  It’s like how Ridley Scott abandoned ALIEN after the first film, like a god that created this wonderful thing and then left it behind like a used up ex with social anxiety issues and bad hair (wait…).  I understand that you are staying on as a producer (very smart thinking, especially after FORCE AWAKENS grossed enough money to purchase an actual Star Destroyer…).  But you are leaving the writing and directing up to someone else entirely.  Not that Rian Johnson doesn’t know his way around the genre (LOOPER was brilliant), and I understand that you have a crap-ton of projects in the works as a producer, but what comes next?  SUPER 8 showed the world how creatively awesome your brain really works (not to mention “Lost”, “Alias”, etc.); everything after that has gone bigger and better.

Hopefully, Hollywood won’t pigeonhole you into being the Grandmaster of Reboots.  If you are unfortunate enough to hit such a roadblock, might I suggest your next project be to figure out how to have a test tube baby with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY writer/director James Gunn?  If that works, please allow the child to be raised by MAD MAX guru George Miller.

Yours, always,

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: DADDY'S HOME

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on DADDY'S HOME (2015, 96 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
Man, I was hoping for so much more!  The potential was there and DADDY'S HOME got a few laughs out of me.  In the end, this is a film that validates all the Will Ferrell haters.  He plays the same 'naive idiot' that you find in his other films.  This one misses the mark for me, and makes me angry knowing it could have been so much more.  At this point, I feel like I have wasted enough time and say wait for TV, not even DVD.

Grade: D+

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Blu-ray or Bust" - FANTASTIC FOUR

"Blu-ray or Bust"

I understand yet another fundamental reason why Marvel saved ANT-MAN as the big ending to “Phase Two”: it still had this turd in it’s arsenal.

Don’t get me wrong—there are a few redeeming qualities to this latest iteration of four people transformed into hero-like types by an otherworldly substance.  In the comics, that substance was radiation; here, it is a green energy goo.  It has the same consistency as “Slimer” from GHOSTBUSTERS.  But instead of just sliming them, the ooze gives one the ability to burst into flames, another becomes permanently ensconced in rocks, the lady of the group becomes a half-assed telekinetic, and the main man of the group, Reed Richards (Miles Teller, who is a long ways away from his masterful performance in WHIPLASH), becomes Stretch Armstrong.

Seriously.  It has to be the absolute lamest super power in the Marvel Universe.  Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan, from CHRONICLE and CREED) can fly and shoot fireballs.  Reed can pick your nose from twenty feet away.  Whoopee.

Josh Trank, whose last time in the director’s chair was for the 2012 slice of awesomeness called CHRONICLE, does okay with a script he helped to write.  But there isn’t a whole lot to do here.  The film gets uncomfortably boring at times, and at others seems so overloaded with CGI that you aren’t sure which part of the scene you should be looking at.  And the actors, for as good as they are at what they do, seem a wee bit lost here.  All are singular in their natures; we see no inner turmoil, no questions of faith or moments when their resolve falters.  It is like reading the first episode of a comic that, while it keeps you entertained at times, isn’t one you will be subscribing to.

And the last thirty minutes of the film seem too rushed to be of any consequence.  The introduction and rather quick vanquishing of super villain Victor “Don’t Call Me Doctor” Doom seems more like an after-thought.  Like they forgot about an antagonist, and rushed him in at the last minute so they could justify the necessity of this new team of heroes.

If you like pretty CGI scenery, buy this on Blu-ray.  And the score is good enough to play in the background while you are playing Halo or reading.  Or pooping.  Great soundtrack to poop to.  Otherwise, skip this stinker.  While it may be better than the last THOR movie, it is only marginally better.  Which is where those redeeming qualities come in: first of all, it is shorter than most Marvel films.  Secondly, it has the absolute worst CGI chimpanzee ever created, and you have to see it to believe it (it is one of the best unintentionally funny moments in recent film history, right behind the fake baby in AMERICAN SNIPER).

And, everyone needs at least one crappy movie during their career.  Here’s hoping Trank, who looked so promising with CHRONICLE, can dig himself out of the pit of despair and poopy that he dropped into with FANTASTIC FOUR.  For surely it was that same pit which caused him to get fired from the gig-of-a-lifetime: directing one of the STAR WARS spin-off films.  Which is kind of like being nominated for the Nobel Prize, but then an angry scientist rips the nomination from your hands and judo kicks you in the naughty bits instead.

You can do better than this, Josh…
Film Grade: D+
Special Features: C- (Honestly, who really cares?  There are three docs, all of which are packed with conceptual art and set pieces—and a bunch of people that all drank the Kool Aide and think they created a masterpiece.)
Blu-ray Necessary: Absolutely not!

- T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"Obscurities and Abject Pandering: What You’re Missing on NETFLIX"

"Obscurities and Abject Pandering: What You’re Missing on NETFLIX"




The sneaky thing about Geoffrey Rush is that he grabs your attention no matter what he is doing.  He commands you to watch him sail the seven seas as a dead pirate captain (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN), he demands that you witness him teach a king to speak (THE KING’S SPEECH), he implores you to look away as he tries to use ghosts to kill his conniving wife (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL).  Here, he is much more subtle in the way he wins you over.  As a crooked auctioneer, Rush plays Virgil Oldman to perfection.  From every nuance of the germaphobic character, right down to the way he throws a tantrum, Rush is on point.  He is hired by a local heiress (the stunning Sylvia Hoeks, whose beauty is only outshone by her performance) who suffers from agoraphobia, to catalogue her parent’s rich estate.  Can an old, crooked codger fall in love with a younger woman and draw her from her shell?  No spoilers here, kids.  Just keep in mind that this is not just a well written and well-acted tale, it is also a carefully crafted one.  And it has Donald Sutherland in it, which makes it a must-see.  And: boobs.


(2013, NR (solid “R”), 90 minutes, IFC MIDNIGHT)

It is hard to look away from this adult version of THE HUNGER GAMES.  But it is a rather tough one to watch, too.  A young woman awakens to find herself held prison in a dungeon.  A door opens, and she soon finds herself in a pit where she is forced to fight another woman or die.  And from there, this film goes places you wouldn’t expect.  The only thing that weakens the film is the subplot concerning a secret society of bloodthirsty old people that watch the fights on closed-circuit TV.  The rest of the film, which has some heartbreakingly touching moments, is all about female bonding, female revenge, and females kicking some righteous ass.  It helps that the acting is a thousand-fold better than you would expect for such a brutal theme, but that is merely one of the brilliant brushstrokes in this above-par production.  Any director that can get you that invested in so many characters at once is a manipulative, if not entertaining, bastard.  If not for the totally expected ending, each character’s journey is handled with a certain level of care that you don’t see in your regular kill-or-be-killed flicks, which makes for a much richer experience.

Action Thrillers/Dark Movies


Never has a film angered so many comic book purists.  Okay, I don’t really know about anyone else, but it really pissed me off.  As a fan of the “Hellblazer” comics (and fan is putting it rather lightly—I would save up change just to purchase the latest issue every month), I was offended and upset that the movie version said “adios, suckers” to so many of the trademark elements of the book.  Gone was the tan trench coat.  Gone was John Constantine’s signature blonde hair.  Gone was the London locale and the British demonologist himself.  Instead, we were presented with a VERY AMERICAN Keanu Reeves.  He had the title character’s attitude right, had his confidence and swagger.  But the ninety minutes was enough to make me hate the entire production, no matter how good the special effects were (seriously, for the time this was made, the effects were a million times better than they had any right to be), no matter how awesome director Francis Lawrence’s (I AM LEGEND) vision of Hell was, I had judged this film as the worst movie EVER.  And then Peter Stormare landed as “Lucifer”.  Upon second through tenth watching, I have grown to appreciate this film as the horror/action/beautifully executed homage that it truly is.  Stormare’s unhinged performance as the big, bad old Satan hooked me.  Tilda Swinton as the androgynous angel “Gabriel” convinced me of the beauty and rottenness of angels.  And damn you and your abs, Reeves; you made me appreciate what you did with a character that held such a sacred place in my brain.  You re-envisioned him, kept everything that you could, and were as honest as possible.  Thanks, dude.  Anyone else would have done the fake British accent, and your performance was better for the lack of it.  As a stand-alone film, leaving the mythology of the original comics aside, this one has a special spot in my collection.

But the TV show was pretty damn good, too….

Why are you still reading this?  GO WATCH A MOVIE!

Remember, kiddies, if there is a genre you want a nice, shiny example from, let us know.  Valentine’s Day is right around the corner—you should be able to think of something!  Love sucks!  Help me out here, people!!!