Thursday, April 28, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: CRIMINAL

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on CRIMINAL (2016, 113 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
The choices this week were tough on a minor level, but CRIMINAL won out.  And it was a decent choice...

Growing up through the years Kevin Costner built and stumbled in his career, I have a place in my movie-critic-heart knowing he can be great.  In this film, he plays as Jericho Stewart, a man who suffered major brain damage and sitting on death-row, and is the solution to a CIA botched operation.  They crack open Bill Pope's (Ryan Reynolds) brain to transfer memories, and things only get botchier from there. 

With supporting roles handled by an aged Tommy Lee Jones, the ever-powerful Gary Oldman, the titillating Gal Gabot, and the serial villain Jordi Molla, CRIMINAL played out as a very different spy story.  This is all thanks to the writing team of Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, with Costner's performance strengthening the depth of the troubled antihero.  Director Ariel Vromen (also known for THE ICEMAN... of little note) must have considered this a dream project.

This is a great film for spy action that has a very different and brutal spin.  Costner plays that meanest non-spy guy you will ever watch in action, making you want to see what he will do next... and next... 

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Blu-ray or Bust" - THE REVENANT

"Blu-ray or Bust"

If there was one genre of film where you could enjoy a bit of unrealistic reality, it was always ‘The Western’.

Gunslingers were gentlemen, the bad guys wore black, there was a saloon with hookers and the hero was in love with the madam—you know, stuff that probably really happened, just not in such soft lighting. I blame Clint Eastwood for destroying all that. With 1992’s UNFORGIVEN, he rewrote ‘The Western’ by adding a touch of brutality that you hadn’t seen in too many prior cowboy movies. It felt more honest, more realistic, more freaking SINCERE.

Combine that with Edward Zwick showing us what a cannonball REALLY does to a person with his one stroke of brilliant brutality in 89’s GLORY, and you have a genre, redefined. Now, we get to see Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s REVENANT isn’t a Western so much as it is a historical revenge story. Yes, there are cowboys in shoot-outs; yes, there are Native Americans that scalp people.

Yet the tent-pole for this rather lengthy tale of revenge/redemption/remorse is a really loooong bear attack. While that CGI bear looks magnificent, and the reality of the situation does make the scene quite powerful, something feels a tad off to me about the entire sequence. Yeah, yeah, I know; in reality, a real bear attack probably takes that long. And I know that the scene sets up the entire rest of the film. So it is important—I get that. It is also long. And it makes you feel a wee bit uncomfortable—which, by the way, is a great sign for a filmmaker. Art is at its height when it creates a reaction, and that scene definitely got a reaction out of me.

But the rest of the film?


Don’t get me wrong—the photography by Emmanuel Lubezki (GRAVITY, and he was also the ever-roaming eye of Iñárritu’s BIRDMAN) is more than deserving of the Academy Award he received for his efforts here, and the directing by Iñárritu is spot on. Tom Hardy plays the “villain” well—hell, all of the actors are dead-on in their roles. But prepare to invest yourself—this is a long two-and-a-half hours of beautiful scenery, augmented by good performances. Way back in the day, the same story would have been told in an hour-and-a-half, and would not have left you feeling exhausted and mentally drained afterwards. The story itself is simple: expert tracker trying to help gather supplies gets mauled, his Indian son gets murdered, and he tracks down Bane/Mad Max to get revenge. Really, a basic Western premise, in the hands of a director that has a whole lot of visual storytelling to express.

The Special Features consist of one documentary, but by the time you get through this film, you really won’t want to watch anything else about it—yes, this is the one time I applaud a disc for not having much in the way of extras… (although a gag reel would have been great).

There is a good film in here—you just have to work to find it, and you shouldn’t really have to do that. It’s supposed to be a movie, not a dose of total reality.

Film Grade: B-
Special Features: A-
Blu-Ray Necessary: For the scenery, yes

- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: THE JUNGLE BOOK

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016, 105 minutes, PG)

The Quick of It -
Disney has been on a tear making Live Action Films of their popular animated archive.  Although THE JUNGLE BOOK took a bit of time before releasing, this film lives up to the hype and was worth the wait.  Thank you Jon Favreau for continuing your superb directing and producing.

Mowgli relives this tale with the same plotline as the original animated movie, which does not follow closely to the book’s original short story, “Mowgli’s Brothers” (probably a good thing if you ever had the chance to read).  Young actor Neel Sethi does a great job with both body language and speech quarks to bring the character to life, while working on sets that are mostly green screen setups.  With this project being so heavily CGI, there had to be a major undertaking in scene coordination to achieve this level of quality in shooting.

You get the opportunity to experience all those special moments from your childhood in high-grade CGI.  I will admit there were some stumbles in texture and lighting, which take you briefly out of the film because your eyes and brain realize something is wrong even though you don’t immediately understand the ‘why’, but the attention to detail and mimicked animal movement is astounding. 

The voice casting was spot-on.  Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha (Mowgli’s mom), Bill Murray as Baloo, and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera fit the personalities and made you fall in love with Mowgli’s extended family.  The sultry voice of Scarlett Johansson put you under the spell of Kaa and Christopher Walken crushed it as King Louie as he trounced through the ruins.  But my favorite, and one of the best villains hands-down, is Idris Elba as Shere Khan.  He has ascended to my top five, and that’s no Joking!  (You see what I did there?  Probably not…)

As Disney moves through their collection of greats, I believe they will have a hard time matching up to the visual success of THE JUNGLE BOOK.  I will admit to wanting ALADDIN rushed to the forefront but I don’t see a stirring on the future projects list.  We will see soon enough see if this direction in revamping old titles was a good call on Disney’s part.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"Blu-ray or Bust" - THE FOREST

"Blu-ray or Bust"
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 with the sole intent of killing 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. Maybe a treehouse.

Except for the alluring Natalie Dormer, THE FOREST is a freaking stupid 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 JUST GO TO TURN THE OVEN ON BROIL AND SLAM THE SCORCHING DOOR ON MY NAUGHTY BITS FIFTY TIMES?!? (AGAIN?!?!)

The landscape itself is brilliant for the first twenty-five minutes, not to mention the rather unique and technically brilliant way that director Jason Zada begins his tale. After that, you wonder why you are looking at extraneous shots of snails and moss. He sets you up, grabbing your attention in a way you don’t normally see in a horror film—and then it gets 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.

I could spend the rest of this article complaining about the current state of horror films, and that, 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. But climbing upon that soapbox and using this stupid exercise in suck would just draw attention to this film, and I don’t want that. Believe it or not, there are better examples of stupid you could waste your time with.

As for the Special Features, there is one, and, while it is better than the final two thirds of this crapfest, it still isn’t worth you spending the money on this. Don’t even rent it from the Redbox. If someone even starts telling you about this “film”, immediately punch their face.
In fact, having written this review is me telling you about it, so you’ll have to excuse me—I feel the sudden need to go ninja-kick my own face.

Film Grade: D (only because of Dormer and that first few minutes—otherwise, this one doesn’t even deserve a rating)
Special Features: D+
Blu-ray Necessary: Only if you plan on traveling to that forest in Japan anytime soon

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: HARDCORE HENRY

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on HARDCORE HENRY (2016, 96 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -

This experiment was not as fruitful as I had imagined.  HARDCORE HENRY ended up being more of a garbled mess than an adrenaline ride.  Director Ilya Naishuller has started something, just missed the mark here.  I am sure there will be improvements to this film-style down the road and I will patiently wait as it does offer something new and exciting.

Sharlto Copley added some humor and almost made it worthy, but I couldn't help thinking after 20 minutes that I could walk out and feel that I missed very little.  Maybe next time. 

Grade: D+

If you want to see where my hopes were born...

Biting Elbows - 'Bad Motherfucker' Official Music Video

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

“Blu-ray or Bust” - THE HATEFUL EIGHT

“Blu-ray or Bust”

Quentin Tarantino sure does like the N-word!

After the verbal N-word assault which was DJANGO UNCHAINED, the sometimes misunderstood and terribly pale director/auteur offers up something with a few less racial slurs. The trade off is more dialogue, more gore, and a heckuva lot of more Samuel L. Jackson. And while he seems unable to fully let go of his questionable vernacular, his dialogue—nay, his soliloquies, are still right on point.

Surprisingly, two hours of this three-hour epic stage production is a fantastic film. But you need to get through the first sixty minutes to see him hit his stride. As he did with DJANGO, he borrows from prior films, trying to piece together characteristics of classic westerns with his own brand of storytelling.

EIGHT tells the tale of bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (played by an angry Kurt Russell) who is escorting his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was totally deserving of her Oscar nomination for her brave portrayal of Daisy Domergue) to a town for a hanging. But a blizzard is approaching, and strands them all at Millie’s Haberdashery, a pit stop on the road to Red Rock. The folks already gathered there are a Who’s Who of Tarantino stock actors: Tim Roth (who has a great time as the only Englishman in the room), Michael Madsen (KILL BILL, RESERVOIR DOGS), and James Parks (DEATHPROOF, KILL BILL) are just a few of those that round out the main players. Add crotchety and more-than-slightly racist General Smithers (played by Bruce Dern), and you have yourself an entertaining ensemble.

The surprises are…well, everyone, except Madsen (far be it for him to ever play against type). Jackson’s delivery of Tarantino’s written word is spot on, and the biggest surprise may be “Justified’s” Walton Goggins as the new sheriff of Red Rock. He gets the most laughs, but also has the most development of any of the characters.

But if I had to pick my absolute favorite member of this production, it would be cinematographer Robert Richardson. As you will see in the documentaries accompanying the disc, what he does with the 65mm lenses that Tarantino insisted on using is nothing short of magnificent. From the broad sweep of the snowy landscape of Wyoming to the long close ups of the characters in a battle of wits, his eye captures not just the intensity of every scene, but also the grand scope of their surroundings. Much of the film takes place inside of one room, but Richardson dares you to ignore the colors and details he captures on film.

Of course, the Blu-ray format is the closest you are going to come to seeing this the way the filmmakers wanted you to view it (unless you have a 70mm projector lying around the house). If you buy this on regular DVD, you are cheating yourself. Also, pay attention to the store from which you are purchasing the film; each one seems to have exclusive bonus content, and the best I saw was available at Target (there is an expanded “making of” included that goes more in-depth than the regular release does, and is well worth the expense).

Tarantino has not announced his next film, which is not unusual for him. What should be entertaining is which genre he decides to exploit next. As long as Jackson and Goggins are on board, so am I.

Film Grade: B+
Special Features: A-
Blu-ray Necessary: Hells yes

- T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

“Soliloquies and Abject Maiming: Classic QT That You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

“Soliloquies and Abject Maiming: Classic QT That You’re Missing on NETFLIX”

Tarantino’s Mostly Greatest Hits

With the recent release of Quentin Tarantino’s “8th Film” (THE HATEFUL EIGHT) on home video, what better way to celebrate than to offer up his best stuff available to stream on Netflix. The only film not available on the service is JACKIE BROWN, which is fine by me, as that ranks as one of his worst (for me). So, in no particular order…


Taking on the war film genre, Tarantino turns it on its head with thoughtful casting and his usual penchant for dialogue filled with biting barbs and poetic nuances. With a mind-bending performance by Cristoph Waltz as an evil Nazi Colonel, and Brad Pitt as an energetic and rather boisterous Army Lieutenant, the cast (which also includes, heavens-to-Betsy, Michael Freaking Fassbender) includes Tarantino Regulars and some surprises that set this above most of his works. What starts as an homage to the propaganda films of the 1940’s quickly becomes a spy thriller and an engaging morality play that draws an invisible line separating the Good Guys from the Bad Guys. And, it’s pretty damn fun.


The movie that started it all for the movie rental clerk. Whether he “borrowed heavily” from a foreign film or not does not matter—this movie is ripe with the signature Tarantino-isms that are an earmark of his writing style. And the performances…Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, a psychotic Michael Madsen, a wise-ass Steve Buscemi, and a perfectly cast Steven Wright are left questioning which one is The Rat after a jewelry heist goes awry. The majority of the film takes place inside a warehouse, and this is the type of setting that distinguishes Tarantino from many of his peers: he is a cinematic playwright. Go rent/purchase THE HATEFUL EIGHT, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

(2003, R, 111 minutes, MIRAMAX/A BAND APART)

Uma Thurman stars as “The Bride”, an assassin who awakens from a lengthy comatose and seeks revenge on her former colleagues who put her there. Volume I is a balls-to-the-wall slug fest, and, like most of his films, pays homage to the Kung-Fu films of yore. This is imaginative filmmaking at its finest; from the animated sequence to the over-the-top bloodbath which is The Bride’s memorable fight with The Crazy Eighty-Eight, Tarantino makes the most of Uma’s prowess and the genre staples that we are familiar with. David Carradine and Sonny Chiba, as well as Gordon Liu (aka Chia-Hui Liu), a favorite of Chinese genre master Cheh Chang, rounds out some of the top stars. The first film surpasses the sequel in action. The second is like a breather after the first, and should be watched—but only after you see Darryl Hannah in a nurse’s outfit.

(1994, R, 154 minutes, MIRAMAX/A BAND APART)

The film that breathed new life into John Travolta’s career (he wouldn’t do anything half as good as this film ever again) (cause he’s creepy now) also unleashed The Gimp, a mystery briefcase, a few more-than-usual N-words for the director, and a physically and verbally violent Samuel L. Jackson upon us. This was an instant classic, and Tarantino’s first tango with Uma. The film fits together four intertwining storylines, all engaging and slightly horrific—and I use that term only because you are left wondering if you are really supposed to like any of these characters. Some of Tarantino’s best dialogue, and easily his most quotable movie.

(1996, R, 108 minutes, DIMENSIONS FILMS/A BAND APART)

How cool was it to have the director of DESPERADO, Robert Rodriguez, direct a script written by Tarantino? And cast George Clooney as the lead in the tale of two gangster brothers who kidnap a family and are forced to holed up in a strip bar/vampire haven? VERY FREAKING COOL, MAN. The first part of the film shows the dynamic range of his writing, and that he makes for a decent actor. It is his chemistry with Clooney that turns the gears at first, and by the time Salma Hayak shows up as a vampire stripper with a giant snake draped over her shoulders, you’ll be all in. Kudos to whomever thought to pair these cinematic wunderkinds; they would go on to work together on SIN CITY (also available on Netflix, and well worth the watch) and a few Grindhouse films, but their first foray together is a classic gore/cuss-fest.

-- T.S. Kummelman

You guys have been a little slow, lately…no challenges?!? STOP IGNORING ME, I’M SENSITIVE. Honestly, be creative, and think of something interesting for me to do with my time. If I’m going to ignore my children for a while, it should be because you made me…

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: A BLAST OF RECENT DVD / BLU-RAY RELEASES Part 3

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 

SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015, 111 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
Writer / director Billy Ray, known for THE HUNGER GAMES and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, has a great story to tell and has a trusted lead actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 YEARS A SLAVE, CHILDERN OF MEN, AMERICAN GANGSTER), at the helm.  You cannot go wrong with this one.  The drama is intense and builds as you follow Ray Kasten’s (Ejiofor) investigation and experience all the horrific reveals to this procedural flick.  Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman secure their grounded roles with great performances.  SECRET does not deserve the level of hate it received from critics for this moody American remake. 

Grade: B

SISTERS (2015, 118 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
SISTERS was a letdown for me.  I will say they deliver exactly what they promise, but it is a rehashed plotline.  The Ellis sisters, a stereotyped goody-goody (Amy Poehler) and reckless (Tina Fey) pairing, want to throw one last party before their parents sell the family home.  I could almost confuse this film with a TV comedy, shown as an extended episode.  The gags seemed forced and very reminiscent of an 80’s trope parody.  There are some giggle moments but not enough for me to say worth a second watch to be sure of my opinion.  (The funniest but oddest moment for me was the realization that their mother was played by Dianne West, also the mother in THE LOST BOYS.)

Grade: C-

THE NIGHT BEFORE (2015, 101 minutes, R)

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For a double feature of comedies, I watched this in hopes to cheer up a dull evening.  The crew of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie seemed like a descent choice.  But my risk was without reward.  The funniest moments are in the trailer, folks.  Again, another trope comedy with very little new to offer the audience.  Unlike my usual ‘hating’ on Rogan, he shined the most in his drug-crazed shenanigans.  The other actor to offer any entertainment and stole the show was Mike Shannon (Mr. Green).  His character was worthy of a stand-a-lone movie, one I would gladly watch.

Grade: C

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


'Blu-ray or Bust'

 My first introduction to the phenomenon which was STAR WARS was with toys.

In 1977, I was an eight-year-old member of an Army family stationed in Germany. There was one theatre on base, and when I first held the tiny figure of Luke Skywalker in my left hand, and the terribly cool-looking Darth Vader in the other, I had absolutely no clue what I was looking at. The film had yet to reach our tiny little place in the galaxy, and previews on base television didn’t include blockbuster films. And toys back then…the only action figures I had at the time were a foot-tall G.I. Joe with a fuzzy beard, and an Evil Knievel that was permanently attached to the motorcycle you wound up and let fly—usually in the general direction of the fuzzy-bearded G.I. Joe.

You younger generation have no idea how good you have it with your Twitters and your You Tubes and your smartphone-controlled whatsits; there was no social media back then, and the only drones were your third-grade math teachers. Hell, I’m not sure Al Gore had even been invented yet.

It was not until we returned to the states that my aunt took me to see the film, and I was forever ruined by George Lucas’s creation. All I wanted from that point forward was Star Wars figures and play sets. I was a card-carrying member of the Star Wars Fan Club, I had the records and storybooks, stickers and folders, and was a rebel for thinking that the Tie-Fighter was cooler than the X-Wing.

Until one day, I woke up, and puberty bludgeoned my brain into a bout of stupid so strong that I thought I was too old to still be playing with toys. What did I do in this moment of supreme idiocy?


Decades later, and I still have not forgiven myself. Not because I don’t want to play with toys; I look at puberty as an act of betrayal, one in which your little brain convinces your big brain that your time is better spent pining after “romantic” interests. And by “romantic interests”, I mean the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Christie Brinkley, and Porsche 911 Carrera’s. I can still hear Admiral Akbar’s words, ringing through my skull: “It’s a trap!”

Stupid puberty.

The latest iterations of Lucas’s genius were far less interesting, and not nearly as good, as the original trilogy. THE PHANTOM MENACE was just plain stupid (acting…oh, Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus, the acting…), and, quite frankly, boring. Leave it to JJ Abrams to breathe new life into the slowly dying body which was STAR WARS. He does so with a flair borne of fandom, and when you watch the special features on this disc, you see that he put together a cast in front of and behind the cameras that not only respects the groundwork laid by the originals, but also seemingly loved by them all. This plays like the greatest fan fiction ever brought to life. You won’t mind much that some of the ideas seem a tad re-hashed (ooo, look out everybody, it’s another Death Star…), and that sometimes that signature Abrams camera-work is just a little heavy handed (ooo, look out everybody, it’s another flash of light…) (right next to that giant Death Star…).

It is all due to the fact that Abrams does things you always wanted to see, but never thought of. The Millennium Falcon throwing up a water trail as it zips over a lake; a light-saber fight in the snow, in darkness; a cast that feels natural and relatable; and humor…not just in punch lines, but humor provided by the delivery of a cast member, or the familial nod to something you cherished from one of the prior films. Please know that I am no STAR WARS expert; what I am is a lifelong fan of a story which has regained my interest and my imagination.

It worries me that Abrams will not be directing the next installment. And that another key figure will not be returning (no spoilers here, kids). Just know that if the final chapters in this story are as engaging as this one is, Abrams (who will still be on as a producer) and company have put forth an effort that you haven’t seen in decades. And, hey—keep a better eye on your toys than I did. Screw puberty and its evil machinations!


Grade: A
Special Features: A+
Blu-ray Necessary: (honestly, if you need an answer to this question, there is a serious problem with our relationship…)

-- T.S. Kummelman