Thursday, May 26, 2016

"SKumm's Thoughts" - THE NICE GUYS

"SKumm's Thoughts"

No one does a buddy-movie quite like Shane Black.

His dialogue, his action, is all so recognizable that you know you are either watching something he wrote, directed, or both.  LETHAL WEAPON, KISS KISS BANG BANG, THE LAST BOYSCOUT—and now, you can add GUYS to the mix.  Problem is, he borrows from himself a little too much this time around.

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star as Holland March and Jack Healey (respectively), two guys following a simple missing persons case that gets a whole lot bigger as they bumble their way through the conspiracy.  Gosling plays March as a private detective that gets through life by acting like he knows everything, whereas Healey is hired muscle whose answer to most of his cases is a solid punch to the face.  Neither one is as smart as they want to be, and neither as good as March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, the amazing young actress from THESE FINAL HOURS—an Australian end-of-the-world flick available on Netflix) (hint, hint) wants them to aspire to be.

The film is chock full of sarcasm and dark humor.  Some of the best bits involve our two heroes responding to a particular situation the way any selfish cad would.  If anything, Black is never all that kind to his main characters; he exploits their weaknesses, guiding them toward some sense of resolution that sometimes feels rather unfulfilling.  And he has never been more repetitious than he is here, either.  It works—for the most part.  Yet there are still some familiar scenarios which hint at prior works, almost as if he is giving himself a nod.  The foul-mouthed daughter from BOYSCOUT?  There are traces of her in Holly.  Remember Riggs from WEAPON, and the dead wife subplot?  It’s here, too.

And the surprising thing is that Black has had this script for years.  He supposedly re-worked it a few times, until finally setting the film in the 1970’s.  The era works well for the story, and allows for a few jokes that play on how things are now, compared to that bygone era of disco hair and questionable ethics (like those don’t exist today—hell, my hair gets bigger every stinkin’ time I wash it).  So he had plenty of opportunity to wash away some of those repeated similarities and subplots.

Yet the one thing that works best, as it does in every Black odd couple film, is the casting of the leads.  There is an undeniable chemistry between Gosling and Crowe which drives the film.  Sometimes you don’t really care what’s going on with the plot, so long as you get to keep watching them interact with each other.

Yes, there are obvious plot points that you question (March isn’t handling the single daddy bit all that well, and, if you are a parent, you may find yourself squirming a bit at some of his choices), and the mystery here is sometimes deeper than it really should be.  But there is a lot that does work, and it is worth it just to see the three leads working together.

Hollywood can churn out a lot of turds; if the characters don’t work well together, it can come off as hollow (see Black’s only bad script, THE LAST ACTION HERO, if you want a prime example).  However, Black gets back to basics here, and you should be grateful for it—his next film is a reboot of the “Predator” series, and Predators tend not to bumble.  Or crack wise.  Or lock their kid in the trunk…
Grade: B

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - THE WITCH

'Blu-ray or Bust'
THE WITCH (R, 2015, 92 minutes, PARTS AND LABOR/A24)

First-time director Robert Eggers is a creepy mofo.

Honestly; the tone he sets early on about this tale of an ostracized family trying to survive in the New England wilderness is enough to make you want to watch a happy Disney movie immediately afterwards. Or at least something with unicorns and rainbows and people that smile.

When William and his family are kicked out of their settlement for being a mite bit too gregarious with their religious beliefs, they find a pleasant enough looking glade to build their farm. Trouble is, there is a witch living in the neighboring woods, and, apparently, she doesn’t care for people. AT ALL. What follows is the methodical destruction of the family, a riveting slow-boil that leaves no one’s sanity untouched.

There are some truly creepy and haunting images in this film, ones upon which the camera lingers at times, cementing the brooding mood and the slow, dark tone of the tale. The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke is a poetic compliment to the heaviness of the script, and the music composed by Mark Korven is another character unto itself. So much works so well in this film that you are willing to easily forgive a few minor inconsistencies with the continuity—which are really just nit-picky issues that do not affect the flow of the film at all.

Every player here is perfectly cast; relative new-comer Anya Taylor-Joy does a wonderful job as “Thomasin”, a young lady just coming of age that finds herself thrust in the middle of her family’s crumbling structure. Her younger brother Caleb is played by Harvey Scrimshaw, and he pretty much delivers a performance that guarantees his future in the industry. Even the young actors playing the five and six year olds of the family do so with such vigor you wonder at how Eggers was able to make this film as quickly and as cheaply as he did. The attention to every conceivable detail shows the care and respect not just for the story, but for the time it takes place, as well. It is almost like getting a history lesson, albeit one with a lot of blood, and an evil goat named “Black Phillip”.

The special features include a seven-minute behind-the-production doc that highlights the attention to detail that Eggers painstakingly adhered to. There is also a Q & A, shot following a screening of the film in Salem, MA, that gives you more insight into the production. There are a few scholars on hand to let everyone know how right the director was with everything he did.

His script, his vision, truly makes this THE creepiest film of the year so far.

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

T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - REGRESSION

'Blu-ray or Bust'

For those that only pay marginal attention to my occasional dislikes of the Hollywood wood chipper, you may not recall that my dislike for Ethan Hawke ranks right up there with my dislike of onions.

Onion, in its powdery, enhance-the-flavor-of-your-cooking form, is tolerable. As was Hawke, back in 1985. But put even a sliver of an onion in front of me, and I’ll break out the Bible and some rosary beads—onions are the devil’s fruit. They are evil.

So is adult Ethan Hawke.

Alas, I now find that my unholy belief that Hawke is the spawn of Satan (he almost ruined Uma Thurman into obscurity, man!) is in question. REGRESSION tells the tale of a detective caught up in a satanic conspiracy in the early 1990’s. At the center of the case is Angela Gray (Emma Watson, who usually shines in every stinkin’ thing she does), a young woman who has accused her father of abuse—of the satanic nature. The story itself is interesting enough to keep you watching, although by the end, I was hoping for more…EVIL, shall we say.

Writer/director Alejandro Amenábar (THE OTHERS) knows how to spin a tale; just when you start getting antsy, he throws another twist at you, and by the ending, has you questioning your own thought process. That is the mark of a good storyteller: someone that can make you go “huh!” by the time it is all said and done. Two out of the three most effective characteristics of this film is the score by Roque Baños (THE MACHINIST, SEXY BEAST) and the cinematography by Daniel Aranyó (HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2 & 3) (yeah, I know…); the tone and mood set by both adds to the mysterious atmosphere of the tale. But, dammit….


I kinda forgot I was watching him. He wasn’t so oniony here; he almost (gasp!) seemed like a normal guy. His delivery is spot on, and his mannerisms—hell, he even gets a haunted look in his eyes at one point!—make him believable in his role. He almost blows it with a bit of overacting at the end, but not enough to make me want to brush my teeth for twenty minutes and gargle with Old Spice. For Watson to be the most disappointing part of the film makes me wonder if I accidentally smoked crack cocaine earlier today. Honestly, I think she cries in every freaking scene. The rest of the cast is okay, but the only other standout is David Thewlis as “Kenneth Raines”, a psychology professor that assists Kenner (Hawke) on the case. Yet even his role seems shallow next to Hawke, who pretty much carries the storyline for the entire length of the film.

The special features include people saying nice things about Hawke (sigh) and Watson (usually warranted, but, again, SHE IS CRYING IN ALMOST EVERY SCENE) (because she has to work with an onion, probably…), and a behind-the-scenes that gives you a look into the story and the usual filmmaking process.

I sincerely hope that Ethan does something again soon to truly irritate me. I don’t like liking him right now; makes me feel like a traitor, or a Communist or something. Just don’t ask me to try an onion.

Film Grade: B-
Special Features: C (nothing extraordinary, and seriously, if I had to listen one more time about how awesome Ethan freaking Hawke is, I woulda gotten mad enough to drop kick a baby)
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended (seriously, the score and the cinematography are that good)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016, 147 minutes, PG-13)

The Captain America movies have set a high bar on storytelling and action for Marvel’s franchise.  Although CIVIL WAR may not be the top contender, it still leads the pack on the majority… but not among the CAP films.


The plot is not much more than an action-fest to highlight the heroes and their ability to bring destruction on the cities they love to protect.  The theme continues with the, “Oh, we need to keep our powers in check.”  Or, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Even though needed to tie in the previous films in the franchise, I think the idea is getting exhausted.

The addition of the two new chaps to join the crew, Spider-Man and Black Panther, made this movie far more enjoyable.  The introduction of Spider-Man was a bit off, seemed like his opening scene was squeezed in, but his later performance was ‘spectacular’.  And Chadwick Boseman (of GET ON UP, 42, and DRAFT DAY) was a stellar choice.  He truly carried this story, giving someone to root for. 

There were a number of problems with the story.  The villain’s plan was so convoluted, you can only wonder how this could even have been pulled off.  It required so many specific reactions and decisions of the Avengers that there seems no way he could predict exactly how this would evolve so that he would be successful in exacting his revenge.  And how is it that there is a camera on a dark stretch off road out in the middle of nowhere in 1991?  How is it Tony would not have discovered this a lot sooner?  He is a super-genius after all with a compulsion to know things.  And don’t get me started on Vision!  Where was he during most of the climatic fight?!

After all the hate given to BATMAN V SUPERMAN, I struggle with writing this review as I see similar points can be made as to the weakness everyone complained about in BvS in CIVIL WAR.  For over-saturation of heroes, CIVIL WAR stands out far beyond BvS.  You get two new superheroes, Spider-Man and Black Panther, and a full compliment for both sides to fight.  The film does not match the comics in events and fallout, also not staying true to the characters.  The humor was less and the scenes continued to jump back and forth.  Don’t get me wrong; I just felt it necessary to point this out since everyone was on the ‘hate train’.

In the end, the movie is still a great watch.  The first action scene alone could be the best one in my opinion.  Yes, even better than the major showdown, when it comes to fight choreography.  So go out and watch this one with a trained eye… see what you may see.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

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

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

This week is all about awesome stuff you might have never even heard of. Usually when I do this, it is full of foreign films—I do try to expand your minds by offering you cinema you don’t get to see in North American theatres. This time around, you won’t have to read any subtitles.




(2015, R, 99 minutes, ALTERNATE ENDING STUDIOS)

Henry Rollins (a man of MANY talents) plays “Jack”—aka, Kane. Yes, the biblical one. Jack is immortal, eternally pissed off, and one badass dude. The violence is bloody, the language profound, and the noir-ish feel to it all lends a heavy dose of comedy that you wouldn’t expect in a film of this type. Rollins’ performance is (PUN ALERT!) dead on, as is Kate Greenhouse as the waitress that serves him tea and oatmeal every day. I’ve always thought that Rollins was an underappreciated resource of talent. Watch this film, and you’ll wonder why you haven’t seen him in a lot of other projects. You will also wonder what writer/director Jason Krawczyk is working on now. The story he tells here is subtle yet thoroughly engaging, and this film really should have gotten more attention when it was released at the box office.

Comedy/Drama/Indie/Superhero Film

(201, NR—probably a healthy “R”, 86 minutes, VERTIGO FILMS)

What makes this superhero film stand out from others isn’t just that it was made for under a million dollars. Nor is it the crafty and wonderful performances by Stephen Dorff and Eddie Griffin. It is the frequent touches of humanity that make this one different, as does the brash hilarity. Also, the movie was filmed in the streets of Louisiana; the neighborhoods, the homes, the people, are all part of a backdrop that serves the film well. Dorff plays “Melvin”, a hard partying slacker that has the power of telekinesis. Melvin wants to see his son again, but his days and nights spent snorting drugs and drinking his dinner are not making that easy for him (see: poor life choices, Melvin). Twenty years ago, this would have been a horror film; but with today’s overly saturated superhero genre, this is a refreshing break from the big-budget showpieces that are frequently shoved down our throats with every commercial break during whatever CSI you happen to be watching. Dorff is perfectly cast in this little slip of a film, but it is Griffin that constantly steals the show. And when the special effects look a little not-so-special, keep in mind that you are watching a very low budget film. Sometimes it takes a little more appreciation of the craft to enjoy a good story than it does to see buildings constantly being demolished.


(2003, R, 89 minutes, SENART FILMS)

I have told you about this one before, but there has always been a soft spot in my heart for this dramady about a man that inherits a train depot in a rural town. The friendships that develop are wonderful to behold, and the tightly woven script by Thomas McCarthy (he wrote UP, and was acted in about two million things), who also directs, shies away from your typical Hollywood fodder. The giant elephant in the room is that Finn, the man that moves into the abandoned depot, just happens to be a dwarf. Portrayed with more feeling and depth than you could hope to see by Peter Dinklage (ELF, “Game of Thrones”), Finn is a man that expects the worst out of everyone, and puts all of his love and feeling into trains. The supporting cast complements his performance nicely; Patricia Clarkson as the possible love interest, Bobby Cannavale as a possible bestie, and Michelle Williams as the hot librarian, all bring a presence to the story. Their inclusion in the film is an insistence in the life of Finn, one that the viewer appreciates as much as our wayward, angry hero does.

Comedy/Cult Classic

(1987, PG, 98 minutes, BUTTERCUP FILMS/20TH CENTURY FOX)

You have either never seen it, or you’ve seen it a hundred times. This classic by Rob Reiner is, in my book, one of the most quoted films of all time. It is dangerous in that it contains so many funny lines and inconceivably laugh-out-loud moments that it borders on unclassifiable. Is it a comedy? A fantasy? A romance? An action adventure? The simple answer is: YES. It is. Whether you are one of the uninitiated (and possibly unemployed, in Greenland) or a returning dread pirate, do yourself a favor and go watch this film NOW. With today’s films of great spectacle and superfluous budgets, sometimes, a classic tale of good versus The Six Fingered Man is a refreshing departure. Just save me a peanut.

-- T.S. Kummelman

You guys have been a little slow, lately…no challenges?!? This is a lot easier than it sounds, kids; Netflix always throws some stupid sounding queues together for you (Quirky Lesbian Movies, Foreign Horror Comedies, etc), so think of something creative and make me hunt this stuff down! Otherwise, I’m binge watching “Sherlock” for the next few weeks…

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - DEADPOOL

'Blu-ray or Bust'
DEADPOOL (2016, R, 108 minutes, MARVEL STUDIOS/20th CENTURY FOX)

Almost eight years ago, a smart mouthed guy encased in iron redefined the superhero movie.  It reinvigorated a genre that had become stale and overindulgent (SPIDER MAN II & III), and incorporated something into the mix we had not yet experienced: a sense of humor.

This year has already seen the release of sequels to the Superman and Captain America franchises—and not too many giggles from that bunch.  No, if you want humor, stay away from the stony-faced Man of Steel, the Apocalyptic Mutants (from the upcoming X-MEN sequel), and the stalwart Captain.  Instead, boys and girls, seek out ‘The Merc With a Mouth’.

Ryan Reynolds gone and done something…well, kinda special.  He took a superhero, stuck it in a blender with gore, bad language, and boobies, added a liberal amount of violence and hilarity, and turned that sucker on high.  WITHOUT the lid on.  He plays Wade Wilson, a muscle-for-hire that finds out he has terminal cancer.  In order to save his fiancé from the heartbreak of watching him die slowly, he undergoes a process that cures his cancer but leaves him scarred and pretty freaking ugly.  He goes after the “scientist” that messed up his good looks (but gave him the ability to heal from any injury), and he does so with a grandiose sense of insanity and moral disengagement that makes my inner, psychotic child scream for more.

One of the things that sets this apart from your typical superhero flick is the fact that everyone holds their own with the smartass hero.  Vanessa (the beautiful and hilarious Morena Baccarin of “Firefly” and “Homeland” fame), his rather enthusiastic girlfriend, matches his wit and crassness with her own special charms; Weasel, played by comedian T.J. Miller, would normally be called the “comic relief” of the film—but that could also be said of everyone else, including the sassy “Blind Al” (Leslie Uggams, an industry veteran of TV and film), Wade’s blind roommate/landlord who keeps the insults and attitude fresh.

Basically, the movie is kinda freaking awesome.  And the Special Features are some of the best; there are deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes that make up almost a feature-length film.  Plus, you get “Deadpool’s Fun Sack”—almost every brilliant piece of marketing released before the film, from PSA’s to the web teasers from last Christmas.  This is literally hours of extra stuff that would borderline on overkill if it wasn’t so much dang fun.

There is a reason (actually, there are at least twenty-two, but we don’t have enough space for the full list) this movie has grossed over $754 million.  Percentage wise, it has made the studio more money than any other superhero film this year—when you figure that it was made for less than sixty million, and made more than THIRTEEN TIMES that much, you know the studio stumbled upon something special.  And keep in mind that “stumbling upon” translates to “practically blackmailed by Reynolds and director Tim Miller”. 

A sequel is in the works—which is actually good news.  This film is a different take on the genre that provides a nice break from the seriousness of other superheroes always trying to save the world.  It is rather refreshing to see one just trying to save his girlfriend, not to mention himself. 

Even if he is a butthole.

Film Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freakin’-lutely

T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016, 114 minutes, PG-13)


The Quick of It -
When I sat down, I should have realized what I was getting into.  By that I mean, you could hear the chatter of girls and mothers in the dark theater…

WINTER’S WAR is a sequel and prequel, bookending SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN.  Director Cedric Nicholas-Troyan worked as an assistance director on the first film and took the helm for this one.  Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as The Huntsman, Eric.  You get to see his origin story while finding out he was secretly married to another Huntsman, Jessica Chastain.  Just another reason to be jealous.

The first thing I noticed when prepping to write this review, the writers of the film come from two very different worlds.  Evan Spiliotopoulos comes from the Disney stables (a ton of work credited with them).  Craig Mazin is a polar opposite with credits like SCARY MOVIE 3 and 4, THE HANGOVER PART II and III, and IDENTITY THIEF.  The final product definitely shows Disney had full control of the wilder Mazin.  Although I think they should have further consulted with Evan Daugherty on the worldbuilding aspects.  There was very little added to the lore, which I find a shame since that was the best part of the first film, the attention to detail.  Only the new ‘goblins’ seemed worthy of mention.

To round out the heroes, the dwarves featured this time for comedic entertainment has Nick Frost (Nion) returning, and then adding Rob Brydon (Gryff), Alexandra Roach (Doreen), and Sheridan Smith (Mrs Bromwyn).  Although Nick and Rob were great, it was Sheridan’s presence that stood out.

The two queens, Emily Blunt as Queen Freya and Charlize Theron as Ravenna, matched the elegance of their stations and the grace shown on camera.  One of silver, white, and ice.  The other gold, black, and metallic.  They were the true driving forces of this movie. 

This film was not as good as the first, more drama and romance elements involved, taking away from the story that I was drawn to and hoping to see.  The tale spun around the concept of love lost, and the suffering that comes with it, and the strong female characters that learn to persevere.  Like I said, should have guessed…

Grade: C

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - KRAMPUS

'Blu-ray or Bust'

Remember JJ Abrams’ cinematic debut?

It was with a giant, fond reference to all things Spielbergian, namely his early work. With a big splash of mystery and out-of-this world imagery, he crafted a tail reminiscent of E.T., “Amazing Stories”, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and the Indiana Jones films (I’m talking about the highly underrated SUPER 8). Now, Abrams is famous for rebooting the STAR TREK and STAR WARS franchises.

With the (in)auspicious second film by Michael Dougherty, you get the feeling that Hollywood could have another wunderkind amongst its ranks. KRAMPUS is GREMLINS with a bigger bite; it is EXPLORERS with even better kid-actors; it is THE HOWLING, with a bigger sense of fear. In short, it is the best tribute to famed director Joe Dante that anyone else has ever attempted.

There is enough dark humor and practical effects, not to mention visual shots that will stay with you after the film has long ended, to get you excited about whatever it is that Dougherty has planned next. The story centers on young Max (the wonderful Emjay Anthony from CHEF), who, in a fit of pre-pubescent angst, unleashes the (PUN ALERT!) polar opposite of Santa Claus by proclaiming his sudden hatred of the Christmas holiday. Krampus and his evil minions descend upon his neighborhood and begin wreaking havoc, drawing forth the best and worst qualities of his family—which includes his cousins, who really start the whole mess by reading aloud Max’s letter to Saint Nick.

Toni Collette and Adam Scott are perfectly cast as his parents; they reflect the concerns and triumphs of a working class family in their reactions to the events unfolding around them. With David Koechner as his Randy Quaid-esque uncle, the film has just enough humor to not distract from the horror of it all. His acting and delivery are enough to keep you from thinking of the former Quaid character he was so obviously modeled after from another holiday film released decades ago by National Lampoon.

But the real star of this film is the team at Weta Workshop. Their puppets and make-up effects are downright brilliant. When you watch the special features and see just how little CGI went into making this film, you will gain a certain amount of respect for a director that insists upon using actual physical effects, rather than the cheap digital variety. A whole lotta work went into this one, kids; even if you wind up not liking the film, you have to at least appreciate the effort that went into its production. Hats off to the sets, the cinematography, and the music, as well. Every element of this movie makes it bigger than you would expect, and it all blends beautifully. Not to say that there aren’t some problems—a few plot holes with some of the characters (if the uncle’s family has it so bad, how the hell can he afford a Hummer?) (with a hidden gun cache?!?) is the most glaring, but not anything too distracting.

This film will find itself in my regular holiday viewing rotation (which, you will recall, includes DIE HARD, THE ICE HARVEST, and, of course, GREMLINS). I just hope that Dougherty’s future is cemented by what he has done here; his twisted vision is surely one that the industry could benefit from.

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

-- T.S. Kummelman