Wednesday, August 31, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - THE NICE GUYS


Shane Black is one of those directors that leave an indelible mark on your psyche.

No one does a buddy-movie quite like him; 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—all films that feature one main, recurring element that Black has always had a knack for: The Odd Couple.

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 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 re-worked it a few times, 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. And Rice is a wonderful accompaniment to the testosterone-driven story. She is our moral check; our guide to what should be the right way to do things.

The other standout in this film is the charismatic vileness of Matt Bomer (“White Collar”, “American Horror Story”). As assassin “John Boy”, he is one of Black’s more insidious creations. His is the sobering presence in the film, the one that begs the viewer to start taking the fatalistic violence a bit more seriously.

This is an absolute necessity on Blu-ray; it is an action film, and the soundtrack is complimentary not only to the era in which the film takes place, but also to the story itself. And there are explosions, and lots of violence, and that always looks better in high definition! There are two making-of documentaries, and while they don’t tell you a whole lot about the filmmaking process, they do exactly what they need to: tell you how this whole mess came together into such a nice, funny, bloody package.

Black’s last film was 2013’s IRON MAN 3; prior to that, he had taken an eight year vacation from Hollywood, possibly because of the lack-luster reception at the box office for KISS KISS—which was actually one of his best films. There are not many screenwriters in Hollywood that are capable of rehashing their own themes and still make them seem fresh. We should be thankful that Black gets back to basics here, as 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: A
Special Features: B
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freakin’-lutely.

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: WAR DOGS

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on WAR DOGS (2016, 114 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
This week I had choices.  You would think that there is a preferred choice, and that is mostly true.  This week's preferred choice should probably have been BEN-HUR.  While I am not a purest, and do enjoy a good Roman movie, this did not appeal to my sense of 'need' at the moment.  I needed something with a little more edge and possibly a laugh or two.

Of course as the movie is starting, I am questioning my choice... why wouldn't I.  WAR DOGS doesn't promise much but looks like it may have some decent moments.  We have Miles Teller and Jonah Hill playing an 'arms dealer duo' that is based on a true story - of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who capitalized on the fall of the arms race era. 

The studio sold this as a comedy, which is not entirely true.  Yes, director Todd Phillips is known for the HANGOVERs and OLD SCHOOOL, but his was not in that vein of "ha-ha".  Instead, it was a blending of a true story style progression with comedy sprinkled in, and was the correct formula.  The movie was broken into chapters for better transitions and avoided the choppier formats prevalent in 'based on real events' movies.  Adding the narration of the lead character, Packouz, the final product felt more like a visual book.  I call that a win! 

The acting was above par.  There were some stereotyping going on for minor characters, some added character quirks to add flavor, and situational levity for attempts at uniqueness.  But this story has been told before... or so it would seem.  Hill's laugh for the character was by far the funniest part.  Every time... every time...  made me chuckle.  Seeing the ruggedly good looking Bradley Cooper in a pair of thick-lens glasses almost pulled off a Clark Kent.  You couldn't help but stare into those bulbous eyes.

So my choice for this week was sort of a win.  Not sure even as I write this, but I was not disappointed either.  You get what you paid for here.  Hill is great, Teller can carry a lead role, and Phillips can shine as a director and story crafter.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - THE LOBSTER

'Blu-ray or Bust'
THE LOBSTER (2016, R, 118 minutes, FILM 4/IRISH FILMBOARD/A24/CANAL +)

When I was a teenager, I identified with “Charlie” from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. He was quiet, reserved, didn’t have a whole lot of friends, but held close to the ones he had. He was a tragically triumphant character. He survived, and that compelled me, and gave me hope for surviving my own life.

And now I come across “David”, a man who after his wife leaves him for another man, finds himself swept away by a system that requires you to have a companion. Shipped off to a hotel, he has forty-five days to find love, or he gets turned into an animal of his choosing—hence, the title of the film. This remarkable adult fable feels like a Wes Anderson film; the situation is made plausible by the characters making their way through the story, and their reactions are absurdly perfect and identifiable.

Playing upon the typical social trappings of dating and relationships, David, whose only companion is his brother—who was turned into a dog on his prior stay at the hotel, finds himself at the mercy of the workings of the hotel. Said “workings” thrust him into his search for love with lessons played out on a stage by the hotel staff for the guests, social dances, and erection checks by the maid every morning. Yeah, I just said that.

But that is the charm (and occasional honest brutality) of the film created by writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (DOGTOOTH, ALPS). Every emotion, from disassociation to love to devotion to fear and sadness, is laid bare. Sometimes comically. And at others, with a brusque shot of harsh reality. It is an allegory, it is an adult fairy tale, it is a terribly lovely look at love.

Colin Farrell (IN BRUGES, TOTAL RECALL) proves himself again to be the best actor to come out of Ireland in my lifetime. He captures David’s desire, his need, to find companionship with a devotion to the craft that proves his artistry; from his facial expressions to his halting speech, and his ways of trying to adapt to the person he is attempting to court. He will capture your heart, whether you want him to or not. Rachel Weisz (THE MUMMY, CONSTANTINE) narrates, and plays a character known only as “Short Sighted Woman” in the credits. But she is the other hidden heart of this film, capturing the emotion we would all rather not name at one point or other. Whereas many people jump straight into love, her namelessness remains a constant reminder that if love is not cautious, if it is not self-aware, it can be just as dangerous as that faithful leap from a cliff’s edge. There is water down there somewhere, but can you really trust that jump? There could be rocks at the bottom…

As this was filmed entirely in Ireland, this is a must on Blu-ray. The lush and lonely forests, the winding mountain roads; this is a movie in which the perfect settings are used, and it only accentuates the story and the characters inhabiting it. There is one “making of” documentary, a twenty-minute method-to-the-madness piece which shows you just how involved everyone was in this story, and how much trust they put into each other and Lanthimos.

So, yeah; now I identify with a hopeless romantic named “David”. Charlie from “Perks” gave me hope at surviving life, and David gives me hope at surviving love. If only I’d found David at the same time that I’d found Charlie…

And as much as I identify with him, I think I’d rather be a monkey than a lobster. Not many people eat monkeys.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: STAR TREK BEYOND

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on STAR TREK BEYOND (2016, 122 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
A franchise that has now produced three new movies as a reboot comes under major scrutiny.  This is a challenge that requires some careful consideration.  Being that this franchise comes from a long line of source material, writers and directors must always feel that they are walking on egg shells, or balancing on a thin wire with rabid dogs looking up, hoping they fall.

STAR TREK BEYOND has to be a credit to Simon Peggand Doug Jung's brilliance to continue along the Trekking path.  Keeping this short, they reinvigorate the 'buddy triangle' between the three leads; Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  This was something even Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy) knew needed to happen.  So much so, he was not on board to do another film since he felt Dr. McCoy was not being utilized properly.  The script and director Justin Linn (of FAST AND THE FURIOUS fame) changed his mind and made a great product.

The parts that make the whole demonstrate that there are more stories to tell in the Star Trek universe.  The settings go from interesting to mind-blowing!  The Starbase Yorktown was 'beyond' anything I have seen in a long time in space movies.  Visually, the layout and cinematic shots were incredible.  This alone makes it worth the watch.

 The story is simple enough, with a nod to past storylines, safe character directions, and a friendly twist at the end.  But I did not find this to make for bad storytelling. The Enterprise has been on an extended deep space mission and everyone is suffering from the mental stress.  Also with other home issues (not to spoil things here), Kirk and Spock struggle with remaining on the Enterprise.  Then following a distress call, the direction of the plot only puts them further into the unknown, and facing a new enemy.

My delay in making time for this film seems now like a bad call.  I could have missed seeing it on the silver screen, and that would have been a shame.  I am still thankful for JJ Abrams for making this possible, and believe he has done better with Star Trek than with Star Wars.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - CRIMINAL

'Blu-ray or Bust'

Smart action thrillers should be celebrated when they are done right.

They should be held above the regular action crap that Hollywood throws up every summer, regurgitating ideas and one-liners like an old lady that ate too much bad potato salad at the Bingo Hall Pot Luck. Occasionally, one of those pieces of fluff turns out to be a lot more entertaining than you’d expect—when the first THE EXPENDABLES came out, it was a hell of a lot more fun than it had any right to be. By the third one, the idea had worn thin, and the “franchise” had become just another bad side dish in the same genre it poked so much fun at in the beginning.

But I’m talking SMART action films—ones that have intelligence in the writing, the plot, and the characters. Classics are DIE HARD, THE TOWN, and half of the “James Bond” and “Jason Bourne” films. There is a different feel to all of them, a certain sophistication to the choreography and the set-pieces, which all compliment the characters and the actors playing them. Done right, the smart action thriller can be emotional, edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

CRIMINAL tries hard to live up to some of its predecessors, and while it falls short in a few areas, it proves itself to be a rather smart addition to the genre. Kevin Costner plays “Jericho”, a prison inmate that is implanted with the memories of a dead CIA operative (Ryan Reynolds). Jericho is a bad dude, and having the memories of a good guy screws up his head. Costner is like a social Frankenstein, and watching him grapple with suddenly having a conscience where he once lacked all sense of right and wrong is fun to watch. Seeing Costner struggle with the invading id is what gives this film its heart, and keeps you watching. It is when he isn’t on screen that the film starts to lose focus.

The villain, a loco Spanish guy that wants to topple the various governments of the world, is played with a bit too much insanity by Jordi MollĂ  (RIDDICK). He does his best to derail the mood and atmosphere of the film, but thankfully, we have Costner to fall back on. Besides the star of the film, there is another saving grace—that of the subtle brutality of Antje Traue’s (MAN OF STEEL, SEVENTH SON) “Else”, a hit-woman which proves that not every right-hand goon has to be a testosterone infused male. Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman round out the cast, but they are one-note characters, playing parts not much different than they have before.

The special features include deleted scenes, and a forty-minute long “behind the scenes” doc that talks to just about everyone in the cast and the folks behind the cameras. Any doc that includes a look into the composing of the soundtrack gets a big nod from me; usually, it is just a bunch of actors stroking each other’s egos backstage (there is some of that here, of course, but there are also some interesting facts about this particular cast you might not have realized at first…). This is an action film, so if you are going to watch it, you should do so on the Blu-ray format. The explosions are pretty, London is pretty, and the soundtrack is just as essential a component as the other technical aspects.

While CRIMINAL may not be the best film ever made, it certainly deserves your attention. Without Costner as the lead, this would have been just another summer flick. Enjoy the casting genius before Stallone starts hiring him.

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

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: SUICIDE SQUAD

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on SUICIDE SQUAD (2016, 123 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
DC has always been my fav of the top 2 megamonsters.  They have a more serious tone and find darker corners to explore.  So, how well does DC attempt at a lighter side?  Well... they probably shouldn't try so hard.

Director David Ayer with a directorial history of FURY, SABOTAGE, and END OF WATCH was a perfect choice to have that grittier sense of the streets, with antiheroes at the forefront.  The SUICIDE SQUAD is a story that sings to all villainous hearts.  The government takes the worst of the worst, making a team of badasses, and sends them into the impossible.  Such a fun concept.  Here we get to see Enchantress, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and Slipknot.  They are accompanied by Rick Flag and Katana, under the direction of Amanda Waller.  Each character brings something to the table.

I found this to be an enjoyable film.  Not great, but worth the money.  They did well with the introductions and backstories.  The pacing was quick since there was little time left for actual scenes to drive the plot, versus the flashbacks and character interactions to flesh out each personality.  This, I think, is one of the studio directives imposed on these lengthy projects.  Give the film the needed viewing time to have a complete story, not shortened because they believe audience attention spans cannot handle an extra 20 minutes.   

The hate pushed on this film is only partially called for.  Again, the studios should stay away from completed projects.  The SQUAD had reshoots to add more levity to the film, in hopes of quashing the sober stigma DC has garnered.  This led to parts being choppy, having poor transitions between shots.  But this does not make the project crumble, leaving nothing to be desired.  Critics are nothing more than a**hats wanting attention.  That may include me... but hey... keep reading, my opinion counts.

Anyways, the cast was a set of delightful choices.  Will Smith (Deadshot) was used as the sympathetic character, have a strong relationship with his young daughter.  In some ways, this hurt the film.  Everyone relates to Smith's previous projects with the same formula, making them seem a rerun.  Margot Robbie knocked the Harley role out of the park.  To me, this was like watching a highlight reel.  I don't think it could have been done better.  Viola Davis exuded power and confidence.  Anyone who knows what type of person Amanda Waller is, Davis was a perfect match.  Another strong set of performances, mixed with the right role, included Jay Hernandez (HOSTEL, QUARANTINE, CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL) as Diablo and newbie Karen Fukuhara as Katana.  The gangbanger stole my heart and was my surprise performance.  Yeah.. weird.  There were some whiffs but nothing that really mattered to me (ahem... Boomerang... cough).

The one question everyone should be asking is Jared Leto's Joker.  As one of the biggest fans of the 'Clown Prince', did he live up to any expectations?  After mulling it over the past few days, I have to say. "Yes".  To describe him as any one of the theatrical versions would be wrong.  He is more like the Alan Moore, "Batman: The Killing Joke", a darker version with a twisted sense of humor.  Although, this Joker is more a street thug who rose to power than Moore's failed comedian.  Leto claims that there were some scenes cut or clips taken from the film, but I think the end result was a great pairing.  You have to remember, he was not the star of the film... and should not outshine the leads.  When he gets his time in the light, we will really get a chance to test his moxie.

SUICIDE SQUAD may not be what everyone was expecting, but who should be expecting anything, anyways?  Bunch of entitled brats if you ask me.  This lovely film had a great soundtrack, intense battle scenes, and one heck of a 'Harley'.  Need I say more...

Grade: A

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - HARDCORE HENRY

'Blu-ray or Bust'

Halfway through this… film… I got offended.

Now, it takes a lot to offend me; I’m the guy that only got mildly offended by Quentin Tarrantino’s excessive use of the s-word (and that other one…) during DJANGO. I don’t like racism, social intolerance, anti-Semitism, anti-gay, anti-anything that is frowned upon just because a ninety-year-old doesn’t care for it. But it takes quite a bit to actually cause me to stop watching a movie.

HARDCORE HENRY offended me in such a way that I had to pause it, walk away from it, then come back and think on it some more. I managed to get probably a half hour further (at that point, there was only twenty minutes left to watch, but there are also starving children in Slovakia, and I can’t do anything about them while I’m wasting time with this crap) and I was revolted by what I was witnessing.

What gave me my initial pause was this one, singular thought: ‘this movie is one poorly structured mess’. BOOM, I hit the pause button. You see, I, myself, am a “poorly structured mess”. So to think that about a film offended me to the deepest, darkest reaches of my chubby and slightly hairy core (by “slightly hairy” I mean “why is there just a square of hair on my belly and no other hairs on my entire freaking torso?!?”). Essentially, I offended myself. To call this “movie” a “poorly structured mess” means to offend every poorly structured mess on the planet.

So, instead of offending myself further, let’s just say that this movie is stupid. There is a plot here, but when you have to rely on typical video game pacing and storytelling to move YOUR FREAKING MOVIE along, it doesn’t add up to much by the time you get offended and shut the damn thing off. There is only one redeeming quality to this film: Sharlto Copley. Anytime he is onscreen, you get a break from the action, and the script gets a break from its intended levity. His performances—as no two are quite the same—are individually the only thing to look forward to. Every time he dies off (and if me not flashing my SPOILER WARNING sign ruins the film for you, you too are a Poorly Structured Mess, my friend) is the only time you are going to laugh or even slightly relax during this turd-bucket of a movie.

There is a stupid plot involving “Henry”, who has been resurrected from the dead by his wife. While being outfitted with a mechanical arm and a leg, his wife and her stupid lab buddies get interrupted by a stupid bad guy, who for some reason has telekinetic powers. Which is stupid. The rest of the movie is first person parkour, stunts, a few nifty special effects, and a whole lot of bad edits and stupid dialogue.

I wish I could tell you that the special features made up for the inanity of the script, but the only features on the Blu-ray are deleted scenes, the commentary (no way in hell was I re-watching another minute of that squid-turd to find out how the stupid people that made this film felt about EVERY STUPID SCENE), and something called “Fan Chat”, which sounds a lot like two jackasses sitting on a velour couch in one of their grandmother’s basements, geeking out over first-person-shooters and how quickly their supply of Jolt Cola is dwindling.

You guys should all know me by now; I’m a geek, and proud of it. But, honestly, I could have been watching cover songs by street performers on YouTube instead. Or feeding those hungry kids in Czechoslovakia. Anything but this…

Grade: D-
Special Features: F
Blu-ray Necessary: Why? Why are you still reading this? GO FEED A HOMELESS CHILD WITH THE MONEY YOU WOULD WASTE ON THIS STUPID MOVIE.

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: JASON BOURNE

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on JASON BOURNE (2016, 123 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
The BOURNE series has held to high standards when it comes to spy thriller films.  Being the fifth in the run, you would think that there would a weakening in the story's development and having rehashed action sequences.  This is not the case... not at all.

Matt Damon returns as Jason Bourne and he comes with a vengeance.  Bourne is drawn out of the shadows when he is made aware that his recollection of past events may not be all that it seems, to include his eventual recruitment into the CIA.  He is joined again by Julia Stiles as the disenchanted analyst Nicky Parsons who is on the run.  New faces include the lovely Alicia Vikander, of EX MACHINA, THE DANISH GIRL, and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., as Heather Lee.  Also added to the Bourne Universe is Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey. 

The plot does not become convoluted at any point which is a difficult thing for spy films.  The storyline incorporates this new age of advanced technology with business mogul Aaron Kalloor, played by Riz Ahmed (FOUR LIONS and NIGHTCRAWLER), as its head, offering a revolutionary social media enterprise that links customers and their wants on a global scale.  There is plenty of intrigue but it is the action that sets the tone... and it never stops.  The Bourne-style has always been known for the high level of choreography when it comes to fight scenes and car chases.  It's amazing to me that when I see it, I am like, "Where has this been in all the other trillions of action films that have come out just since Bourne has been around?  Why aren't they at this level?"  

Grade: A-

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


'Blu-ray or Bust'

I had a soft-spot in my heart for Zack Snyder.

The man that so brilliantly brought WATCHMEN to the screen… his interpretation of the comic was spot on. A long, glorious vision that captured every nuance of the comic book. To date, the “director’s cut” of the film is one of the most direct interpretations of the source material. Several other franchises exist, and each one has its own feel, its own sense of self which permeates and allows no confusion between the types of storytelling each entails. In that respect, WATCHMEN was perfect. It felt like you were actually watching a comic book, one that a certain core group of fans love and know every detail to. It was a love-letter to the graphic novel itself, written and captured by a true fan.

Then he went and did that SUPERMAN movie. Not a huge fan of the maniacal and destructive ending of that film. But it made bank, so the studio okayed Snyder to continue with his vision of the Superman franchise—hell, they went ahead and let him spearhead the future of the DC Comics cinematic universe. He follows up his first foray into the Man of Steel by not only pitting him against the one benchmark premier character that has grown more successful with each iteration (“Batman”, played here as an aging, cynical blowhard by the entirely capable Ben Affleck), but by giving birth to several characters in the universe that make up “The Justice League”.

With the theatrical version, this was a big mistake.

The introduction of Wonder Woman is a nice foray into territory DC has been all too hesitant to get into; the closest thing they got to a stand-alone female superhero film was the horrendous Halle Berry-led CATGIRL. But Snyder bites off a whole hell of a lot here, and what the original release of the film spewed out at us was a superhero ass-sized chunk of undigested storylines and too little of what he really wanted to accomplish. DC is trying to move too fast in catching up with Marvel Studios, who laid out a plan for their vision and, thus far, have hit pretty close to what they wanted to capture. But they move too fast with the theatrical version of the story, propelling events at a speed that sometimes defies logic. At times it seems slow, but then suddenly gives you too much. And the current vision of Lex Luthor is a wee bit too over-the-top. Terribly unlike the comic version, and too close to a cross between Heath Ledger’s “Joker” and Kevin Spacey’s narcissistic version of Luthor.

In an answer to the “disappointing” box office returns of the theatrical release, Snyder vowed to release an unrated version on Blu-ray, one which made the film better, more cohesive, and less…well, boring. He did the same thing with WATCHMEN, and it made a great film into a brilliant visual feast.

This time around…Snyder regains my faith.

The “Ultimate Edition” of BATMAN V SUPERMAN is far superior to the theatrical release, and shows exactly what a director is capable of achieving if given the time. For the studio to not have released this, a final, finished product, instead of the mish-mash of references and half-assed plotting they did the first time around, was a mistake. This second version of the film allows the story time to develop. The characters are more fleshed out, their doubts and fears made into present day concerns of the viewers themselves. I still don’t like Jesse Eisenberg’s version of Luthor, but everyone else in the film nails their characters.

As soon as I am done writing this, I am going to go back and re-watch WATCHMEN—Snyder’s ultimate vision of the book, not the dirt the studio threw at us. I just hope that the studio learns a lesson here, and just allows Snyder to do what he must. His vision is strong—he just needs backing at the studio to have the faith in him that he deserves.

Grade: B+
Special Features: A (there are a little over two-hours’ worth, and they are worth watching)
Blu-ray Necessary: Only for the “R” version of the film. Skip the PG-13 crap.

-- T.S. Kummelman