Thursday, January 26, 2017

‘Skumm’s Thoughts’ - SPLIT

‘Skumm’s Thoughts’

A long time ago—it’s been fifteen years since SIGNS was released—M. Night Shyamalan put out some darn good yarns.

Then came THE VILLAGE, and I started referring to him as “M. Night Shamalamadingdong. He directed a few stinkers, then disappeared for a bit. He seemed to lose not his voice, but his effectiveness at expressing it. Which was a shame; his first three efforts (THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS) were excellent films reminiscent of Hitchcock and a time when you could tell a smart, surprising, and intelligent story without getting wrapped up in the typical foibles of Hollywood.

Then he hit a period of mediocrity, which seemed to finish him. He started producing films, (check out DEVIL, an interesting and entertaining piece about people trapped on an elevator with a killer) and seemed to disappear from the limelight.

With SPLIT, he propels himself right back into the limelight. This is like a love letter to Hitchcock in his use of a small yet effective cast, and the minimal sets (at times, it is reminiscent of ROPE in the way he makes you familiar with the details of the surroundings, even though he uses a few more sets here than Hitchcock did in his 1948 classic) which make up the majority of the film. He also keeps to his idea that the violence you experience off-screen is more dramatic than it ever could be if he showed you every gritty detail. I enjoy gore just as much as the next horror fan, but one of my favorite scenes out of any of his films came in UNBREAKABLE when he literally turns the camera away from the violence and utilizes sound to illustrate the brutality of a situation.

Casting James McAvoy as “Barry”, a man with twenty-four different personalities, is a stroke of genius. His performance is detailed, subtle when it needs to be, and scary when you least expect it. The rest of the cast is good, but it is McAvoy who carries this film on his lunatic shoulders. He brings the tension and dramatic drive into every room he enters. Of course, it is a performance that will go unnoticed by the Academy come next year’s Oscars, but rest assured—he has automatic job security (as if he even needed it—he does a kick ass Charles Xavier, you know) with his job here.

The visual story you are watching might not have turned out the same way with a different cinematographer. Mike Gioulakis, whose magnificent eyeballs added so much sinister effect to IT FOLLOWS, does a masterful job in the confined spaces of the dungeon Barry & Company keep the captured girls in (to be sacrificed to “The Beast”, the twenty-fourth and most abominable of his personalities). There are some shots captured here that will stay with you long after the film has ended—this is the mark of not only a good story, but also of a cinematographer capable of interpreting the creepy confines of the writer/director’s brain.

Of course you know there is going to be a classic Shyamalan twist. You may think you have it figured out. But you don’t. Trust me on this; I had the twist in SENSE figured out about halfway through, and this one hit me like a ton of bricks at the reveal. Regular readers know I don’t do spoilers, and I’m not going to start now. But HOLY CRAP, it’s AWESOME.

It is good to see Shyamalan getting back to his roots. The tale he tells with SPLIT is a confident return to the gritty eloquence he perfected so long ago. Glad you got your swagger back, dude. Now don’t make another movie about trees making people kill themselves, and we’ll be okay.

Grade: A

-- T.S.Kummelman

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

‘Blu-ray or Bust’
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016, R, 112 minutes, DREAMWORKS)

Guys are testosterone infused ass-hats.

Honestly, that is the biggest lesson I learned from THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. While it is an engaging tale about a divorcee who suspects something sinister is afoot when a girl she sees every day on her daily commute goes missing. There are really no nice guys in this film, and every female character cries. Seriously. Like, at one point, it seems like the water shortage in California is a myth—JUST GET ALL THE ACTRESSES TO CRY INTO THE AQUAFIER, YOU’LL BE FINE.

This mystery has the classic elements of a well-told Hitchcockian tale, although a few of the misfires (see: all the freaking crying) threaten to derail the film. The acting is superb; as “Rachel”, Emily Blunt gives a performance that all actresses hoping to play a heartbroken alcoholic should study. Equally as effective is Haley Bennett as the “Gone Girl” Megan, a woman whose fractured past has driven her to the brink of chaotic behavior. Then you have Rebecca Ferguson, who breathes life into the role of “Anna”, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife. There isn’t a weak female performance in the film, and these three women, whose lives intertwine in the most extreme and violent of ways, are the emotional force of this story.

And then there are the dudes. Total douche-canoes.

To say more may give too much away when it comes to the mystery of this film. Story wise, it plays out in the only way the book could allow. While the style is reminiscent of GONE GIRL, the director, Tate Taylor, ain’t no David Fincher. While each woman’s story is a different story of survival, he tells their tales in the same manner. One of the most effective moves Fincher made with GONE GIRL was totally changing up the style of storytelling when the story changed focus.

The special features give focus to the adaptation of the source material (the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins), and the three female leads. There are also a smorgasbord of deleted and extended scenes, but most are throwaways, and not entirely worth the effort.

The movie is not all bad; again, the performances are fantastic, and the story itself may keep you guessing (re-read that last bit, only yell the word “may” in your brain) (or out loud—people might think you’ve lost your aunt, or are pining for spring, which could be amusing either way).   Yet there were several times while watching that I felt I was being spoon-fed stereotypes. I don’t want to be condescended to, or reminded that GIRLS CRY, but I do want to be engaged with what I’m watching.

And, I also want to be engaged to Haley Bennett…

Film Grade: B-
Special Features: B-
Blu-ray Necessary: Not necessarily

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS (2016, 91 minutes, R)

The Quick of It -
This series has been consistent in producing decent films.  Mind you, nothing that stands out too far with the flooded vampire/werewolf genre from past years but they always deliver something new and exciting.  But they should stop if this is the best they can come up with.  BLOOD WARS was not high on my list after hearing the story teaser and seeing the trailer, and they proved me right in my preliminary assessment.  This was confirmed only five minutes into the film.    

Kate Beckinsale reprises her role as ‘death dealer’ Selene.  She is joined by Theo James (of the DIVERGENT series) as David and Charles Dance (of ‘Game of Thrones’, ALIEN 3, and THE IMITATION GAME).  At the opening, Selene is telling her tale of how the previous films went, as a quick summation.  Then, when she is done, she catches you up on her current situation… which sounds oddly familiar… she is being hunted, again.  How creative.

The heroes are pitted against two decently played villains.  Tobias Menzies (of CASINO ROYALE and ATONEMENT) as a moded werewolf and the backstabbing Lara Pulver (of LIVE, DIE, REPEAT, ‘True Blood’, and ‘Fleming’).  Although fun to watch, their involvement is just a rehash of so many other stories.

Being a vampire film, and having seen a ton of similar plots, this just plain ‘sucks’.  I wanted something new and titillating.  (Movies having sparkly-skin vamps makes me want to use words like ‘titillating’, sorry.)  Director Anna Foerster might be looking to expand to a large format but BLOOD WARS will not open too many doors.  The effects are average and the settings live up to the required inflated elegance.  But nothing to give me pause and say that this is a “must see”.

If you are looking for a quick-fix, you may enjoy this new installment.  If you are looking for something new and inspirational, you can wait all you like… even a vampire’s age if you wish.

Grade: C

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: MAX STEEL

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on MAX STEEL (2016, 92 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
So, have you heard about this film, MAX STEEL?  Maybe you have if you got a little spawn running around.  It’s based on a toy line from Mattel.  I hadn’t until it came in as a rental.  I watched it and now know why it was not a blip on my radar.

Yes, this will be a ‘quick’ one for sure… as a review goes.  Unless you are a child with the penchant for poorly written (lame ass) stories and sadly performed (I’d rather spend my time watching other people play Minecraft on YouTube) films, go right along and spend the time.  There are moments of well-crafted CGI, but that does nothing to help.  You have been warned.  Even the fun and endearing parasitic robot gets annoying as all hell.   

Grade: D

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

“Barry Sonnenfeld’s OTHER Love Child: The Awesome Television You May Be Missing on NETFLIX ”

“Barry Sonnenfeld’s OTHER Love Child: The Awesome Television You May Be Missing on NETFLIX ”


Please, whatever you do, pay close attention to the final sentence in this review—if you have far too little time to read this entire article, hinge the entire message I am attempting to relay upon that sentence itself.

Several years ago, Barry Sonnenfeld produced and directed a television show called “Pushing Daisies” which was an original and superbly written (yet short lived) series. In 2004, Sonnenfeld was an executive producer of the Jim Carey film A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. “Pushing Daisies” was an incredible breath of freshly written and intimately intelligent television that was, frankly, too good for its time. EVENTS was… well, it was Jim Carey.

Sonnenfeld is back, and his appreciation of the original books, and the storytelling vision he was honing in “Daisies”, has culminated into a Netflix production which not only captures the imagination and propels your need to know the fundamental differences between “figuratively” and “literally”, but also makes you appreciate the fact that Carey ruined any chance of the film spawning a sequel. I occasionally like Jim Carey, but when you watch Neil Patrick Harris taking on the same role that Carey did—and NAILING IT, you realize that Sonnenfeld was a bit ahead of his time with the first iteration. NPH wasn’t ready in 2004, but, holy crap, is he ready now.

As “Count Olaf”, NPH allows his natural theatrical talents to soar. Not overboard, as with Carey, but to the heights of characterization which show not only his range, but his uncanny ability to capture every scene and immediately sink his teeth into it. Oh, and he is not alone. Every stinkin’ actor in this show is the absolute best representation of every literal character to have ever breathed life on the small screen. The casting of the three children, orphaned when their parents are killed in a fire, is a work of genius. The role of “Sunny,” the infant of the trio, is nothing short of brilliant. Seriously. The facial expressions on that baby are amazing. And Patrick “The Tick” Warburton as “Lemony Snicket” is a sweet entremet in a tale of sour foreboding that should not be overlooked.

Even the episodic guest stars represent a range of talent that amazes and elicits chuckles just in the casting. Catherine O’Hara as an evil optometrist, Joan Cusack as a kindly judge, Alfre Woodard as a skittish aunt—hell, the show even has Don ‘Freaking’ Johnson in it! But one of the great regular standouts is the stunning and hilarious performance of K. Todd Freeman as “Mr. Poe”. The moments when he loses his cool are… artistically brilliant.

The show has already been renewed for a second season. For television to capture not only the language and essence of its original material is a rare treat; for it to hit on every artistic level imaginable is unheard of. The attention to detail, not only in the writing of the scripts but also with the intricate detail of every single set, is something that TV hasn’t seen since… well, since “Pushing Daisies”.

Stop whatever you are doing, and go watch this show—you deserve it.

Series Grade: A

-- T.S.Kummelman

Friday, January 13, 2017


‘SKumm’s Thoughts’


I don’t like getting political online. I don’t like discussing politics in general; I know it is an important part of my life as an American citizen, but if I find myself not all that knowledgeable on a subject, I tend to stay out of the discussion.

Kinda like how when my friends start talking about sex, and I fall oddly quiet. Yeah, not much going on there, either.

Movies? I’ll talk your ear off about movies. About directors, cinematographers, writers, actors—I have a butt-load of knowledge in my head about the industry. I studied it in college, and I study it every time I watch a movie or write a review. Hollywood is the one school which never ceases to compel, fascinate, anger, enrapture, and completely capture my imagination. It is a school I will never graduate from, and one that will never allow me to make money from what I have learned from it’s vast library of time and knowledge. (yeah, I write all this for free, kids—honestly, would you pay for the crap I produce?!?)

Now, I know all about history when it comes to American politics. I am certainly well versed in the First Amendment, because I exercise my right to free speech every stinking week, be it here or on my blog. Meryl Streep recently exercised her right to free speech.

Donald Trump responded with his right to speak freely.

You may or may not like what Ms. Streep said, but she came off as reasonably smarter than Mr. Trump, whose response was basically that she is overrated. I have seen people posting insults and hatred in her direction all week, and, seriously, STOP ALREADY.

Actually, no, I take that back. Who am I to tell someone that they cannot say whatever is on their minds? Who am I to say someone is not allowed to voice their opinions, or to stand up for what they believe in? It is a singular and glorious component of our freedom, as Americans, to encourage and practice the wonderful and unarguable right to free speech.

Why should ANY American tell another not to raise up their voices in defiance of what they believe to be wrong? Why would any citizen of this country want to demean another for saying something negative about the person that they voted for? SERIOUSLY.

Wake up, America.

You have the choice to vote for whomever you want, and the choice to defend whomever you feel needs defending. You also have the option of thinking before you do so. You have the responsibility to those that do not have the freedom that you do, people that watch us from other countries, those impoverished and segregated because of their own religious or political beliefs, to show that the right to free speech isn’t just for those that are bullies or dictators. You have the responsibility to not speak with hatred and ignorance just because someone has voiced a political opinion. There is an absolute necessity that you show the world your comments can be intelligent and respectful, and that it reflects the joy in having the freedom to voice your opinion without fear of recrimination.

You see, people in some countries are beaten for opposing the current political regime. Some people are imprisoned, some hanged, for daring to speak out against the wrongs done to them on a daily basis.

When is the last time an American president was allowed to revoke your rights? When is the last time an American president ordered someone beaten or imprisoned because someone voiced a view opposite of their agenda? When is the last time a person of political power in this country told you that you were underrated?

Oh. Yeah. That.

Don’t get me wrong here, kids—I am by no means stepping into the political fray. Don’t have a dog in this fight. What I do have is an appreciation for a woman, a distinguished and charitable woman, who gets up and speaks her mind in a time when political sensitivity is at an all-time (and ridiculously so) time. Trump is a hell of a businessman—I do not have to like or dislike him as a person, because I do not know him personally. But I respect the fact that he has been in the business of making money for as long as he has, and I can respect how far his resolve has gotten him.

Trump is a hell of a businessman, and Streep is a hell of an actress. They both excel in their jobs. They make pretty decent paychecks.

And they both pay taxes.

Their taxes are probably ten thousand times greater than my annual salary.

Now; what right do I have to belittle them, or tell either of them to shut up? Seems to me, I don’t. My opinion of either of them doesn’t really matter here. What does matter is that if we, as individual Americans, are so ready to oppress someone else’s opinion… well, that kinda nullifies the entire “free speech” bit now, doesn’t it? Kinda makes us sound like schoolyard bullies trying to pick a fight.

Kinda makes us all sound like little pompous dictators, doesn’t it?

And you know what? You cannot be a dictator… (wait for it)… without being a dick.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I am not telling anyone to not voice their opinion. And I won’t belittle anyone for doing so. But fellow Americans, do the entire world a favor: LOSE THE HATRED.

You’re better than that.

You are America, for the love of the Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus; start acting like it.

-- T.S. Kummelman