Thursday, March 30, 2017

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017, 129 minutes, PG)

The Quick of It -
Okay, so I’m sitting here writing a review to a movie that is a live-action remake of a classic Disney film.  This is not all that big of a deal these days as times have changed in Hollywood.  We’ve had CINDERELLA, the ALICE’s, and JUNGLE BOOK come through the wash, with plenty more on the way.  Now, having seen the original back in 1991 with my (then) wife and (still) son in the theater was something to behold.  This was among the Disney movies that generated a large vibe (which eventually led to people shiving others for VHS copies, no joke).  But, like I said, times have now changed and you can expect more to follow.  The shiving incidents have died down some, probably from thinning the herd.  

The new BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is everything you would want out of a live-action version.  Awesome sets, extravagant costuming, and the heart of the original.  But, aside from that, let’s take a closer look…  Follow me down the rabbit hole (yes, pun intended).

You start off with the prince getting cursed.  If you feel this to be a spoiler, go do something else, move along.  He is cursed by an angry sorceress who has disguised herself as some homeless lady, while he is hosting an extravagant party.  She barges in and stops everything so that she may beg for a place to stay for the night.  I would like to refer to Wiki here –

In criminal law, entrapment is a practice whereby a law enforcement agent induces a person to commit a criminal offence that the person would have otherwise been unlikely to commit.  It "is the conception and planning of an offence by an officer, and his procurement of its commission by one who would not have perpetrated it except for the trickery, persuasion or fraud of the officer."

So, looking close, she stumbles into a party he is responsible for, he has tipped back a few drinks, and she expects him to suddenly feel the need to house a smelly, dirty lady who he does not know.  To me, this screams the sorceress’s only intent was to curse this man, nothing more.  Sure, he may be a douchebag and be ugly on the inside, but he didn’t go out of his way to wrong her.  Somehow, this great and powerful sorceress felt the need to punish this guy by turning him into a beast, and to make it more extreme, to include turning all his undeserving servants into household items.  Hmmm…

Okay, now, here comes the lovely Belle.  She starts singing about her hopes and wanting to leave her ‘provincial’ life.  She sings with the town, all throughout town, about how she wants more.  My first thought is how our star Emma Watson must have gone through a ton of training hours to learn how to ‘sing and smile’.  This must have been a grueling practice; I wouldn’t even want to imagine the suffering she must have endured.  No one smiles that much, sorry.  Then, you have the townsfolk singing about how they find her beautiful but odd, as she is passing by.  This goes on for minutes… minutes.  And at the end, she comes into her house and says to her father about she ‘thinks’ people talk about her as being odd.  You say?

On to Belle’s father, the perfectly cast Kevin Kline as Maurice.  He seems normal at the start and has a sense of right and wrong.  Also, after having lived in Paris, you would assume he has been exposed to proper etiquette.  Maurice gets into a little trouble with navigating the countryside roads and eventually finds a hidden castle down a dark lonely road.  Yes, the weather is bad and wolves are after him and his horse, no doubt needing a refuge.  But, for whatever reason, he barges into the prince’s home, someone who he does not know, and decides to wander around and the gall to sit down to eat a dinner prepared for, who you could only assume from his position, the resident of the castle.  Where did the French learn manners?  How could he not see this as a breech of someone’s privacy?  Then, in fear, he runs out into the garden area to escape the talking teacup.  In said garden, he finds a rose and thinks nothing of taking that, either.  Ya following me here?

Speaking of talking objects, let’s move to Mr. Lumière.  Ewan McGregor is a stellar addition.  But, shouldn’t this be a little troubling.  If you were to at least cast one Frenchman in this film, shouldn’t Lumière be the obvious choice… if only to avoid the ‘whitewash’ epidemic.  But you pick a Scotsman to be the most French character.  And, how about his dancing around and touching everything?  He is a frickin lit candle.  In addition, his girlfriend is a feather duster, Plumette… a feather duster.  His love should have gone up in a blaze right in front of his eyes.  In fact, everything should have gone up in a blaze with as handsy as he was.

As a bibliophile, I want to make one thing clear about the motivations that move the plot.  This is not a true love story between a woman and a beast – it is a love story between a woman and her love for books.  If not for that magnificent library, Beast would have been stuck as a furry plush toy.  Books win her over, she never loves him.  When she thought she might lose her library and all the magical servants (remember the things she wanted at the start, not living like a normal person, a ‘provincial’ person), she ‘claims’ to love him.  This story should have ended very differently.

There are plenty of other possible points to examine but I will hold off.  Items such as Fast and the Furious Chip, the addition of sexually confused characters, and the darkness found in Disney’s wolf-bait scene.  But, to the point, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is still a magical story filled with Disney wonder.  There is no point in telling you to go see it… you already know that.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

'Blu-ray or Bust' - ASSASSIN’S CREED

'Blu-ray or Bust'

Dear Michael Fassbender:

I love you. Not in a “want to see you naked kind of way”, of course—even if you are at the top of my Go-to-Gay-Guy List.

Rather, I love your style, your commitment to whatever film you are making. You have become one of the more prolific actors of my time; you go from drama (FRANK) to western (the brilliant SLOW WEST) to Shakespearean (MACBETH) in the blink of an eye. But having your exceptional skills on display in genre films is what sets you apart from any other actor working today. My favorite role of yours thus far has been as “David” in Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS; the subtle need you bring to the role, from David’s longing to connect on a human level to the moment he gives in to his own mechanical and logical programming, is nothing short of mesmerizing. Not to mention your take on “Magneto” in the X-MEN franchise.

But, dude. I’m sure that the idea of turning video game hit “Assassin’s Creed” into a film sounded awesome. Instant moneymaker, right? Great special effects, Jeremy Irons, exquisite attention to detail with the set design and the science behind the film, and you as the lead actor? All the ingredients you need for a blockbuster hit, correct?

Unfortunately, somebody forgot about the script. Or decided that it should be aimed solely at thirteen-year-olds that don’t think a mechanical apple from God is a stupid plot device. I don’t want to take away from your performance—as usual, you, sir, are a passionate artist whose love of the craft shows through in every role you play. Not your fault that, at its core, this just really is not a great movie.

I mean, everything looks good. From the weapons to the abs to the stunts and effects, the movie LOOKS fantastic. But it isn’t. I hate to be repetitive, yet… a freaking holy APPLE?!? That just happens to hold the genetic code for free will?!?

WHICH ONE OF THE SCREENWRITERS WAS SMOKING CRACK WHEN THEY CAME UP WITH THE STUPID APPLE?!! They couldn’t come up with a different holy relic to protect? Like the baby Jesus’s pacifier? The Technicolor raincoat was busy? Hell, I know where the frickin’ arc of the covenant is being stored—all you had to do was call!

I have to say that, outside of your performance and the sets, the best thing about this Blu-ray release are the special features. Talk about all-inclusive and detailed… I appreciate the attention given to every aspect of how this pretty mess was created. Seeing the actual locations, the concepts behind the costume design—not stuff you see in many releases, and I enjoyed seeing the actual movie-making process instead of everyone sitting around and talking about how much they like each other. It had these little touches that sometimes lift the documentaries above the film itself.

Sorry, Mr. Fassbender. As much as I want to tell the world how awesome another one of your films is, I honestly cannot with this one. The biggest compliment I can relay here is that this film doesn’t deserve you.

But I do, so call me sometime, we’ll chat!

T.S. Kummelman

Grade: C+
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: If you must

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

'Blu-ray or Bust' - PASSENGERS

'Blu-ray or Bust'

Initially, a lot of people were disappointed with this film because it turned out to be a “love story”.

Those people totally misunderstood the film.  This is a movie about a lonely dude that basically kills a pretty lady.  Seriously.  Jim Preston (Chris Pratt, doing his usually dependable everyman routine) is awoken ninety years early from hyper-sleep while on a journey to another planet.  With no way to go back into hibernation mode, he does what any guy would do: he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence.  I mean, really—who wouldn’t?  The problem is that there is almost a century-worth of traveling left to do, so he has pretty much condemned her to death.

Selfish a-hole.

So, the “love” in this film is a bit… STUPID.  Yes, he ponders and debates for two-and-a-half minutes before deciding to awaken her.  Of course she finds out—this is Hollywood, there is a formula for “love” stories, and of course there is a conflict which drives them apart.  And of course there are a butt-ton of your typical other regurgitated plot lines - “Will they survive in a ship that is steadily falling apart?”  “How many romantic gestures can you fit into a spaceship?”  “Which one will make the ultimate sacrifice?” and, “Why doesn’t Andy Garcia have any speaking lines?”  They are all burning questions that help build a ‘love’ story around what you should really be paying attention to: the effects.

Screw the story, and who cares if love wins out—give me more of that wonderful ship and the beauty of space.  If there is one area where this film excels, it is in the effects—and not all of them are CGI.  Watch the special features, and be amazed at how many of the sets were actually built.  The LED room is pretty bitchin’, as is the harness created to mimic weightlessness.  From the design of the ship, to its mechanics and aesthetic properties, the “Avalon” is a wonder to behold.

My favorite room on the ship, from the attention to detail to the android which inhabits it (Michael Sheen) to the carefully constructed ambiance, has to be the bar.  And with an obvious nod to Stanley Kubrick’s hotel bar in THE SHINING, it feels familiar and welcoming.  Just without the crazy evil ghosts from THE SHINING…

Do not even try watching this on regular DVD; without the crisp, clear quality of the Bu-ray, you may wind up paying more attention to the actual story.  Which you shouldn’t.  The acting is fine, the dialogue is okay (if not a bit rehashed at times), but the star of this film is the ship.  Watch this movie for the effects and the sets.  The detail in this film is awesome, and should be appreciated for what it really is:

A love letter to Stanley Kubrick and The Titanic.
Film Grade: B-
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most definitely

- T.S. Kummelman

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

“The Pasty Dude with Crazy Hair: What You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”

“The Pasty Dude with Crazy Hair: What You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”

(2017, TV-MA, 13 episodes approx. 1 hour each, NETFLIX ORIGINALS/MARVEL TELEVISION)

Finally—the martial arts show we’ve all been waiting for (but didn’t know we wanted…)!

After the near miss which was “Luke Cage” (really, how do you kill off that good of a villain halfway through the freaking season?!?), Netflix tries to redeem itself with the story of a man returned to New York after a fifteen year absence.  Before we get into the meat and taters of this review, though, we need to clear a few things up.

First of all, the Iron Fist of Marvel comics fame (or not—if you are like me, all of the characters Netflix has introduced us to, besides Daredevil, has been a mystery to me) was a pasty Caucasian dude.  The character was never Oriental.  So everyone can just drop the whole “he’s supposed to be Oriental” crap, because NO, he isn’t.  However he does have an impressively hot Japanese girlfriend on the show, so, yeah…

Secondly, the show is not slow.  This is a character that not many people are familiar with, so the first season is going to be heavy on character development.  There is action—very well-choreographed, I might add—several scenes of which almost try to out-epic the last.  Slow, it is not.

However, it does like to take its time and, on occasion, leaves you wanting in what it omits from the storyline.  Like: backstory.  I fully expected to see more of the training of the Iron Fist, more flashbacks.  That can become an overused plot device, but sometimes it is necessary, and here it is truly a missed opportunity.

In what at times feels like a normal network show—out of all the series produced thus far, this one feels more like episodic TV than any other—Netflix, understanding that a pasty dude with one singular and not seemingly spectacular ability might get a bit stale, amps up the time spent on the minor characters.  There are a few stereotypes and re-hashed ideas here: the son seeking fraternal approval at any cost, the stranger in a strange land concept, the mysticism of the Orient and the seemingly evil nature of most of the characters from there.  These are most supported by the supporting cast, and do illicit an eye roll or two.

The other glaring problem for me: Danny’s sudden turn to anger.  At first he seems to be an innocent lost in a corrupt landscape, but with little explanation or reasoning starts switching mental gears in a way which is unexplained and unexplored.  Think of it as another missed opportunity.  Sometimes, you really want to root for Danny, and at others, you don’t really get his emotional motivation.  This is almost distracting, when you consider the time Netflix took with “Jessica Jones” and Cage. 

But enough about the bad; the things you should keep an eye out for are: Stan Lee, the worst abuse of a stress ball, an interesting series-long imitation of Agent Smith from “The Matrix”, zombie dads, cool tattoos, characters from other shows (apparently there is only one nurse and one attorney that work in the entire city), actors doing their own damned stunts, Renaldo from “The Wire”, and the actress that is a spitting image of a young Lindsay Wagner.

This is entertaining television, but, like “Cage”, I would not recommend binging it.  Oh, and don’t expect a big reveal for the upcoming “The Defenders” at the end of this one.  The biggest tease you are going to get is the last minute of the show, and it has nothing at all to do with the next link in the Netflix/Marvel chain.

Series Grade: B-

The Netflix/Marvel Scorecard According to Yours Truly:
Daredevil Season I: A-
Daredevil Season II: A
Jessica Jones: A-
Luke Cage: C
Iron Fist: B-

-- T.S. Kummelman