Thursday, July 27, 2017


The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 

The Quick of It -
Not to waste your time, I’ll cut to the chase… the word of the day is ‘boring’.  If you wish to continue diving into why I proclaim such a disheartening word, I will elaborate further below.

I’m a huge fan of Luc Besson.  You may know him from a few small projects he is responsible for… LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, the TRANSPORTER series, the TAKEN series, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, KISS THE DRAGON, UNLEASHED.  You can see why he is considered a prolific writer and director, and why I bat my eyes at the thought of him releasing a new film.  A giddy schoolgirl, I tell you.  He knows how to bring a vision to life as a master craftsman. 

Despite what you may think, this is no FIFTH ELEMENT.  And don’t be sold on the thought this will become a cult classic.  Not happening.

The story is about two government agents tasked to find out who is behind the growing threat to Alpha, the home to a thousand different alien species.  Valerian, played by Dane DeHaan (of CHRONICLE, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, A CURE FOR WELLNESS, LAWLESS), delivers a bland performance.  His lines come off stilted, the same gripe people had with Keanu Reeves back in the day.  And, he sounded just like the younger version of Keanu through the whole damn film.  His partner Laureline, the lovely Cara Delevingne (of PAPER TOWNS and SUICIDE SQUAD), brings more heart and energy than most who participated in this travesty of a “hey, I got this long-time coming comic-to-film project”. 

I want to say it is a French ‘thing’, the filming process they teach and practice may not be close enough to American expectations.  But, that would be misguided.  The truth lies in that the visual extravagance was made to be the true star and centerpiece to the film.  With that many people on the station, they probably could have chosen a better storyline and came out ahead.  The only reason to make the trip to the theater is to see it as large as life.  But I would also advise you to grab a large soda cause you may fall asleep from the boredom you will experience, even during the action scenes.   
Grade: C-

P.S.  The platypus winged-monkeys had the right idea, milk everyone of their money and call it a day.  Kinda like this movie.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - KONG: SKULL ISLAND

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Occasionally, Hollywood gets a little full of itself.  It likes to dig up freshly marked graves and fiddle with things, like Herbert West trying to reanimate something which might have been better left in its grave.

The recent reboot of SPIDER-MAN is one such example; not five years following the final installment of Sam Raimi’s groundbreaking (although ultimately unsatisfying) treatment of the iconic character, Sony Pictures found it necessary to try again.  Then, two years ago, they decided to give it another go by re-casting the part, giving him a guest spot in what was really an Avengers film, and released a new iteration this year.

Now, we get another KING KONG.  I’m one of the few that still believes that Peter Jackson’s remake in 2005 was the ultimate in that iconic character’s history; it was a love letter to the films of old, and tugged at the heart-strings with a performance by Andy Serkis that finally made the “big, hairy ape” a relatable and sympathetic character.  KONG: SKULL ISLAND is an utter and complete set-up, but don’t let that dissuade you.  By totally ignoring Jackson’s vision, this is yet another Hollywood reboot, but done with a nod to at least four other film genres.  It is at times exhilarating, frustrating, and basically just one action sequence after another.

You get your typical stereotypes: the hardened soldier with nothing left for him after his tours in Vietnam (Samuel L. Jackson, whose motivation is almost convincing), the quiet and knowledgeable hired gun/expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston, doing his best to make you forget about Loki for a while), the independent and quirky female lead (Brie Larson, who isn’t given enough to do yet still is a formidable acting presence), and the comic relief—John C. Reilly (who brightens nearly every film he is in).  And then there is Kong himself—battle-scarred, intelligent, and badass.  To add to the mix, we get a team of scientists (amongst them a familiar company from another film) wanting to investigate this never-before mapped mystery island and interesting monsters to feed on these intrusive ‘snacks’.  The glimmer of hope lies with a military escort led by Jackson, a platoon of helicopter pilots and soldiers, all fresh out of the Vietnam conflict.  What transpires once they break through the storm clouds is gunfire, explosions, people getting eaten, and Kong getting angry.

Despite some questionable dialogue, and the sense that the filmmakers were trying desperately to not imitate Peter Jackson too much, there is fun to be had—mostly at the expense of Reilly, whose character has been stranded on the island since 1944.  The effects are perfect and the landscape marvelously captured by cinematographer Larry Fong (SUPER 8, BATMAN VS SUPERMAN), a genre veteran that knows how to capture some rather unique images.  Even if Hiddleston flying through poisonous gas with a sword seems a wee bit funny when it is meant to be impressive.

This is a must on Blu-ray—really, if you are going to watch a giant monster spectacle, don’t do it in regular format.  There are several special features to peruse, including one detailing how long it took to get Kong’s hair juuuusst right. And of course, the soundtrack—regurgitated from every Vietnam War film ever made—sounds great despite the familiarity of every single song.

Make sure you watch through the credits—there is a final scene which will confirm that setup that is not-so-subtly hinted at during the film.  Like it or not, there’s more coming, kids.  And, it will be interesting to see who the king of the Hollywood beasts really is.

Grade: B      
Special Features: B- (because everyone dances around Jackson’s KONG without ever naming it specifically, and that irritates me)
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, July 20, 2017


SKumm’s Thoughts

I will never tire of trying to convince you of how incredible an actor Andy Serkis is.

No, you don’t get to see his face all that much—not his actual, “my momma gave me this face” face.  He is the go-to artist when it comes to motion capture performances, and there is a damn good reason for that (see: that last bit where I referred to him as an “artist”).  He made Gollum believable, made Kong breathtaking and relatable, and has brought an unlikely ape named “Caesar” to us for three PLANET OF THE APES films.  For the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pass him up for—at bare minimum—an Oscar nomination is a travesty to the fine art of acting. 

Remember when they cast Robert Downey Jr as IRON MAN?  Or Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk?  They were cast in those roles because of how they fit the character perfectly.  No one but Marlon Brando could have played Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW, no one on earth could have done a better job at bringing a war ravaged ex-soldier to life than Christopher Walken in THE DEER HUNTER.  Throw in Robin Williams as MRS DOUBTFIRE, Lon Chaney as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and Harrison Ford as INDIANA JONES.  All examples of perfect casting, some hidden under heavy makeup, others not.

So, when you take an actor, cover him with sensors, and turn him into an ape, well… you might be able to do that with anyone, but not just anyone can make you believe they are an ape.

Serkis can.  His performance in WAR is devastatingly honest.  Forced from their home in the woods, Caesar goes on a hunt for the man known only as “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson, who breathes more life into a one-note character than you would think possible—if the series has any failings, it’s that the humans are typically depicted by singular emotions, whereas the apes get all of the emotional journey).  The Colonel is responsible for way too many ape deaths, and is supposedly mounting one final assault.  Caesar feels he has no choice but to hunt this one human down, no matter how many soldiers the Colonel commands.  What follows is kind of a cross between UNFORGIVEN and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI; it is a monkey road trip for redemption/revenge, and an internment camp drama, all rolled up in a fast paced two hours and twenty-minute roller coaster.

It marks a fitting end to a series that redefined the remake, and made the effort of re-telling a story more successful with its stark execution and brilliant animation. Matt Reeves, who co-wrote this installment and directed both it and the last, knows how to keep the mood he set up in the last film, even if this is an entirely differently paced film than DAWN.  The effects have only gotten better, and the addition of Steve Zahn as “Bad Ape” lends this film more humor than that tonally serious second one had.  Reeves knows the strengths of this series, and his pacing is perfect, as is the cinematography by Michael Seresin (who also shot DAWN, and a little movie in 1978 called MIDNIGHT EXPRESS).

The true winner here, though, is Serkis.  He may not be the first artist to have played Caesar, but he is the best.

Film Grade: A

-- T.S. Kummelman