Wednesday, February 28, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - DADDY’S HOME TWO

‘Blu-ray or Bust’


As someone (see: “under-qualified film critic”) who takes his own opinion seriously, I figured the only way to fully appreciate DADDY’S HOME TWO was to watch the first film.  Let’s just say I would have given that one a somewhat solid “C” by way of a grade; to explain further would be to reiterate myself when it comes to its haphazard sequel, and lessen the caustic verbiage of the proper review.  So let’s just get to the bare bones, shall we?

This film sucks.  It is a poor successor to a movie that really didn’t need a follow-up.  Like BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS, it seems a weak attempt at cashing in on the holiday movie genre (and both films have too many similarities to be coincidence).  It is like watching a dog poo, only to have that dog look back at what it laid on the grass, was unhappy with the outcome, and decided to lay a less solid poo atop it.  And you’re the one that has to pick it up.  So allow me to walk that dog for you, because no one likes squishy… okay, I’m starting to gross myself out.

The film centers on Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), two fathers that have worked out how to be co-dads to Dusty’s kids (and two actors who have been a heckuva lot better in other films).  When both of their fathers come to town at Christmas, Dusty’s dad (played by Mel Gibson) takes over the holiday and books them all at a lodge, hours away from their homes.  And all that happens in the first fifteen minutes; the writers and director Sean Anders seem in a rush to get you someplace fast, and it is a sporadic momentum which shows up in all of the wrong places.  The biggest problem I have with the film is that there are only three comedic surprises, all of which belong to one person.  Everything else is just as predictable as the first, and it is a fault the film cannot shake, even when that one person is shining.

Don’t get me wrong: everyone plays their roles exactly as you would expect.  Ferrell’s Brad is still an irritating optimist, Wahlberg’s Dusty is still a semi-tough guy.  But Brad’s dad (John Lithgow) is just like his son, only more extreme.  Same with Dusty’s; it seems that a pre-requisite to filming was for each actor to play one facet of their character to the hilt, and to only let up at the very end, as that would show that the character grew and learned from everything that transpired in the first hour-and-a-half.  WRONG.  Everyone involved is playing this as a one-note gag, and it shows.

Except for that singular person I alluded to earlier.  Scarlett Estevez plays young daughter Megan with a ferocity that everyone else should have been paying attention to.  She was the only reason I laughed during the film, and most of that was during a scene that involved a live manger.  Her timing and skills are clearly evident—let’s just hope no one in Hollywood holds this movie against her.

There are special features; a vignette concerning the “new dads” in the film, some extended and deleted scenes, and two other docs that I honestly did not have the heart or patience to watch.  Probably because the stink of the movie was lingering.  You know, like what that dog did in the yard.

So Miss Scarlett Estevez, you save this film.  Just barely.  Everyone else?  Please, FOR THE LOVE OF THE SWEET BABY HEY-ZEUS, if Sean Anders says he has a great idea for a third movie, run away.  Go take your dogs on a really long walk.

Just please keep them out of my yard.

Film Grade: D
Special Features: Seriously?
Blu-ray Necessary: Oh. hell no!

-- T.S.Kummelman

Thursday, February 22, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - BLACK PANTHER

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

In 2016, Marvel allowed Netflix to present the first African-American superhero to a public that was beginning to show signs of Marvel Universe Fatigue—which from here on out, I shall refer to as “MUF”.  Yep; I went there.

But “Luke Cage” wasn’t the black superhero we needed.  Netflix’s prior success with their gritty take on “Daredevil” and the electrifying “Jessica Jones” did not transition well in “Cage”.  Part of the problem lay with the demise of an incredible villain midway through the season, followed by a weak caricature in the final arc.  But what really set me off from the story were the over-processed stereotypes and the seemingly desperate need the show had to be urban.  From the music to the one-note characters, it all felt forced and, after the amazing first season of “Jones” in which Cage was first introduced, anticlimactic.

With Marvel’s second attempt at bringing a non-white superhero front and center with BLACK PANTHER, it appears they learned from their prior mistakes.  Director and writer Ryan Coogler (CREED, FRUITVILLE STATION) lifts this tale far above what you have come to expect from the Marvel Universe, and is more than enough to erase any MUF you may be feeling.  (Too much?...)  By placing the bulk of the story in the heart of Africa within the fictional country of Wakanda, Mr. Coogler and Company offer a tale rich in African imagery, culture, and mysticism.  In other words, THEY DIDN’T MAKE A MARVEL MOVIE.  They made a film that reflects the cultural richness and artistic consciousness of an entire people, and they pulled it off fantastically.

The story follows T’Challa—aka, The Black Panther—who returns home to Wakanda, a country steeped in advanced technology due to their immense cache of Vibranium, the same metal used in Captain America’s indestructible shield.  T’Challa has come back home to be crowned king following his father’s death, only there are a few roadblocks in his way, one of those being “Killmonger” (played by the amazing Michael B. Jordan), who has his own claim to the throne of Wakanda.  Chadwick Boseman (GET ON UP, MARSHALL) returns as the titular hero, once again solidifying Marvel’s uncanny knack at brilliant casting—but he is nearly overshadowed by his costars.  Not only does Mr. Jordan give his character an honest and justified cause, but makes his righteousness convincing enough to illicit empathy from the viewer—until he flies off the rails, that is.  There is also the wonderfully giddy Andy Serkis, reprising his role as villain Ulysses Klaue and firmly making him one of the top five Best Marvel Villains.

But wasn’t I just saying that this isn’t really a Marvel movie?...when you take into consideration that not only is the cast predominantly not Caucasian, and add to that the strong female presences in the film and woven into the story itself, yeah—not your typical Marvel flick.  Which is awesome.  Angela Bassett plays T’Challa’s tough yet elegant mother; Lupita Nyong'o a world-weary spy; Danai Gurira plays a kick-ass general to his highness’s army; and his sister—brilliant and resourceful and just as confident and strong as the others—is played by Letitia Wright, who has a strong argument for getting her own stinkin’ movie or series after her performance here.  Four women in a Marvel film, who together get more screen time than the superhero himself?  Unheard of.  And damn brilliant, too.

It used to be that female characters in these films took a backseat to the male leads—Black Widow, anyone?  Now—and quite possibly due to the success of D.C.’s WONDER WOMAN—these characters add more than depth or support to the story—they also help define the hero himself.  And, make him stronger.  And these four fierce women do so much more than that; they give us hope that future Marvel films will embrace the concept of such diversified talent and artistic display, as it raises the MCU to a much higher level than the typical disposable fodder.

So, I leave you with this PSA: are you, or someone you love, suffering the effects of MUF?  If so, go watch BLACK PANTHER, and leave your MUF behind.

(seriously…was anyone keeping count?...)

Grade: A

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - WONDER

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Author/writer/director Stephen Chbosky does it all.  Hollywood trusted him with his own work back in 2012, and the result was one of the best screen adaptations of a novel ever committed to celluloid.  THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER was a perfect little movie, based on Chbosky’s own perfect little book.

Hollywood liked the results so much that they embraced the idea of the man directing another classic book, “Wonder”, written by R.J. Palacio.  The book (and film) centers around young Auggie, a boy with Treacher Collins syndrome—a cranial displacement issue which has caused him to have a deformed face.  After being home-schooled by his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts, who is trustworthy in any role she plays) for several years, Auggie is ready to start the fifth grade in an actual school.  His dad (Owen Wilson, who doesn’t use the word “wow” a single time in the film—yes, I was totally waiting for it) meets this decision with trepidation, his sister Via (the wonderful Izabela Vidovic) with aplomb.  The lovely thing about this film is that it is not just told from the boy’s point of view.  In the hands of Chbosky, you not only get an adaptation of the book which sticks to the core elements, language, and tone, but you also get a storyteller that cues you in on how the tale is told best.

And while each of the important players get their own turns to tell their part of the story, it all ultimately leads back to Auggie.  Played by the amazing Jacob Tremblay, you get emotion from behind the facial deformity that you wouldn’t expect.  Several adult actors have problems acting from behind a mask and making it convincing; perhaps if some of them took lessons from Jacob, they might have an easier time of it.  He makes the story believable, and gives it its heart.  His emotional core is what we are most concerned with, even though we are inevitably drawn into the emotions and minds of the others as well.

The child actors steal this show (the adults do their job, of course, but the standouts are Mandy Patinkin and the incredibly talented Daveed Diggs as Mr. Brown).  There is not a single voice which seems forced, nor any performance which appears wooden.  The first special feature on the disc is all about directing child actors, and while most productions that feature a predominantly young cast always seem to have trouble behind the scenes, everyone here—especially under the playful direction of Chbosky—does such a natural job that it is easy to forget you are watching a film and not playing witness to the real-life struggles and joys of the lives you are seeing.

Not to say that there aren’t a few hiccups.  As a movie for kids, WONDER hits on several notes that will ring true for any of their perspectives.  Yet the adults in the film are either good or bad; the kids all straddle those gray areas usually meant for adults, while we get exactly from the adults what you would expect from face value.  Of course, the kids are what this film is all about, so their moral decisions and actions are what concern us the most.  There just isn’t a whole lot of depth to the adults (although Roberts tries her darnedest).

Of course, I’m going to tell you have to purchase this on Blu-ray.  No, no one blows up, there are no chase scenes, and no one gets pummeled by a robot.  But this is such an immersive experience; you really should not trust it to anything less than the best visual and audible presentation possible.  There are some moments you should witness with the right sound and visual texture, which is pretty much the entire film.

This is certainly a film to watch with your kids—or, let them watch it by themselves.  Sometimes it’s better to watch them work some things out on their own, and the helping hand that Chbosky and company lend here makes it an easy path for them to tread.

Film Grade: B+
Special Features: A (several detailed and long docs, and it is awesome to see how much these kids were allowed to be kids during the production)
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended