Thursday, May 31, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

While I consider myself a fan of the STAR WARS franchise, I am not one of those die-hard fans.  You know the ones I’m talking about; they have read every book, studied the scenes in every film, watched all the cartoons, and argue with other die-hard fans with the same passion usually reserved for Amway salesmen and strung-out meth heads over facts and trivia that other folks would consider borderline stalking.

Not that there is anything wrong with that—I feel the same way about ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, and have read the Harry Potter series at least as many times as I’ve watched the films (we’re talking about a disturbing number of times here, kids).  So, the biggest problem I have with the latest Star Wars installment has nothing to do with the acting, the pacing, the casting, etc.

But more on my personal issues later—first, a quick synopsis: a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a thief that hooks up with a team of crooks led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson), all in an effort to get back to his home with enough money to rescue his love, Qi-ra (Emilia Clarke, aka “The Mother of Dragons”).  Keep in mind this is all pre-Jabba the Hut and his later adventures with Luke Skywalker and the gang.  Along the way, he meets his BFF, and makes ‘nice’ with the charismatic Lando Calrissian.

It is at this point I find it necessary to pause, and let you all know that Donald Glover is my new Go-To-Gay-Guy.  He has dethroned Michael Fassbender, who dethroned Sherlock, who stole the top spot from Denzel Washington.  (Yeah, I know, I’m shaking my head, too.)  Mr. Glover, also known as “Childish Gambino” in the music biz (I recommend “Sweatpants” and “This Is America” for starters), is a man of many, many talents.  You may remember him as Rich Purnell from THE MARTIAN; he captured social anxiety like no other actor in recent history, creating a character whose genius was not overshadowed by his lack of social normality, even if it was an apparent trait of his personality.  Watching him as Lando, whose personality is the exact polar opposite of Rich Purnell’s, should give you a true appreciation for what a talented artist is capable of.  Not only does he become the character initially portrayed by Billy Dee Williams, but he does so in such a way that you are comfortable with how he stretches that character’s boundaries.  He is the epitome of suave, even when he has no right to be.  Nothing against Mr. Williams, but Mr. Glover makes you want to know more about the character’s history, gives you reason to pine for a (pun certainly not intended) solo film based solely on Lando’s past exploits.

Which is one of the aspects of this film in which the viewer feels that perhaps the focus should not lie entirely on the title character.  Chewbacca is given a glancing backstory, whose friendship with Solo is initially one of necessity rather than camaraderie.  And yes, Ehrenreich does a well enough job as our titular hero—he gets enough of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms down to lend the viewer some familiarity with the character.  But he is no Donald Glover—again, it is almost enough to make you wonder if they didn’t make the wrong movie here.

The action is well executed and surprisingly effective.  I say “surprisingly” because this is, after all, a Ron Howard film, and the last movie he directed that had notable extended action sequences was APOLLO 13, and that was two decades ago.  Mr. Howard is unflappable in every scene, and the brilliant eye of cinematographer Bradford Young (ARRIVAL) helps immensely.  The score by John Powell is effective, and not as over-bearing as you would expect.

But that issue I have… again, as someone that isn’t a rabid SuperFan, perhaps I can be forgiven for not being as excited as I perhaps should have been at the big reveal at the end of the film.  As a fan that has seen every film in the series in theaters (yes, kids, I’m THAT STINKIN’ OLD), should I really be meant to feel left out just because I also haven’t seen every episode of the cartoons?  Granted, The Big Reveal can probably be appreciated without having to read and see every single thing Star Wars related.  But the nod/reveal/obvious tie-in with other media seems more a reward for those aforementioned SuperFans, more so than it is an “ah-ha moment” for the rest of us.

Next up in the “Star Wars Story” universe is a rumored stand-alone film for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ewan McGregor would be reprising his role.  I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the Big Reveal IS NOT Obi-Wan, however it would indicate that the next logical step would be in that particular direction.  Or, it could be that I’m totally talking out of my hind-quarters, as I haven’t read every one of the graphic novels.  Let’s just hope there’s more to the Lando Calrissian story, and that Disney decides to ride Mr. Glover’s well-tailored cape into the next film.

Grade: B+

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - GAME NIGHT

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Comedies of late have been a tad un-funny.  The most recent and horrifying examples being needless sequels (DADDY’S HOME 2, BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS), terrible casting choices (FATHER FIGURES), and downright stupid scripts (SUPER TROOPERS 2).

Thankfully, GAME NIGHT is here to save the genre from inane mediocrity and blatant stupidity.  The film centers around a group of friends who gather once a week to play games like Scrabble and Charades.  Their latest game night, however, is highjacked by the brother of one of the friends; Brooks (Kyle Chandler) hires an agency that puts on murder mystery parties to try and one-up his second-best brother Max (Jason Bateman), only the game becomes real when real goons show up and kidnap Brooks.  Hilarity—literally—ensues.

The script is well-written, the jokes well-timed and executed by perfectly cast actors.  Mr. Bateman is his usual, capable self, proving again that any film with him in the leading role is more than likely a safe bet.  Michael C. Hall of “Dexter” fame turns in a sinister performance, and Rachel McAdams is especially good in her role as Max’s wife Annie.  Jesse Plemons turns in a particularly creepy and awkward performance as neighbor/ex-game night participant Gary, and Lamorne Morris has a masterful delivery, not to mention a face and body language that accentuate every funny line he has.

But the scene stealer here is cinematographer Barry Peterson.  What this man does with camera angles and action sequences is nothing short of masterful.  There are several scenes which come to mind, but one in particular (it involves our heroes playing “hot potato” with a Faberge egg) is executed so seamlessly and with such fluidity that you wonder how the directors could afford such talent.  His brilliant eye is the bonus character in this production; from the obvious gameboard-like setups to the wheel’s-eye view of the road, he gives a genre film a poetic and original boost that should make other cinematographers jealous.  Seriously, he’s that damn good.

This film also contains what could be THE GREATEST opening and closing credits montages in recent memory.  Honestly, there is more original production work here than in a normal Hollywood comedy, and clearly sets it above your typical fare.  The meticulous attention and care put into the entire work shows you how seriously the producers (one of which was Bateman, under his production company Aggregate Films) and studio took this material.

One of the best things about the script is that not one single person gets the best laughs; the jokes are layered throughout each character’s storylines.  From friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (the gorgeous Kylie Bunbury from “Under the Dome”) arguing over which celebrity she slept with, to Sarah’s (Sharon Horgan) unfortunate pairing with doofus Ryan (Billy Magnussen), there are plenty of funny moments to go around.  Mr. Bateman has always been a whip-smart comedic actor, with an eye for the hysterically mundane (if you haven’t seen his amazing directorial debut BAD WORDS, go watch it) (like, RIGHT NOW).

The opening titles alone make this a must-see in the digital format.  The music and action also make the purchase on Blu-ray important, as you will not get the same fluid effects out of a regular DVD.  The only unfortunate thing concerning the release is the special features; you get a making-of doc and a gag reel, and that’s it.  Seems a bit lean for the increased production value of the film itself—surely the team at Aggregate have more to say about this comedy’s behind-the-scenes than this, no matter how funny the gag reel is.

Mr. Bateman’s next project is season two of “Ozark” for Netflix, another of his have-to-watch projects.  Indeed, if he continues on this current streak, just go see everything he is attached to.  He could be the smartest actor in Hollywood at this moment.

Film Grade: A-
Special Features: C
Blu-ray Necessary: Most definitely

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, May 24, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” DEADPOOL 2

“SKumm’s Thoughts”
DEADPOOL 2 82016, R, 119 minutes, MARVEL STUDIOS/20th CENTURY FOX)

There came a moment during DEADPOOL 2 when I longed for a “pause” button.  The reason for this was because I needed to stop laughing, and needed to wipe my eyes.

It is one of those times when you know you are missing half of the jokes onscreen, when your own reaction is so overwhelming that you experience Laughter Overload.  You miss dialogue because your own laughter is too loud, your vision blurred by the tears which seem mystically connected to that part of your brain that produces the endorphins necessary to push you into hysterics.

That isn’t to say that the sequel to the highest-grossing R-rated super hero movie of all time is without its flaws.  It isn’t nearly as funny as the first, some jokes get overused so much that the punchlines become predictably droll, and the serious take on the character seems out of place and stereotypical of the genre which the film skewers.  But I’ll be a unicorn’s blowhole if I don’t admit the genuine hilarity of that couch scene…

The story this time around involves “Cable”, played with scenery chewing panache by the stoic Josh Brolin (Thanos from AVENGERS, for those uninitiated).  Cable has traveled back in time to kill a mutant kid that destroys his family in the future, and Deadpool (Reynolds) decides that the kid should be given a chance to NOT turn into a family slaying criminal.  This pits the two super powers against each other, and also gives our intrepid hero the opportunity to form his own mutant group, “X-Force”, to help battle the futuristic man on a mission.

It is moments like The Couch Scene (no spoilers here) when Ryan Reynolds and fellow writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who both worked on the first installment) capture the character and storyline in such a way that you leave all criticism behind and just enjoy the dang movie.  Until someone cracks yet another joke (okay, I can’t help it: SPOILER ALERT!!) about pedophiles.  The first few times it’s funny, but after a while, you start to wonder if it isn’t a wee bit much.  While I appreciate the unabashed and severely politically incorrect humor the series and comic are known for, repeatedly cracking wise on a subject which affects so many seems so un-empathetic as to be borderline insulting.

There is still the trademark violence, the fifth wall breaks, the deadpan humor, and the industry in-jokes, all of which work to the betterment of the film—and characters.  If anything, Reynolds & Company up the ante this time around.  Seriously—when is the last time you heard a joke about YENTL, for crying out loud?!?  Some sequences are masterfully paced by ATOMIC BLONDE director David Leitch, and showcase the bloody violence that was part of the first film’s success.  And then there are other moments (one in particular, but, hey, no freaking spoilers) that drag on a bit too long.  Five minutes worth of fat could have been trimmed from the film, and the end result would have been better for it.

Despite my negativity towards some aspects of the film, it is still a worthy successor.  Every character is perfectly cast (okay, screw it, SPOILER ALERT!: look for Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and “Firefly” alum Alan Tudyk cameos), every fight scene has just enough action to it, and 85% of the jokes land well enough to at least elicit a smile.  Next up will be an X-Force movie, and possibly a third Deadpool film.  For now, DEADPOOL 2 should be enough to get you through the day.  I’m just waiting for it to come out on Blu-ray so I can re-watch the dang Couch Scene however many times it takes me to catch all the dang jokes.

Film Grade: B+

T.S. Kummelman