Thursday, August 30, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - THE MEG

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

Sometimes, a film comes along that brings a message that resonates deep within the viewer.  Something which compels you to question the status quo, makes you realize that life could be different, were people strong enough and inclined to encourage change with voices loud and determinations resolute.

But that was last week’s review—this week, we’re talking about THE MEG.

Put in the simplest of terms, without grandiose words or carefully constructed phrases, THE MEG freaking rocks.  Seriously.  It is exactly what a summer movie should be: there is action, laughs, muscles, Hiro Nakamura from “Heroes”, and a giant, angry shark.  It helps that the CGI is pretty much on point; there are a few instances that appear marginally fake, but it isn’t enough to pull you back from the edge of your seat.

MEG concerns a megalodon, a not-quite extinct, prehistoric great white shark that eats killer whales for appetizers and whales of the bigger variety at meal time.  And, apparently, it’s always meal time.  When a megalodon is freed from its underwater prison (there is a TOTALLY PLAUSIBLE scientific explanation for that) and begins roaming the open waters 200 miles off the coast of China (which, for a shark that size, is probably, like, twenty feet from the beach), a team of scientists and precisely one badass try to save the day.  The script, written by two screenwriters responsible for RED and BATTLESHIP, and another dude that wrote PAYCHECK, work from the 1997 novel by Robert Alten.  Usually, three screenwriters spells doom; it means that there were either a whole lotta rewrites, or that the film could be clunky (like, one guy wrote the action, another the comedy, and another dude did the scientific research, and nothing in the film quite matches).  But this…oh, this is a beast that works surprisingly well.

Jason Statham stars as deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor, a guy that rescues other divers for a living—or at least did, until what he claims was a giant shark was responsible for a rescue operation that turned disastrous.  He is pulled back into the mix after a Megalodon cripples a research vessel in the depths of the ocean, and rushes to save the scientists on board.  One of those is Hiro Naka—I mean, Masi Oka, who proves once again how much of a natural talent he is.  Also in the cast is the gorgeous Ruby Rose, along with Bingbing Li (coolest name ever), Rainn Wilson, Page Kennedy, and a whole bunch of other people you will recognize from similar parts they have played in the past.  But stereotyping is part of the fun here, believe it or not.  This is a summer action film, so don’t go in wanting to see something other than two hours of joyous carnage and a remarkable number of near misses.

The film looks beautiful; the fully realized sets (which all look TOTALLY PLAUSIBLE) and the mini submarines that look like something out of a STAR WARS film have more than enough detail in them to make them appear…well, TOTALLY PLAUSIBLE.  Also, the score by Harry Gregson-Williams (THE EQUALIZER, THE MARTIAN) is a perfect pairing to the on-screen action.

The only thing I wanted more of in this film, however, was ten-year-old actress Shuya Sophia Cai.  Her timing is impeccable, and she has, quite possibly, the greatest eyebrows in Hollywood.  Seriously.  There are numerous funny moments to behold, several of which are delivered by Ms. Cai, whose facial expressions alone warrant their own special feature once this is released on Blu-ray.  The only distraction in the film is the occasional character who does something that you automatically know is going to get them eaten.  The film even sets you up a few times; you expect someone to become shark bait, and they don’t—well, at least not right away.  Which is part of the fun, but is also one of the mainstays of horror films that usually has you shaking your head.

But again—we aren’t talking art here, kids.  We’re talking plain old summer fun.  Not that there is anything plain about this film; for what it is (a movie about a giant shark that eats everything) (which is TOTALLY PLAUSIBLE), it delivers unexpectedly well.  And as this is based on a series of books, we would be lucky enough to be swimming these waters with Mr. Statham and Co. again.
Grade: A-

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - DEADPOOL 2

‘Blu-ray or Bust’
DEADPOOL 2(2018, R/UR, 119/134 minutes, MARVEL STUDIOS/20th CENTURY FOX)

When I reviewed the theatrical version of this film, I was a wee bit disappointed.

You see, I wanted something as snarky and comical and spontaneous as the first film was.  I wanted more of that sarcasm, more of the quick wit, more of the terribly inappropriate jokes and extreme violence that made the original such a giddy dive into that animalistic part of the human brain which craves bedlam and lunacy.  What I got was something a tad darker, something which, at times, felt more like a grounded superhero film—the same types that DEADPOOL had such a marvelous time exploiting for its own perverse pleasure.  So, I gave it a “B+” in my initial review, something I would stand by even today.

But oh, kids, what a difference fifteen minutes makes.

The premise of the film is that Wade “Deadpool” Wilson (the still hilarious Ryan Reynolds) is enjoying a life of crimefighting via dismemberment when tragedy strikes.  He finds redemption (of sorts) with young Russell, aka “Firefist” (Julian Dennison from THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE), who is at odds with his powers.  He wants to fireball the headmaster of the orphanage where he was tortured for being a mutant.  Enter Cable (Josh Brolin, whose straight-guy delivery makes for some hilarious lines), who is hell-bent on killing Russell for barbequing his family—in the future.  Deadpool decides that the only way to stop Cable from completing his mission is to form a team he dubs The X-Force, which leads to…well, no spoilers here, as usual.

What I will say is that while a few alternate lines replace some of the jokes from the theatrical version, the quality of the story has improved immensely.  There is more to the opening montage of Deadpool’s violent and hilarious vigilantism, as well as longer moments of character development which enhance the story of every character.  Basically, it is much more coherent and funny film about family than the theatrical attempt, and is, honestly, the definitive version of the film.

Although it is fun to watch both, just to compare.  But the longer cut is the better of the two.  Of course, no matter which version you watch, this release is essential on Blu-ray.  From director David Leitch’s (JOHN WICK, ATOMIC BLONDE) brilliant use of color (which adds to the comic-book feel of the movie), to the unlikely soundtrack (when is the last time you heard Celine Dion and Dolly Parton in an R-rated superhero film?), this all needs to be experienced in the superior format.  Also, there is a veritable treasure trove of extras; the disc includes several behind-the-scenes docs, one of the most fascinating being how they managed security on the film, not to mention the Gag Reel, all of the promotional ads—some of which I had not seen yet—and Josh Brolin listening to dub step for the first time.

Next up in the Deadpool saga will be a film devoted to the X-Force.  No release date has been set, but there is plenty here to keep us busy until then.  Just stick to the better version, and you’ll be fine.

Film Grade: B+ for the R-rated version, A for the Super Duper Cut
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freakin’-lutely

- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, August 23, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

There is a whole lot going on in Boots Riley’s directorial debut, so blinking isn’t really an option.

For a man best known for his soundtracks (SUPERBAD, THE LOSERS), he has written a tale that is socially conscious and not-so-subtly surreal.  But his method of storytelling is compelling and works surprisingly well; if you can accept the need for a black man to survive in this dim future via use of his inner white voice, then you can totally buy into the idea of genetic mutation as an acceptable visual diatribe against a broken system.  Did I mention the surreal bit?

SORRY concerns Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield of GET OUT and “Atlanta” fame), a down-on-his-luck deep thinker living in his uncle’s garage.  He has big dreams of making a difference somehow, with no idea of what that difference is.  After landing a telemarketing job, he discovers that by utilizing his “white voice”, he can sell anything to anybody, and soon finds himself in the upper echelon of the company, selling dark wares for an evil corporate giant.  There are many lessons here, some subtle (like the value of friendship, the need to do the right thing) and some that are blatantly important (subterfuge, slavery, the evil trappings of wealth).

Mr. Riley and cast cover a lot of bases here, and the flow of information can be frenetic at times.  From our society’s reliance on social media to the self-subjugation and public humiliations we put ourselves through in order for our voices to be heard, there is much to take away from this film.  Trying to define the genre in which this tale would fall is difficult; like David Cronenberg’s classic VIDEODROME, Mr. Riley tackles enough themes to make categorization nearly impossible.  It is a comedy, it is a drama; it could be classified as “science fiction”, but “horror” fits it at times, too.

None of this makes it a difficult film to watch, however.  The tale has an even flow to it that makes each leap even more acceptable than the last.  Mr. Riley takes you by the hand and leads you gently at first, but that grip becomes firmer, eventually turning into a shove—but you take that shove gladly, almost gratefully.  He is propelling you and your consciousness forward, and you’ll be the better for it in the end.  It will also give you much to think about long after the film has ended.  This is the trademark of a brilliant storyteller—to make you consider what you have witnessed, to make you wonder if, indeed, you yourself could spark change or revolution.  Are those things that society has accepted as the norm really something that we should view as normal?

The cast is remarkable in that no one feels unnecessary.  There are no wasted words or characters here.  Mr. Stanfield captures the insecurities and needs of a struggling young man with an inspired and spirited performance; Armie Hammer is effectively unbiased in his evil as corporate giant Steve Lift; Steven Yeun makes you forget all about his role as “Glenn” on “The Walking Dead”; and Tessa Thompson (CREED) as girlfriend “Detroit” is a voice of reason which holds its own failings and doubts.  She is perhaps one of the more complex roles in the film, and she handles it all brilliantly.

My only complaint is that, as the film progresses from leap to leap, we lose a bit of tonality.  It is those shifts from comedy to drama to sci fi to horror to social dichotomy when we can feel the gears of Mr. Riley’s machine shifting.  While mildly distracting, it isn’t enough to derail the film—but it is enough, again, that you can feel a shift in storytelling.  What once felt smooth becomes jarring by the end.  But this could also be a necessary part of the tale he has written; in order to jog your brain, perhaps you need a slight slap in the head to make you pay better attention.

And pay attention you should; while the film does take place in the not-so-distant future, there is quite the subversive and well-styled tale here, one which begs for more from its viewers.  It also makes you wonder how Mr. Riley could possibly top himself after this.

Grade: A-

-- T.S. Kummelman