Thursday, November 29, 2018


“SKumm’s Thoughts”

I hate to admit it, but there came upon me a moment when watching this sequel to 2016’s FANTASTIC BEASTS in which I hoped Johnny Depp would look directly into the camera and break into his Captain Jack Sparrow routine.

Granted, there are a few moments when that slightly rolling voice comes through, as though he’s egging you on a bit.  Like at any moment he could cry out “mun-key!” in fear and a slightly drunken repose.  But he doesn’t.  Which kinda sucked.

CRIMES follows the basic Hollywood sequel setup, in that it adheres to the formula set forth by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; secrets are revealed, some questions are answered, and the bad guys have a field day.  Seeing the fugitive wizard Grindelwald (Depp) in action can be quite the nefarious spectacle.  His power is obvious, his intentions are honestly blunt, and his ideology is skewed yet rational in a sympathetic kind of way.  He wants all pure-blood witches and wizards to rule the world, and he nearly has the means to do so.  Those means involve winning Credence (Ezra Miller) over to his side.  Where Grindelwald is stalwart in his resolution, Credence is coming into his own.  He still shies away from human interaction, but his conflicted emotions have evolved into a quest for identity—one which, sadly, is not explored quite enough here.  Neither is that of Nagini (Claudia Kim), who eventually grows up to be a really evil snake.  In fact, there are several characters here that need more fleshing out, and more time to simmer.  You get the distinct impression that there is a longer, more character-friendly film here somewhere.

It is certainly possible that they will all evolve more over time; this is, after all, only the second in a planned five-film story.  But there are a whole lotta people on display here, and it seems an injustice to not let these characters develop more naturally.

My other gripe lies with either J.K. Rowling’s script or Mark Day’s editing; there are jumps in the storyline that are wholly out of place for a film set in the “Wizarding World” universe.  Scenes cut to other characters suddenly further along than you last saw them, which goes against the typical storytelling of these films.  It is especially bothersome when it concerns characters we care about.  Speaking of which, the early standout for me in this film was, once again, Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski.  His humor and presence show an almost uncanny depth, making him the most relatable character in the movie—well, for part of it, anyways.  Eddie Redmayne is just as effective as he was the first time around, and this time he is allowed to better plumb the depths of his social anxieties and self-doubts.  Newt Scamander really is one of the most complex characters writer J.K. Rowling has ever created, and I’m including Severus Snape in that mix (Slytherin forever, beotches!).

And please don’t think that I hated this sequel; on the contrary, it was enjoyable.  Some of the effects are stunning, and the set detail was delightful.  The graveyard was especially effective as a mood setter, although that was also one of the parts which felt a bit rushed.  Phillipe Rousselot’s cinematography is wonderful, in that he sets up some shots that linger in your head well into the next scene.  Some of his work may seem unconventional for a Wizarding World film, but it is a great visual tool in director David Yates’ arsenal.

There are other things which bothered me (and some things about the story that I loved), but to divulge them goes against my “No Spoilers! Rule”.  If you’ve seen the trailers, you know what the film is about.  And no, it isn’t about Jack Sparrow getting the Black Pearl back.  No matter how badly you want that sly wink and a “mun-key!”.

Film Grade: B-

- T.S.Kummelman

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - THE MEG

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Summer movies can sometimes get a bit stale.  Hollywood occasionally regurgitates the same ideas; what made money last summer surely will garner the same reaction this time around.

Thankfully, last summer had a few offerings that offered new hope when it comes to the typical summer blockbuster; whether it was dinosaurs haunting in a mansion or watching Tom Cruise run across an entire city, we definitely had some variety in the theaters.  And THE MEG was exactly what a summer movie should be: there was action, laughs, muscles, and a giant, hangry shark. 

MEG concerns a megalodon, a not quite extinct, giant, prehistoric 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 during a rescue operation 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 prior rescue 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 (“Heroes”), 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 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 better than your typical movie props.  The CGI translates well from the big screen to whatever you watch this film on; the filmmakers went to great lengths to making this look as authentic as possible, and it works.  And 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.  Alas, the special features included here are not eyebrow-specific; while entertaining, there are only two, and they don’t offer up much different in the way of behind-the-scenes.  Although “Making of the Beast” is very interesting in that it shows you how much research and detail actually went into creating the shark, the rest is skippable. 

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.  There has been no official announcement from the studio yet, which is quite surprising; the film grossed almost three times its budget, and that usually equates to a green light for a sequel.  So keep your fingers crossed, and watch out for fins.
Grade: A-
Special Features: C-
Blu-ray Necessary: Abso-freaking-lutely

Thursday, November 15, 2018

“SKumm’s Thoughts” - THE GRINCH

“SKumm’s Thoughts”

In the year 2000, Ron Howard reimagined the Dr. Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with a live-action film starring Jim Carrey.  There has been much debate over the film’s merit, as it stretched a classic twenty-six-minute television cartoon into a movie four times that long (not to mention the fact that it starred one of the most frenetic comedic actors of the time), and most viewers either loved or hated it.

Count me as one of the latter; something about the Who’s of Whoville brought to life really creeped me out, and I thought the casting of Mr. Carrey seemed out of place.

So why would Universal give it another try?  Why would the same studio take a film that, despite the mixed reviews, was highly successful at the box office, and remake it?

In short, because they could do it better.  This animated retelling may be the best iteration of the story yet—and I’m including the Boris Karloff led Warner Brothers cartoon in that.  I know, I know: blasphemy.  But the wunderkinds at Illumination have crafted a story that is touching, relevant, and extremely funny, and have wrapped it in sharp animation that pays homage to its predecessor and creates a sense of wonder which overshadows prior attempts.  There is something glorious about seeing all those lights in Whoville, and the attention to detail in the animation is precise and breathtaking.

Directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, working from a script by Tommy Swerdlow and Michael LeSieur, keep the pacing consistent throughout.  There are no lulls in the storytelling or the laughs, and the cast does a wonderful job in making you care about the goings on of a tale you probably already know.  The standouts are Pharrell Williams as the narrator, whose lyrical delivery makes you want to reread the book (out loud, and with his voice), and young Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who.  Ms. Seely does a fantastic job capturing the nuances and attitudes of a child (probably because she is one, but her comedic timing nears brilliance in certain moments).  Benedict Cumberbatch is an interesting choice for The Grinch; he is confident and spontaneously erratic (when needed), and at times seems to channel only the better moments of Jim Carrey’s attempt at the role.  Yet he makes it his own when it comes to his delivery and his commitment to the material; whereas Carrey never seemed to stop being Carrey, you feel the change in Cumberbatch’s Grinch.  Occasionally, though, you wish Cumberbatch would just let loose a little more; his delivery is, again, confident, but his it also sometimes falls flat. 

The only drawback to the production is Tyler the Creator’s version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”.  There really isn’t any way to beat or outshine Thurl Ravenscroft’s classic baritone voice, and the studio seems to get this by only using a brief twenty or thirty seconds of this attempt.  But said attempt is a mumbled mess, and honestly, pairing Tyler the (I am so not writing out his entire name again, as the only thing I think he created here is a new way to sing with a mouth packed full of stale sugarplums) with singing children is weird.  Weird, and creepy.

The rest of the soundtrack is perfectly chosen.  Danny Elfman’s score is inspired and complimentary to the action onscreen, and never once feels presumptuous or rudimentary.  If anything, Elfman’s music adds additional layers to the animation, if that’s even possible.

This is one of those films that bears seeing twice, as there are many details you will probably miss the first time around (including the lovely diversity within the populace of Whoville).  And to pull it off without any low-brow humor or fart jokes just shows the amount of respect the filmmakers have for the source material.  Congratulations to Universal for allowing Illumination to take the reins on this one, and to all those involved (except for Tyler the Agitator) for creating a film I will definitely be adding to my yearly Christmas watch list.

Grade: A-

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - REPRISAL

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

There are times that I really, REALLY enjoy writing these reviews.  Mostly it is due to my excitement at being able to recommend something I really enjoyed, and other times, it is the joy I experience in coming up with new insults.

Thank you, Brian A. Miller (VICE, THE PRINCE) for giving us REPRISAL.  This is the third time he has directed Bruce Willis, and the third time that effort has sucked toad anus.  Seriously—movies don’t get as dumb as this one.  It is like watching a kid playing with those cheap store-brand cars, the ones that want to be Matchbox Cars but look and act more like crap with wheels that don’t spin.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing Mr. Willis, or even Frank Grillo (CAPTAIN AMERICA), to poop toys.  While both are fine actors, neither one really acts their collective pants off here.  In fact, there are only three people taking this film seriously: the director (Miller), first time screenwriter Bryce Hammons, and “Legends of Tomorrow’s” own Jonah Hex, Johnathon Schaech, who is so excited to be playing the bad guy that he overacts his buns off.

The story revolves around a bank manager (Grillo), who’s branch is robbed one day by an occasionally violent baddie (Schaech).  He wants to clear his name so he can go back to work, therefore enlists the help of his neighbor (Mr. Willis), a retired cop, to track down the murderous thief.  At least, that’s the brief reason given to justify his motivation.  His neighbor’s motivation?  He’s retired, what the hell else does he have to do?  And, just as importantly, the bad guy’s motivation?  HE’S THE ANTAGONIST, HE DOESN’T NEED ONE.  If the fact that the bank manager and the retired cop figure out where the bad guy is hiding out through an extended and tedious montage doesn’t bother you, then you should definitely follow this film up with the other two frog-butt sucking movies I previously referenced.  Otherwise, please read on.

You know how you can skip from chapter to chapter on your Blu-ray player?  For this one, you should be able to skip to moments of absurdity and/or idiocy.  And they should have titles, like “Chapter 1: Dumbass Plot”, or “Chapter 7: How Cop Cars Skid Out During Chase Scenes When the Pavement Isn’t Wet”.  Maybe even “Chapter 20: When the Daughter Finally Speaks Above an Incoherent Mumble.”  There is so much wrong with this film, and everyone’s involvement with it, that you wonder how something this terrible could actually be regurgitated by Hollywood, and directly onto our eyes.  That’s right, folks: you could save yourself the time and trouble of watching this “film” by paying someone to throw up on your eyeball.  Same difference, really.

There are special features, but, really, who cares?  The last thing I want to watch is a bunch of people saying nice things about each other and the film when that is probably the best acting on the disc.  The special features should have titles commiserate with that of the film: “The Making of Reprisal: The Lengths We Went to To Ensure This Movie Was the Mental Equivalent of an Acidic Enema”.  And “The Casting of Reprisal: Actors That Thought This Would Be More Entertaining Than Watching a Competition Between Growing Grass (not the fun kind) and Drying Paint”.  “The Music of Reprisal: How to Play the Drums and a Tuba with Your Fart Hole”.

In summary: poop.
Grade: F+ (the “+” is for actress Olivia Culpo, the only spark of beauty in an otherwise crappy affair)
Special Features: F- (just because)
Blu-ray Necessary: If you buy this on Blu-ray, somehow, somewhere, entire colonies of cute puppies and kittens will simultaneously explode.  Please—don’t kill the puppies.

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, November 1, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Remember when there was a certain charm to the Marvel Universe?  It was a happy time, when Thor and Hulk bickered with their fists to perfect comedic timing, when Tony Stark’s wit and sarcasm were hilarious exclamation points to the action and kept everything feeling light and relatable?

And then the MCU got all dark and mysterious.  Okay, not really mysterious.  It was more like heavy-handed storytelling and origin stories which all followed the same blueprint.  Even the first ANT-MAN was guilty of that: hero comes into a superpower/supersuit, hero has to learn about defending the people and the greater good, hero battles someone that has the same type of superpower/supersuit.  But what set the first film apart from the rest of the MCU was its reconnection to the humor that charmed us in IRON MAN and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  It was an origin story, yes, but it was also a crime caper.  It felt fresh, because it set itself apart from the rest of the pack by not reaching further than its geographical confines.

With ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, returning director Peyton Reed not only stays true to his method of storytelling from 2015’s ANT-MAN, but he ups things a notch.  He smoothly and without any heavy-handedness makes the viewer more emotionally invested in the characters—and he does it all with that lighthearted humor which is becoming unique to this little corner of the MCU. 

In this installment, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) figures out a way to rescue his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm.  He just needs Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) help to do so—well, he and Pym’s daughter Hope (the badass Evangeline Lilly).  There are several elements that turn this story about a rescue operation into something more, and I’d be giving away too much by describing them all to you.  There is the comedic action, the easy banter between Lang and Hope, the nearly unbearable cuteness of Lang’s daughter (played with amazing timing by Abby Ryder Fortson).

Mr. Reed is smart enough to know that a film cannot rely on its title heroes alone; like the first film, the character that nearly steals the show is Michael Pena’s “Luis”, the fast-talking ex-con who tells a story like no other.  He is on point again, and even better than before. 

Keep in mind when watching, however, that whereas ANT-MAN was a crime caper, this one is a rescue mission.  Meaning, there is no need for a super-bad villain, one promising destruction of a city or the world.  This story is kept within Lang & Company’s little corner of San Francisco, and that’s just fine.  It helps keep the goings on more relatable, and the tone lighter. 

There are several special features, including a gag reel and two deleted scenes.  The docs deliver the usual, but what’s missing is more Luis.  For some reason, the Whale Boat Guy gets his own unused takes, but for a studio that was Luis-heavy during the film’s marketing campaign, not including more of him in the special features is a misstep.

ANT-MAN will be back in action in the next INFINITY WARS film, but that will be a brooding sequel to that last heavy, heavy AVENGERS film.  With any luck, he and The Wasp will continue on into the next phase of the MCU; I’m sure it will need a little (pun totally intended) levity following the end of the current one.
Grade: A
Special Features: B-
Blu-ray necessary: Absolutely

-- T.S. Kummelman