Thursday, March 28, 2019

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: CAPTAIN MARVEL

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019, 123 minutes, PG-13)

The Quick of It -
The first round of Marvel films is nearing its end.  We have experienced our ups and downs… no need to mention which ones… (cough…Thor), but we now have the final films hitting theaters, adding one more name to the ENDGAME bucket.

There is a ton of history with the Captain’s legacy, and you must know DC had the name first to realize how much history is involved.  Legal battles and fighting to keep the intellectual property rights… a drama of its own.  In this film, we are presented with a later version of the CAP, a Marvel version, probably to focus on Marvel’s continued implementation of staying relative with mainstream topics.  CAP MARVEL’s central theme and call to action is the empowerment of women.  The truth though is that the theme is subtle this go-a-round, which I appreciated.  If nothing else, that is the whole purpose of superheroes anyways, to see as role-model material, not as a tool for social justice. 

This is an origin story that delivers that typical Marvel formula we have come to know.  Brie Larson (ROOM and THE SPECTACULAR NOW) dons the suit to fight… well, no spoilers.  She is joined by Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Jude Law.  The script is simple enough, so easily dialed-in by the cast, having decent performances from everyone.  When the words struggled, we just shook it off and kept going, knowing we are talking about aliens and weird… stuff.  Hard to keep a sense of tension with this type of storytelling.

As a whole, this is an enjoyable film.  This project is led by the directing/writing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a pairing that started long before this project.  I would say this outing will keep them working for a few more years in Hollywood.  The CAP has plenty of action and comedy to keep you entertained, and not bad for tackling an origin film.  Outside a few snafus in keeping to the standard rules of continuity, everything works.  (Although, those snafus still bother me.) 

But I am going to say the end product is still lacking… and probably a part of the negative buzz you hear.  I will point out from how I feel, there is nothing special that makes this film ‘remarkable’.  By that, I mean that if you are creating a story at such a high level, you want it to stand out, not fit in with the rest.  The CAP does not do this for me, not making me walk out of the theater thinking I watched something new and mind-blowing.  Too many trope plot points implemented to tell the story.  We all have seen this ‘story’ told a number of times, just with different people.  Proof of this deficiency – the cat steals the show.  That should not happen.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


‘Blu-ray or Bust’

It’s funny, what a few extra minutes can do.

In some cases, it makes an okay film great (WATCHMEN, BATMAN V SUPERMAN); those extra minutes, whether they are in the single digits or total dozens, can flesh out a story, make the characters richer and the story more meaningful than in its original release, even if you didn’t even realize the film could benefit so heavily from their inclusion (see: every HOBBIT/RING movie).

That being said, I wasn’t terribly pleased with the theatrical release of THE CRIMES OF GRINDLEWALD. The editing felt jumpy, the story clunky, the characters too one-sided. Watching it, I got the feeling that there was quite a bit missing from this messy, and at times overwrought, sequel. And I had high expectations for it; coming off the brilliant FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, I was wholly invested in writer J.K. Rowling’s efforts as a screenwriter. So my disappointment with the second of a planned five-film story left me at odds. Could the series withstand this entry? Would it wind up costing the studio too much with future installments, seeing as how the gamble did not pay off with this one? (After all, the film cost an estimated two hundred million to make, and grossed less than that domestically. To be fair, it did cross the six-hundred million mark worldwide, but that is still cutting it close when it comes to the movie business.) And most importantly, would I be attacked by rabid Potterheads who see my reviews as nothing more than hobo vomit spewed from a fast-moving train hauling cow poo and cabbage?

With the video release of the film, I was pleased to see an extended cut of the film—and if it were not for the irritating inclusion of the words “Deleted Scene” every time one came up, this iteration of the film far surpasses the theatrical release. I can understand having to cut a film’s original runtime because of an audience’s possible fatigue, but at the cost of the story and the flow of the film…well, as a movie fan, it sucks donkey nipples. Back in the day, there used to be such a thing as an “intermission” (Google it, I don’t have time to fully explain…). Yet in this day and age of assembly line customer processing, theaters aren’t given enough time to provide viewers with breaks.

Thankfully, home video allows us the opportunity to see how the filmmakers originally intended a film to be seen. In the case of CRIMES, it helps tremendously. The story flows rather seamlessly now, and you are allowed more time to identify with and feel compassion for the plight of Credence (the marvelous Ezra Miller) and the doomed Nagini (the quite flexible Claudia Kim). The choice of Johnny Depp for sympathetic baddie Grindelwald makes more sense here, and Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander has more time to shine with Jude Law’s Dumbledore. Essentially, when you put the disc in, head straight to the special features and watch the Director’s Cut.

Speaking of the special features, skip the second one. It’s basically Ezra Miller and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood of the HARRY POTTER films) geeking out together, and adds absolutely nothing to the viewing experience. The others are your usual documentaries—nothing too special, but nothing else as bad as that second one.

The third chapter in the series is due out next year—in November, if the release date holds true to the others. With as much story as was packed into CRIMES, I hope that Ms. Rowling switches gears a bit next time. While I appreciate a Director’s Cut, it shouldn’t always be necessary.

Film Grade: B+ (the theatrical cut gets a B-)
Special Features: B
Blu-ray Necessary: You bet your niffler

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - MORTAL ENGINES

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

If for some ludicrous reason you find yourself in the store holding a copy of this film, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

Do it now, before you wander up to the checkout line and spend your hard-earned cash on it. Just take a minute and consider what you are about to do. How long did you have to work to be able to afford the $20 price tag? An hour and a half? Two hours? Two months, if you work in a Nike factory? You cannot get that time back, just like you won’t be able to get your money back if you don’t like the film.

You owe it to yourself to ask the following questions, and you need to pay close attention to the answers. First, are you considering this purchase because Peter Jackson’s name is on the cover? Because, while the man did bring hobbits and orcs and dwarves to glorious life in the HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS films, not to mention that wonderful version of KING KONG, you should not allow his name alone to quantify your decision. He helped write the screenplay, and he is listed as a producer, but he did not direct this movie. First-timer Christian Rivers did. If it is the Peter Jackson brand you are looking for, go purchase DEAD ALIVE or HEAVENLY CREATURES. Thank me later.

Secondly, are you holding this film in your hand and replaying scenes from the book in your mind? Thinking how cool it would look to see giant cities rumbling across the broken earth, devouring each other as a means for fuel to keep these behemoths running? Looking for that young adult/steampunk vibe that is an as yet unexploited theme in Hollywood? Get yourself some anime. I’d recommend FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, STEAMBOY, or even HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE as better alternatives. HOWL’S is barely recognizable as steampunk, but it will at least distract you from the memories of that one time you almost bought a really crappy film…

Now ask yourself: do I deserve this? You might also ask yourself if you deserve a swift kick in the naughty bits. Or a punch right on your left eyeball. If these are things that you indeed believe that the universe owes you, then by all means PUNCH YOUR OWN FACE. Just put this movie back on the shelf before you begin. You deserve better—hell, the worldwide viewing audience deserves better—than questionable acting, bad dialogue, and predictable story. The only reliable actor on hand is Hugo Weaving, but you aren’t supposed to be rooting for him here. Although if he turned into Agent Smith from THE MATRIX partway through, it might have actually saved this steaming bucket of shark vomit.

You see, there are some things in life that you cannot avoid. Taxes, death, blackheads, gray pubes—all inevitable results of reality. Those bastards follow you everywhere. But this movie? Totally avoidable. Put the movie down and go wash your hands—you may know where that movie isn’t going, but you have no clue where it has been. Or what sort of diseases it may be carrying.

Now, you see that discount bin over there? The giant wire corral with thousands of Blu-rays piled in it? Guaranteed you can find four better movies in there. Start digging.

Grade: F
Special Features: F (The only special feature worth watching would be one in which the entire cast and crew do nothing but apologize for half an hour. And that one ain’t on here.)
Blu-ray Necessary: Hell to the N

-- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - A STAR IS BORN

‘Blu-ray or Bust’
A STAR IS BORN (2018, R, 136 minutes, MGM/WARNER BROS.)

Bradley Cooper can just have my damn money. Seriously; if I could figure out how to have my paycheck directly deposited to his account, I would.

It isn’t that A STAR IS BORN is a perfect movie—it is not supposed to be, and it is not. The characters are flawed, there is a slight issue with pacing, and, call me nostalgic, but this iteration of the classic tale is occasionally too smart for its own good.

But…DAMN. For his directorial debut, Mr. Cooper certainly did tackle a timeless cinematic tale, and he did so with a sure and confident hand. They say that actors make great directors, and that is certainly the case here. Not only is his own performance outstanding, but what he gets from pop artist Lady Gaga is astounding. I knew she had a great voice, but to see how much she’s grown as an actress since her questionable turn in “American Horror Story” is one of several high points.

Another is Mr. Cooper’s own ability to sing. At one point in the film I wondered, briefly, if there isn’t anything the man can’t do. I admired his performance in LIMITLESS, and fell in love with his artistry in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. But his layered performance here is predictably heartbreaking. We know from the start that Mr. Cooper’s Jackson Maine is a troubled man; he is a self-destructive alcoholic, one with a troubled family past that nearly ended with his own death. It seems that his voice is really all that he has left—that, and a brother that is getting tired of his crap (Sam Elliot, the film’s hesitant conscience). But Jackson is a star, and everyone just seems to want to make him happy, and not necessarily do what is best for him. Enter Lady Gaga’s Ally, a waitress who performs once a week at a drag bar. Her mastery of a French song gets Jackson’s attention, and it is there that their love affair begins.

That is one of the tricks of the story by Eric Roth (MUNICH, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON) and Mr. Cooper; this isn’t just a simple story of two people that fall in love. It is also about the love they feel for what they do. As Ally comes into her own, exploring her own voice and where in the competitive world of music her voice belongs, we witness the love between her and Jackson change. Such layered performances make these distinctive characters resonate, makes their particular journeys that much more meaningful.

Of course I’m going to tell you to purchase this on Blu-ray—it is necessary for the soundtrack alone. But there is also a certain raw beauty to cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s (VENOM, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) eye; he follows the goings on as a voyeur, giving us up close and personal views of the dramatic realities playing out through the characters. There are several special features included in the release, including a 30-minute long behind-the-scenes which includes interviews with just about everyone. But there are also additional performances that were cut from the initial release, all of which are must-see’s if you enjoyed the concert performances.

Next up for Mr. Cooper is a biopic concerning Leonard Bernstein. Once again, he’ll star and direct. Can someone please get me his address? I’ve already got a money order for him…

Film Grade: B+
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely

-- T.S. Kummelman