On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 12, 2017

One might imagine that Alex Kurtzman, a Hollywood writer often relied upon for studio mandated filmmaking, would have learned a thing or two from watching those he’s written for in the past. Be it J.J. Abrams, Marc Webb, or hell, even Michael Bay. Any one of these aforementioned directors might have shown glimpses of how to stylize, tap into emotion, or leave a unique impression on a certain popular property, but none of this seems to have left an impression on Kurtzman. One might imagine it would, but it seems that if you did you might have more of an imagination than Kurtzman period as his big blockbuster directorial debut is nothing short of a generic action adventure. To his credit, Kurtzman did write and direct the 2012 dramedy People Like Us which wasn’t terrible, but that you probably also don’t remember. Point being, while Universal is now attempting to get in on the cinematic world building game Marvel pioneered and Warner Bros. is following suit on they might have tried to do so by kicking off such an attempt with someone who displayed the opposite qualities of their endeavor meaning a leader rather than the listener and obedient follower Kurtzman seems to be. While Kurtzman is at the helm of this mammoth monster movie the direction is not the weakest aspect of this drab blockbuster; that would be the screenplay. As one of six credited writers on the project, Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married) seemingly outlined the story before Universal brought in the likes of Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Passengers) to juice up the script, but they weren’t done yet, no, as Dylan Kussman (an actor of bit parts in lots of big movies who seems to have made the right friends) along with Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspect, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) and David Koepp AKA the OG Alex Kurtzman were brought in to add to the screenplay and presumably help map out where exactly this “Dark Universe” might lead. Well, if The Mummy is in fact how Universal is going to kick-off this supposed series of films (it was originally intended to be 2014’s Dracula Untold, but we all saw how that turned out) audiences would be led to believe this is going to be a tone-deaf and unoriginal endeavor leading me to believe there might not be much of an audience at all. Full review here. Video review here. D+

It was nice, for once, to walk into a movie having not watched a single trailer, having not read the source material, and literally having zero to no expectation for what was about to be delivered. This type of movie-going experience doesn't happen often in the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle, especially when large portions of that cycle are dedicated to updating fans on every inch of a new movie's production status. The truth of the matter though, was that I personally had zero interest in Captain Underpants, his books, or his potential movies and chalked this initial feature up to being nothing more than a relatively cheap and easy cash grab to capitalize on the popular book series by Dav Pilkey. Still, even this kind of "brand recognition" mentality seemed like it wouldn't serve DreamWorks Animation in the way they might hope as the last I'd heard of the Captain Underpants books was when my younger brother discovered them in elementary school as they gained popularity...in the late nineties. There have been some rather large gaps in the publishing of Captain Underpants novels, but apparently Pilkey is still going strong today and given it's been almost two years since the last Captain Underpants adventure I'm assuming fans might have even been excited for the prospect of a new Underpants adventure not to mention the first one they might experience on the big screen. And so, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is here and while, again, I couldn't have been more unaware of what a movie that had "underpants" in the title could possibly deliver it actually is a rather inspired and genuinely funny piece of entertainment. Granted, this is all very silly and rather outlandish while capitalizing on the fact it knows it's capitalizing on potty humor, but nonetheless the titular character and his creators, elementary school students George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), burst through scene after scene with tireless enthusiasm and a joy for life and all its possibilities that's downright contagious. Though I have no idea how faithful this film is to a certain novel or the series in general I have to imagine that what is captured on screen is very close to the spirit of Pilkey's series as the most vital ingredient in Captain Underpants is that of getting the audience to view these adventures through the minds of George and Harold and it is in this regard that I came to not only appreciate what Captain Underpants was mining, but kind of adore it for doing so. Full review here.

In my 2015 review of Krisha, Trey Edwards Shults feature writing and directing debut, I opened by saying the film, “has a lot of interesting ideas going for it, but one begins to doubt its ability to bring them all together as it races towards its final minutes and seriously begs the question of what exactly everything is building to.” In many ways (and maybe unsurprisingly), one could say the same thing about his follow-up, It Comes at Night. Strangely enough, the dynamics and questions pondered in that initial feature prove to be more interesting and compelling than what feels like an extension of many of those same themes in this new film. In short, It Comes at Night serves up the leftovers from Krisha in that the ideas here still have to deal with family, the potential toxicity of family, and dealing with the inherent connections we’re all born into while questioning how loyal we must remain when things get worse for wear. Of course, all of this is conveyed in what is meant to be taken as a post-apocalyptic setting where tensions are already high and relationships already strained. Things are heightened; this isn’t simply a familial drama about an argument that arises between two opposing members, but more It Comes at Night writes a metaphor for how to handle the small, awkward moments we all encounter when we’re a part of something bigger. It’s a film about figuring out which fights are worth picking and which are worth leaving alone with the outlier of such risks being the fact one of these calls could come back to bite you. This is all really fertile ground to dig into especially when taken through the aforementioned guise of the horror genre, but unfortunately Shults still doesn’t seem to have as strong a grasp on communicating his themes as he does in crafting them. The kid is already a master of atmosphere as some of his film’s strongest qualities come from Brian McOmber’s intense score and Drew Daniels haunting cinematography as they capture the otherwise quaint scenario Shults has set-up, but where It Comes at Night succeeds in building atmosphere and placing conversation-starters on the tip of its audiences' tongues it fails to actually engage that audience in the moment. To this effect, It Comes at Night is one of those films that is fascinating to contemplate and discuss moments after experiencing it, but in the midst of that experience it couldn’t feel more tedious. Full review here. Video review hereC

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