Tag: jim cummings

The Block Island Sound


The Block Island Sound (2020)
★ / ★★★★

Writer-directors Kevin and Matthew McManus could have had a real gem on their hands because their story offers a curious premise: nine to ten tons of fish have washed ashore which suggests that there might be something in the deep that drove them inland. But a monster lurking in the ocean does not appear to explain why birds have begun falling from the sky. Nor does it account for why a man named Tom (Neville Archambault), the father of our protagonists, fails to have full control of his body after returning home from a fishing trip. Even the dog next door detects that something is terribly wrong with its neighbor.

“The Block Island Sound” is an excellent example of a work that fails to take off. It goes to show that you can have the best story on paper, but if you fail to harness the power of what makes that particular story compelling on film, then you might as well not tell it. In the middle of this dud, I wondered what percentage of viewers would walk away by the hour mark. Although interesting initially because of the bizarre events transpiring across the island, the film is not entertaining: no investigation is done so answers to the mystery are revealed on a constant basis, there is not one effective jolt to be had, there is occasional humor but making fun of conspiracy theorists is low hanging fruit (Jim Cummings), and there is a lack of thrilling or shocking revelations about the island or the people involved. Like the rotting fish on the coast, the film is dead.

We meet Harry (Chris Sheffield) who lives with Tom, his aging father. His sister, Audry (Michaela McManus), tells her co-worker and potential romantic interest (Ryan O’Flanagan), that his baby brother is short-tempered, a recluse, the type who doesn’t mesh well with others. But we observe Harry and he is none of these things. Already there is a disconnect. Never mind that we are told, rather than shown, how our central protagonist is like. But we are fed a lie, especially so early on. This is only one example. There are other exchanges that should have been excised from the picture completely, either for this reason or that the dialogue leads nowhere, certainly nowhere interesting. Perhaps the goal is simply to extend the duration of movie’s running time.

The film comes across as though it is never going to end. Consider, for instance, that Audry is supposed to be a marine biologist. She’s the responsible sibling, the one who supposedly possesses real initiative, gusto. And yet we never even see her pick up fish that had been washed ashore, dissect it, and place tissue samples under a microscope. A scientist doing nothing when bombarded by questions regarding nature is no scientist. How are we supposed to relate to this character when we are not convinced about her in the first place?

That aside, here is the more important point: A mystery comes to life when there is a relentless investigation, a constant drilling not only to get answers but to get to the truth. Sharp mysteries know there is a difference and yet this movie doesn’t even start an investigation. Why?

And so what results is movie that never stops beginning. I suppose we are given some human drama about Harry being regarded as a screw-up by his sisters, cops, and random townspeople. Although Sheffield seems up for the challenge, and he does create a sensitive portrayal, Harry is not written in a way that demands that we pay attention to a boy stuck in a man’s body. There is a recurring theme regarding out-of-body experiences, but the metaphor does not work if a character, at the very least, fails to undergo an arc. A performer can only emote so much. The screenplay must support the performance. The screenplay would have benefited from a serious overhaul.

Favorite Films of 2020


Below are my Favorite Films of 2020.

It must be noted that the list may change slightly if I happened to come across great movies I had missed prior to this post. The same rule applies to all of my annual Favorite Lists. In other words, my lists are updated continually. Underneath each picture is an excerpt from my review. Entire reviews can be found in the archive. In the meantime, dive in and, as always, feel welcome to let me know what you think.



Sorry We Missed You
Ken Loach

“Ken Loach proves once again that a filmmaker with a keen eye for detail can make any subject feel fresh and engrossing. In “Sorry We Missed You,” the veteran director fixes his lens on a British family of four who are neck-deep in debt and up to their eyeballs in stress. It is told with deep humanity, scalding honesty, great empathy for the working class, and seething anger toward a system that values profit over lives—a system that has somehow become the norm in our modern society. The picture makes the case that working people to the bone isn’t sustainable. Something has got to give.”



The Wolf of Snow Hollow
Jim Cummings

“[Jim] Cummings writes, directs, and stars in this gem of a horror-comedy: riotously funny one minute, horrifyingly gruesome the next, and lodged in between are moments of genuine humanity. John is a father, a son, a police officer, and a man whom the town looks up to for leadership and assurance when things go horribly wrong. Although John has these roles, he is unable to fulfill or excel at them—not even a single one. And so, feeling most inadequate, he goes home and turns to what he knows best: being an alcoholic. Down he goes the rabbit hole. The next day begins and he finds himself a foot deeper into the unsolved case. The vicious cycle continues.”



The Forty-Year-Old Version
Radha Blank

“[Radha] Blank also writes and directs “The Forty-Year-Old Version,” autobiographical in nature and reeking of Spike Lee ‘80s joie de vivre. It is shot in black and white. Very talky. Humanist to a tee. Its humor is pointed and its love for the working class shines through. Neighbors are interviewed and they look directly at the camera. Then they electrify us with attitude and authenticity. When these vivacious personalities move out of the frame, like the sassy old lady or the homeless man across the street, we feel there is more to their stories and so we wish to follow them. The same can be said about the multi-ethnic women engaging in rap battle in the Bronx. Or Radha’s students. Or the actors in Radha’s play. It is such a joy that although some characters are provided fewer than ten lines, they pop and we remember them. Here is a film that leaves a strong impression.”



Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee

“It goes beyond politics. There are jabs against Donald Trump, his presidency, and his racist remarks (and actions) against African-Americans and other minorities, but the screenplay by [Spike] Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Neo, and Kevin Willmott is correct to treat it as a symptom of the malignant tumor that has been wreaking havoc within the veins of US of A since its inception. The plot revolves around four Vietnam war veterans who return to the country that, for better or worse, have shaped who they are. They wish to retrieve a case full of gold. But this being a Spike Lee Joint, this shiny thing is metaphor: of ghosts, of corrupted souls, of what has been stolen or denied by a country that used, abused, and sold slaves so it could become what it is—a world leader, a superpower, a bully, a mess… yet somehow still regarded as an ideal by most nations. It is a story, too, about contradiction and hypocrisy.”

The Wolf of Snow Hollow


The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” tells the story of a man who struggles with a disease. When the beast takes over, he becomes unrecognizable even to those who are closest to him. When challenged and pushed to a corner, he retaliates by bringing on the hurt. And when he feels he is no longer in control, he proves to have a knack for going for the kill because he is observant and sensitive underneath the police uniform. Officer John Marshall (Jim Cummings) is an alcoholic. And his latest case involves having to hunt for a serial killer who is believed by some to be a werewolf.

Cummings writes, directs, and stars in this gem of a horror-comedy: riotously funny one minute, horrifyingly gruesome the next, and lodged in between are moments of genuine humanity. John is a father, a son, a police officer, and a man whom the town looks up to for leadership and assurance when things go horribly wrong. Although John has these roles, he is unable to fulfill or excel at them—not even a single one. And so, feeling most inadequate, he goes home and turns to what he knows best: being an alcoholic. Down he goes the rabbit hole. The next day begins and he finds himself a foot deeper into the unsolved case. The vicious cycle continues.

There is overt violence—women being stalked and attacked under a full moon, their severed body parts and eviscerated organs exposed in daylight as investigators gather evidence and the media fishes for juicy details in time for the six o’clock news—and there is the metaphorical variety described above. Wonderful about the picture is its zen in balancing both; one fails to shine without the other, just like how there can be no comedy without drama. There is never a one-dimensional moment, not even when the werewolf shows itself fully and goes for the jugular.

Alcoholic John is surrounded by people who love and care about him, from his seventeen-year-old daughter (Chloe East) who tries to be understanding even though it is apparent John has always put his job ahead of her, fellow officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhomme) who always seems to bring a calm to his manic energy, to his father, Sheriff Hadley (Robert Forster), who insists on going to work even though his body is beginning to fail him. Through their eyes, we not only learn about our protagonist, we see him clearly when his own mind is invaded by fog. Like Cummings’ brilliant debut film “Thunder Road,” this film is a story of redemption. Despite the gruesome killings, it coruscates with optimism, humor, and pathos.

Particularly outstanding is its editing. The more pressure is inflicted upon John, the more fragmented the images are put together. It creates an impression that the subject is drowning, splashing about madly, desperately gasping for precious air. Yet, like a classic alcoholic, John fails to ask for help. Jokes are built upon John’s inadequacies, histrionics, and fears. But these jokes prove informative because there are deep truths to them. The screenplay tasks us to be like the trio who love and care for John: We must separate the monster from the man.

Thunder Road


Thunder Road (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jim Cummings writes, directs, and acts in “Thunder Road,” a comedy walking a tightrope. It tells the story of a cop named Jim whose mother has just passed away. We meet him making a speech about her, like her passion for dancing and her love for Bruce Springsteen, but the longer he speaks it becomes all the more apparent that much of what he says is actually about himself. In the middle of his wild performance, we wonder if there is something seriously wrong with the man. Is this his own way of grieving? Is this actually his personality? Is he on drugs? The speech culminates when he dances—without music since the CD player died—right in front of his mother’s coffin. It is from this moment that it is crystal clear: The work is going to be a minefield of comic-cringe moments. I loved nearly every second of it.

But the opening scene does not hint at the depth the movie is about to dive into. Sure, it gives us a quick portrait of a ridiculous person who may or may not have deep psychological issues. But Jim is actually a good man, well-meaning, and a dedicated father to his young daughter (Kendal Farr). It’s just that there is often a disconnect between his thoughts and what comes out of his mouth. He has anger issues. The entire film is composed to seeing Jim being presented with a problem, how he reacts to it initially, and how deals with it sooner or later. It is riotously funny and yet at times it becomes surprisingly moving at a drop of a hat.

Here is a work that embraces a type of comedy that is incredibly difficult to pull off. When done wrong, even just remotely wrong, I am able to detect its stench with ease. Here is a dark tragi-comedy done right. It is unafraid to place the subject under a microscope so we can note his flaws and redeeming qualities; so we can relate and empathize; so we can appreciate why he thinks the way he does and behave the way he does. There is no flashback to childhood or any of the easy tropes. There is only a determined march forward filled with mistakes, regrets, and redemption. Cummings has tapped onto something here which makes me look forward to what else he has yet to offer as an actor, writer, and director.

We also come to meet others within Jim’s outer circle—because his inner circle doesn’t exist. There is Crystal, a fourth-grader who does not appear to enjoy spending time with her father. She is not at all receptive to her father’s efforts. We meet a possible sixteen-year-old version of her (Jacqueline Doke)—or what Jim thinks, in his own mental gymnastics, of Crystal’s eventual future should Jim not continue to be a strong presence in his daughter’s life. Another important person in Jim’s life is his wife Roz (Jocelyn DeBoer). Jim and Roz have been living apart (Roz has a new beau). Every encounter they have is ugly and unpleasant—but not without well-observed humor; we believe that these two have tried and failed to have a life together. Now, they just cannot stand one another—even for the sake of their own child.

Perhaps most interesting, however, one who sort of qualifies as Jim’s best friend is fellow cop Nate (Nican Robinson). To reveal details about their friendship would do the film a disservice. But there is a beautiful, quiet moment when Nate simply looks at his friend, who is currently going through the biggest challenges of his life, and recognizes his value with complete clarity. The camera holds still, unblinking, patient. Unlike every other scene, there is no joke. Just an honest personal moment of one human being loving another because that’s just how it should be.

Winnie the Pooh


Winnie the Pooh (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) woke up, his stomach grumbled with great hunger. He knew the perfect cure: delicious, gooey honey. But when he got to the kitchen, all the honey jars were empty. He thought he’d ask his friends if they had some to spare. In the forest, he stumbled upon Eeyore (Bud Luckey) who claimed that his tail was missing. Concerned about their friend, Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter), Owl (Craig Ferguson), Piglet (Travis Oates), Tigger (Cummings), Rabbit (Tom Kenny), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez), and Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall) held a contest: whoever could find an object that would best replace Eeyore’s tail would win a jar of honey. “Winnie the Pooh,” based on the works by A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard, brought out the inner child in me. Granted, it isn’t particularly difficult because I’m easily amused by corny childish jokes and puns but the film was on a constant creative overdrive. Coming into it, I hadn’t seen a single episode of the television show nor have I sat through prior Pooh features. (I’ve read a picture book or two.) It really surprised me because the dialogue and the images rapidly reached an effortless comedic synergy. An image could be as simple as Pooh staring at a pinecone and weighing the reasons how or how it couldn’t work as Eeyore’s tail and I would catch myself smiling at how adorable it was. I loved the film because the characters reminded me of my friends and I. Each had a distinct personality and I was glad all of them were given a chance to shine. My favorite scene was when Owl suggested that whoever acquired the best tail replacement ought to receive some sort of remuneration for his or her trouble. Meanwhile, Pooh leaned into Piglet and whispered, “What are we supposed to renumber?” It caught me off-guard with how ingenious it was. There I was watching, essentially, a children’s movie but I lost track of that fact. That moment nudged me, without feeling distracted or detached, of its nature. Most kids (and, I reckon, most adults) won’t know the meaning of “remuneration.” They defined it but it didn’t feel like being in a classroom and learning words because the joke’s punchline came before the definition. The picture also had a great lesson about friendship. Eventually, the animals ended up in a big hole with no means of escape. Piglet was the only one who could rescue them. That scene could easily have been annoying or unnecessary. After all, Owl had the ability to fly. The writers ignored Owl’s innate ability because there was a lesson about patience. In meaningful friendships, when a friend messes up or does things that make no sense, it’s important that we don’t make them feel less than. I think it’s a great message for kids (for everyone, really) not to say things like, “You’re so dumb!” or “You’re so stupid!” As someone who’s worked with children, such put-downs, harmless as they may seem at the time, do germinate anger and self-loathing. Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall, “Winnie the Pooh” was a delightful animated film. It’s one of those movies I can show my future kids and I wouldn’t mind watching it with them.

The Princess and the Frog


The Princess and the Frog (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to 2-D animation, was about an extremely hardworking girl named Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) who dreamt of owning a restaurant ever since she was a little girl. But it seemed as though her dream was always out of reach because of issues like not having enough money so she made a deal with a prince trapped in a frog’s body (Bruno Campos). That is, she would kiss him in exchange for a full payment for her restaurant. But it all went wrong when, immediately after she kissed the frog, she found herself trapped in a frog’s body as well. I liked this movie but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would because the middle portion of the picture was a little bit too messy. It felt like the main characters were in a swamp for so long that the story felt stagnant. Other than the scene when they finally reached a blind old lady’s house, there wasn’t much pay off during the whole ordeal. I thought it had a fantastic beginning, especially the opening scene when our heroine and her rich best friend (Jennifer Cody) were introduced as little girls, and a strong last twenty minutes when the prince, Tiana and a few friends they met along the way (Michael-Leon Wooley as a musical alligator and Jim Cummings as an energetic firefly) finally got out of the swamp. The villian named Dr. Facilier or Shadow Man (Keith David) could also have been much more menacing (he very much reminded me of Jafar from “Aladdin”) considering he knew so much about the dark arts. While he did have his cruel moments, especially toward the end when he subjected the lead character into an illusion, I felt like he was a bit one-dimensional. I did, however, enjoy the musical numbers which consisted of jazz and soul mixed in old school Disney style. Not only were they catchy, the lyrics were quite insightful. “The Princess and the Frog,” directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, was similar to Disney classics not only in terms of animation but the lessons embedded in those stories. Yes, it was nice to finally have an African-American Disney princess but I think it’s more than about color. The writers could have easily made the character as dumb (or “unaware” if one prefers to sugarcoat it) as Snow White (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”) or as reckless (though very charming) as Ariel (“The Little Mermaid”). Instead, Tiana is a very modern princess who chose to have jobs so she could be that much closer to reaching her dreams. This movie may not be as good as those Disney classics but the princess in this film is actually one of my favorites because she’s more realistic than most of them combined.