Tag Archives: Jim Cummings

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The Beta Test

by Hope Madden

If Eyes Wide Shut had been a brutal commentary on the film industry and Tom Cruise had been an unsympathetic, insecure, entitled white man…the point is, The Beta Test is a wild, insanely tense satire.

Co-writers/co-directors/co-stars Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe invite you into a world populated by people who miss the days before Harvey Weinstein’s ousting. The two play Jordan and PJ, respectively—Hollywood agents with no real purpose, no real value, a lot of spin, a lot of anxiety, and a chip on their collective shoulders about the stuff they can no longer get away with.

Then Jordan finds a purple invitation in his mailbox and the mystery begins.

Whether or not Jim Cummings has range as an actor is yet to be seen, but as the awkward, barely recovering alcoholic on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he is perfect. His performance here never broaches the level of vulnerable beauty he showcased in Thunder Road, and even the self-centered ineptitude of his werewolf hunting sheriff in The Wolf of Snow Hollow feels wholesome when compared to Jordan.

But somehow Cummings creates moments where you almost root for this guy. It’s a deceptively layered performance at the center of a biting piece of social commentary.

Cummings is not alone. McCabe works well as Jordan’s far more likable (thought probably no more genuine) bestie/worstie. Jacqueline Doke, playing an office assistant who most closely resembles a normal human, injects scenes with a grounding perspective that only makes Cummings’s anxious antics funnier.

Virginia Newcomb —so spot-on as the disbelieving spouse in 2019’s underseen treasure The Death of Dick Long — is once again excellent in the role of a partner who just cannot believe the behavior of the man she loves. Her role is a bit underwritten, unfortunately, but she and Cummings play off each other well.

Outrage roils beneath the surface of this film so loudly that it almost drowns out the actual plot, which is fine. The mystery itself, convoluted as it is, mainly allows Cummings and McCabe opportunities for inspired, seethingly comical hijinks.

These Kids Today

Beast Beast

by Brandon Thomas

Coming-of-age movies are hard. As we move into adulthood, humans tend to forget the confusing swirl of emotions teens experience day-to-day. That loss of awareness can make these kinds of movies feel phony and tone-deaf. With Beast Beast, writer/director Danny Madden crafts an emotionally authentic portrayal of young adults that’s a true standout.

Nito (Jose Angeles) is the new kid in town. The always tough move to a new school is softened for him when he meets Krista (Shirley Chen), a self-proclaimed theater brat. Nito is immediately smitten. As Krista and Nito spend more and more time together, Krista’s neighbor, Adam (Will Madden, Danny’s brother), is clumsily trying to get his firearms-centered YouTube channel off the ground. As the pressure from his parents to succeed mounts, Adam begins to lose the grip on his own emotional stability. 

Produced by Jim Cummings (Thunder Road, The Wolf of Snow Hollow), Beast Beast is a gripping look into the lives of three modern-day young people. While not having the darkly comedic overtones of Cummings’s work, Madden’s film strikes the same level of emotional honesty. Madden seamlessly captures the carefree joy of youth, while also acknowledging the fear, loneliness and confusion that the transition into adulthood can hold. 

The natural looseness of the cast is where the film truly shines. Chen and Angeles are captivating with their easy, immediate connection. Will Madden’s Adam is much more internalized and isolated. He captures Adam’s directionless existence by playing the character with a mixture of simmering panic and naivete. 

Beast Beast’s visual aesthetic stays grounded and unassuming. While never fully succumbing to that indie impulse of going entirely handheld, the camerawork stays fluid. It’s the kind of cinematography that doesn’t draw attention to itself until you get to one of those compositions that literally takes your breath away. 

Similarly, the score starts as a mixture of bells and an organ very much in need of tuning. But as the drama within the film intensifies, the score takes a more sinister turn and comes much more to the forefront. 

The film’s third act will likely split much of the audience. It’s not particularly easy to sit through, but does feel like the natural progression of the story. Nothing about the plot or character actions feel gratuitous or cheaply played. 

Fans of indie dramas will find a lot to celebrate in Beast Beast. By focusing so strongly on character, and throwing in a few nice twists and turns, these filmmakers have delivered one of the best films of 2021 so far. 

This Was Not a Ski Accident!

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

by George Wolf

How good does a movie have to be before it can’t be improved by adding werewolves?

Don’t answer yet, let’s backtrack.

Two years ago. Thunder Road was a pretty fantastic breakout for writer/director/star Jim Cummings. A visionary character study with alternating moments of heart and hilarity, it felt like recognizable pieces molded into something bracingly original.

Now, Cummings feels it’s time to throw in some werewolves.

While The Wolf of Snow Hollow may not be exactly the same film, the road it travels is pretty thunderous, with Cummings playing a very similar character on a very similar arc.

He’s officer John Marshall of the Snow Hollow sheriff’s department. John’s father (Robert Forster, in his final role) is the longtime sheriff of the small ski resort town, but Dad’s reached the age and condition where John feels he’s really the one in charge.

John’s also a recovering alcoholic with a hot temper, a bitter ex-wife and a teen daughter who doesn’t like him much. But when a young ski bunny gets slaughtered near the hot tub under a full moon, suddenly John’s got a much bigger, much bloodier problem.

As more mutilated corpses stain the snowy landscape, John faces the wrath of scared townsfolk and the growing belief from his own deputies (especially Chavez!) that a werewolf might have come to Snow Hollow.

John doesn’t agree. “It’s a man! When do I get to be right about something?”

This script, like his last, is full of life, and has Cummings again juggling random outbursts of absurd non-sequiturs and hilarious anger with real human issues of struggle and loss. John’s afraid of losing his father, women are being preyed upon, and a drink would sure hit the spot.

And there’s a beast out there threatening the lives and livelihood of Snow Hollow. Yes, you’ll be reminded of Jaws, as well as any number of werewolf films and even Silence of the Lambs.

And if you have seen Thunder Road, you’ll quickly be struck by how much more stylish of a director Cummings is this time out. He’s got a bigger budget and it damn sure shows, with some gorgeous outdoor landscapes, frisky visuals (he must be an Edgar Wright fan) and a confident grip on his monster vision.

Forster’s mere presence brings a bittersweet authenticity to the supporting ensemble, and a stellar turn by Riki Lindhome as Snow Hollow’s most reliably steady deputy gives John’s manic nature a welcome contrast.

Cummings appears to have a gift for taking a pile of familiar, reshaping it and emerging with something endlessly interesting and effortlessly entertaining. The Wolf of Snow Hollow is all that and more.

At its core, it’s a super deluxe re-write of Thunder Road with werewolves. I call that a bloody good time.

Sit Tight, Take Hold

Thunder Road

by Hope Madden

Thunder Road is the best film you almost certainly missed in 2018. You should rectify that situation post haste.

Jim Cummings writes, directs and stars as Officer Jim Arnaud, a man at a crossroads. Who else would be at the center of a film named for a Springsteen tune?

Like one of the year’s other most insightful and original indie gems, Hereditary, Thunder Road opens at a funeral. Also like Ari Aster’s breathless exploration of familial loss and dysfunction, Thunder Road establishes the tone for the film, the mental state and general disposition of the lead, and an unusual perspective with its opening scene.

But Cummings takes his meditation on grief and existential dread in very different directions.

As both a filmmaker and a performer, Cummings walks a tonal tightrope strung just that side of hysteria. Equally earnest and absurd, comical and heartbreaking, the film and the lead turn compel your attention, your empathy, your discomfort and your love.

You will love Officer Jim Arnaud by film’s end, not regardless but because of his epic failures and bottomless reserve of vulnerability. It is impossible not to root for him, not to feel his humiliations, not to admire his corrective measures no matter how ridiculous they are.

The filmmaker’s assembled a wonderful supporting cast. Nican Robinson, in particular, bursts through best friend/partner clichés to develop a tender character whose wearied facial expressions say more about his years of friendship than Cummings’s pitch perfect dialog could manage.

Macon Blair, Kendal Farr and Jocelyn DeBoer all bring a wonderfully familiar but nuanced small town resignation to their scenes that suits the film’s overall tone and creates an ecosystem where Jim Arnaud could certainly exist.

Cummings’s film is hilarious and unblinking, uncomfortable yet kind, and above all things, forgiving. A lot of filmmakers have taken inspiration from Springsteen’s lyrics and brought a dying blue collar American to the screen. None have done the Boss justice the way Cummings has.

Sweeter Than Hunny

Christopher Robin

by George Wolf

Pooh! Who doesn’t love him?

Winnie T. Pooh and the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood have endured for decades, and now the second Pooh film is less than twelve months brings all the furry friends to live-action life.

Last year’s Goodbye, Christopher Robin was a bittersweet and uneven origin story, focusing on the inspirations for A.A. Milne’s Pooh tales.

Christopher Robin drops both the goodbye and the bitter in becoming a grown-up fantasyland with an easily digestible, greeting card-ready sentimentality.

Mr. Robin (Ewan McGregor, charming as always) has put the Hundred Acre Wood long behind him, with a wife (Hayley Atwell), a young daughter (Bronte Carmichael – great name!) and a working-class job as an efficiency expert at a London luggage company.

He’s lost sight of the joy in life, and when a crisis at work means Christopher will miss another weekend family getaway, fate intervenes with a much-needed Pooh crew reunion.

The CGI effects that bring the animals to life are wonderful, the voice work  (including Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Sophie Okonedo, Dr. Who‘s Peter Capaldi and voice acting veteran Jim Cummings) is spot on, the humor warm and the message fuzzy.

What’s missing is depth. There’s no real attempt to find any, and that’s a bit surprising with the filmmaking talent involved.

The director is Marc Forster, and the writing team includes Tom McCarthy and Alex Ross Perry. Between them, those three have some serious depth on their resumes, including Spotlight, Up, Listen Up Phillip, Queen of Earth, Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner and more.

The result is similar to David Lowery’s live-action take on Pete’s Dragon two years ago, where a filmmaker skilled at nuance within serious themes took on a children’s classic and struggled with when to stop simplifying.

Christopher Robin is sweeter than the “hunny” jars Pooh dives into, but nearly as empty as he leaves them. In trying to showcase the need for simple wonders, the film settles awkwardly between a child’s fable and wistful remembrances from grandparents.

There’s plenty to like, but little to love.