5 Stars= It's Simply the Best
4 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Totally Sucks
“The Conjuring” became a surprise hit back in 2013, breathing new live into the supernatural horror genre. For every successful film, though, there’s always a cheap, rushed out, crash grab. Enter 2014’s “Annabelle,” a spinoff everyone wrote off as cliché and unnecessary. Fortunately, this franchise had a comeback last year with “The Conjuring 2” and “Annabelle: Creation” keeps the momentum going. Much like “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” this is a prequel that improves upon its predecessor and manages to stand out in the crowded horror market.
In this origin story, we learn that a man named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) created the Annabelle doll. Samuel lives a happy life with his wife (Miranda Otto) and daughter (Samara Lee). When tragedy strikes the family, however, Samuel is left a broken man. Another twelve years down the line, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) takes up residence in the house with several orphaned girls. Among the orphans are a crippled child named Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson). When Janice stumbles upon Annabelle, an evil is awakened in the house and only the power of Christ can compel it back to sleep.
The scary doll trope is so overused that you’d think it would be old by now. Yet, Annabelle is certainly one of modern cinema’s creepiest inanimate objects. That’s because the filmmakers never turn her into a Chucky knockoff that’s constantly cracking one-liners or awkwardly walking around. Sometimes less is more and “Annabelle: Creation” manages to produce so much terror with so little. Director David F. Sandberg made a name for himself directing no-budget horror shorts and his talents are perfectly tailored for this material.
Granted, “Annabelle: Creation” does bring up some of the questions that seem to plague every haunted house movie. If a house hosts a demonic presence, why would anybody want to live there? Why don’t they just leave at the first sign of danger? Why doesn’t anybody ever burn these places to the ground? While not everything necessarily adds up, “Annabelle: Creation” thankfully never turns its characters into bumbling idiots. Likewise, the film treats its audience with intelligence by resisting the urge to go for cheap scares, keeping us on our toes at all times.
Sandberg does a fantastic job at slowly building tension in the first act and upping the ante with each set piece. The final product is an exceptionally crafted thriller with chilling atmosphere, striking imagery, strong performances, and even a subtle sense of humor. As far as this genre goes, “Annabelle: Creation” may not be a game changer like “The Exorcist.” Considering that this is the fourth entry in an ongoing series, however, the filmmakers deserve extra credit for going above and beyond to keep the audience jumping out of their seats. Most horror franchises would be heading straight-to-video at this point, but there’s still plenty of life in “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle.”
Every day like the day before ***1/2
"Beauty and the Beast" (1991) became the first animated feature to score a Best Picture nomination and is considered one of Disney’s crowning achievements. So how can this live-action remake ever compete with that? In many respects, it can’t, but that doesn’t stop the filmmakers and performers from giving it their all.
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Who's the Boss?: Baby Edition ***
"The Boss Baby" has a pretty basic premise that shouldn’t even be able to fill a feature-length runtime. As thin as the idea is, though, the filmmakers throw in more effort than you might expect.
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Don't think it, don't say it, and don't see it *1/2
Well it’s January, which means we’re bound to get at least one lackluster horror flick that wasn’t good enough for an October release. And wouldn’t you know it, "The Bye Bye Man" perfectly fits the bill.
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How did you first learn about Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room?” Chances are a friend dragged you to a screening one night or lent you a copy of the DVD. Perhaps you stumbled upon the Nostalgia Critic’s review on YouTube. Maybe you just so happened to pick up a copy of Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s award winning book, “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made.” However you came across it, “The Room” has worked its way into the hearts of many, even becoming one of the most quotable movies of the 21st century. Considering how much joy it’s brought audiences, should it technically be classified as a “bad film?” In any case, “The Disaster Artist” is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2017.
Even after over a decade of being in the public eye, Tommy Wiseau remains a walking question mark. There’s still debate over where he came from, how he made his personal fortune, and how old he is. As far as we know, he’s an alien that crash-landed on earth and decided to pursue an acting career. James Franco masterfully captures that bizarre sentiment with his performance as Wiseau. From his dazed appearance to his indistinguishable accent, it’s eerie just how well Franco mimics this one of a kind individual. The same can be said about Franco’s feat behind the camera, as he recreates several scenes from “The Room” to near perfection.
While Franco’s performance is well worthy of a Best Actor nomination, he’s not the only one who deserves recognition. Seeing how Greg Sestero has been like a brother to Wiseau, it’s fitting that James Franco’s own brother would play him here. Dave Franco portrays Sestero as a naïve, yet ultimately kind-hearted, aspiring actor that just wants to perform. While his decision to follow Wiseau to Los Angeles is certainly questionable, if not crazy, we can also see how somebody in his position would be eager to go along for the ride. After Sestero fails to get anywhere with his talent agency and Wiseau is repeatedly told he’s only qualified to play a monster, the two decide to make a movie of their own. What emanates from Wiseau’s mind is a rollercoaster of confusion and unintentional hilarity.
The acting ensemble that Wiseau assembles includes Josh Hutcherson as Denny, Jacki Weaver as Claudette, and Zac Efron as Chris-R. Seth Rogen is especially good as script supervisor Sandy Schklair, who was arguably the closest thing this production had to a competent filmmaker. The cast and crew ask all the questions audiences have when they watch “The Room.” Is this story supposed to be autobiographical? Why use a green screen for certain exterior shots when shooting outside would’ve been easier? Why doesn’t the cancer subplot ever come back into play? Since their checks clear, everyone tends to indulge Wiseau’s insanity, but even they have their limits.
“The Disaster Artist” doesn’t shy away from Wiseau’s shadier moments, as he deprives his employees of water, humiliates a young actress, and costs his best friend a potentially game-changing gig. Even when he’s at his most unlikable, though, Franco manages to paint Wiseau as a believable human being. That might sound contradictory, as I previously described Wiseau as an alien. While we may never understand Wiseau’s mindset, any artist can understand his obsession and determination.
The best movie to compare “The Disaster Artist” to is Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood.” Like Wood, Wiseau is far from perfect, especially when it comes to storytelling. Their ideas are so out-there and their passion for filmmaking is so unyielding, though, that you can’t help but root for them. It’s clear that they’re never going to succeed in a conventional sense, but you want to see their visions brought to life regardless. Both give hope to artists that refuse to give up on their dreams… even if they probably should.
Shattered Glass **
Families are complicated, aren’t they? You can find yourself hating a
relative while simultaneously loving them. Likewise, there’s a lot to
love in "The Glass Castle" and a lot to hate.
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“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is being marketed as an action comedy in the same vein as “Deadpool.” While the film has plenty of gratuitous action to go around, it’s surprisingly lacking in the comedy department. There are actually times when the movie doesn’t even seem sure if it wants to be a comedy. That’s not to say there are no funny moments whatsoever, but those scenes are overshadowed by routine car chases and shootouts that go on forever. If you sit down anticipating the next “Deadpool,” prepare to be disappointed. You shouldn’t expect the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston parody the poster promised either.
Samuel L. Jackson stars as the titular hitman, Darius Kincaid, who finds himself in Interpol custody along with his foulmouthed wife (Salma Hayek). Darius can get his better half pardoned if he testifies in court to incarcerate an Eastern European dictator (Gary Oldman). When the villain sends his own hitman after Daris, Ryan Reynolds enters the mix as the titular bodyguard, Michael Bryce. It turns out these two share a complicated history, as Daris has tried to kill Michael on multiple occasions. Michael agrees to protect his adversary, however, in hopes of getting back in the good graces of his ex-girlfriend (Élodie Yung)
Reynolds and Jackson are two of the most charismatic actors around. To this movie’s credit, both share a likable chemistry and inject a fair deal of life into their scenes. Hayek and Yung also manage to score a few solid one-liners, excelling above just being the love interests. Unfortunately, long stretches of time pass without a single laugh. Unlike Edgar Wright and Paul Feig, who both know how to handle action and comedy, Patrick Hughes’ background is primarily action-oriented. His last film was “The Expendables 3” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” just feels like more of that old shtick.
Aside from having more explosions than jokes, the film can be downright unpleasant at times. The violence isn’t especially funny. If anything, it’s just gross and cringe-worthy. The bad guys are all killjoys without a funny bone in their bodies, which is becoming increasingly tiresome in action comedies. Hell, one of the first scenes involves a mother and child being brutally murdered. Doesn’t that just scream hilarity? Not since “Suicide Squad” has a film had a harder time deciding what it wants to be. Of course “Suicide Squad” was so all over the place that it was at least kind of intriguing to watch. “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is simply forgettable.
It doesn’t help that the film essentially follows the same formula of every other buddy movie ever made. We all know that Michael and Darius aren’t going to like each other at first, but will inevitably become friends. It’s not a bad formula per se, but what matters is how the filmmakers execute it. Here, they’ve got the stars and a few interesting ideas, but the tone is impossible to get a grasp on. In short, “Midnight Run” it ain’t.
Damn nature, you scary ***1/2
The latest incarnation of Kong doesn’t have the emotional impact of the 1933 classic or Peter Jackson’s breathtaking remake, but that’s clearly not what the studio was aiming for. They set out to produce a traditional giant monster flick and that’s exactly what we get.
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“Last Flag Flying” is kind of like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” meets “The Best Years of Our Lives.” That’s definitely an odd combination and there are times when Richard Linklater’s film runs the risk of being uneven. Thanks to his capable direction, a sharp script co-written by author Darryl Ponicsan, and three strong leads, though, everything balances out. Well, maybe not everything. We do get a few scenes that drag on for too long. Given how this movie could’ve misfired in so many different ways, however, it’s impressive that it manages to juggle comedy, drama, and patriotism at all.
film is actually based on a novel by Ponicsan, which was actually a
sequel to “The Last Detail,” which was actually adapted to the screen in
1973 with Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young. The
aforementioned trio of actors is nowhere to be in this unofficial
follow-up of sorts, but their replacements light up the screen with
chemistry. Steve Carell gives his most subdued performance since
“Foxcatcher” as Larry “Doc” Shepherd. Bryan Cranston steals the film’s
best lines as Sal Nealon while Laurence Fishburne is a pitch perfect
straight man as Richard Mueller.
These men served together
during Vietnam, but haven’t seen each other since then. In 2003, Doc
looks up his unit after his son dies in Iraq. Sal and Richard agree to
help their old friend through the ordeal, but sign on for more than they
bargained for. Upon learning exactly how his son was killed, Doc
decides that he doesn’t want him to have a military funeral. He’d rather
burry him at home, meaning Sal and Richard must come along for the long
At the beginning of “Last Flag Flying,” the
characters might be complete strangers to the audience. As the narrative
unfolds, though, the film starts to feel like reuniting with some good
buddies. We really come to like each of these men, as if we’ve known
them for years. This has a lot to do with the impeccable rapport between
the actors, who work off each other wonderfully. Their dynamic ranges
from hilarious to poignant and there’s never a second when you doubt
their bond. Even if the story is light on plot, just listening to Doc,
Sal, and Richard for two hours is interesting enough.
What prevents “Last Flag Flying” from being a truly great film about veterans is a killjoy colonel played by Yul Vazquez. This character is determined to give Doc’s son a military funeral, as if he’s property of the U.S. government. While not everyone in the military is perfect, this guy just sends the wrong message in a picture that otherwise avoids cheap shots and caricatures. His character arc doesn’t even have a real payoff and could’ve been removed altogether. Nevertheless, that’s just one bump in the road for a film that mostly does our troops justice.
The last stand (for real this time) ****
Last year, "X-Men" fans finally got the Deadpool movie they had
been waiting for. Now after multiple failed attempts, 20th Century Fox
has finally produced the standalone Wolverine movie audiences have
always wanted to see.
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Shared universes are slowly taking over Hollywood. As of late, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been hitting it out of the park with each new entry. Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse is getting off to a solid start with “Godzilla” and “Kong: Skull Island.” The DC Extended Universe… well, let’s just say that they’ve taken a huge step forward with “Wonder Woman.” Now Universal is moving forward with the Dark Universe, which will bring together the likes of Dracula, the Invisible Man, and other classic horror movie monsters. “The Mummy” lays the groundwork for this cinematic universe, but the film doesn’t exactly leave you excited to see a dozen more entries in the franchise.
Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, who’s essentially every other action hero Cruise has been playing for the past two decades. Annabelle Wallis stars as Jenny Halsey, who’s essentially every other female love interest we see in modern blockbusters. Together, they uncover the mummified Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who curses Nick and plans to wreak havoc upon humanity. That might sound like a pretty straightforward plot, but the exposition is so overstuffed and the pacing is so clunky that it’s hard to understand what’s going on.
On a technical level, “The Mummy” is a well-produced picture. The art direction clearly a lot of effort thrown into it and the action can be visually interesting. Occasionally the film can be too reliant on CGI, but it more than makes up for that with the stellar makeup effects. Ahmanet’s design is actually creative and unique compared to previous incarnations. The same can be said about the makeup for Jake Johnson’s Chris, a departed friend who communicates with Nick from beyond the grave. He’s kind of like Jack from “An American Werewolf in London.” Of course am I the only one who finds it distracting that Nick from “New Girl” is paired with another character named Nick here?
Alas, the production values are hard to appreciate when watching the film in 3D. Since this the Dark Universe, it makes sense that “The Mummy” is a darkly lit movie. Releasing the film in the 3D format was a huge miscalculation, though, as it makes the picture look even darker than originally intended. So most of the time you can’t tell what’s going on. Even if you see the film in 2D, however, “The Mummy” is still an underwhelming experience with one-note characters and a lack of focus.
To its credit, the movie isn’t without a couple cool set pieces and genuinely humorous moments. What the picture lacks is an identity of its own. It might’ve been campy, but the 1999 version of “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser knew what it wanted to be and followed through. Here, the filmmakers don’t seem sure what they want to do. Do they want to make an action adventure, a horror picture, or a little bit of both?
All they really seem sure about is that they want to build a cinematic universe around this movie. Even on that basis, though, we don’t get much universe building outside of an appearance from Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll. Maybe Universal will get their act together in time for the next outing. If “The Mummy” is the best they have to offer, however, it won’t take long for this franchise to unravel.
When it was announced that Kenneth Branagh was adapting “Murder on the Orient Express” for modern audiences, it was hard not to think of when Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Outside of their craft and performances, both of these murder mysteries stand out thanks to their killer twist endings. So if you’ve already seen the 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” this new one isn’t exactly going to take you by surprise. Of course with “Psycho,” virtually everyone has seen it and even those who hadn’t knew how the film ends. “Murder on the Orient Express,” on the other hand, has perhaps slipped through the cracks for some, especially younger viewers. On that basis, Branagh’s interpretation is a worthy remake and a solid introduction for those unfamiliar with the classic Agatha Christie tale.
The title alone pretty much spells out the setup. Branagh plays Hercule Poirot, who you can tell is a master detective based on his mustache alone. While traveling on the Orient Express, Poirot crosses paths with a fellow passenger named Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who believes his life is on the line. Ratchett is right, as he winds up dead the next morning with twelve stab wounds. When an avalanche literally stops the train dead in its tracks, Poirot conducts an investigation in which every passenger is a suspect.
The original film featured an all-star cast that included Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, and Ingrid Bergman in her Oscar-winning role. This version brings together an equally impressive ensemble with the likes of Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, and Michelle Pfeiffer, just to name a few. They all fit comfortably into their parts and never feel out of place in the film’s 1930s setting. Branagh in particular manages to be as dignified as Sherlock Holmes while also being as over-the-top as Adrian Monk. It might sound blasphemous, but I actually prefer his portrayal over Albert Finney’s, which always felt a little too close to Inspector Clouseau.
Branagh deserves just as much credit for his work behind the camera. Although much of the film is limited to a confined area, Branagh keeps things interesting with inventive camera angles. The cinematography never becomes gimmicky or distracting like in a Guy Ritchie movie, though. The art direction, costumes, and musical score additionally make for an extremely well crafted picture. Even some of the CGI imagery and green screen effects, while sometimes obvious, are still executed with a fair deal of class.
All in all, everything that worked about 1974’s “Murder on the Orient Express” works here. That being said, not everything about the original film was perfect. Both versions suffer from pacing issues, especially in the sluggish middle. There’s also one too many characters to keep track of, even for a film that almost runs for two hours. You could argue that these problems stem from the 1934 novel that started it all. As far as Agatha Christie’s works go, I’d personally take “And Then There Were None” over “Murder on the Orient Express” any day. Nevertheless, the story does have its merits and Branagh’s take more than does them justice.
Let our powers combine ***1/2
If you’re at all interested in seeing a modern interpretation of "Power Rangers," you’ll have a morphin good time.
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Earlier this year, Disney broke all kinds of box office records with their live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast.” While certainly enjoyable, I’d be lying if I said the remake didn’t leave me longing for a fresher take on the tale as old as time. Guillermo del Toro has answered my wish with “The Shape of Water.” Like “Pan's Labyrinth,” this is an original fairy tale that feels like it’s been passed down from generation to generation. It also has the distinction of being a fairy tale exclusively for older audiences. Of course when you think about it, a lot of classic stories intended for kids go to some pretty sadistic places. In that sense, del Toro is perhaps the closest any modern filmmaker has come to replicating the voices of the Brothers Grimm.
Sally Hawkins has yet to hit a false note throughout her career. As the mute Elisa, Hawkins breathes magical charisma into a performance that’s almost exclusively reliant on facial expressions and body language. Elisa works as a cleaning lady at the Occam Aerospace Research Center, which calls the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense to mind. Speaking of “Hellboy,” Doug Jones once again plays an amphibious humanoid creature that’s held captive in the center. Never given a name, the creature finds himself at the mercy of a cruel colonel, played by a chilling Michael Shannon. When Elisa opens her heart to the creature, it marks the beginning of a romance that transcends language, species, and every conceivable obstacle.
In lesser hands, “The Shape of Water” easily could’ve veered into satirical territory. Just as the love between Elisa and the creature defies all logic, though, del Toro has made a fantasy that’s as strange as it is lovely. Both Hawkins and Jones have such genuine chemistry that we not only come to care about this romance, but we actually take it seriously. Even when Elisa and the creature consummate their odd relationship, it’s surprisingly intimate and elegant. Wonderful supporting performances from Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Stuhlbarg only add to the heart of this touching story.
Visually speaking, this might be del Toro’s finest achievement, which is saying a lot. The steampunk production design is cleverly draped in green, making this whole world feel like a kingdom constructed from algae. The artists behind the makeup effects help mold the creature into an emotive character that Jones simply escapes into. Perhaps the greatest achievement of all is Alexandre Desplat’s enchanting score, which gives the film the essence of a silent picture from France. Since “The Shape of Water” is full of dialog-free moments, Desplat’s music plays a key role in shaping the many emotions on display.
2017 has been a strong year for mature fantasies, between “The Shape of Water” and to a lesser extent “Okja.” Both of these movies take setups that risk coming off as cliché or silly, but somehow work as gripping entertainment that adult viewers can get wrapped up in. Just as love comes in many different shapes and sizes, they truly challenge what movies can be and make us see the medium in a new way. “The Shape of Water” in particular might be the best gothic love story since “Edward Scissorhands.” It's bizarre, beautiful, and could only come from a brilliant mind.
Home at last ****
Holland finally gets to take center stage in "Spider-Man: Homecoming," a film fans thought they’d never get to see due to the rift between Sony and Marvel. Fortunately, these two studios finally sorted out their differences, making leeway for the fastest, funniest, and most entertaining Spider-Man flick in over a decade. Now if only Fox would let the Fantastic Four out of play.
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Welcome back, Shyamalan ***1/2
Back when M. Night Shyamalan was on top of the world, seeing one of his movies felt like an eagerly awaited event. Between “Lady and the Water” and “After Earth,” however, Shyamalan became a walking punch line. So when “The Visit” came along a couple years ago, film fans went into the theater anticipating another cringe-fest. To the surprise of many, though, Shyamalan turned in an eerie, humorous, and well-acted thriller. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was the first time in years that people actually had fun at a Shyamalan movie.
If “Split” proves anything, it’s that “The Visit” wasn’t a fluke. This is another effective work of horror from Shyamalan, who’s officially back on the right track. Like his previous outing, “Split” doesn’t take itself too seriously. If anything, it’s incredibly self-aware. At the same time, Shyamalan and his performers create a genuinely haunting, uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s a film that constantly catches the audience off guard, reminding us why Shyamalan was once considered the next Alfred Hitchcock.
The film follows three high school girls named Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). In the middle of the day, these unsuspecting teenagers find themselves at the mercy of a creepy kidnapper, played by James McAvoy. They wake up in a mysterious room where escape appears futile. Their captor is eventually revealed to be Kevin Wendell Crumb, but he’s not alone. Kevn is living with dissociative identity disorder and has over 20 alternate personalities.
In “The Sixth Sense,” Shyamalan delivered quite possibly the greatest twist since “Psycho.” “Split” is kind of like Shyamalan’s love letter to “Psycho.” Where Norman Bates only had one alternate personality, though, Kevin has enough alters to fill an asylum. This includes a woman named Patricia, a nine-year-old boy named Hedwig, and a Beast that supposedly possesses supernatural powers. The film is a remarkable acting showcase for McAvoy, who easily could have come off as too over-the-top in this role. Yet, he finds the perfect balance with each of these personalities and is consistently menacing.
Aside from Anthony Perkins in “Psycho,” McAvoy also earns comparison to John Goodman’s character in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Like Goodman, McAvoy delivers a portrayal that’s truly worthy of serious award recognition. Of course the Academy will probably never go for a performance like this. We additionally get strong work from Taylor-Joy, who broke out into stardom last year in “The Witch.” Taylor-Joy plays her part with just the right amount of strength and restraint, as if she’s Alice trying to survive an even more twisted version of Wonderland. Betty Buckley also deserves a shout out for her work as Kevin’s psychologist, who’ s starting to suspect her patient might be going off the deep end.
All the while, Shyamalan supplies thrills, chills, and even an applaud-worthy twist, which I won’t spoil here. With that said, “Split” isn’t perfect. It’s about twenty minutes too long and occasionally some of Shyamalan’s more annoying tendencies surface. The dialog can get pretentious at times and there are a couple deaths that come off as a little too silly. Every time the film begins to drag, however, Shyamalan hooks us right back in. It’s often believed that all artists go through peaks and valleys. In Shyamalan’s case, he’s experienced the highest of highest and the lowest of lows. For now, he’s at a solid middle ground that’ll do just fine.
It's actually a good DC movie and that's the truth ****
Woman" marks the studio’s last chance to win back audiences before the
Justice League assembles. The good news is that this superhero movie
doesn’t fall into the same traps as its predecessors.
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