Category Archives: Movies

Annabelle: Creation – By the Numbers Horror

A group of orphans and a nun battle a demonic force personified by a creepy-looking doll in this latest installment of the The Conjuring UniverseAnnabelle: Creation is a prequel-sequel to Annabelle (2014), a fictional account of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s battle with an allegedly possessed Raggedy Ann doll. This film departs entirely from reality, imagining an origin story for the doll. Both critics and audiences seem to enjoy it. Overall, it had a few eye-rolling moments, but it had a few genuinely scary ones as well.

Annabelle: Creation was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by David F. Sandberg. Both Dauberman and Sandberg are relatively new to their craft. Dauberman is known for previously writing Annabelle (2014) and the low-budget Swamp Devil (2008), and Sandberg has directed several short films and Lights Out (2016).

The filmmakers’ inexperience is probably why this movie doesn’t take any risks. It is a strictly paint-by-numbers modern American horror film. It is filled with obvious bloopers, like Samuel Mullins “tickling” his daughter’s feet when she’s wearing shoes. Contemporary horror cliches abound, including an isolated, creepy old house, an unrealistically large stone well, contorting body parts popular since The Ring (2002), and police who seem strangely indifferent despite horrible crimes having been committed.

Also, someone should tell the filmmakers that Catholic nuns can’t hear sacramental confessions. Only a validly ordained priest or bishop can hear confessions and absolve sins.

Though Annabelle: Creation adds nothing new to the genre, its popularity shows this is what horror audiences want to see. It opened at the top of the box office, pulling in approximately $35 million its opening weekend. Anecdotal evidence also attest to the film’s popularity. The theater was packed when I went to see it, in stark contrast to Detroit (a far superior movie).

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Detroit: A Gripping Historical Drama

Detroit (2017), written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, dramatically recounts an incident in which three black men were allegedly murdered by police at the Algiers Motel during the 1967 Detroit Riot. Detroit grabs you and never lets go. Unfortunately, its subject matter might be a little too weighty for summer movie audiences. Bigelow, whose other films include The Hurt Locker (2008), K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), set out to make a film critical of white privilege, so certain elements have been changed to conform to this perspective. In some ways the actual events were much worse than depicted.

First, some context. In 1950, Detroit was a diverse, prosperous, and culturally significant metropolis of 1.85 million people. It was arguably among the greatest cities in the United States. By 1967, Detroit was 40 percent African American, but its police force was 95 percent white. Migration to the suburbs had already caused significant population decline. The 1967 Detroit Riot (also known as the 12th Street Riot) began around 3:15 a.m. Sunday, July 23, 1967, after police raided an illegal after hours party in the office of the United Community League for Civic Action at 9125 12th Street.

The riot lasted five days, ending on July 27. Michigan Governor George W. Romney sent in the National Guard and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to help restore order. When the dust settled, 43 people were dead, 1,189 injured (including 493 police, firefighters, and National Guard members), and 7,231 arrested. 2,509 stores were looted or burned, with an economic loss estimated at $40 to $45 million.

Three men, Aubrey Pollard (Nathan Davis Jr.), 19, Carl Cooper (Jason Mitchell), 17, and Fred Temple (Jacob Latimore), 18, were killed at an annex of the Algiers Motel, 8301 Woodward Avenue. Pollard was killed by Detroit Police Officer Ronald August (“Demens” – Jack Reynor), Temple was killed by Detroit Police Officer Robert Paille (“Flynn” – Ben O’Toole), and Cooper’s murderer remains unknown. Police officers involved in the incident were acquitted by reason of self defense at trial, so their names were changed for the film.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Based on the French sci-fi comic book Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) follows two interstellar agents on a quest to uncover the cause of a mysterious radiation bubble in Alpha, a massive space station home to over a thousand species from across the galaxy.

Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are reluctant heroes. Valerian seems more concerned with convincing Laureline to marry him and Laureline in keeping Valerian out of trouble. Overall, the film is visually stunning, creative, rich with color and spectacle, and epic in scale. Cara Delevingne is beautiful and charming. Just enough to make it good but not great.

Valerian is largely a victim of poor timing. Valérian and Laureline came out in 1967 and though not well known in the U.S., had a huge influence on sci-fi films, including The Fifth Element (for which artist Jean-Claude Mézières created concept art). Unfortunately, by 2017 the movie feels like a copy of all the things its source material inspired.

I found myself constantly recognizing characters and settings I’ve seen before, including from The Fifth Element but also films like Avatar (2009). You can’t help comparing the Mülians to Pandorans. They’re virtually identical both in appearance and what they represent.

The only element that “feels original” is the concept of inter-dimensional travel, which was brilliantly executed in a scene in which Valerian and Laureline travel to a market to retrieve a rare creature. In our dimension, the setting is an open desert and a walled enclosure, but by putting on special equipment, shoppers are able to enter another dimension to a bustling, multi-story shopper’s paradise.

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Rough Night: A Morally-Bankrupt Comedy

When Jessica “Jess” Thayer (Scarlett Johansson) decides to plan a wedding while running for state senate, she’ll need a little help from her college friends, Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), Blair (Zoë Kravitz), and Pippa (Kate McKinnon), to pull off a wild bachelorette party in Miami. Hilarity ensues when the ladies get drunk, snort a bunch of cocaine, and accidentally murder a male stripper, all while leading Jess’ loyal fiance, Peter (Paul W. Downs), to believe she wants to cancel the wedding. In the end, they get away Scott free because, well, I guess manslaughter isn’t a thing in Florida. Comedy gold!

Since the success of Bridesmaids (2011), there have been a slew of female-led comedies, but none have quite recaptured the magic of that film. Rough Night is something of a cross between Bridesmaids and The Hangover (2009), or a gender-swap of Very Bad Things (1998). It was written by partners Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs and directed by Aniello. Aniello, a former member of the improv troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, writes and produces Comedy Central’s Broad City. This is her directorial debut. Ilana Glazer and Paul Downs also hail from Broad City.

In Very Bad Things, a bachelor party in Las Vegas goes out of control when the drunk and coked up men (see a pattern?) accidentally kill a stripper and a hotel security guard. Roger Ebert said Very Bad Things, “isn’t a bad movie, just a reprehensible one. It presents as comedy things that are not amusing” and assumes “an audience has no moral limits and will laugh at cruelty simply to feel hip.” That’s how I feel about Rough Night.

I normally don’t judge movies from a moral standpoint, because I realize people watch movies, especially comedies, to see situations and characters way outside the norm. It’s escapism. But the more I think about Rough Night, the more morally adrift it seems. There are no consequences for anything that happens in the movie. Not only are there no consequences, but everyone’s life actually improves in the end. Because it turns out the “stripper” was actually a bank robber, it helps Jess’ campaign. Alice hooks up with the real stripper, and Frankie and Blair rekindle their college romance.

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Wonder Woman: A Dark Fantasy-Adventure

Wonder Woman was written by Zack Snyder and Allan Heinberg and directed by Patty Jenkins [Monster (2003) and The Killing (2011-2012)]. It stars Gal Gadot [Keeping up with the Joneses (2016), Furious 7 (2015)] as Diana, Chris Pine [Star Trek (2009), Hell or High Water (2016)] as American spy Steve Trevor, and Danny Huston [Hitchcock (2012), Robin Hood (2010), 30 Days of Night (2007)] as General Ludendorff.

Diana/Wonder Woman is a young, fearless woman with a mysterious destiny who lives on an idyllic island with fellow Amazon warriors. They spend their days preparing for a conflict with the Greek god of war, Ares. One day, a pilot (Steve Trevor) crash lands in the ocean and Diana saves him. The German Navy is in pursuit, and after a brief battle the Amazons defeat the German search party. Diana helps Trevor get off the island and return to 1918 Europe, where she thinks Ares has orchestrated the First World War.

Wonder Woman is enjoyable and fast-paced. It’s 141 minutes but never feels that long. The action is never exhausting until the end, when of course there has to be some apocalyptic battle between Wonder Woman and Ares. Through interacting with a cast of characters from 1918 Europe and America, Diana becomes disillusioned with humanity. In the end, Trevor’s sacrifice to destroy a new poison gas developed by General Ludendorff’s chemist, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), makes Diana realize humanity might be worth saving after all.

The “fish out of water” scenes are genuinely funny and charming. The interaction between Diana and Trevor is great, but you never really have a sense of them falling in love (they share an identical dance scene to the one between Peter Quill and Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy to establish their chemistry). It’s another “two hot people hook up”-type of romance.

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Alien: Covenant – A Messy Prequel-Sequel

Alien: Covenant (2017) stars Katherine Waterston as a colony ship scientist named Daniels, and Michael Fassbender, who plays dual roles as two androids named David and Walter, in a sci-fi horror film and the latest installment in the Alien franchise. It was directed by Ridley Scott and written by John Logan and Dante Harper. John Logan is an accomplished screen writer, but this was Dante Harper’s first screenplay. Michael Green (of Sex and the City and Green Lantern) and Jack Paglen are credited with writing the story.

So many different writers is probably why Alien: Covenant felt like so many different films. It was supposed to be a sequel to Prometheus (2012), but often felt like a reboot of Alien (1979). Minus the events on the planet’s surface, Alien: Covenant was basically an updated version of the original. It flirted with its roots as a horror film, but lacked tension and suspense.

Alien: Covenant begins in a sterile room with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his synthetic creation, David. They muse on the nature of creation before the film shifts to the colonization ship Covenant, which is heading toward a remote planet, Origae-6. A neutrino burst damages the ship as it is recharging, killing some colonists as well as the ship’s captain, Jacob Branson (James Franco). The crew wakes up and Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) takes command. While making repairs, pilot Tennessee Faris (Danny McBride) hears a strange signal. The crew tracks the signal to a nearby planet and decides to investigate.

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