Sunday, September 17, 2017

Annabelle: Creation - Review

A nun and a small group of orphaned girls find residence at the remote home of a former toymaker only to get tangled up by the ghost of his late daughter and the dark forces seemingly coming from a creepy doll. All of that plus a ton of crappy jump scares in the prequel to a reviled spinoff of THE CONJURING, featuring the most overrated modern horror "icon" of our time. ANNABELLE: CREATION might just be another lame, average hauntfest for many viewers, the type that will tide you over one lazy night, but I frankly could not stand any of it. The script has a gardens of whiskers on it and is chock-full of useless padding, plot holes and sheer dumb character behavior. For example, the film has a cast of six girls but only four of them have anything to do: the two not-really-mean teenagers and the central duo. Meanwhile, the middle two tweens, one of whom is the token black character, just stand around when they aren't talking about boys. The story also never explains why the girls refuse to close doors during scary scenarios, never even try to physically destroy the evil doll, or why in the hell the closest that was supposed to contain the evil spirit still has a working lock on it and is not barricaded from outside interference. The major frights are all so unbelievable telegraphed and they of course end with a sudden boo. The only emotion that these supposed shocks can barely draw out of the viewer is pure sheer laughter; whether it was the opening car accident, the chair ejection or the swapping of black puke, I couldn't stop mocking these poorly produced spooks. I can't even give any praise to anyone in the acting department, as all of the young female actors go through the motions. I felt particularly bad for Talitha Bateman, who could have broken out from this picture as the polio-stricken and ill-fated main protagonist but she's not very great in the first half and she's absolutely not scary in the slightest during the second half. However, the ingénues are all Oscar caliber performers compared to dramatic heavyweights Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto, who just sleepwalk throughout the entire movie. That goes double for Otto since she legitimately spends the majority of her time on screen laying in bed with a dumb tin mask on the left side of her face. And to top it all off, this prequel to a spinoff sets up another separate spinoff to the CONJURING franchise thanks to a stupid insert scene in the beginning and a stinger at the end. Actually, I can end this review with one good thing to say about it: at least director David F. Sandberg did a marginally better job here then when he made LIGHTS OUT.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

It (2017) - Review

The summer of 1989 should be one of the best times to have as a kid, particularly with what's playing in movie theaters, but for the kids of Darby, Maine, it was 90 days to stay alive. Pre-teen Bill Denbrough and his fellow six outsiders try to uncover the mystery behind the overwhelming cases of kids disappearing and why they themselves all seem to experience separate frightening encounters with a deadly clown. IT is an effective horror show that will satisfy Stephen King fans for the most part and keep some viewers up all night due to its terrifying frights and disturbing content. Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues that prevent it from totally being a new classic, most notably some very questionable revisions to King's text and material that seemingly was cut from this theatrical release. Updating the timeframe of the scenario from the late 50s to the late 80s is a bold and winning element, as it allows the film to a give out a sharp critique of the still resonating nostalgia of the times and deliver a swift stab at the then clean image of movie kids such as the ones in E.T. and THE GOONIES. But what really doesn't work by the three credited screenwriters, including Cary Fukunaga, are the changes given to some of the main characters. Bev, the sole female in the group, gets the blunt of the misjudgments, as the abuse by her alcoholic father is even more extreme, she's constantly slut-shamed throughout the town, and her innate ability to be a sharpshooter with a weapon is excised so she can later be a damsel in distress. Ben also gets it bad, as the overweight kid is now no longer the third main protagonist, has no real backstory or no parents either, and oddly siphons off Mike's job as the group's resident historian. These and more slights will certainly piss off the King fanatics but the makers at least try to make it all work in their original way despite the bad taste. However, I can not really forgive the amount of times the film tries to shortcut through the proceedings. The movie changes gears constantly in terms of its speed of storytelling, slowly letting the characters develop one minute and then on a dime we've suddenly taken a jump and at the next series of scares. Scenes and proper transitions seem to missing outright; the most egregious example is when the band just quickly gets back together before the final battle, forgoing how all of the previous bad blood between the kids was resolved. The fact that a director's cut has recently been announced for home video outright tells you this theatrical cut is riddled with gapping holes.

Despite these glaring faults in the story department, director Andy Muschietti and his crew still craft a genuinely engaging dark fairy tale. Not a total surprise given it is coming from the same mind behind MAMA. Muschietti once again shows how great he is at getting great performances out of child actors and putting them through the ringer with some hellish CGI nightmares chasing after them. Make no mistake, he doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the violence and child peril but he thankfully does skip out on including the book's most infamous moment. He does however trip up again when it comes to the climax; he simply lets bad shaky cam and confusing editing overcome the artistic palette. The entire cast of child actors are pretty fantastic and surely will cause everyone to have their personal favorite. Jaeden Lieberher and newcomer Sophia Lillis were very endearing as Bill and Bev respectively but I pull for Jack Dylan Grazer as the real showstopper, speeding through his humorously overdone lines and nervously fidgeting around as the hypochondriac Eddie. As for Bill Skarsgård playing the titular character, aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown, I thought his take was overall fine. Similar to how Tim Curry's legendary performance of Pennywise was based on 50s culture, namely what if Bozo the Clown was mixed with a Catskills comic, Skarsgård's version relishes the sinister flamboyance of Freddy Krueger and the severe grotesque nature of 80s monster movies. Much props also go to Benjamin Wallfisch's hauntingly creepy score, particularly during the rain-soaked prologue. IT is a perfect horror movie pick for the season but those seeking a little more substance to the overall picture will have to wait longer to see if the eventual director's cut delivers the goods.


Friday, September 15, 2017

The Belko Experiment - Review

The All-American staff at an isolated corporate office in the middle of Colombia suddenly find themselves on edge when they are locked inside the building and a mysterious voice over the intercom forcibly asks them to kill each other as he sees fit. Refusal to do so will result in a major headache for everyone via the remote detonation of hidden explosives in the skulls of all the employees. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a pretty damn amazing twist on BATTLE ROYALE, courtesy of horror director Greg McLean and writer-producer James Gunn. McLean expertly executes a palate of striking visual designs and wisely knows when to ratchet up the tension or when to show the bloodshed. Gunn's script brims with unconventional flourishes, such as its willingness to dispense shades of grey to the main conflict, and makes great use of switching between drama and comedy. The two work in tandem to craft a colorful cavalcade of characters that you can keep track of and feel for, even if they suddenly decide to keep a butcher knife in the belt. Everyone in the cast is perfectly suited but Tony Goldwyn absolutely steals the show as the company's COO who's equipped with Special Forces training and a conflicted mindset on who deserves to be left alive. But now let's now address the elephant in the room: the movie can accurately be labeled as this generation's POLTERGEIST or the next CABIN IN THE WOODS. Despite the very bloody efforts McLean accomplishes with the picture, any viewer will see it more as Gunn being the sole auteur. The cast is littered with many actors who've often appeared in Gunn's films, including his own brother in a major supporting role, and his unique voice in the writing often dominates the visuals. It also doesn't help that John Gallagher Jr. as the main male protagonist has a scraggly beard and the same mixture of heroic and goofy mannerisms as Chris Pratt. However, the biggest issue against the film is that it oozes out all of its satirical juices by the halfway point, right when the terror becomes too real and the bodies begin to fall faster. The makers try to bandage it all up in time for a final battle amid a PowerPoint presentation but it's too little too late. The hits just keep coming after that though because the ending is just rotten, especially the concluding sting that stupidly sets up Blumhouse's version of CATCHING FIRE. Be sure to give this demented cult feature a gander, especially if you're sick of re-watching OFFICE SPACE for the umpteenth time.


Free Fire - Review

An arms deal between the IRA and a South African gunrunner goes south due to a dispute between their cronies, thus setting off a relentless fire fight amid a derelict warehouse. FREE FIRE is a disappointing chore to sit through despite having hot shot British genre director Ben Wheatley at the helm and the promise of a nonstop gun battle. The vast majority of the film is literally just the gun battle, where everyone has unlimited bullets until the script says so, are constantly limbing and/or wiggling on the ground due to the heavy amount of flesh wounds, and speak nothing but the same lame jabs at each other. The great cast of actors this film possesses all are just wasted because their characters are just stock gangsters in 70s garb and you never care who lives or dies. That's including American outcast Brie Larson, whose character would have been better suited being scribbled out of the script entirely due to her lack of impact on the plot save for the stupidly predictable ending. Wheatley tries to liven up the violent festivities with some nice little duels between rivals but they are spoiled by the generally hectic and confusing editing, the garishly grim lighting, and the "Wright wannabe" pop soundtrack. Don't let the talented troupe and the consistent sounds of pistol fire fool you into enjoying this completely. You're better off playing with a bucket of green and tan army men than watching this action flick a second time.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hounds of Love - Review

Angsty Australian teen Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) sneaks out of her mother's house for a late night party only to end up in the perverse clutches of John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth), a dysfunctional couple that perform their sadistic and murderous deeds within the suburbs. HOUNDS OF LOVE can be artfully gripping and very tense at times but it ultimately ends up being just another brutal thriller to throw on the pile. First-time writer-director Ben Young tries to spruce up the picture with some super-slow-mo dolly shots, adjusting the mise en scene enough to pop out from the deliberate fluorescent lighting, and adding some choice pop songs on the soundtrack yet it sadly doesn't mean a whole lot when the story is so cookie-cutter. Just right now while you're reading this, you've already figure out how it will all end, who will be left soaking in their own blood and who will be left standing. One of the very few original plot elements this way-too-long nail-biter offers up is a montage set to a Cat Stevens song that ends up being one big cruel joke on the audience. The film thinks it's expertly touching upon themes such as a woman's identity in a complicated relationship and the psychological warfare between unstable partners but it barely explores them beyond the surface level. For example, we often see the delicate breakfast preparations Evelyn accomplishes for John, making his toast extra buttery and put in a straight line, only for it not to matter in the slightest because nobody ever eats in this movie. The acting is all around just fine with the exceptional of Booth, who gets to sink her teeth a little more as the demented put-upon lover to a volatile sexual predator. It may not be a game changer but HOUNDS OF LOVE just sneaks by as a well-made creeper. Just be prepared for some extreme material and an abundance of scatological terror.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Batman and Harley Quinn - Review

Poison Ivy and Floronic Man (who?) have teamed up in order to create and unleash a deadly virus that would cause the entire world to became one giant garden utopia. Batman and Nightwing are on the case but they need the help of reformed criminal Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, for some reason. BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN could have been a fun ride with its titled costumed antiheroes punching and chuckling about were it not for its awful script, annoying fan service, and its absolute refusal to justify its existence beside continuing DC's gravy train of Batman-themed cheaply animated films for the home video market. The film surprisingly reveals itself in it opening stages to be set within the landmark DC Animated Universe, as the world and the characters retain their designs from the polarizing but still highly acclaimed The New Batman Adventures. Unfortunately, screenwriters Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg then stomp on the goodwill of nostalgia and bring forth a glorified television script stretched out to 70 minutes that's so rancid that it makes you wish you were watching a feature-length adaptation of "I've Got Batman in My Basement" or "Critters". Batman, Nightwing, and Harley not only fart around Gotham acting like total idiots instead of foiling the barebones evil plot, they literally fart around; at one of the most infamous points in the film, Harley proceeds to hotbox the Batmobile thanks to some nasty buffalo wings and Batman's refusal to make a pit stop. When the film isn't padding itself out with a useless subplot with unknown comic book figure Sarge Steel, an extended dancing sequence, and two full-length musical numbers, it proceeds to lovingly exploit the sexual features of Harley. This isn't a total surprise for the character as her more promiscuous side has always been hinted at or outright pointed out in the original animated series but wow, the makers just love to shamelessly showcase as many shots of her panties and butt that they can get away with while holding on to that PG-13 rating. However, the gravest offense this movie brings is its catastrophic finale. The film concludes with a very slow reveal of a potential deus ex machina, proceeds to painfully expose it to be a total farce, has one of the heroes come up with a simple solution to all their problems and then boom, straight to credits. No joke. I'm not kidding around when I say that this probably is the worst movie ending of 2017.

Despite all my misgivings at its putrid script and my downright hatred for its pathetic denouncement to the picture, I still had some very minor enjoyment with BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN. Most of the pleasure comes from Melissa Rauch, who does a pretty damn fine job as Harley. She received much scorn from hardcore fanatics when she, not Arleen Sorkin, was announced as playing the popular female supervillain for this film, further exasperated by the fact that Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester were reprising their roles as Batman and Nightwing respectively. Once you see and hear the comedic antics and dramatic moments she pulls off here, it's safe to say that Rauch certainly proved herself as a formidable voice for the cute but deadly jester. Though the comedic script is mostly a shaggy dog, I did at least like some of the jokes, namely the always reliable Batman reaction shots. I also got a kick out of the return of the phenomenal relationship between Harley and her b.f.f. Poison Ivy, which is given a nice twist when the fists coming flying in the last act. And finally, there's absolutely no Joker at all in the picture! Thank the gods that Bruce Timm and the DC Animation crew didn't drag him out for a cheap pop. Your mileage may vary on its chaotic humor, crappy storytelling, and gratuitous titillation but at least BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN has a few good things to keep it from being the next KILLING JOKE.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Emoji Movie - Review

Hidden within a nobody teen's totally-not-a-iPhone lies a living universe of apps, including the world of Messages, here nicknamed Textopolis, where the denizens consist entirely of sentient emoji icons. Gene, who's the newly assigned embodiment of the expression "meh", goes on the run from anti-virus robots after being labeled a "malfunction" by his superiors and must find a way outside his app to reset his soul and stop being different. THE EMOJI MOVIE is Sony's evil machination to pour down a belittling swill of rampant product placement, corporate interest and 100-proof utter nonsense down the throats of kids. Realizing that they need a story to sucker in children beside all the bright colors and dancing scenes, Sony Pictures Animation, director Tony Leondis and his co-writers Eric Siegel and Mike White just copied and pasted the script from WRECK-IT RALPH and scribbled some new things over it including "insert internet meme here". I'm dead serious when I say it's just WRECK-IT RALPH again but done bad because it includes the following: a goofy male main protagonist who wants to be more than just his programming, a character designated as a "glitch" whose existence could theoretically wipe out a world, a female punky outsider, a literal secret princess, an extended sequence at a candy-covered world, a party area where the "good" people hang out at, and a villainous authority figure who smiles a lot but barks out evil orders. When they aren't cribbing from Disney, the makers filled out the open pages in the script with whatever corporate sponsorship that they were able to secure. Why tell a compelling narrative of any kind when you can get some extra advertising money by shoehorning in Candy Crush, Just Dance, YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox? Unfortunately for them, no amount of dirty ole green stuff can clog up the massive plot holes they left bare. The Grand Canyon of these inconsistencies is that the main characters say that they need to jump through several apps in order to reach their ultimate destination except it's been very well established that they can just run around the apps on the phone's wallpaper and make the trip ten times shorter!

I really want to rail further against the absolutely horrendous plot including how the makers don't know how cell phones work, how they developed a romantic subplot only to then drop it in a catastrophic fashion or the dystopian hellscape they created where the real world consists entirely of everyone speaking to each other through emojis not texts but let's move on to the film's other detriments. The movie is flat out unfunny. All of the humor is groan worthy at best and whenever a joke falls on his face the makers just toss in an ill-advised movie reference. The most torturous running gag even for little kiddies is when Gene's meh parents, voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge, go on the search for their son and have every conversation with each other play out in a lifeless tone. Speaking of the cast, they are utterly wasted by the tripe beings they lent their voices to. I don't know who got it worst: Anna Faris as one of the worst written female leads in a modern animated film or Sir Patrick Stewart forcibly spewing out poop puns as the poop emoji? The lone stinker in the bunch however is the otherwise talented James Corden as Hi-5, who's naturally the high five emoji. A character that could have been written out of the movie and nothing would change beside the lack of fat jokes, Hi-5 further becomes a burden to the picture thanks to Corden's obnoxious delivery and unceasing dialogue. THE EMOJI MOVIE is about as soulless as you can get with an animated feature. Not since FOODFIGHT! has there been this big of a corporate infused mess. But hey, at least there are no food Nazis and rampant sexual themes in this one, save for a internet porn joke.