CVIndependent

Sat08192017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Bob Grimm

Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring movies, gets her second standalone film with Annabelle: Creation, a silly movie that is nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting.

The movie holds together thanks to solid performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter the same child actress who turned in incredible work in the also surprisingly good Ouija: Origin of Evil. Mind you, the film is full of good performances—from the likes of Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman—but it’s Bateman and Wilson who get most of the credit.

The film is set many years before the first Annabelle movie, with orphans Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) on their way to a new home, with other girls and a happy nun, Sister Charlotte, (Sigman) at their side. They arrive at the home of Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) a doll maker who, we have learned in the film’s prologue, lost his daughter, Bee, in a tragic roadside accident. He’s miserable; his wife (Otto) is bedridden and ill; and he probably shouldn’t be accepting a bunch of orphans to live in his haunted house.

Yes, the house is haunted with a spirit residing in that creepy doll we’ve all come know and hate so damned much. I hate creepy dolls almost as much as I hate creepy clowns. Speaking of which, while Annabelle: Creation has some good scares, the preview scene from It that played before the flick was top-notch scary, and I can’t wait to see the whole movie. OK, I got off track a little bit.

Janice had polio, which has left her with a leg brace and a basic inability to run away from haunted, creepy, demonic dolls. One thing leads to another, and characters start getting possessed and ripped to shreds by demon forces. Damn those creepy dolls! Damn them to hell! Wilson was great in Ouija and is quite good here, but it’s Bateman who is the real scene-stealer this time out. She makes Janice genuine, and you pull for her to get out of the movie with most of herself intact.

Last year, director David F. Sandberg delivered a decent genre film with Lights Out, based on his terrifically scary short film. (Talitha’s younger brother, Gabriel Bateman, starred in that movie.) Sandberg continues to show he’s good with jolt scares; there are many moments in this movie when you are expecting one, and it still jolts you. He also makes good-looking movies; the authentic Southern Gothic look of this film lends to its credibility and keeps you in the story.

Does the film horrify or scare on the same level as Carpenter or vintage Romero? Absolutely not. Will it please those of us who like a capable horror thriller that’s low on cheesiness? Yes. It’s a decent, late-summer, let’s-not-change-the-world-of-cinema-but-deliver-something-relatively-fun kind of film. It’s forgettable, but fun while you watch it.

These Annabelle movies, and the upcoming The Nun, have sprouted from The Conjuring franchise. Give New Line Cinema some credit for doing a horror franchise right (well, mostly right), as opposed to that nonsense Universal tried to kick off earlier in the summer with The Mummy. These stories are coming together nicely, and don’t feel forced and silly like, for instance, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) inexplicably showing up as some sort of super monster detective. Sandberg finds satisfying ways, especially in the final scenes, to link the Conjuring universe together.

Annabelle is giving Chucky a run for his money as the best doll you shouldn’t have bought in the first place, because it intends to kill you. I’m hoping for Chucky vs. Annabelle in the future.

Annabelle: Creation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Ridley Scott’s third Alien movie, Alien: Covenant, is a good one. Sadly, it was not good enough to motivate a lot of domestic viewers to take it in—putting the franchise in jeopardy.

A direct sequel to his Alien prequel, Prometheus, Covenant tries to be both a gory monster movie and a philosophical meditation on the creation of man—with mixed results. It’s as if Scott heard all of the bitching by Alien fans who didn’t get enough monster madness in Prometheus, so he upped the ante on the gore and special effects, but did it with a smaller budget and the same kind of crazy plot holes that plagued Prometheus.

The movie still represents good Alien fun, with Michael Fassbender doing excellent work as not one, but two androids: Walter, the new, nicer android, and David, the dickhead android from Prometheus. Scott gets a little carried away regarding David’s overall role in the Alien universe. His new theory is relatively cool, but sometimes things are better left without an origin story.

The relative box-office failure of this one not only puts the other proposed Scott sequel in jeopardy; it almost certainly means the death of Neill Blomkamp’s proposed direct sequel to Aliens (a film that would’ve ignored Alien 3 and 4), which would’ve brought back Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn and Newt. Farts!

Special Features: The coolest thing you will find here is a director’s commentary with Scott. Watching the movie with Scott explaining his intentions makes the viewing experience a little more awesome. You also get a bevy of deleted and extended scenes, and a behind-the-scenes docs. 

Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney stars in Brigsby Bear as James, a man who loves a kids’ TV show called Brigsby Bear, and loves his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). As it turns out, he’s a kidnapping victim: His parents aren’t his real parents, and the TV show was produced by his fake dad only for him.

When authorities rescue him, and he’s returned to his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), James understandably has a few emotional and social issues, having never really been outside of a small dwelling in his entire life. His obsession with the fake TV show continues, and he aspires to continue the story of Brigsby Bear, even if it was a byproduct of his captivity.

Director Dave McCary, working from a script co-written by Mooney, delivers a surprisingly heartwarming, funny sleeper with this movie, a film that pays tribute to geek fandom (Hey … Mark Hamill!), and the importance of family, new friendships and forgiveness.

Mooney is essentially playing one of his spacey SNL characters here, and he fits the film perfectly. Greg Kinnear, as a helpful policeman with acting aspirations, leads a terrific supporting cast.

Yes, it is a little weird that James remains somewhat cool with and affectionate toward his fake captor dad, but, hey, it’s Mark Hamill! (There’s a nice touch involving voiceovers that makes total sense.) This is actually one of the better films starring SNL alumni to come out in the last few years, and Mooney shows he may just have a promising movie career.

Brigsby Bear opens Friday, Aug. 18, at theaters across the valley.

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) directs Detroit, an uneven yet occasionally powerful account of the 1967 Algiers Motel incident, part of a race riot that put the city of Detroit under siege.

When a man fires off a pistol from his hotel window during intense riots, the police and National Guard converge on the Algiers—and a terrible night ensues. It results in three men shot to death, with others psychologically and physically tortured. As for the judicial rulings in the aftermath … they’re the type that are far too commonplace when it comes to law enforcement violence against people of color.

John Boyega plays Dismukes, a security guard who finds himself entangled in the bloody events perpetrated by racist policemen led by Krauss (a legitimately scary Will Poulter). The men and women held captive at the Algiers are played by a strong ensemble cast, including Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Nathan Davis Jr. and Algee Smith.

The film feels a bit too fictional in spots. In an odd move, Bigelow incorporates real stock footage along with scenes meant to look like stock footage, much like Oliver Stone did in J.F.K., further confusing fact and fiction. She’s going for a documentary feel, but the script sometimes calls leads to cartoonish caricatures of its bad policemen. No doubt, some of the policemen at the hotel that night were monsters, but the portrayals of them (beyond that of Poulter) feel too cliché and, in some cases, aren’t well-acted.

There are enough strong performances to make Detroit worth your while. While some of the details seem manufactured, this is a true story that needed to be told, even if the film seems tainted by fiction at times.

Detroit is playing at theaters across the valley.

A couple of years ago, there was talk of Ron Howard directing a big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. The film would act as an introduction to the Dark Tower universe, and was to be followed by a TV series. Javier Bardem was cast as Roland the Gunslinger, the main protagonist of King’s multi-novel series.

The original plan was jettisoned in favor of Idris Elba as Roland, and a relatively novice director in Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) at the helm in Howard’s place. (Howard took on producer’s duties.) The debut film’s budget was reduced to less than $70 million, a price you would normally see for a Hollywood rom-com, not the launch of what was proposed as an epic, blockbuster franchise.

As a result of all of this, this movie is a catastrophe, and a complete insult to fans of the books, fans of Matthew McConaughey, and fans of science fiction/fantasy. Oh hell, this thing insults everybody: It looks like a low-level episode of Doctor Who, and we’re talking schlocky, 1970s Doctor Who. It feels like they used the same soundstage for all of the interiors, and just repainted shit. The CGI is terrible; the pacing is ridiculously, unnecessarily fast; and the plotting is confusing for those who haven’t read the books. (I’ve never read the books, and after watching this, I don’t care to ever read them.)

The story involves some kid named Jake (Tom Taylor), a sad teenager who is gifted with “The Shine,” the psychic powers Danny had in King’s The Shining. He dreams of another world where there is a Dark Tower that acts as some sort of barrier between other dimensions, protecting planets like Earth from evil. He also dreams of a gunslinger (Elba) who is trying to kill the Man in Black.

No, it’s not Johnny Cash; the Man in Black is some sort of devil man played by McConaughey. His intention is to hunt people with the Shine, because their brains harness the power to shoot laser beams into the Dark Tower, thus destroying it and releasing goofy CGI monsters upon the Earth. Tom winds up traveling to something called the Mid-World, where he takes a brief hike with Roland, then winds up back on Earth in present-day New York City for some kind of apocalyptic battle.

Go ahead and badmouth me if I got any of this wrong; I assure you that is the best I could gather from this hackneyed, rushed, underwhelming production. There have been reports that this is, in fact, a sequel to King’s novels, and not a faithful beginning to the actual saga. I can’t report on the authenticity of such a report. I can just tell you that the movie sucks.

When considering the apparent scope of the novels, it’s a bit of a shocker that the film clocks in at 95 minutes. There is a definite sense that a lot of backstory and exposition has been removed in order to dumb things down and streamline the pace.

Elba growls intermittent dialogue, with his character amounting to nothing more than a shallow archetype. Also: If you are going to have a gunslinger with a Western motif, give him a cool hat. Elba, as always, looks cool, but something as simple as a hat would’ve made a little more sense in fleshing out the gunslinger character.

McConaughey roams from sloppy set to sloppier set, looking lost and perhaps even a little pissed that he signed on for this garbage. He’s not all that bad; he’s just given next to nothing notable to do.

There are still some sketchy plans to follow up this film with a TV series. Whatever the plan is, producers need to scrap it and start over a few years from now, when the memory of this unfortunate cinematic event has subsided.

The Dark Tower is playing at theaters across the valley.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is the third trip to Camp Firewood after the original film (Wet Hot American Summer) and the Netflix prequel series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), and it’s the least-funny of the three.

It’s still one of the funniest things you will find on television.

Most of the group is back again for the eight-episode series, by writer-director David Wain and writer Michael Showalter. At the end of the original movie, the camp counselors (including Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Janeane Garofalo) promised to reunite 10 years later to see how things turned out. Here, they do just that, with their reunion threatened by an evil Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and George H.W. Bush (Michael Ian Black, in what has to be the worst and most hilarious George Bush impersonation ever). The two presidents want to nuke the place for nonsensical reasons.

Cooper, a superstar actor now, had to drop out (though he’s replaced in a very funny way by Adam Scott), while Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, manages to return as rebel Andy. This time out, Andy is sporting grunge long hair, and it often looks like he is inserted into group shots in post-production, probably because Rudd couldn’t stick around for the whole shoot. Wain finds ways to make this obvious and, yes, very funny.

There are a lot of early ’90s references. Wain is the king of wiseass humor, and this might be the most wiseass effort of them all. The humor involves a young Reagan taking spherical shits; Ken Marino’s Victor and his still pathetic virginity; and a psycho nanny played by series newcomer Alyssa Milano. Elizabeth Banks spends most of the show in a separate storyline. A moment in which a door is slammed on her hand made me laugh harder than I have all year.

This series seems like a final chapter, with everything winding up in one of those clever ’90s twist endings. However, I hope they continue to get the band together for years to come. The world needs the continuing saga of Camp Firewood.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is now streaming on Netflix.

Charlize Theron goes on a tear for the ages in Atomic Blonde, placing another pin on her action-hero lapel after her ferocious turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

As Lorraine Broughton—an undercover agent on a mission in Berlin as the wall begins to fall in the late 1980s—she showcases her ability to kick people through walls with the best of them. She also knows how to use a freezer door as a weapon.

Directed by David Leitch, one of the directors of the original John Wick and the future director of Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde pops with the same kind of kinetic energy that Wick did when the bullets and kicks were flying. Also a legendary stuntman, Leitch knows how to make a hit look real, and he choreographs action scenes that stand as some of the year’s best. When Charlize lands a blow in this movie, you feel it.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, the film does drag at times, especially when Lorraine does the standard interrogation-room scenes, with Toby Jones and John Goodman drilling her for answers. Atomic Blonde could’ve used some tightening in the edit room; instead, one must wade through the shallow parts.

Lorraine tells her story in flashback as she hunts for a list containing nefarious info about her and her fellow agents—a list that could continue the Cold War for decades to come. Her hunt includes interactions with unorthodox agent David Percival (James McAvoy), somebody who mixes his espionage with partying—and trafficking in the black market for Jordache jeans.

Theron and McAvoy are good together onscreen, and their dialogue scenes are some of the best scenes that don’t involve teeth getting broken. As for the bone-crunching action, there’s a sequence in this movie that rivals a Logan scene as the best of the year thus far. Leitch coordinates a battle that starts in a building and culminates with a car chase, viewed as if it were all done in one shot. It’s an exhaustive exercise in how to keep fighting while falling down stairs, getting shot and getting your face kicked in. Even if the rest of the movie consisted of Theron and McAvoy gardening and sipping herbal teas while listening to a ballgame on the radio, Atomic Blonde would still be worth seeing for that scene. It’s classically good.

McAvoy, having a great year with this and Split, has elevated him himself from amusing curio actor to heavy hitter in 2017. He’s a nut in this movie, as was the case in Split. He’s an actor who is willing to take some risks, and they are paying off. He also might win the award for Best Strained Dialogue Delivery While Keeping a Cigarette in One’s Mouth Through a Major Ass-Kicking.

As good as he is, you won’t go to Atomic Blonde to see McAvoy. This is Theron’s vehicle, and she owns it. Theron, an Academy Award-winning actress who can dramatically spar with the best of them, is a physical performer in league with the best. In this movie, she’ll convince you that neither Conor McGregor nor Floyd Mayweather would stand a chance in the ring with Theron.

Late ’80s playlists are sure to spike on streaming services thanks to the film’s soundtrack, which includes David Bowie, Queen, Falco, ‘Til Tuesday, The Clash and, quite notably, George Michael. (His “Father Figure” is put to astonishingly good use in that classic scene I mentioned above.) Leitch and company find great ways to make the music part of the film, and while I probably never needed to hear “99 Luftbalons” again, the presence of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” is much appreciated.

The summer movie season is coming to a close, and while Atomic Blonde isn’t one of the summer’s best, it does have a couple of the summer’s best scenes. I’m not sure if there’s enough here to warrant another Atomic Blonde movie, but there’s definitely room for more movies with Theron hitting people in the face with freezer doors. She’s quite good at it.

Atomic Blonde is playing at theaters across the valley.

In Wakefield, Bryan Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a dude who comes home one night, chases a raccoon into a room above his garage, and decides to stay there for a while … a long while.

After a rough stretch with his wife (Jennifer Garner) and a dissatisfying time at work, Howard is feeling a little underappreciated. The room over his garage seems like a good sanctuary for a few hours, a place where he can take inventory of things before returning to his routine. He can see his family having dinner through the window. Then he sees his wife throw his dinner in the garbage can. Something breaks inside of him.

Cut to a bearded, disheveled Howard many months later; he’s rummaging through garbage cans for food and peeing in bottles, Howard Hughes-style. He’s taken up residence in the apartment above the garage like Fonzie in Happy Days, and nobody knows he’s there. Much to his bemusement, life goes on in his household, to the point where the family still goes on vacation and puts up a Christmas tree.

Cranston is very good here. He occupies the majority of the movie; most of it is just him staring through a window and thinking to himself. The movie goes off the rails a bit in the final act when Howard befriends some neighbor kids, but that doesn’t take away from the power of Cranston’s work.

Overall, Wakefield is an interesting observation on what would happen if we decided to switch off our phones and sit in a quiet room for a spell. Would you find yourself? Would you lose everything? Would you have a better understanding of that raccoon living off your trash? Take in the Cranston performance, and then check that storage room for any squatters.

Wakefield is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious film about the 1940 evacuation of allied troops from Dunkirk is one of the great visual cinematic spectacles of the 21st century—and for that, he should be applauded.

Unfortunately, some of his scripting and editing decisions take away from the effectiveness of his movie. In a strange way, this is one of his least-successful films. We are talking about the guy who made Interstellar, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, Insomnia and Memento. All of those are great films—and better films than Dunkirk.

Still, Dunkirk is a good movie, and an occasionally astounding one if you manage to see it on an IMAX screen, either at the Regal Rancho Mirage or elsewhere. Nolan shot on film, with all scenes intended for IMAX; add in some incredible soundtrack work by Hans Zimmer, and the movie begs to be seen in theaters—even if the experience is a bit empty in some ways.

Nolan, who also wrote the sparsely worded screenplay, makes the film in three parts. One part is the events on the beach, which take place over a week. The second part is the evacuation at sea, which unfolds in a day. The third is the battle in the air, which covers an hour’s worth of events. The film jumps from one timeline to the next, often abruptly, with the stories ultimately interconnecting. Any Nolan fan knows that he loves to make his movies in complicated ways involving time (Memento being a prime example), and the director himself has called Dunkirk his most experimental yet. Nolan is out to prove that you can cut away from a harrowing ship-sinking sequence to an also-harrowing battle sequence in the air—and maintain the tension all along. Unfortunately, he doesn’t pull off the stunt every time. There are moments when he cuts away to another timeline that I found frustrating and unnecessary. It feels like a director being a little too cute.

I know, I know: Nolan is trying to show how hectic, crazy and unilaterally nuts the whole situation was, with each battle and predicament being equally terrible. That sort of thing goes without saying: Soldiers and civilians were put through all kinds of hell, with one terrible occurrence after another. But Nolan’s experimentation comes at the expense of good, clean, straightforward filmmaking. So far, his movie-puzzle games work better with fiction than they do with real life events.

Mark Rylance plays the captain of a private boat on his way to rescue men from Dunkirk, while Cillian Murphy is a shell-shocked ship-sinking survivor; they provide the main performances in the “sea” portion of the movie, and they offer up the film’s best acting. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles play soldiers on the beach—and let it be said that One Direction’s Styles is a natural onscreen. Tom Hardy, his face once again covered by a mask in a Nolan film, plays one of the fighter pilots, while Kenneth Branagh is on hand as Commander Bolton, overseeing the evacuation on land.

Zimmer’s soundtrack, which utilizes a ticking stopwatch, manages to ratchet up the tension and deliver some glorious notes. In many ways, it’s the glue that holds the whole enterprise together.

Nolan decided to use real ships, planes and sets rather than relying on CGI. In many ways, this gives Dunkirk the epic visual scope that is missing in many high definition, CGI-heavy efforts. This looks and feels like a real movie.

By all means, go see Dunkirk while it is in theaters. It’s certainly a good workout for the eyes and ears, and enough of the moments resonate to make the movie worthwhile. Just be prepared to feel slightly let down if you are thinking this is going to be Nolan’s best, or one of the year’s best films.

Dunkirk is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

In Killing Ground, writer-director Damien Power manages to tell a nightmarish, horrific story in a way that eschews exploitation and gratuitous violence—while still being somewhat violent … and really, really scary.

A young couple (Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows) goes on a camping trip in a remote Australian location. They notice other campers nearby while setting up their tent. Power then shows us that other family in a separate timeline, enjoying nature and taking strolls. Then, slowly, the true situation that the young couple has gotten into begins to unfold. We are talking about major levels of dread and terror.

Power presents the ultimate in family horror, but he does it in a way that generates genuine sympathy for all involved. The people going through terrible things in this movie are fleshed-out, complete characters. Nothing feels schlocky or like horror porn … it’s a bare-knuckled, nightmare-fuel endeavor.

The cast also includes Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glenane as inhuman locals, as well as toddler Liam Parkes in an incredibly moving performance; this kid will break your heart. All are first-rate.

You will have a terrible time watching this movie—as well you should. It’s about terrible things, and Power, a new director with major talent, knows how to show terrible events without being cheap. This movie is the real deal.

Killing Ground is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

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