Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Review: Annabelle - Creation





Annabelle: Creation
Cert: 15 / 109 mins / Dir. David F. Sandberg / Trailer



Since the early days of cinema, film-makers have had a fascination with children's toys and the macabre. There's a certain uncanny juxtaposition to be made between the enforced innocence of cherished playthings and their often rigid, mechanical facsimile of the living. I only mention this now because mechanical facsimiles of beloved things may well come up again later.
**look to camera**

Taking place twelve years before the events of Annabelle, we join retired doll-maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto), living alone in the US dustland and distraught after losing their only daughter in a tragic accident years earlier*1. In a bid to inject some purpose back into their lives, the couple open their home to the church as an orphanage*2. But the ghosts of the past are more than emotional, and one in particular wants to come out and play...

On the plus-side (because I think we all know where this review is heading), at least the series seems to have stopped trying to convince the audience it's based on 'true events'. Relieved of the crippling burden of disbelief-suspension, the audience can at least enjoy the film for what it is - an efficient, if thoroughly heavy-handed, supernatural horror. Taking a format we're all familiar with and an outcome that's pretty much defined by earlier (although chronologically later) entries in the series, Annabelle: Creation executes its frights with practiced ease (even if they're telegraphed to the point where each jolt is nothing more than a physical response to a face appearing on-screen and the subwoofers jabbing into life).

For the most part, the performances here are all par for the genre, with the exception of the young leads Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as her best friend Linda. Spirited and convincing performances from 'child actors' are a rarity even these days and given the potentially-traumatic subject matter, these two excel in their roles. And not to jump too far ahead, but the film's final link to another chapter in the series is a nice touch, too.

It's just that... well, here we go. The budget for this prequel may have risen ($15m from Annabelle's $6.5m), but the levels of imagination haven't. And it's not that Creation relies on jump-scares so much; that's actually what the film consists of. For me to complain about their presence here would be like griping about a Jim Carrey comedy which features gurning. The problem is that after the first act has set up its plethora of callback-dominoes, the scares are used as the connecting thread for a procession of well-worn horror tropes. To wit:

✓ An overtly creepy doll to replace a lost child (forgivable given the film's subject)
✓ An empty/abandoned nursery containing carefully placed children's toys
✓ One of which is a dolls house with a locationally-symbolic inhabitant
✓ And a gramophone playing a jaunty record in an errie fashion
✓ Someone being dragged screaming across the floorboards into a darkened room behind them
✓ That thing where someone steps into the shadows and their eyes glow
✓ A franticly scrambling creature under the house
✓ A burgeoning cloud of darkness spewing out of a room
✓ The requisite amount of possession and telekinetic carnage one expects with this sort of thing
✓ And let's not forget the well, outside

Much like Hellraiser IV where we see the origin of the puzzle box*3, delving further back into the doll's past threatens to dilute any sense of mystery and threat. Annabelle's reputation rests on it having to murder pretty much everyone on-screen by the time the credits roll. Now that didn't happen in her first standalone film, so...

The cinematic equivalent of a ghost train, Creation is meticulously constructed, but nothing leaps out that the paying punters haven't seen before. If Quiet-Quiet-Bang™ is your thing, you'll probably have fun; it's better than the first Annabelle movie. Although so is herpes.

Best line, from curmudgeonly Samuel, showing the new arrivals round the house:

"Me and my wife stay in this room, the rest of the house is yours to do as you please. Oh, apart from the locked bedroom upstairs that I'll conveniently forget to mention until your hand is on the door later. And I say 'locked', it isn't. You'll see.
So yeah, the whole house apart from our room and the room upstairs.
Oh, and barn.

[sigh]
I'll come in again..."



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Pretty much any studio-horror movie of the last ten years.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The jump-scares are more enforced on a big screen, so if that's your thing…


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Continue the franchise? Yep.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Hang one, you've got a young actress with long dark hair whose name is Samara and you've put her in this instead of a Ring movie..?


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not unless you say something stupid like 'it's my favourite film in the world ever'.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Miranda Otto is in this, and she was in those Lord of the Rings movies with (amongst many others) Sir Christopher 'Dooku' Lee.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Not that it's a spoiler at all, but the Annabelle strand seems to work in 12-year cycles of events. I'll be interested to see if anything more is done with that in the future. Either that, or if it's already been revealed why the 12-years is significant and I've just missed it because I've been rolling my eyes throughout each film. [ BACK ]

*2 You can see the reasoning. "We've got unresolved bereavement issues over our little girl, an untouched room full of her stuff and a haunted doll that we're still terrified of. Naturally, the best thing we can do here is give a bunch of already-vulnerable kids free rein to poke around the house. What can go wrong..?" [ BACK ]

*3 Speaking of such an era, the trailers before this movie were for the upcoming remakes of Flatliners and It. Other than the stragglers of my vintage band shirt collection, I'm not sure I'm ready to relive the early nineties just yet, thanks... [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Film Ramble: Genre



[ The following post is a collected series of tweets, hence the choppier and shorter-than-usual sentence structure.
I imagine many of you will probably be thankful for this, if nothing else. ]



'Bio-pics largely aren't interesting to me…' ~ Ethan Hawke, 2017 on @Wittertainment.

So I was catching up on podcasts when I heard Ethan Hawke being interviewed on @Wittertainment, for his new film #Maudie. (For the record, I doubt I'll get to see this at the cinema. Shame, Sally Hawkins is always fantastic. Anyway...) It was during this chat that Hawke pointed out that this type of movie wasn't his usual go-to, presumably for either acting or watching. Fair play. It instantly occurred to me that I feel largely the same, I'm not interested in bio-pics either; Although I am interested in people. Then it expanded, again instantly. I'm not interested in bio-pics because I'm not really a fan of any genre these days…

When was the last time you watched a film based on the section of HMV it'd get shelved in? And is that why you did/didn't enjoy it? It's a more reliable barometer to go for movies starring a certain performer or director, but they're rarely the same style of work (obviously I'm excluding the likes of Seagal, Van Damme and Kevin Hart here, but bear with me). Most people when asked "what's your favourite type of movie?" would be able to tell you. Me? I have no idea... is 'good ones' an answer?

When I started reviewing on the blog, my two objectives were a) to write regularly and b) to see film differently. The combination of these means that I've seen a lot of films I wouldn't normally have bothered with, largely due to their genre/category. Now obviously I've seen a lot of rubbish over the years, but I think I've watched as many disappointments in familiar genres as in new ones. Quite possibly more, in fact. In making myself write about each film, I've developed a laundry-list of things I can't stand about Horror™. Which is to say 'studio horror', but since I live ten minutes walk away from a multiplex, this is only to be expected. Similarly, I approach comedy movies with far more trepidation than in the past, their genre-label absolutely no guarantee of performance. Luc Besson and the Wachowskis have done their best to ensure that Sci-Fi is no longer the thoughtful, reliable escapism it once was, and for every Wreck-It Ralph in animated adventure, there's a Cars 3. For every Kubo and the Two Strings, there's an Emoji Movie. Which makes absolute sense of course, you can gravitate to one type of music - eg. Metal - but that doesn't mean all Metal bands are great.

I understand why genre exists of course, and from a marketing perspective I can see that it's essential on a very fundamental level. The problem seems to be when filmmakers become more obsessed with using it as an end-goal rather than being something which happens anyway. Or worse, they use the genre as an excuse to flop out half-baked ideas which shouldn't have made it past the screenplay's first-draft. "Oh it'll be fine Terry, it's only a comedy/horror/action, the audience isn't expecting much!". With an attitude like that, no wonder.

The films I enjoy the most are the ones which surprise me. Often because they defy the category their marketing has slotted them in. I generally abhor Richard Curtis' work, but About Time was a masterful mix of rom-com, family drama and (albeit 'broken') time-travel. Likewise, if someone can tell my why I loved My Week With Marilyn when I have little/no interest in Marilyn Monroe, that'd be great (and yes I love Star Wars and the MCU, but those films are their own thing and no longer dependent on people 'fancying a superhero or space-movie'). And sure, it's intriguing to see how a director will fare after switching from a familiar lane to an unexplored one. (Kenneth Branagh directed the first Thor movie, putting himself well on-par with the other Phase-1 MCU filmmakers). But that often says less about the 'new' area they're working in and more about their own range of skills as an artist.

So I find myself at a place where the only useful info I can glean from a film's genre is how wide its distribution is likely to be, and what kind of crowd will be there - ie looking at their phones (slasher movies) or rustling sweet wrappers and talking (period drama). Quite often, assigning a set of expectations in the audience's mind can work against a film (ref. three walk-outs during A Ghost Story). It almost certainly leads to comparative references against other movies 'on the same shelf' that shouldn't be made.

And yet obviously, you need to know roughly what type of film you're going to see. That's why genre exists, to cater for our moods. Even after all these years dissecting the things I watch at the cinema, I'll talk about 'Saturday night' and 'Sunday afternoon' films. Genre is how the industry works, and yet it's one of the biggest problems causing it to stagnate.

"Bio-pics largely aren't interesting to me, it's Maud Lewis' art that's interesting."

~ Ethan Hawke, 4th August 2017.


It's art. That's interesting.


I'm not interested in genre; I'm interested in storytelling.
I'm interested in film. I'm interested in art.

Discuss.




DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Review: The Dark Tower





The Dark Tower
Cert: 12A / 95 mins / Dir. Nikolaj Arcel / Trailer



As a general rule, I don't read reviews of movies before seeing them, as I don't want to colour my view or expectations before sitting down in the cinema. And yet in relation to The Dark Tower, I'd still seen the word "ambitious" more times than I would have liked, being as it is a cosy and not un-ironic PR euphemism for 'failure'. I'd watched the trailer several times over the last few weeks and thought it looked interesting, at least. Which is to say, I did walk into Screen 3 this afternoon with an open mind*1

When troubled teenager Jake (Tom Taylor) begins having ever-more-lucid dreams about an enormous tower at the centre of the universe which holds evil at bay and the sorcerer (Matthew McConaughey) intent on destroying it , his parents arrange for him to be taken into short-term psychiatric care. But Jake's discovery of a dimensional portal leads him to meet The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), who mentors the young charge into unlocking his true potential.

So structurally, this film has all the hallmarks of a decent enough young-adult adventure movie, but with a script written by someone who's never met young adults. The dialogue is clunky and literal, with characters explaining each symbolic item or occurrence before it's even finished being shown. This is The Hero's Journey, but to the point where every milestone becomes cliché rather than convention. On its fleet-footed jaunt through the motions, the movie borrows haphazardly from The Neverending Story, Harry Potter, Thor and Terminator 2. The product of four screenwriters and ten years in development-hell, I have to wonder how much of Stephen King's work is left in here.

In the past I've criticised King adaptations for being unnecessarily long. The Dark Tower is an exception, since it really needs to be at least an hour longer in order to coherently establish its own universe (although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy when it ended). This is a screen-version of the second book (of eight) in a previously un-filmed series, and boy does it feel like it. The audience is asked to accept the central premise of the tower with just two brief caption cards at the beginning. After this, it's taken as fact that Jake isn't hallucinating monsters chasing him, and is at the centre of a pan-dimensional conspiracy. All this happens in the first fifteen minutes.

The narrative frequently feels summarised and compacted, to the point where it actually makes no sense. Young Jake gets a pretty good run at being the only thing in the film which is introduced properly, before being effectively relegated to onlooker once Elba and McConaughey make their entrances. They then become the main characters (with little-to-nothing in the way of substantial backstory), which perhaps shouldn't be surprising as Tom Taylor's name or face aren't on the poster…

And much like The Hitman's Bodyguard earlier this week, these two lead performers are trying their damnedest to style-out the script they've been given to work with. Unlike Reynolds and Jackson, they can't pull this off. By the time of the final showdown where McConaughey is levitating bullets and broken glass around like a slightly effete Luke Skywalker, the whole thing had turned into a parody of itself and I was just waiting for the inevitable conclusion.

Not every low-scoring title on Rotten Tomatoes can be a delightful hate-watch, and sometimes you have to watch a thing to realise that the critical consensus exists for a reason. I didn't want to take against The Dark Tower, but the tale which began somewhat passably got progressively worse as it went on, leaving me bored and annoyed.

A more fitting line for The Gunslinger's mantra would perhaps be "I do not write for my runtime. He who writes for his runtime, has forgotten the point of his story…"



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Think of this as a sort of post-apocalyptic Tomorrowland.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only out of morbid curiosity and if there's nothing else on and if someone else is paying.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Admittedly I haven't read Stephen King's source-books, but I'd put money on no.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Nope.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, probably not.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This has got that Dennis Haysbert in it, and he was in that Sin City 2 along with Jamie 'Aurra Sing' King.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Although I feel I should also add that I'm not generally a fan of Stephen King. I respect the hell out of his work as an established, popular and highly successful author but it just isn't for me, and past adaptations of his work have left me in varying states of boredom and disappointment. [ BACK ]

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Review: The Hitman's Bodyguard





The Hitman's Bodyguard
Cert: 15 / 118 mins / Dir. Patrick Hughes / Trailer



It seems like we've waited most of the year for a break in the downpour of superhero tentpole-movies. So, before the autumnal clouds gather for Thor and the Justice League, Lionsgate have taken the opportunity to get the unmasked Deadpool and Nick Fury sent to Coventry*1 for a road-trip in The Hitman's Bodyguard, the kind of movie which would usually land in March or October, were it not for the names on the poster...

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is a down-at-heel close-protection bodyguard, tasked to safeguard professional assassin Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) on his journey to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to testify against despotic war criminal Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). The underhand and frighteningly-connected Dukhovich has strike-teams out to silence the sole witness before he can arrive, but Bryce and Kincaid have their own intertwined history, and the road-trip will be anything but straightforward for this odd-couple! [ Do you see? One of them is an expert at killing people, whilst the other specialises in keeping them alive. It is this central disparity which creates unavoidable friction between the lead characters, and from whence the thrills and indeed humour will arise. Salma Hayek also stars as Kincaid's wife Sonia who swears a lot and who is in prison, and can therefore have her segments produced entirely separately. ]

At least I imagine that's how the pitch went. What we actually get here is a lighthearted generic action movie interspersed with scenes of Reynolds and Jackson's semi-improvised bickering in a car. Which is fine. The Hitman's Bodyguard feels for all the world like a Gerard Butler schedule-filler*2 that struck gold when the casting director was able to call in a couple of favours. The screenplay is efficient enough, if largely unimaginative, and leaves you with the impression that the 'comedy' aspect was tacked on in the third-draft once the lead performers had been confirmed. Reynolds and Jackson are great of course, but there's little here that they haven't done elsewhere, and to greater effect. Despite the best work of writer Tom O'Connor*3 and multiple narrative-assisting flashbacks, the audience never forgets that they're watching the actors, not the characters.

Likewise, Gary Oldman is basically fine as an Eastern-European warlord who mostly sits in a courtroom arrogantly protesting that he has no charge to answer, although he's not doing anything that a hundred other character actors could have brought in at less than half the price. Salma Hayek, as noted above, swears for comic effect at regular intervals. And she's good at it, but y'know. It seems like director Patrick ('Expendables 3') Hughes doesn't really know what he wants to do with his players so he's just letting them autopilot*4, and handing the day's footage to the editors. To be fair, that strategy could have backfired far worse than it did here.

The film's action set-pieces are on-par for the genre with some fantastic stunt-work, but using a hyper-shaky cam that's designed to disguise the lack of movement in a frame, and the kind of CGI explosions which make you realise how much of the budget went on the casting.

Overall, it feels like everyone had an absolute blast making this movie, which is rarely the sign of a focused piece of work. This is no exception.

The Hitman's Bodyguard is eminently forgettable and more than a little uneven, although it's distracting fun for the duration of the run-time at least. But when it comes to the standout actioner of the Summer-season with an A-list cast, gleefully stylish violence and a jukebox soundtrack, that crown belongs to the Atomic Blonde...



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
If you liked what Ryan Reynolds was doing in Deadpool*5, what Sam Jackson was doing in Die Hard With A Vengeance and what the story was doing in From Paris With Love or Olympus Has Fallen, you'll get a lot out of The Hitman's Bodyguard.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Not while Charlize Theron's kicking arses in the screen next door..


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Not as much as director Patrick Hughes would perhaps like to think, but just enough to warrant the budget being funnelled directly into the casting department, yes..


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, of course not*6.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Nope.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is, indeed.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mace Windu's in this. Come on, keep up…


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Literally, not metaphorically. That's something you don't see every week at the flicks. [ BACK ]

*2 With the added bonus of not starring Gerard Butler. Now there's a selling-point for a movie. You can have that one for free, guys... [ BACK ]

*3 Not that one. [ BACK ]

*4 Not the requirements of the directorial role of course, but I suppose this was never going to be 'an auteur's movie'. [ BACK ]

*5 Also if you like Deadpool's thing of taking an iconic 80s ballad and framing it in an ironic way against a background of carnage. This film does that. Twice. [ BACK ]

*6 Oh, and while I'm on, despite what the film says there's no Dover-to-Amsterdam ferry. It's geographically unfeasible; the Amsterdam ferries leave from Newcastle. The ferries from Dover sail to Calais or Dunkirk, where you'd drive up through France to Holland. And sure, those of you who haven't seen the film may be wondering 'well how do you know that's what they don't do?' which would be a fair question except that 'Amsterdam' is on the ferry in huge letters. Okay, this isn't as whopping a transgression as the last Transformers film, but I didn't want to go the whole review not mentioning it. [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Review: A Ghost Story





A Ghost Story
Cert: 12A / 92 mins / Dir. David Lowery / Trailer



It's hard to know what to say about David Lowery's A Ghost Story without somehow spoiling it, even though (with perhaps one exception*1) it's not the kind of movie you can actually spoil. It was only after watching it in its entirety that I understood why the trailer is so vague; it's not that the film follows suit, but the story needs the full run-time to unfold and can't really be compressed into snippets. There are single, static, dialogue-free shots in A Ghost Story which are longer than the trailer. There will be some who don't get it*2, which is as all art should be.

The story is, as you would assume, about ghosts. And while the poster and trailer's figure-in-the-sheet may seem inherently comical, this is one of the most profoundly heartbreaking films I've seen. Less of a linear haunting, more a tone-poem on memory and loss. It's thoughtful, lingering, and treats time like a tidal-lake rather than a river. Lowery slowly administers an existential anesthesia, simultaneously telling you that everything's not going to be alright, but it's alright that everything's not going to be alright. A Ghost Story is either brilliant or merely intriguing, I can't decide which on a first-pass.

Rooney Mara is quietly compelling as always (this role seems to be tailor-made for her particular skills) and Casey Affleck may just have found the role where he can take his broodiness to its peak-level. There are many other cast-members too, in smaller roles, but to go there would be to undo the magic of watching it for the first time.

For the regular, non-arthouse movie-goer (let's be honest, me), there are a couple of hurdles to overcome, of course. The 3:4 aspect ratio with the addition of rounded corners makes the film look like it's being presented through a View-Master, as does the feeling that every frame has been post-processed in Instagram. I found the first half-hour simultaneously entrancing and infuriating. But at the scene when the central, restless spirit has its first meaningful contact with… well, anyone - a wide, sad grin spread across my face and it all clicked in to place in my brain.

Although I have issues with A Ghost Story, they're my issues, not the film's. I'm just aware that this is absolutely the work which David Lowery wanted to make and that counts for a lot…



So, watch this if you enjoyed?
I'm actually not sure.
It's definitely more M.R. James than James Wan, at any rate
.


Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you can, but you won't lose much by seeing this at home.


Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I'm pretty certain it does.
It's hard to tell.
Which is one of the things I liked about it
.


Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It's entirely possible.


Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.


Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.


Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Rooney Mara's in this, and she was in 2010's Nightmare on Elm Street remake, as was Clancy 'Opress' Brown.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…


*1 Vague spoilers, highlight-to-read: And sorry to be 'that guy', but the scene with the piano which the film waits the whole film to proudly unveil is super-telegraphed. Anyone who's seen the first two Insidious films will clock that one a mile off. Although by the same token, anyone walking out of the film saying 'well I knew that was going to happen' has fundamentally misunderstood what they've watched. Yes, of course I realise how contradictory this sounds... [ BACK ]

*2 On a similar theme to Overdrive's slack attendance record from the same day, there were three walk-outs during A Ghost Story's screening. I understand this with a Saturday night audience when Annabelle: Creation is playing further down the corridor and undoubtedly lost the toss for some folks standing in the foyer, but come on people, show some discipline… [ BACK ]


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.