Sunday, August 13, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Year: 2017
Director: David F Sandberg
Cast: Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto, Grace Fulton, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee

Plot: A dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their home, years after they had lost their own daughter in an accident. Once there however, the girls start to sense an evil presence in the house, which is connected to one of the dollmaker's creations, Annabelle.

Review: John R Leonetti's Annabelle, made in 2014, was little more than to capitalize on the success of James Wan's The Conjuring, and simply wasn't scary. Thus, Annabelle: Creation, a film that goes back even before the first Annabelle, now arrives, hoping to do what its predecessor failed.

The story begins with Samuel and Esther Mullins, a dollmaker and his wife, who live happily with their beloved daughter Annabelle "Bee" Mullins, until she is tragically killed in an accident. Twelve years later, the Mullinses welcome a nun and six orphaned girls into their large home. Soon after they arrive however, strange things start to happen, and it's all centred on a forbidden room in the house, where a porcelain doll in a white dress resides. It's possessed, and it wants a soul, and it has targeted Janice, the girl who walks with a limp.

Director David F Sandberg (Lights Out) has done a stupendous job in generating the scares, using darkness, creaky doors and floors, and of course, objects that move by themselves, from the Annabelle doll itself to a scarecrow and even lightbulbs. His style is quite similar to Wan's, but it works very well. Almost every jump scare here is well earned.

What this film also has is something that Annabelle did not have: a convincing relationship. Much like Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring films, Creation has a solid relationship here as well; a sister-like friendship between two of the orphans, Janice and Linda. Janice's handicap makes her an outcast among the other girls, except for Linda, who treats her like a best friend and always stays by her side. This connection is truly crucial as the audience can't help but care about what happens to these two girls as the story moves along.

Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson are the standouts here, giving believable performances as Janice and Linda respectively. Wilson, who last wowed audiences in Ouija: Origin Of Evil, is on the mark here, this time playing scared instead of scary. Bateman is also superb as the target of the evil spirit, displaying a palpable sense of vulnerability. Stephanie Sigman gets the token disbeliever role as Sister Charlotte, but much more likable than Ward Horton's John from the first Annabelle. Veteran actor Anthony LaPaglia also shines as Samuel Mullins, being emotionally cold for the most part, due to his personal loss, while Miranda Otto doesn't get much screen time as Mrs Mullins, but plays a crucial role in the third act.

As with most horror films these days, the downsides usually involves questionable decisions by its characters, like why do they go into a forbidden room, or why not run when something scary is coming etc. But the best way to enjoy this film is to just suspend disbelief a little bit and enjoy what unfolds.

All in all, I enjoyed Annabelle: Creation thanks to Sandberg's ability to scare audiences formidably, and tying this film to the other Annabelle film. Stay tuned till the credits finish rolling for another brief scene. (8/10)

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Dark Tower

Year: 2017
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Katheryn Winnick, Claudia Kim, Dennis Haysbert, Fran Kranz

Plot: In a parallel universe, warriors known as Gunslingers protect the Dark Tower, the source of protection of all realms from the darkness beyond. The last Gunslinger alive, Roland must now protect a young boy from Earth, whom a mysterious Man In Black intends to use to destroy the tower.

Review: I almost decided not to watch this film after hearing about the poor reviews it got. After seeing it, I have to say it's not too bad. Much like last year's Warcraft, The Dark Tower suffers from not making enough time to explore its universe, though compared to the former, it is at least more comprehensible.

It's basically the story of two men and a boy. Roland, the last Gunslinger, has given up his duty to protect the Dark Tower and only wants revenge against Walter a.k.a. The Man In Black, who had killed his father. Walter needs a special child with strong enough psychic abilities to destroy the tower and unleash hell on the universe. Jake, a boy from our world, is the child in question, and now Roland has to protect him from Walter at all costs.

If you're looking for a straightforward action fantasy movie, The Dark Tower pretty much fits the bill. The CGI is good, the action is well shot and the old fashioned tale of good vs evil is the film's centrepiece. In short, if you lower your expectations and just have fun with this film, chances are you'll enjoy yourself, just like I did. Director Nikolaj Arcel, who co-wrote the film with Akiva Goldsman and two others, does a decent enough job in pacing the film and keeping things coherent for the most part. A film where characters jump from one universe to another can get complicated but Arcel is up to the task.

Idris Elba is perfect as Roland, balancing perfectly between weary hero and father figure to the boy. He also excels in the action sequences; I gotta say, watching him shoot and reload his guns is the coolest thing about this film. Matthew McConaughey plays Walter with a mixture of devilish charm and cold calmness, and a worthy opponent for Roland. I only wish the film was a bit longer so we can see more of him. Tom Taylor is splendid as Jake, a boy who misses his late father and looks up to Roland as a friend and surrogate dad.

Apparently, test audiences didn't like the film and reshoots were done, so if you've seen the trailers, you'd notice a few missing scenes; even the climax of the film ended pretty abruptly. And, as mentioned, like Warcraft, you get the feeling there's a whole backstory to this that could have been explored or at least briefly explained, like Walter's origins, or why a child is needed to bring the tower down, or who made the portals that allow them to travel between universes. 

To sum it up, The Dark Tower is fun, but it's over way too soon. With a bit more time spent on its story, it could have been truly memorable. It is written by Stephen King, after all. (7.5/10)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Baby Driver

Year: 2017
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, John Bernthal

Plot: A young getaway driver plans to break free from working for a crime boss after meeting the girl of his dreams, but his boss has other plans.

Review: Call me crazy, but I don't really enjoy a film when it has too much fun with itself. There are a few notable exceptions, like say Shoot 'Em Up or Con Air, being so silly that there's only one way to enjoy them. Baby Driver isn't quite like that, though it tries hard.

Ansel Elgort plays Baby, a young man constantly attached to his iPod who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss with a knack for planning heists. Baby is a tremendously gifted driver, thus his skills are really useful to Doc. He falls in love with Debora (Lily James), a cute waitress, and plans to run away with her once he squares his debt to Doc. But the old man will not let him just walk away, and hires him for a heist alongside three very volatile criminals; Buddy, Darling and Bats.

Edgar Wright, who wrote and directed this film, set out to do only one thing: create a fun filled action comedy driven by his favorite songs, and to a certain extent, he succeeds. The car chases are good (the opening chase is the standout, the others don't come close), the dialogue is funny (Jamie Foxx's lines are the best) and the acting for the most part, are spot on.

Elgort is reasonably charming as Baby, and makes a great pair with James as Debora. Spacey is just oozing cool and mean at the same time as Doc, while Foxx is just batshit crazy as Bats, with Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez being both magnetic and deadly as Buddy and Darling respectively. Foxx in particular is hilarious, even when he means business.

Now, here's my problem. I do not dig Wright's move to dictate pretty much everything in this film by song and song beats. I get it, Guardians Of The Galaxy was cool for the most part because of great music choices, but let's not get carried away. Wright doesn't just put in killer tracks in the background of nearly every scene, he also sets what happens on screen to the beat of the music, from Elgort's dancing and strutting (which I found quite annoying) to gunshots and action beats etc. It's overkill for me. It's like Wright is trying so very hard to make this film look and sound cool, when he really doesn't have to. I also felt that the editing could be a bit tighter and the third act was a tad messy for my liking.

With all that being said, Baby Driver is reasonably entertaining thanks to a fine cast and great dialogue, but after reading all the hype from reviewers everywhere, I have to say this film is quite overrated. It's fun, but much easier to run with if it was simpler. (7/10)


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