Tully Review

In order to discuss the meat of this film, there will be spoilers

In 2007 Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman released Juno—an indie look at teen pregnancy with a killer soundtrack. Their next outing together was in 2011 and starred Charlize Theron in Young Adult—a forgettable film about an author attempting to home-wreck. Seven years later Cody, Reitman, and Theron are back with 2018's Tully—an exploration of the beautiful and ugly side of motherhood. With tight dialogue, strong performances, and boldness from all parties involved, Tully succeeds as a realistic dive into complacency, stagnancy, and parenthood in a modern society.

Charlize Theron's performance as Marlo makes Tully as good as it is. She is a mess as a mother, wife, and person in general. Theron takes a role, which is often idealized and angelic, and turns the role into something grounded and authentic. One scene in particular worth mentioning is when Marlo has an altercation with the principal (Gameela Wright) of her son's (Asher Miles Fallica) school. In this scene Theron showcases her full range as the character. She is disheveled and exhausted, but attempts to remain calm and civil. Finally, something snaps, and she unleashes a mother's ferocity on Principal Laurie, while begging for honesty. Theron does not overdo it by one massive explosion, but instead presents her anger in bursts throughout the scene. She knows when to give more and when to pull it back, making for a scene full of boiled-over authenticity. Scenes as that demonstrate the confidence Theron brings to the role.

Confidence is also present with the writer and director duo of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, respectively. For starters they have enough confidence to release a low-key drama/comedy film in the first week of May, following Avengers: Infinity War and preceding Deadpool 2 on the 18th. Why try to compete? Because Tully is something different, something fresh. Cody and Reitman are giving the nitty-gritty side of marriage and motherhood. They are not saying adult life is detestable; they are saying adult life is difficult in particular for a middle-class mother attempting to keep up with the Joneses. What Cody has done is provide juxtaposition between gender, economic class, and age by demonstrating the differences between Marlo and her husband, her brother, and Tully. Cody's dialogue elevates the actor's performances. When Marlo is visiting her rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass), Craig is excited to show off his new bar. Marlo immediately takes a dig at him to which he warmly responds telling her to shut-up. From there the dialogue builds naturally to the conversation regarding the night nanny. Much of the dialogue goes that way. Cody starts small and allows conversations to unfold. Reitman does the same with the scenes. As a scene appears to be ending, Reitman will let it linger longer, leaving the audience uncomfortable with awkwardness. Marlo and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) feel inadequate to Craig and his wife Elyse (Elaine Tan). Reitman establishes the inadequacy during a dinner scene filled with revealing conversation and uncomfortable silences.

Duplass and Tan play a rich, eccentric couple who are at times over-the-top and oblivious, but never become arrogant or obnoxious. Duplass uses a large, creepy smile to show his enthusiasm for his position in life. Tan goes for a quiet, minimalistic approach to demonstrate her class and comfortableness, often skipping over what people say to avoid tension. Livingston portrays a typical, overworked husband who does not spend enough time taking care of his wife. His performance is detached, and he is more or less fodder. The standout supporting cast member is Mackenzie Davis who plays Tully—the wise, insightful, free-spirit night nanny. Davis also shows confidence with this role; her character calls for it, and she exudes it through subtle bits of comedy and authoritativeness. Once she arrives onscreen she takes control of the situation, often acting as the foil and inspiration for Marlo. That being said, the Tully twist is the biggest problem with this movie.

Throughout the film, there is an eerie sense of similarity between Tully and Marlo. As the picture progresses, the similarities begin to add up. At the end it is revealed that Tully does not exist in a corporeal sense. Tully is Marlo's younger self (Tully is Marlo's maiden name) who has come back as a part of Marlo's nervous breakdown. There are plenty of hints throughout the film, so the problem does not come from the twist itself. Instead the problem is how the twist is handled. After an accident, a doctor walks up to Drew and asks if she has had a history of mental illness. But why? As an audience member there is no indication that the doctor witnessed Marlo talking to herself or even mentions Tully to the physician, so why does she bring that point up? From the outside it looks as though Marlo got into a drunk driving accident. Drew replies to Dr. Smythe stating, no, but she did have a bit of depression after her last child. And that is it. No repercussions from the drunk driving nor the supposed mental illness, and no explanation to the husband why the doctor believes Marlo might be mentally ill. Marlo says goodbye to Tully, Drew apologizes for being an absentee husband, and the film ends. It felt as though it needed a resolution after the journey.

Tully is clever in its execution. Even the poster for the movie has more to it beneath the surface. Upon first glance the poster appears to be a close up of a zoned-out Charlize Theron. But after watching the movie, the poster details everything. The pizza is a reference to Marlo making frozen dinners; the stroller and blocks are a reference to the children; the mermaid is a reference to the surreal visions Marlo has throughout the movie, which are later revealed to be her drowning; cupcakes are a reference to Marlo wanting to keep up with the other moms who make Minion cupcakes; the microphone references Marlo and her daughter singing karaoke together; and the bike refers to the ending of the film when Marlo and Tully steal bikes and ride through the city. Even the tagline is clever, "see how the mother half lives," directly speaks to the idea that Tully is past Marlo. Tully gets to see how her life will turn out. And lastly the title of the film and how it is placed on the poster immediately tells audiences that Charlize Theron is Tully. The name is on her face, so it must be her character. Brilliant design.

Through strong performances from the supporting cast and the lead, Tully shines. Cody and Reitman together add a sense of realism to a story about real world struggles. Tully succeeds by being an intimate look at how you might love your kids and spouse, but you do not necessarily like them all the time. Theron gives an award-deserving performance, and Cody delivers a (mostly) well developed script. Even though the ending has flaws to it, Tully demonstrates the ups and downs for safe familiarity and the struggles it takes to retain normalcy through both the team in front of the camera, and the team behind it.

The Oscars! / Final Anderson Thoughts

Hello, Weirdos. I’d like to invite you to check out my new review for Annihilation. Recently, the Academy Awards Ceremony aired. We had a viewing party where we dressed up, ate nominee named food & drinks, and played Oscar themed games. The biggest game of the night is the Oscar Challenge , where we guess who the winner will be in each category. Whomever gets the most correct receives an Oscar-esq trophy we’ve titled the Emmeline Sacheen Gaynor Award   (after Brooke Shields’ character that won her the first Razzie, Sacheen Littlefeather-the woman who gave Brando’s speech, and Janet Gaynor-first best actress winner, respectively) . Below are pictures from our event followed by my thoughts on the final films of Wes Anderson. 

 

We played a textless/minimalist poster game, a bad plot description game, and of course the ballot game. It was a blast.  Here is what I thought of the end of the Anderson movies: 

  • Moonrise Kingdom: A fantastic film filled with humor and melancholy throughout. Anderson hits all his conventions with this one: yellow tint, children acting as adults and the reverse, a love triangle, eccentricity, the pans, the zooms, etc. and it all works. This film is also whimsical. What it does best is balances and mixes comedy and tragedy. Anderson doesn’t say which is which, leading to it often becoming both. It is sad, but also warming. Underneath the surface there is deep rooted tragedy. It can be seen in Mr. Bishop thought, but specially when he is in bed talking to his wife; you can see it in Sam when he’s alone in the boat; and you can see it with Suzy when she’s having a bath. Anderson does ask you to suspend your disbelief but it’s easy to do because the picture is so damn inviting. 
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: Another great movie from Anderson. Budapest hits the same beats as his other films. Anderson asks us to suspend our disbelief more for this picture. Full of quirkiness, and at times, a bit indulgent. There is a dark humor throughout. Anderson doesn't stray from using dialogue as other films might. For example, with the current climate people might shy from using "faggot" in a script, but Anderson goes for it. It doesn't come off as offensive. I think it makes the scene feel authentic, because people do speak that way, and it isn't meant to be derogatory toward homosexuals. There's a small scene with Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum that is slightly scary—especially for an Anderson film. It reminded me of that short from a few years ago about a Wes Anderson horror film called The Midnight Coterie of Sinister IntrudersBudapest doesn't have the as much heart to it as Moonrise, but it is an entertaining, well crafted picture.

That is it for Wes Anderson. Thanks for checking out this installment of the Director Selective Series. Look for an update when Isle is Dogs comes out later this month. If you have suggestions for a new director please comment below. Keep on Creepin’ .

Creep 2 Review

As a subgenre, found-footage films saturated the market in the early 2000s. Low budget, high profit left audiences a slew of junk to sift through, only to find few hidden gems. One of those gems was 2014's Creep, which breathed new life into the subgenre by being original, claustrophobic, and well, creepy. This year brought the follow-up with Creep 2. Again, this picture stars Mark Duplass as the big bad wolf (this time named Aaron), and is directed by Patrick Brice. Both Brice and Duplass wrote the film, as they did with part 1. Creep 2 succeeds because it is familiar to its predecessor in format, but different enough to keep the viewer interested until the final cut to black.

What is familiar? The basic story is similar to the first. Aaron hires a videographer to come to his home and film him. Aaron is still Aaron. He is a funny, charismatic, eccentric weirdo, but, aside from the creepiness, likable. He draws the viewer in with his quirks. 

This time around, however, Aaron is open about what he is. Viewers are not seeing his process at its peak. They are seeing an artist struggle with his craft. If Creep is about friendship and loneliness, Creep 2 is about art and inspiration, which becomes a darkly hilarious juxtaposition when paired through the lense of murder. Because the theme is different the movie feels different, so it never feels like a rehash even though it shares the same premis. 

Creep 2 follows the sequel format: everything is amped up—bigger, bolder, bloodier, and more elaborate. This stays true with the performances as well. Duplass is able to be creepier and funnier. Without spoiling anything, there is a scene where Aaron and Sara (Desiree Akhavana) are playing pool, and Aaron says an otherwise terrifying line, but with a huge smile. It encapsulates the character in one shot. Akhavan is stellar, too. When she meets Aaron and he reveals his hobby, it is easy for the viewer to ask, “Why the hell aren’t you leaving!?” Then she explains why and it becomes an intimate character moment and an example of how tight the writing is. Yes, Sara makes questionable choices, but if she leaves she might get murdered. If she stays she might get murdered. If she runs the risk of getting murdered either way she might as well dive in. Sara's confident, fearless attitude pairs well with Aaron's creepy, funny demeanor.

As mentioned, the writing is tight—as is the directing. There are few, if any, scenes that do not hold their weight. Every bit of dialogue and every shot have substance. Part of what makes Creep 2 work is it trades in scares for awkward character development. Brice and Duplass take instances of inaction and shapes them into absurd, uncomfortable character moments, as in the scene when Aaron exposes himself physically to Sara. This scene could have easily been a write off. Instead Brice and Duplass elevate it by having Sara volunteer to do the same. A shot that begins leaning toward shock and smut, becomes a scene demonstrating Sara's drive and Aaron's vulnerability. Even when the jump scares do not work, there is a reason.

Creep 2 is to Creep what Scream 2 is to Scream: a wilder, badder experience, which plays on the audience's expectations of established material. Viewers never know exactly where it is going, but when it ends there is definite anticipation for Creep 3. With lack of scares, Creep 2 it is not a scary movie; it is an unnerving comedic plunge into the mind of a killer. Never stale, and never a dull moment, this film presents something familiar and revamps it through solid acting, precise directing, and bleak humor, only to cap it off with a true moment of panic.

Further Viewing: Creep - to see the origin and development.
The Blair Witch Project – for groundwork of the found footage subgenre.
Scream 2 – for another sequel that boosts the original. 

A Ghost Story Review

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At least once a year a film comes along and begs audiences to feel something. In 2012 there was The Perks of Being A Wallflower, from writer/director Stephen Chbosky, which begged the viewer to feel happy and sad simultaneously with friendship and tragedy. In 2015 audience were left to feel the struggles of loss and what it means to grow up in the elegantly crafted The Little Prince. This year, the movie that is baring its heart and soul is David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. Lowery is able to take an otherwise silly childhood image, and by use of precisely lengthened shots, mold it into an emotion filled story which leaves the viewer questioning what it means to exist. 

Literally and figuratively this movie goes through cycles. From a focus standpoint it starts off looking at M (Rooney Mara) and C (Casey Affleck) as a couple. Audiences get to see the dynamic of their relationship through otherwise meaningless conversations demonstrating their comfortability and intimacy. Focus shifts to M, and the viewer gets to see her pain through the editing and long shots (more on that shortly). Through those shots the audience sees her grieving and gets to grieve with her. The editing helps establish the passage of time by showing M walk out the front door and is instantly back in the house heading out the front door. This cycle happens several times successively and demonstrates that M is dealing with the situation and moving on. After M, the film focuses on C who is now a sheet ghost (not a spoiler—it is what the movie is about). Viewers are shown his perspective and what it means to occupy space, and the attachments people have to spaces. This is achieved through C staying in the house for decades as the space transforms, as does he—becoming angrier, dirtier, and complacent. Without spoiling anything there will not be an explanation about how the films cycles through the focus at this point, but it does, and it is gorgeously crafted. 

Back to the shots mentioned earlier. To start, this picture is shot in a unique ratio: 1.33:1 with rounded corners. Immediately this ratio gives the film a home-movie look and feel, which also adds to the feeling of intimacy throughout. A point that cannot be emphasized enough is that this film is top notch visual story telling. Lowery begins the film with long drawn-out scenes. For example, there is a scene in which M is eating a pie that lasts for several minutes. This establishes that the viewer is experiencing this moment and this sadness with M. It is unsettling, it is uncomfortable, and it is heartbreaking. Lowery continues to utilize long takes through the beginning of the film. As the movie progresses and time begins to speed up so does the length of the shots. Toward the end of the film there are cuts and flashbacks in rapid succession in comparison to the start of the movie to demonstrate the apex is coming.

Different length shots combined with the acting and the music create an atmosphere of eeriness and emptiness. Mara’s performance is realistic and grounded. She seems ready to move on from their house, because to her it is just a space. Affleck, who spends three quarters of the time under a sheet, is able to make his ghost emote. He uses long stares into corners and out windows to show his emptiness. He uses head turns and sweeping moments to show curiosity. He uses classic ghost motifs such as floating objects, flickering lights, and passing though walls to show anger and frustration. The sheet might seem silly at first, but as the movie progress it aids in creating a hollowness which is prevalent as the film continues. Music also assists in providing a tone to the picture. Daniel Hart’s composition is flooded with violin and captures the visual feel of the movie. Specifically the piece “The Secret In the Wall” is tear inducing even when listening to it on its own. Within the movie C is a musician and working on a song throughout. That song, “I Get Overwhelmed,” performed by Hart’s band Dark Rooms, fits to the visuals and the dynamic between C and M flawlessly, and is the perfect cap to this creative powerhouse.

As far as problems go there are not many. There is one lengthy exposition scene at a party which people might find too on the nose. But it also gives viewers context to what is going on in the rest of the film, so this could go either way. Another part people might find troublesome is the time frame. Again without spoiling anything, there is a time shift which is confusing and weird, although Lowry is able to reel it in and make sense of it in the climax. 

Outside of those couple parts this movie is a masterpiece. Lowery and Affleck are able to bring life to a blank, faceless figure. They take something so innate to childhood and growing up and transform it into an art piece worth experiencing recurrently. And that is what this movie is: an art piece. It is more than a collection of scenes. It is more than solid performances. It is more than elegantly composed music. It is a culmination of all those thing combined to deliver a movie that reminds people (present company included) why they love movies, and why people like Lowery love to make them.

Further Viewing: Other A24 films. 

Cult of Chucky Review

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Franchises, such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, have dominated the never-ending sequel game, ditching cast and crew along the way. All three (except for possibly the new Halloween coming in 2018) have ended their original story lines in favor of being remade and attempting to start their franchises over. One franchise that is still continuing with original cast and creator is the Child’s Play franchise. Yes, they have changed and morphed along the years, but in 2013’s Curse of Chucky Don Mancini brought audiences back to the roots of the series with an eerie house terrorized by a killer doll, and none of the silliness present in its two predecessors. This time around Mancini presents a direct follow up to Curse with Cult of Chucky. Cult, while lacking typical scares, is a fun, bloody romp around an asylum that takes the franchise in a new direction.

Child’s Play and Child’s Play 2 are slasher movies. They follow along with typical slasher tropes (person getting stalked, people around them dying, etc.), and at least attempt to be scary. Cult, while following along with some slasher tropes, never delivers a solid scare. Chucky is creepy and maniacal, but when it comes to terrorizing adults he loses his intimidation. Most of the movie the doll is being held by an adult as if he were a baby, so when he starts walking about it is almost cute. Perhaps the slasher sub-genre is dead, so Mancini wanted to go a different direction. That direction is where any scare in this movie exists, but not in the way audiences might expect. Without spoiling what happens, it seems like Mancini went for more of a psychological scare. What if this happens? And the answer to that question is a scary thought concurrently cool for fans of the Chucky legacy.

For fans of the franchise Cult of Chucky is a blast. Using an asylum as the central setting and starting with Nica’s (played again by Fiona Dourif) psychotic breakdown are smart choices. These two elements create a sense of paranoia for the viewer. This leads to questioning everything and asking, is this real? throughout the movie. There is a sense of confusion present with people inside the asylum, outside the asylum, and with the audience, which makes this installment a fun ride until all is revealed. Another way Cult is fun is, without a doubt, the kills. Again, without spoiling anything, these kills are gruesome. One is reminiscent of Fulci’s Zombie. Are some over-the-top? Yes, but this is a Chucky movie, so it is expected, and that makes it more entertaining. Also entertaining is seeing Nica and Chucky interact (played by real-life daughter and father, respectively). One scene in particular Nica does something…Chucky-esque that will have fans nodding with approval. The last entertaining aspect worth mentioning is the cast. Obviously both Dourifs are back, but there are two other actors who come back to play their original characters, which is appreciated.

On a technical aspect Cult is decent, but nothing outstanding. Michael Marshall does the cinematography, as he did in Curse, so the look of this film is essentially the same—crisp, while providing a drab tone. The only difference being Cult has more daytime and typical bright white asylum scenes. The directing and the writing are fine. Again, this is a direct continuation of Curse, so the style and feel are similar. Chucky, for the most part, looks smooth. The biggest problem with him is there are one or two scenes where his arms are disproportionate. For some reason, in those scenes, Chucky’s arms appear longer than they should be. As far as the acting goes, the performances were enjoyable. Brand Dourif’s Chucky is always menacing with a hint of comedy. Fiona Dourif juxtaposes well with her father, more intense than she was in Curse and carries this movie well. The other characters play crazy believable enough to give the asylum an authentic feel.

At the end of the day Cult of Chucky is an entertaining watch. Often with sequels in this genre, the audience does not get to see the aftermath of the predecessor. Typical audiences are presented with a new batch of people to see getting mutilated. Mancini was smart to give a direct follow-up that allows viewers to see the repercussions and their effects on the prevailing final girl. Another intelligent move from Mancini was to ditch jump scares in favor of psychological creepiness. For those jumping into the franchise, it will be a fun ride through the loony bin. For fans of the Child’s Play franchise, this will be a worthy installment and will definitely scratch the Chucky itch until the sequel (which needs to happen after the ending this provides) is unleashed on the world.

Further Viewing: Puppetmaster - for more killer dolls

mother! Review

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With sequels, universe building, and remakes, there is not an abundance of original content in the movie world. Once in a while something original will come along and garner audiences’ attention. From 2015’s Ex Machina, to 2016’s Swiss Army Man, to this years mother! originals are able to be mainstream films, which get audiences talking. Writer and directer Darren Aronofsky’s mother! succeeds in doing exactly that. From its allegorical story, to its gorgeous visuals, to its well-acted cast, mother! is a grotesque mystery which will generate polarizing conversations.

As stated before mother! is an allegory, but figuring that out and piecing it together is half the fun of seeing this film. That being said, no more will be discussed on what that allegory is to avoid spoiling any part of the movie. The symbolism is woven throughout the film elegantly. Oftentimes it hits references right on the nose. Other times Aronofsky tweaks elements to make them his own and to fit with the tone of the movie. The symbolism aids in giving this film more meaning, but there are moments that do not quite work with what Aronofsky is trying to say. At times, if you are looking for it, the references are obvious, but if you are not looking for anything this movie still has more to offer.

Technically this movie shines. The sound design is brilliant. Every creak of the floor, or each time a door opens or closes, it is audible. When Jeniffer Lawrence walks around barefoot you can hear the subtlety of her feet dragging against the salvaged wooden floors. This aids in the audience getting a feel for the house—what it sounds like and what it looks like. Editing is also outstanding. Andrew Weisblum, the films editor, is able to make the house seem whole and massive, but simultaneously claustrophobic. When the chaos ensues in the third act, the different scenes are sewn together seamlessly. Begging the question, “How is all this happening in this house?” yet it never feels like it is anywhere else. The cinematography is gorgeous. Most of the film has an airy yellow tint to it (possibly a reference in itself), which becomes darker and distorted until each scene is flooded with blue. Blue is then subsided by a sharper, more direct yellow that bursts into an uproarious exclamation, deserving orange in the film’s final act. 

Outside of the technical aspects, this film also has solid performances from its cast. Bardem is enigmatic and plays his part straight. Every so often he shows fits of rage and excitement—making the audience feel his emotions and concurrently frustrated with his actions. Much of the other cast members are secondary, aside from the supporting characters played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. Both roles, Man and Woman, respectively, are well acted. Harris stays calm throughout, frequently bumbling, providing a believable performance of a man welcoming hospitality and stuck in admiration. Pfeiffer, rarely without a drink in her hand, plays her part of curious and viperous woman well with beady eyes and an accusatory tone. The other performance worth noting is by Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence stays fairly docile throughout, using a raspy voice that cracks when the emotional strain is too much. She attempts to make her presence known, but is constantly shadowed by Bardem’s strong Him. Only in the end does Lawrence get to use her full range of emotion. 

Lawrence, although playing her part well, seems underused. Perhaps it is how her character is written, but she never gets a chance to shine. Aside from Lawrence’s underutilization there are other areas the movie falters. Mainly with the allegory mentioned before. As mentioned, sometimes it does not fit. There are parts that are intense only for the sake of being intense or grotesque. After watching, the biggest question is if this films holds up as a coherent story without the allegory and symbolism. Some will say yes, and some will disagree.

At the time of release the buzz around this film has been polarizing. People are either loving it and praising it as a masterpiece, or hating it and saying it is the worst film of the year. mother! is somewhere in between. mother! is beautiful to look at and intense to watch with good performances and tight editing. However, the beating a dead horse, obliquely obvious message woven throughout sometimes bogs down the plot and uses gore because it can. Is this movie garbage? No. Is it a masterpiece? Not necessarily, but it is definitely better than it is horrible. And it should be applauded for originality. Paramount has been completely supportive, and that is admirable. More acclaim, buzz, and backing will hopefully begat more original content. In the meantime, go see mother! and see for yourself what all the hype is about.

Further Viewing: Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream - for a couple more Aronofsky flicks.

 

IT (2017) Review

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Inherently people dislike remakes. Perhaps because they do not provide the same feeling as the original, or they diminish it, or they seem unnecessary (talking to you, 1998 Psycho). Or maybe the remakes are simply bad films. Whatever the case may be, remakes should not always be taken lightly. Sometimes, rarely, there are gems. Look at John Carpenter’s The Thing—not only a great movie, but a fantastic remake, which still holds up today. The Thing is creative, necessarily modernized, and almost reinvents the original 1951 film. The same can be said about IT. With the time frame moved up approximately 30 years and a more focused story, IT, albeit not without flaws, is a remake worth watching.

From the beginning with the eerie piano playing, the well acted moment between brothers, the cool bird’s-eye-view in the rain, and the first encounter with Pennywise, it is clear IT is going to benefit from being updated. Going from a mini-series (It 1990) to a feature film is the first smart thing IT does. This movie improves from that change alone. The ability to be gory intensifies nearly every scene. There is blood everywhere, but it is well placed and aids the gruesome nature of the story. Another benefit of the modernization is the the shift in the time frame.

Feeding off the current 80s nostalgia trend, IT channels the children ensemble cast, as in Stand By Me and The Goonies (there’s even a Chunk and a Mouth).  IT embodies the 80s with subtle nods to era-appropriate movies, the arcade, and the Losers Club riding around town on bikes. Jumping to the 80s gives people who were fans of the original as kids a relatable time frame by tapping into their youth and retreading their old adolescent fears. Those fears are the focus of Pennywise.

Each time Pennywise introduces itself to a new character, it presents itself as something different. Another smart choice. From the fear of disease, to the fear of becoming a woman, Pennywise encompasses each child’s nightmare. Once they are horrified, it reveals itself to be more menacing and feeds off the despair it creates. This elevates the clown from a circus staple to the personification of fear, which aids the film in focusing on the children.

Ditching the adults-having-flashbacks framing device of the original amplifies the pacing in comparison. The change in pace keeps the focus on the kids. Audiences are never taken out of their world, which works because these kids are great. The opening with Bill and Georgie bonding boosts the emotional connection to them, which makes Georgie’s inevitable demise hit even harder. They are not the only ones to bring their A-game. Each kid pulls their own weight throughout, providing different elements to the story. Finn Wolfhard’s character is obnoxious, but in the best way. His performance stands out because it is well-acted, and he rarely shuts his mouth. All the kids feel real and relatable, making their eventual congregation feel organic. Outside the children, the only other performance worth mentioning (because all the adults are worthless) is Pennywise.

Now, it is well established that people adore Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise. Bill Skarsgard had a lot to live up to, and he does. The way he moves (sometimes robotic, sometimes fluid), the way he talks (sometimes fun, sometimes raspy), the way he interacts with the children (sometimes inviting, mostly terrifying), are all sadistic and anxiety-inducing. Where Curry is both comical and creepy, Skarsgard’s Pennywise is played straight and only borders on silliness a few times. Those silly moments are part of this movie's few flaws.

Intrinsically clowns are goofy. So it is understandable parts of Pennywise come off as such. Most moments when there is silliness it works, such as the creepy laugh. But there are other times, such as a dance sequence, which seem like they are supposed to be scary, but come off more comical than anything else. This sometimes underplays the effectiveness of Pennywise. These bits, partnered with other comedic elements, are where this film struggles most.

Do not misunderstand—this movie is hilarious. Nearly every joke lands. The only complaint here is there are moments the jokes are misplaced. Scenes will build tension and become creepy, then an unnecessary joke will be made and the tension is diffused. This is problematic because then the scare happens, and it does not hit as hard as it could. The scares get undercut by the humor. This only happens a few times, and for most, it will not be an unwelcome breath from the spooks.

As stated earlier, the adults in this movie are basically nonexistent. It works. The problem with this is there are things that happen without repercussions. For example, there are at least three people who are murdered, not directly by Pennywise, but by other humans. Those people get killed, and that is it. No mention of it after. Maybe that will be addressed if there is a part two, but for now it seems odd. 

Overall IT provides constant, thoughtful, well-placed scares. All the scares play on the well-acted young character’s fears, putting Pennywise next to Freddy Kruger’s fear-eating, terror-inducing threat to children. Through its use of dutch angles and intelligent, well-focused story line, IT creates an atmosphere both off-putting and inviting. By taking the bones of the original and creating a different, updated story, IT is a remake that will please fans of the original and those jumping in.

Further Viewing: It (1990) - to compare to the remake. And for one of Curry's best performances.

Annabelle: Creation Review

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X-men First ClassTemple of DoomAnnabelle: Creation have at least one thing in common--they are among the few rare prequels which surpass their predecessors. In rarer form, Creation is a prequel of a prequel and has no business to be half way decent, yet it is. Here is the fourth installment into The Conjuring universe. For the first time this is a film which simultaneously feels like a branch of that universe and stands up on its own. David F. Sandberg’s direction, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography, and the work of the sound department give Annabelle: Creation a breath of death the series needed. 

Sandberg hones the skills he presented in his short films. As a fan of Sandberg's shorts (especially Lights Out) it is clear he pulled from his experience with those and applied them to Creation. Elements from Lights Out (short), partnered with Coffercome up throughout this film. Tension is present throughout the movie by use of long takes (when the girls arrive at their new home), scary nighttime scenes that last longer than most movie scenes of the same type (the scene with the chair moving up the steps), and by not providing a jump when expected (the look between the bunkbeds). Sandberg utilizes the tension and expectations to elevate his short films through his directing accompanied with the cinematography.

Maxime Alexandre, the Director of Photography, uses the time period and setting to create an eerie landscape.  Where Annabelle failed to look and feel like the era it was representing, Creation delivers. Dustiness from the rural landscape outside rolls into the house, giving the bluish tones a graininess that draws the viewer. That blueness, specifically at night, contrasts well with the yellow tint present with the daytime and the farmland. These contrasting tones aid the scares by playing with the audience's expectations. It is impressive when a movie can provide scares during daylight scenes, which Creation does thanks to Alexandre's style. In these aspects, this film emulates The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, making it feel like a part of the universe without piggybacking. Alexandre's classic vertigo-inducing dolly zooms and sharpness fleshes out the setting and aids the sound department to create an overall intensity.

Crisp, for lack of a better word, is the best way to describe the sound of this movie. Every tight creak of the hardwood floors is audible and clear. Parts of the film have no sound. Silence is utilized to again play with expectations and cause anxiety. Creaks and the silence work together well to help provide tension by drawing out the scenes and allowing the audience to hold their breath along with the characters.

Annabelle: Creation isn't without flaws. Where most haunted house movies ease into the scares and let the viewer question the character's sanity, this movie lacks the subtlety. The demon presents itself quickly and sets its intentions on the table straight away. For some, that may work because it jumps right in. But for others it may be too quick. Another lacking point for the film is the characters. There are too many of them. Yes, it's an orphanage, and yes, they need several girls to make that realistic, but there are at least two characters who have almost no screen time and are useless outside of filling up spaces on a bus. There are other aspects that don't work well, but the last one worth mentioning is toward the end of the movie. For the first time the demon pops up in two places at once. Simultaneously it is in the barn, which is a cool, creepy scene, and in the house in dumbwaiter, which feels predictable boring. This is frustrating because it only happens on this one occasion and is never an established thing the demon can do. It feels cheap and unnecessary.

Outside of the few flaws mentioned, Annabelle: Creation is an enjoyable movie. It provides scares throughout by building up tension and playing with expectations. Sound design, cinematography, and direction are the key components that make this film work well. With a subtle nod to Valak, a more focused story than its sequel, and an elegant tie in to its sequel as well, Annabelle: Creation is a fun, scary flick and a must see for fans of The Conjuring universe.

Further Viewing: Annabellesee how it compares. 
                            Ouija: Origin of Evil - another horror prequel better than its predecessor.

Annabelle Review

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Building cinematic universes, although becoming tiresome, is not going anywhere any time soon. From the Marvel universe, to DC, to Universal’s Dark Universe, studios are attempting to cash-in on brand recognition. The now four-movie deep Conjuring Universe is no different, and with the release of Annabelle: Creation in theaters (and getting decent reviews) it was time to visit the original, and see how they compare. Annabelle, the second movie of the universe, fails to deliver the scares or the craft of its elegant predecessor, The Conjuring.

    Part of the problem with Annabelle is it has cool scenes, which are then bogged down by everything prior and following them. This is a problem because two scenes in particular are well crafted, and the rest isn’t; it forces the audience to see the drastic difference and wonder what this film could have been.  After the brief initial opening of getting introduced to the characters, the viewer is thrown into a brutal, double home invasion murder sequence. It is this scene, partnered with one other, that are the best parts of the movie. There is a dark, dreary contrast to the lighthearted introduction. The cult murderers are stealthy, even in their white garments, and menacing. And as the blood drips onto Annabelle’s face we think this prequel might have a chance. It does not.

    Focus is the biggest flaw for Annabelle. The style is not focused at all. Supposedly a period piece taking place in the late 1960s, there is hardly anything to indicate that. Yes, the cars are from the era, but they are hardly noticeable. The clothing and the set pieces seem like the designers went to Urban Outfitters and grabbed whatever was in. Also, the movie has no visual style either. It was bright and dull and a bit boring to look at. The cinematography was flat, and poses the question: Why didn't the director, John R. Leonetti, who was the Director of Photography on The Conjuring,  shoot this film himself?

    Another way the movie lacks focus is with the villain. There are three villains in the film. First is Annabelle herself. The movie is titled Annabelle, but the doll is hardly in the movie. Sometimes less is more, and can be effective, but in this case she is used so minimally she never becomes scary, and is often forgotten. The second villain is the woman from the cult. She shows up at the beginning, bleeds into the doll, pops up here and there to walk by a door way, but that is it. Nothing else is known about her, aside from that she killed her parents—leaving her scares mild at best. And third there is the demon. Played by composer Joseph Bishara, the black demon of Annabelle gets lost in the shadows. He is mostly there to manipulate the doll, and possibly to give a small connection to The Conjuring (although the character design looks like it could have been the brother of the Lipstick-Face Demon from Insidious). Possibly the best use of the demon character, and the best scene in the movie, is in the basement.

    The only other scene worth mentioning is the elevator scene. Mia, played by Annabelle Wallis, attempts to leave her apartment complex basement by way of elevator. Unfortunately for her, every time the doors open she is back at the basement with the demon lurking in the dark. This scene, which is directed by James Wan, has a cold blue feel not present in the rest of the movie. There is tension built through repetition and the promise of something hiding in the shadows. With every sliding of the elevator doors, the viewer is allowed to be in the moment with Mia, waiting and worrying about what might be on the other side. 

    Admittedly Annabelle has some moments of fright, at least two, but not even the (seemingly longer) 99 minute run-time could save it from being visually boring and unfocused. A weak start to The Conjuring spin-offs. Hopefully, if The Nun and The Crooked Man are made, they have more life to them than Annabelle and her fellow dolls.

Further Viewing: The Conjuring - James Wan with one of his finest, good scares, and see where Annabelle started.