Annabelle: Creation Review

To the best of my knowledge, Annabelle: Creation is the first prequel of a prequel based off an opening scene of another movie. And being that it’s a prequel to a horror flick that was poorly received, Annabelle: Creation was pretty much destined to be a critical failure from the get-go. However, director David Sandberg (Lights Out) and producer James Wan (The Conjuring and Insidious) were fully prepared to go against the odds, turning out a flawed, yet entertaining movie.

The film follows a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and six orphaned girls, who move into a farmhouse owned by a mysterious former doll maker named Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). Strange events begin to unfold soon after moving into the house, as one of the girls sneaks into a forbidden room previously occupied by the daughter of Mr. Mullins. There, the girl finds a porcelain doll that seems to have a life on its own, as it begins to scare and terrorize the orphans.

From his previous work on the 2016 horror flick Lights Out, its clearly evident that David Sandberg has a knack for crafting and executing a scary scene. In Annabelle: Creation, I felt that his talent was able to shine through, at least in some respects. The camera placement, pacing, and convincing acting aided Sandberg in scaring the audience on many occasions. Sadly, a lot of these frightening moments are followed up by unrelated scenes, which made a lot of the film feel poorly integrated.

I felt that many of the creative choices made in Annabelle: Creation didn’t quite fit this story, as if the filmmakers were trying too hard to emulate the style of The Conjuring. Take the numerous themes of Christianity for example, which are seen across many of James Wan’s productions. Christian themes and symbols are frequently discussed and seen all over this film, yet they never play into a deeper meaning or context. In The Conjuring these themes made sense, as it all played into the central message of the film, that the character’s religious beliefs would help them prevail over evil. In this, the Christian symbols are present for no reason other than to draw parallels to The Conjuring.

Even some of the horror movie logic doesn’t flow very well, with Annabelle often disregarding its own established rules. Even near the third act of the film the evil doll/demon would begin exhibiting powers and characteristics not yet introduced, as if they didn’t have a clear idea of what this evil entity was going to be. Usually something like this would just be a minor nitpick, however Annabelle takes it so far that the audience got tired of suspending their disbelief. There were points where the audience would audibly groan or question why certain things happened, or why a character would behave so irrationally. It was at these moments that I stopped taking the film seriously and just enjoyed it purely for the schlock factor.

I highly respect what Sandberg and Wan attempted to do with Annabelle: Creation, and in some areas, they were pretty successful. Whether the film was being serious and scary, or just complete schlock, I was entertained the whole way through. The great use of an eerie film location, compounded with the effective filmmaking techniques, made for a pretty terrifying atmosphere. I’m sure the average moviegoer would be able to overlook the numerous flaws in this picture and enjoy it as a solid, conventional horror film.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Atomic Blonde Review

Based on the graphic novel titled The Coldest Winter, Atomic Blonde gives audiences a thrilling spy movie experience set in the Cold War Era.

The film stars Charlize Theron as an MI6 field agent named Lorraine Broughton, who’s on a mission to Berlin, Germany to retrieve a valuable piece of microfilm. The contents of this film, in the hands of the enemy, could extend the Cold War for many decades to come. While in Berlin, Lorraine teams up with an eccentric CIA station chief nicknamed Percival (James McAvoy), who helps her navigate an unsettled city full of secret spies and double-crossers.

Atomic Blonde exhibited a variety of long, uninterrupted action sequences that somehow felt both choreographed and improvised. There’s one particularly impressive scene where Lorraine takes part in hand-to-hand combat with a couple of KGB spies in a stairwell. All the actors involved slowly became bruised and battered over what felt like a ten-minute-long sequence. The KGB spies (who I assume were played by professional stuntmen) are repeatedly knocked down staircases, punched, and hit with random, indiscernible objects that Theron picks up off the ground. I found myself getting very invested in scenes like this, where the violence is so realistic that you wonder how the actors ever pulled it off. Or how physically painful falling down the stairs backwards was for the stuntmen, after doing it three consecutive times already.

Charlize Theron played the part of a sensual and fierce spy tremendously well, with no-nonsense body language and razor-sharp intelligence. Her character felt like a cross between John Wick and James Bond, and was by far one of the highlights of the film.

Just like most films based on a graphic novel, Atomic Blonde tries too hard to be artsy and stylistic in its filmmaking, and usually just came off as gimmicky. A fine example of this would be the neon spray painted title cards that introduced the audience to new locations. Unfortunately, small touches like this felt too forced and out of place, and I could almost hear the director screaming “I’m artistic, applaud me!” in my ear.

Another issue with the stylistic approach of Atomic Blonde was the incoherent way it told its story. The first half of the film jumped around to different characters and locations way too frequently, to the point where it became difficult to keep a firm understanding of what was happening.

By the time the film became more focused and coherent in the second half, the audience was already playing catch up in an attempt to comprehend the complex story. Character motives and alliances were so scrambled that, for this reason, I still don’t fully grasp the disjointed ending.

So, while it has its minor issues in storytelling and style, ultimately Atomic Blonde accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. That being, to create a female spy movie on par with the James Bond series. I don’t think that Atomic Blonde was as stylistic as it so desperately wanted to be, and the bizarre plot pacing actually hindered its storytelling capability.

Nonetheless the film was vastly entertaining, with great use of lighting and 80’s tracks to set the proper mood. With well-crafted action scenes and a fantastic lead actress, Atomic Blonde is an action film I’d recommend you give a watch, so long as you have the patience to sit through an overly complicated story.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Dark Tower Review

Based on the dark fantasy book series by Stephen King, The Dark Tower takes audiences on an all too brief journey into a very creative and unique universe.

The film stars Idris Elba as the Gunslinger, the last on an elite group of marksmen, who is constantly at war with an evil sorcerer known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). It’s the Gunslinger’s duty to prevent the Man in Black from destroying the Dark Tower, the key to holding the universe in balance. When the Gunslinger meets a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor), he discovers Jake has the power to take him to the Man in Black. Because of this, the Gunslinger teams up with Jake to exact revenge on the Man in Black, and perhaps save the Dark Tower in the process.

For reasons beyond my understanding, The Dark Tower felt the need to cram all eight of Stephen King’s novels into a single, ninety-minute film. And for this reason, the film is unevenly paced and condenses too much complex material that needed more time to develop. Character arcs, logical plot progression, and even necessary background information is all completely ignored due to limited time constraints. What should have been at bare minimum a three-part trilogy is instead just a CliffsNotes guide to The Dark Tower, which is sure to upset most fans of the novels.

The only actor to give a serious, respectable performance in The Dark Tower happened to be Idris Elba. Elba’s role as the Gunslinger carried the film through its roughest and most emotionally void scenes, giving the audience one aspect of the film to take seriously.

Even more memorable then Elba, we have the wonderfully miscast performance of Matthew McConaughey, who was already hamming it up by the first scene in the movie. There were many moments where he’d get real close to another character and whisper his lines in this creepy, perverted way. It didn’t help that he was dressed like a 90’s boy band singer for the entire film, which made it impossible for me to take him seriously.  Everything from his facial expressions to the way he carried himself was comical, making McConaughey an absolute delight to watch.

Overall, I can easily see why so many fans of the book series have expressed anger and frustration at this adaptation. To take a series so dense with lore and boil it down to a single ninety-minute adventure film feels needlessly disrespectful.

I, never having read the books, was able to look past this issue and enjoy the flick for what it was, a typical action-adventure movie. The few action sequences that The Dark Tower did sport were very well shot and a lot of fun to watch. It also had some pretty amazing visuals, and managed to hold my attention for the entire runtime, which is more than I can say for many films of this genre.

So, if you’re a fan of the books this film was based on, then I’d stay far away from The Dark Tower, as this adaptation will probably just upset you due to how unfaithful it is. If you’re someone like me with little knowledge of the book series, than I’d go ahead and check out The Dark Tower. Its action scenes, creative set locations, and oftentimes comical demeanor will keep you entertained the whole way through.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is about as visually awe-inspiring as its title would have you believe. Full of creative ideas from director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Lucy), Valerian unfortunately struggled to get past its own mediocre characters and bizarre writing.

The film takes place in the 28th century, where special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) act as peacekeepers of the universe. They are tasked with a very important mission that sends them to the thriving, culturally diverse city of Alpha, also known as the City of a Thousand Planets. There, Valerian and Laureline discover a dark force that threatens the safety of everyone within the city, and must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

In usual Luc Besson fashion, Valerian possesses engaging and appealing visuals, but incredibly bizarre writing and characterization. Take the opening scene of the film for example, where we are introduced to an alien race that are unfortunately killed off in a planetary explosion. The aesthetics of this scene are pretty breathtaking, as the audience is given a nice glimpse into the unfamiliar culture of this race. Yet, everything that happens is so strange and off-putting that I was genuinely confused as too its purpose. There were plenty of moments that were supposed to be charming that either had me laughing hysterically or completely shocked.

The acting in Valerian wasn’t much different, as the remarkably poor performances of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne had me giggling through most of the flick. Dane DeHaan was particularly bad, as it seemed like he was doing his best “Keanu Reeves on Nyquil” impression. Both of them seemed so disinterested in what was happening in the story that I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

By the third act of the film, scenes began to drag and get very heavy-handed, especially when we drew close to the disappointing climax. By this point it became obvious that the entire purpose of the flick was to force-feed the audience political and social commentary, all of which comes off as way too forced and gimmicky. The well-meaning politics overall do very little for the film, other than to make the obvious villain just a one-dimensional, boring character.

The few strengths of Valerian weren’t in its ability to give us interesting characters or tell a cohesive story, but in its capacity to immerse the viewer in a vast, all-encompassing universe. From the first moment I saw the City of a Thousand Planets, the location in which most of the film takes place, I was completely mesmerized by all the wonderful aesthetics. Many of the creatures we come across in the film are designed very creatively as well, and are brought to life with great use of practical effects and costumes.

However, rather than focusing on the immersive atmosphere and truly creative ideas, Valerian spends its time focusing on a jumbled plot and characters that are honestly pretty loathsome. I had no interest in the relationship between DeHaan and Delevingne, and the plot felt way too disorganized for what it was. I wish I could’ve enjoyed the film more than I did, but even the countless moments where Valerian got so bad it was humorous weren’t enough to save it from its own painful writing.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

The Emoji Movie: The Death of Creativity

The Emoji Movie takes everything selfish and wrong with our technology-obsessed generation and wears it like a badge. The film, which revolves around smartphone emojis, exists for the sole purpose to appeal to the masses, with zero attempts at creativity made. Films like The Emoji Movie are my least favorite kind of film to watch, ones that indulge in overused tropes and treat the audience like brainless idiots.

The plot is the same boring animated adventure that you see in every sub-par kid’s film nowadays. An emoji named Gene (T.J. Miller) is sad because he is different from all of his colleagues, so he embarks on an adventure to become like everyone else. Along the way, Gene meets a couple other outcasts who show him that it’s okay to be unlike everyone else. From here, I’m sure you can easily deduce how the rest of The Emoji Movie plays out.

Rather than crafting well-timed jokes that fit into the plot, The Emoji Movie instead hits the audience with a never-ending barrage of one-off puns. Painfully bad emoji-related jokes that are fired in rapid succession throughout most of the flick. Within the first five minutes there were at least twenty emoji puns associated with Shrimp, Christmas trees, and yes, even poop.

Everything about The Emoji Movie is an animated atrocity. It’s unoriginal, uninspired, mediocre, boring, manipulative, and downright asinine. The few clever ideas that the film displays are blatantly stolen from movies like Wreck-it Ralph and Inside Out, which are both more intelligent, entertaining, and heartwarming to watch. With nonexistent characterization and absolutely no laughs, The Emoji Movie is a cynical, trendy product that I took no pleasure in viewing.

The Verdict: F

-Zachary Flint

The Story of 90 Coins Review (Short Film)

“Don’t let a promise become just a beautiful memory”, a poignant message from the Chinese short film The Story of 90 Coins. The directorial debut of Malaysian filmmaker Michael Wong, The Story of 90 Coins is quick with its pacing, and poetic with its words.

The film stars Han Dongjun and Zhuang Zhiqi as two young lovers in the modern world. The man makes a promise of never-ending love to the woman, love that he expresses over a period of ninety days. While all goes well in the beginning (with honest intentions of marriage in the future), reality sets in for our female lead, who chooses to follow her career aspirations over her partner.

Being just below ten minutes long, the audience isn’t given much time to grow attached to these characters. The film knows this, and does incredibly well at giving us the necessary details and personality traits of the characters so that we can feel invested in their relationship.

One slight issue the film comes across is that, while the characters are likable and work well together onscreen, the film’s pacing is somewhat off. Certain scenes or moments that should’ve gotten more attention are grazed over, while some scenes of lesser importance got more focus onscreen. Again, being restricted to only ten minutes in runtime, this is only a minute detail that is easily forgivable.

I have a particular admiration for films that give viewers an unconventional ending, especially when you’re expecting something far different than what you get. The Story of 90 Coins is one of those films. Instead of leaving the audience off on a romanticized and sentimental note, the film promptly shows us the realities of love, loss, and regret. And in the end, the audience is left with some wise words of caution, being not to break promises we may later regret. A simple, yet touching message.

The synthesized soundtrack that accompanies most of the film is definitely overemphasized, acting more as a hindrance than building any sort of drama. I feel that the film could’ve been even more emotional and effective, had it not been for the distracting music attempting to be dramatic.

The Story of 90 Coins is a short little drama that I found to have a high entertainment value. While the pacing and soundtrack aren’t utilized to their best potential, the true strengths of The Story of 90 Coins lie in the genuine acting and the powerfully woven message.

Check out The Story of 90 Coins here!

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Dunkirk Review

In May of 1940, near the start of WWII in the European Theater, Nazi Germany broke through Allied lines in France, trapping all Allied soldiers on the French beaches of Dunkirk. In what became one of the largest military evacuations in history, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers were methodically rescued from the beaches using any and all civilian and naval vessels possible.

And to pay tribute to this very important piece of history, we get the newly released film Dunkirk, a worthwhile flick that portrays Allied soldiers at their strongest and weakest points. Turning out many captivating performances, Dunkirk portrays the evacuation from many key points of view.

Director Christopher Nolan, a filmmaking purist who prefers to shoot on film over digital, displays remarkable talent in his ability to capture the chaos and grit of warfare. With Nolan’s films, especially Dunkirk, you get a sense of genuineness in what happens on-screen, that what you see is exactly what you get. You can tell the film hasn’t been filtered or altered a million times over in post-production, and that most of the stunts pulled off are completed using practical effects.

The camera work in Dunkirk reminded me a lot of Saving Private Ryan, in that the camera itself gets up-close and intimate with the actors. This gives the audience a firsthand view of the tragedy and disarray, which is much more compelling and rousing than seeing it happen from far-off angles. There is one scene in particular that exemplifies this well, and it’s when a British ship is hit by a German torpedo. In a typical war film, we might see the Germans actually launch the torpedo, then watch as it glides through the water and impacts the ship, causing a large explosion. In Dunkirk, we see an indiscernible object about twenty feet from the boat, somebody yells “Torpedo!”, and the boat is struck with an ear piercing sound. And instead of seeing the explosion from the outside, the audience is given a view from inside the ship, as the soldiers struggled to make it to the deck and avoid drowning. Again, this style of up-close and personal camera work gave a certain level of realism to the picture that few war movies successfully achieve.

Another thing I noticed in particular about Dunkirk was just how loud the film was. From the first bullet fired, everything sounded much louder than most movies you see. I feel that this may have been done intentionally, as too give a more realistic impression of warfare and just how loud the battles are. A nice little touch that many will find obnoxious, but I found necessary.

Dunkirk manages to flawlessly depict Allied soldiers at their most heroic (and feeble) moments during a crucial point in WWII history. While the film does take several liberties, neglecting several important aspects of the evacuation (like the heavy involvement of French soldiers), I still feel that Dunkirk does its best to be historically accurate. The film exhibits a powerful cast, a strong sense of realism, and displays the talents of a director who knows how to functionally make a movie work. Giving audiences an intense experience that all war movies should strive for.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint