The Nun Review: An Unintentional Spoof of the Modern Horror Genre

The Sister Act just got a whole lot weirder with Blumhouse Production’s most recent film, The Nun. A film with a plot so clichéd, characters so one-noted, and soundtrack so overbearing, I believe The Nun is an unintentional parody of itself.

The film stars Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga as a priest and a nun in training, respectively. They’re sent by the Vatican to investigate an isolated Romanian abbey where a young nun mysteriously committed suicide. Quickly discovering the true nature of their visit, that the abbey is actually haunted by an evil entity that takes the form of a nun, they attempt to confront the beast and defeat it for some reason.

The Nun continuously tests how far we the audience are willing to suspend our disbelief, all for the sake of cheap jump scares. Some moments are so ridiculous and void of intelligible thought that it felt like the film was purposefully trying to test my patience. As if the filmmakers were fully self-aware of how corny, desperate, and melodramatic everything is.

And if you weren’t convinced by my testimony of this film’s ludicrousness, The Nun goes as far as to include the actual blood of Jesus Christ as a tool for defeating the evil. The blood, kept inside a relic that looked like the Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python, has the power to seal a portal to hell that was accidentally opened by Nazis during WWII. Except, of course, when the relic has no power at all; since The Conjuring series typically lacks consistency with its logic.

The characters were as bland as they come, with no establishment of their personalities or their motives. It’s almost impossible for me to elaborate any further on this topic because there’s no information to go from, aside from some obvious foreshadowing that turns out to be obvious foreshadowing. It’s a shame too, because the cast (while not perfect) does their best to give strong and convincing performances. But when you’re not given a reason to care about these people in the first place, it makes for all-around poor character development.

The only particularly good aspect of The Nun was the stylish cinematography, which seemed to have at least an inkling of artistic vision. The location and set designs were moody and gave off a naturally spooky vibe. However, even the cinematography had its limitations. The Nun is filled with so much scary imagery that it looks more like it was set in a dungeon than an abbey. Not to mention the humorously absurd number of Christian crosses strewn about in the background and foreground, to of course tell us how possessed this place is.

Often scenes intended to be frightening would be accompanied by a loud musical score (this includes the divine chanting of monks, for some reason). The score was so domineering over the entire movie that over time it became quite comical. Playing at such inopportune times that it would’ve fit better in something like Young Frankenstein (cue loud neighing of horses).

Audiences frequently shoot down well-crafted horror films like It Comes at Night, The Witch, and Hereditary, citing them as boring, weird, and lacking in scariness. This mentality, coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of what true horror is, has led to a breeding ground of mediocre scary movies. With very little wiggle room for original frightening concepts to make it into the public eye.

This tragic “assembly line” sentiment culminates into films like The Nun, which take all aspects of horror filmmaking to the nth degree. So illogical, basic, and blandly spooky, it’s practically all a big joke.

The Verdict: F

-Zachary Flint

The Happytime Murders Review

What is there to say about The Happytime Murders?

Well, what appeared to be a clever concept for a raunchy adult comedy (of course starring Muppet lookalikes) turned out to be quite the opposite. An unfortunate excuse for Melissa McCarthy and friends to tell bad puppet-related puns. And that’s about it.

The plot, your bare bones buddy cop comedy, stars an ex-officer puppet named Phil Philips (Bill Barretta). After an incident involving the death of a civilian puppet, Philips leaves the force and becomes a private investigator. Now, some twenty years later, an unknown murderer is killing off puppets with ties to Philips. With this in mind, a guilt-ridden Philips decides to take action, teaming up with his old partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve the crime and stop the horrible fluffshed (that’s my joke for the evening, you’re welcome).

There’s approximately thirty seconds of condensed laugh out loud humor in The Happytime Murders, effectively making this film a huge dud. Most of the jokes were dead on arrival, with many scenes dedicated to a single terrible pun. Several sequences of character banter go on for excruciating lengths, and often devolve into “f- you” exchanges and “Says what?” jokes. The kind of low brow humor that passed for comedic genius in fifth grade but everyone grows out of by sixth.

The biggest loser here would have to be Melissa McCarthy, as The Happytime Murders surely won’t be winning her any new fans. It’s likely one of her least funny movies to date. Every unbearable scene was only exacerbated by her presence, with most of her attempts at comedy coming off as forced and misguided. She isn’t wholly to blame for the lack of inventive humor (Who could you really ask to make these lines funny?), but she sure doesn’t help the situation either.

To the film’s credit, the puppets are integrated well among the humans, and I can tell there was a lot of effort put into its execution. However, good intentions can only get you so far. Thirty minutes, to be exact.

Where The Happytime Murders fails massively is in its lazy writing. The most blatant and impactful error is that the plot never drives the humor. Instead, the filmmakers relied on the humor to drive the plot. As mentioned earlier, several scenes are left utterly pointless because they only exist to make one really bad pun. When the joke inevitably flops, the audience is left twiddling their fingers waiting for it to end.

Being directed by Brian Henson (son of the famed puppeteer Jim Henson), there should’ve been a more imaginative vision brought to this movie. A nice idea with some talented people behind it, The Happytime Murders had potential to be an entertainingly oddball flick. To my dismay, this puppet project died quicker than The Muppets. tv show remake.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

Mission Impossible: Fallout Review

It’s hard to believe we’re six films in and Tom Cruise is still going strong with his Mission Impossible series. In fact, I’d say his performance in Mission Impossible: Fallout is quite impressive, which I find to be rather abnormal for an actor this deep into a franchise. I’d have thought he’d lighten up, get lazy, or lose his passion for acting the part. But no. Not Tom Cruise.

We once again see international bad ass Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), along with his friends from the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), attempt to stop a global disaster. Solomon Lane (you may know him as the bad guy from Rogue Nation) and his fellow anarchists plan to use stolen plutonium to simultaneously detonate three Holy sites. This is of course where Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames step in to carry out a death-defying, heroic mission that some might call… impossible.

Mission Impossible: Fallout plays like an intense, action-packed video game. There’s a continuous cycle of debriefings, top secret missions, and exciting chase sequences that put the audience at the forefront of the thrilling entertainment. It’s a total action movie fan’s action movie.

With a lot of action movies nowadays I’ll catch myself dozing off, not really getting into the action or even paying attention to the details. With Fallout, there’s hardly a dull moment.

Scattered throughout the film are several chase scenes (along with plenty of hand-to-hand combat scenes), which can last up to fifteen minutes at a time. Every second of it’s rewarding though, with some moments flying by so fast I wish I could’ve slowed them down. Or even just rewind and watch again.

It’s well known that Tom Cruise prefers to do his own stunts, which are notoriously so over the top and dangerous that some might call it insane. I’d consider this aspect to be one of the key appeals to the Mission Impossible series. The dramatic stunt work gives an organic, practical feel to the Mission Impossible films; and coupled with the strong camera work and editing kept things interesting for the viewer.

Shots of Tom Cruise clinging to a helicopter as it takes off, parkouring across rooftops, and skydiving from a plane are as realistic as a film could possibly get, and that’s exactly how I like it.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is a rush of adrenaline more action movies should strive towards, and it’s backed by a cast of solid, witty actors dedicated to keeping this franchise moving in positive directions.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

 

Christopher Robin Review

Next on Disney’s extensive list of remakes and reboots, we have the reimagining of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends titled Christopher Robin.

Arguably the most original of the bunch, Christopher Robin details the later life of Christopher (Ewan McGregor) after a series of significant events have left him without joy. At his absolute lowest point, Christopher receives a surprise visit from, who else, his childhood buddy Winnie-the-Pooh (Jim Cummings). Pooh takes Christopher on one last nostalgia-filled adventure through London (and briefly through the Hundred Acre Wood) to rediscover the priorities and simple pleasures of life.

A harmless, well-intentioned story with a lot of heart and meaning behind it, Christopher Robin doesn’t deliver quite the quantity of fun I was hoping for.

The film puts a little too much time and emphasis on developing the gloomy and sometimes dark world that Christopher lives in, and never really puts in the effort to pull us out. Within the first half hour we see Christopher grow up, go to war, neglect his family, and put into a business situation where he will have to lay off many employees. We don’t even get to the Hundred Acre Wood until half-way through the picture, and even that gets to be depressing.

It’s well understood what the film was going for. We all face the unfortunate realties of work, war, and other tragic aspects of life, and having the innocent Winnie-the-Pooh show us the levity of simplicity is an excellent idea. I just don’t believe the film hits the intended mark as it should. These darker moments could’ve been conveyed more concisely, and the fun live-action scenes were sloppy and without the humorous style of the source material.

I don’t mean to sound as though this were some loathsome bore-fest, as there were several great aspects that made the film worth seeing.

Having Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin was a wonderful decision, and his interactions with Pooh, Tigger, and so on felt genuine and real. We see him juggle between family and work and can feel for him when he’s forced to make tough decisions. Christopher has people counting on him everywhere he looks, and sometimes it seems that there’s no time for games in life. As is typical with McGregor’s performances, all these traits are portrayed to the audience with the conviction can care of a true professional.

And even with Ewan McGregor at the helm (one of my personal favorite actors), the story is undoubtedly held together by our favorite silly old bear Winnie-the-Pooh. Every minute with Pooh on-screen is a pure joy, and his kind-hearted jokes and curiosity were always met with uproarious laughter. The warm personality of Pooh is precious and delightful, enough to make the dreary environment of post-war London amusing to the viewer.

I just wish the tone of Christopher Robin matched the pleasantness of our Hundred Acre Wood favorites. Or is that too much to ask for?

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation Review

Has there ever been as lazy of a topic as a cruise ship movie? Where all the characters of an existing franchise (in this case Dracula and all his monster buddies) get on a ship and take a vacation. Do film studios save money doing this plot or something?

Well, regardless of why this film happened, it happened. And somehow the creators of Hotel Transylvania 3 make it work for the best. Taking the greatest elements from the past films and boiling them down into a slightly less memorable and entertaining experience.

In the past I haven’t shied away from professing my love for the previous two Hotel Transylvania flicks. Lauding them as energetic, creative, and downright hilarious, my opinions of the franchise aren’t typically shared by many. Yet, miraculously after three movies, a television show, and a short film, critics seem to finally be letting up on the Hotel Transylvania series. Receiving mixed-to-poor critical reception in past releases, people seem to finally be picking up what Hotel Transylvania is putting down.

Now, if you’ve ever seen a movie, and I really do mean ever, then the main premise of Hotel Transylvania 3 will bring you no surprises. It’s a standard kids movie plot that parents and kids alike will predict way before the ending. Don’t let that scare you away from viewing this picture, as there are many absurd things throughout that can keep you engaged.

Jam-packed with slapstick humor and visual gags, all the jokes in Hotel Transylvania 3 involve the same theme of monsters and vacation. Frankenstein gets buried on the beach, gremlins have an airline service, and a skeleton eats an entire buffet table. It’s pure nonsense. And every available second of screen time not dedicated to progressing the plot is spent on these jokes. Often the ridiculous humor lands laughs. Or at the very least, light chuckles.

I’m hesitant to call this film “comedically bold”, but it takes a lot of surprising chances that most kids’ films this deep into a franchise wouldn’t make. Heck, the climax of the film is a dance fight that includes the Macarena, and it’s actually kind of cute. Enough said.

Everyone (including the extensive voice cast) returns for this free for all adventure. The animation of the characters is highly expressive and exaggerated, really allowing the voice actors free reign in their portrayals of these colorful monsters. I especially love Adam Sandler as Dracula, who’s quirky, charming, and quite a goofball. All without the annoyingness and aggravation that accompanies many Sandler performances.

Yes, the third time around isn’t as exciting or funny as fans of the series may wish, but that’s to be expected with a film whose sub-title is Summer Vacation. I mean, at least it wasn’t Chipwrecked.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Sicario: Day of the Soldado Review

I was initially surprised to see the nail-biting 2015 drama Sicario get a direct sequel. The film was pretty conclusive and didn’t leave much story left to be told, so it was interesting to see what they’d do next. What was even better about this news was that Benicio Del Toro, arguably the best character in the film, would be reprising his role as a mysterious and sometimes frightening hitman.

I immediately knew that regardless of the quality of the film itself, Del Toro would deliver another solid performance and give more depth to a fascinating individual. How right I was.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado brings FBI agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and hitman Alejandro Gillik (Benicio Del Toro) back to Mexico to fight the cartel. However, this time drugs aren’t the name of the game, its people.

Attempting to start a war between the numerous cartel clans, Alejandro kidnaps the daughter of a kingpin named Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner). As they dig themselves deeper into the mess they’ve created, the life of young Isabela becomes in jeopardy, and Alejandro begins to question what exactly he’s fighting for.

I have to say that this concept doesn’t work as well when we don’t have that fish out of water character (like Emily Blunt) to latch onto. In the first Sicario, we the audience were just as helpless and confused as Blunt. We cared about her, felt sorry for her, and learned all the crazy plot twists along with her.

Here we have Isabela (a very well-written character) as an innocent child to care for, but that doesn’t work as well when it comes to plot suspense and tension. We’re constantly being fed spoonful’s of plot to come before the events even take place. It makes for some interesting scenes, but nothing feels as dramatic or tense with Brolin and Del Toro holding our hand through the chaos.

Speaking of Del Toro, one advantage Sicario: Day of the Soldado has over its predecessor is giving more focus on the character of Alejandro. This time around he isn’t as mysterious or menacing, and we even see a softer side to his existence. There’s some touching moments between Alejandro and Isabela that turn out to be the best scenes in the film. Moments that properly convey the message of how children and families are negatively affected by acts of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Sicario plays out as a fairly solid drama/action film, at least up until the last ten minutes. A couple of very bold choices are made in the direction of the film, and I was suddenly shocked into excitement over what might happen next to our leads. Lots of buildup for what is ultimately a letdown ending. Sicario concludes on a note that’s confusing, nonsensical, and overall anticlimactic. I feel like there may have been several scenes taken from the final cut that tied everything together. Rather than end the film hitting the message home, they instead decide to leave us with an obscure cliffhanger. How disappointing.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is an entertaining yet flawed mix of action and drama, with some light social commentary and great performances sprinkled in. If you’re expecting anything as hard-hitting or thought-provoking as the first Sicario, you’ll be leaving the theater more than dissatisfied.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

My Neighbor Totoro Review

After my review of Spirited Away back in 2017 (my most popular post to date, mind you), I immediately decided I wanted to review my second favorite Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbor Totoro. An animation studio that, to the extent of my knowledge, never made a bad film. As you can guess, this goal has been postponed, ignored, and procrastinated for a very long time. Finally, after over a year of slowly chipping away at this article, I feel I can competently and properly review this wonderful film.

My Neighbor Totoro follows two young girls named Satsuke and Mei, as they move to the rural countryside of Japan with their father. Together they settle into their home, awaiting their mother who’s ill at the hospital. Satsuke and Mei, full of curiosity, come across a group of good-natured spirits while exploring their new home. Most notable of these spirits is the lovable fan favorite Totoro, a snuggly and plush creature who leisurely roams the nearby forest.

My Neighbor Totoro is the kind of film that you could mute the dialogue and still understand everything occurring on-screen, while also having an enriching experience. The beautiful hand-drawn animation is abundant with warm, welcoming characters and relaxing watercolor skies, lulling the viewer into a sense of contentment. The magic of Ghibli’s animation maintains a well-deserved reputation for being immaculate, and it continues to delight me to this day.

On a purely storytelling level, Ghibli films often just “go with the flow”. There’s no predictable three act structure that audiences groan at because they know precisely what will happen next. We’re merely along for the ride, traveling through a myriad of dream-like sequences of awe-inspiring music and pleasant visuals.

This way of storytelling makes films like Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro so memorable. They stand out from the massive amounts of animated white noise that’s pumped out every year.

Years ago, the late film critic Roger Ebert noted how My Neighbor Totoro represents the perfect kind of world to live in. One without villains, conflict, or any sort of antagonist conceivable. Not only do I agree with this sentiment, I think it is key to what makes My Neighbor Totoro such a lovably relatable flick.

It’s an exploration into childlike wonder, taking you back to a simpler time of bliss. No need for bad guys in a peaceful reflection of childhood, only the curiosity and imagination you wish you still had.

My Neighbor Totoro is a family-fun masterpiece of the highest quality. There’s a reason Totoro remains so popular with audiences of all ages, garnering a cult following that only seems to get bigger as time wears on. And if there’s anything that time won’t wear on, it’s Totoro, which I believe will remain timeless and relevant for generations to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint