Review – Annabelle: Creation

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You likely know by this point that I consider the Conjuring films to be two of the three greatest horror films ever made, along with The Ring (my thoughts on those three films can be found here, here, and here).  The original Annabelle movie doesn’t have a great reputation, but it wasn’t all that bad.  Most people are only capable of throwing films into two categories: perfect and horrible.  It was neither of those, delivering pretty standard fare for a horror film and failing to impress or be memorable in any significant way, even if it wasn’t all that offensive, either.  Despite people swearing up and down that they hated the film, it still somehow managed to earn almost $257 million at the worldwide box office on a paltry $6.5 million budget.  So, if you were the beneficiary of that success, you’d make another one, too.

The producers over at Warner Brothers decided to go another route, however, and deliver a prequel to that first film, just as Universal recently did with its Ouija franchise.  That prequel, Ouija: Origins of Evil, was a fantastic horror film that ultimately earned less money than its far inferior predecessor, a victim of an unforgiving audience.  On at least one of those counts, Annabelle: Creation is following the same path, whereas it’s still too early to know for sure about the other.

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When a nun and the orphans in her care are expelled by the closing of their orphanage, they find a home with a couple who are struggling to cope with the death of their young daughter from over a decade past.  The father of that young girl is also a dollmaker who created – you guessed it – Annabelle.  Whereas the Conjuring films are adapted from the real-life case files of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (I feel like I’ve typed that description so often in my life that I’m not entirely sure it’s my own wording, anymore.  I’m keeping it the way it is, though.), this particular film is a purely fictionalized account of the genesis of the famed Annabelle doll.  In reality, Annabelle was actually a Raggedy Ann doll, not the product of an independent dollmaker.

So, knowing that this film isn’t purportedly based on factual occurrences may take a little bit of the luster off, but it shouldn’t really matter all that much.  It’s a solid story that surprises in all the right places.  As in the Conjuring films, the focus is on the characterization and narrative, with the scares being augmented by our investment in the cast.  One would have to be of rather questionable character in order to root for the demise of a sweet young orphaned girl who has been hobbled by polio.  So, yeah, maybe the script stacks the deck and perhaps even panders a bit in order to elicit the desired sympathy.  But since I’m sure most of you have complained at one point or another about the tendency of horror films to feature unlikable characters who you want to see dead, this should be a refreshing change (unless you’re already a fan of the Conjuring franchise – as you should be – in which case, this is just one of many areas in which the series almost always excels).

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As the film builds, the menace creeps in, a bit at a time.  It all crescendos in a climax bursting with imaginative and terrifying visuals buried within excellently-timed examples of both jump scares and suspense horror.  The film goes out of its way to offer up a haunting that manifests in ways unlike anything that has been done in film before (mostly, at least).

The marketing for the film has featured a quote (from a critic whose name I didn’t catch, so my apologies) that states that Annabelle: Creation is “one of the best films in the Conjuring universe”.  That may be a slight paraphrase, but that was the idea.  Using basic logic, that would make Annabelle: Creation the second-best film when comparing it to the two Conjuring films and the original Annabelle.  If it was the best, that would have been stated outright.  If it was in the bottom two, that would not make it one of the best”.  So, since there are exactly four films in the series, that only leaves one spot according to that particular critic.

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I agree that it’s significantly better that the original Annabelle, if for no other reason than I suspect it made more of an impression on me and I’ll remember more specifics of the film after time has passed.  But Creation is nowhere near the quality of the two Conjuring films.  Those films have infinitely more heart and weight, largely due to the presence of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who have a combustible chemistry and, when paired, create an unbeatable and intangible It Factor that can’t be replicated on demand.  Plus, those films do have the aforementioned added attraction of being based on true stories.

But that doesn’t mean that Annabelle: Creation isn’t good or worth seeing for horror buffs.  I just suggest that one not go in expecting it to measure up to either Conjuring film, since those movies are near-perfect classics and those would be unfair expectations.  Still, Annabelle: Creation is an above-average supernatural thriller with some fun and disturbing visuals and many genuinely unnerving moments.  It’s not one of the best horror films ever, but it’s a worthwhile entry and a fun horror movie to hold us over until It drops in just a few weeks.

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Review – Annabelle: Creation

Review – Wind River (2017)

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In a little over two weeks, I’ll get to meet Elizabeth Olsen.  This is a big deal to me because she’s been among my favorite actors for a number of years, now – not that she’s been around for all that long.  She caught my attention by single-handedly elevating the remake of Silent House from an okay movie to a pretty darned good one.  And then she turned me into a full-fledged fan after I went back and watched her performance in the excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene.  There was a lot of talk that she might get an Oscar nomination for that one.  It didn’t materialize that time out, but that takes nothing away from her efforts.  She quickly established herself as one of the best in the business, of any age and of any experience level.

Wind River opened last weekend in a limited release of only four theaters.  It expanded, this weekend, but still came nowhere within reasonable driving distance of where I live.  But, I’m out of town and am taking advantage of being in Boston and catching this one while I can.  I’ve seen – and own – every other movie she’s been in (except one she did with her sisters, Mary Kate and Ashley, when she was a kid) and wanted to see her latest before I got the chance to talk to her.  Of course, the fact that she is also in Ingrid Goes West, a comedy with Aubrey Plaza, that opens this weekend in a whopping three theaters poses its own problem, but I’ll deal with these issues one at a time.

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I already got to meet Olsen’s Wind River co-star Jeremy Renner, but that was over a year-and-a-half ago, so it’s too late to talk to him about this one.  Still, he’s pretty great, too.  Despite featuring a pair of powerhouse leads, it takes more than a great cast to make a great film, even when the cast delivers.  Had Wind River featured an entirely different cast, it still would have caught my attention based on the trailer, alone.  So, while one can feel pretty confident in Olsen and Renner, did the film live up to its promise?

Fortunately, coming along with the film’s reliable cast is an equally-reliable writer-director in the form of Taylor Sheridan.  Actually, to clarify, Sheridan has been building a strong writing résumé with Sicario and Hell or High Water, but he has only directed one film prior to Wind River – a little-known horror movie from 2012 called Vile.  I can’t speak to that one, since I haven’t seen it, but I can speak to Sicario and Hell or High Water.  I liked the former and loved the latter, so seeing Sheridan’s name attached to Wind River gave me even more confidence that the film was going to be of high quality.

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When a young woman is found dead on the Wyoming Native America reservation of Wind River, a local tracker (Renner) aids an FBI agent (Olsen) in her efforts to solve the mystery and bring the guilty party to justice.  The film is inspired by true events, the details of which I have no knowledge.  But, even had that not been the case, as I watched the film, one word kept occurring to me as the most appropriate description: authentic.

Every individual aspect of the film plays as honest, true, and sincere.  And this is accomplished, similarly to A Ghost Story (though not to that extreme), through the conscious application of extreme restraint.  This is a dynamic story, no matter the lens through which it is viewed.  Many filmmakers would have been painfully tempted to “Hollywood it up” with the typical, supposedly crowd-pleasing clichés that we’ve all seen umpteen-thousand times.  Sheridan shows great respect to the story and the thematic elements by foregoing the standard Hollywood tropes and playing it straight and genuine.  Sheridan doesn’t pander and he doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence nor their sensibilities.

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The film (from my perspective, at least) flies by.  Sheridan’s direction and eye are buoyed by his own whip-smart script that betrays an understanding of seemingly basic concepts on a bafflingly complex level.  The dialogue snaps, the events unfold at a brisk pace, and the two charming and charismatic leads captivate and force the audience to invest.  Sheridan provides Olsen and Renner with two heroic and relatable protagonists that are only strengthened by the talents of the actors.

I try to avoid hyperbole.  And I’m also aware of how easy it is to get caught up in the moment just after one has seen an amazing film for the first time.  So, I’m not going to jump the gun and proclaim that both Olsen and Renner turned in my favorite performances of their careers in this film, but I will say, without hesitation, that both of their Wind River performances are in that conversation.  And, as Sheridan does with his direction, they both accomplish this feat through restraint.  The best performances are the authentic ones.  I’m going to say that, again, and I’m going to put the whole thing in bold type.  The best performances are the authentic ones.  It’s not about grandiose displays of emotions, though those are the performances that tend to get the most attention.  Whether obtusely theatrical or quietly subdued, acting is all about authenticity.  And, as Olsen and Renner’s characters both have justification – whether professional or personal – for reigning in their emotions while they also must struggle with the deeply affecting nature of the case as it unfolds, the duo majestically toe the line, grounding their humanity in their need and desire to solve the case.  It’s simply too late for them to do anything else.  Olsen and Renner are both perfect in this film and maybe – hopefully – this will be Olsen’s time at the Academy Awards.  If not, it’s just a matter of time.

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As I said in my review for A Ghost Story, the biggest hurdle this film has to clear on the road to awards season is time.  It’s awfully early in 2017 and people have very short memories.  Then again, Hell or High Water was released at about this same time, last year, and it did pretty well for itself.  Ultimately, the point is that Wind River is filmmaking at its finest and it serves as a thoughtful, adult-skewing option featuring some of today’s finest talent both in front of and behind the camera.  It’s still expanding out into theaters, so you might have to be patient, for a little while longer.  But, once it’s in your town, I urge you to reward Wind River with your time and money, just as it will reward you with a poignant and heartbreaking tale of reality.

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Review – Wind River (2017)

Review – Kidnap

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There is a lot to like about Kidnap, the new Halle Berry vehicle, but perhaps my favorite aspect of the film is how director Luis Prieto keeps it simple.  Kidnap is a lean, focused, blindingly-paced adrenaline burst that gives even the most phone-addicted millennial no time to worry about whether or not Johnny Instafaced them or how many likes their newest Twit got.  Using a high-octane, old-school approach to filmmaking, Prieto, writer Knate Lee, and Berry work as an unbeatable team to suck the viewer in and drag them along for one of the most enjoyable films of the summer.

I was once talking about my experience watching Snakes on a Plane when someone who overheard the conversation interrupted to ask me what that movie was about.  Don’t make that same mistake with Kidnap.  Halle Berry plays Karla.  Sage Correa plays Karla’s six-year-old son Frankie.  While at the park, Frankie is kidnapped and Karla pursues the guilty party with the lone goal of retrieving her son.  That’s it.  That’s the movie.  And that’s all it needs to be.

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The film moves at a blistering speed.  Prieto takes just enough time at the beginning of the movie to establish character and context and then we are off and running.  And, what a run it is!  It’s a full-on sprint for its rather abbreviated 81-minute running time.  Even as short as the film is, it flies by.  It felt to me that we were only about 45 minutes in, when suddenly it was over.  And that’s a compliment, as no one enjoys films where we keep checking our watch, just waiting for it to mercifully come to an end.  Not the case with Kidnap.  I forgot that I had a lot to do when I got home.  I forgot that I had other stops to make.  I forgot that I hadn’t had lunch and was supposed to be pretty hungry.  I was along for the ride.

Though she isn’t the only actor in the film, make no mistake: this is Halle Berry’s movie.  She easily holds down the most screen time and carries the majority of the film’s weight on her shoulders.  The emotional core of the film is firmly centered within her performance as Karla, which is more complex than one might immediately realize.  As simple and straightforward as the narrative happens to be, it’s not quite so easy for Berry, who can’t just bury herself in hysterics or only resonate anger.  She has to consistently be concerned, panicked, resolute, furious, alert, hopeful, loving and any other of a myriad of emotions that one would be feeling in this situation.  Much of her screen time is spent talking to herself and she aims to push herself through the barriers of fear and uncertainty and keep herself from making any fatal errors in judgement.  It might seem unnatural to anyone who isn’t thinking about it or sharing the moment with her, but it’s exactly what any sensible person would do in her position.  The characters – particularly Karla – are honestly written, which in my opinion is the most important support column in the foundation of any script.

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The film, itself, covers all of the ground that this brand of film could possibly cover.  The first half plays like a super-charged, action-chase film, while the second half is more of a suspense-horror thriller.  It’s a little bit of everything and the shift is natural and seamless.  I actually skipped the gym, today, to catch an early showing of the film.  I think I made a good choice because I swapped out forty minutes of elevating my heart rate with eighty-one minutes.  The entire movie is just that thrilling and that riveting.

There are little places where one could nitpick.  There are the expected good-fortune circumstances that help Karla along on her journey.  There are a couple of mighty coincidences that push the boundaries of plausibility, as well.  None of this is as pervasive as in many other films of its type, nor are they so massive as to be too bothersome.  The film also tackles some clichés of the genre and handles them easily, working them in and moving past them without making them central plot points.  Prieto and Lee know the conventions of abduction movies and do a nice job of acknowledging that they must be addressed while also making sure the audience doesn’t spend too much time in familiar territory.  The fact is that the film isn’t perfect (very few films are) but it’s awfully good and any flaws are far outweighed by its multitude of strengths.

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It should be pretty obvious that Kidnap isn’t going to be garnering any Best Picture nominations in 2018 but it should also be obvious that the filmmakers weren’t trying to.  This is the second of two films currently in theaters – along with Atomic Blonde – that have a very throwback feel specific to the hard-nosed action-thrillers of the eighties.  And both are excellent, fast-paced, adrenaline rushes that are sure to become cult classics over the years.  Hopefully, they can also be financial successes, in the meantime.  If you want a powerful, explosive escape from your humdrum existence, I strongly suggest an Atomic Blonde/Kidnap double-feature.  If you don’t have time for that, then see them on separate days.  But both of these female-led films need and deserve your support.  The experiences are worth more than the $10.00, or so, that each will cost.

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Review – Kidnap

Review – Girls Trip

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Here we are, again.  You likely know by now that I enjoy watching comedies but I’m not crazy about reviewing them.  Mileage varies far too often on what passes for funny.  But I have a responsibility to you all, so – as always – I’ll do my best to represent the film honestly and objectively, even if objectivity is pretty much obliterated in the face of comedic filmmaking.  But I’m playing catch-up with this one, so let’s give it a whirl.

From director Michael D. Lee (Undercover Brother, Scary Movie V), Girls Trip (why no apostrophe?!  There should really be an apostrophe!) follows four lifelong friends as they look to rekindle their relationships with each other by traveling to the Essence Festival in New Orleans.  Along the way, their modern lives clash with their desire to relive the good old days and things quickly become far more complicated than any of them had intended or desired.

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Let me say that, while I was aware of and perfectly at ease with Girls Trip‘s R rating, I was significantly unprepared for exactly how R-rated this film would turn out to be.  This is an absurdly raunchy movie.  That doesn’t bother me, of course, but it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting.  The sheer audacity of one of the sight gags, in particular, was almost worth the cost of the ticket, if for no other reason than to witness the reaction from the rest of the crowd.  You’ll know that scene is coming when they start taking about grapefruits.  Be ready.

As I’ve said ad nauseam, there are copious viewpoints out there regarding what’s funny and what isn’t but, for me (with the full understanding that absolutely nothing about me places me even within range of the film’s target audience), Girls Trip is a mixed bag.  I’m a fan of cleverness and wit, in any form.  It can be delivered verbally, visually, physically, or any other way, and I’ll enjoy it as long as it’s something creative that I haven’t seen, heard, or thought of before.  Girls Trip has some of that, to be certain.  I laughed from time to time, though not nearly as often or as loudly as the group of women to my right, who guffawed uproariously at the mere sight of the four leads wearing wigs.  Yeah, some people are just easy.

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But a lot of the humor was of the slapstick nature, and there was plenty in there for the sake of shock value, as well.  In most cases, any sense of wit or intelligence was abandoned for the sake of these particular gags.  There was also the clichéd our-leads-are-high-on-something-they-shouldn’t-have-ingested “joke” that’s been done to death and I’m just sick of seeing it.  To be fair, Girls Night added some extra context and urgency to that scene that, while not making it any funnier, did contribute some unpredictability and narrative importance.

So, big surprise, I liked some of the comedy and some of it, I didn’t.  That’s pretty par for the course for most comedies, these days.  In most cases anymore, the funniest movies are those that don’t even market themselves as comedies (think the Guardians of the Galaxy series or films like The Edge of Seventeen or Hunt for the Wilderpeople).  But few films are single-note, and that goes for Girls Trip, as well.  As is common, these days, the film adds some gravitas and seriousness to the proceedings as it progresses.  That’s become a formulaic approach to the modern comedy and Girls Night does little to toss the convention on its ear, but it still allows the cast to put their versatility on display and give them a little more to sink their teeth into.

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Regina Hall is the primary protagonist of the group, playing successful author Ryan Pierce.  Pierce receives the lion’s share of the attention from the script and the most thorough and satisfying character arc of anyone in the film.  Hall is endearing, charming, and invincibly likeable in the role and, even when Ryan makes some questionable and self-destructive choices, it’s tough not to feel for her and pull for her to come away from them a stronger person.

Her three friends – Sasha, Lisa, and Dina (Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish, respectfully) serve dually as both support for Hall’s character as well sources of additional and various styles of laughs.  My two favorites were Hall and Smith.  I liked Latifah.  But Haddish annoyed me from the first moment to the last.  For many – and possibly even for most – she will be the best part of the film.  For me, she was loud, boorish, and crass while being almost entirely without intelligence, wit, or charm.  Part of the bothersome aspect was Haddish’s performance and part of it was her character’s development in the script.  And that grapefruit moment I mentioned was all her, as well.  She gets in a couple of decent lines, but I mostly just wanted her to go away.

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The bottom line is that I didn’t unabashedly love Girls Trip, but it wasn’t without its merits, either.  I did laugh periodically throughout the film and I specifically enjoyed watching Regina Hall deliver a performance that was surprisingly layered and complex – especially for this type of film.  I don’t think there is enough story to justify the two-hour runtime (even the women to my right ran out of steam after about 90 minutes), but audiences seem to be enjoying it much more than I did and it’s performing very well at the box office.  That’s a good thing.  If you wanted to see it before, or if my description of the film suggests that’s it’s in your wheelhouse, then go check it out.  Only good things can come from its continued success.

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Review – Girls Trip

Review – Detroit

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Set during the 1967 Detroit riots, the simply-titled Detroit follows a substory that occurred within that larger, nationally reported framework.  Taking the reins of the film is Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, who has forged a very successful career by translating historical events into film, having helmed Zero Dark Thirty as well as The Hurt Locker.  Detailing an instance of police brutality and terrorism occurring under cover of the riots, Detroit has caused some controversy due to its topical nature.  Its subject matter naturally also means that it’s not exactly good-natured escapism, but that’s what makes film so great: it has everything to offer, and it’s always a good idea to take in everything one can and expose oneself to the various facets of the art form and the multitude of human perspectives that comes along with them.

And that’s exactly what Bigelow does throughout Detroit: present numerous perspectives on an increasingly hot-button issue using one key real-life incident as her toolbox.  When shots are seemingly fired at police from a window of the Algiers Motel in Detroit during the riots, law enforcement responds swiftly and brutally.  Lines are crossed, protocol is abandoned, personal prejudice is wielded and disguised as justice, and, yes, lives are lost.


As I mentioned, Detroit is likely not a story that was chosen by coincidence to be told at this time.  Police criminality towards minorities has been all-too common in recent years, with many people feeling the need to steadfastly choose a side, rather than maintaining a more appropriate grasp of the bigger picture.  To say that there is no issue with inappropriate police behavior towards minorities is akin to announcing to the world one’s blissful ignorance.  Unarmed black men have been recently shot by police while laying on the ground with their hands behind their head.  And I still have people on my own Facebook feed posting memes that blame the victims.  I have family that post those memes.  It’s disheartening and monumentally embarrassing, making me want to hide my own face in public, for fear of being recognized as their kin.

On the other hand, the law enforcement officials responsible for this type of unforgivable behavior represent a small percentage of the total population.  Most policemen and policewomen are admirable and upstanding people who don’t deserve to be held accountable for actions that are not their own and in which they have no involvement.


Bigelow does a fine job of maintaining this fair-minded perspective.  The police involved in this given incident on this given night are detestable and morally corrupt.  However, not all law enforcement figures are portrayed that way in the film.  Similarly, not everyone on the receiving end of the police officers’ actions on that night in 1967 behave completely innocently (though most did).  The incident that first attracts the attention of the officers is ill-advised, immature, and possibly illegal in its own right (I don’t know enough about the law to say, with complete certainty).  That’s not to say that the perpetrator or their compatriots deserve what comes their way, but the cast of characters are all presented as complete, flawed human beings, with some obviously being worse than others.

The film almost plays as a horror-suspense movie, which seems like the obvious creative choice to make but still took me off guard.  Beginning with a disorienting animated opening sequence, Bigelow introduces our cast to us in a respectfully-paced, but still moderately brisk fashion.  The film never drags and each performer exudes charm and charisma, making it easy to invest in each character’s arc and their ultimate fate, whatever that may be.  Once things go horribly south at the Algiers, the viewer is completely invested.  The tension digs in and never lets go.  I don’t think any other director would have presented the film in this way, but seeing as how it was very much a real-life horror film for those involved, it’s unquestionably appropriate.  Using this approach, Bigelow creates a feeling of gut-wrenching empathy for the people we have gotten to know up to that point.


I wouldn’t be surprised to see several Academy Award nominations headed the way of Detroit, come early 2018.  Of course, I don’t know what competition will be headed its way, later on in the year, but it will be tough to overlook the film, entirely.  If anything is working against it, it would be its relatively-early release date.  By the time we get to the onslaught of late-year Oscar bait, too many Academy members might have forgotten this one.

But the subject matter may hopefully prevent that from occurring.  This isn’t the kind of movie one pulls out for a re-watch on a relaxing Saturday night, but it’s an important one that will theoretically introduce closed-minded people who can’t understand others’ perspectives to a reasonably palatable explanation for why minorities continue to be upset and afraid in modern society.  These events occurred fifty years ago and, sadly, just when it felt like progress was occurring, the country regressed and here we are again.  Detroit is my favorite of Bigelow’s films and is a gripping, poignant, powerful, and unfortunately necessary look at the ongoing struggle for racial equality in America.

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Review – Detroit

Review – A Ghost Story

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A Ghost Story is the latest film from the dynamic A24 Studios.  If you’re a regular reader, you may know that A24 has become one of my favorite studios (pretty much second only to Marvel).  They consistently put out thoughtful, ingenious films with ultra-talented casts and crews and are almost singlehandedly reinventing the medium.  Just some of the spectacular films they have put out that you didn’t see are Room, Moonlight, Swiss Army Man, and Ex Machina.  Coming from director and writer David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon), A Ghost Story does nothing to reverse my opinion of A24’s efforts and contributions to film and, in fact, only takes great leaps to reinforce it.

On the surface, A Ghost Story relates a very simple narrative.  A man is killed in a car wreck (Casey Affleck) and returns home as a ghost in an effort to reunite with the wife he left behind (Rooney Mara).  That’s the gist.  But this film is so much more than that, underneath.  So very much more.

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And this is one of those movies.  It’s one of those movies that is exceedingly beautiful and poignant and artistic and meaningful and inventive and perfectly presented, yet will be hated and scoffed at by many members of the general audience.  They’ll accuse it of being “boring”.  They’ll say that “nothing happens”.  And they’ll be undeniably, unequivocally, and may I say ignorantly wrong.

If one watches the film with their brain shut off, then those accusations will appear to be true.  There is very little dialogue in the film and even less consequential dialogue.  As far as external actions are concerned, A Ghost Story takes the less-is-more approach.  There are multiple extended sequences in which no one speaks.  These sequences may last as long as twenty minutes, or maybe even longer (I didn’t exactly time them).  It’s up to the viewer to activate their own personal attention spans and choose to engage with what largely amounts to a high-concept silent film.

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But if one does engage and opts to pay attention during the film (the least one can do, really), it’s not difficult to see that there is actually a plethora of activity occurring throughout the film.  There is a scene with Rooney Mara and a pie that will become legendary over time.  She says not a single word but she tells a captivating story without necessitating speech.  Mara is fantastic throughout the entire film, communicating to the audience through her facial expressions, body language, and the way she carries herself, in general.

In fact, A Ghost Story exemplifies the very idea which I have often preached should be the mantra of every filmmaker: show, don’t tell.  Film is a visual medium and, while dialogue is naturally an incredibly important aspect of film, when it is used in place of showing events, a fatal disconnect is born.  A Ghost Story shows everything and tells nothing.  That includes the ending, which I imagine will also anger some of the viewers who are less inclined to ponder things.  Don’t be afraid to think, folks.  It might lead to something positive!

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There is one scene of significant dialogue that puts the film into perspective and adds an additional layer to the underpinnings of the narrative.  It’s a thought-provoking monologue delivered brilliantly by actor Will Oldham and significantly widens the scope of the film and defines the ghost’s journey.

And the film is certainly a journey.  A Ghost Story is not in any way attempting to be a horror film.  There are a couple of especially brief moments of suspense but that is not what this movie is aiming for.  A Ghost Story is a mindful and introspective study of loss and coping with said loss.  It’s a cautionary tale that warns the audience to attack life, rather than wait for life to happen on its own.  It addresses the consequences of a single-minded focus.  It’s a kaleidoscopic analysis of life that is told through a story of stagnating death.  Affleck and Mara step far outside of their comfort zones and give wondrous, throwback performances that convey their thoughts, hopes, and desires as eloquently, efficiently, and effectively as any long-winded soliloquy ever could.

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A Ghost Story represents everything that makes film the greatest form of entertainment.  It’s a shame that most people won’t see it and that many who do won’t appreciate it.  If Wonder Woman hadn’t been so moving, inspirational, and downright timely, A Ghost Story would be my favorite film of 2017, so far.  A24 has done it again.  And though I didn’t care for Lowery’s previous directorial outing in Pete’s Dragon, he’s made a believer out of me with this film, which is as bold and risky as it is mind-bending and touching.

I urge you to seek out A Ghost Story.  And I implore you, as you watch it, to not focus on what’s going to happen and to instead be in the moment and concentrate on what is currently happening.  Let Rooney Mara lean on you as she mourns.  Share the grief with her.  Help her through it.  Lead Casey Affleck to a new sense of purpose.  When he looks to you for guidance, point him in the proper direction.  Participate in this film.  If the film is approached willingly by an audience that is open-minded to something totally unique and refreshing, a little bit jarring, and surprisingly challenging, then A Ghost Story is every bit as much of a full-bore theatrical experience as the latest 3D IMAX blockbuster.  Reward this film, A24, David Lowery, Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Will Oldham, and everyone else involved in the making of this film.  Tell them we love intelligent, heartfelt filmmaking.  And ask them nicely, using your money, to make more.

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Review – A Ghost Story

Review – The Dark Tower

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“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”  That simple sentence commences the first chapter of Stephen King’s DARK TOWER series, entitled THE GUNSLINGER.  Consisting of an eventual seven novels telling the primary story (with a couple of other tangentially-attached installments) THE DARK TOWER is King’s magnum opus, taking him 30 years to complete.  Through the TOWER story, not only are all of King’s works connected, but so is our own world, and many others, including Marvel Comics and the universe of Harry Potter.  It was a connected universe before Marvel made connected universes trendy.  It’s also my personal favorite prose story I’ve ever read.

There has been shockingly little buzz around this movie, which has had me relatively concerned.  No big San Diego presentations, no huge trailer reveals, not a lot of Idris Elba or Matthew McConaughey getting the word out on the talk show circuit (that I’ve seen), and not even 3D or IMAX releases for the film.  For a movie that so many people have begged for and anticipated for so long, where’s the excitement?  It’s true that not a lot of people read, anymore, sadly, so maybe that’s it.  Plus, the project has suffered from an ongoing stop-and-go process of development hell for many years.  Perhaps the public has lost faith?

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As of now, the plan is for the epic tale to be told over time through a combination of film and television, with the first season of the television show telling gunslinger Roland Deschain’s (Idris Elba) backstory, as laid out mostly in WIZARD AND GLASS, the fourth novel in the series.  That all depends upon the success of this initial film, which is a loose adaptation of the first novel, THE GUNSLINGER.

And, let me stress, that it is a very loose adaptation.  This film mostly takes elements from THE GUNSLINGER and the second novel THE DRAWING OF THE THREE, with the narrative leaning heavily towards the latter.  Before seeing the film, I noticed in comment sections (never read the comments) that hardcore fans didn’t really know what this film was going to be.  Some were convinced that it was intended to be a straightforward adaptation of THE GUNSLINGER.  That was not the case.  Others were equally convinced that the film was designed to actually be a follow-up to King’s novels.  Those of you Faithful Readers out there who are familiar with the books as written by King understand that ka is a wheel and that designing the film(s) with that goal in mind would certainly be possible.  And I can’t say if that’s the intention behind the project.  Only those involved in its production can.  But I can’t rule it out, either.

What I can say that the film is not what longtime lovers of the books have been envisioning over the decades.  And that’s been a complaint for a while, long before any footage had been shown or even filmed.  A subset of the audience were up in arms over Elba’s casting as the traditionally-Caucasian Roland Deschain.  Sit down.  It wasn’t a problem.  But too many people freak out over CHANGES.  “Hey, can you believe all of those CHANGES?!”  “Why do they always have to CHANGE everything?!”  “Her hat was supposed to be red, not blue!  CHANGES CHANGES CHANGEEEEEEES!!!”

I’ll get back to that in a moment, but the important aspect isn’t that CHANGES were made; it’s whether the resulting product is stronger and/or more appropriate because of them.  Even more important is whether the film is strong on its own, independent of its original source material.  Most people haven’t read the books and never will (“Ewwww!  Books are hard!”).  So, how does the film play to those people?


I can only speak for myself, but if I had to guess, I’d say it will play as an acceptable but unremarkable moviegoing experience.  The negative reviews had me nervous going in, but the film is nowhere near as bad as its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests.  The story is told from the perspective of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a New York City boy who is having flashes of other worlds and the legendary, magical figures who inhabit them.  When he encounters one of these figures in the form of legendary gunslinger Roland Deschain, they must stop the evil Man in Black (McConaughey) before he destroys the protective pillar of all life, the Dark Tower, and invades all of our realms using the creatures who live just outside the borders of all reality.

The film isn’t awful, but there are changes I would suggest that might have made it a more resonant, meaningful experience than it ended up being.  Director Nikolaj Arcel and his fellow filmmakers take great pains to ground the film in a more palatable reality for the benefit of the unconverted audiences that must be relied upon for financial success.  A lot of time is spent in our own world – referred to as Keystone Earth, though readers of THE GUNSLINGER know that not one single moment in the book takes place in our universe or on our Earth.  This may or may not have been an ill-advised creative decision on the part of the filmmakers, but it did result in Jake becoming an unnecessary audience surrogate and a resulting disconnect between the viewer and Roland.  The basic building blocks of Roland are present, but we never fully get to understand him.  On the other hand, we spend too much time getting to know McConaughey’s Man in Black (or Randall Flagg or Walter o’Dim, depending on your preference).  We see his backstage machinations and hear his motivations, removing any mystique behind the character.


The film isn’t lacking in entertainment value, however.  The crowd in my screening (props to Sony for scheduling preview night screenings to begin at 7:19 pm, or 19:19 in military time, a meaningful number for diehards) enjoyed themselves, laughing at the right times, and never appearing restless or uninterested.  The cast does well and the pacing is brisk.  The action is sufficient, but not particularly large-scale.  Still, it’s competently crafted and not without merit.  The film is not “bad”.  It’s just conflicted.

Sony had a tough task ahead of them from the beginning.  The core DARK TOWER fanbase is not large enough to yield a profit on a production of this scale.  That’s just simple math.  Therefore, Sony understands that the film has to appeal to general audiences.  So, if you’re one of the diehards out there, railing about all the CHANGES, ask yourself this simple question, and answer it honestly: Would a straight adaptation of THE GUNSLINGER appeal to general audiences?  The answer is obviously that it wouldn’t.  It’s too unconventional and outside-the-box for mass-market entertainment.  Sony couldn’t make that film.  And it might be your fault.


Have you ever seen a trailer or TV spot for a film and said, “That looks weird!  I’m not seeing that!”?  Or, “That looks so stupid.  There’s no way I’m paying money to watch that”?  If so, then you, my friend, are a shining example of the closed-minded American audiences that disallows movie studios from making films such as a straight adaptation of THE GUNSLINGER.  The American audiences that rejected the brilliance of Kubo and the Two Strings.  The American audiences that dismissed the genius of The Edge of Seventeen.  The American audiences that outright ignored Colossal.  Sony knows its audiences’ temperament.  And it knows that THE GUNSLINGER – as written by King – is too risky for such a judgmental group.

So, what to do?  Well, they aimed to ease the audience in by splitting the movie between our world and Roland’s.  I can’t honestly blame them.  Had films like those I mentioned above been the beneficiaries of rampant financial success, I’d be singing a different tune.  But American audiences are absolutely closed-minded.  And so, Sony tried to have its cake and eat it too by creating a film that is neither here nor there.  There’s not enough of . . . well . . . anything to make the film stand out in a very crowded marketplace amongst some very strong competition.  The people who see it won’t regret it.  But they also won’t remember much of it, much less be dying for more.


I hope I’m wrong.  The truth is, despite all of the CHANGES, Sony and Arcel crafted the film in such a way that future installments aren’t precluded from adhering closer to King’s original tale.  And, if this initial installment proves to be successful enough to warrant more journeys into this world, Sony might have the confidence to embrace more of the weirdness that comes along with the books.  And I hope that happens.  I hope people see the bigger picture and don’t punish Sony for making the movie that audiences have suggested they’d pay for through the use of their money, rather what audiences say they want through meaningless lip service.  If you’re upset by the CHANGES, then look in the mirror, because they’re our fault.  And if you want fewer CHANGES, you have to support those outside-the-box films (such as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) with your paycheck, not with enthusiastic tweets that you never actually follow through on.

The movie is not in any way a disaster.  But it is distracted by trying to determine how to be too many things to too many people.  I’m afraid that the film will do mediocre business.  I’m afraid I’ll never get to see Susannah or Eddie or Oy or the Crimson King or Cuthbert or Alain or Susan Delgado or Blaine the Monorail on the big screen.  And I want to see them.  I want to see them very badly.  And I still think we could.  But if it never happens, we only have ourselves to blame.  We have forgotten the face of our father.

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Review – The Dark Tower