Review: Annabelle: Creation

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If I recall correctly, I was about six years old when my mother was given a small, antique porcelain doll by our neighbors after they had gone through a bunch of stuff to declutter their storage space. What made this doll so special was that it seemingly kick-started my parents’ collection of vintage toys and antique knick-knacks. Once they began collecting, my parents would routinely go to flea markets and thrift stores with me in tow to hunt for new treasures, which would not only teach me how to haggle, but also how to estimate the value and age of old toys. Eventually, my parents ended up having one of the largest private collections of vintage and antique toys in Denmark, and my mother actually ended up losing track of exactly how many dolls she had. All I knew was that she probably had over a thousand dolls, and that they really freaked out my friends. Thus, whenever I had friends over for movie nights in my teens, they would at some point start daring each other to see who could stay locked up in the doll room the longest before wanting out. Having grown up around the dolls, I never found them creepy, and I thought my friends were being silly, just as I never thought horror movies centering around dolls were particularly scary. While films like the first Child’s Play definitely deserves its status as a horror classic and the sequels that followed had varying degrees of entertainment value, personally, I never found the idea of an evil, sentient doll all that scary, and 2014’s Annabelle certainly did not manage to impress me either.

The two The Conjuring films have shown that the horror genre is still alive and well, as they have largely managed to both scare the average moviegoer as well as delight many long-suffering horror fans due to the high production value of the films, which is showcased by the good acting, the atmospheric set design and cinematography, and of course the highly effective editing and sound design. However, when the first of the inevitable spin-off films hit the big screen with the release of Annabelle in 2014, it got a less than stellar reception. The film about the demonic doll not only failed to impress critics, it also left many fans of The Conjuring disappointed, as Annabelle did not live up to the solid standard set by the first film about the supernatural misadventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren. It is therefore understandable that people would feel apprehensive about the prequel Annabelle: Creation, as the new film not only concerns the possessed plaything, but also focuses on the evil entity from the point of view of two young girls in particular.

As most horror fans can confirm, child actors in horror films can either be unbearably cringe-worthy or increase the eeriness of a film substantially, and the performances of Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson thankfully fall into the latter category. By putting these two girls – who have no idea who the eponymous Annabelle is or how the doll fits into it all – at the forefront of the film, their perspective is on the same page as that of the audience, since the girls know just as little as we do. While Bateman and Wilson are the standouts, the rest of the cast also does well to serve as contrasts to the main girls and their experiences; Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia work well as the mysterious Mullins couple, Stephanie Sigman steers clear of the worst cliches in her portrayal of the caretaker nun, and the varied ages of the orphan girls she looks after further help to give the audience a somewhat varied group of characters to invest in. Additionally, having the film play out on a remote farm in the 1950’s makes for a naturally eerie setting, just as the sense of being isolated from the outside world and thereby being unable to easily get help also looms in the subconsciousness of the characters – and by proxy the viewer – throughout the film.

However, the film is pretty straightforward in terms of its structure and style, but the overall production value manages to make the film an efficient slice of horror cinema. The obligatory exposition scene is also present, of course, but it is placed so late in the film and at a time where the audience will have been pulled far enough into the story that wanting an explanation and a conclusion to the story feels equally natural and necessary after the many well-executed moments of tension throughout the film. As such, the only significant drawback of the film comes at the very end, where the frustrating choice to link Annabelle: Creation up to the events of the first Annabelle somewhat detracts from an otherwise solid effort from David F. Sandberg.

The story of the doll’s creation and what made it into a conduit for a demonic presence is not only remarkably better than the first Annabelle film, it also manages to showcase a style and atmosphere that both emphasizes its stylistic and tonal connection with The Conjuring, all the while avoiding becoming too derivative of its source material. Instead, Annabelle: Creation feels like a natural companion piece to the other films in this horror franchise, and while it hardly reinvents the horror genre, the film ultimately shows that good craftsmanship goes a long way in creating an effective horror film. As a result, Annabelle: Creation not only delivers the tension and scares it should, it also made me begin to understand why my mother’s doll collection freaked out my childhood friends, just as it also left me rather relieved that she stopped collecting old dolls altogether.

Verdict: 8 out of 10.

Review: Atomic Blonde

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When John Wick made its debut, it instantly got directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s flair for thrillingly intense action with perfectly choreographed stunts noticed, and it paved the way for Stahelski to elaborate on the John Wick universe with a successful sequel released earlier this year as well as a third installment on the way. Uncredited co-director Leitch was not overlooked, however, and with the movie world currently abuzz with the recent reveal of the look of Josh Brolin’s Cable in the Leitch-helmed Deadpool 2, his second feature-length effort Atomic Blonde is opening to plenty of interest as to what the director is capable of on his own.

Charlize Theron, who leads the proceedings in Atomic Blonde, has always been known to be a dedicated and talented actress, and she has also proven her dedication to the physicality involved with being an action hero with her effort is the critically acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road from 2015. Thanks to being helmed by one of the directors of the first John Wick, plenty of comparisons had already been drawn between John Wick and Atomic Blonde prior to the release of the latter, and when news broke that Keanu Reeves had on occasion served as Theron’s sparring partner during rehearsals, many deemed Atomic Blonde to be ‘chick Wick’. Thankfully, Leitch’s first full-length solo venture does not rely on the world and style of John Wick as such, but the stunt work is still as exceptional, breathtaking, and hard-hitting as should be expected from someone with Leitch’s stunt credentials. The film’s final act is particularly intense, as the audience learns exactly what led Theron’s Lorraine Broughton to become as battered and bruised as she appears from the beginning of the film, which takes place in an MI6 debriefing room where agent Broughton takes us 10 days back in time to plenty of ass-kicking and other espionage antics.

Aside from the composition of the stunt sequences, as a whole, the film also boasts highly stylish visuals with smooth cinematography and color grading. While the hues are kept cold and clinical in the debriefing scenes, the lengthy rewinds to Broughton’s time in Berlin have a similarly monochrome palette, which is brightened by the use of the kind of strong neon colors many find synonymous with the 1980’s. The way the decade is presented in general is also commendable, as the film manages to portray it nostalgically with its color scheme and soundtrack choices, all the while avoiding becoming a caricatural representation of the time period.

However, as the old adage goes, a film is usually only as good as its script, and Atomic Blonde unfortunately offers little intrigue in terms of plot. While the simplicity of the plots of the John Wick films work for the overall structure of those films because of how Reeves and his costars manage to maintain a certain momentum thanks to how the characters’ drive keep us invested between the –in the best sense of the word – exhaustingly intense fights and shootouts, trying to sell Atomic Blonde as a spy thriller more so than a well-crafted string of action set pieces does Leitch’s latest a disservice. The story at the core of Atomic Blonde is as generic and predictable as spy thrillers come, and the film therefore continuously loses its momentum between action sequences because of how the story meanders blandly in the first two acts in particular.

As the John Wick films have shown, there are other options for contemporary action set pieces than frantic editing, eye-rolling overuse of slow motion and headache-inducing shaky cam. Not only is the stunt work of the two films about the master assassin meticulously choreographed, you also vicariously feel the pain that the actors and stuntmen are mimicking, which makes you further invest in the characters and their objectives. Alas, while you definitely also feel the hits that Theron takes in Atomic Blonde, the film simply does not have the same intense edge that John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 have, nor does Theron’s dedicated efforts manage to make neither keys nor corkscrews as unnerving as Reeves made pencils. However, in terms of visual style and stunt choreography, Deadpool 2 looks to be in safe hands with Leitch as long as the continued adventures of the merch with a mouth has a better script.

Verdict: 7 out of 10.

Review: The Emoji Movie

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Product placement has long left audiences confounded by how unabashed the use of it at times seemingly is when for example Krispy Kreme’s product placement in this year’s Power Rangers was so hilariously excessive that mentioning the context in which the product is featured in the film would actually be considered a spoiler. While Sony had no involvement in 2017’s Power Rangers, they have long been known to inflate the budget of their films by striking deals with anything from Carlsberg to Audi, who then get substantial screen time in return for their financial investments. However, The Emoji Movie easily takes the cake as the most unapologetic example of product placement yet.

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Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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Luc Besson is responsible for several memorable and innovative cinematic efforts such as Nikita, Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, and there is therefore no question about the mark his distinct style has left on the world of cinema. With Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Besson’s lifelong quest to bring the world of the highly influential Valérian and Laureline science-fiction comic series to life is finally complete, and the result of his independently financed passion project is undoubtedly one of the most visually stunning films to be released this year. Much like The Fifth Element had a lusciously vivid visual style that was mixed with snappy humor and snappier editing, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets displays a similar style and tone, which gives the impression that the two films could easily be part of the same cinematic universe.

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Review: The Big Sick

In this romantic comedy, Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan play two lovebirds who fall in love after a chance meeting and subsequently not only have to navigate the usual obstacles associated with any new relationship, but also have to reconcile their cultural differences. This sounds like it could be painfully formulaic and saccharinely sweet, but The Big Sick is thankfully very down to earth, not least because the story is actually based on how male lead and co-writer Kumail Nanjiani met his wife Emily V. Gordon, who also happens to be the other part of the writing duo behind the film.

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Review: Girls Trip

For most of their lives, Ryan (Regina Hall), Sascha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) have made up a friendship quartet they call the Flossy Posse. Having experienced many significant life events together, they share a strong bond, but life has still managed to get in the way and weaken their bond, so the women have been unable to meet up for the past five years. Ryan, who has become a successful author, decides to break the bad cycle and invite the rest of the Flossy Posse to Essence Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she is promoting her new book with her husband Stewart (Mike Colter). Soon after arriving, the ladies let loose and start bonding again, but in among all the drinking and raunchy Dina’s quest to get frumpy Lisa laid, Sascha receives some shocking information through her line of work as a gossip blogger that could not only end her friendship with Ryan, but also mean the end of the Flossy Posse altogether.

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Review: Captain Underpants

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The two pint-sized troublemakers George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are the bane of the existence of their unusually grumpy elementary school principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). When another of the two imaginative pranksters’ many shenanigans get more out of hand than usual, Mr. Krupp is almost diabolically delighted that he finally has enough evidence to split up the pair and place them in separate classes. However, all is not yet lost as George and Harold manage to hypnotize the principal and turn him into Captain Underpants – a super-powered, yet incredibly dimwitted comic book superhero the boys have created. At first, George and Harold are having the time of their lives, but things soon take a turn for the worse when an actual threat presents itself in the form of the villainous Professor P (Nick Kroll), who has sinister plans for the elementary schoolers and their peers. It is now up to George and Harold to find a way to stop Professor P, but are they capable of doing so, and will Captain Underpants be a help or a hindrance to their chances of success?

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