Tag Archives: 1.5/5

The Turning

The haunted house movie genre is one that always seems to be in constant ebb and flow when it comes to quality. For every stellar entry like The Conjuring or Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, we get forgettable titles like Winchester and Amityville: The Awakening. The Turning, Hollywood’s latest mangling of Henry James’ classic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, sadly falls into the category of film that only exists to make the great ones seem greater by comparison. Despite starting with rich source material and incorporating some watchable rising stars into its cast, this redundant and horribly derivative would-be supernatural thriller offers very little in the way of fresh scares.

Set almost 100 years after James’ original tale, the story centers around kindergarten teacher Kate (Mackenzie Davis) as she takes a live-in nanny/tutor position for the recently orphaned Flora (Brooklynn Prince) and Miles (Finn Wolfhard). Helping manage the vast estate where the kids reside is housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), who seems suspicious of Kate from the moment she steps onto the property. Although Kate and Flora seem to ease into a friendly relationship, Miles presents as much more abrasive and even lecherous to their new guest. It doesn’t take long for things to sour further as the haunts of the creepy manor materialize in the form of menacing apparitions that suggest a dark history.

Making the leap to feature films after crafting music videos for artists like Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake, director Floria Sigismondi can’t find her voice within this hopelessly generic adaptation. In an all-too-rare bit of meta humor, Kate murmurs “this can’t be real” as she pulls up to the house for the first time and beholds the barrage of cliches that fall before her: the dilapidated mansion, the impossibly long driveway adorn with dead trees on either side and, naturally, the gloomy weather to match. The truth is, it’s all real, at least in the sense that Sigismondi is going to take every trick and trope associated with the spooky house genre deadly seriously from there on out.

Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes, responsible for bringing The Conjuring to life, inelegantly stuff their script with suggestions as to what’s behind all of these creepy occurrences. The character work is especially thin, not leaving much meat on the bone for Davis and company to dig into past increasingly haunted facial expressions. The presence of props from pet tarantulas to porcelain dolls perpetuate a moody atmosphere that constantly comes across as contrived. Sigismondi assembles all of these tried-and-true gothic horror elements and tosses them into a blender, producing a bland purée that only the most gullible of teens will consume.

This is the kind of film that teases you for 90 minutes, dangling all manner of red herrings and half-reveals in front of our faces, until it finally gives the viewer the unfiltered truth in the end. If The Turning is remarkable in any way, it’s certainly in how unsatisfying and downright confusing a conclusion it offers as a bitter consolation prize for enduring its preceding narrative. Everyone who worked on the film should take comfort in knowing that most audience members will stay through the credits, likely to take a moment and wipe the perplexed looks off their faces. The Turning may indeed turn heads, even if it’s to the side to signify bewilderment.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Gretel and Hansel, starring Sophia Lillis and Sam Leakey, retells the dark fairy tale about a pair of siblings who get lost in the woods and stumble upon terrifying evil in the process.
The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively and Jude Law, is an international spy thriller that follows a woman who seeks to uncover the truth behind a plane crash that killed her family three years earlier.
Opening at Cinema Center is VHYes, starring Kerri Kenney and Thomas Lennon, a comedy shot entirely on VHS and Beta about a boy who accidentally records home videos over his parents’ wedding tape.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Gemini Man

It’s two Will Smiths for the price of one in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, a clunky and dated would-be action thriller with a tired premise and even more exhausting execution. Pushing the current film trend of digitally “de-aging” actors to its breaking point, Lee continues his trajectory of foisting cutting-edge technology upon stories that don’t merit the slick upgrades in the first place. He’s proven with films like The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain that he doesn’t need 4K resolution or high frame rate presentation to tell a great story. It all starts with a well-crafted screenplay and all the high-tech bells and whistles can’t disguise the terrible dialogue and exposition on the page.

Smith stars as Henry Brogan, an esteemed assassin on his way to retirement after 25 years of service for the DIA. His final hit, carried out against a terrorist traveling on a bullet train, is called into question when one of Brogan’s inside contacts informs him that the man was actually a civilian biochemist. Shortly after, Brogan discovers he’s being surveilled by a fellow agent named Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and after DIA soldiers descend upon their location, the two make a run for it. The man behind the mission to take out Brogan is Clay Varris (Clive Owen), the leader of a black ops unit who used Brogan’s DNA to create a copy of him and has sent the clone to take him out.

To create the idea of a younger-looking Will Smith, Lee uses a combination of motion capture from Smith’s performance along with the increasingly prevalent de-aging effect to composite a new character. As far as we’ve come with technology, the results of this experiment still aren’t entirely convincing. In most of the action scenes, especially the characters’ first bike-bound confrontation in Colombia, Junior (the name for Brogan’s clone) often moves with a weightless artificiality that rarely feels credible. Most of Junior’s scenes are shot either at night or in dimly-lit rooms, for reasons that become devastatingly obvious when a scene late in the film set in broad daylight reveals just how dismal the de-aging effect can look.

No amount of cosmetic retouching can hide the fact that this script, which has allegedly been kicked around Hollywood since the late ‘90s, is simply abysmal from start to finish. The dialogue, which includes yikes-inducing lines like “it’s not gun time, it’s coffee time” and “I’m finding myself avoiding mirrors recently”, is wall-to-wall tin-eared. It’s the kind of shoddy screenplay that sets up a character’s bee allergy so blatantly from the onset that we have to assume a payoff is coming later on, though “payoff” is perhaps much too generous.

Smith does what he can to pack maximum gravitas into his mirthless mercenary but it’s ultimately the same kind of stilted dramatic performance we’ve seen from him on multiple occasions. Like his work in recent clunkers like Collateral Beauty and Bright, he loads the characters from his dramatic work with an irrevocable joylessness so as to garner respect from audiences and fellow actors alike. I was no fan of the Aladdin remake from earlier this year but it was at least good to watch Smith have fun — and, heaven forbid, smile — on screen again. Gemini Man should serve as a reminder that it’s best for some movie ideas to stay buried.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning, once again follows the Sleeping Beauty antagonist as her goddaughter Princess Aurora is proposed to by Prince Phillip, sparking a war between humans and fairies.
Zombieland: Double Tap, starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, brings back the band of misfit zombie fighters as they meet new survivors of the apocalypse while squaring off against an evolved threat.
As part of Fright Night, Cinema Center will be screening 1989’s Pet Sematary. Local artists will be in attendance to re-create iconic movie posters for sale. Those who dress up in zombie garb will receive a $10 ticket & a complimentary small popcorn.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Aladdin

Disney’s endless parade of live-action remakes based on beloved animated classics continues with Aladdin, a pointless and tedious exercise in cynical corporate filmmaking. While one could argue that there’s still value in trying to “refresh” films like Cinderella and Dumbo that were released 70 years ago, the artistic merit behind bringing back movies that aren’t even 30 years old yet seems dubious at best. Even though this retread isn’t quite as bad as the abysmal Beauty and the Beast variant from 2017, it offers virtually no improvements from its predecessor and wastes most of its opportunities to branch off into new directions.

This “re-imagining” follows many of the same plot details of the 1992 original, in which the amiable “street rat” Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and his pet monkey Abu scrounge for food in the city of Agrabah. After sneaking away from the palace, Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) crosses paths with Aladdin and the two have an instance connection, despite the disparity between their social standings. Through deception by the treacherous aristocrat Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Aladdin becomes trapped in a mystical cave, where he meets a magical Genie (Will Smith) who grants him three wishes.

The easiest way to sum up Aladdin would be to say that it feels like watching a version of the original that has been stripped of most of its charm and personality. It’s simply an odd experience to watch a film that quotes specific story beats or lines from an existing work but does so in the most lifeless and stilted way imaginable. If anything, this nagging sense of déjà vu made me appreciate the stellar voice work and vibrant animation style of the original even more by comparison. Perhaps Disney is going for a grounded or serious approach for this live-action iteration but the muted tone does no favors to the magical elements of the story.

With the exception of Naomi Scott, who does a fine job of conjuring both the grace and panache that make Jasmine a memorable heroine, none of the actors are able to access the defining aspects of their respective characters. Both Kenzari as Jafar and Navid Negahban as The Sultan are one-note and spectacularly miscast in roles that require some over-the-top flourishes to make their characters work well. Massoud strains hard to keep the ship afloat in the titular role but there just isn’t enough in his performance past his flashy smile to mirror the affability of his animated counterpart.

But perhaps it’s time to address the Genie in the room. Since footage of Will Smith as the singing and dancing jinn emerged months ago, many have lambasted the off-putting computer-generated work that sloppily rendered Smith’s face atop a smoky blue monstrosity. I won’t add to the sea of well-founded criticism that’s already been heaped upon it but would instead call out a more galling aspect tied to this Genie, which is that it relies too much on comedic callbacks derived from Robin Williams’ performance to get its point across. It’s obvious the heads at Disney don’t adhere to the axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and Aladdin is further proof that they aren’t likely to adopt it any time soon.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Godzilla: King of Monsters, starring Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler, pits everybody’s favorite green lizard monster against other gargantuan foes like Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.
Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton and Jamie Bell, is another music biopic hot off the heels of recent Oscar winner Bohemian Rhapsody detailing the life and career of English rocker Elton John.
Ma, starring Octavia Spencer and Luke Evans, is the latest Blumhouse horror film that follows a group of teenagers after they accept an invitation to party at a lonely woman’s house but soon regret their decision.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Nun

Since the Conjuring series of films began with the first entry in 2013, the R-rated horror franchise has summoned supernatural scares that have translated to hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. The Conjuring generated the spin-off Annabelle about a creepy possessed doll and The Conjuring 2 has now led to another spin-off called The Nun, spelling out the backstory for the Valak character that was introduced in that film. Like the rest of its companions in the Conjuring Universe, this film relies heavily on jump scares with jarring audio cues but it lacks an engaging story or any involving characters to make this prequel journey worth taking.

After a nun is found dead after apparently taking her own life outside a Romanian monastery, The Vatican tasks Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) with investigating the incident. There, they meet “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), the man who discovered the nun’s body while delivering supplies to the abbey, who aides them in their examination. As the trio spends more time on the premises, they begin to witness supernatural sightings and seem to be haunted continuously by evil spirits that tie back to a demonic entity known as Valak, who is usually held in check by constant prayer from the nuns but has seemingly grown more powerful.

The issues with The Nun start fairly early on, as the first scenes of the spooky Nun character set up the general pace and timbre of the rest of the scares and frankly, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen done better countless times before. It leans into religious iconography like upside-down crosses and ominous headstones in ways that scores of other horror films (The Exorcist series, for one) have all invoked in more creative ways. All of the visual clichés are firmly in place as well, like the close-up/pan to an empty area/pan back to close-up with scary figure behind main character sequence, but they’re brought down even further by a murky visual palette that makes for an especially drab viewing experience.

Some of these rote horror movie beats might be worth forgiving if there were other redeemable aspects to the film but the terribly thin script doesn’t allow for any sort of intrigue in the story or any interest for the characters. Even though this would seem to be an explanation of how the Valak creature came to be, the film gives very little in terms of details on the origins of this nefarious being and the answers that we’re given are perfunctory at best. It’s also extremely inconsistent about the actual powers of this spirit, who is shown early on to be powerful enough to bury someone alive in the blink of an eye but then is almost comically under-powered the rest of the film as it conjures up hands to grab at the protagonists.

The first two Conjuring films have been aided greatly by the effortless chemistry between leads Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson but this trio of actors, including Vera’s younger sister Taissa, doesn’t have the same kind of spark to make their characters engaging from the get-go. While they aren’t able to make much happen together on-screen, I’d hardly say it’s their fault as the three are saddled with shamefully underwritten roles that do them no justice. The Nun may have enough frights in it for fans of the series to find it worth watching but I have to imagine that most moviegoers won’t find nearly enough for the film to justify its existence outside of being another payday for Warner Bros in this lucrative franchise.

Score – 1.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Predator, starring Boyd Holbrook and Trevante Rhodes, is the third sequel to the 1987 sci-fi action classic that pits a group of mercenaries against a town overrun by the titular creatures.
A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, is a mystery-thriller that centers around a blogger who attempts to solve a missing persons case that involves her best friend.
White Boy Rick, starring Matthew McConaughey and Richie Merritt, tells the true story of Richard Wershe Jr., who is notorious for being the youngest FBI informant ever at age 14.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup