Happy Death Day (2017): Surprise! You’re Dead!

Following in the footsteps of the sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow, it seems like the horror flick Happy Death Day is officially turning Groundhog Day into a premise that can fit most any genre. Of course, all three of those films utilize the premise of deja vu repetition of the same day as comedic set pieces that allow the lead to gradually change over the course of their repetitive days. This time, that lead is a sorority girl named Tree (Jessica Rothe). Yes, her name is tree. No specifics on type, but she seems like a strong Willow. Determined, yet guarded by an outward display of leaves. In this case, the leaves are a snippy attitude that disrespects the people around her. A good/bad start for a character to grow from.

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There are so many ways a character like Tree could go wrong. Early on she dismisses people all the nice folks around her and is seemingly sympatico with those who are using her, whether it be the professor she’s sleeping with (Charles Aitken) or the sorority house leader that feeds off negative energy (Rachel Matthews). Screenwriter Scott Lobdell got his start writing for comics, mainly X-Men. He’s a guy who knows sci-fi concepts and how to weave endearing if harsh characters into them. That’s on display in a more mechanical form in Happy Death Day, though there are plenty of points where it seems like an older man trying hard to get down the language of modern youths. In the wrong hands, Happy Death Day could turn Tree into an unbearable walking cliche with sexist and dumbfounding undertones.

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Luckily, Happy Death Day made the wise decision to cast Jessica Rothe. There’s so much youthful vibrancy in her performance that truly evolves over the course of her ordeal. Her chemistry with Carter (Israel Broussard) – the young man she went home with the night before her repetitive dilemma – is initially scoffing but believably turns her into a resourcefully endearing final girl who’s also the only murder victim. Her growth from stuck up asshole to decent human being is enjoyable, especially as the tragedies of her life come to light through her behavior and subtle bits of physical acting. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog or Tom Cruise in Tomorrow, she gets us to go from being turned off by her holier than though attitude to rooting for her to resolve this conflict and get her reality in control.

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The rules of Happy Death Day aren’t too determined. We never do find out the reasoning why Tree repeats this day over and over. Which is honestly a plus. After all, Groundhog Day worked because we didn’t know why Bill Murray kept repeating the same day over and over. That reveal was honestly one of the few weak points of Edge of Tomorrow. This story is firmly about the actual character journey, not the reasoning behind the repetition. How much would this quick poppy movie drag if it stopped dead to explain the method behind the repetition? It was a smart decision to keep the reveal toward the killer, though the reveal itself is a bit telegraphed when most of the suspects that matter are eliminated pretty much by the halfway point.

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Then again, the menace and believability of that killer are pretty subdued by the rather goofy mask used here. While Happy Death Day is a comedy horror film, the one straight horror element they’re trying to keep consistent is that killer. Donning the mascot of the college setting as the serial slasher face makes enough sense, given Tree is under constant pressure from her school environment to fit a certain standard. Yet, the actual idea of any college having a baby as a mascot is honestly stretching the suspension of disbelief more than the whole “repeating the same day” premise. Any time this killer shows up, whatever menace we’re supposed to feel is sunk pretty hard. Mask designer Tony Gardner is best known as the man behind the iconic Scream mask, though the genius of that was how authentic and off the shelf it felt. Happy Death Day feels far more like a Hollywood inauthentic mask trying to create something iconic, which just ends up making it stand out awkwardly.

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Director Christopher Landon has shown slow yet steady improvement from his previous films Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. It’s clear that his interests are in interpersonal comedy between the scares and his most effective moments usually are the visual ways we attach to the characters. For Happy Death Day, it’s making subtle differences within the repetitive nature of the story. A simple slightly different angle on one scene we’ve seen half a dozen times gives us a fresh perspective that has us discover more about the side characters and potential outcomes with Tree. Well, at least in theory. Again, the reveal is easy to figure out after a certain point. Though I won’t go into detail.

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Happy Death Day is definitely what one would call fluff. Clever fluff, but ultimately fluff within the horror genre. There’s nothing wrong with being fluff if done well and Happy Death Day is definitely a fluffy confection. There’s a solid sense of humor throughout and a self awareness that makes it slightly above the average snoozer of a slasher. Think of it as a throwback to the tone of the obscurer holiday centered slashers that came in the wake of Halloween in the 80s like Happy Birthday to Me or April Fool’s Day. A lot of the flaws are put off to the side thanks to Jessica Rothe. If Happy Death Day does nothing else, it’s give her a spotlight to potentially craft into bigger roles. Or at the very least, make her a recurring scream queen for the Blumhouse arsenal.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Repetitive Wake Up Calls

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Tears That Stand Out In Rain

The original Blade Runner was a highly influential piece of art. Not only did many films copy the aesthetic of the dystopian future and apply it to their own future landscapes, but many television shows and video games as well.  Yet, Blade Runner was a major flop upon initial release in 1982, only gaining a cult following after director Ridley Scott released varying versions of the original film on home video. Blade Runner is a hard point of entry for many cinephiles out there. Wondering which version to watch or if lead character Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a replicant can disinterest some potential fans. The fact that it even managed to get a sequel is a miracle in and of itself. A miracle that one can witness, much like the ones Sapper (Dave Bautista) vaguely mentions to Joe (Ryan Gosling) in the first scene of Blade Runner 2049.

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Much like the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is an immersive look into a cold sleek environment. However, the then-distantly futuristic year of 2019 is now the distant past, showing us a world ravaged by decades past technological blackout and environmental damage that has left ecosystems destroyed. The world presented in this sequel is even more cold and unfeeling than the iconic futurescape of old.  Blade Runner 2049 depicts a world where the rain from before is a harbinger of the planet’s dying atmosphere. The city blocks have even less color than the neon Japanese signs of old. It’s a pessimistic future where the line between replicant and human isn’t even a factor anymore. It’s about silencing older models and allowing the new ones to live. But what are their lives? Wallowing in cramped apartments with hologram lovers. It’s a seemingly miserable life to even bothering going through.

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Yet, what makes Joe – a character who from the start we know is a replicant – so compelling is his attempts to make the best life he can of this situation. Gosling embus the character with a subtle but palpable sense of loneliness. One that makes him a bit more relatable a protagonist than a Deckard. Even his relationship with the hologram Joi (Ana de Armas) feels palpable from a different spectrum. Of two beings who aren’t traditionally human vying for a human connection but constantly being thwarted by physical barriers and humans who use them as tools. Admittedly, this is more from Gosling’s perspective than Armas’, but the two share this unique chemistry that’s beautiful in it’s crushing sadness. It’s a delicate dance that carries over the themes of artificial beings hoping for humanity despite lacking what traditionally matters to be human.

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Blade Runner 2049 focuses so much on Joe in a way that directly subverts many of the traditional blockbuster tropes. Namely, with how our lead conflates being the protagonist with being the most important character in the story. There’s some spoilers to tiptoe around here, but the major thing really is that we are seeing another small corner of this elaborate universe that splices into the major threads. That may seem underwhelming in theory, but in practice it shows the emotional weight and power of someone who may not be the biggest piece of a larger puzzle. The whole point is that certain people who are seemingly just backdrop dressing actually have larger potential than they think. They just may not be thee chosen one, but a crucial ally or figure in their story. Yet, the story of that smaller person can still flourish and matter where it counts.

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Even Deckard – once he becomes involved – seemingly doesn’t have that large a role in the overall story. He even references that at one point, saying his role is done and he’s just waiting to die out in quiet. Ford gives this an appropriate amount of nihilistic regret and understanding that combats with Gosling’s more hopeful subdued demeanor. Other characters that populate this world have a similar reflection on their menial service identities. Robin Wright plays a police chief who abides by keeping a status quo. Sylvia Hoeks is a henchwoman of a replicant who is determined to be a cog who kills. Bautista is a farmer that wants to live a quiet existence away from others. All are protective of what they know, even if what they know matters so little in the grand scale. 

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This is all part of the visual language of Blade Runner 2049, showing the grandiose landscapes and how small everyone feels within them. All of it is gorgeously put together by director Denis Villeneuve and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. The neon lighting here is dimmer, faded aside from a few shimmers. The sources are awe inspiring, but mere cold reflections of humanity’s dying interests in pop culture ephemera. It’s weirdly appropriate that all the former brands that were still relevant in 1982 somehow still survive like Pan Am or Atari, but in a world that itself is slowly dying and covered in ashen snow. Even the fight scenes have a rough and tumble effect that mostly is used to utilize how scrappy and empty this entire place is. Where people fend for themselves and barely scrape by. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopia with just enough structure to seem civilized.

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This does lead to one of the larger problems with Blade Runner 2049 as a story overall though. As we get to the ending, it seems clear that there’s a lot to resolve. That much of the last 30 minutes or so feels like the end of a second act rather than the beginning of a third. The likelihood of getting another Blade Runner doesn’t seem high, but even if we never see this universe explored again, the overall crux is still firmly planted within the smaller perspective so it’s not a huge hurdle. It only really dissipates whenever Wallace (Jared Leto) waxes poetic about his grander scale in this universe and his calculated yet unmotivated Godliness that wants to be an intriguing inverse of both the Roy Batty and Tyrell characters from the original. Yet, he ultimately just sucks attention away into a grander vision that just doesn’t jell with the smaller perspective going on. Still, Leto is spot on casting for a cold uncaring pretentious asshole. 

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With the original Blade Runner, one could tell that these themes were what Scott was striving for. Finding a relatable pocket of a grand sci-fi idea and exploring it from a crouched human perspective. Denis Villeneuve took this to another level with Blade Runner 2049, taking a step forward by giving us the perspective of a humanoid who seeks to find humanity and longevity within a system that has kept him a slave. Sort of a more personable version of the Roy Batty character from the original. Trying to find that opportunity on the largest scale may disappoint, but there’s still something to be said about finding your niche and doing the most for society while you can. It may not come with a fancy title or promotion or a grander feeling of weight in the world, but it can come with a certain amount of satisfaction. Knowing that you had the empathy to stand with others when others wouldn’t stand with you can be it’s own reward in a world as cold and unfeeling as this one. It’s what makes a teardrop stand out – even for a moment – amongst the downpour.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Pieces of Hologram Tech

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“Cult of Chucky” (2017): Child’s Play Grows Up

Of all the 80s horror franchises, the Child’s Play franchise has the most unique evolution and consistent longevity in terms of continuity. Which is especially interesting given they were all written – and the last few directed – by the same man Don Mancini. 1988’s Child’s Play is a pretty straight forward narrative of killer-possesses-doll-then-manipulates-child-while-killing story, as Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) becomes a Chucky “Good Guy Doll.” Child’s Play 2 followed suite to varying degrees of success. Bride of Chucky went the Scream route to satirize the concept and Seed of Chucky went the extra mile to turn into a goofy Hollywood satire that barely even resembled a horror movie. Then, Curse of Chucky went straight to video a few years ago and actually managed to go back to the roots of the franchise with a straight forward gory slasher and some of the best human characters of the series.

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One of those characters is Nica (Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad) who we continue to follow in Cult of Chucky. Nica was introduced in Curse as a tragic character. Disabled from birth and looked down upon by her family as a burden, Nica shows a lot more intelligence and quick wit than many of the characters in this franchise. She’s on the up and up about Chucky fairly quickly into Curse, which makes the manipulation of her mind as she’s stuck in this mental institution. All the events she tried to prevent in Curse are pinned on her and now she is beaten down emotionally and psychologically by her abusive psychiatrist Dr. Foley (Michael Therriault). She’s definitely a victim of patriarchal abuse, but one who at least has an awareness of her surroundings and a desire to help those in need even if she can’t control it. Dourif mirrors her father in a few ways, with the fragile broken nature of his Billy Bibbit performances from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and the quiet intensity of his Gemini Killer character from Exorcist III. All while making this character her own and earning her leading position in the franchise. 

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Yet, she sort of ends up fading far more into the background of Cult of Chucky despite being a major motivation for the plot. It leads into Cult‘s largest problem: overstuffing. Don Mancini clearly has big plans for his universe and Cult ends up being more of a pot boiler to establish many of these ideas rather than a complete film on its own. One of the bigger examples of this is how Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) – the original protagonist from the first three films in the series – is introduced as a lead character… only to weave in and out of the film unless it’s convenient for building the new elements of Chucky and his powers. Sure, these elements are intriguing, particularly as the title comes into play. Yet, it results in uneven storytelling. None of this is helped by a clear indication from Vincent’s montone performance that the naturalistic charm he had in the first two films didn’t carry over into his adulthood.

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Cult of Chucky has some smart twists and turns on the formulas established in the series nearly 30 years ago, but also does this at the sacrifice of developing some of the side characters introduced and tonally shifting things all over the place. There are points of extremely gruesome gore followed by a vaudeville style routine of Chucky that dips this between Curse level dark stylized horror and Seed cartoonish goofiness in ways that don’t always coalesce that well.  Still, there’s a consistent fun energy going on, particularly as Brad Dourif gets to show more than a few different shades of the Chucky character. Honestly, the ideas being teased are so inventive and fun for the series. Directions that make so much sense to go down… though Cult spends most of its time teasing rather than taking advantage.

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All of this shows just how much Mancini has done to creatively expand his universe. For something that started off as a pretty simple magical slasher franchise, Mancini has gone down crazy avenues that play on many of the facets of Chucky as a cultural icon. Cult of Chucky also showcases how much he’s improved as a director from the sloppy first effort of Seed. There’s a sleek sterile atmosphere to the asylum setting that makes the titular dolls stand out as he roams the halls to slice and dice. The kills are honestly kind of beautiful to behold. Even the Chucky puppet is still impressive, though not quite as seamless and authentic as Curse‘s animatronic managed to be.

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Overall, Cult of Chucky is a bit inferior to its surprisingly amazing previous entry. One can see the various directions in which the franchise can tumble down into from here, but for now this is a place setting entry for that potential. One would hope that Mancini takes this into the daring levels teased at the end of this film, with such an inventive fun spin going on and how elements from earlier in the franchise are being unveiled. Yet, there’s a disproportionate amount of time spent setting up and making the newer characters – mainly in the asylum alongside Nica – set up for kills. That can be fine in context of a simpler slasher like the earlier films in the series. But the aspirations established in Cult are much bigger, yet the character interactions feel truncated in the pursuit of its ambition. Let’s just see if you can keep a Good Guy Doll down come the next installment.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Smashed Liquor Bottles

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Too Much of a Gold Thing

Kingsman: The Secret Service was the sleeper hit of early 2015. At a time when James Bond was in a very gritty phase, Kingsman allows for a light fun diversion that recalled more of the Roger Moore era goofy nature of the character, though with a bit more self awareness. Add in director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn‘s kinetic action sensibilities, an eclectic soundtrack & The King’s Speech guy having fun for a change and you have yourself a fun spy comedy. Now, Kingsman: The Golden Circle lets us dive right back into that universe and one can tell Vaughn is eager to expand about that world. Maybe a bit… too eager.

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What made the first Kingsman such a delight is the goofier tone bouncing off a more dignified frame. Given the cover of them being tailors, the titular group of spies had a typical British sense of manners that made the over the top action a fun subversion. Kingsman The Golden Circle initially brings back these themes to remind us of the relationship between Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Harry (Colin Firth). How the former learned the manners that helped disguise the inner badass from the latter. Yet, now that Firth has seemingly died in the first film, Eggsy doesn’t seem to have retained much of any of that gentlemanly training. He still acts like a chavish idiot, even what not visiting his friends. He’s back to being a boarish oaf rather than a mixture that he managed to balance in the first film, despite Egerton’s own charms still oozing through on occasion. His relationship subplot with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström) is so unneeded, given she’s a shallow device to make the world changing stakes plot personal, but she still has about the same amount of character as she had when she asked Eggsy to have anal sex with her. Oh, put a pin in the female character writing department. There’s a lot to talk about with that later.

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It’s a shame that Kingsman The Golden Circle diverges so much from the core relationship between Eggsy, Harry and Merlin (Mark Strong), who were the true heart of the previous film. The best scenes of the sequel involve Merlin and Eggsy trying to recoup after the fall of their beloved organization and comrades, while trying to bring a suddenly reappearing Harry out of amnesia. On paper, this whole bringing back Harry subplot is the most contrived idea, forcing Colin Firth to come back just because he was here the first time. Yet, that arc at least gives Eggsy a moment to come back to his senses and be a Kingsman agent with dignity. Plus, Firth’s slow realization back to his former self results in more than a few delightful subversions of what happened before for at least awhile… until it becomes more a convenient plot mechanism to have things go wrong. Strong even gets lost in the shuffle during all this, making a key moment of the climax feel like just another contrivance as emotional resonance whittles down to a bizarre musical number that feels especially familiar to films this year.

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So, those central characters were shuffled around to make room for The Statesman, a bunch of boasting cowboy Americans equivalent that hides behind the facade of selling liquor. Sounds like a great concept to play off our British boys… until one thinks about it for a bit. The world building isn’t nearly as airtight as when we were introduced to the titular group last time around. The Statesman are just a bunch of drunken loud southern “Good Ole Boys” who drink. There’s no point where the cover subverts the image. It just plays along, meaning there’s no subversive fun like the Kingsman. There’s nothing clever to that. It makes their action beats far more flashy and soulless rather than stylistically hilarious. Even in interacting beyond the first meeting, they ultimately seem like an extension of the same organization without any intriguing sense of individuality beyond their hats and boots.

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None of this is helped by how most of these actors are wasted. Channing Tatum has a propulsive introduction before being put on ice for most of the proceedings. Jeff Bridges does his Rooster Cockburn voice yet again. Halle Berry is… there. And has one of the worst attempted arcs of anyone. The only one with any life in them is Pedro Pascal who – even if overused – steals the spotlight with a rugged charm and some fanciful footwork during the action scenes. It’s honestly baffling that Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman bungled balancing an ensemble like this, given how well they managed to do it in not only the first Kingsman, but in previous efforts like Kick-Ass or Stardust. They’re just stuffing so much into here and not letting anything breathe, until they do stop… and the breathing room gives us lame duck character moments that just lay there. Packing a suitcase with too much, forcing the bottom to cave in under pressure as dirty clothes and used toiletries rain over the audience.

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But speaking of shoddy workmanship, let’s talk about how Vaughn depicts women. In the past, his work hasn’t been known to be all that savvy in terms of depicting women as dimensional characters. The first Kingsman even ended with an anal sex joke that gave the James Bond schtick an extra layer of creepy. Yet, there was never an illusion that such a depiction was grander than that. So even while not expecting much, I at least expected a bit of growth. Yet with the second Kingsman, Vaughn tries to disguise the misogynistic leering not in a parody of older spy tropes, but in some kind of seemingly important sense of plot or character. There’s the previously mentioned problems of Berry and Alstrom, who are merely there to introduce motivation for male characters and briefly be referred back to without a single ounce of character. They somehow have about as much character as a dead wife who briefly appears in flashback and has her character relevance exposited to the audience later in the climax.

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Yet, it gets so much worse when people like Roxy (Sophie Cookson) – a Kingsman operative with little development from the first film who at least did something and was a capable person – is unceremoniously offed early on along with the rest of the organization just to give Eggsy motivation after using her as a human Google to help impress his girlfriend’s family. Because competent women can’t even have a side plot to themselves, I guess? A side villain Clara (Poppy Delevingne) is literally just there for a double whammy fingering joke and plot contrivance for our heroes to go somewhere that’s ultimately pointless and wastes time for an action scene and developments that are repeated later anyway. Our villainess Poppy (Julianne Moore) is a drug cartel titan who feels like a copy of a copy of the type of 50s era satire that was played out by the mid 90s. She cooks and motherly condescends in ways that Moore tries to elevate, but ultimately result in her essentially playing a flat version of Mary Louise Parker on Weeds; a suburban mom who sells drugs and kills a few people. But much like Weeds, she overstays her welcome pretty quickly. All of them are underwhelming female roles that show less competence and individuality as much as they do supporting stereotypes for the sake of cheap jokes and motivations to keep this endless film going. She also introduces the weird political subplot that makes the ethics of original film look consistent by comparison.

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Not even Vaughn’s direction can quite keep this afloat. A few action sequences show some technical craft of choreography. The opening scene as Eggsy faces off against a bionic former colleague Charlie (Edward Holcroft) in a cab and the big snow slope ski lift stick out. Yet, once the climax gets going, the second Kingsman puts so much flashing lights and call backs that mean so little into such a quick package that never means much. It divulges into a cacophony of noise that wants to be entertaining and satisfying, but just starts and stops so much. 40 minutes or so can be chopped out of this sloppy story and have it be a much tighter ride that balances fun characters with flash instead of just flashing us like a broken camera with no film in it. None of this is helped by how much we go back to the well of apparent hilarity that is Elton John’s cameo-turned-unwanted-50th-supporting role. Seriously, this film is as addicted to unnecessary supporting characters as the drug addicts who Poppy profits off of are to hardcore narcotics.

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Ultimately, Kingsman The Golden Circle is a stark reminder of how bigger rarely means better. Sure, there’s more world building introduced. A new side of spies in this world we’ve never seen. Yet, that world is about as plentiful as a barrell of mediocre whiskey. Fine to get the job done of getting drunk, but lacking any flavor to savor. While pushing the old characters to the side, it gives more screen time to shove in dimensionless toothless characters that either identify with a skeevy type of male chauvinism or fade in the background to allow the former to thrive. While the first Kingsman gave us a world that both celebrated and satirized James Bond, this gives us more of a Die Another Day style shallow run through the cliches, thinking the winks and nods will be charming enough without any kind of subversion or new life. Kingsman The Golden Circle thinks the basic concept of these new ideas will be enough to charm, not wanting to put the work in like the lazy chav Eggsy used to be… and really still is thanks to a lack of forward momentum. While there are a few cool action scenes and a handful of fun character interactions, Kingsman The Golden Circle is about as half baked as some of the plot necessary stoners are. Then again, “half baked” might be too kind of a way to describe it. Perhaps “broiled over a stove until mostly diluted” would suffice?

Rating: 1.5 Out of 5 Endless Elton John Moments

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“mother!” (2017): What’s Happening?!

mother! is a blatantly confrontational film. Director/writer Darren Aronofsky spends the first half showing the small yet impactful nudges that come with allowing our titular character (Jennifer Lawrence) to be walked upon like a doormat, followed by a cavalcade of horrors that fill her house and destroy her fragile sense of tranquility. There’s a sensory overload going on with mother! that will alienate many and keep others interested. It’s a film about religion, politics, gender roles, war, famine, murder, parenthood and so many other thematic concepts that one can get lost in the barrage of ideas Aronofsky is throwing at the screen. mother! is a kitchen sink kind of film where everything is thrown at the wall to see what sticks. If you’re willing to go along with this maddening house of horrors while accepting the limited narrative at play, you might enjoy. Otherwise, it’s a true cinematic assault that could leave you hanging in a pit of confusion and disappointment. Or hell, it could even do both. That’s just how varied and crazy mother! ultimately is.

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The first thing to accept about mother! is that it definitely lacks a traditional narrative. Right from the initial setup, the entire point is to throw us off balance with confusion. Jennifer Lawrence wakes up, confused as to where her husband (Javier Bardem) is, wandering this endless house that’ll be our only setting. Showing off how truly unfamiliar she is with a domain that she herself recreated from the ashes because of the person who perceives themselves as the alpha in the relationship. Even in the gorgeous bright lights, she is in the dark. The rest of the film is an exploration into the perspective of someone in the dark due to how the world treats her and how she herself allows the world to continue in their ways of casting her aside as a doormat without much protest initially out of a sense of societally instilled politeness. It’s a delicate role to pull off, which Jennifer Lawrence does with a believable building madness and dread.

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mother! truly hinges on her ability to convey this bewilderment without ever seeming too passive. Despite her more sociable personality she’s displayed in previous works, Lawrence portrays a believable quiet introverted soul who just wants to be separated out from society with her lover, being disturbed and assaulted by the mass of onlookers who seek to invade her personal space without much concern. Lawrence gives a human tether for a character who mainly exists as a representation of everything from Mother Nature being destroyed by humanity, women in general being dismissed by society and well to do people attempting to ignore the problems of the world outside their personal bubble.

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Alongside Lawrence is Javier Bardem, playing a writer filled with pretension and adoration for those who love him that is constantly keeping Lawrence at an arm’s length distance while also wanting to cuddle up to her at the most convenient intervals for himself. Whether it be small asides to explain himself briefly when he feels it’s most convenient or bask next to his lover to pose in front of others that adore him. One could easily see this as Darren Aronofsky commenting on himself through this character. An artist who gets adoration and shuns those around him with his own inflated ego. Whether or not this is self loathing or ideal wish fulfillment is murky, particularly with the ending that mixes metaphors quite a bit. Then again, mother! is full of mixed metaphors that jumble together into a stream of consciousness mishmash that’s constantly tugging between layered insightfulness and mastubatory self reflection.

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The first signs of the outside world that intrude are Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer. Both are polar opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of performance styles here, with Harris giving the feeble toppling of a man on his deathbed and Pfeiffer subverting this as a woman in charge of herself at the expense of others. Both have allegorical connections to Adam & Eve, parental dynamics and a worrying glimpse for Lawrence into her potential future with Bardem. They’re roles that dissipate once the second act craziness kicks in, but linger in the mind of Lawrence and those on board in the audience. Pfieffer in particular is stunningly unabashed in a way that’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf levels of detached and embittered. Her presence introduces the major theme of apathy that plagues Lawrence, where no one considers her needs as a person or respects the idea of barging into her domain uninvited, then perceiving her as being rude for even suggesting that they are being uncaring.

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From her, mother! spirals out into madness in a way many films claim to do, but so few do with reckless abandon of logic and sensibility. Lawrence’s home turns into a true house of horrors, where every single turn represents a new tear in reality that leaves the other behind. This shows off Aronofsky’s biggest strength as a director. The idea that the fabric of a single room can change once the camera focuses on another corner. The reality that we once knew from a previous angle changes completely with one 45 degree turn to the left or right. At one point one can see the terror of war, then turn slightly and see the terror of human trafficking. Smothering us with the exhaustion of every single problem of the world invading a domicile we wish would just be our own quiet alcove from the scary place outside. This is really where mother! becomes a Halloween Horror Nights haunted house designed by someone under heavy duress. Only, instead of being themed around a popular horror film being recreated, it’s around every social and political anxiety we strive to forget about by going into that very haunted house. Aronofsky is putting a mirror straight up to us through horror imagery of everything we want to escape from.

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mother! is not a film for everyone. Maybe it isn’t a film for anyone other than Darren Aronofsky. It’s clearly a film laying out a lot of his anxieties, as honestly any work of art can be for an artist. Then again, is that projection really what he’s striving for? Or are we more meant to have our own psychological ideas of societal fears reflecting through this lense he is creating? Is all of this helpful or harmful to our own fragile psyches? There’s a lot to question. A lot to ponder. Which is honestly kind of refreshing and emotionally taxing at the exact same time. mother! isn’t something that can be summed up well in conversation or a review such as this one. mother! is bold, annoying, confusing, erotic, disturbed, unclear, blatant, unfocused, extremely direct and every single other adjective I could possibly throw at it. None of this may have been helpful for someone hoping to get a sense of what mother! is about. Nor did I necessarily aim for it to be so. These ramblings are merely trying to sum up the breath of feelings one can have after seeing something with so much to unpack. A brief vomiting of thoughts to try to piece together after blunt force like Javier Bardem does for the crystal shard that breaks into piece on the floor. Thus, consider this to be a man bleeding into the shards while crushing glass, a mess of human fluids covering crushed senses of narrative and thought. For that, mother! hits a lot of targets that’ll stick in my sides pretty hard like those shards of glass in Bardem’s palm. Then again, some of that pain kinda tingles in an exciting way. I’ll keep a few of those shards in my side to marinate the flesh for awhile.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 WTF moments

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“It” (2017): Doesn’t Need Floaties

Stephen King is a hard author to properly adapt. His books are often extremely long, heavily rely on interior monologues and all the character development often gets flushed down the toilet. There have been notable exceptions (Brian De Palma’s Carrie or David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone), but many of them result in terrible films or far longer – thus more boring – mini-serieses. One of the latter resulted in an It adaptation that – aside from an iconic performance from Tim Curry as Pennywise – was just as excruciating as most of the other King adaptations. Luckily, director Andy Muschietti has managed to craft a stand out adaptation of King’s massive tomb by doing something I’m surprised no one else has done yet… just adapt half of it. Yes, the interweaving plotlines of a tomb so massive that I personally haven’t read it have been divided in half, allowing the half with the child characters to thrive. Well, thrive for as long as Pennywise (now played by Bill Skarsgard) will allow them do. 

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The Losers Club of children we follow – Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) – all have traits of children we either knew or actually were when we were younger. Yet, they aren’t cliches. Rather, they have the jumping off points of being outcasted geek kids with quirks and foibles, yet manage to become fleshed out dimensional people we can get behind. Their foibles are mainly there to set up the elaborate facades Pennywise develops to frighten them, but the dimension comes in as they gradually realize how to overcome their fears.

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A main example of this is Bill getting over the trauma of losing his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). He feels responsible, yet gradually learns the finality of death and the mature yet heartbreaking decision of realizing what that means. The same goes for Eddie standing up to his overbearing mother, Beverly gaining the upperhand on her abusive father and Ben realizing the power of his research abilities. All these kids learn from the confidence they build together, making these Losers feel like troubled and relatable characters.Some suffer – mainly Mike who often disappears and reappears during the run time – though most of them flourish. We see most of them build as characters far more than the previous adaptation of It, allowing us to be so much more invested than we would in the prism of “how can these kids kill an interdimensional being? There’s no way.” Instead, it creates characters who we want to see find a way.

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Of course, to build up that tension we have to have a believable threat. That main threat is of course the titular It creature, which we normally see as this dancing clown of innocence trying to lure children away. Pennywise here is much more clearly a disguise rather than the clear main presentation we saw in the earlier adaptation. Every facet of the character becomes electric and terrifying. The way Skarsgard puts on this facade of joy and occasionally sinks it down through a simple facial movement is genuinely unnerving. Yet, the over the top effects work is also incredibly well realized as we see Pennywise slink around, hide behind objects and contort to inhuman ways. This can be seen in full display in a scene where he hides in a fridge. The angles his body shifts into are unreal, to a point that works for the character. There’s enough of an uncanny valley to his performance and the technical work that gives this humanoid body a disturbing quality of wrong. Like a cartoon character in the real world with only one goal: feast on the fear of the children who should be enthralled by him.

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The creepiness doesn’t stop with Pennywise, though. The variety of creatures It transforms into to scare the children are impressive, but the entire town of Derry feels so off. The adults simply look as horrible things go on and just look the otherway. Allow horrific things to happen out of self preservation. This part of It seemed particularly lacking in previous adaptations, but is so well realized here. The entire town has this Lovecraftian quality of legend around it that’s emphasized by background details and the extra’s perfectly unfeeling facial expressions. We get more of a sense that The Losers’ Club isn’t just facing off against a supernatural being. They’re facing off against a society that has been under that creature’s spell and they have to do this to escape their mawing grasp. Andy Muschetti shows this off plenty of times through brilliant details, such as how certain background characters are possessed by Pennywise or the TV set that encourages children to go into the sewers. The presence of terror looms high and all over, making the journey to destroy It all the more urgent.

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There are a fair amount of problems that carry over from the source material. Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) is still a rather one dimensional villain. Try as they might to give a bit more sympathy to the lines his co-horts won’t draw or his reactions to the abusive father’s treatment of him, this adaptation still can’t make him more than an annoying antagonist without much humanity. Plus, some of the script contrivances written for this adaptation force It to separate our heroes and force one into being kidnapped in a fashion that does less for characters’ strong motivations and more to make us wait around until the come back together for the climax.

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Still, the majority of It manages to capture the truly nightmarish scope of the story. Despite following a group of small kids on the verge of adolescence, the threat is far bigger than their grasp. And that’s not just because they’re battling a creature from far off dimensions feasting on fear. Really, Pennywise and the town of Derry is a representation of the true horrors of the world. The type of horrors that are bigger than social anxiety or rock battles. It’s the crushing of childhood innocence and grasping the idea of true mortality. It manages to capture that nightmare scenario through not only the general fears these children feel, but the uncaring asides from the world around them that show the importance of true friendship and dedication to a cause that may seem too far out of reach. That all might be heady, but at least a giant intergalactic turtle isn’t involved. Yeah, that’s apparently a thing in the book.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Floating Balloons

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“Death Note” (2017): Maybe Don’t Pass This Note Around

Adapting a piece of work from one cultural context to another can be more than a bit difficult. While I’ve never seen the anime or read the manga this American version of Death Note is based on, I can still sympathize. Not only are the white washing concerns worthy of dubious thought, but there’s so much that can be lost in adapting a long form story into a 100 minute feature film effort. Add onto that a troubled decade-plus production history and Death Note seems like an outright and damn obvious example of lame adaptation in the making. Does it fall into some of those problems? Oh yes. Yes yes yes, it certainly does. Is it an entirely horrible experience? Well… not necessarily.

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The biggest problem with this American Death Note on a purely narrative level is how rushed it all feels. Even without being aware of the long form narrative source material or the various writers involved, one can clearly tell that Death Note is trying hard to build its mythology and characters while also progressing them through what feels like a season’s worth of stories. It’s honestly kind of odd that Netflix of all places would release this as a feature film instead of trying to turn it into a bingeable series. It would help with the constraints of setting up this killer diary concept, the lead characters who are authentically whiny teenagers into something more compelling and the cultural fervor over the Kira God concept.

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To his credit, Death Note director Adam Wingard makes the entire thing visually interesting. The bigger budget action moments aside, Wingard applies his usual penchant for neon glow lighting and visually unique ways of shooting conversations. The type of direction that made his smaller budget works The Guest and You’re Next so lively and entertaining. The elaborate death scenes have a sort of Final Destination quality to them, though they often seem unintentionally wacky and rather repetitive. Wingard’s visual shorthand often does more than the story itself can in terms of developing most of these characters. There’s a pivotal moment between our lead Light (Nat Wolff) and his newfound girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley) at a school dance that changes the course of all events afterward. In context of the story, it feels sudden. There’s been some set up for this, but the move feels like a dramatic crank up to 11 for little in story reasons that make sense. On its own though, there’s a visual context that shows more of a believable surprise, from the editing to each face to the blue lighting that hints at something awful for our characters up ahead.

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Then again, Wingard also has the handicap of working with these lead actors. Nat Wolff as Light is a whiny brat of a lead that never really progresses. Death Note clearly wants to show us a progression to something larger by the ending, but we never get the idea that his use of the titular book is really anything more than something self serving. Light’s arc is set up as someone who uses the book starts out thinking about himself, then attempts to become vigilante justice that grows out of hand. Yet, we never quite get a handle on the cultural scope of his or Mia’s Kira God antics. Given Wolff’s hilariously awkward screams and petulant angry teen face at the start, one would hope some dimension would grow on him like moss on a tree. This doesn’t happen, making a big turn that the crux of the entire ending quite laughable. Qualley’s Mia isn’t given much either, suffering from the very rushed story that twists her around in such a variety of directions. At least she’s more tolerable than Light.

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Honestly, of the entire cast Lakeith Stanfield‘s L is easily the highlight. With his constantly shifting physicality and mysterious backstory, he’s the more engaging character to follow. Just the way Stanfield breathes meticulous life to a character as uniquely emotionally shut off as L is quite stunning to watch. One almost wishes that Death Note was more from his perspective as he investigates this mysterious string of deaths like some sort of sugar heightened insomniac Sherlock Holmes. L is a great example of how a character may be alien and unrelatable, but still incredibly compelling. The demonic entity of Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe and portrayed in the flesh by Jason Lilesis honestly quite intimidating when he initially shows up. Yet, he ultimately just becomes a source for exposition and temptation that Light doesn’t really need after a certain point. A devilish figure creeping over his shoulder that’s a creepy presence, but little else.

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As to the uncomfortable issues of whitewashing, Death Note tries to integrate some of the Japanese roots into the story. L’s caretaker Watari (Paul Nakauchi) is a key presence during the second half and Kira is emphasized as a Japanese presence in the film’s Seattle setting that received praise for bringing justified death to criminals. Yet, these ideas in theory come to little in practice. If anything, these elements seem like further appropriation, one the characters are literally taking on. Unfortunately, there’s little potential satirical intent to offset that. It’s similar (though not quite as egregious) to the issues that happened earlier this year with Ghost in the Shell, who’s integration of the Japanese subplot only served to over complicate things further, to the point where they might as well have dropped the Japanese elements altogether unless they were going to have Japanese Americans in the lead roles or something. Instead, it’s just sort of… awkward.

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Ultimately, Death Note is a mess. Cramming in so much detail into a 100 minute running time. It’s not without a few gory kills, memorable performances or thrilling visuals, but nothing really that memorable. For something with a premise as intriguing as killing via writing a name in a book, “forgettable” is pretty disappointing. Even as someone unfamiliar with the source material, the breakneck pacing of the story doesn’t allow much of an entry point for either the characters or the concept to really settle. We start right out the gate with a death in the first six minutes and only pause for exposition. There’s not a lot of room to breathe, leaving the film on a note that one could describe as deadly. A… Demise Record, if you will.

Rating: 2 Torn Out Pages Out of 5

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Annabelle: Creation (2017): Life from Rotting Sources

The Conjuring was a massive surprise smash when it opened in 2013. After all, you don’t make a $20 million film and make 16 times your budget back without anticipating franchise potential. Since then, we’ve had a sequel and a spin off Annabelle, based on the possessed doll that The Warrens found in the first ConjuringAnnabelle – despite being significantly worse than the masterful two Conjuring films – did well enough to warrant the existence of Annabelle: Creation. This unnecessary prequel to the unnecessary prequel to The Conjuring is probably at its worst when attempting to connect itself too much to the overall “universe” being developed here. There’s allusions to an upcoming The Nun spin off based on one of the central ghost characters in The Conjuring 2 and even a bit of connection to the first Annabelle films that has to contort some things around to set that up. While not as offensive as certain other franchises attempting to be a cinematic universe, these moments of world building ultimately come across as shoehorned, especially when the central story of Annabelle: Creation is pretty solid ground for a stand alone horror movie.

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Yes, despite the awkward clunkiness established in the rather bland Annabelle from 2014, Annabelle: Creation manages to rise out of those ashes and create an effective little horror film enclosed within this house. The mythology of the first Annabelle is carried over here, mainly with a demon that uses the titular doll as a conduit from which it can come into the world and search for a new body to inhabit. While the initial film made all of that feel so underwhelming, Annabelle: Creation actually takes advantage of the imagery. Directed by David F. Sandberg – who made a big splash last year with the horror film Light’s Out – one can see why he’s been a sought after director.

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Sandberg takes advantage of every shot to build up atmosphere, mainly with an incredibly measured lighting style. There are traditional horror shots in Annabelle: Creation where a character looks into a dark abyss and sees nothing. Yet, Sandberg and his team know just how much to show of the young girl the Annabelle doll is named after or the demon possessing the doll in the dark hallway to terrify without teasing too much. It’s just bright enough for your eyes to adjust and look genuinely frightening. Truly, a stark upgrade on the style of lighting influenced by James Wan much of horror has had in the last few years.

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This all was present in Sandberg’s direction from Lights Out. Hell, there’s still plenty of jump scares to be had. People tend to be silent followed by someone sneaking up on them. To its credit, the jump scares in Annabelle: Creation aren’t “edit followed by BOOM sound effect.” They’re used to help create the unease of being caught by Mr. Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) without resorting to the much more obvious jump scares immediately. There’s a tension that mounts as we see more and more corners of this creeping decaying house and are petrified our investigation will alert danger. Even using wonderful props, like the toy gun that gives us a fishing horror scene in a house. It’s a great example of using curiosity of the dark for horror antics without feeling too much like “stupid character syndrome.” I mean, there’s a bit of that occasionally, but not nearly as much as one would expect for a modern studio horror movie.

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It helps that these characters are actually given a bit of thought. Mr. and Mrs. Mullins (Miranda Otto) have this creepy aesthetic that masks a real tragedy and loss that emanates through the empty house. Seeing their daughter die early on may give more than a few early clues to what is masking our demon, but it provides a solid emotional grounding for the exposition ladened reveals an inherent tragedy. There’s also a nice little core in the friendship between Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson). Both orphans who dream of being adopted as sisters is simple, but sturdy set up for their friendship. Giving us appropriate stakes so the bigger reveals mean something. Same with Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), who gives Janice a true glance at an ultimatum. One that presents a docile acceptance of ghosts or being separate from those you love.

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Yes, Annabelle: Creation actually cares about its characters and stakes. It’s just as shocking for me as it is for you. Much like last October’s Ouija: Origin of Evil (which also featured Lulu Wilson), this sequel to an unnecessary property cash grab actually works as its own self contained horror movie. Which is especially impressive for a horror movie with a doll where the doll isn’t really seen moving. It’s all about the manipulation of that doll to elicit inherent terror, especially for these girls stuck in a creepy old house. We care about the characters and give the scares more authenticity in the process. While the future of this whole Conjuring universe may be up in the air – personally  I’m not totally convinced about that Nun spin off idea – this is a clever studio horror film stuck within those constraints. Always nice to see solid craft in a cash grab.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Dangling Doll Parts

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THE DARK TOWER (2017): Exposition Ft. Stephen King References

The Dark Tower has so many elements I’d love to embrace. Never read the novels, but was intrigued by the concept. That of a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) doomed to walk the Universe in pursuit of the man who wronged him. The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey), a charming demon out to destroy the titular literal skyscraper and bring forth monsters. Some of which come from The Dark Tower author Stephen King‘s other books. That right there sounds like just the type of weird yet familiar genre storytelling that could kick us out of the generic blockbuster funk we’re in. Yet, it ironically just ends up being the blandest type of blockbuster we’re familiar with. As is explained numerous times.

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Yes, let’s get this right out the way. The Dark Tower is very much an exposition dump of a movie. Understandable to some degree. We’re being introduced to a whole new world. Exposition is bound to be clunky. But it doesn’t need to be plentiful, as it is here. So much of The Dark Tower is telling you about the importance of its universe. What a “Gunslinger” is, but how our specific one Roland is the best of them. Why does this make him better? Because he can shoot super fast. What is the comparison with the Gunslinger? His dad (Dennis Haysbert) was also a gunslinger. Where to the guns get their power? They’re made from the metal of excalibur. What is his mission? To kill The Man In Black for killing his Dad. Who is The Man in Black? A dude who wears black and scowls at people.

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Which pretty much describes the amount of character stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are given. Two of the better actors working today are saddled with exposition and moody brooding that gives neither of them any room for a real personality. Elba especially doesn’t lift much of an eyebrow to do anything but grimace and point is gun. He got the backstory, but not the pathos because of how rushed everything feels. We just know he’s some dude who wants revenge yet won’t save the universe too because… screw it I’m a cowboy lone wolf?

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Matthew McConaughey is the more interesting case. He doesn’t seem all that enthused, but not completely uncommitted. His performance gives the aire that The Dark Tower editors Alan Edward Bell and Dan Zimmerman used takes of McConaughey that were either the fourth “let’s have fun, fellas” take and the ninth “I’m tired of this” take. So either in a relaxed mood or just plain tensed up. There’s little room for his character to grow, but there are isolated moments of McConaughey charm that ooze through, often resulting in the more unintentionally funny sides of the film. Which to be fair… are more interesting than anything else here.

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This goes for our audience surrogate of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a young boy in search of help. He hears voices. Sees horrible visions in his dreams. Has a stepdad who lacks empathy. Gets bullied in school. Draws weird images in his notebook. I’m sorry, was I describing Jake Chambers or EVERY OTHER STEPHEN KING PROTAGONIST? Yes, when we aren’t in the other world messing with all sorts of monsters and interdimensional western stuff, we get a lot of the typical archetypes that Stephen King developed, minus a few awful Christians and drunks. Jake is our surrogate, but we never care enough about him over the course of this journey. There’s no chemistry with Idris Elba in a mentor-mentee fashion they’re striving for. He’s just a vehicle for everyone to exposit things about The Dark Tower to.

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Oh, but don’t you fret! If you’re sick of the general cliches from Stephen King’s work, just wait until all the references pop up! Look, there’s the Christine car! Oh, Jake has ‘The Shine!’ There’s Pennywise’s name over a carnival! These are really the only moments where The Dark Tower shows off any resemblance of being interesting. And it’s by merely implying a connection to King’s other stories. Stories that were adapted to popular culture with some kind of memorable quality. Surely, this at least feels better in context of a series of novels that actually expounded more upon the universe this connected to. Hell, it just gets people to remember that the upcoming It film from a completely different studio looks so much better than this one. Great universe building once again, Sony!

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The worst thing about The Dark Tower is that despite the fantastical setting and earth shattering stakes, the entire thing comes off as so slight. Such a small scale for any of these major moments to really take impact. Director Nikolaj Arcel shows no real hand or personality. Though, this likely has to do with the multitude of production problems and voices here. It seems as if all of this was truly neutered to this bland whitebread version of an epic fantasy parable. Instead, it feels like a lesser version of a 90s kids fantasy movie. Special effects and all. Especially when our climax is rocks vs guns. Woof.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Gunslinger Bullets

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A GHOST STORY (2017): The Horror of Observation

Horror cinema as of late has been going through a bit of a diverse phase right now. Mainly thanks to companies like A24 who put out challenging films that defy what tends to be put out into theaters. Stuff like It Comes At Night,  The Lobster and Tusk. Who take the horror conceits and give us something… distinct, if not always good. A Ghost Story is one such oddity. A film about loneliness, the nature of supernatural immortality and someone eating a pie for five straight minutes in an unbroken shot. It’s not like much of anything one could be seeing in a theater. That’s commendable, but not always consistently popular. Yet… I couldn’t help but fall in love with this weird little time piece.

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Director/writer David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) has been a fan of genre explorations. His films take basic tenants of their genres and turn them into gripping emotional tethers to get us past the initial appearance. Saints was a wistful yet authentic twist on a crime romance and Peter’s Dragon took an awful Disney film and turned it into a soulful journey of one boy growing up after intense tragedy. Now with A Ghost Story, Lowery takes the concepts of a horror film and gives the entire thing an existential point of dread. One where we see just how ultimately insignificant we are as people in the grand scheme of things. And how that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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A Ghost Story handles a type of existential horror and dread that few others would go through. It’s a wonderful example of exploring the genre from the perspective of the ghost. But not on a mere spooky haunt level. We see a bit of that in a sequence that shows Lowery loves horror, but it’s framed in a cruel dramatic tragedy. That our ghost (Casey Affleck) says so much with so little dialogue or direct body language. After seeing him as a live man alongside his wife (Rooney Mara), we don’t need him to express human concerns. There’s a subtle but wonderful build up to all this that shows Lowery loves the horror genre. But, taken from a different perspective.

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In a scene where two young kids and their mother are frightened by a ghost, we sympathize with the ghost as much as the humans. There’s this ongoing endless waiting for the ghost that shows us the enormity of time. The vast endless nature of time and how it swallows up many a human in its wake. A Ghost Story isn’t about the horror of dying as a means of leaving our loved ones. It’s about the horror of being immortal and seeing our loved ones go through horror we can’t help them through. Being absent in real life only to not be able to be distracted by something else. To just witness for hours on end what they’re going through from the distance. All the grief, regret and – most terrifying of all – acceptance & moving on from us they go through.

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It’s a chilling idea, which is presented in long uncomfortable shots by A Ghost Story. There’s an extended sequence where Rooney Mara eats a pie. It’s about five minutes long, in about one interrupted shot. The type of sequences that’ll drive people mad with impatience as they have to sit there and watch this elongated & unsettling scene of a woman stress eating to the point of tears. It’s uncompromised and brutal in a way that might deter people. But it’s a brilliant way of putting us into the mood of realizing what this is. How time plays a crucial part in the understanding of the world this film builds. One where we are doomed to hover over what we love most as it goes through the best and worst of times.

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Through scenes like this, we see how our titular spectre goes through generations of advancements. How the house he loved in life goes through varying phases. Ones that leave him a cold spectator as life goes on and withers without his presence ever being known. A Ghost Story directly tackles topics of human legacy and futility in a way that may just be a bummer. And in truth it sort of is. Confronting the feelings of meaninglessness and sadness are the cornerstones of this story and they don’t leave you on the highest note to think about. Especially when so much of the film is dialogue free, allowing the visuals to really sink into your brain.

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David Lowery plays with the concept of time visually in simple yet touching fashion. A Ghost Story is shot with 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with the corners rounded. The entire film feels like a faded photograph, one that’s been in a photo book for ages. It’s a feeling that gives further credence to the themes of loss and lingering dread of this afterlife. We get a few hints that this isn’t the only time this has happened. We see another ghost next door, waiting in vain for someone who never shows up. We see the history of this land both current and past in ways that blow our perceptions of linear storytelling out the window. It’s a cute image, given they’re two Charlie Brown style sheet covered ghosts. Still, those vacant eyes say so much about living and the human condition and being obsessed over the smaller details. The tunes hummed that last enough to keep us going. The books we read to lighten our imaginations. Our ghost slams those things into our senses through his limited yet impactful powers can get to people, if only briefly.

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A Ghost Story isn’t really a movie about how life is pointless. If anything, it’s saying that the idea of The Afterlife is pointless. Even if we do gravitate towards another plane of existence, what does that mean for us? What do we gain from existing in another plane and seeing life go on? Not much. It’s a film about showing us the most simple form of another world within our own and realizing how empty that is. How elongated and cruel a concept like that can be. It encourages us to be like Rooney Mara and not hold history or the future in higher stock than we do the present. What our actions do now and how vital they are to how we will eventually look back on them. A Ghost Story is the type of cinema we need more of. The type that genuinely pause to contemplate humanity in ways few other bigger films right now even come an inch towards. Mind bending, soul destroying and kind of beautiful all at the same time.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Spooky Sheets

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