Tag Archives: true story

‘Bridge of Spies’ Well-Crafted But Slow Cold War Thriller

Bridge_of_Spies_posterTom Hanks starring in a Steven Spielberg period piece. Yup, Oscar Season is upon us.

Based on a true story, “Bridge of Spies” stars Hanks as a New York lawyer who must organize a swap of a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) and a captured American pilot (Austin Stowell) during the Cold War. Spielberg directs.

The bar is always going to be set high for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks when the two are doing their own thing, so when they team up (this is the fourth time in their careers), expectations are through the roof. So is “Bridge of Spies” the full-blown, hands-down best film of the year? No, unfortunately not, however it is still a very well-crafted espionage thriller that offers solid work from two of the most famous men in Hollywood history.

The best way I can describe “Bridge of Spies” is I admire and appreciate it more than I enjoyed it (much like “Sicario”). That’s not to say the film is not watchable, far from it; you’re more likely to find an honest politician than an unwatchable Tom Hanks film. But the pacing and the dialogue-driven narrative definitely weigh down admirable work from Hanks and Spielberg, as well as Rylance.

The acting in the film is everything you would expect from a Steven Spielberg movie, and saying Tom Hanks gives a great performance would be a waste of time because at this point we expect (and often receive) nothing less. Hanks’ James Donovan is a likable guy who is in way over his head in political maneuverings he doesn’t fully understand.

The real star of the show, however, is Mark Rylance’s captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel. Rylance steals every scene he is in, yet somehow does it with a calm, cool demeanor. He is funny without being distracting, earns our sympathy without pandering. It’s one of my favorite performances of the year and if this film gets no other talk in the next few months, I hope Rylance gets recognized for his work here.

“Bridge of Spies” is a Steven Spielberg film is ever there was one. He continues to play by Hollywood’s rules, not trying anything special with the camera or daring with the narrative. There are those trademark Spielberg “one shot” scenes that don’t feel like they’re one single take because of his masterful placement and movement of the camera, which those are always a treat.

The biggest gripe I have is that the film really isn’t paced well, and all too often scenes just drag on. There are select parts here and there that are truly engaging, such as the scene where Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane is shot down, as well as the final spy swap, but those masterfully crafted sequences are sandwiched between scenes of two men exchanging law and politic talk and to the average American in 2015 that is hardly what we go to the movies for.

Rating a film like this really gets at me. Do I grade it based off entertainment factor and replay value, or how well it is crafted? Because the film is well directed and expertly acted, and the 1950’s set designs are spot-on. That being said, will I ever watch “Bridge of Spies” again? Probably not, it didn’t stick with me that much (outside Rylance, because once again, wow).

So if you love Hanks and/or Spielberg and want to see them at their Hanks and Spielberg-iest, enjoy period pieces, AND you are able to put up with a lot of talking, then “Bridge of Spies” is for you. I am giving it an overall recommendation, but before I leave you…did I mention Mark Rylance is amazing here?

Critics Rating: 6/10



‘Pawn Sacrifice’ an Unremarkable Biopic

Pawn_Sacrifice_PosterEventually I will be able to watch Tobey Maguire during a music montage and not instantly think of that horrible dance sequence from “Spider-Man 3.” One day…

“Pawn Sacrifice” stars Maguire as American chess champion Bobby Fischer, who takes on the Soviets, led by Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), in order to prove he is the best player in the world. Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg co-star as Edward Zwick directs.

I know what you’re thinking, “a movie set in the 1960s that is all about chess? How could that possibly be interesting?” And you’re kind of right; while “Pawn Sacrifice” does manage to be more engaging than one would imagine, it is never as interesting as I’m sure the filmmakers intended.

The biggest problem with the film is that the people who made it were clearly more invested into Bobby Fischer’s story than the average person will be. The film spends much of its time on Fischer’s deteriorating psyche, showing a man who at the height of the Cold War constantly was being spied on and targeted (or at least thought he was). However the film beats you over the head with the idea that Fischer is slowly unraveling. While this is partially the point, to make the audience feel the frustration that his colleagues do, it takes away from the actual chess matches.

It’s no secret that most people would not consider chess a sport, and the idea of watching people play may be the only thing more boring than actually playing it yourself. The film’s main setup is the 1972 Chess Championship between Fischer and Spassky, and there are several things working against it. First off, chess championships are whoever gets to 12 points first, wins. That means there are a minimum of 12 games to be played, really diluting the magnitude of a single match. The film treats the viewer as if they are an experienced player and know exactly what is going on, so when Fischer or Spassky makes a move and all the characters react in shock, the uninitiated (my guess, 90% of the audience) are left looking around wondering what just happened.

The climax of the film is Game 6 of the championship, which has no true defining feel or intensity from any other matches we see throughout the film. In the credits, it says that is considered “the greatest game of chess ever played,” and I would have never guessed that just by watching the film.

The film is not without its merits. Peter Sarsgaard is fantastic as William Lombardy, one of Fischer’s longtime coaches. He acts as both the comic relief and the eyes for the audience, groaning when Fischer requests yet another increase in pay, or explaining to others the importance of a move a player just did.

Maguire is more of a mixed bag. There are some scenes he completely dominates, showing the mental strain that being one of the best players in the world at such a young age puts on someone; however there are some scenes he overacts, like one where he yells at Spassky on a beach in a way that I just did not buy as realistic.

To chess fans, I’m sure “Pawn Sacrifice” is what “Miracle” is to hockey fans, but to the average filmgoer, there just isn’t enough here to warrant a viewing. Perhaps Maguire fans will get a kick, and those who enjoy period pieces like I do will be able to ooh and ah at some of the Cold War-era set pieces, but all others need not apply.

Critics Rating: 5/10



Pacino Back in Form as ‘Danny Collins’

Danny_Collins_Official_PosterWelcome back, classic Al Pacino.

Pacino stars as the titular role in “Danny Collins”, a film that follows an aging rocker who decides to make some life changes after receiving a 40-year-old letter written to him by John Lennon. Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, and Bobby Cannavale all co-star while Dan Fogelman writes and makes his directorial debut.

There’s really no sugar-coating it, this is a story that we have seen before. A famous person in the final stage of their life realizes that they’ve made some mistakes, and set out to make peace and find redemption. “Danny Collins” never tries to stray from the course, but thanks to a fantastic cast and some fun writing, it is elevated above its cliché narrative.

I’m personally a fan of screenwriter Dan Fogelman. He may not be Tarantino, but his scripts, including “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” and the underrated “Last Vegas”, usually feature playful dialogue that lend themselves to fun scenes and character interaction. In “Collins”, he pens some great exchanges between Pacino and Annette Bening, who plays the manager of the hotel Pacino stays at, and their chemistry keeps the film from every getting stale.

I’m also a fan of Bobby Cannavale, and he turns in a solid performance here playing Pacino’s adult son who has never met his father. Cannavale brings the Italian charm that makes him so likeable, but at the same time gives a balance of hatred and unease in the scenes he shares with Pacino. He doesn’t want to forgive his father for being absent all his life but at the same time knows it isn’t fair to let his daughter grow up not knowing her grandfather. In the scenes with Pacino and Cannavale often no words are said, but both men do excellent jobs letting the audience know how they are feeling with their body expression and eyes.

While it is able to mostly overcome its familiar subject matter, there are times that “Danny Collins” becomes almost frustrating in how predictable it is. Whenever something is going right for a character you know bad news is right around the corner, and Danny’s addiction to drugs and alcohol seems to come-and-go as needed by the plot. The final act of the film is also somewhat poorly paced, slowing down considerably before rushing to a finish.

With a cast this talented and charming (Christopher Plummer and Nick Offerman both also make appearances), “Danny Collins” mostly overcomes its contrived moments and leaves the audience feeling good when the credits role. As the opening slide of the film states, this is “kind of, sorta” based on the true story of folk singer Steve Tilston, who discovered a letter from Lennon back in 2010, which makes the film just a tad bit more interesting.

Overlaid with John Lennon tracks and featuring one original song that I still have stuck in my head, “Danny Collins” is a feel-good film featuring a strong central performance from Pacino, who like Collins himself has recently entered into near self-parody in his work. If you’re looking for a tale about redemption and some fun interplay between some big name actors, then you’ll want to book a ticket to Danny Collins.

Critics Rating: 7/10



‘American Sniper’ Shows the Horror, Necessity of War

American_Sniper_posterBecause, America.

“American Sniper” is based on the autobiography of the same name by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. The film follows Kyle, dubbed the most lethal sniper in U.S. history with 160 confirmed kills, as he struggles to balance his duties on the battlefield with the ones at home. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle, Sienna Miller plays his wife and Clint Eastwood directs.

Last January “Lone Survivor”, another true story about Navy SEALs, was released and it was an above-average, well-intentioned war film that had its fair share of miscues. “American Sniper” is right on par with “Survivor” as another real-life tale telling the story of some of the best and bravest men in the world, but it trips up along the way.

Clint Eastwood’s directorial filmography is really a tale of two types of films: engaging and interesting (“Gran Tornio”) or slow and mind-numbingly boring (“Hereafter”). His most recent film, last year’s “Jersey Boys” was a bit of both as the first half was great and the second half was Nyquil. “American Sniper” follows “Jersey Boys” because there are some parts that soar and are beautifully shot, but there are also some glaring narrative and pacing issues.

I know the story of Chris Kyle, and the man is a true American hero. Bradley Cooper does a very honorable portrayal of Kyle, playing a man who enlists in the SEALs because he wants to do something more with his life, but by the end of the film is questioning why he is doing what he is doing. Cooper essentially is playing two characters: badass super soldier and struggling husband.

The film does a good job showing Kyle in the early stages of his relationship with his wife, and by the end of the film how he has drifted apart because of the things he has seen and done in combat (despite him claiming his only regrets are the men he couldn’t save). Unlike most war films that are clearly pro-war or anti-war (or “Lone Survivor” which is accidently both), “American Sniper” walks the line quite delicately of what conflicts are actually worth getting into, and are they worth the lives of our soldiers?

One of the problems with the film, however, is how it handles the transitions between home and battle. The film opens up with Kyle sniping on an Iraq rooftop before abruptly cutting to a scene of him hunting as a child, as part of the obligatory “you’ve got a real knack for this sniping thing, kid!” moment. The rest of the film jumps back-and-forth between locations, sometimes without much explanation.

Sienna Miller does fine work as Kyle’s wife and she shares some tender scenes with Cooper, even if sometimes she is given nothing more than cliché “pregnant soldier wife” dialogue. The rest of the cast is solid, especially those portraying PTSD soldiers; however none of them are fleshed out or given too much to do.

“American Sniper” is a good-not-great movie that is a fitting tribute to its real-life subject, and features some well-shot battle sequences from Eastwood and some great scenes from Cooper. The film’s largest problem is its almost whiplash-inducing jumping to-and –from war scenes, as well as a frustrating ending that likely stems from the filmmakers not knowing how to properly handle the subject matter. Still, it is an enjoyable and at times tense and heart-breaking film about the horrors of warfare, and is one of the more honest war stories in recent years.

Critics Rating: 7/10



Take the March with Oyelowo in ‘Selma’

Selma_posterSelma? I hardly knew ya!

“Selma” stars David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. as he and other civil rights leaders head the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery in an attempt to get equal voting rights for African Americans. Oprah, Common and Tom Wilkinson also star as Ava DuVernay directs.

David Oyelowo, aside from being “that guy with the confusing last name” (it’s pronounced “oh-yellow-oh”, for future reference) has been in many films in supporting roles but has never been known as a leading man. He appeared in “The Help” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, and then ironically was in 2013’s “The Butler” where is character interacted with Martin Luther King, but “Selma” marks the first time he has had to carry all the weight, and he proves that he is the one of the better actors in Hollywood.

“Selma” is as solid as it is because of Oyelowo’s gripping portrayal of MLK Jr. He looks like King, rocking the slow southern accent and signature mustache, but he also shows the emotional toll that King’s life had on him. Whether it be holding back tears talking to the relatives of a deceased or the problems with his wife on the home front, Oyelowo needed to evoke multiple emotions for the role and he nails it.

The rest of the supporting cast all do solid work as well, particularly Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson and Henry G. Sanders as an elderly protestor. Wilkinson portrays the frustration LBJ had when trying to balance racial equality and the War on Poverty, while Sanders shares probably “Selma”’s most tender and human scene with Oyelowo when they discuss the loss of a protestor.

DuVernay’s direction for the most part is capable, however there are times that she chooses to play it safe and opt for the standard biopic path. There is one scene where King is in the car with a protestor and the young man starts to tell King about a speech of his he attended that motivated him to become part of the movement. As he continues to talk and starts to fight back tears, the score picks up, just to make sure you know that the scene is meant to be emotional.



The riot and police brutality scenes are pretty violent and sometimes hard to watch, but that’s the point. It is mindboggling to think that this type of thing happened in our country at all, much less only 50 years ago, but “Selma” reminds us that unjust brutality was a hardship that both whites and blacks who fought for equal rights did indeed face.

My only problem with the scenes of protests is that every one of them featured people getting tackled in slow motion, with the high-pitched screeching sounds in the background and close-ups of people getting tackled to the ground in first person view. This didn’t work for me, not just because it was standard dramatic riot shots, but because there are other shots in the movie that are creative and work well, such as showing the size of the marches from sweeping aerial shots.

“Selma” isn’t telling a little-known tale of an unsung hero like “The Imitation Game” did, but it features a fantastic performance from David Oyelowo and serves as a powerful reminder for how far we’ve come as a nation, yet how distant we are from achieving the full scope of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Unbroken’ Is A Good Movie About An Amazing Story

Unbroken_posterAnother Oscar Season, another Hollywood biopic.

“Unbroken” tells the true tale of Louis Zamperini, a USA Olympic athlete who is taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II after his plane goes down over the Pacific Ocean. Jack O’Connell stars as Zamperini and Japanese singer Miyavi plays the POW camp’s leader. Angelina Jolie directs as the Coen Brothers worked on the script.

The film takes place in essentially two locations: the ocean and the Japanese prison camp. Zamperini’s plane crashes over the ocean and he and two fellow soldiers (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock) are adrift for 47 days. These scenes were my favorite of the whole film as they show the true perseverance of Zamperini, as well as feature some intense moments including several run-ins with sharks and enemy fighter planes. The score and cinematography really excel here as well.

When the group is “rescued” by the Japanese the film slows down, and never fully recovers. Zamperini is continuously beaten and tested by the camp’s leader, called “The Bird” by fellow prisoners, and these scenes become numbing after a while. I’m not saying the film should have overlooked or sugar-coated this part of Zamperini’s imprisonment, however after a while it seemed Jolie was just beating us over the head with the fact that torture happened in prison camps.

Zamperini is depicted as a womanizer and troubled child, and in real life this was true. While on the raft, Zamperini talks about how he may not believe in God, and then in a storm he promises to dedicate his life to God if He saves his life. While this is all in-line with the true story, the idea of God doesn’t play a part in the rest of the film until text comes up before the credits. The film’s poster brands the story to be about redemption, yet Jolie abandons this notion and replaces it with a man who can take a severe beating and show no bruises in the next scene. Instead of Louis’ spiritual redemption we just see him as a superhero that is capable of taking extreme physical punishment, and I didn’t feel this worked.

The climax itself is a catch-22. Because it is the final confrontation between Louis and The Bird, the scene should be empowering and moving, as well as have tension because if Louis fails, he is ordered to be shot. The acting in the scene is superb, with Zamperini showing his strength and The Bird trying his hardest to break him. Both actors say more with their eyes than their words, and the duo add something extra to the scene.

The problem is that the scene has no sense of time, and you are unsure if the incident has lasted five minutes or several hours. Characters are standing around watching the event unfold, and any tension you should be feeling is instead replaced with confusion.

“Unbroken” isn’t as moving as it could have been, but it is a well-intentioned biopic that features solid performances and some intense scenes. Had Jolie known how to properly manage the narrative and hadn’t felt the need to show the torture simply for the sake of showing torture, then perhaps it could have been something great. Instead it is a good movie about a great man who had an amazing story.

Critics Rating: 7/10

Carell, Tatum Highlight Slow-Burning ‘Foxcatcher’

Foxcatcher_First_Teaser_PosterWhat do Michael Scott, the Incredible Hulk and Jenko from 21 Jump Street have in common? They all give some of the best dramatic performances of 2014 in “Foxcatcher”.

Directed by Bennett Miller, who also helmed “Capote” and “Moneyball”, “Foxcatcher” is a  thriller based on the true story of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who become the sponsor of USA wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo).

A huge fan of Steve Carell and excited to see what he could do in a dramatic role, I personally have been looking forward to this film for a long time. Originally due out in December 2013, it was delayed a full year to complete editing, so I have been counting down the days until its release since Oscar Season kicked off two months ago. And much to my pleasure, “Foxcatcher” does not disappoint.

What drives the film are the performances; Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo all shine in their own way. Tatum, coming off the comedy hit “22 Jump Street”, and Carell, from “Anchorman” and “The Office” fame, aren’t exactly who you think of when you hear “Oscar-worthy performance”, but both give just that.

Playing a meathead athlete may not seem too much of a stretch for Tatum considering his physique and persona, but Tatum’s Mark Schultz requires so much more. Stuck in his brother’s shadow despite himself winning Olympic gold, Mark takes up du Pont’s offer to come and train at his estate, seeing it as a chance to separate himself from his brother. While attempting this separation, Mark’s mental state becomes more strained, and Tatum is near perfect showing the emotional toll, as well as physical repercussions, of this.

Carell is almost unrecognizable as John du Pont, a man with an almost homoerotic obsession with the sport of wrestling, a desperate desire to impress his mother, and, as he says, a want to “see America soar again”. Comedians often have dark sides, it’s what made Michael Keaton perfect as Batman and why Robin Williams could flip a switch and give a serious performance. Carell has several scenes where he gives a chuckle-inducing line, like wanting to be called “Golden Eagle”, but nearly every time du Pont walks into a room, especially in the final 30 minutes, you feel uneasy and on edge, because you just have a feeling that this guy could just snap.

Ruffalo has his moments to stand out as well, especially in the second half of the film when he comforts a quickly deteriorating Mark.

What may turn some people off from “Foxcatcher” is the fact that it is a candle burning film, meaning it is a lot of build-up. At times the film may feel like it has no true aim, or even seem uneventful, but it is all building to a fantastically executed climax by Miller. The acting, the score and the direction all come to a perfect head, resulting in a final scene that is still etched in my brain and gets better as more time passes.

“Foxcatcher” is a fantastically acted, wonderfully directed thriller that takes a while to build but is well worth the wait. Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo all have scenes in which they are brilliant, and whether you know how this story ends or not, the final half hour of this film will have you leaning forward in your seat and your heartbeat slowly increasing.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Exodus’: The Book Was Better

Exodus2014Poster            Oh, Hollywood. Yet another example of one of your movies being not as good as the book on which it is based.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is the retelling of the age-old story about how Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Christian Bale stars as Moses, Joel Edgerton plays the Pharaoh Ramesses, and Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley and John Turturro all co-star. Ridley Scott directs.

Earlier this year we got another Bible epic, “Noah”, which was met to mixed responses but I personally enjoyed. Some people complained that director Darren Aronofsky took too much liberty with the story (you know, rock giants, and all), but I was for the most part willing to accept the film for what it was. And when compared to “Exodus”, “Noah” looks like a biblical masterpiece.

There is just so much going on in “Exodus” and almost none of it is done well, and even the parts that are properly executed have been done before and been done better. The plagues are all visually impressive, and we get some engaging bird’s eye shots of ancient Egypt, but I mean it’s 2014; if your film doesn’t have good CGI at this point then you’re well behind the eight ball.

Speaking of the plagues, the direction they chose to take them was interesting. Instead of direct punishment from God, the film places blame on natural causes and chain-of-events, such as the Nile becoming polluted and killing the fish, which led to an overabundance of frogs, and so forth.

The acting in the film is all pretty standard, even with Bale trying his best. He has a few riveting moments as the historical figure, but the script is so flat and the character development is so non-existent that his efforts are wasted.

The film begins with adult Moses and Ramesses going into battle, so we only learn of their relationship as adopted brothers through stories and narration. When Moses returns after nine years of banishment, we do not see how the two brothers’ relationship is strained or how having to become enemies has placed stress on them. The film simply continues to go through the motions.

Ramesses is a one-dimensional character, whom we root against simply because the movie tells us to. By the time the big confrontation at the Red Sea arrives, you feel no real urge to root for his demise or see him or his army defeated (I mean, kind of spoiler, but you’ve had over 3,000 years to read the story).

Finally, the running time of this movie. Oh my God, the run time. To paraphrase “The Social Network”, since this thing started I think I may have missed a birthday. After learning of his true identity, Moses is exiled from Egypt for nine years. In all honestly, it felt like this movie lasted longer than Moses’ banishment. It is so painfully paced and at times uneventful, I brainstormed this whole paragraph while watching the film.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” has huge ambitions but it showed limited effort to try and meet them. Bale elevates a bland script to the best of his ability, and the plagues and parting of the Red Sea are all good looking, but the film as a whole feels empty, and scenes that should be emotionally stirring range from tedious to almost laughable. I will leave you with an imploration to watch “Noah”, a biblical film that at its height is grand and awe-striking, and at its low is still much better than anything “Exodus” thought it was.

Critics Rating: 3/10

Stewart’s Humor, Satire Shine Through in ‘Rosewater’

Rosewater_poster            A comedian taking on a serious film seems to be the trend this year. Michael Keaton and Steve Carrell are getting Oscar buzz for their roles in dramas “Birdman” and “Foxcatcher”, respectively, and now Jon Stewart temporarily trades in his Daily Show desk for a director’s chair with “Rosewater”.

Based on the true story, “Rosewater” tells the tale of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal) who was detained and tortured for 118 days in Iran during the 2009 presidential election. Jon Stewart produces, writes the script (based on Bahari’s novel) and directs his first major motion picture.

In a lot of ways, “Rosewater” is like “Argo”. Obvious Iran setting aside, the film, despite taking place in the past, holds a lot of views and opinions about current events. There are also some moments of black humor to ease up the serious moments, and nice integration of stock footage. However there are also a lot of reasons why “Rosewater” is not the next “Argo”.

Despite maybe not being the most obvious choice as a film debut, Stewart does a very good job on the film’s dramatic script. There are those moments of black humor, but he also almost always nails the inner-feelings of Bahari as his days in solitary confinement begin to stack up.

One of the things the film does well is giving the audience a sense of empathy towards Bahari’s interrogators. While at times it paints them as uninformed, it never makes them look out to be delirious or unintelligent, and they even make a few valid points as to why they have imprisoned Bahari (such as “the CIA was behind the 1593 Iran coup, so why not this one?”). A somewhat ironic moment was that a piece of “evidence” the interrogators used was one of Stewart’s own Daily Show interviews in which Bahari took part in, and the Iranians saw this as cooperation with “Satan America”.

Gael García Bernal gives a nimble performance as Bahari, starting off as a happy, dedicated journalist and towards the end of the film clearly beginning to break, both mentally and physically (just ignore the fact that in four months of captivity his beard doesn’t change lengths at all). However Bernal never quite seems to reach the same level of desperation as, say, Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”, and that is in part one of the film’s largest flaws.

The movie never truly builds to anything grand. Sure, we know how the story ends, but we also knew the ending to “Apollo 13” and “Captain Phillips” and those are two of the most suspenseful films of all-time (I’m sorry for all the Tom Hanks praising; I swear when I came up with all these examples the connection was not intentional). “Rosewater” is edited so it is scene after scene, and the tension that we as an audience should be feeling is not there.

“Rosewater” is a well-written, capably directed and importantly timed film that is just not as good as it could have been. Still, it was enjoyable or interesting all throughout, and stands as a nice resume builder for a man who should need no introduction to the world delivering of political and social messages.

Critics rating: 7/10

‘Annabelle’ Boring, Lazy and Unscary

Annabelle-posterThere’s a trend I’ve noticed with Hollywood in 2014: if a title of a film is simply a female name, then the end product is trash. First we had “Tammy”, then “Lucy” and now “Annabelle”.

A prequel/spin-off/rip-off of “The Conjuring”, “Annabelle” tells the tale of how the creepy little doll became possessed in the first place, and how it torments the lives of a married couple and their newborn baby. The couple is played by Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis (crazy first name, right?!) and the film is directed by John R. Leonetti.

I wasn’t the biggest “Conjuring” fan. I appreciated its production value and acting but I just didn’t find the film very scary. And like I said in my review, a horror film that isn’t scary is like a comedy without any laughs; it failed at its objective. That being said, if “Annabelle” was intended to be a horror film, then it botched even harder than “Conjuring” ever could have hoped to.

Nothing in this film works. Let’s start with the acting. It’s as wooden as the rocking chair that the Annabelle doll sits in the entire film. The actor’s deliveries are off and their emotions are non-existent. As my one friend brilliantly said to me, “you know you’re in trouble when the doll is the best actor in the movie.”

The script is just as awful as the acting. The plot makes no sense and puts no effort into explaining how Annabelle actually comes possessed, and it takes until the final scene to tell us why the demon is after the family. The dialogue is equally as dreadful. Like I’m perplexed as to how some of these scenes made it into the finished product. At one point the husband says “ha ha it’s true; everyone HATES her grandmother”. Like, in the most awkward tone possible. And nearly completely out of context to the conversation. That would mean the director had to have looked at that take and said, “Perfect! Cut. Print.”

Speaking of direction, Leonetti does nothing special here at all. All my issues with “Conjuring” aside, director James Wan (who produced “Annabelle”) knew how to build tension in a scene using practical effects (his mistake was never having much of the tension boil over and lead anywhere). Leonetti lingers on actors faces for too long and stares at a still Annabelle for extended durations. There were a couple interesting camera tricks he employs, such as showing a little girl running past an open door only to have her turn into a full-grown woman upon entering, but I think if you had simply put a camera on a tripod it would have done a more engaging job.

All of this could be forgiven if the film was scary, or even interesting, but “Annabelle” is neither. It is boring and uneventful, and by using all no-name actors to ensure the budget was as low as possible it’s not even like we have a big-name star to hold our hand (I would pay good money to see Nicolas Cage scream and throw the Annabelle doll).

I can go on and on bashing “Annabelle”, but then I would be just hurting my brain more than this film did by itself. It is a lazily constructed and awfully executed horror film that should be condemned alongside the demons that control its title character. The silver lining about nearing the end of this review is I will never have to revisit this film ever again. Well, except when I write my Year’s Worst Films list in December. Or until they milk yet another sequel out of this already dried up franchise and I have to relive it all over again…

Critics Rating: 3/10