Sunday, August 13, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Movie Name: Annabelle: Creation
Year of Release: 2017
Director: David F. Sandberg
Stars: Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Stephanie Sigman, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee, Grace Fulton, Tayler Buck, Mark Bramhall
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Score out of ten: 6
View Trailer

The universe of stories developed by director James Wan with his "The Conjuring" film series continues, this time around with a prequel to "Annabelle", who first appeared in "The Conjuring", followed by it's original film dated from 2014. In "Annabelle: Creation" we are introduced to the family who first came in touch with the doll, and the malevolent force that lies within. This family is composed of a father, who is a doll maker, and who originally creates the Annabelle doll, the mother, and the young daughter, named Bee (diminutive from Annabelle). A dramatic accident leaves the family without their daughter,  and a few years later, a small group of orphan girls comes to the house. The girls, under the tutelage of a kind and helpful nun, are excited by the prospect of living in such a nice place, but soon one of them, the sweet Janice, starts realizing there are disturbances and strange occurrences around the house. These events start escalating and get progressively more aggressive, until one their hosts, Mrs. Mullins, unveils what has happened since the demise of her daughter.
Director David Sandberg has followed his debut feature "Lights Out", with another stylistic and smartly built exercise in suspense and horror. Using the premise established in the first (and not so accomplished) "Annabelle", the director takes the narrative to the origins of the mystique surrounding the doll, creating in the process, a haunted house type of horror film. The film smartly suggests more than it shows, playing with the shadows, shapes, and the fear coming from the young children. It also takes its time to create the sense of unease, and menace that starts permeating everyone, in particular the group of children that are in the house. The film is beautifully shot, and while most characters don't have enough depth or dimension, the environment and universe that is built is successful and sufficiently enticing. An interesting film from a promising director.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Magic Mike

Movie Name: Magic Mike
Year of Release: 2012
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Kevin Nash, Gabriel Iglesias, Betsy Brandt, Riley Keough
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Following his double feature releases of 2011, with "Haywire" and "Contagion", prolific director Steven Soderbergh returned in 2012 with what turned out to be a surprising hit, the low budget "Magic Mike". The film, loosely based on the life of actor Channing Tatum (before he became famous that is), follows the story of Mike, a male stripper and dancer living in Tampa, Florida. Mike works as a dancer with hopes of saving enough money to start working on building furniture and making that into his main business. During the day he also works construction, which is where he meets the young Adam. He takes the kid under his wing, and soon he is dancing with the troupe. Mike soon meets Adam's older sister, and becomes clearly smitten by her, and her grounded and no nonsense type of personality. As events unfold, he realizes it's time for him to make decisions and finally grow up.
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most talented film makers currently working. He is as an interesting story teller, as he is one of the most well versed technically inclined film makers (he edits and does the cinematography of most of his films). What has been interesting to witness throughout his career, is his choice of material. "Magic Mike" mostly succeeds in his approach to capture both the spectacle of the performance, and the actual life of these young men, who strip for a living and basically live in this bubble of attention and surreality, that seems to be about to burst at any moment. It's a film that is thin of story and character development for most of the supporting characters, but it still allows for Matthew McConaughey in particular to build a charismatic and magnetic character, with his host of the club, the older (and not necessarily wiser) Dallas. It's an interesting exercise for a fantastically gifted director. Worth watching.

The Founder

Movie Name: The Founder
Year of Release: 2016
Director: John Lee Ancock
Stars: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, B.J. Novak, Patrick Wilson, Kate Kneeland, Justin Randell Brooke
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten: 6
Watch on Amazon

Following the well received "Saving Mr. Banks", director John Lee Hancock is back, tackling another true story. "The Founder" follows the story of Ray Kroc, an itinerant salesman, always looking for new ideas to make money. One of his clients, are two siblings by the name of MacDonald, and Ray is positively perplexed by the way they have established a restaurant in San Bernardino. Ray finds a way to start working with the brothers, first as a franchise salesman, but as his ambition grows, so does his plans and ultimately what he wants the chain of restaurants to become. He eventually has to battle it out with the siblings, due to a contract he signed early on.
John Lee Hancock is a competent film maker, whose films while not priming for a specific point of view, make nonetheless for an interesting viewing. His films usually have an impeccable production team, and are anchored by a magnetic performance from his lead actor/actress (Sandra Bullock on "The Blind Side", Emma Thompson on "Saving Mr. Banks for instance). "The Founder" is no exception: the film creates an impeccable period reconstitution of the US in the 50s and 60s, and gives Michael Keaton another opportunity to create a character that is charismatic and brimming with ambition. The performance is actually so good, that it becomes the most memorable thing about the film, even though the central character is not portrayed in the most flattering light, and yet his appeal is there from beginning to end. It's a film that is conventional, illustrative, and polished - and almost instantly forgettable, but it does give Michael Keaton another opportunity to shine. And for that alone, it deserves to be seen.