Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Director: Gary Dauberman

Cast: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

106 mins. Rated R for horror violence and terror.

 

The Conjuring Universe had a big year with the release of the distantly-related The Curse of La Llorona and the film we’re going to talk about today, the third film in the Annabelle series and the seventh film in the universe, Annabelle Comes Home. How does it fit within the framework and does it successfully continue expanding the franchise mythos? Let’s find out.

Ed (Patrick Wilson, The Phantom of the Opera, Aquaman) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Captive State) have taken possession of the haunted doll Annabelle, and now she sits within a glass protective case in a locked room of their home. No one is allowed access. When they depart on an overnight trip for work, their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace, Gifted, Captain Marvel) is left with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween). They are both well-aware to stay away from the room and its many dangerous items, but Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife, Twisted Sisters, TV’s Youth & Consequences) comes over and inadvertently leaves the room unlocked. Now, the spirit attached to Annabelle has awakened everything that resides in the room, and it’s up to Judy and Mary Ellen to survive the night and get Annabelle back in her case.

My biggest criticism of Annabelle Comes Home is that I didn’t find the film scary at all. That’s not a big fault on it because, while not being very scary, this installment is loads of fun. I loved visiting the many different corners of creep within the Warren’s protection room. I really liked the new additions of the Ferryman and the Samurai warrior of the Oni (though I’m not yet convinced that either one could carry its own film), and there are a lot of cool setups and sequences in the film. I kind of wish that the werewolf was saved for The Conjuring 3 because it has a really cool story attached to it and could’ve made a really cool standalone film, but that’s not where The Conjuring 3 is going now.

I think part of the problem with the lack of tension and fear in the film is the director, Gary Dauberman. Dauberman is known for having a hand in a lot of horror in recent years, including several other Conjuring Universe films and It, but he’s never directed, and I don’t think he was as successful in building the tension. He has the ability to create fear on the page, but he needs some more practice on creating it on the screen.

I really liked the dynamic between Judy and Mary Ellen. I think Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman have great chemistry, which is very good considering so much of the film relies heavily on these two performances. On the other hand, I was less than impressed by Katie Sarife. It’s a mixture of some poor writing for the character, making her a bit too unlikable, and the performance, which just didn’t do anything for me.

I like the addition of Ed and Lorraine Warren to the story. I think, while not starring in the film, they add a layer of validity to the story and really help to bring this whole universe together. It always felt to me that The Conjuring films were seen as higher importance because Ed and Lorraine never appeared in the other films, but I think that the way they are utilized here really helps with the connective tissue that a universe thrives on.

Annabelle Comes Home is in the middle ground of the Annabelle series and the Conjuring Universe as a whole, and this sounds like a criticism, but it really isn’t. I had a lot of fun watching the movie, but it doesn’t capture horror the way both Conjuring films or the superior Annabelle: Creation did. It’s still miles ahead of the first Annabelle film, showing that the filmmakers know how to learn from their mistakes, and it creates a bright new avenue for where this franchise can go next. Check out Annabelle Comes Home for all that creepy Night at the Museum-level fun.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 26 – In the Tall Grass (2019)

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Rachel Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted

Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali

101 mins. Rated TV-MA.

 

Stephen King is having a hell of a year. Between It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary, Castle Rock, Mr. Mercedes, and the upcoming Lisey’s Story, The Stand, The Outsider, and probably more than that, he’s having a damn good year, and now, the novella he cro-wrote with son Joe Hill has been adapted into the new Netflix Original Film In the Tall Grass.

Becky (Laysla De Oliveira, Acquainted, One by One) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) are on their way to San Diego when they, upon stopping to rest near an old church, hear the voice of a child coming from the tall grass near them. The voice claims to be lost and scared, and Becky and Cal go in to find the young boy, but upon entering the grass, they discover that it is far more difficult to find an exit, and there is something sinister buried deep within the grass.

Writer/director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, ABCs of Death 2) does the most that he can possibly do to make a boring background like standing in grass. Seriously, there are so many impressive shots in the film that elevate a simple setting into an elaborate one. The difficult in a film like In the Tall Grass is that you have limited characters and limited settings and you have to create a dynamic film where it actually feels like the characters are going somewhere. It doesn’t always work in the film, but when it does, it works very well.

The cast is fine, but Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera, Annabelle Comes Home) steals every scene he’s in as Ross Humboldt, a man who went into the tall grass with his wife and son and thinks he knows a way out. There are sequences in the film that feel like they will just be sequences of people yelling for help and yet Patrick Wilson’s Ross is such a unique and interesting fella to throw into the mix.

In the Tall Grass gets really weird and wild as he film goes on, and it becomes a lot more crazy near the end, but I was all in for it. There’s a lot more happening in this film than just a bunch of people lost in a field, but I won’t get into it here. This is a Netflix Original well worth your time. It’s fun and eerie and weird and confusing. I had a lot of fun even though the film is about 10 minutes too long. Still, In the Tall Grass is a lot of fun this Halloween season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, click here.

[Early Review] Angel Has Fallen (2019)

or “Someone Please Help Mr. Boreanaz Up”

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson Piper Perabo, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston

Screenplay: Matt Cook, Robert Mark Kamen, Ric Roman Waugh

120 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

Wow, someone worked really hard to get the title of this film into the dialogue, and it doesn’t work at all.

Since the events of London Has Fallen, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, Se7en, Alpha) has become the new President of the United States, and Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) is still a member of the Secret Service. When a drone attack seriously injures the President and seemingly implicates Banning, though, Mike is forced off the grid and on the run as a fugitive with FBI agents hot on his tail. He must work quickly to ascertain exactly who set him up and why before Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson, O Brother, Where Are Thou?, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) uses intel about the assassination attempt to start a war with Russia.

I recently watched the first two installments of this franchise for the first time, and I was very vocal that the second film was a big step down in quality, and it seems that trajectory is continued in Angel Has Fallen. Gerard Butler was very hands-on with the story of this one, stating that it will be similar to Logan, a darker, grittier, and more character-driven film. I cannot disagree with that statement more. First of all, dark and gritty do not a Logan film make. To add to that, stop trying to copy Logan and just make a good film. Finally, the note that this is a more character-driven film is rather laughable. The only characters with any real development in this is Mike and his father Clay (Nick Nolte, Warrior, A Walk in the Woods), and their arcs feel like such a complete divergence from where Mike is in the first two films that it doesn’t even really feel like a sequel to the franchise. In fact, many of the theatergoers at my screening didn’t even know this was a sequel.

The screenplay is pretty predictable. I joked to myself, not more than five minutes into the film, that I knew who set up Mike, and I was right. It’s cliché to the point of self-parody. This is a trilogy capper that feels so much like Tak3n down to the simplistic frame-the-hero plot and the FBI team that can’t see the answer right in front of them for most of the film.

The only true winner for this film is the addition of Nick Nolte as Clay, the father. Yes, his character seems out of place here, but working with what I’m given, it’s nice to see some semblance of where Mike gets his thought processes. His dad is a guy who is always thinking several steps ahead and planning for the worst-case scenario, and I kind of get where Mike, as a character, comes from. That being said, there’s no set-up for his character and he just kind of appears. Much of the dialogue from his first few scenes attempts to build a lot of exposition in not a lot of time. Each line is overflowing with information that nobody would ever actually feel the need to say.

Angel Has Fallen is the weakest film in the trilogy. I feel like no one is really here to play in this installment. The plot is clunky and thin, the dialogue isn’t very strong, and no character outside of Nolte is really engaging to watch. It’s unfortunate to say that this franchise may have fallen…for the last time.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, click here.

For my review of Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen, click here.

London Has Fallen (2016)

or “I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up: The Movie”

Director: Babak Najafi

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Jackie Earle Haley, Sean O’Bryan, Waleed Zuaiter

Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast, Chad St. John

99 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

Someone should always be keeping an eye on Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Bleed for This). Dude keeps getting attacked or kidnapped.

It’s been six years since the attack on the White House, and Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) is still in the Secret Service, keeping a protective eye on President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart). Soon, though, Mike is going to be a father, and he’s thinking about giving the job up. But when a funeral for the UK Prime Minister turns into a series of coordinated attack intended to assassinate the Western leaders, Mike is forced to ensure the safety of the President once again as they are pursued through the streets of London, being hunted by a terrorist out for revenge.

Just about everything in this sequel is a step down in quality from the previous film. The visual effects are very hit-or-miss, with some of them being passable while still others, especially the sequence with the helicopter from the trailer, being downright atrocious. The writing is choppier, the dialogue somehow even cheesier and goofier than the original, and the direction is mostly simplistic.

The action is a lot more kinetic this time around as we aren’t forced into the confines of a singular setting. London is the playground here and it’s fun to see Eckhart’s character as he gets a lot more to do this time around. His bro-chemistry is pretty strong with Butler. Again, many of the performances work passably enough within the confines of this B-action thriller, but many of our returning characters have nothing to do in this sequel. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, Bigger) returning as General Clegg.

Sadly, though, for all the action set pieces within the film, most of the action is quickly forgettable save for the terrific assault shootout near the end of the film with Banning and a team of Delta Force/SAS squad moving through the streets of London toward the terrorist hideout. It’s exciting, flashy, and an all-around stellar set piece.

I feel like the one thing this sequel does better than the original is the pacing. Most of the film keeps swiftly moving with the shorter run time and a more intensive mission for Banning and the President. The scenes with Morgan Freeman (Se7en, Alpha) and the rest of the intelligence staff don’t have the same intensity, but the film isn’t really focused on them.

London Has Fallen is a significantly weaker film than its predecessor, taking a familiar and straightforward action film over something with a stronger premise. It’s fine for the most part, but it’s also largely forgettable and loses a lot of the intensity of the first film save for one phenomenal sequence. Butler’s Banning is still kick-ass, but he’s given a thicker layer of cheese due to some really shabby writing. For the most part, if you really enjoyed the first film, I think you can like this one just fine, but this will do nothing to attract newer audiences.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, click here.

Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

or “Someone call John McClane! He’ll know what to do!”

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune

Screenplay: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt

119 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

I’m finally getting around to watching the Fallen trilogy (that’s what I’m calling it, deal with it) now with the third film hitting theaters. When Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down both released in the same year, I felt like the friend of a couple breaking up who had to choose sides, and I chose neither, so now here I am, years later, finally catching this one.

When terrorists capture the White House and take President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight, Bleed for This) hostage along with several high-ranking members of his cabinet, it becomes up to former Secret Service lead Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) to rescue them before terrorist leader Kang (Rick Yune, Die Another Day, Alita: Battle Angel) dispatches them and gets the codes to a dangerous protocol labeled Cerberus. Banning teams up with Speaker of the House Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, Se7en, Alpha) who is acting President during the attack in order to safely rescue the cabinet members and Asher, but their allies might not all be on the same side.

Olympus Has Fallen is an action film which harkens back to a specific time period in the genre with Gerard Butler as the classic action hero a la Stallone and Schwarzenegger. He’ll never hit that level, but there’s a 80s/90s somewhat cheesy attitude about the film, but director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, American Dream/American Nightmare) mostly sticks the landing in this Die Hard-style thriller.

Butler is not winning any awards with his performance as Banning, nor is anyone else in the film, but there’s the sense that all performers, from Eckhard to Freeman to Angela Bassett (Strange Days, TV’s 9-1-1), who plays Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs, know exactly what film they are in and playing to the action and cheese instead of shying away from it.

The screenplay, from Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (The Expendables 3) isn’t very layered, and some of the dialogue is overtly stupid, as if it was only written for a tagline or a trailer moment, but it’s successful enough under the capable direction of Fuqua, who, like his performers, understands what movie he is making.

There’s a lot of action and a considerable amount of CG, and very little of the CG has aged all that well. Some of the special effects are downright cringe-inducing in the film, and maybe that helps play up the B-action quality of the film. It’s just not very good use of special effects throughout, and some more practical effects work would have saved some of the silliness in the final product.

Olympus Has Fallen created an action superstar in Mike Banning. I’m not surprised the film sparked a franchise, and for all its cheese and stupidity, it was a rather enjoyable political siege thriller. Aided by top-notch performers having fun with the material, I was rather enthralled with the twists and turns of the film. It’s a good film. Not amazing, but sometimes good is enough.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 3 – The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Cast: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Alex Hyde-White, Bill Nighy, Terence Harvey

Screenplay: Duke Sandefur

93 mins. Rated R.

 

I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally get a copy of The Phantom of the Opera in my hands. This film is widely available, but I’ve never brought myself to actually watch it for some reason until my colleague Marc lent it to me. I was so excited to finally see Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld) portray the Phantom. Boy, was I wrong.

Christine Day (Jill Schoelen, The Stepfather, When a Stranger Calls Back) is an opera singer living in Manhattan who has just found a rather unique piece of music to sing at her upcoming audition. She discovers that the writer of the piece, Erik Destler (Englund), was likely responsible for numerous slayings a hundred years earlier, but she decides to sing the piece anyway. At the audition, she is accidentally knocked unconscious by a falling sandbag and awakens to find herself in London in 1885. Now, Christine is stuck in 1885 being followed by a mysterious admirer, and the body count is growing.

I wanted to love this movie, and I was so disappointed. First of all, you cannot call your film a modern retelling of The Phantom of the Opera if almost the entire film takes place in the 1800s. I wanted a Phantom set in the 1980s. This film seemed very promising at the beginning only to veer off into a direction we’ve kind of seen before.

Robert Englund performs well at Erik even if he isn’t given nearly as much to do. I think the work he had done playing Freddy Krueger prepared him to be under layers of makeup and still show off his chops. I wasn’t all that impressed with the rest of the cast and I didn’t feel like any of them were given the ability to shine due to the fluff that fills the film.

Another thing too that kind of takes us into potential spoilery territory: there’s a sequence after the climax of the film that doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t do anything to push the narrative forward, it left a bad taste in my mouth (even after a disappointing 90 minutes), and overall just ended the film on a sour note.

The Phantom of the Opera is a rather large disappointment. This film just could have been so much more and I really pined for it, but as soon as the audience is introduced to this time-travel element, the film goes absolutely nowhere. It’s truly frustrating especially after the inspired decision to use Englund in the lead. This is one adaptation that will not earn any love.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, click here.

 

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