The Nun: Horror film is Predictable, but Fun

2.5 out of 5 stars (Decent)

The Nun poster
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The Nun is the newest installment in the popular Conjuring film series, though you don’t need to have seen the other films to get it.  While it certainly isn’t as good as The Conjuring 1 and 2, the film is a suitably fun Haunted House Movie (or, Haunted Abbey Movie in this case), and should satisfy people who enjoy easy, predictable jump scares with friends.  Unfortunately, anyone expecting a character-driven story like the first two Conjurings will be sorely disappointed.

Father Burke (Demian Bichir) has been sent to an Abbey by the Vatican to investigate a nun’s suicide.  He is joined by unavowed novice Irene (Taissa Farmiga, TV’s American Horror Story) and comedic relief guide Frenchie (an enjoyable Jonas Bloquet), and the trio sets off to the abbey unaware of the sinister and supernatural evil that calls it home, namely a ghostly Nun (An effective Bonnie Aarons).

I understand why most critics are being harsh on this film.  This is a horror series that has stood out from the crowd by providing engaging stories and interesting characters along with effective scares, and this one is more focused on the scares.  The characters are not as interesting as they could be, but the performances are good enough to get you through if you like this kind of thing.  I’ll likely forget most of the details of this film after writing this review, but I enjoyed watching it with my cousin alone in the dark theater.  This should have been a Halloween release, not a Summer one.  The dark, gothic design of the Abbey and candle-lit hallways make it perfect for home viewing parties with friends, and there are unexpected bits of humor to lighten the mood (something other films did not have), to good effect.

The Nun’s biggest failure is its reliance on predictable jump scares over an engaging story or characters.  The camera movement repeats in every scary scene to prepare you for the ghouls to pop out: Shot of the room from the ceiling, then a close-up shot of the character’s face, then the camera slowly turns to reveal the ghost behind them.  It’s fun, but seriously predictable and feels longer than its 96-minute runtime.  Despite that, I would still recommend renting the film, as there are enough good effects and some good humor to make it a fun ride. Rent it.

Rated R for Terror, Violence, And Disturbing/Bloody Images

Happytime Murders: Mismarketed Puppet Film a Decent Crime Drama, With Raunch

3 out of 5 stars (Average)

Happytime Murders poster
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The Hapytime Murders is by far the most heavily mismarketed film of 2018.  Advertised as a wild and raunchy comedy, the film is actually a decent crime drama with raunchy humor that showcases that puppets can do far more in movies than sing to your kids.  However, people who want a unique (if flawed) crime drama with some ribald humor will likely be impressed at the immaculate puppetry on display here, along with a solid human cast that plays surprisingly well off of their stuffed cast members.  The Happytime Murders is a good step in legitimizing puppetry as adult entertainment, despite a few bad jokes and some questionable script decisions.  It’s not as good as it could be, but my God if it couldn’t be a lot worse.

We follow ex-cop-turned-private-eye Phil Phillips (controlled and voiced by Bill Barretta), a puppet living in a world where humans coexist with the furry creatures, albeit with intense racial prejudice against them.  Phil witnesses the murder of a puppet cast member of The Happytime Gang, a Bear-in-the-Big-Blue-House-esque TV show, and is called to work with human ex-partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy largely playing it straight) to catch the killer.  However, when more members of the show appear stuffy side up, they must figure out who wants them all dead before it’s too late.

The Happytime Murders is a flawed movie more for its marketing than the actual film.  Why the studio decided to showcase nearly all the raunchy stuff (including the film’s best comedic set piece), rather than show its true colors is beyond me.  Had I not been warned by a good friend it wasn’t a wild comedy, this would be a very different review.  Luckily, I did, and was treated to one of the more entertaining (if very niche) cop pictures I’ve seen recently.  I like seeing McCarthy play second fiddle to someone in a more restrained role, and she works decently off of the creature.  To that end, the puppeteers have outdone themselves, creating some enjoyably violent sequences and showing their creations do things you never thought you’d see a puppet do (or want to see, for some).

Therein lies the problem: The Happytime Murders is only going to satisfy a very niche audience: those who enjoy crime dramas, raunchy humor, and puppetry, but don’t mind the furry guys showing their raunchy side.  My theater consisted of myself and two older couples, and they laughed about 4 times.  I laughed at most of the humor, but some of it just didn’t land.  Melissa McCarthy fans may also feel she is underused comedically (once again, the marketing has wrongfully placed her in the spotlight), and I understand that.  The film also tries to have a commentary on racism with the mistreatment of the puppets, but we aren’t told how the world got here and so it just comes off as well-intentioned, yet ineffective.

The Happytime Murders is a solid crime drama with bursts of raunchy humor that will have trouble finding an audience due to abhorrent mismarketing and expectations of puppetry.  The human cast (also featuring Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, and a very funny Maya Rudolph) are game for the material, which treats itself just seriously enough to be taken as legitimate crime drama, but not so much that the raunchy humor feels misplaced.  Would I recommend it to everyone?  Definitely not.  There are things I will never be able to unsee here.  However, if you want a unique puppet film that doesn’t give a fluff about young kids, then I recommend The Happytime Murders.  See it.

Rated R for Strong Crude And Sexual Content And Language Throughout, And Some Drug Material

Marvel’s New Film Not Fantastic, But It’s No Failure

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

Fantastic Four 2015 Poster
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Note: My thoughts on this film (often stylized as Fant4stic) have changed dramatically since this review.  Today, I completely agree with the majority opinion: the characters are weak, the tone is overly dour, and the film completely lacks a second act due to studio meddling.  Today, I would likely give it 1.5 out of 5 stars (one of the worst of the year).  I don’t know what possessed me to give this a decent review back in 2015, but please enjoy my faint praise below:

Marvel’s newest, non-Avengers offering: Fantastic Four is not what you think it is.  The marketing for this made it look overly dark and contemplative for a film of its type, leading me to believe it would be a serious character study that would bore me to sleep.  The reviews thus far have said that this movie is dull, overly dark, and anticlimactic.  I wholly disagree.  Though it is noticeably flawed, Fantastic Four is a fun, decently entertaining sci-fi action film with some good humor and likable characters.

Reed Richards (Miles Teller of the Divergent series and Whiplash) is a misunderstood genius who has been building a machine that would allow interdimensional travel with his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell of 2005’s King Kong) since the 5th grade.  Now a senior in high school, Reed displays his machine for a science fair, only to have his teacher to laugh it off.

Reeds’ luck changes when he is given the opportunity by scientist Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey of The Wire) to get his machine up and running.  Reed will work with Franklin’s children, hothead Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and Frank’s old colleague Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to achieve this.  The quartet eventually makes their dreams come true, but that comes at a price that none of them could have ever seen coming.

I understand that my plot description seems a bit rote, but I cannot tell you anymore of the story without spoiling it. I can assure you it is worth it.

The cast is fine in their respected roles. Miles Teller and Kate Mara are believable as nerds, and Toby Kebbell does fine with what he is given.  Michael B. Jordan provides good comic relief, but he isn’t very interesting.  Jamie Bell gets the short end of the stick, as he doesn’t have enough to do in the film, and disappears for some of the first act, only appearing when the plot needs him to.  Because of this, I didn’t have a strong connection with the character, something that the last set of films (yes, this is a reboot) nailed.

Action-wise, it’s good when it’s there. There’s one action sequence at the beginning, a very short one in the middle, and one at the end.  They are intense, well-shot, and don’t go on too long (In fact, I wouldn’t have minded if the climax was a bit longer, but it’s good as is).  Josh Trank (who co-wrote the script) confidently directs the action, but he could improve in directing his actors.

In my review of Ant Man, I mentioned the good chemistry between the actors. Fantastic Four is the exact opposite.  The actors don’t have consistent chemistry with each other, making many of the scenes awkward to watch.  I understand that Reed and Sue aren’t going to be like Buffy and Willow right away, but Reed’s chemistry with Ben is so bad that it’s nearly laughable.  On the bright side, Franklin and Johnny work passably off of each other, but only passably.  This is not the script’s fault (though it is far from a perfect gem), it’s the fault of Josh Trank.  This is only his second film, and I feel it was a mistake to give a big project like this to someone who isn’t experienced enough to handle the pressures of it.

My final complaint is the amount of profanity in the movie. I normally have no issue with it, but Marvel doesn’t have a lot of bad language in their movies, and this one had much more than I expected.  I have seen lots of kids in Marvel theaters throughout the years, and this movie alienates that audience segment by inserting the profanity.  Kids beg for the merchandise for these movies, so putting in profanity only prevents them from being able to see it.  Those kids might be a saving grace for the movie, given its current projected box office returns.

Fantastic Four is not Marvel’s best by any means, but it certainly not its worst either. The individual actors are good and the humor is appropriately placed.  When present, the action sequences are intense and decently exciting, and the script is mostly sound (despite a few over-the-top lines and catchphrases at the end, but they are forgivable.)  See Fantastic Four at the $2.00 Theater, and you should be decently entertained.

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence and Language