The Nun: Horror film is Predictable, but Fun

2.5 out of 5 stars (Decent)

The Nun poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5814060/

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

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Dino Sequel Darker, Scarier, and More Thrilling

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

I am baffled by the critical reception to Jurassic World: Fallen KingdomSitting at an unbelievable 51% critics rating on Rottentomatoes.com, reviewers are claiming this entry is stale, unimaginative, and lacking the magic of its predecessors.  I completely disagree with those criticisms and believe the film actually improves the series by being darker, scarier, and providing all the expected dino-action without sacrificing the heart and character of this franchise.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom should leave moviegoers totally satisfied with action, thrills, and a scarily plausible plot in today’s world.

The film picks up 3 years after the events of Jurassic World.  Now that the raptor’s out of the bag, the world is debating over the creature’s rights, with an active volcano threatening to sink Isla Nublar.  Scientist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, sans high heels) and dino trainer Owen (the eternally awesome Chris Pratt) are called into action by elderly Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), who promises to relocate the creatures to a sanctuary safe from pesky humans.  Little do they know this expedition will lead to a conspiracy that will change human life forever.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom absolutely delivers as a summer blockbuster.  The story feels realistic, the characters have developed a bit, and the action is some of the best you’ll see this summer.  The effects are still astonishing and mix flawlessly with the dedicated human actors, who continue to sell the outlandishness.  Newcomer Isabella Sermon is also great as Lockwood’s young daughter.  She’s cute, likable, and believably terrified when called upon, all the more impressive when you realize it’s her first acting role.  Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard continue to have wonderful chemistry, and the climax is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The film has a few problems that hold it back from being one of the greats.  Rafe Spall’s human villain simply lacks a threatening screen presence and is one of the weakest baddies this year.  The writing for his character isn’t amazing, but I was more taken in by Wayne Knight with his goofy shaving cream can in the original than by this guy.  Knight was enticing in his greed, but this guy is so milquetoast that he comes off more like one of those 90’s villains who wants to close the rec center than a manipulative businessman.  Worse still, Toby Jones appears as a secondary bad guy, and is much more engaging.  I either would have made Jones the main villain or recast Spall with David Cross (Tobias from Arrested Development).  There’s also some mediocre aging make-up and weak explanation for Sermon’s accent, but my complaints end there.

These problems are minor in the grand scheme of things.  We come to these movies for the dinosaurs and characters, and we get great results with both.  While it doesn’t match the original classic, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a surprisingly solid sequel with great action, good characters, and the possibility for future adventures.  Also look out for Jeff Goldblum in the beginning and end returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm, and BD Wong as Dr. Wu.  This is one attraction you need to see up close.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Science Fiction Violence and Peril

Infinity War: Mega Marvel Team-Up Should Thrill Fans, Confuse All Others

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Avengers Infinity War Poster
image from https://www.amazon.com/

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of the past 10 years of superhero movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Fans of the franchise will laugh and cry as their favorite heroes go up against the toughest foe they’ve ever encountered, while non-fans will wonder what all the fuss is about.  Essentially, this is a movie for the devotees of this billion-dollar series.  If you are not on the Marvel train yet, either engage in a massive binge session to get caught up, or wait until The Incredibles 2 next month for your superhero fix.

The story sees several members of the Avengers team (who are too numerous to mention) battle the malevolent alien Thanos (an intimidating Josh Brolin).  Everyone will put their egos aside in order to stop Thanos from getting the magical Infinity Stones and annihilating half of Earth’s population.

Avengers: Infinity War will thrill and emotionally devastate series fans, but the uninitiated will be lost.  Despite the downbeat tone, the film contains unexpected humor from the character interactions and some of the best action in the franchise.  The performances are uniformly strong, and Brolin steals the show as one of the series’ best villains.  Lastly, the emotionally charged ending is nothing short of heartbreaking for fans, changing the rules for both this universe and superhero films as we know them.

Avengers: Infinity War is a thrilling, fun, and emotional climax to the past 10 years of Marvel’s reign over the multiplex.  May future installments continue to entertain as much as this.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence And Action Throughout, Language, And Some Crude References

X-plosions Abound in Newest Installment of Marvel Franchise

3 out of 5 stars (average)

X-Men Apocalypse poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

Despite the seriousness of its title, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is one of the goofier entries in the ongoing franchise of films centering on the X-Men, a group of super powered people lead by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as they fight oppression from fearful humans as well as Xavier’s old friend Magneto (Michael Fassbender).  This time around, the mutants must defeat a villain more powerful than anyone or anything they have ever encountered, Apocalypse (an overacting Oscar Issac), the world’s first mutant.  He has awoken from a centuries-long snoozer and decides to, what else, destroy the world and rebuild it in his own image (can someone say God complex?)  Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence out of the blue makeup for most of the events) must put aside their differences and, with the help of a quirky host of new mutants (including some you may recognize, others you will not), defend the world once again.

To give away any more of the plot would be to spoil the proceedings, so I won’t. I came into this movie hoping for the best, as it has received very polarizing reviews in the mainstream community.  Some are praising it for “finally” embracing its comic book roots, while others are calling it goofy, boring, and too action-happy.  I am somewhere in the middle of those two camps, as I appreciate the goofier look of some characters (especially Nightcrawler, a blue teleporter), as well as the action (however much of it there may be), but feel the pacing is off in some places and the acting is occasionally mixed.

First and foremost, I found the story to be engaging. It isn’t anywhere near the level of narrative engagement as “Days of Future Past”, but it kept me interested.  I wanted to see where the characters would go and how they would change by the end, something this series has always nailed in my opinion.  Even if it isn’t Shakespeare, the story in “X-Men: Apocalypse” is nothing to scoff at.

A large part of that is due to the actors involved. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again prove themselves as capable actors here, allowing us to feel their emotions gracefully and sympathetically.  I never would have imagined McAvoy as a young Patrick Stewart, but he finally shows shades of the original character here that make the transition easy to see.  Fassbender continues to stun me as a young Magneto, channeling Ian McKellan’s menace while adding sympathy to the character that McKellen never had.  Also, fan-favorite Quicksilver (Played with an unstoppable and unpredictable energy by Evan Peters) rushes back into the fray, providing much-needed snarky commentary on the tumultuous events.  I love this character because of the actor, and want to see him at least one more time.  Lastly, Jennifer Lawrence imbues Mystique with the maturity seen in the original films.  However, her character arc in these films has been eerily similar to that of Katniss Everdeen, her “Hunger Games” character.  I won’t say how, but you’ll know it if you think about it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the actors are either standard or not that great. Oscar Issac alternates between passable intimidation and YELLING ALL OF HIS LINES.  I hdon’t know if director Bryan Singer told him to do this or if Issac felt the need to imitate a Power Rangers villain, but it became unintentionally funny at some points.  Overall, he does a decent job, but this is a poor follow-up to Peter Dinklage’s menacing Bolivar Trask.  We also see younger versions of past X-Men here, and their actors are suitable, if not perfect.  That said, they had a lot to live up to, and they do a serviceable, if not memorable, job.

The action thankfully makes up for most of the acting shortcomings, until it doesn’t. The first half of the movie is primarily plot, something I did not expect and also enjoyed.  There is action, but it is quick and serves to move the plot forward. I was waiting anxiously for the big set pieces to come, and when they did, I wanted the dialogue scenes back.  The action is decently shot and suitably intense, with a minimum use of shakeycam and effective use of CGI, but the last 30 minutes hit us over the head with loud, endless explosions that nearly made me forget the end goal.  The 3rd act almost felt like a “Transformers” movie in its level of destruction, something I never want to feel in a Marvel movie.  I understand it’s the end of a trilogy (and likely the start of another), but the previous films were able to have big climaxes without sacrificing their narrative integrity, a trap that “Apocalypse” sadly falls into.  That said, it is a summer movie, so big over-the-top action is expected, especially in end-of-trilogy installments.  I just wish that I could have been affected emotionally by the action instead of staring in disbelief at its absurdity by the end.

All in all, I would recommend this movie to fans of the series. It’s action-packed, decently acted, and surprisingly funny for the circumstances (much of the humor comes from Quicksilver and Nightcrawler).  McAvoy and Fassbender again provide fascinating and layered performances that help compensate for the over-emphasis on explosions, and the new characters are good editions to the series.  “X-Men: Apocalypse” might not rock your world, but it will provide a chasm of entertainment for the summer season.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Action, And Destruction, Brief Strong Language, And Some Suggestive Images

“Civil War”: The Ultimate Marvel Movie

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Captain America Civil War poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

Captain America: Civil War is the definition of an event film. All of your favorite Marvel heroes (sans Thor and Hulk) choose sides in a battle of ideologies as well as personal demons.  The action is great, the writing is mature, and the performances are highly memorable (especially from Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, once again showcasing their dramatic chops).  Everything from Tony Stark’s captivity to the battle with Ultron has lead up to this.  Sides will be chosen, friends will become enemies, and nothing will ever be the same.  And if you aren’t on the Marvel train by now, then don’t expect this to clear anything up, because you will not understand half of what is going on.

I won’t spoil anything for those who have not seen it, but here’s the gist: The government is tired of the destruction the Avengers leave behind after their epic battles, so they have imposed a law that would require all “enhanced beings” to be at the beck-and-call of a committee that would determine where they go, where they go, and how often they go to save the world, eliminating the choice each one has to use their abilities or not.  Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans totally disappearing into the character) doesn’t like this idea, so he is firmly against it.  However, Iron Man/Tony Stark (An angry, powerful Robert Downey Jr.) believes that the heroes should be put on a leash to prevent the deaths of innocents.  This difference of opinion will tear the Avengers apart, some siding with Cap, others with Tony, all while a vengeful man (Daniel Bruhl) watches with nefarious intentions

I cannot go into plot details without spoiling this event. The actors have really grown into their characters over the years, and they are directed to near-perfection by the Russos (those guys who brought you Community and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)  They know the seriousness of the story here, having the characters act like the adults they are instead of  having misplaced wit after dramatic moments.  This is the least humorous film in the Marvel cannon thus far, and it needed to be.  There is humor here, but it is only for comedic relief in what is otherwise a very dark offering.

Spider-Man is in the movie. Yes, they are rebooting him AGAIN.  While Tobey Maguire will always be My Spider-Man, this version fits the character well, injecting the snarky humor he is known for in the comics.  I wore my Spider-Man T-shirt to the film, eagerly awaiting the new wallcrawler.  His Peter Parker comes off as a regular 16-year-old should (and yes, the actor is actually 16 this time, no more attractive 30-somethings in teen roles).  Though I have seen two film series of the character in the last 10 years, I am eager to see this version expanded upon in his own solo movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, out in 2017

Overall, this is the Marvel movie for people who think these films are afraid to tackle mature issues. It is gritty, serious, and surprisingly realistic in its treatment of the subject matter, which was necessitated in order for this to work.  I don’t know if this will be a billion-dollar phenomenon, but I can say that this is exactly what Age Of Ultron should have been, and what DC’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice so desperately wanted to be.

Rated PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Violence, Action, and Mayhem

“Concussion”: Will Smith’s Football/Medical Drama Can’t Score The Winning Goal

2.8 out of 5 stars (decent)

Concussion movie poster
Image from http://www.joblo.com/

Concussion is one of those movies that has a good cast and a very important message, but has too many flaws to win an Oscar or be slated as a classic.  The cast members are giving it their all, but are let down by the material in front of them.  The director of this film has one other project under his belt, and it’s painfully easy to see that, with odd camera shots, not-so-subtle writing, and misplaced comedy that deflates the dramatic tension.  Thank God for Will Smith and Alec Baldwin being good enough actors to make the material work.  Had they not been cast, this film likely would have disappeared into the vacuum of forgotten sports dramas.

The film follows Dr. Bennett Omalu (Smith putting on an extremely convincing Nigerian accent), a coroner who discovered and named CTE, a disease afflicting retired football players as a result of multiple hits to the head over the course of their careers. To make matters worse, the NFL knew of this problem and put it under the rug.  No one believed Omalu besides ex-Steelers doctor Julian Bales (Baldwin having trouble deciding on whether or not to do a southern accent).  However, with the support of his boss (comedic relief Albert Brooks) and girlfriend (Gugu-Mbatha Raw), Omalu would stop at nothing.to expose the League and spread the truth to prevent further injury.

This movie caused mixed feelings for me. On one hand, Will Smith is dedicated to his character, keeping the accent up throughout, imbuing Omalu with likability and sympathy that immediately gets us on his side.  Alec Baldwin gives a fine performance as well, despite switching between his normal voice and an overdone southern accent (one scene in a hotel room near the film’s end is unintentionally hilarious due to this problem).  Newcomer Gugu-Mbatha Raw has good chemistry with Smith in their scenes together.  However, the scenes of players being affected by CTE are extremely tense, well-shot, and convincingly acted, brutally showing the pain these players went through, making them, in my opinion, the best scenes in the film.

Unfortunately, Concussion has several problems that keep it from being a complete pass.  The first and most glaring of these problems is the film’s pacing.  The first 20 minutes of this movie are glacially slow, making it impossible to tell what the main plot will be.  At first, it seems the film will be about Omalu’s relationship to his girlfriend, which left me feeling confused.  At the 30-minute mark, we see Omalu examine the first body (Mike Webster), and I remembered what I paid for.  The pacing picks up a bit after this point, but it still is a slow movie.

The second problem I have lies with the cinematography. This past semester (Fall of 2015), I took a video editing class where I learned the importance of camera shots, lighting, and other editing tricks.  The director of this film needed to take this class before he shot this movie.  Most scenes are fine, but there are others that are hilariously blurry, making it hard for me to know what to focus on.  There is also a sequence in a dance club that could have been deleted without hurting the movie at all.  These and other minor mistakes in the movie make it frustrating to watch at times, especially since the film’s message about the corruption of the NFL and its disregard for its players safety is one that everyone should see.

The final problem I have with the film is a more personal one. I didn’t grow up watching football and following player’s careers, so I don’t understand people’s obsession with it.  I do not hate the game itself, but the amount of love people have for it.  This movie was shot in Pittsburgh, where the events took place, and some of the dead players were Pittsburgh icons (Mike Webster was a “favorite son” of the area).  The movie seems to think that everyone going into this film will know about the players who died from CTE, and doesn’t make an effort to explain them to outsiders.  I did not grow up in Pittsburgh, nor had I ever heard of any of these players before seeing the film.  It is horrible that they died due to negligence of the NFL, but I could not feel as sad as the film wanted me to because of my lack of knowledge.

That being said, there are two reasons to see this film: The message about the corruption of the NFL, and Will Smith. Had I never seen Smith in a movie before, I would think he sounded like this character in real life.  While not Oscar-worthy, Smith’s dedicated performance deserves attention.  He carries the film on his shoulders, and his performance should not be missed.  Luckily, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama, as well as other minor awards, but the Academy failed to recognize him, furthering the #Oscarssowhite controversy of this year.

All in all, Concussion is a decent movie with a very important message. It’s weighed down by odd directing, some badly-placed humor, and a horrid pace, but I still recommend the film so that people will know the truth about the game they love so much.

Rated PG-13 for Thematic Material Including Disturbing Images and Language