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This Week's Film Reviews (Jun 29, 2019)

29 Jun 2019

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME opens Tuesday!

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

Best Comedy:

Booksmart

Best Foreign: 

Never Look Away

Best Action:
Avengers Endgame

Best Drama:

Rocketman

Best Family:

Toy Story 4

Best Horror:

Child’s Play

FILM REVIEWS:

ANNABELLA COMES HOME (USA 2019) *
Directed by Gary Dauberman

There is one rule in the horror book that should never be broken.  There must be deaths.  In ANABELLE COMES HOME, no one dies.  The rule is broken in one of the worst horror films or films in general to open in 2019.  It is senseless, overlong, boring and downright silly.

ANNABELLE COMES HOME is the third instalment of the ANNABELLE  franchise, a spin off fro the Conjuring movies.  The first was terrible, the second not bad and this one back to terrible.  It is the second film with the theme of a demon doll to open this month after last week’s more fun CHILD’S PLAY.  Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) the main character of the film is clear to point out the difference.  Annabelle is not a doll that is possessed, but a portal through which demons can enter the human world.  He also claims that possession can only take place in living things therefore putting CHILD’S PLAY down.  To add on: “Isabelle is the devil.”

Determined to keep Annabelle from wreaking more havoc, demonologists Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine Warren Vera Farminga) bring the possessed doll to the locked artifacts room in their home, placing her “safely” behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest’s holy blessing.  But an unholy night of horror awaits as Annabelle awakens the evil spirits in the room, who all set their sights on a new target—the Warrens’ ten-year old daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), and her friends, babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Daniela (Katie Sarife), the troubled one guilt ridden of having killed her father in a car accident.

Director Gary Fauberman directs from the script (if one can call it that) he co-wrote with James Wan.  The film begins with Ed and Lorraine Warren who bring the audience to date of the doll and how they lock it up safely.  The couple has three scenes - the locking of the doll, the stranded car and the end.  Other than that, they disappear for the rest of the film.

The film has the typical scares found in a horror film like sudden appearance of objects or loud sounds (telephone ringing) and other assorted false alarms.  These go on throughout the entire film regardless of where the story is leading, escalating to a meaningless climax.  Too much of the same thing leads to monotony which is exactly what happens in this otherwise extremely slow paced film.

To Dauberman’s credit, his time lapse mirror segment is worth mentioning.  In it, the girl glares at her reflection in the mirror.  The reflection in the mirror occurs a few seconds in the future.  For example, she sees a falling in he mirror just before it actually falls.  Though this has noting to do whatsoever with the plot, it is quite the creepy and inventive device.

Forget the ANNABELLE and CONJURING franchise.  It is time to have the series locked up for they do no-one any good.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCxm7cTpBAs

ISABELLE (UK/Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Rob Heydon

ISABELLE is a psychological thriller that treads on the successes of past horror classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST.  The lead character is a pregnant mother and the character is being possessed by some demon who wants to live in the human world.

Director Rob Heydon sets the stage at the film’s start with several audience anticipation moves.  An all-American couple (though the film was shot in Hamilton and Toronto, Canada) moves into a New England neighbourhood.  First comes a scream from the pregnant mother, Larissa (Amanda Crew).  “The baby kicked me.  She is strong.”  “You don’t want this baby.”  These are words that propose that things are going to get nasty.

True to expectations, things do not get better.  Larissa meets the odd next door neighbour, Ann (nicely played by Sheila McCarthy) and her wheelchair bound daughter, Isabel (Zoe Belkin), who spends all the time staring at her through her second floor bedroom window. 

Larissa loses the baby.  She becomes terribly depressed and prescribed depression medication that seems to make her go all weird and paranoid.  There is only so much hubby Matt can tolerate.  The script introduces a weird looking pastor who actually is normal and tries to help the couple.  The music is also greta at creating the mood of a scary atmosphere.

The film contains some great genuinely scary moments.  “I want to see my baby,” demands Larissa after delivering her stillborn.  But they never let the audience see it, well perhaps only a glimpse. 

Director Heydon sure is adept at keeping the mood of the film successfully creepy.  The dead baby keeps appearing out of nowhere to invade Larissa’s dreams to just shock her.   The baby’s scorching red eyes add to the scares.  Red eyes are commonly used, as witnessed too with Chuck’s eyes in CHILD’S PLAY, also opening this week.  Larissa also acts weird but McCarthy’s neighbour is sufficiently creepy all on her own.  The camera shot of a newspaper article of a child abuser adds on even more.  It is assumed that Isabel is be the daughter of the child abuser, though the spelling of Isabel is different from the title of the film.

The film has a short running length of less than 90 minutes.  For this short a running time, too much happens - especially at the end, so that credibility is stretched to the limit.  It is not that audiences would believe what transpires on screen anyway, but too much occurring too fast in a hour film tends to come off as silliness.

The best thing about the film is its build up of the couple’s paranoia and how it affects both the husband and mother - and how they cope with it together.  At times, one wonders whether the film is just a psychological drama with no supernatural element.  ISABELLE ends up a satisfactory low budget horror thriller - the typical Canadian flick that stands in as an American one in order to expand its target audience but the film is up for stiff competition opening the same week as CHILD’S PLAY.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zt23AB3MUU

NEVER-ENDING MAN: HAYAO MIYAZAKI (Japan 2016) ***

Directed by Kaku Arakawa

Made as a Japanese TV movie back in 2016, taking 3 years before getting a commercial release at the TIFF Lightbox, one can understand the limited attraction of this documentary.  Though Studio Ghibli films are the bread and butter of Japanese animation features, still the studio’s film and director’s names are still unknown to many Americans who will never see anything not North American.  Unless one is a Studio Ghibli fan, fascinated by the films and an admirer of Hayao Miyazaki, the studio’s founder and the Academy Award winning director (for PRINCESS MONONOKE) of more than a dozen world wide successes, the target audience is limited.

The film begins with the camera panning an empty anination studio following Miyazaki’s announcement to the press and staff of his retirement.  But he soon begins work on a  short film, BORO THE CATERPILLAR (in 2018) using CGI for the first time and then contemplating the main of a full length feature, which he jokingly claims could be completed after his death.

The film is clear to point out Miyazaki’s successes with a collage of his hits including SPIRITED AWAY (my favourite), MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO, PONYO, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and his last feature THE WIND RISES.

The doc clearly narrow the scope to the director’s work and his daily routines.  It clearly omits anything of his past, his childhood or his influences.  Nothing is revealed of his family either.  In one scene, Miyazaki mentions his wife, but the film has not a single shot of her.  He is also shown making his own meals (often having ramen from pack of instant noodles) and walking around what seems an empty typical Japanese house.

Miyazaki the man is shown to be a simple one, but an over-obsessed animator that strives for his vision 100% totally driving those that have a different view crazy if not out of the picture.  He has a cigarette in hand most of the time and obviously smokes too much.  Miyazaki is also shown to be a kind man.  When shown a CGI animated segment of a zombie like creature writhing in pain, he astounds all present that he says he wants nothing to do with it.  “You have no idea of pain.” He relates a story of meeting a man who suffers pain that he could not lift up his hand to ‘high five’.   He insists on the importance of being sympathetic to pain, which again is illustrated in the emotion-like characteristics in all his animated characters and figures.

Besides being a film about Miyazaki, the film also reveals the difficult task of CGI and how much work goes into producing CGI effects.  One CGI animator even claims: “Perhaps it is easier to do hand-drawn”.  The film also questions the issue of retirement among the old.  Miyazaki says he’d rather work than do nothing, a philosophy many seniors who have all their faculties share.

The doc turns out to tackle more issues than expected which audiences hopefully will get to learn more of this legendary director.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7od_hvrGeHo

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (USA 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Jon Watts

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is the sequel to SPIDER-MAN:HOMECOMING with the events taking place after AVENGERS: ENDGAME. It would be helpful if one is aware of those events like the 5-year blip (where humans disappeared from the planet) and the death of Tony Stark aka IRONMAN.

The film begins with a scene in Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) high school where the students complain about the odd circumstances arising from the 5 year blip.  Those that have disappeared and those who have not got a 5-year difference in their ages - a fact that is totally ignored in ENDGAME, which is really queer.  Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has been Peter’s mentor since his death in ENDGAME, and Peter mourns the death of Stark in a comical Whitney Houston’s moment.  Peter Parker wants a normal life at school and to be in love with one of the classmates, M.J. (Zendaya)  As fate goes, the class is off on a field trip to Europe where Peter aims to declare his intentions to her at the top of the Eiffel Tower.  No such luck as the Earth is under attack by the Elementals.  But another superpower called Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) is saving the day.  Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is actively trying to recruit Peter Parker aka Spider-man into the avengers.

For a superhero movie, this film has more plot which makes the film more interesting.  It is also fun to watch as Peter is a teenager still susceptible to human foibles like romance and certain innocence.  The film also functions as a coming-of-age drama complete with Peter Parker pining for his first girlfriend, while (the film) not forgetting it is still a super action-hero movie complete with CGI action sequences.

Impressive performances overall from the more serious Jackson and Gyllenhaal to the goofy Holland.

The film’s contains a few amusing subplots.  “Happy” (Jon Favreau)is in love with Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) while Nick Fury has the running joke of trying to contact Peter while being ‘ghosted’.   The film is all fun and action - the way an action super-hero flick should be - minus any dark side.  Whenever a action heroes moves into the dark side, it is the end of that franchise (BATMAN v. SUPERMAN).

For purpose of entertainment, as little of the plot is revealed in this review.  But stay right to the end of the closing credits.  There are two more important segments, the last of which occurs right at the very, very end after the hundreds of animator CGI names have been listed. It is worth the 10-minute stay.

The film has an odd opening day on the Tuesday - probably for July the 4th which is the U.S. Independence Day.  The studios are re-releasing AVENGERS: ENDGAME but SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME is clearly the better choice.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt9L1jCKGnE

YESTERDAY (UK/USA 2019) ***
Directed by Danny Boyle

News had it that Danny Boyle was so impressed with Richard Curtis’s script of the idea of a singer rising to fame performing the songs of The Beatles, these songs wiped out of the minds of everybody in the world except for him that he agreed to direct the film without a second thought.  Boyle has obviously not seen many French films like the one in which all the minds were similarly erased on the memory of the songs of French singer Johnny Halliday.  Coincidence maybe? Or plagiarized premise, it will be difficult to prove.  Still YESTERDAY has enough differences in the story to stand on its own.  And it is directed by well-respected Danny Boyle who made 28 DAYS LATER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and his best film, TRAINSPOTTING.

Jack Malik (newcomer Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter from Clacton-on-Sea, England whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading.  He has the unfailing devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James) and his band. Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up with his guitar broken.  When his friends buy him a new one as a recovery preset, he sings to them the Beatles hit “Yesterday” only to find out that nobody else on Earth besides himself remember The Beatles.

With the assistance of his steel-hearted American agent, Debra, Jack rises to global fame by performing songs by the band. However, as his star rises, he risks losing Ellie — the one person who always believed in him.  The romance between him and Ellie makes the other part of the story.  Jack starts feeling guilty.  But director Boyle shows Jack’s guilt is fear of being caught rather than of theft of the Beatles’s songs, though he finally confesses at the end, something that goes against the trend of his behaviour.

I am not a fan of Boyle’s feel-good movies like this one or SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.  I prefer Boyle’s darker works.  As such, YESTERDAY’s best moments are those with Jack’s agent the over enthusiastic Debra, brilliantly played by Kate McKinnon.  She paints a darker side of the recording industry lampooning it occasionally.

The film is given a tremendous boost by the inclusion of singer Ed Sheeran, playing himself.  Shreeran discovers Jack and gets him to open for him on his Russian tour.  Sheeran has quite the large supporting role in the film so Sheeran fans should make it a point to catch the singer doing his sly acting bit.

One of the pleasures of watching YESTERDAY is to admire once again the genius of The Beatles as song after song of their hits are played.  Paul McCartney has a cameo in the film as does a fictitious John Lennon (with a look alike actor playing him).

But despite Boyle’s enthusiasm that shows throughout the film, the film is highly predictable, particularly the romance and the ending.  The humour with his family is also familiar fare.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY0GBmOxyYY

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