It's been a long road but we are back and The Film Basement is open for business. We start anew with a film that exists on sheer will alone it seems. No one ever though that BLADE RUNNER would ever get a follow up but here we are and we are here to discuss that film NOW! Let's go! It's showtime!
The latest film in The Conjuring Universe serves up endless jump scares but is so buried in the same old same old horror tropes that you get distracted by how senseless everyone in the film acts.
We get it. People in horror films make poor choices and they then lead to things that go bump in the night. Or rather, in the case of Annabelle : Creation, make a much louder noise after a few seconds of utter quiet. Why? Because why try something new when you can just hit the gag button over and over again.
That may seem harsh but I actually enjoyed most of the film. It lost me when major events happen to characters and the next morning it is barely spoken of, or is just pushed aside utterly so we can move on to the next set up for a repeat performance of scares that we just saw 5 minutes ago. I am not sure if this was a lack of creativity from director David Sandberg or a script that put him in a corner. The film starts off rather wonderfully but after an hour of getting the same beat delivered over and over, you start to lose interest. At one point, a body is mutilated, police are called, and then everyone just carries on with their day. No questions are raised as to HOW a body turns ashen grey with their fingers torn backwards. Why would they? Perhaps they just tripped on their way though a portal to hell? Happens all the time. Later, while escaping raging demons as one does, a group of folk consciously choose to run into a creepy barn. We know it's creepy because it was stated such earlier in the film. Then, while terrified, someone actually yells, "Into the barn!". Why? You are free to run up the road and away from hellscape. You were just about to do that exact thing in a car that, SHOCKER, would not start. Why are you going into a place that just a while ago you all deemed creepy and scary? There was an insurance commercial that parodied this exact stupidity recently. Once that happens, tuck that idea away forever.
The biggest scare that I felt took place in broad daylight while a questionable nurse figure helped a wheelchair along. It was a smart move too because it told the audience that you are not safe. Ever. Whether you are in the sun or pitch darkness. Issue is that further in the film, it makes a point of trying to leave a character in the dark by unscrewing light bulbs. The characters solution to this is borderline line laughable too. The film makes a statement, then reverses it by leaning on tired tropes. It undoes itself by these actions. More so because this film lay underneath the roof The Conjuring built and that film did a great job at not making its characters seem like dolts who only do things so we get ourselves into a scare zone.
The visuals are great throughout though. The camera is relatively calm and unobtrusive. It feels like a film in this "universe". It also seems like a very thin platform to hold up an intriguing tale. At only 109 minutes, it feels long. That should not happen.
Horror works best when you are attacked by the unknown and made to feel unsettled. If you do everything that has already been done and then when you break free, return to those shackles later, you are spinning your wheels. Annabelle is fine but it could have been great.
It is not Female John Wick (as I read one fool predict before they even saw it), it's not John Blonde, it's not The Blonde Identity. It's all of them into a mixture with a style its own and a soundtrack, that while steeped in 80's, is not smashing you in the face with the 80's. Most soundtrack usage is remixed to a certain degree that takes the 80's time stamp out. Look and feel of the world gets the same treatment. We are in the 80's but it's not a cartoon version where everyone has side ponytails. Huge appreciation there since I am tired of that overused aesthetic. Charlize Theron leads here an is great in the lead role while commanding action sequences, taking an ass-kicking while also delving it out, and looking drop dead gorgeous during every second (yes, even the pic posted below. She STILL looks good). She also should be commended acting quietly, allowing her eyes to tell the majority of the tale. This is key because James McAvoy is a fucking madman in all the best ways. McAvoy continues to play fun roles, or making every role he takes into a fun performance. I am not quite sure which is true but kudos either way.
Direction by David Leitch is also on point as neon floods the film but never buzzes the eyes to look upon it. In a very hard world, the neon is surprisingly soft. The action sequences are easy to follow despite being intricate and it never overworks and calls attention to itself. That is always my biggest gripe in action films too. A messy camera can ruin a flow. It works in certain measures but this film was not needed and so an active, yet controlled camera was the right touch. With his work on the John Wick series, this should now come as no surprise but should also no less be applauded. Rounding out the players is Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, and the always welcomed John Goodman. To get into their place among the plot could shed light where dark serves best so, I will just say that I enjoyed the trio in their spots and Boutella challenges Theron for steaming up the screen which in itself is an achievement. Goodman is the sexiest though. You know that though. While the three serve well, they are a bit under explained in spots in order to serve a mystery. Some will find that as a negative and I can see why. You will have a hurdle concecting with the other cogs of the machine. Personally, I was fine with it. The main cast stirred the pot enough to keep me going.
My only irk would be the plot itself which, on the overall surface, has been done so many times that when I heard the phrase "list of every secret agent in the world", (or roundabouts) I sort of chuckled. Mission Impossible has built a franchise based on this notion and it appears here as well. The graphic novel that ATOMIC BLONDE is based on, The Coldest City, was first published in 2012 so you can't defend it by claiming territory previously owned. Hell, the first MI film did not break ground there either. Regardless, that idea, while it is the driving point of the plot, is also kept rather in the shadows because to do more would spoil some intrigue. So with a rather unengaging plot line, till the last 20 minutes or so, we are left with Theron and McAvoy doing the heavy-lifting amidst Leitch's word of spies. Those three elements were more than enough to keep the yarn from a yawn though and in the end we have a well toned, closefisted, smart played espionage film that I feel is worth an afternoon at the cinema.
DUNKIRK is a film that lives in and in-between every second of runtime that a frame of 70MM film flickers through the projector. Not a half second is wasted and not a bullet is less harrowing than the next. Clocking in at one hour and forty-six minutes, Christopher Nolan has crafted one helluva experience. Seeing it at a proper theater with a 70MM projector and a full array of speakers is something I hope many as possible can do. This is a theater event feature. During the opening night screening I just returned from, I saw multiple audience members tense up as the film built and built. In a rare instance, I actually jumped at an explosion. Why? Because every single explosion, gun shot, and rush of water feels like the world is closing in on you as it was for the ones who were there, at Dunkirk in 1940.
This is neither a pro-war or anti-war film. It's a film about war. It is a film about the want to survive and how that desire can affect humanity in different ways. Everyone gets knocked down. Not everyone gets back up. Through that though, we survive, we endure. Until the next challenge appears over the sea and back in we go again unsure if we will escape this time.
Large sections of the film contain little or no dialogue. Names are difficult to catch for characters. A calm moment is even rarer and in once instance as three young soldiers sit on the beach in a minor moment of reprieve, the threat still makes its presence known without a single gunshot being fired or person speaking. The lack of speech nor the lack of titles has no ill effect on the narrative though. You know where you are. You know the danger. You know the goal. That goal is simple. Get back home. The goal seems impossible.
The film is cut into three pieces and they all do not live withing the same clock at all times. The events of the beach area known as the Mole, occur over 7 days. The air portion only an hour. Balancing out the segments is what transpires on the water which takes place over a single day. It's important to remember this because non linear editing is present but you may not notice it at first and then get disjointed when it is made plain. Nolan lays this out as you are introduced to each section but you scarce have time to breathe so overlooking this is understandable. Finally, the spine that keeps all these portions in place is led by Kenneth Branaugh as Commander Bolton. He scarcely leaves a pier throughout the entire piece but in that way, is the central nervous system of the film itself.
Nolan also achieves something here that many have criticized in his previous work. Emotional connection. Despite the lack of familiarity of the soldiers introduced, you are intimately with them at every turn. The finale of the film had me welling up. It was a mix of sadness, happiness, relief, and pride. The final few shots of the film will not be spoiled in this review but so much is said in those last moments that you start to add up all the moments that have occurred in under two hours and then try to relate that to what the men and woman who were there must have endured in real time and what strength it took.
This may be Nolan's finest hour.
WONDER WOMAN is not great film because a studio finally decided that a woman led superhero film is an acceptable act. It's not great because it promotes a strong female lead while being a symbol for empowerment either. While those statements are accurate, that is not the base of praise upcoming. It's a great film because it's engaging, funny, beautifully shot, dramatic when need be, features a pitch perfect performance by Gal Gadot as Diana of Themyscria, and finds itself comfortably next to Richard Donner's SUPERMAN and Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT. It's that good.
Diana Price was the best part of the misfire known as BATMAN V SUPERMAN, where the film started off on the wrong foot when the title was chosen, and she proves here that it was no fluke that shined despite the mess surrounding her. Gal Gadot embodies a Diana that is learning, a bit naive, and full of energy to do the right thing. She is full of wonderment when seeing simple, yet new to her, sights such as snowfall. When despair is the environment that resides, she measures it and tries to make sense of the horror. She is also ready to absolutely whoop someone's ass when pushed. From start to finish, she is the centerpiece and unlike her fellow Justice League members to this point, she is allowed to take pride in what she is accomplishing and does not see it as great burden that one must only suffer through. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, but it's her job to ensure the sun will indeed rise tomorrow.
As director, Patty Jenkins achieves what all had hoped for in this release by bringing a humanity to DC's universe of Gods and monsters, while also making it a large, bombastic, summer adventure. She takes time on the character building scenes to provide a connection to the talent, then delivers a ballet of action with Diana on center stage looking graceful and deadly. The action sequences are never confusing either. You always know where you are and see the effort put into the choreography while not having it forced down your throat with overly flashy camera movements that shout "Look at me, look at the camera thing we did!". This is the closest that anyone has come to matching Richard Donner's SUPERMAN in terms of a correct tone where "dark and gritty" was not plastered on every inch of celluloid, digital or not. The myth of Diana is embraced without cynicism. That is not a knock on Nolan either. He understood what Batman is. When that tactic is misused though, it can be disastrous. Jenkins balances the wonder of the woman with the horrors of war all while containing the ever dangerous origin story to a smart, effective opening that never feels familiar or tiresome. And guess what, it's actually funny in many spots. It never feels like it "trying" to be funny either. Nothing in the film feels like a round table of executives sat around and decided it needs to be this or that. The film simply exists on its merits.
With that praise aside, there is a third act problem that all superhero films face and, not counting a clever play by Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE, seem to fail at cracking a satisfying finish in terms of facing off against THE villain. Punches and large objects are thrown back and forth onscreen until the hero lands the final blow. It never really goes beyond that. The final conflict does dish out a fair bit of character history revelation though, so on that side, the unavoidable monologuing at least has important information being delivered regardless of whether it is much of a reveal. Additionally on the plus side, this film achieves a level of investment into its characters that many others in the realm of superhero, fail at, which aides in making the finale have some stakes. Much of that is due to the chemistry between Chris Pine's, Steve Trevor, and Diana herself. While Marvel did excellent work with Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter in Captain America, DC films, Nolan included, have never really notched an impressive mark when it comes to on-screen romance. Here, Pine and Gadot are given ample time to learn about one another and we are shown, not simply told, why these two would find a connection. From Steve Trevor's position, it's not exactly rocket science. Gal Gadot as Diana, and in practically any scenario I can imagine, is breathtakingly beautiful but also independent and strong while having a sweetness and caring that would win over any human being, or God for that matter. The real work is making me believe that Trevor would catch more than Diana's glance after getting over that fact that he is the first man she has ever seen. Pine, while to his own description is "above average" compared to most males, has a heart and pulse within his character that matches wonderfully with his onscreen counterpart. Their difference in upbringing could not be more different, but their inner workings are beat for beat. That all creates a meaningful care towards the finale. Full marks to the script on that note.
Reversing the engines a bit, the opening scenes of Themyscria provide the film with some gorgeous vistas and introduce the method of shooting the action that will carry for the film's remainder. For the story portion, Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen do excellent work with building a foundation for Diana to grow from. Myth is introduced and the pace is established. We also begin to like Diana immediately which goes far going forward.
The smaller part players here also are given time to shine in spots. Lucy Davis is quite fun as Etta while the endlessly classy David Thewlis brings a sense of dignity every time he steps in front of the camera. Our front billed villains, Danny Huston as Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Dr. Poison, are not given too much to work with but they fit the mold really well in this pulp type setting. Steve Trevor's buddy trio of Sameer, Charlie and The Chief, bring a rounding out to the hero circle with each their own personality, charms, and even weaknesses.
In short, this film not only works but really excels throughout most its run-time, which is not short mind you. Third act issue aside, WONDER WOMAN is a film that should be appreciated for its acceptance of fun and excitement while also making the timeline of human events seem respected. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman and DC has finally put together a feature film worthy of the name on the billboard all led by director, Patty Jenkins. Let's hope this is the start and not the exception to future offerings in the DC universe.