Annabelle Comes Home review

For inSing

ANNABELLE COMES HOME

Director: Gary Dauberman
Cast : Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Michael Cimino
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 1 h 46 mins
Opens : 26 June 2019
Rating : PG13

            The third film in the Annabelle series and the seventh film in the Conjuring franchise overall welcomes audiences back to the Warren Occult Museum, where things go bump in the night.

After the events of the first Annabelle movie, paranormal investigators and demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren bring the cursed doll Annabelle back to their home for safekeeping. Annabelle is not haunted per se but is a beacon that attracts and awakens other ghosts. Blessed by a priest and kept behind a glass case made from a church window, Annabelle can do no more harm – or at least, that’s the plan.

The Warrens hire teenager Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to babysit their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) while they’re away. Curious about the Warrens, Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) comes to the house and breaks into the secret room containing Annabelle and other objects that are either cursed, possessed or were used in occult rituals. This unleashes a litany of horrors which the three girls must outrun.

In the wake of the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio wants a ‘universe’ of their own. The Conjuring Universe is the rare example that has worked, with the seven films making almost $1.7 billion collectively worldwide. Annabelle Comes Home demonstrates one of the reasons why the franchise is successful: the real-life Warrens conducted so many investigations that there’s a rich well to draw from. Every object in the Warrens’ museum has a story behind it, and Annabelle Comes Home shows us what happens if everything in that room came alive at once. As a result, Annabelle herself is more a supporting character, sharing the limelight with various other unearthly entities.

Annabelle Comes Home is the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote the earlier two Annabelle films, The Nun and the two It films. Dauberman creates delightfully tense scenarios, constructed for audiences to point at the screen and yell “behind you!” This is a movie that is best watched with a crowd because it is designed as a theme park attraction, a haunted house combined with a roller coaster. There are shades of Night at the Museum and Disneyland’s classic Haunted Mansion, in which each ghost has a rich backstory.

There are jump scares aplenty, but the film retains the audience’s goodwill by being just self-aware enough without being overly cynical. Annabelle Comes Home has a sense of humour about it but always wants to be genuinely scary. The early 1970s setting also provides the movie with a good deal of texture, with one particularly inspired set-piece involving the board game Feeley Meeley.

This movie is geared towards a younger audience than the other Conjuring films are – in Singapore, it has a PG-13 rating despite having an R rating in the US. The characters still sometimes do extremely stupid things, but are overall much more likeable than in typical horror movies geared towards teens.

13-year-old Mckenna Grace has amassed an impressive résumé, with film and television credits including I, Tonya, Captain Marvel, Designated Survivor and The Haunting of Hill House. Having been raised by paranormal investigators, Judy knows a thing or two about the supernatural, so she isn’t just the typical horror movie kid in peril. Judy isn’t afraid of many things, but is especially afraid of Annabelle, which conditions the audience to fear the doll too.

Madison Iseman plays the sweet, caring babysitter, with Katie Sarife as her more rebellious, troublemaking friend. Sarife’s character is deliberately annoying, and it’s only later that we learn there’s a bit more to her, even if the emotional beats centred around her character don’t really work. Between the three characters, there’s a lot of screaming to go around, but the movie has fun with the dynamic of the younger girl protecting the older girls when it’s expected to be the other way around.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga show up in what amounts to an extended cameo, but their appearance in this film means it has a much stronger connection to the mainline Conjuring series than the other spinoffs do. However, their appearance also reminds us that some of the ideas in this movie were probably rejected from the upcoming The Conjuring 3 – one Warren investigation which producer James Wan earlier said could be the basis of The Conjuring 3 is briefly covered in this movie.

The breakout character is Bob (Michael Cimino), an earnest awkward boy with a crush on Mary Ellen who inadvertently gets caught in the chaos.

Annabelle Comes Home is not a particularly haunting movie and won’t linger in the dark corners of one’s mind the way the best horror movies do. It is entertaining and thrilling and will elicit its share of shrieks and nervous laughter. Go with a bunch of friends and try not to grab their arms too hard.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Godzilla: King of the Monsters review

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast : Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 2 h 12 mins
Opens : 30 May 2019
Rating : PG13

            The king of all monsters is back, and he’s brought friends and enemies with him in this sequel to 2014’s Godzilla.

It has been five years since Godzilla triumphed over the MUTOs in San Francisco. The organisation Monarch has discovered that there are several more ancient megafauna known collectively as ‘Titans’ lying dormant around the world. Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a paleobiologist working for Monarch, has developed a device called the Orca that can communicate with the Titans. She has separated from her animal behaviourist husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), formerly also a Monarch employee, and their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) lives with her.

Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), a defected British Army Colonel who is obsessed with restoring balance to the world, sets off a chain of events that awakens the Titans. These include the benevolent Mothra and the hostile King Ghidorah and Rodan. A team of Monarch scientists led by Dr Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) must figure out the best way to put an end to the global rampage caused by the ancient monsters.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie that gives the people what they want: lots of monsters that fight each other a lot. The film has a rather tricky task of balancing the absurd spectacle and inherent silliness of the kaiju movie genre with a certain gravity to the colossal destruction. Director Michael Dougherty is mostly up to the task, delivering a movie that is reverent of the illustrious history of kaiju films but one that’s also unafraid to have ludicrous amounts of fun.

Part of the beauty of this movie is that it very much knows what it is, and all the actors are aware of this too. It is hard to care too much about the human characters, but the movie knows that the human characters are secondary to the Titans. As a result, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the dialogue is very cheesy, and that everyone talks exactly how you’d expect characters in a disaster movie to talk. Godzilla: King of the Monsters often stays on just the right side of stupid, and like Kong: Skull Island before it, is very much a B-movie with an A-movie budget.

The visual effects, supervised by Guillaume Rocheron, are plentiful and astounding, with a huge number of creatures and environments to be created in CGI. Many scenes are awe-inspiring, but this reviewer found a quiet sequence in which a submarine comes across an ancient sunken city to be the biggest ‘wow’ moment in the film. The dogfight sequence which pits the Pterodactyl-like Rodan against a squadron of fighter jets is thrilling, satisfying and is the kind of thing that could’ve only been assembled by someone with an abiding affection for this genre.

While the monsters are created digitally, Dougherty took the right approach in hiring special effects houses known for animatronic and prosthetic effects to design them. Amalgamated Dynamics provided the design for Rodan, while Legacy Effects designed Mothra and King Ghidorah. Both studios were founded by former collaborators of Stan Winston, and there are times when the Titans feel like they could be animatronic or performer-in-suit creatures like those seen in Jurassic Park and Aliens. This is also helped by the motion capture performers TJ Storm, who reprises the role of Godzilla from the 2014 film, and Jason Liles, Alan Maxson and Richard Dorton, who play King Ghidorah’s three heads.

Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown, who play the film’s central family, are taking things seriously enough. While the characters’ back-story and their link to the events of the 2014 film is established effectively, there is not much that’s truly compelling about these characters. Like the rest of the human characters, they are mostly there to react to all the monster mayhem, but Brown especially continues to show what a natural and talented actor she is.

This film gives Ken Watanabe’s Dr Seriwaza more to do besides making grave proclamations, though he still does plenty of that. We get two characters who squarely serve as comic relief and little else, played by Thomas Middleditch and Bradley Whitford. Whitford’s character Rick Stanton is nakedly based on the brilliant but constantly drunk and chaos-prone Rick Sanchez from the Rick and Morty cartoon. This is where the movie is dangerously close to crossing into 90s disaster movie-levels of silliness, but Dougherty doesn’t let the humour get too self-indulgent.

Charles Dance can always be called upon to deliver gravitas with a sinister tinge, which is just what he does here. He’s there to ominously intone lines like “we’ve opened Pandora’s box, and there’s no closing it now,” with just the slightest whiff of irony.

The idea behind Zhang Ziyi’s character is more interesting than the character is in execution is: she’s a third-generation Monarch scientist whose speciality is mythology. The film’s constant references to the legends of old and how mythological beasts were depictions of the Titans is a rich vein that could be further explored in future MonsterVerse movies.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters can sometimes feel like overkill, but then again, a movie about a giant monster battle royale should feel like overkill. The film’s playfulness is exemplified in its choice of end credits song: a cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla” by Serj Tankian and Dethklok, as arranged by the film’s composer Bear McCreary. This is exactly the right approach for a Godzilla movie, and indicates that the film is intent on delivering B-movie delights on a grand scale. It achieves this.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Commuter movie review

For inSing

THE COMMUTER

Director : Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast : Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Banks, Dean-Charles Chapman
Genre : Thriller/Action
Run Time : 1h 45 min
Opens : 11 January 2018
Rating : PG-13

Commutes to and from work generally aren’t fun. We get on the bus or the train, and just want it to be over with. It’s less fun when the mass rapid transit system breaks down, or shuts down for full days for maintenance. No, we’re not speaking from personal experience, why do you ask?

For Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), his commute home from work becomes something worse than “not fun” – a matter of life and death. Michael is a New York police officer-turned insurance agent. On the Metro North Hudson Line, Michael is approached by Joanna (Vera Farmiga), a woman whom he’s never met. Joanna gives Michael a task to solve, promising a financial reward. This mission seems simple, but gets deceptively complicated.

The puzzle soon turns deadly, and Michael must track down a mysterious passenger on the train and secure a sensitive item they’re carrying, or disastrous consequences will ensue. In addition to the passengers on the train, the lives of Michael’s wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) are at stake. Michael turns to his former police partner Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) for help, but the shadowy forces controlling the game are watching Michael’s every move.

The Commuter re-teams Neeson with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. Neeson did not star in Collet-Serra’s last film The Shallows, truly a missed opportunity to have Neeson voice the shark. It’s easy to see why the star and director were attracted to the screenplay, written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle. This promises to be a Hitchcockian mystery thriller, a little bit Strangers on a Train, a little bit North by Northwest. It’s a safe distance from the generic “guy holding a gun while grimacing” action thriller, which Neeson has done his fair share of.

Collet-Serra is adept at setting moods, and while he has overdosed on the stylistic flourishes in previous films, there’s just the right amount of flashiness here. We get moments like the camera pulling through a hold punched in a train ticket that’s slotted into the back of a seat, and a Vertigo-style dolly zoom effect for good measure. It offsets the dullness of the train car setting. Production designer Andrew Bridgland does a commendable job of creating an entirely believable set.

However, it soon becomes clear that this train is on a somewhat rickety set of rails. The set-up is so engrossing and the tension so masterfully constructed, one can’t help but think “the pay-off can’t be that good, can it?” When all is revealed, it’s far from a cop-out, but is still something of a let-down. The conspiracy at the heart of Michael’s predicament is patently mundane, and while the film runs through as many twists as possible before reaching the denouement, said denouement is hardly surprising. The climactic action set-piece is also a mite overblown, heavy on the visual effects and at odds with the grounded feel the rest of the movie was going for.

Neeson is as dependable a leading man as ever, and some aspects of the character have been tailored to him – Michael is an Irish immigrant, so Neeson gets to use his natural accent. Michael is meant to be a relatable everyman, but was also a cop, which functions as a built-in excuse for why he’s so good at fighting. Even so, several sequences strain suspension of disbelief, but they’re as exciting as they are outlandish so we’ll let that slide.

Neeson is pulling almost all the weight here, and the supporting cast features several interesting actors who are almost entirely wasted. Jonathan Banks, familiar to Breaking Bad fans as Mike the Cleaner, gets a nearly non-existent part. The Conjuring stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who don’t share any scenes here, are both somewhat memorable but still underutilised. Sam Neill does almost nothing. Perhaps it’s part of strengthening the red herring effect, in that we know so little about all the other characters that everyone is a viable suspect, but it’s disappointing that Neeson doesn’t get to play off any of these other performers.

The Commuter is a good deal more interesting that your average disposable released-in-January action thriller, thanks to Collet-Serra’s confident direction and an initially-fascinating mystery. Liam Neeson is also doing a little more than the typical running and gunning we’ve seen from his recent oeuvre. Unfortunately, there’s a good deal of unintentional silliness to contend with, and the resolution to the mystery is efficient but ho-hum.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Judge

For F*** Magazine

THE JUDGE

Director : David Dobkin
Cast : Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Dax Shepard, Sarah Lancaster, Leighton Meester
Genre : Crime/Drama
Opens : 16 October 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language)
Run time: 141 mins
Remember when after the worst of his personal troubles and before his comeback as a marquee name, Robert Downey Jr. would star in dramas like The Singing Detective, A Guide to Recognising Your Saints and Charlie Bartlett (with the occasional The Shaggy Dog because he had to pay the bills)? The Judge, Downey Jr.’s first full-on drama in a while, harks back to those days. He plays Hank Palmer, a hotshot lawyer who reluctantly returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana when his mother dies. He sees his brothers Glen (D’onofrio) and Dale (Strong) again but there’s one reunion he’s truly dreading: that with his estranged father, the titular Judge, Joseph Palmer (Duvall). Hank can’t wait to escape back to Chicago when he learns his father is accused of murder. Hank has to defend his father against prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Thornton) while father and son are at each other’s throats. Hank also takes the opportunity to mend other bridges and rekindle a romance with his high school sweetheart Samantha (Farmiga).

            If you’ve seen the trailers for the film, you might find it tonally hard to place. Indeed, this is a movie that has plenty of heavy family drama but begins with a moment of slapstick toilet humour. A character also experiences acute bowel function failure and it’s supposed to be a sad moment but it might be seen as unintentionally funny. It seems director David Dobkin was aiming for “bittersweet”, but misjudges this on several occasions. The screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque piles on the clichés: tempestuous father-son relationship, the prodigal son returning against his will, the adorable little daughter whom our main character hasn’t been the best dad to, a mentally handicapped younger brother and a teen romance from which both parties have never really moved on, all set in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. It sometimes appears that the writers are aware of the overly-familiar, often sentimental nature of the script, attempting to temper this with wiseacre cynicism. This results in an uneven film that almost lurches from shouting match conflicts to a sappy home video montage set to Bon Iver’s “Holocene”.

There’s one cliché we left out in the above paragraph: that of the protagonist being a glib, sharp-tongued “man of Teflon” lawyer. Robert Downey Jr. attacks the role in his typical charismatic, entertaining fashion. He once described his take on Tony Stark as “a likeable asshole” and that’s a character type he excels at playing. Schenk and Dubuque have written lots of snarky, snappy dialogue for the Hank Palmer character, and lines like “I’ll extract the truth from your ass like tree sap” just sound great when they fly off Downey Jr.’s tongue. It’s nothing particularly risky for him but he’s far from sleepwalking through this one either. The big draw is seeing the two Roberts play against each other and Duvall once again proves why he’s considered a living legend. Judge Joseph Palmer is a proud, stern man who has suffered a personal loss and conceals his vulnerabilities, someone who has spent years in the courtroom but suddenly finds himself on the other side, standing trial. Duvall is able to cut through the overly-calculated moments of tenderness to deliver an affecting, thoughtful performance.

            While the film is squarely Downey Jr.’s and Duvall’s to carry, the supporting cast is generally decent too and Vincent D’onofrio’s role in this movie means that Iron Man and the soon-to-be-Kingpin are brothers. Farmiga, blonde, sporting a tattoo and pretty much unrecognisable, is convincing as the diner proprietor who finds herself falling for her high school sweetheart while still being very much wise to his ways. Dax Shepard plays the fumbling, earnest small-town lawyer/antique shop owner a little too broad and Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of the mentally-challenged Dale is cringe-inducing, though this is like due more to the way the character is written as the awkward comic relief than his actual performance.

            In addition to the performances, the cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, Steven Spielberg’s regular Director of Photography, is praiseworthy. With the way the film is lit and shot, Kamiński conveys the combination of small-town home and hearth with the feeling of feeling trapped in a place with too many bad memories associated with it. When the film and its cast was announced, there were murmurs of its awards potential, but this one is very unlikely to stand against the other films of the upcoming awards season. Director Dobkin, known for comedies like Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, is at least a little out of his depth dealing with the family dysfunction and the courtroom drama in The Judge. However, thanks to the strong lead turns from Downey Jr. and Duvall, this is worth a look.
Summary: It’s unsubtle, cliché-ridden and slightly too long, but The Judge boasts the memorable onscreen father-son pairing of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong