By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
Reboots of horror series have become common,
and as indicated by the success of last fall's latest "Halloween,"
they do generate interest. While this is fine, it also is a bit of a
shame that studios put money behind these movies while ignoring a
rich treasury of original indy horror cinema that has to rely on
film festivals and other platforms to find its audience. That aside,
this latest "Child's Play," directed by Lars Klevberg and written by
Tyler Burton Smith, is something of a tribute to the original
"Child's Play" series, the brainchild of Don Mancini.
The story again centers around young Andy
Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) and his single mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza).
In this version, Andy is older than the Andy in the original, and is
now age 13. But he is a staple of horror genre kids -- basically an
outcast. Karen, trying to make ends meet by working in the returns
department of a Wal Mart-like store, also has a less than stellar
boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis), who really is a jerk's jerk.
Feeling guilty about the life she is
offering to Andy, Karen one day claims a defective Buddi doll, the
latest in AI technology, unaware that this particular doll was
deliberately tinkered with.
Things start out sweet enough, as the doll,
now calling itself Chucky (and voiced by Mark Hamill), strives to be
Andy's best friend and playmate. This Chucky does not have the
mischievous/sinister countenance of earlier Chucky; just a
wide-eyed, I-want-to-please-you innocence. Soon, though, the doll's
programmed desire to keep Andy happy goes awry and increasingly more
sinister and deadly.
So there are some vicious and gruesome kills
-- compound fractures, dismemberment, the top of a head being
shredded and skinned -- and ominously, the evidence seems to
implicate Andy, raising suspicions of a police detective, Mike
Norris (Brian Tyree Henry), who lives in the same apartment house as
Andy and Karen.
About the only good thing that comes out of
this is Andy does make a couple of friends, Pugg (Ty Consiglio) and
Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos), who are drawn into helping Andy diffuse the
rapidly escalating horror and body count.
People who were skeptical about a "Child's
Play" reboot mostly are giving this new version a thumbs up.
Buddi/Chucky is the epitome of the toy from hell -- meant to be cute
but ultimately creepy and dangerous instead. This "Child's Play" is
a decent enough tribute to the original despite being saddled with a
recycled story line.
PLAY" Official Trailer:
"ANNABELLE COMES HOME"
While on the topic of creepy playthings:
"Annabelle Comes Home" is the third movie about the handcrafted doll
that has become a conduit for all sorts of nasty paranormal
shenanigans. It is also the seventh film in the
"Conjuring/Annabelle" series that focuses on the true-life
paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. This is the first
of the "Annabelle" movies that actually includes the Warrens, again
played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. In fact, the movie takes
place inside the Warren home.
In the series timeline, "Annabell Comes
Home" takes place right before the original "The Conjuring." The
Warrens, after hearing about the terrifying incidents surrounding
the doll, decide to take the doll and store it in the haunted
artifacts room in their home.
Foolishly, they just put the doll in the
back seat for the drive home, not boxed or contained in any way, and
naturally there is a spooky event out on the lonely and dark road.
But they get the doll home and at first just
set it on that creepy rocking chair. But Lorraine senses problems
and they decide to store Annabelle in the glass casing to keep the
This room of artifacts, which got a few
scenes on earlier movies, gets a bigger role here.
The Warren's daughter Judy (McKenna Grace,
replacing Sterling Jerins, who played the daughter in the earlier
"Conjuring" movies) faces some tensions in school following a
newspaper article about the controversial exorcism the Warrens
Ed and Lorraine are going on an overnight
trip and hire teen Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to babysit Judy.
Naturally, one of Mary Ellen's friends, Daniela (Katie Sarife), pops
in to visit and at first steps into a familiar role, dating all the
way back to Eddie Haskell, as the friend who is the bad influence
and triggers trouble.
While Mary Ellen is outside supervising Judy
as she roller skates, Daniela snoops around the Warren home. Soon
she finds the key to the artifacts room. Inevitably, she opens the
glass casing where Annabelle is stashed. Nothing like unleashing the
Gary Daubman, who has written all three
"Annabelle" scripts (this latest assisted by James Wan), and makes
his directorial debut here, does reveal the true motivation for
Daniela's snooping around, which makes her a more sympathetic
So, with Annabelle now on the loose, all
kinds of scary things happen. Since we know this is going to be a
paranormal extravaganza, the main draw here is to see what creepy
things are going to happen and whether or not they will drive people
mad, or worse, dead.
Wilson and Farmiga have relatively small
roles in the movie -- just the first 20 minutes or so then in the
final scenes. So the movie rests on the shoulders of the three young
ladies. Grace's Judy is a little on the strange side, a mostly
somber kid who is resigned to have parents engaged in a crazy
profession. Plus, she seems to have inherited some of her mother's
sixth sense. The teen girls are fine, Iseman personifying the Laurie
Strode good-girl babysitter and Sarife at first coming across like
Strode's friends Annie and Lynda in "Halloween" although Daniela's
quest is heartwrenching.
Whether or not this is the end of the
Annabelle saga is not indicated. But more "Conjurings" as well as
the "Nun" tie-in are coming.
This movie adds a tribute to Lorraine
Warren, who died April 18 at the age of 92. Ed died in 2006.
Writer/director Luc Besson has been around
for awhile. It's been nearly 30 years since he made a splash with
"Le Femme Nikita," with Anne Parillaud in the starring role -- as
well as writing the remake "Point of No Return" with Bridget Fonda
in 1993 -- and 22 years since his "The Fifth Element" came out and
is now something of a classic in the science fiction genre. His last
big effort, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" two years
ago, was a flop in the U.S. -- only $41 million grossed. So a hit
with "Anna" might be a nice boost for him.
"Anna," which harkens back to the spirit of
"La Femme Nikita," did not get a good pre-release push, which is a
shame because it is the essence of a summer popcorn movie.
Besson, who is known to use fashion models
in his adventure movies, most notably Milla Jovovich, with whom he
was married briefly -- as well as Parillaud -- has drafted Sasha
Luss for the starring role in "Anna." At nearly 5-11 in height, Luss
presents a striking figure in the part.
Luss, who spent her youth in Moscow, fits in
as Anna, a young woman in Russia who, following the death in an auto
accident of her parents, has fallen into bad times: a small-time
crook boyfriend, a life mostly on the streets, drugs, the whole bit.
But she has enormous potential and when she submits an online
application to join the Russian Navy, she catches the attention of
KGB agent and recruiter Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans), who offers her a
new life. After training, Anna is brought before Olga (a gruff Helen
Mirren), who after some reservations agrees to be Anna's handler.
Anna has been promised by Alex that she only need serve in KGB five
years then can go on with a rejuvenated private life.
Anna becomes a superstar professional
assassin, which puts her on the radar of the CIA and one of its top
spooks, Lenny Miller (Cilian Murphy). Miller gains some leverage in
getting Anna to switch sides when she is informed -- and she shoulda
already known this -- that in the world of espionage and spying and
killings, you never walk away. You work until you are too old to
function, or more likely, the odds catch up to you and you are the
target of a killing. Miller promises Anna that once she completes a
vital job, she can retire to wherever she may want to go. Whether
Anna believes this is hard to determine.
There are a couple of ludicrous
shootout/hand-to-hand combat scenes in which Anna, outnumbered at
least 20 to 1, seems to be the only person who can fire a weapon
accurately or deliver the knockout blow. They are well choreographed
and fun to view.
The crux of the movie is whether or not Anna
can manipulate things and outsmart the intellignce agencies of two
superpowers. A tall order.
Luss, in addition to the physical demands of
the role, does a credible job of bringing humanity into the part.
Mirren is a blast as the stern, uncompromising Olga, loyal to her
job and expecting no less of those working for her. Evans and Murphy
do OK with their parts although they obviously are backgrounds to
the leading ladies.
Fans of Elton John -- and there have to be
many, as his career transcended more than one generation of rock
fans -- should get a kick out of "Rocketman." With solid backing by
Elton John himself as a producer, "Rocketman" is not a straight
movie bio a la "Bohemian Rhapsody," but presented as a musical
fantasy. In essence, it hits the key moments in John's life, with
his music as the theme, leading to some great dance and singing
scenes, and despite the inevitable down times in the man's life,
still ends up a bouncy tribute to a great artist.
Taron Egerton is wonderful as Elton John --
and there should be nods to Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor for
their portrayals as the younger Elton John -- singing all the songs
himself and laying bare the soul of the man whose creative gifts
helped him cope from a life of issues -- an emotionally vacant
father, preoccupied mother, dealing with his sexuality as well as
his substance abuse problems.
Jamie Bell, who made a splash nearly 20
years ago as the boy who loves to dance in "Billy Elliott," does
superb work as Bernie Taupin, the writer who put words to Elton
John's music. As Taupin, Bell offers a man who never gave up on his
friend and writing partner despite the demons haunting the musician.
Bryce Dallas Howard is nearly unrecognizable as Elton's plump
mother, Sheila, who while not exactly mom of the year, was
perceptive enough to realize her son was gay and offers a somber
forecast of his life: it would be almost impossible for Elton to
find true love. Happily, that dire prediction proved false.
"Rocketman" is lively and colorful and
worthy of a look.
Another good summer popcorn movie, "Shaft"
is at its best when Samuel L. Jackson is on screen as John Shaft,
the second of three generations of Shafts in this movie. Jessie T.
Usher plays JJ Shaft, John's estranged son, now a programmer for the
FBI, as they reunite to bring down a longtime crime hood in New
York. It is a nice generation-gap story of a Gen Xer and the
technology he uses vs. the street smarts of a man who's been out
there battling thugs for a couple of decades. Then things get even
more fun when the man they call a "bad mother.... (shut yer mouth)"
himself, Richard Roundtree as the original John Shaft, joins the
Aside from fighting crime, John and JJ need
to mend the fences in their relationship as John tries to convince
JJ that he got out of JJ's life (aside from sending some interesting
Christmas gifts)in order to insure his son was isolated from the
perilous life John was living.
Regina Hall matches Jackson in scene
stealing as Maya, John's ex-wife and JJ's mother, who despite her
inner denials, still burns a candle for John.
Directed by Tim Story (the "Ride Along"
movies) and with a group of screenwriters, "Shaft" is just great
fun, a typical action-comedy, and yet another watchable turn by
Jackson, being both a father and a son.
"THE DEAD DON'T DIE"
"Shaun of the Dead" is probably the
undisputed champion of the zombie-comedy sub genre of horror, but
that does not mean there cannot be other night of the living dead
flicks that offer a chuckle or two among the gore.
Jim Jarmusch is not a director that can be
lumped in with other smash-hit directors like Steven Spielberg or
Joss Whedon. His movies ("Ghost Dog," "Broken Flowers") are the type
that are booked into Laemmle or other art house theaters. His work,
while quirky, also challenges the attention span. In his "The Dead
Don't Die" he explores a zombie apocalypse as it effects the small
town of Centerville. Unlike other suggested reasons for people
popping out of their graves (radiation or a disease), Jarmusch
presents yet another trigger for the rising of the walking dead.
The movie centers around the tiny police
force of the city, which consists of the chief Cliff Robertson (Bill
Murray) and his officers Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Mindy
Morrison (Chloe Sevigny) as they deal with some strange but not yet
alarming things like pets disappearing and the sun not setting til
way late. Of couse things soon escalate quickly.
Murray and Driver and wonderful together,
offering Cliff as a mentor who is sometimes baffled by his pupil's
often puzzling takes on life and Driver as the seemingly goofy but
oddly perceptive underling. Murray, well known for over-the-top
performances, goes into the arthouse mode he employed when he worked
with Jarmusch in "Broken Flowers" as well as his Oscar-nominated
role in "Lost in Translation." He is subdued, a man who should be
retired but then what? as well as bored into indifference by the
mundane aspects of his job. Driver is the realist in the group. He
unapologetically expresses his belief this is a zombie invasion even
before they encounter any ghouls -- just the ghastly aftermath of
their feedings. Sevigny unfortunately has little spotlight in this
until her meltdown late in the movie.
There is a rich roster of secondary
characters, notably Tilda Swinton as the new mortician, supposedly
from Scotland but who practices East Asian traditions and does not
stroll, but marches everywhere she goes. Tom Waits, grubby and
bearded, is Hermit Bob, who views the chaos from the camouflage of
the nearby forest and presents a kind of social commentary on the
Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, indy horror
movie icon Larry Fassenden, RZA, Rosie Perez, Selena Gomez and Iggy
Pop make appearances as observers, victims and ghouls.
"The Dead Don't Die" offers inside jokes as
well as pokes fun at itself. It is not of the caliber of "Shaun" but
it is a mix of lighthearted and dark humor as well as gruesome
DEAD DON'T DIE"
Don't be fooled by the arthouse vibe that
permeates the opening moments of "The Perfection," now streaming on
Netflix. Soon enough it evolves into a holy cow creepy flick.
Directed by Richard Shephed and co-written
by him with Eric C. Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, "The Perfection"
centers on the world of classical music, specifically celloists.
Allison Williams ("Get Out") is Charlotte, a young woman who in her
teens had to abandoned a promising career as a cellist so she could
care for her terminally ill mother.
Upon the her mother's death, Charlotte is
ready to resume her life. She reconnects with her instructor Anton
(Steven Weber), who drafts her to serve as a co-judge for a contest
in Shanghai. She is introduced to the other judge, Lizzie (Logan
Browning), Anton's current top cellist talent.
While one may anticipate that these two
young ladies might become competitive adversaries, they instead hit
it off and become close friends. This is just the first time
Shepherd and his co-writers veer us away from the expected.
The sublime tone of the movie is shattered
when Charlotte and Lizzie decide to take a road trip to the China
countryside. Lizzie is a bit under the weather but gamely opts to
soldier on. They board a rickety bus, and soon things go into a
WHOA! mode as Lizzie grows sicker. This all ends in a horrifying
It's best not to reveal any more of the
plot. Shepherd literally puts scenes in reverse and replays them in
a different context to inform the viewer that what they saw earlier
did not present the whole story. Then it all leads to an astonishing
finish that is perversly satisfying as well as disturbing.
Both the young actresses in "The Perfection"
earn kudos for performances that present their characters in
different lights. The way they are perceived changes as the scenes
are revisited and laced with additional information. Its twists are
never telegraphed, resulting in a stunning final moments of OMG!