Movie Review: The NUN

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nun, theWarner Bros. Pictures
2018
R

“What’s the opposite of a miracle, Father?”

You have to admire how many movies James Wan can squeeze out of The Conjuring franchise. The first two Conjuring movies proper, then two Annabelle movies, and now a movie involving that freaky nun that was in The Conjuring 2. And like the Annabelle spinoffs, The Nun is a prequel to all of the movies in the series, making this one the first in the overall series, story-wise.

Anyway, I was looking forward to checking out The Nun when it was set to come out in the theaters in September. I thought that the very brief yet very memorable scenes with the nun in The Conjuring 2 was the best parts of that movie, and was curious what story they could tell with this one. But, because scheduling and the less-than-favorable reports coming in from the various review blogs, vlogs and podcasts I read/watch/listen to, I decided ultimately that The Nun was going to be one of those movies I would watch when it became available on on digital rental format. Which is now.

So, was The Nun a snooze-fest? A predictable, nothing-but-jump-scares waste of my time? Well, let’s get the rundown out of the way, here, and find out…

When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in “The Conjuring 2,” as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

Overall, despite all of the negative reviews this movie got when it was first released in theaters, I did enjoy The Nun more than I thought I would. It was more on a Hammer-style Gothic B-horror movie level, which is probably the best way to come at these type of movies. The use of the settings, the shadows and atmosphere was utilized to great effect; the story was a slow-build mystery that, while a tad on the predictable side, managed to throw in some twists and turns throughout the run time. Of course, The Nun isn’t what you would call a “scary movie”, as what it does for actual scares are more boo-scares than anything else; as I mentioned before, if you take in the very Gothic atmosphere and setup (and get past thinking the possessed nun is Marilyn Manson in Catholic cosplay), you may find that The Nun can get under your skin pretty effectively.

Not as bad as everybody is saying it is, The Nun is very much worth a rental on some dark, cold and rainy night.

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Movie Review: SOLO A Star Wars Story

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solo a star wars storyLucasfilm / Disney
2018
PG-13

“So, what’s your name, anyways?”
“Rrraaawwgghhhyyy.”
“You’re gonna need a nickname, ’cause I ain’t saying that every time.”

The second release in Disney’s supplemental films in the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the back story of everyone’s favorite intergalactic scoundrel with a heart of mythra, Han Solo. While there was the Han Solo trilogy of books that was regulated to the Legacy non-cannon section since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, that didn’t stop Disney from delving into the past and giving us an official canon back story for Han — how he met Chewie, got into smuggling, and came across that little space boat called the Millennium Falcon.

Having been released a mere six months after The Last Jedi, I think that contributed to the lack of enthusiasm with the release of Solo. There wasn’t as much of a buzz, and preview reports were lackluster at best. Also, there may have been something about the change of directors midway through that could have been part of it. I have to admit, I wasn’t really all that jazzed to watch it myself, and my fellow partner in crime, Nex, kept referring to it as the “Ill-Advised Star Wars Movie”. Regardless, I watched Solo, along with the other Exalted Geeks (recording the podcast about it here), and so let’s get to my thoughts on the movie. But first, as always, the Rundown (spoilers ahead):

We open on the planet of Corellia, where a young Han is livin’ the Dickens style street urchin life, stealing shiny things for a giant worm alien gang leader. This is the day that he and his love interest named Qi’ra make their escape from the gang to get off of the planet to a better life; only, it doesn’t exactly go as plan, as Qi’ra gets recaptured, while Han manages to get off of the planet, but at the expense of joining up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Fast forward to three years later, and we find that Han and the military aren’t exactly a great fit, as he’s been downgraded to the infantry, and while on one of them Imperial conquests of a planet, Han tries to hook up with a bunch of criminals posing as infantry soldiers, but is then thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast of some sort. Of course, by the law of plot conveniences, this “beast” turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and after a bit of a rocky start, they bond by working together to escape. They catch a ride off of the planet by the same batch of criminals Han ran into earlier, because one of the members — the one with the big neon I’M GOING TO DIE FIRST blinking on his forehead — took a shine to their moxie. Or whatever. After a heist to steal a shipment of a super hyperspace fuel called coaxium goes south due to the interference of SPACE PIRATES!, the crime lord who hired the group to steal the stuff decides to let them try and make it up to him, by taking raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel, and assigns his top lieutenant, who turns out to be Qi’ra, to tag along and make sure nothing goes wrong this time. Or, you know, death. So, they hire the guy with the fastest ship in the galaxy, which turns out to be some guy named Lando Calrissian (I’m sure he’ll be of no consequence later in the series), who pilots a certain heavily modified YT-1300 Corellian light freighter he calls the Millennium Falcon. After a bunch of chest-puffing between Han and Lando, they take off for Kessel, where they pick up the raw (and highly unstable, I should add, otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension and drama involved) coaxium, all the while causing a riot and freeing a bunch of Wookiee slaves and triggering a droid uprising. Han manages to make the jump in 12-ish parsecs through the Maw and gets the shipment safely to the planet Savareen to process the coaxium. Then the SPACE PIRATES! show up, say they really aren’t the bad guys in this movie, and then Solo tries to do the right thing by confronting the crime lord. There’s a bit of cross/double cross going on, the crime boss dies and then Han takes off while Qi’ra decides she’d rather be the new crime boss and stuff. Then Han wins the Millinnium Falcon from Lando, and he and Chewie flies off to join up with some gangster on the planet Tatooine. The end.

So, overall, while I feel that Solo wasn’t exactly necessary as a movie, it was still pretty good. There were plenty of cheesy bits in there — how Han got his last name, an inverse of the “I love you / I know” exchange, and a surprise cameo that seemed a tad shoehorned in. Also, did we really need a social justice warrior droid, or implied human/droid sex? Did they really contribute to the story, here? But, I digress (I look forward to all of your comments and emails)…

Alden Enrenreich does a decent job portraying the younger Han. But Donald Glover is the best one here as Lando, channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams, convincing me he’s gonna break out a Colt 45 at a moment’s notice.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable distraction but not exactly essential watching. It’s a good matinĂ©e flick, and I’ll probably watch this again sometime when the DVD gets released.

Movie Review: INSIDIOUS: Chapter 3

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insidious chapter 3Blumhouse Production
2015
PG-13

“Loving someone is just delayed pain, isn’t it?”

Third entry in the Insidious horror franchise, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a prequel. Which means, if you were hoping for a resolution to Elsie’s sudden look of pants-wetting terror before cutting to the end credits, you’re gonna have to wait longer.

Instead, we’re given a story that takes place some time before the events of the first Insidious movie, focusing on Elsie Rainier, who happens to be retired from the whole spiritism thing, and the teenage girl who drags her kicking and screaming back into the ghostbusting business by–you guessed it–getting possessed by a rather nasty demon whose shtick is to lure victims into the Further to feed off their life force. There’s a political joke in there, somewhere.

Here, we find Elise having been retired from speaking with the dead for approximately a year now, since the tragic death of her husband. She’s a bit reluctant to jump right back due to what she perceives as a dark evil presence in the spirit realm that was to kill her. Which is why, when a teenage girl named Quinn stops by wanting to enlist her help in contacting her deceased mother, Elise flat out refuses, and warns Quinn not to try to contract her mother as well. Obviously the kid doesn’t listen–otherwise this would be a rather short movie–and soon she finds herself being stalked by a creepy, shadowy figure in a hospital gown who haunts her when she is recovering from a car accident, and eventually gets possessed by said entity. Elise tries to help free the girl, but freaks out again. But then she enlists the help of a couple of web vlogger demonologists names Specs and Tucker (you may have heard of them) to go back in and inspire Quinn to kick the demon’s butt. Wackiness ensues.

As sequels go, I’m not sure if anyone was clamoring for the origin story of how Elise Rainier got into the exorcism business, but we certainly got one. By now, if you’ve been following the Insidious movies, you know what to expect: some effective use of atmospheric lighting and photography, creepy effects that keeps things in the shadows, and a story that builds the tension steadily to the payoff. Not to mention jump scares, but that’s par for the course. As a matter of fact, at first I was going to deem this entry into the Insidious series as Jump Scares: The Movie. But, after chewing it over a bit, the movie proved itself better than that. I can’t say that this is as good as the first one, or even the second one; as an origin story, though, it’s serviceable. You get a look into Rainier’s past, her particular fears of doing this, and also how she met her two assistants from the other movies. There are also the requisite clues sprinkled in that tie into the other movies, but that’s pretty much par for the course by now.

Overall, Insidious Chapter 3 is a good entry into the series. Not the best, but certainly far better than a lot of other movies that have been coming out recently. Good for a rental, I would say.

Movie Review: INSIDIOUS: The Last Key

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insidious the last keyUniversal Pictures
2018
PG-13

So, then. Here we are, with the fourth movie in what became the Insidious franchise of supernatural horror movies. With this release, though, there are rumors that Insidious: The Last Key is going to serve as the last chapter in the series. If it is, it’s not a bad place to leave off, really.

Insidious: The Last Key (eschewing the “Chapter” subtitle with this one, seems an odd thing to do, but whatever) is the first Insidious movie that I not only watched in the theater, but on the same weekend it was released. Which, incidentally, was the first week in January, a month that’s usually reserved for Hollywood junk pile releases. However, the past couple of years have yielded a handful of gems within the bottom of the film barrel, so I didn’t really lower my expectations that far down. Although, there was the stigma of this being the fourth in the series, and traditionally with horror movie franchises like this, by the time it gets to the fourth installment, the quality normally is terrible. And while the Insidious movies were of a better quality than a lot of the horror movies being released this past decade, you could still tell a bit of a lessening quality where the story came in with each successive movie. So, I took in an Early Bird showing, where I didn’t have to pay too much, in case Insidious: The Last Key wasn’t that great.

The story revolves around long-time character Elise Rainier returning to her childhood home to deal with some ghosts from her past, both literal and figurative. After a flashback showing Elise’s traumatic childhood with an abusive father, we return to 2010 (when this is set…this is technically a sequel to the prequel that was the third movie), where she gets a phone call from someone who has bought the house she grew up in, a house that he just discovered is haunted by not only the tortured souls that died at the nearby penitentiary, but something else much more sinister, something that Elise inadvertently set loose as a child. She’s reluctant at first, but then agrees to travel back to her house, with her two assistants in tow. There, she must face down not only the evil in the house, but also the evil that dwells in regular non-possessed humans as well, and survive so she can go on to be in the first movie that takes place chronologically after this one. Hooray for non-linear movie sequels.

In terms of quality, Insidious: The Last Key still manages to maintain a higher standard with the execution. The very dark atmospherics mixed with the mystery of the story as it unfolds worked very well. Fortunately, this movie didn’t decide to just rely on jump scares; although there are some in there, they don’t overpower the scare ratio. No, that is handled nicely by the dark atmosphere and claustrophobic dread that saturates the film style. The story itself unfolds into a rather intriguing mystery that goes beyond the standard haunted house fare. There was a point midway where I thought maybe they were wrapping things up a bit earlier than normal. No, fortunately the mystery went deeper than the standard one here, resulting in a rather satisfying conclusion. And as always, the actors are great in this. I absolutely love Lin Shaye, and she caries the part very well. Her two associates…okay, sidekicks are adorable as the alleged comedy relief. The Big Bad in this worked the best when he/she/it kept to the shadows; the showdown at the end, though, while effective with the look, was maybe used too much. But, not enough to ruin things. Personally, I think that the metaphor to take away here is that, when you finally face your biggest fear, when it’s finally exposed to the light for all to see, it doesn’t seem as big and scary as your mind made it out to be. Then again, I seem to be overthinking a horror movie, here, so I digress.

Overall, Insidious: The Last Key was a pretty good horror flick. It wasn’t the best, no, but it also didn’t slough off as far as quality goes. So much so that, it probably didn’t deserve to be released in the first week of January. We could have waited for a more appropriate month, like say, I don’t know, just spitballing, here…October, maybe? They used to release horror movies in October. Anyway, it’s worth a matinee showing some afternoon, or a rental if you’re patient.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

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paranormal activity 3Paramount Pictures
2011
R

“You’re not gonna see anybody play Bloody Mary like I’m about to play Bloody Mary.”

And the oddly popular set of found footage movies in the Paranormal Activities franchise continues with the third installment. This time around, it’s a prequel! Yippy Skippy.

So, the year is 1988. I was a Freshman in High School at the time, but that’s not really important to the story. A young Katie and Kristi are living with their mother and her boyfriend. After an incedent involving an earthquake while the mom and boyfriend are trying to make a sex tape (what’s up with that, anyway?), the boyfriend decides to set up cameras all over the house to capture anything else that’s weird. This includes a setup in the girls’ bedroom–which should have resulted in the mother kicking him out of the house and filing a restraining order. But no, she agrees to this not-at-all creepy idea. But then, all sorts of weird stuff starts getting captured on video: Kristi seems to have an invisible friend named Toby (who doesn’t seem to be all that imaginary), a babysitter gets freaked out by a couple of things, all sorts of occult symbols are popping up in the oddest places, wacky Poultergeist-y stuff start happening. And then Grandma shows up, and the proverbial poo-poo hits the fan.

So, on the plus side of things, we get a bit more backstory filled in with the two ill-fated sisters Katie and Kristi, giving us an idea that this wasn’t just some random thing that just happened arbirtrarily. Which…kind of takes the mystery out of things a bit, admitedly. Otherwise, the movie sticks with the same tricks and tropes as the previous two entries–albeit set in a different time period–with a small handful of somewhat effective creep-out bits, but mostly, again, the tension comes from watching closely waiting for something to happen.

Overall, I found Paranormal Activity 3 to be interesting, but mostly retread ideas from the other movies.

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

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paranormal activity 2Paramount Pictures
2010
R

When the first Paranormal Activity movie was released, it made gobs of monies. Inevitably, a sequel was eminent. And so, one did get released in 2010, cleverly titled Paranormal Activity 2. Except, it wasn’t a sequel so much as a parallel companion piece to the first Paranormal Activity movie. Well, except for the very last part, which does take place after the events of the first movie.

Confused yet? Let me explain…

Paranormal Activity focuses on Kristi, the sister of the main character from the first movie, and her family. After a burglary occurs at their home, an elaborate security camera system is installed, and thus introduced our method of “found footage” in this installment. All kinds of weird stuff gets captured by the cameras, which leads to Kristi believing the house is haunted. Of course, her husband disagrees, while her stepdaughter begins investigating paranormal goings on–activities of some sort–and the infant son Hunter finds himself with a friend no one else can see. The dog gets attacked, Kristi gets possessed, and her husband decides to exorcise the demon by sending it to Kristi’s sister, Katie from the first movie, because he’s kind of a jerk. Yeah, that works out well. And in case you’re wondering what happened after the end of the first movie, Paranormal Activity 2 lets you in on that bit of information.

As I mentioned, Paranormal Activity 2 doesn’t stick to the general conventions of a traditional sequel. It does answer a few questions raised by the first movie. Admittedly, much of the tension comes by watching intently, waiting for something to happen, not willing to blink lest even a small clue may be missed. Otherwise, it’s pretty much your standard found footage boo-scare flick that didn’t resonate with me as much as the first film. And that’s not saying much, really. It did manage to flesh out the overall story. Otherwise, meh.

Movie Review: ALIEN: Covenant

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aliencovenant20th Century Fox
2017
R

Sleep well. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David, the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

Wild-eyed speculation time, again. You see, I have a theory about the recent couple of Alien-centric movies that Ridley Scott has produced in recent years. That theory being that he’s secretly trolling everyone with Alien: Covenant due to not being able to continue with the whole Prometheus storyline proper, and gave in and did a half-arsed Alien prequel sequel as a playful middle finger to studio suits and those who complained that Prometheus wasn’t “Alien enough”. This is the only logical explanation I can think of to explain this rather lackluster and mediocre entry in the overall Alien franchise.

If you recall with my review of Prometheus (it’s here if you need a brush-up, it has been five years after all), I actually rather liked the movie, mainly because it dared to do something different than your standard Alien movie. I was hoping for a continuation like this that eventually tied into the current Alien timeline set forth in the 1979 original classic. Instead, it was evident that the powers that be wanted more of a conventional Alien movie, so then we got this.

I should point out that I’m going to be spoiling the earwax out of this movie from here on out. Here we go, then…

After a bit of a prelude that shows the interaction between the android (or is that “replicant”? I think that it’s been established that the Alien universe is loosely tied into the Blade Runner universe as well) David from Prometheus and his creator Peter Weyland, starting things off with a nifty discussion on the existential nature of existence and the relationship between creator and its creation. Off to a nice start, here. Flash forward to about ten years after the events in Prometheus (I keep referencing a better movie, that’s not good), and the colony transport ship Covenant ship is en route to a habitable planet to set up shop for several thousand humans frozen embryos from Earth. They’ve got a good 7 years to go at this point, when a neutrino burst hits the ship, killing some colonists as well as the captain while in cryo-sleep. As the rest of the crew–along with their upgraded Android/Replicant named Walter–go about repairing the ship, they pick up a distress signal emanating from a nearby habitable planet that they somehow overlooked while picking out another planet to Manifest Destiny the heck out of. Recognizing it as a John Denver song, and reasoning that the popularity of John Denver probably isn’t powerful enough to reach beyond Earth, they decide to check it out.

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar, here? No? Let us continue, then…

The landing party discovers the planet in question is something of a paradise [SYMBOLISM ALERT!], and yet seems to have evidence that it was once populated by an intelligent life that at least figured out how to cultivate wheat. Not counting the one person they left at the shuttle, the landing party splits into two groups–one to run some tests to see how habitable the land is, and another to find the source of the transmission that got them there in the first place. Of course, aforementioned source is emanated from the crashed Engineer ship from the end of Prometheus, and is overtaken with overgrowth. A couple of guys from the landing party manage to get infected by the Fungal Spores of DOOM, and after a rather quick bit of an allergic reaction, each have a cute widdle neomorph pop out of them. The shuttle blows up, several from the group die horribly, and the survivors are saved by David the android and taken to his bachelor pad. Everyone freshens up, the two androids bond over music and existential discussion, and a fully grown neomorph decides to drop by for a bite or two to eat. That’s when David unveils his main hobby, and it doesn’t involve basket weaving. Wackiness ensues, they manage to fight off a full-fledged xenomorph and make it back to the Covenant, then another xenomorph shows up on board, more wackiness ensues, the alien is then knocked off of the ship with a couple of terraforming rigs, and both the survivors snuggle into their cryo-sleep pods, finding out too late that the wrong android/replicant came back with them from the planet. The end, for now.

The thing is, for all intents and purposes, Alien:Covenant isn’t a bad movie, per se. Ridley Scott manages to once again squeeze every ounce of gorgeous cinematography out of the scenes, resulting in some very breath-taking shots. Couple that with some atmospheric Gothic style interior shots of both the derelict Engineer ship and the ancient edifice that David made his home for the past 10 years. When it comes to the characters, though, it’s hands-down Michael Fastbender’s show, playing both David and his updated successor Walter, and interacting with…well, himself wonderfully. Danny McBride as ship jockey Tennessee was decent as well. The rest of the cast were, um…adequate, I want to say. And by that, I mean the crew wasn’t exactly the best of the best, here. Come to think of it, that seems to be the case for every one of the Alien movies.

The biggest weakness I found with Alien: Covenant was the feeling of been there, done that. The plot really does tread the similar ground that the other Alien movies went. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a complete retread of the very first Alien movie, but the similarities are rather stark when it isn’t trying to shoehorn in the events of Prometheus to try and make things work as a prequel. In the end, there are more questions raised than actually answered.

Overall, I don’t think Alien: Covenant went so far as to ruin the Alien franchise, but it doesn’t really present an argument that we shouldn’t let the franchise die with some dignity left. Worth at least one look, but wait for VOD.