Mini Reviews (August 2017)
Lady Macbeth, Brigsby Bear, The Dark Tower, Annabelle: Creation, The Hitman's Bodyguard
Lady Macbeth (August 12/17)
Based on a novel by Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth follows Florence Pugh's Katherine, a 19th-century woman who's been sold into marriage, as she slowly-but-surely begins standing up for herself in an escalatingly (and exceedingly) brutal manner. It's ultimately clear that Lady Macbeth fares best in its opening stretch, as director William Oldroyd and scripter Alice Birch deliver a first act devoted almost entirely to Katherine's somewhat plotless escapades inside her new home - with the fairly fascinating vibe perpetuated by Pugh's stirring turn as the far-from-complacent central character. There's just enough context contained within Birch's screenplay to keep things interesting, and there's little doubt, as well, that the movie benefits heavily from its initial emphasis on Katherine's almost fish-out-of-water-like exploits. Lady Macbeth's grip on the viewer begins to weaken, then, as it progresses into its more conventional midsection, as Oldroyd and Birch stress a series of predictable plot developments that pave the way for a spinning-its-wheels second half - which, in turn, ensures that the few surprising moments that crop up aren't able to make the impact that Oldroyd is obviously striving for. And although the movie admittedly does boast a stirring final few minutes, Lady Macbeth's positive attributes are ultimately cancelled out by a middle that just doesn't, for the most part, work at all.
Brigsby Bear (August 13/17)
An oddball endeavor that doesn't entirely work, Brigsby Bear follows Kyle Mooney's James Pope as he's thrown into a situation entirely outside his comfort zone - with the bulk of the movie detailing James' efforts at replicating a cult TV show from his childhood. Screenwriters Mooney and Kevin Costello have delivered a unique premise that is, in the early stages, rife with surprising story developments, as Brigsby Bear benefits substantially from Mooney and Costello's irreverent approach and from the efforts of a decidedly eclectic cast (which includes Greg Kinnear, Mark Hamill, and Jane Adams). It's disappointing to note, then, that the movie begins a slow-but-steady descent into mediocrity past a certain point, as Mooney and Costello essentially abandon the oddball atmosphere in favor of something far more familiar and conventional (ie the film morphs into an almost eye-rollingly hackneyed ragtag-group-of-misfits-band-together-to-accomplish-something-grand type of tale). Filmmaker Dave McCary's efforts at cultivating a feel-good vibe grow more and more desperate as time progresses, but the movie is, for the most part, neither funny enough nor emotional enough to accomplish this somewhat lofty feat. The overtly pandering climax only confirms Brigsby Bear's place as a once-promising yet ultimately-misbegotten endeavor, and it's clear, too, that Mooney simply doesn't have the presence or star power to anchor a full-length feature (ie he's just too quirky and weird).
The Dark Tower (August 20/17)
An oddball adaptation with few similarities to its source material, The Dark Tower follows plucky teen Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) as he's thrust into an alternate universe where a gunslinger (Idris Elba's Roland) is hunting a mysterious, deadly figure known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). It's fairly interesting to note that even if one has read Stephen King's 1982 novel, The Dark Tower, for the most part, makes exceedingly little sense and suffers from a pervasive lack of background information - which paves the way for a far-from-involving narrative that's rife with head-scratching plot developments and underdeveloped characters. (In terms of the latter, for example, it's never entirely clear what's at stake for Taylor and Elba's respective protagonists.) There is, as such, hardly anything contained within the padded-out proceedings worth getting excited about or invested in, with this issue ensuring that certain sequences are simply unable to make the visceral impact that director Nikolaj Arcel is clearly striving for. (This is especially true of a well-executed yet context-free action scene in an old-timey village, with the ineffectiveness of this interlude ultimately emblematic of the half-baked production's problems.) And although Arcel does manage to sprinkle in a handful of entertaining moments here and there - Roland's fish-out-of-water exploits in New York City are an obvious highlight - The Dark Tower, which closes with a hopelessly ineffectual climax, comes off as a fairly misbegotten adaptation that seems unlikely to pave the way for future installments.
Annabelle: Creation (August 20/17)
Annabelle: Creation explores the backstory behind the haunted doll first seen in the original Conjuring, with the movie following several characters as they're forced to contend with the evil spirit's progressively malevolent maneuvers. Filmmaker David F. Sandberg admittedly does an effective job of establishing a creepy, slow-burn type of vibe, with the promising atmosphere heightened by an ongoing inclusion of elements clearly designed to pay off later in the proceedings (eg that rickety stair lift is obviously going to be put to sinister use in the second half). It's clear, however, that Annabelle: Creation's almost excessively deliberate pacing becomes fairly problematic past a certain point, as Gary Dauberman's screenplay contains a heavy emphasis on the various tropes one has come to expect from horror flicks of this ilk - with the film's overlong running time paving the way for a midsection that's rife with repetitive, familiar sequences (and it doesn't help, either, that by the time the one-hour mark rolls around, the body count remains almost disastrously low). The haunted-house finale is, likewise, generally entertaining in a padded-out, by-the-numbers sort of way, and it is, in the end, clear that Annabelle: Creation stands as a perfectly fine yet all-too-commonplace example of a contemporary ghost story.
The Hitman's Bodyguard (August 29/17)
Directed by Patrick Hughes, The Hitman's Bodyguard follows disgraced protector Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) as he reluctantly agrees to escort a notorious assassin (Samuel L. Jackson's Darius Kincaid) to a pivotal court appearance - with problems (and violence) ensuing as a whole host of thugs and criminals attempt to prevent Kincaid from arriving alive. It's a familiar yet dependable premise that's employed to egregiously over-the-top effect by Hughes, as The Hitman's Bodyguard comes off as an assault on one's senses for the duration of its extremely padded-out and overlong running time - with Hughes' unabashedly cartoonish approach to Tom O'Connor's screenplay preventing the viewer from connecting to the one-dimensional protagonists' plight. The less-than-engaging atmosphere is compounded by Reynolds and Jackson's often excessively lazy work here, as both actors seem content to coast on their previously-established big-screen personas (ie Reynolds delivers more wisecracks than ever before, while Jackson breaks the record for the use of the word "motherfucker"). It doesn't help, either, than any trace of grittiness has been completely scrubbed from the proceedings, with the complete absence of real-world stakes growing increasingly problematic (to say the least) and ensuring that the movie becomes something of an endurance test long before it reaches its larger-than-life finale - which undoubtedly confirms The Hitman's Bodyguard as a bloated misfire that might've worked had it topped out at a more reasonable 80 minutes.