movie reviews August 2017

annabelle creationdetroit

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Fifty years ago, a police raid on an after-hours illegal drinking club, called a “blind pig,” sparked five days of violence in Detroit, resulting in 7,000 arrests, 1,100 injuries and 43 deaths. Three young black men — Carl Cooper, Aubrey Pollard and Fred Temple — were shot and killed on July 25, the third day of what is referred to, depending on how woke you are, as either the 12th Street riot or the 1967 Detroit rebellion, in the annex of the Algiers Motel.

Other victims, two young white women and seven young black men, described being beaten and tortured in the motel that night by members of the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Army National Guard and a private security guard responsible for protecting a grocery store across the street, called to the location after reports of sniper fire coming from the motel. (Evidence of a sniper was never found.)

What is known of the events that led to the deaths of the three young black men during the Algiers Motel Incident is as relevant as ever, and a reckoning is long past due. But the latest collaboration between the Oscar-winning duo of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), a semi-fictitious imagining of that night, is too shallow to offer indemnity.

Justifiably, Bigelow shoots the initial disorder with the same rapid-fire, shaky camerawork she brought to filming recognized war zones. Embedding the camera in the action, while also seamlessly integrating historical photos and footage, is a progressive, political act. Although the developments are set in the past their presentation, as well as the systems that brought them to a head, are stubbornly current.

It's when the script turns to those who were trapped in the Algiers that night that the story seems fabricated in its unambiguous oversimplification. Both victims and captors are drawn with broad strokes. English actor Will Poulter plays the fictionalized cop Krauss as a psychopath driven to rabid insanity by racism. There's never any doubt as to the affiliation of black security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), despite his alliance with the police officers.

In fact, Dismukes was the first to be charged, along with three police officers, with felonious assault, conspiracy, murder and conspiracy to commit civil rights abuse, but all were found not guilty. Responding officers claimed to have found Cooper's body on the scene when they arrived. Pollard's and Temple's deaths were attributed to "justifiable homicide" or "self-defense." Yet, Boal's script merely skims over the trials and exonerations. In a film that exists to point fingers, the discharge of due process is an unfortunate lapse.

The opening sequence — the animation of artist Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series — may be the most moving beat in the film. It's an apt history lesson to anyone still on the fence between calling a violent protest an "uprising" or a "riot." (R) Rating: 2


Annabelle Creation
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Fourth in the James Wan produced “Conjuring” film franchise and the second — yes, second — prequel for what was a mere prop in the first two installments, Annabelle: Creation feels more like a grab bag of horror clichés than a genuine attempt to tell a story or explore the series' admittedly fecund subtexts.

Instead, screenwriter Gary Dauberman, responsible for penning the first disastrous Annabelle sequel, has cobbled together the rickety narrative framework of 1950s small-town doll maker Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) who, after grieving the death of their young daughter for 12 years, abruptly decide to take in a bus load of Catholic orphan girls and their governess nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman).

Which makes perfect sense, given that Sam is caring for his now-bedridden wife and has locked and pronounced off-limits one of the bedrooms, his daughter's. Luckily, this rambling Gothic Revival House on the Prairie still has plenty of room — for the girls and for any lurking spirits.

Among the young charges are Janice (Talitha Bateman), crippled from polio and burdened with a brace, and bestie Linda (Lulu Wilson, Ouija: Origin of Evil), the two of whom have pledged to watch our for each other. Stranded upstairs while the others explore the new digs, Janice wastes no time making it into the forbidden room and unleashing the titular devil doll (preposterously immobilized up to then by a simple locked closet lined with Bible pages).

If any of these story elements sound familiar, get used to it. The sketchy plot leaves the door wide open for Swedish director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) to fill in the many blanks with a parade of horror movie tropes: flickering lights, a mysterious recluse who hides behind a diaphanous bed-curtain and Phantom of the Opera-style mask, a ghost child, flying furniture, a rocking chair that turns out to be empty, an old stone well, a wheelchair that abruptly lurches down a hill, a spooky barn, and a spookier scarecrow.

Sandberg, who created some frightening visual effects in last year's Lights Out, once again shows an eye for framing and shadows, which places this entry firmly in the Conjuring milieu. Using the full screen to frame shots, he forces viewers to frantically scan the darkness for hints of the coming threat. And like Conjuring director Wan, Sandberg plays with audience expectations, drawing out the tension with lingering static shots.

Somewhere in this scenario lurk tantalizing ideas about grief, about loss and memory, and the ways these can change, even disfigure, the psyche when they become overwhelming.

Sadly, this film is neither interested nor equipped to explore deeper resonances, preferring to deliver its scares solely on the surface and in the moment. (R) Rating 1.5




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