Review: Annabelle

When The Conjuring came out, I, like many enjoyed it a great deal. Not necessarily like many, and moreover, a bit uncharacteristically; I was really psyched about the prospect of Annabelle. It was one of the rare cases where I thought a prequel, or more appropriately, a spin-off had the potential to expand a bit of backstory into a feature-length tale on equal footing with its progenitor.

After having seen it, however, it did bring to mind Dario Argento’s response to when I asked if he ever considered further examining the backstory of Deep Red. Basically, what this ended up feeling like was a vacuous money-grab even though it, and the Deep Red concept, still could theoretically work.

What Anabelle lacks is not only atmosphere, which it is sadly in wont of throughout, but also a compelling narrative. In The Conjuring James Wan and the Hayes brothers wrung out so much effect from this doll affectation to give the protagonists a background you were left wanting more, in getting it you are left dissatisfied.

One issue the film contends with is that it’s not really an origin. The accursed doll comes to the couple at the center of this story and they deal with it. However, that’s not really a fault of the film. One true fault is that its zest for innovation peters out on the first act when introducing the notion that the world is changing in light of the Charles Manson killings. Much of the rest of the film following the inciting sequence is methodical and rote, and rarely introduces a wrinkle that is unique to this tale.


There. Are you scared yet? No, well then don’t see this movie, because as it is unable to generate palpable atmosphere, real concern, or interest, in its characters the film then resorts mostly to jump- and false-scares. This is really a shame because the score does have some nice moments but it has to be an accomplice to the lacking script and direction and try and pry scares out of its prospective audience.

One would think that it would be hard to bungle a film wherein one protagonist is either pregnant or raising an infant, but this film manages to quite easily. Some milquetoast performances along with all else that’s plain to lacking really doesn’t help.

To add insult to injury the obligatory, somewhat open ending is as anticlimactic as the rest of the film is. It’s rare I use the phrase “forgettable” as it usually employed crassly, but when one has recently experienced a film so empty, so devoid of soul and verve, that you could easily forget that you just saw it. “Forgettable” one of the most fitting words there are.


Best Films of 2013: 30-26

The easy question to ask is: “why do a list at all when you already have an awards slate on your site?” It’s a good question and I finally may have formulated the best response to it yet. Basically, it’s a less comparative discussion on each film that you feel marked the year fro you. In writing a list you discuss each film and a only every few numbers or so get bogged down in discussing placement.

I will try my best to avoid redundancy and will link and self-quote where I deem necessary but it was in re-watching something that I came upon the aforementioned truth. Awards with their winners and fellow nominees and then snub-ees can be read as a slight, though that is never the intent. A list as celebratory, if not more so because of the insularity of conversation.

Now 30 is a high number and I could’ve increased it. I saw the most eligible titles ever this year, but I wanted to further honor these films by having the percentile they represent be a smaller fraction than prior lists.

Let us begin with 30 to 26…

30. Romeo and Juliet


This was a movie that came and went without much ado at all and was one of a handful of new adaptations of old, oft-told tales that was dismissed in part due to redundancy. I, for one, did not mind this new take at all. And found the twist, this version’s raison d’être was in not just going with casting closer to the characters’ actual descriptions but also who they got to be involved. The entire cast, not just the aforementioned faction, is superb. The scoring is quite wonderful. Even knowing many of these scenes as I still do they had the desired dramatic effect; even if a truncated version there’s less glitz and more viscera in this rendition than the Luhrmann re-imagining.

29. The Almost Man

The Almost Man (2012, Big World Pictures)

If you look at the score I gave this film at the bottom of my mini-review it belies the fact that it’s grown on me from its first viewing. Ultimately there were some worthy re-interpretations of old tales and a remake that I left off this list in favor of more original fare. This is a film with laughter, heart and a more stunning case of arrested development than found in Frances Ha.

28. Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013, FilmDistrict)

In the interest of full disclosure, I did make some decisions in light of trying to avoid redundancy. It was not a bad year for horror. I did see less, and see a lot of horror titles I didn’t like, but I do have a genre-specific list piggybacking this one such that if I could avoid duplicates I would. I could because there was a crazy amount of effective drama from the world over I found this year.

What made Insidious: Chapter 2 my favorite horror film of the year was the fact that I got from it a similar scare factor, crazy risk-taking and another great turn in the horror genre from Wan and Whannell.

27. This is the End

This is the End (2013, Sony Pictures)

Similar for horror, barring a specific list, I don’t think the year was a bad one for comedies. However, the spot where I usually slot the funniest movie of the year, in a year such as this, slid down.

Is it goofy, off-the-wall and immature? Yes. However, it’s perhaps the perfect comedic antidote for a celebrity-obsessed society where you can now be famous just for being famous. You have actors playing themselves in a tongue-and-cheek lampooning of their onscreen personae that hits it out of the park time and time again.

In terms of my awards I was hard-pressed to eliminate any of the supporting performances of the cast, but it proved to hard to pick just one to represent them so they sort of canceled each other out. What will not be lost on me though is the fact that it’s the film I laughed hardest, longest and most often during this year and the one I went back to theatrically.

26. The Deflowering of Eva Van End

The Deflowering of Eva Van End (2012, Film Movement)

With a title like that you almost have to tackle it right away. I did so in my original write-up:

Eva is our entry into their world. She gives us our first glimpse of them and thus we see them in a very broad stroke. As Veit (Rafael Gareisen), the German exchange student who turns their world upside down, changes their behavior we learn about them, what their insecurities were and what they try to do to take control of an alter their lives.
It’s a very funny film in both its exaggerated renditions of reality, but also a very real one with dramatic consequences. The characters progress but are not perfect; they remain flawed in the end, but better for the experience. Veit could be the only one who walks through it unchanged. He is what he always is, it’s what the family projects him to be that alters.

Through artful cinematography, editorial finesse and music that enchantingly encapsulates this odd world, there are well-executed tonal shifts and visceral impact that far overcome any minor quibbles I may have. The Deflowering of Eva Van End is a film that paints the portrait of a family far more fully than its title suggest and is recommended viewing if you see it about.

This list continues with 25-21 tomorrow.

61 Days of Halloween: Saw (2004)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Saw (2004)

So, yes, this is a new one to me this year. Whenever something as well-known as Saw goes unwatched for so long I feel compelled to do a little explaining.

In 2004, I was still in school and not only busy, but also picky. I wasn’t as into horror as I am now, not that I didn’t like it, but just that I hadn’t gotten around to it. Things like Saw weren’t on my radar screen yet, not really.

The easiest thing in the world to do is not watch (or be properly exposed to something) and then pin a label on it to dismiss it. I’ve seen things “worse” or more graphic in execution since this came out, made both before and after it. The label that gets tossed about here is, of course, torture porn.

If one looks at the dictionary definition of pornography it can be applied to any number of things, one of the most popular and dismissive Letterboxd reviews of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close merely cites it. However, the connotation is almost solely sexual. So when something seems to revel in a certain motif it’s called [blank] porn: food porn, torture porn and the like.

There’s been no embracing of this moniker by almost anyone in the horror community, and nor should there be. It’s meant, based on every instance I’ve heard it used in, as a slanderous remark. Like calling a big-budget, high-concept movie you disliked slick.

While I’m sure the series, as any must, ups the ante. How it starts is with much more suggested violence and gore than expected; as well as more intricate storytelling and more focus on the characters than one would expect. Something like Hostel, which I saw before this, is more befitting a negative label like that because aside from the abuse the stupid tourists, who don’t necessarily deserve it, suffer there’s not a lot to redeem that film. Not much else to it at all.

Would I have gotten around to seeing this now had it not been for James Wan and Lee Whannell going off to make the Insidious movies to show they can wield a different brand of horror? Maybe. Just maybe not as soon as I did. I nearly picked up the whole series cheap and used a few years ago but balked.

My reticence is not so much being repulsed such that I can’t watch, that’s scarcely happened since I came of age, but rather of their being nothing else there like say in Cannibal Ferox. What works brilliantly in Saw is that you get a very full portrait of the villains method, and some of his past, but by the end of the first installment you barely know him so that’s a great jumping off point for the second film.

There are probably some other, bigger horror titles I should knock off my to watch list, but this one’s time had come and I’m glad I got around to it.

61 Days of Halloween: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)


For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Usually with these 61 Days of Halloween posts I am usually writing about an older film. However, owing both to the fact that I want to come as close to having 61 posts in this theme as possible, and also that new horror film releases are now virtually year-round; I figured that a film being released between September 1st and October 31st in cinemas also warranted coverage.

It also warrants discussion because not only is it a sequel to one of the best horror films of 2010 (Back when I still didn’t have a genre-specific list) but also because of how it goes about being a horror sequel. It seems that, for one reason or another, many horror sequels: a) don’t take chances b) are very hesitant to stick too close to the end of the first film in terms of chronology.

However, what James Wan, Leigh Whannell and the team at Blumhouse did here is akin to a few things. First thing that came to mind was John Carpenter’s Halloween II that was very close in chronology treatment of his and Debra Hill’s story. The second, being a modern reference, is what Marvel Studios is doing. Their initial films in series be it Thor, Iron Man or Captain America have all been variations on the origin story, but as the franchises built up goodwill, and their cups runneth over after The Avengers; there’s been some risk-taking.

There’s a glorious dichotomy omnipresent throughout all of Insidious 2. After a teaser scene that takes us back in time, but is also referenced a few more times, and key to the story; the film picks up the narrative the day after events in the previous installment. For while the narrative picks up where it left off it goes down paths and alleys that are not entirely expected. It takes you there with mellifluously macabre scoring, mesmerizing edits and wondrous camerawork. It rips a few other pages out of the euroshocker (namely Argento) catalog, but it also continues to expound upon its myth building. It doesn’t do what’s expected, but none of it feels inorganic or forced. Both Wan and Whannell have very consciously crafted a story that warranted this kind of exploration. For what’s the point of a follow-up if its to be a carbon copy rather than a continuation?

I have yet to attend a double-, triple- or any other multi-film experience to mark the release of a new installment in a series, however, this is the one I most lament because I fully intended on going to but life got in the way. It’s not that I felt seeing the first film over was necessary when I walked out, it just would’ve been all the more glorious.

While a chapter of the tale closes at the end of this film (the syntax of the title is very apropos) there can still be more to tell as the film branches out. This marvelous bookend of a story also leaves one wanting more and can easily deliver it. To date Insidious: Chapter 2 is the best horror film I’ve seen this year not only for its bravado, but, also because of how it follows through on its characters searches and arcs, which gives the actors room to stretch and also expand or contrast to the prior film.

Considerations for the 2013 Robert Downey, Jr. Entertainer of the Year Award

Originally I didn’t want to list considerations for either Entertainer of the Year Award or Neutron Star Award. The reasoning behind this was that these awards being for a body of work should’ve had their winners be rather apparent. However, owing to previous memory lapses, I reconsidered this philosophy.

Therefore, any and all eligible, worthy candidates for either award will be kept on this list. It will be one of the running lists that I update on a biweekly basis.

In essence, this will give those who stand out in these categories their due. For example, last year I felt remiss in not mentioning Matthew McConaughey in my explication for the Entertainer of the Year Award for 2013. In my reasoning behind Samuel L. Jackson’s win I had to talk about his year and how great it was and why Jackson’s superseded it. With this list, at year’s end I will be able to discuss each of the prospective candidates works.

Please note that while this award only requires two ‘participations,’ no “eggs will be counted before they’re hatched,” meaning if I have yet to see a second title, though I may expect to, that person will not be listed yet.

Without further ado, the candidates…


Nicholas Hoult
Dwayne Johnson
Ryan Simpkins
Ty Simpkins
Rebecca Hall
James Franco
Spencer Treat Clark
Michael Shannon
Bruce Willis
Chloe Grace Moretz
James Wan
Hailee Steinfeld
Sandra Bullock
Abigail Breslin
Ben Kingsley