Theater Roundup: The Best That Late September Can Muster

01 intro

I’ve seen a bunch of movies since I last wrote about that weird Liam Neeson pizza movie a couple of weeks ago, but between a busy schedule full of hard working, hard traveling, hard vacationing, and hard eating (ow!); I would highly doubt that I’ll gather up the time and energy to give each of these movies their own proper over-worded, smarmy review.  So here I am now, just spewing them all out in little chunks, like an undercooked Tombstone Double-Top 4 Meat pizza after a grueling night of drinking whiskey mixed with blended Starbursts.

02 maze runner

The Maze Runner

I thought from the previews that this looked kind of like a dumbed down, teen demographed version of Cube, and to be honest, I didn’t really have high expectations for it going in.  I’d say it about met my so-so anticipation for forgetability.  It has an interesting premise for a movie this stupid, and there’s a lot of mystery involved from start to finish.  Like, literally to the finish.  They don’t give any answers.  The freakin’ movie was written as a cliff hanger.  And it’s in that sort of pompous assumption by the film studios that the entire world will be so desperate to hear what happens next in the Maze Runner saga that they intentionally only told a fragment of a story with no resolution that makes me hate this sort of thing.  The first Hunger Games film had a very definite conclusion to that part of its story.  Sure, they set up “bigger picture” elements for sequels in the process, but at least it was a movie that had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The Maze Runner felt like a giant beginning, five minutes of a middle, and then the credits.  Am I curious as to what the hell The Maze Runner is actually about?  Sure, I guess, a little bit.  Is it eating me away to know what The Maze Runner is actually about?  Oh, god no.  In fact, if I never end up seeing the sequel to this film, I will go on with my life in perfectly ignorant bliss.  That’s why I’m a little bit angry that they didn’t just move it along a little further the first time around.  But I know…  …franchise, franchise, franchise, money, money, money.  It’s the same logic that caused someone in Hollywood to greenlight The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

If I have to give The Maze Runner some sort of compliment, I thought the action sequences were entertaining.  The special effects were better than Twilight’s.  It had a certain Lord of the Flies-ness to it that was also appealing.  But most of the teens in this movie were weird and/or ugly-looking, and it made me pine for the delusional alternate realities of most futuristic young adult films, where the world is populated with future underwear models and TV commercial extras.

5.5 out of 10

 

03 box trolls

The Boxtrolls

Here’s a charming story about a kid who witnesses the murder of his father, who is then sent to live in a sewer with some garbage-hoarding trolls, where he lives on a malnutritioned diet of only sewer bugs, and lacks proper medical and dental care, let alone the fact that he probably only has a kindergarden education despite growing to the age of twelve.  On top of that, the guy who murdered his father is trying to commit genocide on an innocent race of said garbage trolls just so he can join an upper class, elitist cheese eating club.  Yes, this is a children’s film, why do you ask?

Another commendable effort from Laika Studios (the people behind Coraline and Paranorman), who seemed to have taken the gothy, weird kid’s stories away from Tim Burton’s 1990’s career and claimed them for themselves.  It’s darker than either of their first two films were, and those were about orphaning a child and the ghost of a dead little girl, if that says anything.  But the imaginative details and more importantly, the fluid stop-motion animation, is right up there with whatever its competition is.  It was painfully barren in the creative storytelling department, though.  The plot is ridiculously simple and nonsensical.  The intentionally disgusting character design of EVERYONE in the movie was almost barf worthy, but was also deliberate, so I respect it.  It probably could have been an Academy Award winning Animated Short film had they just made a cute 15 minute sequence about the Boxtrolls.  YOU GOT GREEDY, MARTIN.

6.5 out of 10

 

ANNABELLE

Annabelle

My rationale for getting excited about Annabelle was “Hey, I liked The Conjuring, maybe I’ll like this too!”  (facepalm)  Why am I so stupid sometimes?

I want to say that there’s something worth seeing in Annabelle, and that may be true.  There was a terrifyingly restrained sequence involving an elevator that is still kind of creeping me out about elevator doors as we speak, but the filmmakers manage to screw up just about everything else about this movie.  Where to begin…?  Probably just in the concept itself.  The film is about the haunting of one particular family over the course of the entire film, before it gets passed off to where the Conjuring picks up; so essentially the entire history of the Annabelle doll pertains to two incidents, which greatly cuts down the fact that it’s supposed to be this legendary haunted doll.  A more effective story would have been one that involved how Annabelle haunted like TEN families before it gets picked up at The Conjuring.  But that would have involved putting an effort into the screenplay, which clearly no one wanted to do.

There were like three moments where they effectively used the doll being creepy as a driving force for the scares.  Everything else was showing the *ghost* of the person who possessed the doll doing things.  So what was supposed to be a haunted doll movie, became a run-of-the-mill dumb ghost movie.  And the demon that showed up at the end looked like Nightcrawler from X-Men.  My fiance laughed out loud in the theater when they first showed him, and rightfully so.  I think the film was trying to go for a Rosemary’s Baby vibe, but it was way too lazy to actually pull that off.  And it was boring.  I hate this movie.

3.5 out of 10

 

05 equalizer

The Equalizer

I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited for a Denzel Washington movie…  But The Equalizer looked like Man of Fire 2, and I support that idea completely, so I got kinda pumped for it.  However, the final result was a bit BLEH.  It’s another action movie you can file in the “indestructible hero” category, where the protagonist has an impossibly flawless skill set that can’t be matched, and can get into anywhere and do anything and kill anyone without consequence or issues.  Admittedly, it’s gratifying to see Denzel “equalize” the bad guys and do right by the people they’ve wronged (BY SHOTGUNNING THEIR FACES), but it also makes for a painfully predictable film.  It’s a revenge fantasy tilted entirely in one direction, which can be fun, but also comes across as lazy.  And at 134 minutes?  C’mon, this movie doesn’t need to be 134 minutes…

6.5 out of 10

 

06 skeleton twins

The Skeleton Twins

The hype marketing for indie movies can often be a bit misleading.  I went into The Skelton Twins hearing that it was going to be one of the best movies of the year based on reviews and word of mouth.  That, coupled with the fact I really approve of a movie starring Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, kind of had my expectations a little high.  Had I just walked into this movie without any of the hype, I probably would have liked it more.  There’s a few good scenes, and there’s some great themes about suicide and how most of us just sort of reach a depressing mediocrity when we become adults, but for the most part it’s no better or worse than any other seriocomic indie movie about sadness, with all the screaming into pillows and staring ominously out of car windows while the minimalistic soundtrack plays that you’d expect to see.  Bill Hader gave it 100%, though.

7.5 out of 10

 

07 gone girl

Gone Girl

It’s almost impossible to really tell you how good this movie is without giving anything away, because the entire movie is banking on the ever-evolving narrative to remain engrossing, which is certainly succeeds in doing.  This is David Fincher near the top of his modern era game.  I see some screenplay and editing awards coming this way, for sure.  It was one of the best narratives of the year, but not so much in its complexity (when you boil it down, it’s not *that* complex of a plot), but it’s certainly executed in a way that makes it feel like it’s more than it is.  And kudos on consistently pointing out the accusatory nature of news media, and the hilarious jab at the character who is clearly supposed to be Nancy Grace.

The plot moves in so many places that I wasn’t expecting it to.  I genuinely did not know where things were going, and even when I kind of did, they unfolded in a way that still managed to surprise and/or shock me.  For a two and a half hour-long movie, I’m not going to lie, I would have watched it for another 30 minutes.  If there was anything I would say was wrong with it, it’s that it had to end, and the fact that the experience was cut short when it was felt like a slight disappointment.  Most of the people in the audience I was with let out a disappointing groan, because we were all pretty much invested in this saga that we wanted to continue.  When a bad movie ends on a reflective note, everyone gets angry.  When a good movie like Gone Girl does the same thing, everyone just gets sad.  The only other weird thing about it was giving Tyler Perry a role for some reason, but in all fairness, he wasn’t that bad in it (he wore a suit and tie in this movie, not a wig and a muumuu, fyi).

I don’t know, I really dug this film.  Gone Girl is the kind of movie that gives me some sort of overly happy justification for having “movie watching” as my main hobby, instead of model train painting or scrapbooking.  For as much as I waste my money going to the theater every weekend, and as dumb as I look for spending $10 to risk my time on something like Annabelle, even when I just salvage a few seconds of great moments from movies like The Skeleton Twins and The Boxtrolls, seeing a movie like Gone Girl gives me a warm feeling inside as if perhaps I’m not completely wasting my time, because it’s god damn great cinema.  When I find a movie that I know I want to see multiple times right after I see it the first time, it makes this treasure hunt seem worthwhile.  I’m still thinking about the movie, and picturing in my mind what happened next.  I’m definitely not wondering what The Equalizer is up to after the movie ended.  I’m saying I liked Gone Girl a lot, you guys.

9.5 out of 10

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