"Loving Annabelle" A Teacher Student Lesbian Romance

2/27/2020

Although this could be the title of another sequel in the creepy horror doll franchise launched by James Wan.  This movie is, in fact, a lesbian drama about a teen girl at a Catholic school who has an affair with her teacher.  It all sounds very sleazy and naughty, but it is actually a pretty good film that doesn’t exploit its characters for cheap thrills.  That being this is still a film that would feel right at home at a midnight showing on Cinemax.

Annabelle (Erin Kelly) is quite the stereotypical angsty teenager with punk clothing, nose ring, and badass cigarette smoking.  She has been expelled from a couple schools and is now entering a Catholic private school.  She is obviously not religious and her Buddhist prayer beads ruffle the feathers of the schools' administration.  Her mother is a U.S. Senator and her father is absent, kind of like all the male characters in this film.  Annabelle and her poetry teacher Simone (Diane Gaidry) take notice of each other while in class.  After a few confrontations during class, they start to get to know each other a little deeper.  Annabelle is confident and secure in her sexuality while the older Simone is conflicted.  She had a tragic relationship with another woman in her past and is reluctant to enter into a new one.  She is currently in a relationship with a man but things don’t seem to be going too well.  As her relationship with Annabelle develops she is not portrayed as the cliched predatory teacher which usually happens with men.  Annabelle helps her deal with the events of her past and find a way back to her true self.  There is good chemistry and a strong sexual tension between the women that eventually boils over.  The next morning an old alarm clock fails to wake them up they are found getting dressed and their secret is revealed.  Soon after Simone is seen taken away by some detectives.  It’s a bittersweet and quick ending that leaves you wanting more.  You can understand what Simone did was technically wrong but can’t help but feel like an injustice is happening.

Although “Loving Annabelle” is a short 76 minutes it feels like it perfectly fits the material.  It doesn’t feel cheap or exploitive and shows a deep love and respect for its characters.  It’s not a perfect film but I feel like it tells a beautiful story in a way that’s entertaining and thoughtful.  


"The Nun (2013)" A Young Woman's Battle with Catholicism

2/25/2020

Although quite different from the previously reviewed horror movie of the same name, this film looks like it could possibly be a prequel for the horror movie misfire.  It takes place in France in the mid-1700s and involves a young girl who is thrown into circumstances beyond her control.  She must fight in order to survive the brutal Catholic church doctrines.  This film is actually a remake of the 1966 film of the same name starring Anna Karina.

Suzanne Simonin, played by Pauline Etienne, was born into a wealthy family with two older sisters and is quite the musician.  While not showing any interest in the available males in the area, she tells her mother that she loves Jesus the most.  She spends a year in a local convent and finds out this is not the life for her, but her family insists that she stay there.  When it comes time to take her vows, she speaks from her heart and denies them.  A humiliation to her family she returns home for a time only to have a bigger bombshell dropped.   Her mother reveals that she was an illegitimate child and with her sisters getting married they don’t have the money to support her.  Her mother coldly states “Your birth is my only sin”.  Suzanne’s real father is a rich man living in some far off castle, more on him and his son later.  With no other place to go, Suzanne is forced back into the same convent.  The sweet old Mother Superior is nice to her and she does end up taking her vows, but when the Mother dies under suspicious circumstances, a younger more sadistic Mother Christine is put in charge.  Christine puts more stricter policies in place and the defiant and rebellious Suzanne will not go along with the crowd.  She is ostracized by the other Nuns, bullied and humiliated at the hands of Christine.  She is able to send for a lawyer to see if she can have her vows annulled and get out, but the Vatican says no.  When she starts to write her story about what has been happening to her, she is caught and thrown in the hole.  A cold hellish dungeon where she barely survives.  Malnourished and covered in her own filth and shit she is finally rescued by a visiting Bishop.  

She is relocated to another convent that is led by Mother Saint-Eutrope, played by Isabelle Huppert.  Although appearing just fine at first, Suzanne begins to find that Saint-Eutrope is also a bit unhinged.  She always has a favorite Nun and when Suzanne arrives it disrupts the whole cloistered culture.  Saint-Eutrope takes an immediate liking to Suzanne and makes numerous desperate attempts to win over Suzanne’s affections.  She is harassed and embarrassed as before with Mother Christine but in a totally different context  Suzanne finally alerts the priest during confession, but it is a person from the outside world that is finally able to set her free.

The film starts out in a castle with a young man reading Suzanne’s manuscript that was sent to his father, which we find out later is also Suzanne’s Father.  The father is dying, probably from tuberculosis, and looks to want to help find his lost daughter.  Suzanne’s half brother sets off to find her and bring her home.


"The Nun (2018)" is a Foggy, Soggy Mess

2/10/2020

“The Nun” is another spin-off movie that is apart of the “Conjuring Universe”.  Originally apart of  “The Conjuring 2” “The Nun” character is featured in a short scene that is utterly terrifying and effective, but if you’re trying to stretch that one note scare into a feature-length film you will very likely run into some problems.  This film was written by the prolific horror writer Gary Dauberman who is no stranger to the “Conjuring Universe”.  The film ultimately falls flat due to its paper thin plot and lack of direction, not to mention The Nun herself is relegated to nothing more than a scary concept and a few sight gags.  Similar to the “Annabelle” franchise, we need an origin story for The Nun to at least have something to work with.

The film’s lead actors are fairly decent as we have Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga, who is the younger sister of Vera Farmiga who portrays Lorraine Warren in the Conjuring films. Sister Irene is just about to take her vows when the Vatican pairs her up with Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate a nun’s death in Romania.  While in Romania they meet up with Frenchie the man who found the nun hanging from a noose outside the Abbey/Convent.  Frenchie also points out that he is French-Canadian, like that really matters.  The very few attempts at any sort of comedy die pretty quick.  Irene and Burke investigate the centuries old gothic castle looking for something or someone when they run into the reverend mother, a nearly comatose woman in a dark veil.  The trio then walks through the cemetery and several graves have bells on them.  This was a real thing back in the day so people were not mistakenly buried alive, this, of course, foreshadows a scene to come when Father Burke mysteriously ends up buried in one of the graves and Sister Irene has to race against the clock to find him.  A lot of ghostly paranormal things happen that don’t make a whole lot of sense but it all attributed to “The Nun”.  They find out that the demon that inhabits her is called Valek.  The third act gets even more ridiculous as they find a relic hidden within the Abbey that is supposedly a vial of blood from Jesus and this is the only way to defeat Valek.  Sister Irene, who is now a full-fledge Nun after Father Burke administers her vows, wears this vial of blood around her neck and fights the Nun in a pool of water.  Obviously, Sister Irene is victorious and they all live happily ever after, well not so fast there Frenchie.  We flashback to a scene from “The Conjuring 2” and find out that he became the new vessel for Valek and the Warrens were trying to free him from it.

When it comes to religious horror, there is nothing scarier than being Catholic.  This film while looking good on paper never really delivers anything but tired cliches.  As I mentioned before if they are planning a sequel, hopefully, it will be an origin story.






"Annabelle Comes Home" Another Great Addition to the Conjuring Universe!


2/7/2020

After the success of  “Annabelle: Creation” in 2017 another sequel was obviously not far behind with “Annabelle Comes Home” premiering in the summer of 2019.  This film could have also been called “Conjuring 3” since the story revolves around Ed and Lorraine Warren and their daughter Judy.  Although the actual “Conjuring 3” movie is scheduled for release in the fall of 2020.  “Annabelle Comes Home” was written and directed by Gary Dauberman, who wrote the first two Annabelle films.

We get a great opening scene of Ed and Lorraine taking possession of the Annabelle doll then trying to get it back home, but Annabelle doesn’t make it easy for them.  They are eventually able to lock the doll away in a glass case with chapel glass to “keep the evil contained”.  One year later we meet their daughter Judy, played by Mckenna Grace, an actor who portrays a person much older and wiser than the young girl that is on screen.  Judy is not very popular at school, she is made fun of and ostracized because of who her parents are and what they do.  She is only friends with her babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who is going to be looking after her when Ed and Lorraine leave for the night.  Also in the mix is Daniela (Katie Sarife), Mary Ellen’s friend, a curious and interesting girl who is pretty much the linchpin for the entire plot of the film.  So it’s the three girls against an enormous evil and don’t forget about Bob, because Bob’s got balls.

The beating heart of the Conjuring films, and this one, is the Warren’s artifact room.  A room that houses numerous haunted and possessed items.  It contains the Annabelle Doll as well as a long list of possible spin-off franchises.  Just like the Conjuring films we are introduced to a few new nightmare inducing bad guys, the Ferryman, the Bloody Bride, and the Werewolf.  When Daniela is left alone in the house she goes straight for the artifact room, but it’s got numerous locks.  She finds the keys pretty easily and in no time is checking out all of the items in the cursed room.  Annabelle does her thing and Daniela opens the case to re-adjusts the doll as is had fallen over.  Just then the smoke alarm goes off and Judy’s birthday cake is burning and the case is left open.

This movie has a number of comedic moments that really seem to hit.  The lone male character other than Ed Warren is Bob, who works at the grocery store and is Mary Ellen’s crush.  Bob is awkward but sweet, and as I mentioned before he’s got balls.  The girls and Bob are in for quite a night of paranormal pandemonium (that was a mouthful).  Judy has inherited some of the gifts of her mother and is much more sensitive to the paranormal, but is also better prepared to handle it.  We take this journey with numerous ghosts and spirits, mostly terrifying, but as Judy mentions “not all ghosts are bad”.  The film is well made, but possibly too jam-packed with possible spin-off characters.  

The cast is the real strong point of the film.  The Warrens, played by  Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, really ground these films in an everyday reality where ghosts and spirits live among us.  As far as the Annabelle character, I think she has run her course with this trilogy of films. Hopefully, the studio will be content to leave the franchise alone.  Can’t wait to see what they do in “Conjuring 3”.


"Annabelle: Creation" A sequel that blows away the Original!


2/4/2020

In 2004 director James Wan burst on to the horror scene with the iconic “Saw” franchise.  Then almost ten years later unleashed “The Conjuring” with its numerous sequels and spin-offs it has now become known as “The Conjuring Universe.”  The original film introduced us to the real-life paranormal investigators' Ed and Lorraine Warren whose case files were the inspiration for the films. We were also introduced to a creepy possessed doll named Annabelle.  This launched the first spin-off franchise with the 2014 film simply called “Annabelle”.  To be blunt it was a bitter disappointment, but three years later they decided to release a sequel anyway.  An origin story called “Annabelle: Creation”.  Maybe it was the low expectations, but this is the movie that should’ve kicked off the franchise.

It’s the early 1900s in a country farmhouse where a doll maker, his wife, and young daughter live a quiet and peaceful life.  Until one day a devastating tragedy, their daughter Bee (Samara Lee) is killed in an accident, leaving her parents Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and Ester (Miranda Otto) Mullins to grieve.  When things become unbearable they open a doorway that can never be closed.

12 Years Later,  the Mullins have been operating an orphanage called “St. Eustace School for Girls”,  A new batch of girls and their guardian Sister Charlotte arrive, they focus on Linda (Lulu Wilson) and Jan (Talitha Eliana Bateman).  Jan is recovering from Polio and walks with a crutch and leg brace, while Linda is friendly and inquisitive with her doll Sweet Sue.  Samuel goes over the ground rules for the house.  You must never bother Ester as she is always locked away in her bedroom.  You must also never go into Bee’s old bedroom that is always locked.  The orphanage has an electric stair lift for Jan, which you know will be used to some scary effect later on. 

At night the creepy, spine-tingling spirit of Annabelle is strong as it calls to the girls to set her free.  While playing hide and seek, Bee’s room unlocks and Jan enters, she finds a key that unlocks the closet containing the Annabelle doll.  The walls are plastered with pages torn from the bible.  Annabelle is freed and takes hold of Jan who becomes confined to a wheelchair.  This leaves Linda to fight Annabelle to save her friend.  She drops the doll down the well, but it's no use as the spirit has attached itself to Jan.  She visits with Ester and we get the back story of how the Mullins made a deal with the devil to see their daughter once again.  When they allow the spirit to inhabit the Annabelle doll everything goes to hell.  We see that Esther was attacked and her face was disfigured.  She now wears one of those Phantom of the Opera Masks.  Linda and the Mullins fight to save Jan from the Annabelle demon and when everything seems to be all back to normal we again see the words 12 years Later pop up on the screen.  We see an older Jan in a scene that links this film to the beginning of the original “Annabelle” film.

Overall the filmmakers created this great atmosphere throughout the film with a dusty old gothic feeling inside and out the orphanage.  There are some scares and scenes we’ve seen before but it is done well and with great characters and superb acting. Lulu Wilson has been in horror movies before and is quite amazing as Linda.  Together with Talitha Eliana Bateman, they create an amazing team.  


Stephen King's "Cat's Eye" Horror Anthology


 2/1/2020

“Cat’s Eye” is an anthology film from Stephen King that is a little milder in tone than “Creepshow” which came out 3 years earlier.  This one also features a young Drew Barrymore who had previously starred in King’s “Firestarter” a year earlier.  If you were growing in the mid to late 80s there is a good chance you’ve seen this movie a number of times.  Although Stephen King has done a lot better, these 3 little stories do remind me of a time where I was a lot younger and craving for anything Stephen King.

“Cat’s Eye” is a series of three short stories that are all tied together by a cat that is on his way to save a little girl (Barrymore) from trouble.  The intro scenes are filled with nods to King's other films like Cujo and Christine as the Cat escapes capture on his way down the East Coast.  The first story is called “Quitter’s Inc.” and stars James Woods as Dick Morrison a chain smoker who is willing to go to any lengths in order to quit.  He visits this experimental clinic, which looks to be run by the mafia, and they guarantee that they can cure him of this nasty habit.  The program turns out to be no joke and he finds out just how far they are willing to go if he slips up.  Woods always seems to be such a funny and charismatic guy and there is a strong sense of humor in this story, especially at a party where everybody seems to be smoking and mocking him.  In this scene, we are also treated to a very memorable montage set to “I’ll be watching you” by The Police.  Dick is now forced to take a long hard look at himself and the way smoking is now literally hurting his family.  Is this filthy habit really worth it?  We get a surprise ending that is equally funny and a bit shocking.

The second story is the one that nobody ever remembers and for good reason.  “The Ledge” takes place in Atlantic City where a wealthy businessman finds out that his wife is cheating on him.  So he finds this guy, Johnny Norris a tennis pro, and forces him to walk around the ledge of a high rise apartment building all while taunting him and trying to make him fall.  When he finally makes it around, he is double-crossed and finds out that his lover’s head was loped off.  This enrages Johnny and he ends up killing the Old Man’s bodyguards and then forces him to walk the ledge, this does not go well for the Old Man and Johnny has his revenge.

The third story is called “The General” and stars Barrymore as Amanda.  The cat, who is named the General, has now managed to make his way down the coast to Wilmington, North Carolina where he is to befriend Amanda and save her from an angry little troll that is hiding in her wall.  Amanda’s parents are not too keen on the idea of taking in a stray cat but The General is very determined and persistent. Amanda’s mom is also seen reading “Pet Semetary” (about a different kind of cat).  One night while sleeping the little troll emerges from a hole that opens up in Amanda's bedroom and it proceeds to kill Polly her pet bird.  In the morning The General is blamed for the death, but Amanda doesn’t believe it.  The next night the troll is back and looking to steal Amanda’s breath.  Just in the nick of time, The General forces his way in and pounces on the ugly bastard.  Thus begins the cat versus troll Battle Royale.  The General is eventually victorious leaving the parents to wonder what happen in her room.  Amanda is finally able to keep the cat and we live happily ever after.

“Cat’s Eye” is obviously not the greatest Stephen King adaptation, but it is entertaining.  If you're looking for more of a true horror film definitely check out the “Creepshow” films.  It does seem like they rushed this film into production in order to just put something out there with King’s name on it.  At the time he was that hottest thing going, kind of like he is now which all the remakes and new adaptations.  Thirty-five years later people still can’t get enough Stephen King.