The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Written by Alexander Reams

59/100

Some will always say that the third film in a trilogy is the weakest, sometimes that is true, and sometimes it isn’t. This is the unfortunate instance where that rule is true. In the past 10 years the horror genre has had a resurgence, a fall, and another resurgence. Starting in 2013, after an abysmal year for the genre, in walks James Wan with his newest horror project, The Conjuring. One of the most notable and recent entries in the “serious horror” genre, the film focused more on characters and their relationships with one another than the scares. Characters have always led to the best scares in horror films. This is a lesson that the Conjuring-verse films forgot about after the first film, but were reminded with the second. With one film in particular applying this, Annabelle Creation (2017). However, after the critical failures that were The Nun (2018), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019). The Conjuring was due for a resuscitation in quality, and to a degree that happens in this film. However this is also the first time in the trilogy that the film begins to care more about the scares than it’s characters. 

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson have been playing these characters for over 8 years now, and with that comes good and bad. What’s good and borderline great about their performances is that over the time of these films you can see their relationship grow, just like in a marriage. Their flow on screen together gets better and better with each film. With their relationship being the best aspect of this movie. According to the films, they met 30 years ago, and it’s been 10 years in this universe since our introduction to this couple, according to the dates given. Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona), clearly let these actors do whatever they felt was right and trusted them to keep with the tone and style of relationship as the previous films. I definitely view this as a positive mark on the film because the last film Chaves made had very poor acting and direction. This time it is only in the direction that he stumbles. Valuing jump scares and set pieces over character development caused it to blend into numerous other generic horror films that audiences have grown accustomed to rather than a distinctive piece unto itself. 

One of his few saving graces is the way he shoots this film with DP Michael Burgess. Particularly in the last half hour of the film, the wide shots are beautifully captured on the Arri Alexa and Alexa Mini with Panavision lenses. Scenes in the medical bay of the prison are beautifully lit to create very macabre images which in turn make this film visually stand out in a way that the previous films hadn’t. While this film does not live up to the original films in the trilogy and is disappointing in terms of quality, I am not surprised that it was what it was. The direction is not even close to the level of James Wan’s and strays too far from the path that was laid before it. Despite this, it still stands very tall over the other various unwanted and poorly made spinoffs that this universe birthed along the way.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Trailer

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is currently in Theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Army of the Dead

Written by Alexander Reams

85/100

Army of the Dead is the latest film from Zack Snyder, and his second of 2021. The film follows Dave Bautista and a slew of others including Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick (who has not been getting enough credit for his performance here), Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sonada, Garret Dillahunt, and a standout who borderline steals the scene ever chance she is on screen, Tig Notaro. This ragtag group of mercenaries is hired by Sanada to steal $200 million dollars in Las Vegas, the only hiccup, the city is walled off due to a zombie virus infecting the city. 

Dave Bautista has been typecast ever since his breakout performance in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy as the buff tough guy who can also do comedy. In this film however he shows a much larger range. Snyder gives Bautista more room to work in, and leaves the comedy to other actors in the ensemble. The visual style of this film is similar to the previous style of Snyder’s previous films, but with him also being the Director of Photography along with Directing, he is in total control of the frame.

After the 8 year stint at Warner Bros and being screwed over constantly, Zack Snyder has been welcomed into the Netflix family with full creative control and support from the streaming giant. Giving Snyder full creative control might be the best decision made in this film. From the fantastic and mesmerizing opening scene and opening credits sequence, that has become a staple in Snyder’s visual style, that provide the viewer with as much laughs as shots that are nothing short of pieces of art. Snyder’s latest is the gory fun that we have come to expect from him and his return to the zombie genre is full of twists, great action scenes, and very colorful and memorable dialogue. 

Army of the Dead Trailer

Army of the Dead is currently in limited theatrical release and streaming worldwide on Netflix.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Cruella

Written by Alexander Reams

89/100

Cruella is the latest film from critical darling Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, I,Tonya, and Fright Night). The film follows a young Cruella de Vil as she attempts to leave her young life of crime and enter the London fashion scene. All the while discovering revelations about her past with her companions Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry). 

Emma Stone took this iconic character and truly made it her own. She delivers a nuanced, extravagant, and heartwrenching performance in the film. Her performance has already been compared to Joaquin Phoenix’s in 2019’s Joker, and rightfully so. The main difference for me is that Stone is far superior in her role than Phoenix was. She exudes joy and menace at the same time. 

With this film being about fashion, you would expect that the costume and production design are nothing short of brilliant, and you would be right. Jenny Beavan and Fiona Crombie do excellent work as the costume and production designers for the film, fully immersing the viewer in 1970’s London. Gillespie brings back his usual editor, Tatiana S. Riegel, to edit the film. She does a marvelous job, knowing just when to let the shot continue and when to do quicker cuts. Nicolas Karakatsanis returns to work with Gilespie after their collaboration with 2017’s I, Tonya. His tracking shots are very frenetic and beautiful. 

My issues are very few with the film but still issues. One scene in particular that sticks out was either lit very poorly which made it look like a green screen, or the VFX was done very poorly, but either way it just does not look right and sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite that the film still has so much going for it. Emma Stone’s performance, Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser being comedic revelations, the editing and cinematography, and Gillespie’s direction. All of this made for a very fun time that is well worth a watch.

Cruella Trailer

Cruella is currently playing in Theaters and on Disney+ with a 29.99 surcharge.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Carnaval

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

30/100

There are movies that aren’t good but you still try to find a reason to like them. This was the case for me. There are very few redeeming qualities and instead this movie reads like a giant advertisement for attending carnaval and visiting Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.  As someone who has been living out of Brazil for over 10 years this movie hit me with an intense sense of nostalgia that made me miss home and the warmth of the Brazilian people. This is one of the few things I enjoyed and found was transferred in the film successfully. 

Plot wise this is an underwhelming endeavor. It tells the story of Nina, a social media influencer, whose influencer boyfriend cheats and dumps her before a couples trip. This misfortune leads to a sponsored trip to Salvador, during carnaval, where Nina requests that her 3 best friends join her. When they arrive they get put up in a shabby hotel while the more popular influencers stay at a fancy all inclusive resort. As the trip progresses Nina hooks up with a popular local musician which sees her follower count rise as her friendships fall apart. 

Only when we are about an hour into the movie does it pick up a bit of steam. At this point Carnaval moves away from the influencer plot line, for a few minutes – at least -, and the audience as well as Nina get to see Salvador unfiltered, not through phone screens or social media posts, but through the eyes of a local who knows the city and its history. Here we see capoeira, the traditional cuisine street food acarajé, street vendors, the Lacerda public elevator, which separates the lower city from the upper city, Candomble, and other Afro-Brazilian traditions. When the movie leans into this it does well.  But shortly after this reprieve we move back into the hollow plot line that costs Nina her friendships and her dignity. 

At the end of the day, this movie does not really know what it wants to be. Is it a friendship drama? Is it an elaborate advertisement campaign? Is it a commentary on influencers and the social media age? By trying to do everything the movie ends up doing nothing. It does not spend enough time developing its characters in any meaningful way. This makes me wonder who this movie was made for? I don’t see an audience for this one especially for those who are unfamiliar with Brazil and its culture. The sights and sounds are infectious but, at the end of the day, by making Carnaval for everyone it ends up being for no one.

Carnaval Trailer

Carnaval will be available to stream on Netflix on June 2nd.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Written by Alexander Reams

78/100

Taylor Sheridan has already had a good year with his screenplay for Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse already released and now his second directorial effort is here. While this film has drawn criticism for being predictable, I have found that is because this film is vastly different from his previous film Wind River. Those Who Wish Me Dead is based on the novel by Michael Koryta and stars Angelina Jolie, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, and Jon Bernthal. It tracks Jolie as she protects a teenager from assassins attempting to kill him after he witnesses a murder. 

The story is very predictable. We’ve seen vast reiterations of these same tropes and character events throughout the years. What sets this film apart from these other iterations is the style that Sheridan brings with his direction. His sense of how to block scenes and where to place the camera is nothing short of brilliant, especially in a scene towards the end. 

Despite these negatives, the performances of Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jon Bernthal, and relative newcomer Finn Little all make this well worth a watch. Along with a smart screenplay from Sheridan, Charles Leavitt, and Michael Koryta (based on his novel) and possibly Brian Tyler’s best score yet all make this film a highly enjoyable thriller that you just don’t see much of anymore.

Those Who Wish Me Dead Trailer

Those Who Wish Me Dead is currently streaming on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Spiral

Written by Alexander Reams

94/100

Spiral is the newest entry in the long-running, and presumably exhausted, Saw franchise. In preparation for this film I finally trekked through the franchise and fell into a weird appreciation and borderline love for this series. This newest entry shows the legacy that John Kramer has left while a new copycat continues his work and reigns terror on police. 

Chris Rock as Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks is the latest protagonist of the Saw franchise. This is a significant change of pace and genre from what we are used to seeing Rock in. Not only is he the lead, he also developed this film from the ground up, is an executive producer, and did the story treatment. This is truly his baby and his passion shows in every scene. Sharing the screen with Rock is Samuel L. Jackson as “Marcus Banks”, Zeke’s father, and Max Minghella as Zeke’s partner “William Schenk”. 

This film is a departure from previous entries in style and substance. The direction of the film, from previous director Darren Lynn Bousman, is far less frenetic. Which leads to making the story and traps easier to watch and less visually confusing. The quick edits and shaky cinematography that has been a staple of the Saw franchise is nowhere to be seen. The camera movements are slow and methodical, almost like a voyeur on the investigation taking place. The editing is intentional, only cutting when absolutely necessary, and never too often. 

The gratuitous blood and gore is toned down to make it more effective when it does happen. Instead the film leans more towards scares and disturbing imagery which constantly pushes the film’s atmosphere to more and more grisly places. This film is a welcome breath of fresh air in this 17-year long franchise. Chris Rock gives what may be his greatest performance yet and seeing him, Max Minghella, and Samuel L. Jackson on screen together is a wonderful combination, the screenplay is a cherry on top.

Spiral Trailer

Spiral is now playing in theaters.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Episode 92: Sportin’ Life / The Dark and the Wicked / Network

“I don’t know how to choose work that illuminates what my life is about. I don’t know what my life is about and don’t examine it. My life will define itself as I live it. The movies will define themselves as I make them. As long as the theme is something I care about at the moment, it’s enough for me to start work. Maybe work itself is what my life is about.”

Sidney Lumet

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Let Them All Talk & Pieces of a Woman. Followed by the Titles: Sportin’ Life, The Dark and the Wicked, and Network.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

You can watch Sportin’ Life here.

Network is available on Hoopla

The Dark and the Wicked is currently available to rent or purchase

You can read Michael’s review of The Dark and the Wicked here.

You can read Taylor’s review of Pieces of a Woman here.

The Dark and the Wicked

Written by Michael Clawson

50/100

In this unremittingly grim horror movie from Bryan Bertino (The Strangers), brother and sister Michael and Louise (Michael Abbot and Marin Ireland), estranged from each other in adulthood, return to their parent’s farm in rural Texas to be with their deathly ill father despite their mother insisting that they shouldn’t come. Shortly after they arrive, while their dad lies incapacitated in bed, Michael and Louise are blindsided by an unexpected and horrifying tragedy, which leads them to realize that beyond the winds and wolves that howl outside at night, something else, be it a malevolent spirit or the devil himself, is also there on the farm with them. It merely taunts them at first, as evil forces in horror movies usually do—doors creak open, light switches flip on their own—but the taunts escalate into vicious torments that threaten to drive Michael and Louise over the edge.

Bertino delivers a handful of well-mounted scares and some startling scenes of gore, but he’s also intensely averse to levity, and the unvarying tone becomes a little monotonous. Moreover, neither Michael nor Louise are all that intriguingly developed, which undermines the film’s sub-textual interest in the siblings as they struggle to process their father’s impending death and that aforementioned tragedy. To be fair though, I might just be a bit burnt out on horror movies centered on metaphors for grief.

The Dark and the Wicked Trailer

The Dark and the Wicked is now widely available

Wonder Woman 1984

Written by Anna Harrison

60/100

The first Wonder Woman was a breath of fresh air not only for the struggling DC Extended Universe, but for superhero movies as a whole. It was charming and oftentimes stirring (the No Man’s Land scene!), and despite its somewhat bizarre and bloated third act, the movie managed to succeed on almost every level.

Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand… not so much.

The movie opens with a wholly unnecessary flashback to Amazon homeland of Themyscira, then reintroduces us to our hero, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who goes around stopping mall heists when she’s not working at the Smithsonian. She still longs for lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie, and while it’s been quite some time since Steve died—66 years, in fact—Diana still mourns him. I too would be sad for over half a century if my Chris Pine-looking boyfriend died, so no judgement there. Diana meets Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a fellow employee at the Smithsonian, though one much more awkward than Diana; Diana and Barbara meet Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a wannabe oil tycoon. The three of them encounter a strange stone that grants wishes, and then we’re off to the races.

Wonder Woman 1984 commits to its name, and the movie stays true to the time period in which it’s set: returning director Patty Jenkins populates the movie with vibrant 80s colors, Jazzercise, the good old Soviets versus Americans shtick, and, unfortunately, an increasingly ludicrous plot and cheesy writing, even for superhero movies. And we don’t even get any fun 80s songs.

The first act opens innocently enough. Steve Trevor mysteriously returns (and some dubious moral implications about the manner of his return remain largely undiscussed), giving Pine and Gadot a chance to reignite their chemistry from the first movie. Pine is great as the fish out of water in this movie, mirroring Diana’s journey in the first, and I could watch him marvel at parachute pants all day. It’s fun! It’s Chris Pine in a fanny pack! 

Then, unfortunately, the plot kicks into gear, and even good performances can’t distract from bad writing. 

There are interesting granules in there, to be sure. Maxwell Lord clings to the American dream by exploiting the Middle East, Ronald Reagan wishes above all else to have more nuclear missiles closer to the Soviets, a megalomaniac businessman amasses power through false promises and backstabbing to become a dangerous demagogue—but all of these elements remain uninterrogated or are turned into bizarre jokes and stereotypes, leaving me scratching my head at their inclusion in the first place. Instead, we are left with truly cringe-worthy lines like, “I wanna be number one. An apex predator like nothing there’s ever been before,” which even a game Kristen Wiig can only sell so well. (She then promptly gets turned into a reject from Cats.)

Still, there are some nice moments. Pedro Pascal has a great time slowly losing his marbles, and there is a fun and too brief scene where he and Chris Pine get handcuffed together. Shenanigans ensue. Gadot gets some cool action sequences (and some that really drag), albeit ones that would have looked much cooler from a seat in a movie theater and not from my yoga mat on the floor. Steve and Diana share a sweet conversation in a jet in what seems like the only real heart-to-heart they have in the entire movie. Diana soars through the winds as Adagio in D Minor from the (superior) movie Sunshine plays, because I guess Oscar winner Hans Zimmer couldn’t be bothered to write something original.

And yet.
Wonder Woman 1984 overstays its lengthy runtime, has a completely unbelievable ending even for the superhero genre, and ultimately hits many of the same character beats for Diana as her first solo outing did. Frankly, there seems to be very little point to its existence. I’m not expecting extreme intellectual rigor from superhero movies, and at its worst Wonder Woman 1984 is still fun enough. But is it too much to ask for more?

Wonder Woman 1984 Trailer

Wonder Woman 1984 is currently available to stream from HBO Max until 1/25/21

You can follow Anna on Letterboxd and her website

Sound of Metal

Written by Anna Harrison

85/100

About halfway through Sound of Metal, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is given a sign name in American Sign Language: a hand curled to form a “C” held up beside the right eye. The reason this becomes Ruben’s sign name is obvious the second you see Riz Ahmed’s enormous brown eyes in action, so big and expressive they seem to swallow the screen. He looks, as one character remarks upon, a bit like an owl, a trait that makes it difficult to look away when Ruben appears on screen.

Sound of Metal follows Ruben, a recovering addict who replaced heroin with music and a girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke, with unfortunate bleached eyebrows for most of the film). As a drummer in a punk rock band with Lou, Ruben bombards his ears every night with loud guitar riffs and screeching, until one day he suddenly finds he cannot hear anything. Disoriented, distressed, Ruben tries to act like nothing has changed, and goes back onstage that night. Worried that he might relapse, Lou checks him into a facility for recovering addicts populated entirely by deaf people, run by the tough yet empathetic Joe, played by Paul Raci, who turns in an excellent, understated performance.

Ruben struggles without his music and without Lou; he can never bring himself to truly embrace his new identity, and flounders as he tries to avoid facing his situation head-on, finding inventive ways to keep his brain thinking about anything but his newfound deafness. Eventually, he begins to settle into a new life—learning ASL, teaching the drums to deaf children at the local school, and drawing raunchy tattoos for a friend—but no matter what he does, he cannot completely quiet the noise that remains in his head. He dreams of getting back to “normal,” and always remembers what he has lost even as he finds moments of joy in his new life. If the actual plot mechanics sound threadbare, that’s because they are, but the character work is rich.

As Ruben, Ahmed gives a nuanced and powerful performance, deftly portraying Ruben’s raw pain and rage while never drifting into melodrama. He is helped by first-time feature director Darius Marder (co-writer with his brother, Abraham, and Derek Cianfrance), who walks along a razor’s edge here with surety, avoiding pandering, easy answers and working hard to accurately portray sensitive topics without schmaltz. Ahmed’s best co-star, however, is not Cooke, but the entire sound department.

From the opening beats and screams of a punk rock song, the sounds immerse us. The whir of a blender, the drip of a coffee pot, and then, suddenly, a high-pitched ringing in the middle of bombastic drumming that drowns everything else out. Like Ruben, we are thrown into disarray, struggling to understand the world around us, straining to make out coherent noises through the fog. We slip and panic with Ruben. Sound flits in and out for the rest of the movie; sometimes we hear as Ruben does, sometimes we hear what he cannot, but always we are intensely aware of the sound or lack thereof. For those who have ever wondered—like me, back before I learned better—why “boring” sound editing and sound mixing are categories at the Academy Awards, here is your answer. 

It’s not a perfect movie; it has its lulls, and Lou, while an important presence, seems thinly sketched, and we are told that she is interesting rather than shown. But these quibbles do not detract too much from the film: Sound of Metal handles its quiet, personal story with grace, making us both yearn for chaos of noise and appreciate the stillness that comes with absolute silence.

Sound of Metal Trailer

You can watch Sound of Metal on Prime Video

You can follow Anna on Letterboxd