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Big problems for little girls

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Reviews

ANNABELLE: CREATION. Promotional materials reference this as "The next chapter in The Conjuring universe," which comes across as aspirational and grandiose. That known universe now includes: The Conjuring (2013), wherein the new film's malevolent, titular doll was introduced; The Conjuring 2 (2016); Annabelle (2014). And of course our current subject, which presents said doll's origin story. The Conjuring came as an early entry in a field surprisingly rich with stylish, unassuming low-budget horror pictures. For a couple of years, such movies offered the most consistent, pleasant surprises of a given weekend. Marked by a balance of atmosphere, pacing and giddy scares, they called back in an entirely welcome way to a time when movies didn't have to make a billion dollars to be considered a success. Maybe more to the point, they didn't have to cost multiple hundreds of millions to merit distribution out here in the hinterland. Furthermore, these small-budget genre movies generally turned disproportionately large profits. But even these successes were not enough to guarantee the stability and longevity of the genre. So the initial rush of releases slowed to a trickle of generally successful movies interspersed with the usual, forgettable tidal junk. Annabelle: Creation, as a post-wave addition to the canon, works because it has style and narrative poise, but there may be too much of the familiar in it, and its moment may have passed.

Sometime in the early-mid 20th century, a stoic doll maker named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) enjoys a tranquil, sunny life somewhere in the quiet countryside. His (contextually) creepy creations afford his family a secluded, rambling property in the hills, topped by a picturesque and potentially terrifying old house. Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto) tends to the house, and together they provide a loving home for their young daughter "Bee" (Samara Lee). But one hot afternoon, on the way home from church, everything is irrevocably changed.

Twelve years later, a group of orphan girls in the care of Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) arrive at the Mullins place. They have been offered a long-term temporary home there, following the closure of their orphanage. The two oldest girls band together, unsurprisingly, and show favor to two of the younger girls. This leaves the littlest ones, Janice (Talitha Bateman) and Carol (Grace Fulton), to look out for each other as their new home becomes ever less hospitable.

Creation calls back to the early successes in its "universe" with its period setting, deliberate pacing, elevated style and surging climax. Credit both writer Gary Dauberman and director David F. Sandberg for that. As effective as the movie may be, though, it also presents us with more of the same: another evil doll (well, the same evil doll; or rather, doll as conduit for evil), more young girls in peril, more arch-religiosity as antidote. On its own merits, this is a taut, well-realized little horror movie. It avoids the over-aggressive homage to classic horror that ultimately undid the effectiveness of Annabelle and so fits well with The Conjuring movies. But still, it feels like a movie without its moment; a callback to something recent but already gone. R. 109m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE GLASS CASTLE. Disclaimer: I haven't read Jeannete Walls' popular memoir from which this is drawn, so I won't be speaking to any disparities between the adaptation and the source material.

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, 2013) from a screenplay by he and Andrew Lanham, The Glass Castle presents a history of the Walls family, as told by its second-oldest daughter. The narrative shifts between 1989 Manhattan, where Jeannette (Brie Larson) has found professional success as a gossip columnist. She is engaged to an eager financial adviser named David (Max Greenfield), and appears to be navigating the waters of New York society with great alacrity and a little countrified sass. She is troubled though, by the parentage she obscures from acquaintances, but of which she is reminded when, from a taxi, she observes mom Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) and dad Rex (Woody Harrelson) Dumpster diving in midtown.

This triggers a series of flashbacks, wherein we learn that the Walls' family long lived an itinerant life, following Rex on a flight from his troubled past toward a dream-filled, never reached future. They kick around the Southwest, from dusty to dustier mining towns, Rose Mary constantly painting, Rex unable to hold down a job. Eventually they settle in Rex's hardscrabble hometown, caught between their falling down house and the nightmares of his parental home. Jeannette and her three siblings band together, drawing strength from one another to provide an eventual means of escape.

The Glass Castle is a big-hearted, well-acted, unpretentious examination of family life in hard times. In spite of its successes, though, it somehow fails to achieve the gravity for which it seems to strive. Larson gives a strong, raw performance, as always, as does Harrelson (one of his best), though he seems miscast, too recognizable for this role. As much as I was drawn in emotionally, I was also troubled by gnawing notion that in singling out one troubled family whose daughter got famous, it may do a disservice to all the families whose stories won't make it to the big screen. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

BRIGSBY BEAR. Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill and Jane Adams star in a film about a young man who grows up in isolation and, struggling to adjust to the outside world, searches for his favorite children's show character. PG13. 100m. MINOR.

THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD. An elite bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) must protect a hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) scheduled to testify in international court in this action comedy. PG. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

LOGAN LUCKY. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play luckless, dim-witted brothers attempting a racetrack heist. With Daniel Craig and Katie Holmes. PG13. 119m. BROADWAY.

STEP. Documentary about a high school girls' step dance team in Baltimore. We may have gotten emotional over the preview. Shut up. R. 92m. MINOR.

SMOKY AND THE BANDIT (1977). Burt Reynolds has a long way to go and a short time to get there. With Sally Field. PG. 96m. BROADWAY.

Continuing

ATOMIC BLONDE. Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch brings Cold War cool, exceptional fight choreography and a quieter, better paced spy movie than the trailer suggests. Charlize Theron delivers a winking, knife-edged performance. R. 109m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE BIG SICK. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan star in a romantic comedy that breaks new ground as boy meets girl and girl goes into coma. Michael Showalter directs this deceptively simple, unassuming movie in which the deeply funny is juxtaposed with the devastating. R. 120mM. MINOR.

CITY OF GHOSTS. Documentary about activist citizen journalists and their underground resistance against ISIS. Directed by Matthew Heineman. R. 92m. MINIPLEX.

THE DARK TOWER. In this skimming adaptation of a Stephen King novel about a battle for the universe, Idris Elba's glowering intensity and quiet grief almost carry the dull exposition. And Matthew McConaughey, as a runway strutting villain, is likely having a better time than the audience. PG13. 95m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

DESPICABLE ME 3. An out of work Gru (Steve Carell) returns to a life of crime, meets his long-lost twin and battles a villain stuck in the '80s (Trey Parker). With Kristen Wiig. PG. 156m. BROADWAY.

DUNKIRK. Christopher Nolan's focused and intimate telling of this World War II story of pinned troops, outnumbered airmen and hail-Mary civilian rescue effort brings each character to life with the wave-action of hope and hopelessness. PG13. 106m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE EMOJI MOVIE. *Eye-roll emoji. PG. 86m. BROADWAY.

ENDLESS POETRY. Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's auto-biopic about joining the bohemian scene in his youth during the 1940s. NR. 128m. MINIPLEX.

GIRLS TRIP. Almost 30 years after "Ladies First" dropped, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish star in this crass tale of four lifelong friends' trip to the Essence Festival in New Orleans. R. 122m. BROADWAY.

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER. This update on the original documentary starring Al Gore focuses on the possibility of an "energy revolution." PG. 98m. BROADWAY.

KIDNAP. Halle Berry plays a mother chasing her son's abductors in a minivan with a dwindling gas tank and very good shocks in this breakneck, popcorn thriller. Clunky monologues and messy editing aside, the adrenaline fix is a treat. R. 82m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

LANDLINE. Sisters (Jenny Slate, Abby Quinn) come to grips with their messy lives and their father's affair in 1990s New York. R. 97m. MINIPLEX.

THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE. Squirrely sequel about animals trying to save their park. Voiced by Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Maya Rudolph and Jackie Chan. PG. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Co-writer/director Jon Watts (Clown, 2014; Cop Car, 2015) makes good on a tremendous opportunity here, utilizing a talented cast to great effect and bringing the franchise back to its sweetspot. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS. Luc Besson's comic book adaptation feels misconceived with its story of an idyllic planet ravaged by humankind, poorly constructed military intrigue and a thin love story. PG13. 137m. MILL CREEK.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Caser (Andy Serkis) sets out on a quest of vengeance after the apes are pulled into war with a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). PG13. 150m. BROADWAY.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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John J. Bennett

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