MOVIES WITH DAVE
A lot to cover this week, including a movie that surpassed “The Hurricane Heist” to become my new least favorite film of 2018. So without any further ado, let’s get to the reviews. *** First up is “Peppermint.” After witnessing the murder of her husband and daughter, only to see their killers escape justice, Riley North (Jennifer Garner) seeks revenge against the criminals and corrupt officials who destroyed her life. Between this film, “The Equalizer 2,” and “Death Wish” it seems like vigilante justice films are making a bit of a return this year. In fact, when I saw the trailer for “Peppermint,” the first thing that popped into my head was “Oh, they remade “Death Wish” again, but for moms.” And I was pretty much right. They basically just made a “Death Wish” movie starring Jennifer Garner. Unfortunately the people behind “Peppermint” failed to even reach the low bar set by the “Death Wish” series with this film. There’s a common phrase in filmmaking, one that seems forgotten way too often. Show, don’t tell. What it means is don’t just tell a story through dumps of expository dialogue. Show it through actions and feelings. Movies are a visual medium after all. Let us see characters grow, change, and develop as people. Give us a chance to care about what happens to them. So what does this movie do instead? Well it doesn’t start off so bad. We do see Riley North’s family murdered and the miscarriage of justice that follows, but after that the movie just cuts to five years later and we’re later told what Riley’s been up to all these years. Turns out it was quite a bit. She ends up traveling the world, visiting parts of Europe and Hong Kong. She also becomes a bank robber, firearms expert, MMA fighter, and explosive expert. Do we get to see any of Riley’s amazing transformation from suburban soccer mom to female Jason Bourne? Nope. That would make for a fun and entertaining movie, so of course we don’t actually get to watch any of that cool stuff. All we get is a quick five minute conversation between a few law enforcement officers telling us how dangerous and awesome Riley has become over the last few years, and we don’t get to see a second of it. I don’t ask for much. Heck, I’d even settle for a quick montage. You need to show something though. Give us a chance to get to know Riley as a person. That way when she goes on a murderous rampage later in the film, she doesn’t just come across as a cold callus monster thirsty for blood. Which is exactly what happens here. That’s right, they made the woman who saw her entire family murdered right in front of her face unsympathetic somehow. Now that really is quite the accomplishment. And what’s even more frustrating is the filmmakers make the exact same mistake later on. After Riley’s return to the city of her family’s killers, she ends up hiding out in really shady looking homeless tent village. Apparently over the months, thanks to Riley’s presence, that area of town becomes basically crime free. The people of the area are so inspired by her heroism they even paint a giant multistory mural of her likeness with angel wings. Truly incredible. That’d be the perfect thing to show the audience and further endear everyone to Riley’s character. So naturally the filmmakers in their undying wisdom decide to show none of it and instead just give the audience a brief time-lapse showing the drop of crime on a computer monitor. I don’t understand. It’s like there was an entire 30 minutes of movie left on the chopping block. There’s so much character building missing from this film. Like the editors just decided to not include every scene that made Riley’s character even remotely relatable. Speaking of the editors, the editing in this movie was complete garbage. Beyond not being able to follow any of the action because it was a jumble of quick cuts and close ups in dark rooms, the most maddening thing of all was the sheer amount of flashing cuts and transitions in this movie. Every few seconds it was, flash, flash, transition. Flash, flash, transition. It was like the editing equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. The best kind of editing is the kind you never notice because it makes the film flow, allowing the story to become that much more engaging. Instead, the editing in this movie is just plain obnoxious and it distracts from the story if anything. As you might be able to tell, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this movie. The characters are aggressively unlikeable, the story is an abysmally poor rip off of “Death Wish,” and it features some of the worst editing I’ve seen in recent memory. If you want to see this concept done better, just go watch the 2018 version of “Death Wish” with Bruce Willis. That movie wasn’t great either, but at least it’s better than this dumpster fire. “Peppermint” is rated R. *** Next is “God Bless the Broken Road.” Amber Hill (Lindsay Pulsipher), a young mother who loses her husband in Afghanistan, struggles to raise her young daughter in his absence while also struggling with a loss of faith. Sometimes I wonder how a film even gets released in theaters. How does a movie this shoddy looking, this poorly produced get a wide release? It’s embarrassing. This movie is even worse than most made for TV flicks. Somehow it has a $7.7 million budget. I couldn’t even hazard a guess what they spent it on. The rights to the song it’s inspired by? Certainly not the sets and location. The entire movie just takes place at a couple people’s houses, a church, an old fashioned diner, and a rundown auto shop. I guess there is the one scene set in “Afghanistan,” which looks like nothing more than a dusty road in a slightly sandy area. The costume design on the “Afghani” people doesn’t help the believability much. I think they just grabbed a few towels and bed sheets, wrapped them around a hodgepodge of darker skinned people, and called it good. But enough about the fifth-rate production design. What about the story and the characters? The true heart of the film. Frankly I don’t have a single positive to say about either. The acting is shockingly abysmal all around. I don’t think they could have gotten worse performances if they tried. It’s like they just gathered a bunch of people off the street, offered them each $100 for a week’s work, and the few who stuck around were all cast as the lead actors. And the story is somehow even worse than the acting. The entire film is just everyone badgering this poor widow, telling her she doesn’t have enough faith. Of course the people constantly judging her are proven right. All she needed was faith and magically her problems went away without any explanation. I don’t care what your beliefs are, that’s just bad storytelling. It’s like if Star Wars was about a moppy Luke Skywalker who refused to use The Force all movie long. Then suddenly, in the last five minutes of the film, he has a change of heart, lets The Force flow through him and out of nowhere all his problems are solved. It just doesn’t make for a satisfying narrative. Beyond that, every single emotional moment in the film is the most manipulative, surface level nonsense you could think of. It felt insulting to watch a movie made by filmmakers who have such a low opinion of their audience. Christian moviegoers deserve better than this. Even most Pure Flix theatrical releases don’t stoop to this level. This movie feels like it was just released to ride the coattails of another far superior inspirational film based on a song, “I Can Only Imagine.” I didn’t think it’d be possible for a film this year to be even worse than “The Hurricane Heist,” but somehow the filmmakers behind “God Bless the Broken Road” have managed to create something even more dreadful. “God Bless the Broken Road” is rated PG. *** Last this week is “The Nun.” When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past (Demián Bichir) and a novitate on the threshold of her final vows (Taissa Farmiga) are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover an unholy secret. Risking not only their lives, but their faith and their very souls as they confront a demonic force in the form of a nun. It’s amazing to me that one of the most successful cinematic universes after Marvel is somehow this series of horror movies all spun off of “The Conjuring.” This is the fifth film in what’s now known as The Conjuring Universe, with three more movies already in the pipeline. “The Nun” is a prequel of sorts since the demonic nun featured in this film was a prominent force to overcome in “The Conjuring 2.” In fact I’d say the nun from the second “Conjuring” film was one of the major highlights of the movie. It was certainly responsible for one of the film’s most unsettling scenes. Because of that, I found myself actually looking forward to this film. Just a little though. The only spin-offs from The Conjuring Universe so far have been “Annabelle” and its prequel. Not exactly the best track record, though I did enjoy “Annabelle: Creation” much more than the first one. So where does “The Nun” fall? Does it match highest highs for the series or is it another “Annabelle?” Sadly, it seems like this is another mediocre addition to the series. For starters, the story is kind of all over the place. It almost feels like they’re making it up as they go along. Plus some of the foreshadowing for scary moments later on in the film are so blatant they practically knock you over the head with it. All the gravestones have little bells on them so if someone is accidentally buried, the poor soul in the coffin can ring them to be rescued? Hmm, I wonder if someone’s going to get buried alive eventually. It’s anyone’s guess really. Beyond the story though, I at least thought the performances were pretty decent. Both the priest and soon-to-be nun are really likeable and easy to root for. Which is nice because a lot of times horror protagonists can be unrepentant jerks. There’s also a fair amount of decent practical effects, including more zombie nuns than you can shake a stick at. In fact, if there’s one thing I can’t fault this movie for, it’s the production design. There’s nothing like a big studio throwing some cash behind a horror film. Definitely makes for some nice looking sets, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, most of the scares didn’t amount to anything more than the dumb creepy jumpscare prank videos and games that used to be so popular online. They show an ominous looking figure behind one of our main characters, wait until the poor person finally sees the entity, and then flash a creepy face on screen while making loud noises. Rinse and repeat. All that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy watching this movie though. As a matter of fact, I had a great time. My experience had less to do with the film itself though and more to do with the audience I saw it with. I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing quite like watching a horror movie in a theater packed with a bunch of skittish teenagers on a Friday night. I saw this film in absolutely the most perfect circumstances. Everybody was jumpy, people were screaming and laughing, sometimes at the same time. It was a blast. If you happened to be at the showing for “The Nun” last Friday at 11:30 PM in the Grand Auditorium at the Warren, thank you for such an entertaining experience. Everyone in that theater transformed what was a miserable evening for me into a night I won’t soon forget. So after all that, would I recommend this movie? It’s hard for me to say since it’d be impossible to recreate the amazing opening night experience I had. I’d say if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the films in The Conjuring Universe, you’ll probably have fun with this one too. Comparing cinematic universes, if “The Conjuring” is like the “Iron Man” equivalent of The Conjuring Universe, then “The Nun” ranks around “The Incredible Hulk.” Not the best, but still entertaining enough. “The Nun” is rated R.