Another week goes by and we’re still in that strange limbo between summer blockbusters and Oscar season. Though, what we do get instead are a few comebacks, whether it be from an actor or a… creature thing.
The Conjuring universe is forever expanding, this time with a return from the sequel’s freaky monster in The Nun. You’ll definitely get a scare or two, but also a couple of laughs along the way. Good luck sleeping this weekend though.
For more of a prehistoric look between man and his best friend, surprise hit Alpha is sure to delight, while the randomly named Peppermint sees Jennifer Garner out for revenge, Punisher-style.
We say random because we’re still scratching our head on why it’s called that. See if you can figure it out.
Elsewhere, cult-comedy classic Super Troopers has a sequel, while Kin is surprising audiences with its sci-fi tale about a two brothers on the run from a gang, and strangely stumble upon an alien weapon.
Take your pick and check out our thoughts before you head off for a weekend of movie watching.
(PG13) Director: Albert Hughes
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Morgan Freeman, Natassia Malthe
Release: Sep 6
It may surprise you to learn that the denizens of “Europe, 20,000 years ago” – as the prehistoric adventure Alpha situates us – rocked some beautifully tailored fur-lined parkas and cosy boots that look a lot like Uggs. Evidently, facts aren’t terribly important here (even the movie’s title comes from a civilization that’s still millennia away), but if you can get past that, there’s a moderately gripping tale of survival and natural kinship to be had, one in the long-forgotten vein of 1983’s Never Cry Wolf.
Teenage Keda (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) has a stern but loving father to impress: “Hunting the Great Beast” is a rite of passage that’s arrived for him. But after Keda is flung off a high ledge by a charging buffalo, his tribe assumes the worst. The kid survives the ordeal, though, and, left alone in the wild, comes to befriend a relatively sweet-natured wolf that he muzzles and that nurses him back to health.
The film works best during its (too-brief) getting-to-know-you section, which balances humour against snarly danger. Alpha makes the most of gorgeous British Columbia locations and occasional slickness, making for a raw-boned survival movie for children and parents alike.
By Joshua Rothkopf
(PG15) Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Richard Cabral, Tyson Ritter
Release: Sep 6
First we get Death Wish, then The Equalizer 2, and now Peppermint? Come on Hollywood, spread out those revenge thriller flicks – we’re getting tired of the routine. Although, since we’re seeing a return of Jennifer Garner in an action role (after a decade), we’re excited to see the results.
The story sees Riley North (Garner) awaken from a coma after surviving a gang attack that killed her husband and daughter. With a corrupt law system shielding the criminals, it’s up to Riley to train herself hard and take matters into her own hands.
Basically, it’s 2004’s cult hit The Punisher except the wife survives. A copycat? Possibly, but if we get the same kind of brutal and brilliant action we won’t be complaining.
If Peppermint gives us well-choreographed shootouts and a smart (enough) plan of action, we have something to look forward to. Meanwhile, we’ll be trying to figure out why it’s called Peppermint.
(PG15) Director: Corin Hardy
Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Bonnie Aarons, Jonny Coyne
Release: Sep 6
No matter how snooty you are about blockbuster franchises, you can’t deny their enduring success and appeal. Even the least likely movies, such as The Conjuring universe, have made an impression at the box office.
The series has it all – horrid possessions, creepy houses and a freaky doll (which has two of its own movies). Now, a creepy nun is getting the limelight.
Set before Annabelle and The Conjuring, this spin-off takes place in Romania where a creepy incident occurs. A man with a haunted past (of course) and an apprentice are sent to investigate, and together they uncover an evil secret. Enter the freaky creature from The Conjuring 2, who steps in to scare the pair, and audiences.
One of the most frightening aspects of the film series is that each movie is based on the real-life paranormal cases of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Worry not, though, as The Nun deviates from the established order and isn’t based on any true events, although that doesn’t mean the movie itself won’t give us the heebie-jeebies.
Previous entries have introduced some fresh scare techniques, as opposed to the typical jump scares in most cheap horror flicks.
The franchise takes horror tropes and flips them on their heads, here, in one scene, the young novice is investigating a creepy cellar while the blank-faced nun stalks her, and doesn’t disappear when she turns around. Now that’s freaky.
While Annabelle wasn’t a huge success, its sequel was a surprise sleeper hit. Here’s hoping the series carries on in the same vein.
Super Troopers 2
(18TC) Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme
It’s been 17 years since the first Super Troopers, and these cop characters haven’t got any smarter or more mature in the interim. The makers of that film — the Broken Lizard comedy troupe led by writer-director-star Jay Chandrasekhar — clearly hope that the intended audience hasn’t grown up either. Super Troopers 2 consists of a series of gags that aim below the belt rather than at the intellect.
As we check in, our heroes have been dismissed from the police force due to an unfortunate incident involving a B-list celebrity (an amusing cameo you have to wait for the end credits to witness). For reasons that don’t really matter, the gang is reinstated and assigned to replace a group of small-town Canadian Mounties, but the latter lawmen aren’t going to give up their jobs easily. In between a slew of pranks, insults and profane dialogue, the Super Troopers unearth a couple of major crimes and set out to track down the source.
There’s a token attempt to keep the audience guessing about the culprits, but audiences won’t be coming to Super Troopers 2 for mystery. Only the most easily pleased fans of foul-mouthed comedy will respond to these jokes and set pieces, which generally lack cleverness or comic imagination.
Super Troopers 2 elicits chuckles here and there, and a few laugh-out-loud moments, but the overall impression is of actors working harder at amusing themselves than at making sure we’re amused too.
By Michael Gingold
(PG15) Director: Sylvain White
Cast: Joey King, Annalise Basso, Julia Goldani Telles
For those uninitiated with the world of “creepypasta” (the term for internet-propagated urban legends), Slender Man is a gaunt, faceless figure who went viral earlier this decade, generating countless memes. It begs the question, will the movie be a hit?
The answer is a resounding no. Slender Man is a generic bogeyman flick best suited for background viewing at one of those teen sleepovers. In fact, it’s at a girls slumber party where a quartet of high-schoolers first decide to summon Slender Man online, mostly because they think some guy friends are doing the same thing (setting up a potentially scary plot twist the movie never follows through on).
“One week later,” as an ominous title tells us, Katie (Annalise Basso) mysteriously disappears, leaving Wren (The Conjuring’s Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) and Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) to confront the possibility that Slender Man is real and coming after them.
As they investigate, they have a tendency to explain obvious points to each other. One of them insists on denying what’s clearly happening to stretch out the film’s running time, and director Sylvain White stages an annoying number of it’s-only-a-dream hallucination scenes and “gotcha!” false alarms.
White and cinematographer Luca Del Puppo catch effective small-town-after-dark atmosphere in the early goings, even if the movie fails to understand that it’s the characters’ fixation on Slender Man – and not the phantom himself – that should be driving the terror.
Give this spooker a complete pass, unless you want a little fright at a sleepover, of course.
By Michael Gingold
(PG-15) Director: Jonathan Baker, Josh Baker
Cast: Zoë Kravitz, James Franco, Dennis Quaid
We can’t say we’d heard much buzz about this movie before hearing it was coming out here this month, but after a quick look after the stars (hot-right-now Zoë Kravitz, infuriating-but-good James Franco and underrated Dennis Quaid among them), and the producers (people behind Stranger Things and Arrival), not to mention a soundtrack by indie legends Mogwai, our interest was piqued. Add in the hype around first-time directors, brothers Josh and Jonathan Baker, and we’re ready to give this a whirl.
The trailer, all neon lighting and dystopian city scapes, tells us that a bad lad (Jack Reynor, superb in Free Fire) is released from prison and goes back to see his younger, adopted brother Eli (Myles Truitt). Their father (Quaid) warns them to stay out of trouble, but after hooking up with criminal (Franco) things start to go wrong.
Pretty soon the brothers are on the run from Franco who’s out for revenge. So far, so standard. However, things are spiced up a little by the huge, powerful space gun that young Eli has found, and the mysterious spacemen that are trying to get it back.
It looks like great fun, without straying into silly territory, and could end up being a sleeper hit à la 2012 sci-fi Looper.
By Paul Clifford
Last Chance to see
Crazy Rich Asians
(PG13) Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding
Right, if you haven’t seen this yet, have you not heard the buzz?
Crazy Rich Asians, the 2013 literary sensation by Kevin Kwan, is finally a Hollywood movie, the first with an all-Asian cast and director since Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago. Seeing this kind of onscreen representation is incredibly satisfying, especially via Kwan’s rich page-turner (loosely based on the author's real life), loaded with cattiness but also plenty of Asian diversity, from wholesome friends and wise confidantes to jealous mean girls and scheming parents. Fittingly, the movie follows suit: It’s a reinvented romantic comedy, sassy and fun, that doesn’t necessarily rely on obvious tropes and is worth the wait.
It wouldn’t be a proper rom-com without a spectacular montage of makeovers (costars Nico Santos and Brooklyn’s magnetic Awkwafina are your new #bestfriendgoals), but it also features a snappy sequence of fancy brand-name mentions as if they were as accessible as the Gap or Uniqlo. The ostentatious flow of wealth becomes a comic facet in itself, never fully endorsed so much as offered up for our side eye.
Working from a smartly condensed script by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim that retains the economic essence of the novel, director Jon M. Chu (stepping up from his Step Up movies) masterfully peppers the tale with epic views of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, an Avengers–style ensemble cast and a euphoric dance party. Wear your favourite jade and pearls – you’ll be clutching them.
By Danny Yu
You can check out our interview with the talented Constance Wu on her thoughts on the movie.
The Darkest Minds
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Gwendoline Christie, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore
An interesting Young Adult genre flick, Amandla Stenberg (also played Rue in The Hunger Games) steals the show with her charismatic charm, even if the plot is all over the place. It’s about a girl (Stenberg) who develops supernatural powers in the aftermath of a plague that wipes out 90 percent of the world's kids. Yikes. Of course, the government gets involved and decides to lock up the surviving teens. In true YA fashion though, another organisation wants to set them free, and so begins a way-too-complicated escape plan. While the world-building can be a touch on the silly side, teenagers and all who enjoy a good ol’ YA movie will love the cast, powers and thrilling action scenes.
By Darragh Murphy