Take 2

Tamara Dunn is a card-carrying cinephile and the assistant city editor at the Standard-Speaker. Her writings here have earned her a Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association award in 2017. Her favorite films are “Bringing Up Baby” and “Moonlight.”

Rebecca Kivak considers herself a representative of the average filmgoer. She is also a copy editor for The Times-Tribune. Her favorite films are “The Illusionist” and “The Avengers.”

Award Chase: Ripped from the headlines

Award Chase: Ripped from the headlines

Each Wednesday through the week of the 2019 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 22, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.

The Academy can be fickle when it comes to choosing the Best Picture winner. In most cases, it sways toward the past, as it has in this half of the 21st century with “Gladiator,” “The King’s Speech” and “12 Years A Slave.” Contemporary themes like the ones seen in “The Departed,” “Crash” and “No Country for Old Men” will also collect hardware. But very few times will an Oscar be granted to storylines connected to current events. The exceptions are “Spotlight,” the 2015 movie based on the 2001 Boston Globe investigation of the Catholic church, and “The Hurt Locker,” the 2009 film set during the war on terror in Afghanistan as it was still happening.

This year, there are a number of titles that tackle the headlines, whether it is based on a true story or if the plot mimics what’s happening in the country. However, four themes stand out with the following contenders:

“A Private War”

Middle Eastern conflicts and attacks on the press

Previous Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike stars as war correspondent Marie Colvin in “A Private War.” Based on the Vanity Fair article, “A Private War” focuses on the American journalist as she covered the Middle East for the Sunday Times. Colvin was best known for sporting an eye patch after she lost her left eye while under attack in Sri Lanka in 2001, and was later killed by an explosive while covering the unrest in Syria in 2012.

Police relations

Blindspotting” is a dramedy starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal as lifelong friends whose bond is put to the test when one (Diggs) of them is finishing his probation and the other (Casal) buys a gun that can mean trouble for both of them. The film examines how each of them walk through society differently and how their actions affect those around them.

The Hate U Give,” based on the 2017 young adult novel, tackles the issue of police-related shootings of unharmed blacks. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) floats between two worlds – one that’s in a poor and predominantly African-American neighborhood and one at a private school filled with privileged white teens. When her best friend, Khalil (Algee Smith) is killed after a police officer pulled him over for a traffic violation, Starr is conflicted on what to do next and what her actions will do to her family.

Monsters and Men” is also a police shooting drama where a witness, Manny (Anthony Ramo), who records the act and a black officer, Dennis (John David Washington), wrestle to go forward with what happened. Manny has a promising future as a high school baseball player that’s at stake, while Dennis faces what stepping up will do as he is up against his brothers in blue.

Teen drug addiction

Past nominees Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet are father and son in “Beautiful Boy.” Based on the 2008 best-selling memoir, David (Carell) watches his son, Nic (Chalamet), battle as a meth addict.

Ben is Back” with Lucas Hedges and Oscar winner Julia Roberts shows the impact of addiction on a family. Ben (Hedges) returns home for the holidays instead of staying in rehab, and his mother (Roberts) is overjoyed to have her son back while everyone else is skeptical about his level of recovery.

Teens coming out

Two sides of teens identifying their sexuality are told in “Boy Erased” and “Love, Simon.” The dram “Boy Erased” is based on the 2016 memoir of 19-year-old Jared (Lucas Hedges) who comes out to his Baptist pastor father (Russell Crowe) and his mother (Nicole Kidman). Their reaction is to send him to a gay conversion therapy program to keep him in their grasp or not accept him or his sexuality. “Love, Simon” is a teen romantic comedy of high school teen Simon (Nick Robinson) who has yet to come out of the closet. He is also fighting a blackmailer who threatens to out him to the entire school.

Award Chase: Behind the lens

Award Chase: Behind the lens

Each Wednesday through the week of the 2019 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 22, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.

As much attention is paid to the actors and directors of award contenders, some of that spotlight also shines on the crew members responsible for how the film appears on screen. The field of cinematography has widen over the years, becoming more diverse with talent. It’s too early to declare a favorite for award season, but here are five emerging photography directors to watch out for:

Rachel Morrison and Ryan Coogler on the set of “Black Panther.”

Rachel Morrison, “Black Panther”

A month before the mega-blockbuster hit theaters, Rachel Morrison was already making history, breaking the Oscar glass ceiling with her nomination for Dee Rees’ “Mudbound.” Morrison trades in the subdued blues and browns of 1940s Mississippi Delta for the bold palette of Wakanda in “Black Panther.” Comic-book movies usually earn craft nominations, but they rarely get in the cinematography category.

Bradley Cooper, left, and Matthew Libatique on the set of “A Star is Born.” (Warner Bros.)

Matthew Libatique, “A Star is Born”

October has been a great month for Matthew Libatique. The frequent Darren Aronofsky cinematographer and Queens, New York, native lensed two top 5 films this month – “Venom” and “A Star is Born.” Libatique was previously nominated for 2010’s “Black Swan.”

“Cold War”

Lukasz Zal, “Cold War”

Nothing says “Go ahead and give this movie an Oscar!” more than for it to be in black and white. Polish cinematographer Lukasz Zal does it well, having been nominated for the Oscar for the 2013 drama “Ida.” Five years later, buzz picks up again as Zal goes from the multicolor fantasy of “Loving Vincent” to the monochromatic world of “Cold War.” Its trailers and released photos show Zal’s best work.

“If Beale Street Could Talk:”

James Laxton, “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Director Barry Jenkins enlisted lenser James Laxton again for the film adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The duo previously worked together in the Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” with Laxton gaining a nomination. Before this partnership, Laxton worked with director/writer Kevin Smith.

Alfonso Cuaron on the set of “Roma”

Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”

It’s unfair to call Alfonso Cuarón an “emerging” cinematographer when he has already two Oscars, including best director for “Gravity.” Frequent collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki is not on board for what Cuarón calls a personal film, “Roma.” According to his Internet Movie Database profile, this is Cuarón’s first feature film that he served as cinematographer. It’s another black-and-white film this season, a rare treat for movie lovers.

Confessions of a film festival judge

Confessions of a film festival judge

From Oct. 12-14, I had the chance to travel to Delaware Water Gap for a few days to serve as a judge at the annual Forwardian Film Festival at the Antoine Dutot Gallery and Museum. As a major film festival fan and my times as a film writer, I have seen nearly every part involved in coordinating a festival, from selecting movies to working behind the scenes as a volunteer to being in the audience.

The Antoine Dutot Gallery and Museum was the site of the annual Forwardian Film Festival Oct. 12-14. (TAMARA DUNN / TIMES-SHAMROCK)

The FFF is part of the film arm of the Forwardian Arts Society based in the Poconos. The organization promotes the arts and supports regional artists with shows, events and festivals like this one. Paul Adam Smeltz is the general manager, and I learned more about the society two years ago when I had a photography exhibit for my “Store Windows” series at the Pocono Cinema & Cultural Center in East Stroudsburg, with Smeltz attending the opening reception. Last spring, Smeltz asked me if I could judge the competition at this year’s festival.

Over the years, I have attended small- and large-scale festivals, from the Dietrich Theater’s quarterly events in Tunkhannock to the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the world’s largest. Film festivals allow for audiences to discover films and directors that may not make it to the local box offices, especially in a small market such as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton. And while some selections like to brag about being chosen in festival A, B or C, it doesn’t mean it’s a great movie.

I previously volunteered at the Tribeca Film Festival as a crew member of its press department. In a way, I have briefly worked for Robert De Niro as he is the festival runner and Donald Trump as he sponsored all the volunteer departments. I gained insight on how public relations work in the industry and how more organization goes into putting a large, influential festival together.

With all that in mind, I still wasn’t prepared for what happened at FFF.

More than 3,000 short and feature films entered the festival, and 15 were selected for screening. The three-day festival was divided into three sections: an art exhibit and opening, a night for shorts and a day for features.

Friday was devoted to the art exhibit portion of the festival, with a reception with a reception with the artists, a silent auction and an art raffle. Saturday was for shorts with 11 titles for viewing. Another judge and myself were tasked to select a best short film out of the field that night and awarding a winner. There was just one problem – only four of the shorts were available for viewing and attendance for the free film festival was miniscule. The small museum room filled with two rows of folding chairs, a tiny projector with not-so-great sound and a warped viewing on a white wall felt claustrophobic but also empty. Outside of the organizers and the judges, there was only one audience member. There were technical problems as to why the program’s other half was not shown, but the four that were ranged greatly in quality and content.

In under three minutes, “Passenger” by Sami Ala of Finland documents a short train ride through Russia with the rhythms of African singing and the many colors of train graffiti. Christopher Key’s “Within” from the United Kingdom shows how a grieving father gets a second chance to be near his daughter again. “Tides of Wyrd” by Lehigh Valley’s Louise Devery is a historical Western romance of a couple who reconnect after decades apart.

My fellow judge and I awarded the best short film award to “Mousse,” a 40-minute comedy from Sweden about a Frenchman who robs a betting place during harness racing and keeps two people hostage. It’s a parody to the trigger-happy American cops-and-robbers variety of films with mild-mattered officers giving into the robber’s demands, like vintage American muscle cars and streets lined up with people waving French flags. The police tell some of the worst and best jokes to keep the robber, named Mousse, calm but also to lighten the mood. Its trailer has probably had more views than the actual short, but it is well worth watching.

Paul Adam Smeltz, general manager of the Forwardian Arts Society, displays film festival awards Saturday, Oct. 13. (TAMARA DUNN / TIMES-SHAMROCK)

Technical issues and timing also plagued Sunday’s screenings of features. Out of the three films slotted for the day, only one could be shown. A miscommunication on when the Sunday screening would start meant that I was the only judge on duty. “Charmed Life” by Katerine Delaney is a 2006 documentary on drag queens performing in various New York City clubs. Its undeniable star is Daniel T. “Sweetie” Boothe, who died last year of cancer and had a small role in 1995’s “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.” Other queens featured in the documentary included Mother Flawless Sabrina (Jack Doroshow), the inspiration behind Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character opposite De Niro in 1999’s “Flawless.” Mother Flawless Sabrina also died last year.

The documentary illustrated how no one drag queen has the same journey, background or act. Their act is an expressive part of who they are, no matter the time of day, the political climate, their age or the style of wig they wear.

Gil Coronado, a Monroe County-based talent manager and a Pocono Alliance member, introduces “Charmed Life” on Sunday, Oct. 14. (TAMARA DUNN / TIMES-SHAMROCK)

“Charmed Life” was not without its mishaps. Gil Coronado, a Monroe County-based talent manager and a member of the Pocono Alliance’s board of directors, introduced the film and presented a statement from Delaney. However, good-old technology created a two-hour delay in showing the film, but it gave me the chance to be technical support in a pinch. The final result was watching the feature on a laptop.

Scumbag,” by Mars Roberge, was also a victim of technology. Smeltz could not get a copy to download, and Kris Pierce, who appears in the film, had traveled from New York for the screening. I asked since he had ventured so far for the screening if he could give a 30-second synopsis of the film. Pierce described it as “a telemarketer who really wanted just to rock and roll.” I was looking forward to see another movie this year about a telemarketer at a shady company. But Pierce and his guest were great sports about what happened. Also, I learned later that it’s available on iTunes and other video-on-demand platforms, so I will check it out on a later date. “Charmed Life” won best feature film by default, but “Scumbag” received honorable mention.

Kris Pierce of “Scumbag” appears at its scheduled screening Sunday, Oct. 14. (TAMARA DUNN / TIMES-SHAMROCK)

“Mousse” was also awarded best overall film, and “24H,” a short about the bond between two brothers as one is about to leave, was given honorable mention in the shorts category. “24H” did not screen at the festival, but the entire short is streaming on Vimeo.

Having experienced the judgment side of film festival, I would really like to be in this position again, watching and critiquing films that I probably would not have exposure to otherwise. I admire what Smeltz and FFF were trying to accomplish with this small festival, but organization and publicity would have helped it reach more people. Nevertheless, I was honored to be a part of this festival and hope that it will grow in the future.

The Award Chase: You’ve seen these already

The Award Chase: You’ve seen these already

Each Wednesday through the week of the 2019 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 22, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.

Have we already seen the movies that will rule the Oscars this year? Will they be remembered come nomination time? While we are knee-deep in award season, usually starting in late September, the movie calendar is year round, and so have been the offerings of quality work. To kick off this season’s Award Chase, here is a month-by-month look at releases that may gain traction.

“Paddington 2”


What family movie earned a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and beloved by #FilmTwitter? It’s England’s favorite bear in “Paddington 2.” Like the prequel, however, it did not rake in the big bucks at the box office, earning just over $40 million in its two-month run.


“Black Panther”


This was perhaps the strongest February for movies in years. Thanks to the success of February 2017 release, “Get Out,” which was nominated for four Academy Awards, more film producers and studios are seeing February as a good month for films.

“Black Panther” was a box-office phenomenon – earning $202 million during its opening weekend, creating a cultural movement and stacked with great performances by Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira. Craft categories like production design, costume design and makeup and hairstyle are almost a lot. However, when the Academy announced this summer that it was introducing a popular movie category, there was outrage that the Academy would automatically give the Oscar to “Black Panther,” dismissing the movie’s impact. But next that move is now delayed until the 2020 awards ceremony, it can be seen as being just as competitive as any other film.


“Annihilation,” starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, was a critical hit when it was released a week later, but it failed at the box office. The movie adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel is a science fiction thriller of a group of women sent to explore a wooded area after a mysterious glow and substance appear. Director Alex Garland struck gold in 2014 with “Ex Machina,” winning a visual effects Oscar. Don’t be surprised if “Annihilation” is in the ring.




A wicked, biting delight invaded theaters for a short time but made a big impression in March. “Thoroughbreds,” starring Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin in his final role, is the dark comedy involving two severely disturbing friends who use violence to solve their problems. Cooke at least deserves recognition for her performance as a teen whose lack of feelings makes her a loose cannon, and the screenplay is clever and daring.


Another unhinged performance comes from Claire Foy in Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone-shot film, “Unsane.” Foy plays a woman who unknowingly commits herself to a mental hospital where she believes she sees her stalker working as a nurse. Foy has several other roles under awards consideration, including “First Man” and “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” but this started a good movie year for her.

“Isle of Dogs”

Wes Anderson’s “The Isle of Dogs” will most likely make it into the animated feature category, but the writer/director has had good luck with spring releases. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was released in March 2014 and would later be nominated for nine Oscars, winning four.


“A Quiet Place”


This month brought along an early start for the summer movie season with the debut of “Avengers: Infinity War,” and while its box office numbers were greater than “Black Panther,” the reviews were not as strong. However, a surprise hit emerged before the Marvel megahit debuted. “A Quiet Place” won audiences over with director/actor John Krasinski and Emily Blunt as a couple trying to protect their family from horrifying monsters.

April also brought along smaller movies that have the Oscar bait that so many have in the fall. “Chappaquiddick” stars Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and the tragic crash involving Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Joaquin Phoenix’s award-winning performance as a damaged hired gun in “You Were Never Really Here” made its way into U.S. theaters.


“First Reformed”


“First Reformed” began its short theatrical run in arthouses before expanding in June. Ethan Hawke gives one of his best performances ever as a conflicted reverend leading a shrinking congregation as the New York church approaches a milestone anniversary. After years of recent failures as a director, Paul Schrader redeems himself with this gripping drama about faith, addiction and pain. It’s anchored with great showings by Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles (better known as Cedric the Entertainer).


“The Incredibles 2”


This month was a mixed bag of high expectations (“The Incredibles 2”) and low results (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado). At least the Disney Pixar production did not disappoint with its quality storyline and great musical score. The upgrades were certainly worth the 14-year wait for this sequel.

“Leave No Trace”

The independent drama, “Leave No Trace,” captured audiences this summer with performances by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie as a father-and-daughter team living off the grid in Oregon as the father lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. Director Debra Granik’s previous work, “Winter’s Bone,” was released in July 2010, was later nominated for four Oscars and turned Jennifer Lawrence into a star. Could lightning strike twice for Granik?


“Mission: Impossible — Fallout”


Mid-summer offerings can be hit or miss in July, but the month delivered two quality surprises. “Mission Impossible: Fallout” had critics and fans calling it one of the best action movies ever, a rare feat for a franchise on its sixth installment. The last time Tom Cruise was up for an Oscar was for supporting actor in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 drama, “Magnolia.” If 2018 is the year of the action flick, with “Black Panther” and “Avengers:Infinity War” leading the field, can “Fallout” be close behind?

“Sorry to Bother You”

July also saw film festival darling “Sorry to Bother You,” the directorial debut from California rapper Boots Riley. The craziest trip to the movies this year stars Lakeith Stanfield as a telemarketer who enters the bizarre world of capitalism and selling out as he moves up in the business. Perfectly casting with Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer and Omari Hardwick and tons of creativity can get the comedy on the awards’ radar, but its weirdness could also hinder its chances.




Fresh off a successful run at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee released “BlacKkKlansman,” based on the real-life story of a black Colorado police who became a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Performances by John David Washington, Adam Driver and Topher Grace earned acclaim, and critics pointed out the parallels between the storyline and today’s political atmosphere. Lee, who received an honorary Oscar in 2016, had not been nominated for an Academy Award since his 1998 documentary, “4 Little Girls.” “BlacKkKlansman” walked away with two awards at Cannes in June and was up for the Palme d’Or. Let’s see if this momentum will carry on through January.

“Crazy Rich Asians” 

“Crazy Rich Asians” revived and redefined the romantic comedy and was a box office hit. Constance Wu is charming as a Chinese American visiting the ultra-rich family of her boyfriend (Henry Golding) in Singapore. An adapted screenplay nomination is possible as it’s based on the beloved Kevin Kwan novel.


“The Old Man & the Gun”


Unlike previous years, September has taken August’s place as the month where movie studios dump their summer season rejects. Very, very few titles stand out from this month, with the exception of “The Old Man & the Gun,” what is said to be Robert Redford’s final acting role before retiring. Based on actual events, Redford plays a man who escape San Quentin at age 70 and went on to commit a string of robberies and other crimes. The film expand this Friday.

Studio seem to have decided to spend September at film festivals like Venice, Toronto and New York to promote their sure things instead of investing time in titles that are just plain “meh.”

Trailer Talk: “Glass,” “Pet Sematary” and NYCC wrapup

Trailer Talk: “Glass,” “Pet Sematary” and NYCC wrapup

Samuel L. Jackson stars in “Glass.”

“Trailer Talk” rounds up recently released trailers for upcoming and anticipated movies.

This week, we got new trailers for “Glass” and “Pet Sematary,” while last weekend’s New York Comic Con offered up new teasers for “Aquaman,” “Mortal Engines” and “Overlord.”


As Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price says, “That sounds like the bad guys are teaming up.” The second trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s anticipated “Glass” brings together 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” creating the director’s very own comic-book style trilogy.

From “Unbreakable,” security guard-turned-superhero David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and mentor-turned-villain Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Jackson) reunite years later in a mental hospital. But they’re not alone. The two are housed with Kevin Wendel Crumb (James McAvoy) from “Split,” a dangerous man with dozens of multiple personalities, including a violent Beast.

When Mr. Glass and the Beast decide to work together, dozens of lives hang in the balance. Mr. Glass decides the Beast is a formidable match for David, and hopes to draw the superhero out of the shadows. Stepping up, David vows to stop their evil plans. Just seeing David don his green hooded coat from “Unbreakable” gave me the chills.

Anna Taylor-Joy returns as Kevin’s surviving victim Casey from “Split.” Will she and David – the good guys – team up?

“Glass” shatters in theaters Jan. 18, 2019.

“Pet Sematary”

Last year’s remake of “It” was a monster success at the box office. Now another horror movie based on a Stephen King book is being remade, and the trailer looks terrifying.

“Pet Sematary” is a redo of the 1989 film. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) moves his family from the city to the country. They learn about the cemetery designated for pets in the nearby woods, on an ancient burial ground. “Those woods belong to something else,” cautious neighbor John Lithgow warns.

When tragedy strikes, the family finds out firsthand what the cemetery is capable of bringing back. With creepy kids wearing animal masks, mysterious symbols and skulking figures, the trailers ramps up the suspense and dread.

“Pet Sematary” resurrects fear April 5, 2019.


Last weekend’s New York Comic Con didn’t unleash a flood of trailers like the convention of them all, San Diego Comic Con. But the movie trailers that did trickle out help give a better picture of some of the fall’s big releases.

The “Aquaman” extended look offers a generous five minutes of the upcoming comic book film, the only DC Extended Universe film this year. Born of a son from the land and a daughter of the seas, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) finds himself torn between worlds. But the rise of his nefarious brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to the throne of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis forces the reluctant Aquaman to seek his rightful place as ruler.

The trailer gives us a chance to see more interaction between Aquaman and his love interest, the clever and capable Mera (Amber Heard, with stunning red hair). There’s a lot of world building as we see more of the dazzling underwater sights of Atlantis, with subjects riding sharks and seahorses. Under James Wan’s direction, the visuals look gorgeous. There’s also a breathtaking chase sequence on land with Aquaman and Mera running and jumping off buildings. Are you not entertained?

“Aquaman” swims into theaters Dec. 21.

“Mortal Engines”

I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on “Mortal Engines,” which is based on a post-apocalyptic series of novels by Philip Reeve. But the fantasy film has the weight of producer and script writer Peter Jackson, the mastermind of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies, behind it.

The second trailer helps to shed light on the frenetic film’s story. Set in a dystopian future, motorized cities move from place to place, preying on one another. Looking to avenge the death of her mother, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) attempts to kill powerful figure Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). But Hester is destined for more. She becomes a figurehead of a rebellion that sees her join forces with a brave resistance group leader (Jihae) and a lowly London outcast (Robert Sheehan).

In the vein of Katniss Everdeen and Imperator Furiosa, the brave Hester may be cinema’s newest action heroine. With explosive sequences and dynamic action, “Mortal Engines” looks like Jackson may have found a new fantasy franchise.

“Mortal Engines” rolls into theaters Dec. 14.


Once rumored to be part of the “Cloverfield” Universe (it’s not), “Overlord” offers up a new mystery thriller with a historic setting.

The World War II horror flick – produced by J.J. Abrams – follows American soldiers who get stuck behind enemy lines before D-Day. They uncover secret experiments by the Nazis, with terrifying results.

The only name I recognize in the cast is Iain De Caestecker, the lovable scientist Fitz on “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.”

“Overlord” starts experimenting Nov. 9.

Review: “A Simple Favor”

Review: “A Simple Favor”

Anna Kendrick, left, and Blake Lively star in “A Simple Favor.” (Peter Iovino/Lionsgate via AP)

Tamara’s Take

What happened to Amy? Her writer husband Nick must have had something to do with her disappearance in “Gone Girl.” What happened to Megan? Surely her tough husband, Scott, or her therapist, Kamal, or her employer, Tom, had something to do with that in “The Girl on the Train.” What happened to Emily? You have to go to the dark side of Paul Feig’s mind in the darkly delicious “A Simple Favor.”

Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a grieving widow with a little boy, Miles (Joshua Satine), and she is the epitome of the homeroom mom and mommy vlogger. Stephanie throws herself into every school activity and volunteer opportunity in her suburban Connecticut town, with a chorus of other parents judging her but not wanting to get involved. When Miles befriends fellow classmate, Nicky Nelson (Ian Ho), Stephanie sees it as a chance to bond with Nicky’s mother, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively).

Emily is the opposite of Stephanie – drinking stiff martinis in the afternoon, not seeming to care much about being seen as a good mom, putting work as a New York City hotshot ahead of her family life. Emily is married to Sean Townsend (Henry Golding), a one-book wonder author and an English professor at a nearby college. Sean is called to England as his mother has surgery, leaving Emily to ask Stephanie to pick up Nicky from school. And like that Emily is gone.

Oh dear, it’s another one of those “girl” movies that should have stopped with David Fincher. Or is it?

Based on the 2017 novel by Darcy Bell and acquired for film rights before it was even published, “A Simple Favor” teeters on the tightrope between genre film and parody, a land that Feig knows very well with his previous releases “The Heat” and “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call.” The parody side shines in Stephanie’s vlogger persona with staged kitchen backdrops with her son’s drawings, a cute MacBook laptop (in rose gold, of course) and adorable aprons. Friendship bracelets with a side of detective work to find her new best friend surely gained new subscribers to her vlog. Emily is super-duper unlikable because she doesn’t fit the mold decades of a woman’s place and look have created. Her tuxedos, fancy modern hoe and her martini glasses say, “I have no reason to say sorry.” Actually, apologizing has a whole plotline.

The secrets that unfold before and after Emily’s disappearance go beyond the novelist Gillan Flynn level of twisted and land in the world of Seth MacFarlane. For those who have read my reviews over the years, you know I tend to solve mystery movies within the first 20 minutes and hope that the remaining 100 minutes would be entertaining. Feig and his cast manage to throw thousands of red herrings and plot holes, but I could only figure out half of it before the big reveal. The suspense side is heavy at first, but then it dives into the land of clever mockery. It’s not as strong as 2015’s “Spy” because the doses of physical comedy aren’t there and you may still not know what you’re watching. Kendrick and Lively carry out the seriousness of a genre film and the laughs of a parody.

Luckily, “A Simple Favor” does not fall into the trap that “Gone Girl” and “Girl on the Train” have turned into the norm – women can be friends. Both of these movies and books have kept their central female characters apart or competing against each other, whereas “A Simple Favor” shows just how complex friendship can be.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Anna Kendrick stars in “A Simple Favor.” (Peter Iovino/Lionsgate via AP)

Rebecca’s Take

A marriage between modern noir and clever comedy, “A Simple Favor” weaves a twisted, irresistible mystery. The film is a change of pace for director Paul Feig, known for laugh-out-loud comedies like “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.” But the versatile director helms his most sophisticated effort yet, bolstered by strong performances from its likable leads.

The story follows Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a widowed single mother who throws herself into school activities and her mommy vlog. After her young son, Miles (Joshua Satine), becomes friends with his classmate Nicky (Ian Ho), Stephanie meets Nicky’s wealthy and mysterious mother, Emily (Blake Lively). The strikingly beautiful Emily does PR for a fashion company and is married to struggling writer Sean Townsend (Henry Golding), who works as a professor at a local university. The two women quickly become best friends, sharing martinis and dark secrets while the boys have play dates.

One day, Emily asks Stephanie to pick up Nicky from school. But after she disappears without a trace, the high-powered executive is declared missing. As Stephanie grows closer with Sean and Nicky, she is determined to get down to the bottom of what happened to Emily. Chronicling her investigation on her mommy vlog, Stephanie picks up a devoted following and uncovers much more than she ever suspected.

“A Simple Favor” is a skillfully told mystery, a mix of suburban thriller “Gone Girl” and Feig’s own 2015 espionage parody “Spy.” The fast-paced movie carefully doles out its revelations, constantly keeping moviegoers guessing.

After showing he could direct solid action and tense thrills in “Spy,” Feig deftly navigates the many moving pieces of “A Simple Favor,” from its shocking plot twists to its witty comedy. The movie is as funny as it is suspenseful, maintaining Feig’s trademark no-holds-barred humor. The film isn’t quite as tightly executed as “Spy,” with a leap in logic here and there.

Feig brings out the best in his female stars, and the same is true for “A Simple Favor.” Lively and Kendrick are outstanding as two very different characters who may have more in common than they realize. The actresses have an easy chemistry that builds throughout the film, making their onscreen friendship believable.

Using a film noir framework, the movie deconstructs the stereotypes of femininity. As Emily, the bold and beautiful Lively is the icy blonde archetype right out of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, keeping those around her at arm’s length. Lively is magnetic as a modern femme fatale, unapologetic in her menswear-inspired fashion and foul mouth. In her tailored tuxedo shirts and suits, she throws back martinis and tells Stephanie that constant apologizing is an “annoying female characteristic.”

In contrast, the meek and genial Stephanie wears ultra-feminine fashions, from polkadot sweaters to flowery sundresses, as she copes with being a single mother. She makes dainty crafts and offers first aid suggestions on her well-staged vlog. But much like analyst-turned-spy Susan Cooper in “Spy,” Stephanie grows a backbone and comes into her own as she tries to solve Emily’s disappearance, using Emily’s own advice as she develops her sleuthing skills.

Kendrick brings an innocence and warmth to the role that pairs well with her comedic timing. When she sings out loud to a rap song after making a break in the case, you can’t help but pump your own fist with her.

Coming off the success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the handsome Golding is incredibly charismatic as Emily’s husband, Sean. He plays off both Lively and Kendrick as a love triangle brews between them. Golding is almost too charming as Sean steadfastly proclaims his innocence while sewing seeds of doubt as to his intentions. Andrew Rannells (“Girls”) also stands out as a fellow father at the school.

Full of twists, turns and commentary on female stereotypes, “A Simple Favor” takes moviegoers on a memorable roller-coaster ride. Do yourself a favor and catch this flick if you enjoy a good mystery.

4 out of 5 stars

Trailer Talk: “Dark Phoenix” flies, “Fantastic Beasts” reveals twist, “Captain Marvel” lands and more

Trailer Talk: “Dark Phoenix” flies, “Fantastic Beasts” reveals twist, “Captain Marvel” lands and more

Eddie Redmayne and a new magical creature in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

“Trailer Talk” rounds up recently released trailers for upcoming and anticipated movies.

The past two weeks have been an exciting time for trailer drops from upcoming blockbusters. Last week brought us teasers for “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Captain Marvel” and “Halloween,” and this week brings us “Bumblebee,” “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” “Creed II” and last night, “Dark Phoenix.”

Let’s dig in!

“Dark Phoenix”

The seventh movie in the X-Men franchise promises a redo of the iconic Dark Phoenix Saga from Marvel Comics after the storyline was woefully mishandled in 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Judging by the first trailer, this looks good, folks.

After joining the X-Men ensemble as telepathic mutant Jean Grey in 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” Sophie Turner (“Game of Thrones”) rises to the forefront as the dark and powerful Phoenix. After a space mission gone awry, Jean’s powers are developing and threaten to corrupt her. As she becomes more dangerous, the X-Men – including Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) – must go up against Jean as her growing instability threatens to unleash the apocalypse.

“Dark Phoenix” drops the “X-Men” label included in other film titles in the franchise, indicating a focus on its lead character. Since “X-Men: First Class” in 2011, each film has been set in a different decade. This time around, “Dark Phoenix” takes place in the 1990s.

Also returning are Tye Sheridan as Cyclops/Scott Summers, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler, Alexandra Smith as Storm and Evan Peters as Quicksilver. Jessica Chastain joins the ensemble as mysterious villain Smith.

“Dark Phoenix” flies into theaters Feb. 14, 2019. UPDATE: The film’s release date has been pushed back to June 7, 2019, during the summer movie season.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”

The final trailer for the sequel to 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” reveals a big twist, new magical creatures and hints at more to be uncovered in the Harry Potter prequel.

In the 1920s, Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists the help of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to take on the villainous dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who seeks to disrupt the truce between wizards and muggles so magickind can run the world.

The sequel shifts the action from New York to London and Paris, with new and familiar faces entering the fray. One character whose surprising origins are revealed is Nagini (Claudia Kim), a shape-shifting circus performer destined to become the future snake companion of Lord Voldemort himself. The trailer also hints at the past between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in a blink-or-miss-it moment of the two in their teenage years.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” waves its wand over moviegoers Nov. 16.

“Creed II”

The second teaser for the sequel to 2015’s highly acclaimed “Creed” effectively outlines the story for the eighth film in the “Rocky” franchise.

The sequel follows light heavyweight boxing champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) as he juggles his personal motivations and family obligations in deciding to fight Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) – the man who killed Adonis’ father, Apollo, in the ring. Lundgren returns to the franchise for the first time since “Rocky IV.”

Returning for the sequel are Sylvester Stallone as the legendary Rocky Balboa, Adonis’ mentor and friend, as well as Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad. Brigitte Nielsen also reprises her role as Ivan’s wife from “Rocky IV.”

“Creed II” enters the ring Nov. 21.


There may be hope for the tiring “Transformers” franchise yet. The new trailer for the “Transformers” prequel does a good job of instilling wonder and awe while integrating humor, making it more accessible for kids and families. The film focuses on Bumblebee, the yellow childlike Autobot who has stolen moviegoers’ hearts since 2007’s “Transformers.”

Set in the 1980s, the film follows Bumblebee as he is taken in by kind 18-year-old gearhead Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld). The trailer’s beginning calls back to how Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) picked out Bumblebee for his first car – or rather, “the car picks the driver” – in the first “Transformers” film. Bumblebee and Charlie must evade Burns (John Cena), an agent from the secretive government agency Sector 7 hunting them down. Along the way, Optimus Prime shows up to help his friend as they face another threat: Decepticons.

The action appears clear and crisp as Travis Knight takes over directing duties from Michael Bay. The prequel could very well act as a reboot to re-energize the franchise after last year’s disappointing “Transformers: The Last Knight.”

“Bumblebee” transforms into a theater near you Dec. 21.


This new trailer for the “Halloween” reboot, called the “Heritage” trailer, is short but incredibly chilling as it calls back to scenes from the 1978 slasher classic.

Maniacal killer Michael Myers returns in the 11th film in the horror franchise. But this installment disregards all the sequels after the original. Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role as ultimate “final girl” Laurie Strode, who’s ready to take on the man who traumatized her 40 years ago.

“Halloween” slashes its way into theaters Oct. 19.

“Captain Marvel”

Finally! The next film in Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe brings the ultra-powerful Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Lawson) out of the pages of Marvel Comics and into the superhero fold. Captain Marvel was hinted at in the post-credits scene of this summer’s smash “Avengers: Infinity War.” Her own solo film promises to shed light on her powers and how she may be able to undo the damage of Thanos’ “snap.” The film is Marvel Studios’ first female-led superhero film.

Set during the 1990s, “Captain Marvel” looks to be a sort-of origin story. Carol, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, already has her powers in the film, which has taken her into space as part of the Starforce. But the hero can’t remember her life on Earth before getting her powers.

When she crash-lands on Earth – into a Blockbuster Video store, a fun ’90s reference – she meets Nick Fury (a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) and becomes involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. But a war between alien races threatens the fate of the world. Get ready for Krees, Skrulls and a younger Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) – with hair!

“Captain Marvel” gets ready to save the world March 8.

“Mary Poppins Returns”

In another “finally!” moment, the new “Mary Poppins Returns” trailer gives us a better look at Emily Blunt’s incarnation of the beloved nanny from the 1964 children’s classic, with plenty of singing, colorful sets and and a blend of animation. Looks like the Disney magic is in full force.

Set 25 years after the original film, the sequel shows magical nanny Mary Poppins returning to help the Banks children (Ben Whitshaw and Emily Mortimer) – now grown up – after a family tragedy. The heartwarming trailer looks amazing, with Blunt stepping right into Julie Andrews’ shoes.

The film also stars Renaissance man Lin-Manuel Miranda, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke, the only returning cast member from the original film.

“Mary Poppins Returns” floats into theaters Dec. 19.










When fashion becomes cinematic

When fashion becomes cinematic

If you see me in real life, you would know that I’m not a fashion plate. I wear clothes that are 10 seasons behind and are available at Kmart and Old Navy. The only high-fashion things I own are two Coach handbags and a Ralph Lauren hand towel, all from retail outlets. I leave the beauty advice to talented Gia Mazur and her Hey Beautiful blog, and I stay in my cinematic lane.

Supermodels of the 1980s and 1990s, Christy Turlington to Iman.

However, when movies, beauty and fashion collide, I begin to fangirl immediately. This is coming from a huge fan of MTV’s “House of Style,” VH-1’s “FashionTelevision” and CNN’s “Style with Elsa Klensch” in the 1990s. I could identify Versace from Dolce & Gabbana, Prada from Calvin Klein, and Anna Sui from Betsey Johnson. Could I afford the fashions? No, I could barely afford the cable bill that brought these names to my television set. But as the 1980s and ‘90s brought in the supermodel era with Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Tyra Banks, movie stars were becoming covergirls on Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The 2000s brought in the triple threat — you had to sing, act and model.

MTV’s “House of Style”

The fashion industry followed suit, creating short films for their collections and magazines making personalities more accessible. In the era of the Instagram model and YouTube discoveries, both are catching up, letting fashion and labels star in music videos, movies and interviews. This is not much different from Hollywood’s golden age of the 1950s and ‘60s, when models like Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Eartha Kitt and Jayne Mansfield graced the silver screen. These days, it’s Cara Delevingne, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman and Angelina Jolie.

With spring collections coming and going across the runaways in recent weeks and awards season approaching, fashion is in high demand for movie stars and models alike. Instagram is lit up with front-row snaps and backstage pictures, and YouTube videos are popping up. When the two powerful forces collide it’s downright magical.

KENZO, a Paris-based luxury house by Japanese designer Kenzo Takada, has released several short films with established and emerging film directors to showcase its latest designs. In summer 2016, director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich,” “Her”) delivered a kinetic short featuring actress Margaret Qualley (“The Nice Guys,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) for the brand’s fragrance KENZO World. The same year, actors Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight,” “Green Book”) and Natasha Lyonne (“Slums of Beverly Hills,” “Orange is the New Black”) starred in “The Realest Real.” Directed by Carrie Brownstein (“Portlandia”), it’s a short that looks at the impact of social media as if it was a real place. Acclaimed director Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”) also directed “Snowbird” with Abbey Lee (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Neon Demon”) and shot on iPhones like his celebrated film, “Tangerine.”

This year, KENZO enlisted Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “The Bad Batch”)  to direct its spring/summer 2018 film “Yo! My Saint.” Jessica Henwick (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Game of Thrones”) is the Muse to musician/singer Alex Zhang Hungtai’s Artist in a cross between “Blow-Up” and “Lost in Translation.” Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ frontwoman Karen O, an Oscar-nominated songwriter for “Her,” and Michael Kiwanuka (“Little Big Lies” theme song”) provide the central music.

A scene from “The Everything” for KENZO.

The brand’s largest cinematic campaign was released earlier this month with “The Everything.” KENZO co-creative director Humberto Leon makes his directing debut with this nearly 30-minute story starring model-turned-actress Milla Jovovich (“Resident Evil,”  “He Got Game”) as Georgie, the mother of an eclectic collection of teenagers with special powers. Jay Ellis (“Insecure”) is her boyfriend, Steven, and Regina Hall (“Girls Trip,” “The Hate U Give”) is family friend Mimi. The teens are like the X-Men with talents that bring changes to their bodies. Alexandra Shipp (“X-Men: Apocalypse,” “X-Men: Dark Phoenix”) is Rose, with the ability to swap shoes and socks; Sasha Frovloa (“Red Sparrow”) can do wonders with her fingernails as Shelley, and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Road,” “X-Men: Apocalypse”) has a thing for styling hair as Bobby.

The awkwardness of being different, living in a huge family and going through high school are all throughout this lovely short that’s sprinkled with beautiful fall fashions. Rose wants to score brand-new kicks; Shelley needs the courage to approach her crush, Frankie (Ekaterina Samsonov of “You Were Never Really There” and “Wonderstruck”), and Bobby is trying to find himself. And every great teen movie must have a school dance and an embarrassing parent, and this one delivers. Grimes’ “Oblivion” has a perfect place as the song that brings out the best of the teens on the dance floor. Yes, it’s an infomercial for very expensive clothes, but the storylines, actors and risks this piece takes make “The Everything” something that is beyond its fabric and consumerism. Watch for Jonze’s cameo as the principal.

Watch all the short films mentioned in this YouTube playlist:

A scene from a promotional video for Prada Neon Dream.

Prada released a David Lynchian promotional video this summer starring model Amanda Murphy, actress Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story” “Carol”) and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Violet Chachki for Prada Neon Dream. The logo-heavy short takes place in Las Vegas with Paulson playing multiple roles, her signature acting style. She’s a bellhop, a show companion, and a roller-skating waitress. Chachki leads an army of Marilyn Monroe impersonators while Murphy shows off the designer threads and accessories. Auteurs Pedro Almodóvar (“The Skin I Live In,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”) and Wes Anderson (“Rushmore, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) have previously collaborated with the Italian fashion house.

See Prada clips below in this YouTube playlist:


Review: “The Nun”

Review: “The Nun”

Demian Bichir in a scene from “The Nun.” (Justin Lubin/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Tamara’s Take

In 2013, “The Conjuring” opened a Pandora’s box of horror as Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), investigate paranormal activity at a Rhode Island farmhouse. There were demons, ghosts, a hideous and terrifying doll, a music box that played a spooky song, and much more. With that success came the expanded “Conjuring” cinematic universe, with breadcrumbs creating a new character for a new installment. Some are terrible, like “Annabelle,” and some are OK, like “Annabelle: Creation.” “The Nun” is the fifth in the series, so let’s see where this tale lies.

It starts its connection to 2016’s “The Conjuring 2” where Lorraine and previous audiences were introduced a creepy nun, and goes back 20 years earlier when this demon is haunting a Romanian monastery. It comes to the Vatican’s attention when a nun has hanged herself and is discovered by Romania’s residential Frenchman, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet). Rome sends Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and nun-in-waiting Sister Irene (Tessa Farmiga) to the cursed monastery and land to figure out why a nun would take her life.

The rest of the movie is full of jump scares, horror movie clichés and nunnery nonsense. Burke and Irene have their own adventures in the monastery, as the reverend examines the place’s history while Irene meets with the remaining nuns on the grounds where the locals call a cursed place. For horror fans, be sure to bring a friend who has never seen a horror movie with you. Assign them the task to wake you because “The Nun” will put you to sleep. It is dull and simplistic in terms of plot and characterization. Burke and Irene fill the shoes of the Warrens in their roles as extractor and visualist, respectively. Frenchie, with flashes of bravery, arrogance and quixotic character, makes sure that the holy duo is safe with a place with a demonic nun. Hdowever, it feels very old-fashioned and unrefined.

Corin Hardy directs this latest “Conjuring” flick, becoming another up-and-coming helmer in the series who had made a low-budget Irish horror movie with a low-yielding box office haul. Bichir, Tessa Farmiga and Bloquet are better actors than what “The Nun” offers, and the links this movie tries to establish with the earlier movies are stretched out too much.

But “The Nun” is not completely useless. It is a good foundation for a new generation to like the classic scares. In fact, stay away from any other horror movie, including the other “Conjuring” ones, that have been released in the last 10 years. Well, maybe watch “The Witch” since that is above most heads as terms of horror. Thankfully, “The Nun” is better than “Annabelle,” but just barely.

1 out of 5 stars

Taissa Farmiga in a scene from “The Nun.” (Martin Maguire/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Rebecca’s Take

In 2013, the success of “The Conjuring” summoned an unexpected horror franchise that has terrified audiences, introducing a world of supernatural objects and demonic entities that keep moviegoers coming back for more.

The entries of the Conjuring Universe fall into two categories. There are the ones that expand upon the original masterpiece by ramping up the suspense and scares, such as 2016’s “The Conjuring 2” and last year’s “Annabelle: Creation.” But then there’s 2014’s “Annabelle,” which took the creepy doll introduced in “The Conjuring” and stranded her in a bland, forgettable outing.

Unfortunately, “The Nun” falls into the latter category. Nearly devoid of the tension and terror the franchise is known for, the disappointing spinoff about the nightmare-inducing demon introduced in “The Conjuring 2” wastes its potential.

Like the other “Conjuring” films, “The Nun” is a period piece, this time set in 1952 in Romania. A cloister of Roman Catholic nuns are being hunted down by an evil force within their abbey. After one of the nuns is found dead, the Vatican sends in Father Burke (Demian Bichir), a priest who has performed exorcisms, and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a nun who receives visions who has not yet taken her final vows. The two find a guide in local resident Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet).

What the three find is the demon Valak, a powerful entity who takes on the appearance of a nun (Bonnie Aarons). As the evil grows and threatens the nearby village, Father Burke, Sister Irene and Frenchie must figure out how to defeat the Nun while battling their own personal demons and testing their faith.

“The Nun” starts out promising. The atmosphere of the languishing abbey is spooky and unsettling, with dark secrets within its walls. But the film never builds a deepening sense of dread. It relies too much on jump scares, most of which are predictable.

The film has some memorable moments, usually involving the cloister of nuns. But the movie doesn’t go far enough to unnerve the audience, seeming content to settle for the familiar image of a silhouette of a nun popping up in a dark hallway. It’s a letdown from the frightening portrait scene in “The Conjuring 2” that made the Nun a standout character in the first place. The movie actually makes the Nun less scary.

With a running time of just over an hour-and-a-half, “The Nun” feels longer. The slow-paced spinoff suffers from weak storytelling, and the logic of its narrative doesn’t always add up. There’s no clear rules as to what the demonic Nun can and cannot do.

What “The Nun” does offer is solid performances. Bichir is earnest as Father Burke, a devoted man of the cloth who is haunted by his past. As Frenchie, Bloquet adds comic relief and a penchant for heroics.

Farmiga – the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, the actress who plays real-life demon hunter Lorraine Warren in both “Conjuring” movies – is excellent as Sister Irene. Farmiga brings an innocence and naivete to the character, who is wrestling with whether to take her final vows.

However, Sister Irene’s extrasensory abilities are remarkably similar to those of an existing character in “The Conjuring” franchise. The film and its timing – set about 20 years before the first “Conjuring” movie – seem to suggest a connection between both characters, but then does nothing with it. This is a perplexing move by the filmmakers, especially considering Irene’s casting.

“The Nun” does connect back to “The Conjuring” and “The Conjuring 2,” just not in a way that you might expect. But “The Nun” also isn’t as good as you might expect, either. The film commits too many sins – the most unforgivable of which is not being scary.

2 out of 5 stars

Don’t fall behind: We preview the fall movie season

Don’t fall behind: We preview the fall movie season

Viola Davis and Cynthia Erivo star in “Widows.”

With summer in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look at what the fall movie season has to offer. From a return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter, to big-budget blockbusters and star-studded remakes, to an array of biopics and true stories, this fall has something for everyone.

Here’s our rundown for the fall movie season. Be sure to watch us – Tamara Dunn of the Standard-Speaker and Rebecca Kivak and Joe Baress of the Times-Tribune – below as we talk about which films we’re looking forward to.


Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Nov. 16) – The sequel to 2015’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” continues to expand Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s sprawling universe of magic. Eddie Redmayne returns as magical zoologist Newt Scamander and Jude Law joins the cast as a young Albus Dumbledore. The two join forces to battle the powerful dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

Creed II (Nov. 21) – In the follow-up to 2015’s “Creed,” light heavyweight champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) faces off against Viktor Drago, the son of the man who killed his father in the ring. Sylvester Stallone returns as Rocky Balboa.

Mary Poppins Returns (Dec. 19) – Fifty-four years after the 1964 original was released, everyone’s favorite nanny returns. Set 25 years after the events of the children’s classic, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) reunites with the Banks children – now grown up – after a family tragedy. Also stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dick van Dyke, Meryl Streep and Colin Firth.



Venom (Oct. 5) – Sony ventures into Spider-Man territory with a film about the Marvel webslinger’s enemy. Tom Hardy plays journalist Eddie Brock, who comes into contact with an alien symbiote that gives him superpowers.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Dec. 14) – The animated film follows the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man from Marvel Comics. It also introduces a shared multiverse where there are different versions of Spider-Man. The cartoon features the voices of Shameik Moore as Morales, Jake Johnson as an older Peter Parker, Hailee Steinfeld as Spider-Gwen and Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir.

Aquaman (Dec. 21) – After making a splash in last year’s “Justice League,” Jason Momoa talks to the fishes as underwater superhero Arthur Curry/Aquaman in DC Comics’ latest film offering. The reluctant ruler returns to Atlantis in a power struggle against his tyrannical brother (Patrick Wilson). Directed by James Wan, the film also stars Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Amber Heard and Dolph Lundgren.

Bumblebee (Dec. 21) –  Set in the 1980s, this prequel to the “Transformers” franchise focuses on Bumblebee, the childlike yellow Autobot, and the bond he forms with the teen girl (Hailee Steinfeld) who takes him in. After directing the previous five films, Michael Bay steps out of the director’s chair and Travis Knight takes over the reins. John Cena also stars.

Alita: Battle Angel (Dec. 21) – Based on a manga, the post-apocalyptic adventure produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez follows an amnesiac cyborg (Rose Salazar) trying to learn about her past. The cast includes Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali.


The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Sept. 21) – Based on the 1973 novel, the fantasy film follows a young boy (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his uncle (Jack Black) in a mysterious old house and uncovers a secret world of witches and warlocks. Cate Blanchett also stars. The film marks a change of pace for director Eli Roth.

Smallfoot (Sept. 28) – This cute cartoon inverts the Bigfoot legend. A Yeti (Channing Tatum) who believes that small-footed creatures (humans) exists encounters one (James Corden).

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (Nov. 9) – Benedict Cumberbatch is a mean one in the third screen version of the Dr. Seuss classic. This is a cartoon from Illumination, different from the 2000 live-action remake.

Ralph Breaks the Internet (Nov. 21) – In this meta sequel to 2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) are let loose on the internet. The cartoon has all of Disney’s classic princesses in one spot, with the still-living voice actors returning to voice their iconic characters. The film also features the voices of Taraji P. Henson and Gal Gadot.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper star in “A Star Is Born.”


The Predator (Sept. 14) – The fourth installment and reboot of the “Predator” franchise is directed by Shane Black, who appeared as an actor in the 1987 original. The new film focuses on a group of mercenaries who encounter the preying aliens.  Stars Boyd Holbrook, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Thomas Jane and Sterling K. Brown.

A Star is Born (Oct. 5) – Lady Gaga takes on her first leading film role in “A Star is Born,” the classic story of love and fame. Making his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper also writes, produces and stars in the musical, which is the third remake of the 1937 film.

Suspiria (Nov. 2) – The remake of the influential 1977 horror classic aims to scare a new audience. Dakota Johnson stars as an American ballet dancer who discovers sinister goings-on at a prestigious dance academy in Germany. Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) pays homage to Italian director Dario Argento’s masterpiece. The film also stars Tilda Swinton and Chloe Grace Moretz.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Nov. 9) – This reboot and follow-up to 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” brings back fierce hacker Lisbeth Salander as a vigilante saving abused women. Claire Foy, who won raves as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown,” takes over the role from Rooney Mara. The film is based on the fourth novel of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium book series.

Robin Hood (Nov. 21) – The tale of the legendary outlaw is remade for the screen once again, this time with Taron Egerton (Kingsman movies) playing the arrow-wielding thief who steals from the rich to give to the poor. Also stars Jamie Foxx and Jamie Dornan.


Mandy (Sept. 14) – Nicolas Cage seeks revenge as a man hunting a cult who killed his wife. The surreal horror film is directed by Panos Cosmatos.

Halloween (Oct. 19) – Forty years after John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 slasher, Michael Myers returns. And this time, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is ready and waiting for him. The sequel is the 11th movie in the “Halloween” franchise, but it disregards all the sequels after the original. Directed by David Gordon Green and produced by Carpenter.

Overlord (Nov. 9) – The World War II horror flick – produced by J.J. Abrams – follows American soldiers who get stuck behind enemy lines and uncover secret experiments by the Nazis.

Ryan Gosling stars in “First Man.”


First Man (Oct. 12) – Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong in this biopic about his training for the historic 1969 moon landing. Claire Foy also stars as Armstrong’s wife. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who helmed “Whiplash” and “La La Land.”

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Oct. 19) – Melissa McCarthy plays celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who forged letters from deceased writers and actors to resurrect her career. Based on Israel’s memoirs.

Bohemian Rhapsody (Nov. 2) – The musical drama follows the meteoric rise of rock group Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury, played by Rami Malek.

Backseat (Dec. 14) – Christian Bale transforms himself into ambitious former Vice President Dick Cheney and his rise to power. Bale reunites with his “American Hustle” co-star Amy Adams. Also stars Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell.

On the Basis of Sex (Dec. 25) – Felicity Jones plays Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a young lawyer working on a groundbreaking sex discrimination case. Ginsburg is enjoying a pop culture moment, with the documentary “RBG” released this summer.

True story

The Old Man & The Gun (Sept. 28) – In what he has said will be his last movie role, Robert Redford stars as real-life career criminal Forrest Tucker, who escaped from San Quentin at 70 and relished running afoul of the law. With Casey Affleck and Sissy Spacek.

White Boy Rick (Sept. 14) – Set in the 1980s, this is the story of Richard Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), the youngest FBI informant ever – at the age of 14. Matthew McConaughey plays the boy’s father.

Beautiful Boy (Oct. 12) – Based on the memoirs of David and Nicholas Sheff, David Sheff (Steve Carell) watches his son (Timothee Chalamet) endure a trying cycle of meth addiction, recovery and relapse.

Boy Erased (Nov. 2) – Based on a memoir, Lucas Hedges plays a preacher’s son who is forced to undergo gay conversion therapy. Joel Edgerton directs and stars in this drama, which also features Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.

Green Book (Nov. 21) – The real-life story of classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his chauffeur (Viggo Mortensen) who take a road trip through the racism-charged South in the 1960s.

Hugh Jackman stars in “The Front Runner.”


Fahrenheit 11/9 (Sept. 21) – Michael Moore’s latest political documentary chronicles Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election and his presidency.

The Oath (Oct. 12) – In this dark comedy, a man (Ike Barinholtz) struggles to get along with his family at Thanksgiving as the deadline to sign an oath pledging allegiance to America looms. Also starring Tiffany Haddish and John Cho.

The Front Runner (Nov. 6) – In this biopic, Hugh Jackman plays presidential candidate Gary Hart, whose 1988 campaign unravels after he is caught having an extramarital affair. The film is the first to open on Election Day.


A Simple Favor (Sept. 14) – In this modern noir, Anna Kendrick is a mommy vlogger trying to get to the bottom of the disappearance of her best friend (Blake Lively). Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) plays the missing woman’s husband. The film is directed by Paul Feig, who is mostly known for comedies.

Bad Times at the El Royale (Oct. 12) – Star-studded thriller about seven strangers who meet at a rundown hotel. Stars Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and Jeff Bridges.

Serenity (Oct. 19) – A fishing boat captain (Matthew McConaughey) is asked by his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) to kill her husband (Jason Clarke).

Widows (Nov. 16) – After losing their husbands in a botched job, Viola Davis leads a group of women planning a heist in this thriller directed by Steve McQueen. The ensemble cast includes Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and Liam Neesom. The script is co-written by author Gillian Flynn.

Under the Silver Lake (Dec. 7) – Andrew Garfield investigates the disappearance of the neighbor he has become infatuated with (Riley Keough).

Destroyer (Dec. 25) – In this crime actioner, Nicole Kidman plays a detective who must face her demons years after an undercover assignment ends in tragedy. Directed by Directed by Karyn Kusam, the film also stars Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan and Bradly Whitford.


The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Nov. 2) – The Disney live-action film based on “The Nutcracker” ballet adds a sense of urgency to the fantasy story. Mackenzie Foy plays Clara, who must save a fantastical kingdom from Helen Mirren. Also stars Kiera Knightly and Morgan Freeman.

Mortal Engines (Dec. 14) – Based on a series of novels, this post-apocalyptic adventure directed by Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings”) follows a young woman (Hera Hilmar) seeking to avenge her mother’s death among moving, motorized cities. Hugo Weaving leads the cast.

Welcome to Marwen (Dec. 21) – Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the drama is based on a documentary about an assault victim (Steve Carell) who loses his memory and finds solace in building a miniature World War II village of dolls in his backyard. The film mixes live-action with CG special effects. Also stars Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann and Gwendolyn Christie.

From left, Tika Sumpter, Whoopi Goldberg and Tiffany Haddish star in “Nobody’s Fool.”


The Sisters Brothers (Sept. 21) – Western comedy about two hitmen brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) after a prospector (Riz Ahmed). With Jake Gyllenhaal.

Night School (Sept. 28) – Kevin Hart must attend night school to get his GED and gets schooled by Tiffany Haddish, a teacher with unorthodox methods.

Nobody’s Fool (Nov. 2) – Tyler Perry writes and directs this film starring Tiffany Haddish as a woman who gets out of jail and believes her sister (Tika Sumpter) is being catfished. With Whoopi Goldberg.

Second Act (Nov. 21) – Jennifer Lopez is a retail store worker who passes herself off as an experienced consultant to work for a finance firm. With Milo Ventimiglia, Leah Remini and Vanessa Hudgens.

Holmes and Watson (Dec. 21) – Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly put a comedic spin on classic literary detectives Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.


Life Itself (Sept. 21) – This interweaving tale of romance follows couples over various generations. Stars Olivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac and Annette Bening. Directed by Dan Fogelman, show creator of “This Is Us.”

The Hate U Give (Oct. 19) – A teen (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend by a white police officer.

Wildlife (Oct. 19) – A boy watches his parents’ marriage fall apart after they move in the 1960s. Stars Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. Directed by Paul Dano.

Mid90s (Oct. 19) – Jonah Hill makes his directorial debut with this coming-of-age film about a boy in the 1990s with an abusive home life who makes a new group of friends.

The Favourite (Nov. 23) –  This 18th century period piece follows the fierce rivalry between cousins (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) for the attention of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who helmed “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

If Beale Street Could Talk (Nov. 30) – In director and writer Barry Jenkins’ first film after the Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” a black woman (Kiki Layne) is determined to prove the innocence of her convicted lover (Stephan James), in jail for a crime he did not commit.

Mary, Queen of Scots (Dec. 7) – Saoirse Ronan plays Mary Stuart in her attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) for the throne of England.