Friday, August 11

Step Review


Dir: Amanda Lipitz

Starring: Paula Dofat, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, and Tayla Solomon

“Step”, an inspiring story about a group of young women from Baltimore on a step-dancing team, is less about dancing and more about the determination to pursue the future. Taking the “fly-on-the-wall” approach to this documentary, director Amanda Lipitz simply watches as personalities mold and clash throughout the senior year for the inaugural class of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.

The school was established in 2009 with a mission of sending every one of the students, most of them from low-income families, to an opportunity in college. The struggles of high school life, the drama, the homework, the obligation to the team, are further complicated by troubles at home, the family issues, the lack of money, the struggles of a city divided in the wake of the suspicious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. “Step” teems with personality and a sense of joy, even when it makes all the turns that you’d expect a film like this to make. You’ll still want these young women to succeed in everything they do, in both their journey to become champions of their hobby and their future. 

The Lethal Ladies of BLSYW, that’s their step-dance team name, are a fierce group of young women together but also individually. The film looks specifically at a few young women on the team. 

Cori Grainger is the brain of the bunch, an impressive young mind who has high ambitions of getting into Johns Hopkins on a “full-ride” scholarship. Her family, always supportive but realistic of the costs associated with higher education, worry about how they are going to make it all work. Cori worries too. 

Tayla Solomon has an authority about her; she’s confident and passionate, many times challenging her teammates with attitude. Makes sense considering her mother is a strong willed corrections officer determined to give a better life to her children. 

The personality of the group is Blessin Giraldo, the team captain and motivator of the group. Blessin is complicated, her family life is complicated, and this makes her academic career complicated just before graduation.

For these young women dance is an escape from their hectic and stress filled lives, but just because it’s an escape doesn’t make them any less passionate about it. “Step” watches the progression of a team on their way to the final state event. Along the way we see them grow as a team, we see them on good days and bad days, we see them struggle and achieve. It’s truthful in its portrayal of team dynamics, being the best isn’t easy and you can feel that aspect during their practices.

“Step” does a great job of showcasing how a team can reveal character within an individual, how it builds character to achieve high expectations, and how it shapes character to deal with obstacles that will arise in the future. All of this comes together in the film’s highlight performance, a beautiful piece of resistance, confidence, and determination. It’s a joyous thing to witness.

Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00

Annabelle: Creation Review

Annabelle: Creation

Dir: David Sandberg

Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Philippa Coulthard, Samara Lee, Grace Fulton, Tayler Buck, and Anthony LaPaglia

Horror filmmakers are working really hard to make creepy clowns and demonic dolls scary again. We still have to wait a few more weeks for the clown nightmares to come back again, but this weekend the disturbing doll from “The Conjuring” saga returns to theaters in director David Sandberg’s newest chiller.

“Annabelle: Creation” is the third outing for the demon inhabiting doll, this time serving as a prequel to a prequel to the original film it was featured in. Mr. Sandberg made a splash in the horror genre last year with “Light’s Out”, a film that displayed the director’s interesting touch with composing a jump scare. You can feel that influence in “Annabelle: Creation”, a film that aims to do more than it’s predecessor did with a scare while also providing more crumbs to feed the appetite of those looking for the origin story behind the Annabelle doll.

A doll maker (Anthony LaPaglia) and his family live a peaceful life in the 1940’s until a tragic accident takes the life of their only daughter. 12 years later the doll maker and his wife are trying to move on with their lives, they open their large home to a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and a group of orphaned girls. It doesn’t take long for strange things to happen, leading one inquisitive girl to a closet lined with pages from the Bible. Inside is a terrifying doll with a connection to a family secret.

Mr. Sandberg moves quickly, letting the scares take control of the story early and watching the audience squirm with anticipation of the next creepy fright coming from a dark hallway, under a bed sheet, or with a child’s toy gun. Some of the scares are cheap, mostly jump scares that horror audiences have seen better in numerous films. Still, Mr. Sandberg has skill in composing these moments, and when he does achieve a great fright it’s because of techniques like framing and composition of the environment. There are far more genuinely creepy moments here than in the original “Annabelle” film that came out in 2014.

Some nice performances exist in the film when the narrative provides the opportunity for a piece of character development to come through. Anthony LaPaglia’s tormented father is an interesting character, but aside from the actor walking around looking angry there isn’t much room to fit him into the framework of why evil lives in his home. The young women in the film compose some nice chemistry when they get a moment to interact with one another, though most of the film they are alone walking into dark rooms or running from scary noises.

One of the reasons the scares are better here is because there are more opportunities to incorporate them. The lack of emphasis on the torn family dynamic, the background of the children, the reason the evil exists for this family and why it utilizes the doll, isn’t given too much attention aside from a film quick scene to try to tie everything together. Still, for genre fans looking for something a little creepy or for just a few jump scares, “Annabelle: Creation” will do the job.

Monte’s Rating

3.00 out of 5.00

Friday, August 4

The Dark Tower Review

The Dark Tower

Dir: Nikolaj Arcel

Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Abbey Lee, Dennis Haysbert, and Jackie Earle Haley

Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” was in the development trenches for some time, with filmmakers like J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard in the seat to make the book series come to life.  All that time and attention unfortunately didn’t help the final version of this film, even with the capable cast lead by the stoic, heroic Idris Elba and the talent of a villainous Matthew McConaughey “The Dark Tower” is an incoherent mess. 

Three of Stephen King’s stories will be seen in some way throughout the year. “The Mist” television show has already premiered and later next month the new version of “It” will float into theaters. With “The Dark Tower”, one of Mr. King’s more complex novels, the film adaptation focuses less on the story from the books and more on a continuation of sorts. 

Jake (Tom Taylor) is having nightmares about otherworldly happenings that consist of a battle between good and evil and a plot to destroy a tower that keeps evil out of Earth, referred to by characters in the film as Keystone Earth. Protecting the realm, known as Mid-World, is a gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba) who comes from a lineage of brave protectors who once fought the good fight long ago. Evil is winning and leading the charge to destroy the tower is the man in black, otherwise known as Walter (Matthew McConaughey). It is up to Jake and Roland to battle this evil force and protect the realm of Earth.

Idris Elba is the best thing about this film; the actor is a sullen loner who journeys across the different realms in search for vengeance. Mr. Elba has an appealing quality that shines through his otherwise downtrodden character’s personality. Matthew McConaughey mostly wanders into scenes, waves his hands, and whispers things like “stop breathing” to everyone that gets in his way. In small moments you can see what this film may have been trying to do, there is potential in the characterizations but the film never develops it.

The narrative is a complete clutter of ideas that don’t add up to anything more than cheap hero journey clichés. The movie attempts to build momentum towards some kind of conclusion, but the beginning and middle meander from the Mid-World to Keystone Earth, from foggy forests to the commotion of New York City with only a vague plot line of defeating an evil threat. We are introduced to characters that offer information about the journey only to have them disappear from the story. Jake’s family is given a small role to promote his future heroism, but the relationship with them is never really established with any kind of meaning. From scene to scene the movie progressively makes less sense.

For fans of Stephen King’s stories it may be a fun distraction to look for all the telling nods to the author’s works, the world here is trying to pay some kind of homage to the stories crafted by the author. Aside from a few qualities found in the lead performance, there isn’t much to really appreciate about this film. That’s a shame because “The Dark Tower” deserved better. 

Monte’s Rating

1.00 out of 5.00