Annabelle Creation (2017)

David Sandberg

Annabelle Creation is the latest film in what is now being retconned into The Conjuring universe (rather than franchise). Annabelle Creation is a prequel to Annabelle, which itself was a prequel to The Conjuring. As a tacked-on universe prequel I thought it would be safe to expect that Annabelle Creation would follow Rogue One and Kong: Skull Island and be serviceable and good while completing a task.

With little interest in rushing to Universe connectivity the movie revels in the early twentieth century American gothic. There is nothing to fear at the start of the movie but the very landscape itself provides a sense of foreboding. Director David F. Sandberg sets the scene for a conjuring against the back drop of a prairie land full of rusted farm machinery and technology such as lights and cars which are primitive and unreliable. Anthony LaPaglia constructs handmade dolls in an isolated and large farmhouse which he shares with his wife, played by Miranda Otto, and daughter. The family exists in this gothic bucolic bliss until the daughter dies in a road accident.

Oddly the trailer outlines the entire plot of the movie and arguably spoils its most compelling element which is the very slow reveal of not just the extent of the evil hidden within the house but the how it came to be there in the wake of daughter’s death. The movie proper starts when, twelve years later, a nun and her six orphan girl charges are invited to live in the house with the still grieving couple.

As soon as the nun and orphans arrive there is a feeling of a growing restrained threat and violence. As the children voice or attempt to ignore their fears the movie becomes about the idea of faith and the power of evil in the world and its ability to consume and destroy the innocent without caring about what should or deserves to happen. The setup of isolated farmhouse is naturally terrifying, the use of the doll and ghost child eminently chilling and the main pre-pubescent girl protagonists are especially vulnerable.

The film could have gone further and been as socially analogous as Get Out if it had chosen to twist the knife deeper and allude to the evil which existed, and exists, within the church. The demon and/or its existence could have been portrayed as analogous to predatorial priests preying upon the weak. Perhaps realising how close they are to this territory the filmmakers go to pains to ensure viewers that the demon is a demon is a demon and as such too much of the monster is shown in the third act of the film and rather than a terrifying wraith of the imagination some of the terror is dulled as the conjuring of inherit evil is rendered into form on too many occasions.

There are also either a lot of conceits or no limit to the demon’s power which is simultaneously frustrating and serves to heighten the threat and feeling of helpless ness with which the audience is shown the film. In service to universe building there is an Easter egg for the next Conjuring Universe movie, The Nun, and the epilogue of the film feels a little to complete as, like with Rogue One, it is forced to fit too well and, again, leave nothing to the imagination as it runs on seamlessly into Annabelle.

These small faults aside Annabelle Creation is still a film which is better than the sum of its parts. The script, acting and direction are well done and it maintains an enthralling pace and doing a lot with a relatively low kill count.

Don’t watch the trailer before seeing it. Destroy all porcelain dolls afterwards.

 

 

Overthinking: Can Contemporary Journalism Exist in a Bond Film?

It has recently been reported Daniel Craig will star in two more James Bond films.  This after he infamously claimed, ‘I would rather slash my wrists than play James Bond again’. The current run of Bond films, which was rebooted with Craig in 2006 with the gritty Casino Royale, will now continue more than one film beyond Craig’s contract and make him the oldest actor to play the role.

With Daniel Craig locked in the rumour mill has started on who will direct. Sam Mendes directed the last two instalments but will not return for what is currently working titled as Bond 25 or its sequel which is expected to be a reboot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Favourites include Christopher Nolan, Ben Wheatley and Susanne Bier.

Will this mean that the last two Daniel Craig Bond films will be a sort of sub-reboot to the franchise?

Possibly, as certainly Mendes provided a distinct new feel to his instalments. After the relatively lacklustre commercial and critical performance of Quantum of Solace Mendes brought a sense of the aesthetic and pace to Skyfall while also subtly steering the rebooted Bond away from a rapidly changing contemporary world.

Once upon a time Bond films raced to include technology and visions of the future. In the 1970s, Bond, his allies and those

smartwatch
Bond had the first smartwatch?

he sought to foil travelled and fought in Jetsons-like amphibious cars, jets, submarines, and individual space shuttles. It wasn’t just transportation which the films invented but general technological gadgetry which didn’t exist then and still doesn’t today due to either impracticality or sheer implausibility. A possibly exception is Bond’s communications methods which were sometimes prescient when they were at their most simple.

The Daniel Craig Bond was rebooted to be competitive with the Jason Bourne films. The aim was to remove the far-fetched gadgets and add a sense of realism. This worked in the mid 2000’s but became difficult as the decade progressed. International decentralised terrorism posed a bigger threat than any villain in a volcano lair and the advent of smart-phones meant that we all had gadgets in our pockets as powerful as anything Q had ever provided to Daniel Craig or his predecessors. Rather than try to keep up with or predict the future of gadgets or villainy Craig and Mendes took a polite side-step of avoidance.

In Skyfall Daniel Craig operates without gadgets and drives a sixtiejamesbondskyfalls Aston Martin (the same model as driven by Sean Connery). The film’s showdown takes place against the backdrop of nature, the Scottish Highlands, rather than a space station. The heroes use ancient rifles and booby traps rather than lasers or rockets.

In the latest film, SPECTRE, Mendes double dipped in his avoidance of the contemporary by using the old-world settings of Mexico, Tangiers and the Moroccan dessert and the retro villain of Christopher Waltz’s Blofeld as the threat to Bond and the world. Aesthetically, SPECTRE is a beautiful film but fails on a story level with its desperate desire to connect Bloomfield’s villainy and menace to the events of the preceding films.

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Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux looking suave after a murderous train trip and ride in a 1948 Rolls through the Morroccan desert.

Unsurprisingly SPECTRE also avoids tackling modern international terrorism and its religious fundamentalist connections. Instead the looming threat to the world and freedom is the idea of surveillance and technology. This threat rings false though as the film refuses to ever fully examine real contemporary internet culture or even show the ubiquity of smart-phones. Indeed pivotal plot points where the media indicate Bond’s movements are detailed via printed newspapers rather than any form of MOJO.

An aside:

In contemporary journalism MOJO, mobile phone created and curated journalism, is increasingly becoming the most common and efficient way of reporting breaking news. Stephen Quinn in Mojo and the Mobil Journalism Revolution writes that the ‘revolutionary aspect of “full” mojo is the fact that all work is done on the device (a smartphone) – filming, interviewing, editing and creating the voice-over (6)’. Smartphones are able to act as the tool of transmission and often the end user will view the report on a similar device rather than traditional news mediums with push notifications able to alert users to breaking news in almost real time.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican
Pope Francis surrounded by phone cameras(CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters) (May 15, 2013)

MOJO allows journalists to operate on a more mobile basis and with far less overheads then required by traditional camera equipment and crews. News can be compiled and filed or published quickly in the instance of breaking news events and the flexibility of MOJO allows reporters to easily story-build around events.

Another advantage is that since mobile phones are ubiquitous they are generally less intimidating for interview subjects. A phone can be operated by one person so that an event can be filmed inconspicuously and interviews can be conducted one on one. Most people have filmed or been filmed with a phone and will be more relaxed in front of a phone than a video camera.

It will be interesting to see whether a new director decides to do a soft reboot on the series so that it once again feels exists in the contemporary world. Some people are saying Bond will struggle to remain relevant in a post Trump world and the increased pace of political events. By the same token in a world where the president is responding to reporters on Twitter can a contemporary spy drama continue to avoid smart-phones and the story-building strength of mobile journalism?

Embracing rather than avoiding the issue could be the best thing that ever happened to the franchise. To avoid aping Mission Impossible and the conceit of prosthetic masks perhaps Bond will become a darker and more underground John Le Carré type of spy operating in the shadows and on the periphery of society and only irregularly rather than habitually showing up at gala balls. If nothing else perhaps in his last two films Daniel Craig will be a little more circumspect about telling all and sundry his name is Bond, James Bond.

bondshadows

 

 

 

What are the Bugles Blowing For? a.k.a. The Bugles Blowing (1975)

Nicolas Freeling

The plot of the tantalizing titled What are the Bugles Blowing For starts interestingly enough with, in the first few pages, a high-ranking French civil servant, named La Touche, calling the police to confess to the murders of his wife, daughter and their lover. La Touche finds all three in bed and promptly fetches a gun to put single bullets in his spouse and offspring and four in their mutual lover.
There is no mystery or doubt to La Touche’s motives or guilt but detective Castang, Freeling’s protagonist of this and several other books, is ordered to ensure there are no political aspects to the crime. The dead lover was Jewish and so in the first quarter of the novel Freeling appears to be setting up the potential for international political stakes between Jewish and Arab interests. Then these stakes are abandoned. Detective Castang travels to England to investigate the potential connections to drug cartels and anarchist rings. These connections are also abandoned, quickly and dismissively, while Castang eats lunch and ruminates on the differences between English and French police. Detective Castang stands out as a detective character by being very bland. He has a measured and not overly dedicated work ethic, quiet home life, and shy wife. Castang does a lot of thinking and there are several subsequent mediations and asides about the nature of crime, the accountability of the elite and the meaning of the death penalty. Freeling touches upon the Nazi death camps (specifically Ravens Bruck) and the post-holocaust question of Jewish existentialism. In these sections, it seemed that the book had the potential for real importance and that it’s difficult style and meandering plot may have been motivated by an either Pynchon-esque obtuse brilliance or a Phillip K Dick-like struggle with focus. But then, the tide would turn to boring diatribes about food or anti-perspirant.
Unfortunately, ultimately, the book is just too hard to read for too little reward. The story is bleak and lacks any sort of narrative arc. The writing seems as if it were translated from another language or as if an editor had wanted to cut pages by carving out pronouns and prepositions. Sentences seem to start mid-way through and are followed by non-sequiturs, or run-ons, or whole paragraphs which are only tangentially related.
I finished the book feeling frustrated that I had wasted my time with it. A similar feeling, I had to when I finished Infinite Jest. I’ve since come around on the idea of Infinite Jest and David Foster Wallace and appreciate a lot of how that book treats the reader. Obviously, Freeling was writing on the same level but I wonder if he was writing with contempt for his readers? I don’t think he really cares about the reader with this book. I’d even say that the book was probably written quickly and dismissively over the course of a week to make him some cash. Which, unfortunately for me, only makes me more intrigued by Nicolas Freeling and his output. As an author, he won several awards and, even today, many of his books are still in print. So, is this book an exception or the rule to Freeling’s style? The work of angry rushed genius or misguided rushed ambition?
I guess the only way to find out is to once again strap myself in for another not so thrilling adventure with the non-descript and meditative Detective Castang!