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Prayers, Paperbacks and Payback in Theaters this Weekend

Hope Madden Hope Madden Prayers, Paperbacks and Payback in Theaters this WeekendPhoto still from The Nun, via IMDb.
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Badass women, disregarding the desires of others and following their own (often bloody, sometimes bookish) paths—that’s the theme for this week in movies. It’s an off week, sure, but it’s crammed to bursting with splashy, trashy time-wasters, and that’s always fun. Well, I mean, The Nun is not exactly fun…

The Nun

by Hope Madden

The Hallows director Corin Hardy crafts his little part of The Conjuring universe with a history lesson on that scary sister, The Nun.

His film takes us back to the 1950s when the Vatican called upon a priest with a specific set of skills. Fr. Burke (Demián Bichir) investigates the suicide of a cloistered nun in remote Romania, bringing along a novitiate nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga – little sister to Conjuring star Vera).

You think nuns are creepy? Well, they fit right in at crumbling old Romanian abbeys. Hardy and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre make glorious use of the location, and then create richly shadowed castle interiors suitable for Dracula himself.

Velvety shadows and jump scares, medieval witchery and the now-quaint idea that the Catholic Church can save us—Hardy balances all these items with nostalgia, humor and a fun dose of Conjuring universe odes.

Where the film comes up short is in imagination. Mainly, it bears far too strong a resemblance to another Irishman’s Catholic horror, Devil’s Doorway, which follows two priests investigating strange phenomenon at a convent only to find something sinister in the tunnels beneath.

Though Devil’s Doorway lacked the visual flair, budget and humor of The Nun, it sidestepped the nostalgia that casts the Catholic Church in such unvarnished light, so it felt a bit more relevant and less disposable.

Still, with a slight, sometimes silly storyline and an awful lot of atmosphere, Hardy manages an entertaining if forgettable 90 minutes.

Grade: B-


by George Wolf

Jennifer Garner has been a screen sweetheart for enough years now that it might be easy to forget she rose to fame as the action star of TV’s Alias.

Peppermint is her bloody reminder, a corpse-strewn revenge caper with few surprises but plenty of ambitions for a new franchise.

Garner is Riley North, an LA mom whose husband and daughter are gunned down on orders from ruthless drug dealer Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). Riley is injured badly but survives the shooting, eventually giving the cops positive IDs on the three gunman….which bases the entire film on a contradiction.

The flimsy reason for the hit, along with the stories of Garcia’s mythic levels of evildoing, don’t jibe with his offer to buy Riley’s silence instead of buying her the farm. If only that were the film’s biggest problem.

The script from Chad St. John (London Has Fallen — woof) serves up heaps of one-note obviousness amid layers of cop cliche circle-jerkery.

And then there’s the matter of Riley’s particularly deadly set of skills. Suffice to say there are issues there as well, but thankfully not because we’re given yet another Taken knockoff.

With Taken‘s director Pierre Morel at the helm, it’s not a big leap to expect just that. Instead, Riley’s frequent baddie beatdowns set her up as a West Coast Equalizer, but Morel can’t cash that check, either.

The reasons to get invested in any of this are hastily assembled and unconvincing, and Morel’s action sequences seldom escape a bland auto pilot, but Garner makes a comfortable return to the action saddle. She casts Riley as a likable, if less-than-believable, anti-hero, and Morel manages to keep the focus respectably gritty, never sexualizing Garner beyond some seriously long-lasting lipstick.

High on body count but low on substance, Peppermint tastes like a strange blend of committed and lazy.

Grade: C+

The Bookshop

by Rachel Willis

The Bookshop is not what you might imagine. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald, one might expect a sentimental, feel-good film about the power of books to open up closed minds. That’s not what we get in writer/director Isabel Coixet’s latest film.

The film starts strong. We watch as Florence (Emily Mortimer) overcomes the stall tactics of her solicitor, squashes rumors that she plans to buy another property for her bookshop, and successfully launches the shop of her dreams. However, before the first act concludes, the film begins to meander.

As Florence contends with obstacles she didn’t foresee, she becomes friendly with her first customer, the local eccentric, Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), and their relationship blossoms with an exchange of letters. In a scene reminiscent of The Age of Innocence, Brundish reads his first letter into the camera. It’s an unusual technique, but it helps to humanize the reclusive man. Unfortunately, not enough time or importance is given to this correspondence.

For a movie with only a few characters, it still ends up feeling like too many. Minor characters are given more importance than they deserve. Major characters aren’t given time to develop meaningful relationships. Most of the characters are one-dimensional.

The lovely cinematography captures the theme of the film better than any other aspect. Hardborough appears both enchanting and foreboding. If this had been better explored through character dynamics, The Bookshop may have made a lasting impression. As it is, it’s a beautiful, but empty film.

Grade: C-

Also opening in Columbus:
C/o Kancharapalem (NR)
Cocote (NR)
God Bless the Broken Road (PG)
John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (NR)
What Keeps You Alive (R)

Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF, and listen to her weekly film podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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