Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Boy Erased"


The intentions of everyone involved in Boy Erased were noble and sincere, of that I have no doubt. You can see it in almost every frame of this earnest, muted drama that seems custom-crafted for awards-season audiences. It's a well-shot, well-cast, well-acted film with a topic almost guaranteed to elicit sympathy among Oscar voters. There's only one problem with Boy Erased: It isn't nearly as good as it should be.

Do not fault the actors. Academy Award Nominee Lucas Hedges is in seemingly every other movie these days for a reason: He's engaging and believable and committed. Academy Award Winner Nicole Kidman dons a wig and accent that would make Dolly Parton proud and continues to be maybe the most interesting actress working in film (not to mention TV). Academy Award Winner Russell Crowe brings an added air authority and offers more proof that Australians can do flawless American accents -- as does writer-director Joel Edgerton, who co-stars in his film, which is, as Oscar tends to love, Based on a True Story.

It might be cynical to assume that Oscar gold was the primary intention behind the film, of course. I believe (honestly, I do) that Edgerton and his cast and his crew wanted to make a serious, artistic film about the insanity of anti-gay "conversion therapy" and the horrors suffered by those who are forced to go through it.  They have succeeded but only to point. Boy Erased is indeed both serious and artistic. It's also predictable, unsurprising and frustratingly unmoving.

How could Boy Erased be so staid? Every frame of this film should be awash in anger and outrage, not in muted shadows and sallow colors that underscore just how serious the movie is. Every moment of what happens inside the walls of the "therapy" center should unnerve the viewer with the terror of psychological torture, but instead comes across as pedantic, even sedate. Except for a few moments, it all seems frankly polite.

Jared Eamons (Hedges) goes to the "Love in Action" center because once his parents learn that their 18-year-old son is gay, they give him an ultimatum: Live by our set of Scripture-based morals or be disowned. That alone should be a devastating moment, but is given barely an extra beat in Edgerton's straightforward-but-well-meaning screenplay.  Edgerton also plays the head of the center, a hard-talking, hardcore Christian who himself has "overcome" homosexuality and is convinced that a program of praying, intervention and manly activities can help gay teens become straight.

If you've ever seen Frank Oz's In and Out starring Kevin Kline, you'll remember that film's funny, satirical "Exploring Your Masculinity" sequence, which ends with Kline doing a joyous, exuberant dance to "I Will Survive." That's Boy Erased, but with no sense of humor at all, even though the concept is the same: one "straight" man yelling at a gay man to stop being gay. Played for laughs, it makes a point, but when stripped of its humor, and of the freedom and sense of self-worth that are part of the coming-out process, it's all overwhelmingly, aggressively dour, and lacking in drama, pathos and empathy.

In part, the film lacks an anchoring point of view; the movie recreates and presents scenes that no doubt actually happened, but without a clear sense of this being Jared's story, it has a curious detachment. And although it boasts an intriguing supporting cast, including YouTube influencer Troye Sivan, multi-hyphenate performer Xavier Dolan, Flea, and, most memorably, Cherry Jones as a deeply understanding doctor, none of them (except Jones) are given much at all to do.

Worse, Jared is afforded no real identity, something that it's beyond even the impressive talents of Hedges to overcome. His sexuality is a plot point, not a key aspect of his character, and other than a brutal, devastating rape and a few chaste kisses with another boy, there is no sense at all that he views his homosexuality in any meaningful way.

While there is no requirement that a film about a young gay man needs to be made by gay filmmakers, Boy Erased desperately an authentic gay voice, the way last year's mesmerizing Call Me By Your Name benefitted from director Luca Guadagnino's gay experience even though it starred two straight actors. Straight writer-director Edgerton really, sincerely believes in what he's saying here, but beyond the message that gay "conversion" therapy doesn't work (as if anyone watching the film might believe otherwise), it's unclear what exactly he wants to accomplish with this film.

Boy Erased ends, as does this Oscar season's equally discouraging Beautiful Boy, with a set of statistics. Both movies might get the facts right, but they seem to know nothing about the experience of those who go through the horrors they depict. Boy Erased means well. But that's not nearly enough.

Viewed November 10, 2018 -- ArcLight Hollywood


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"A Star Is Born"


Ally is a nobody waitress with a voice of gold, Jack is a superstar singer whose addictions are getting the best of him. Sound familiar? It should, because this is the fourth time A Star Is Born has been made in Hollywood, and even though more than 80 years have passed since the first attempt, the story hasn't changed much.

The trouble with that this time around is that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper create rich, carefully observed characters who are endlessly fascinating for about the first 45 minutes of the movie, and just as we're really falling in love with both of them and their complexities, they start living A Star Is Born.

We've seen the story before, over and over; we haven't seen these characters, and as A Star Is Born raced toward its inexorable conclusion I found myself wishing time and again that something different would happen to these particular people.  These characters deserve a more interesting, more challenging fate than the same one to befall Judy Garland and James Mason, Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, et. al.

The first time we see Cooper's Jackson (not Norman) Maine, he's on stage performing in front of an adoring audience, but he looks and acts tired of it all. He's too used to being a star, but he navigates the trappings of stardom with ease, especially as a passenger in the back of an SUV limo whose driver is the closest thing he's got to a friend. After the concert that opens the movie, Jackson needs a drink, so the limo pulls up in front of a grungy dive that turns out to be a drag bar.

Jackson doesn't mind, and in one of the movie's many nice little grace notes, he seems to enjoy the camaraderie of the bar and its patrons. Up on stage comes Ally, the only biological woman in the place and the only live singer, and immediately Jackson is entranced. It's easy to see why: Lady Gaga seems uncharacteristically average in these opening scenes, and as she's already proven in Five Foot Two, her simultaneously candid and self-absorbed documentary, Lady Gaga can seem disarmingly ordinary.

They share a long scene in a supermarket parking lot that feels a lot like two superstars imagining what it would be like to be anonymous again, marveling at the way everyone knows who they are but no one knows what they're like. Jackson asks her to call him Jack. This relaxed, revealing, completely captivating scene holds the tantalizing promise of turning A Star Is Born into an intimate conversation like the Before movies.

But it's A Star Is Born.

He's going to make her famous. She's going to try to get him to stop drinking and doing drugs. As she rises, so he will fall, ultimately humiliating her, but she will stand by her man, and he will become convinced his own fame is holding her back, and the movie will play the way A Star Is Born always plays, and it will prove as simultaneously beguiling and disappointing as listening to Lady Gaga perform a cover of an old standard: With so many more interesting opportunities, why choose the safest ones?

Because A Star Is Born demands it. There's no doubt most of it is played very, very well, with the exception of an onerous little creep named Rez, who becomes Ally's manager and turns her into a bubble-gum pop-music sensation. The scenes with Rez are the movie's weakest moments, which isn't the fault of actor Rafi Gavron, who plays him as all slime and artifice; the problem is that Lady Gaga and Cooper play their roles with real conviction, and their characters insist on authenticity. Her sellout into music superstardom feels contrived and overplayed -- certainly the world today knows celebrities who don't rise to the top by giving in so easily.

So little about the film's middle is believable that it's disconcerting to compare it with the sheer force of personality in the first act.  By the time A Star Is Born gets to the only place it is allowed to go, it feels even less convincing -- it's a story of fame and addiction that shows its age; would anyone in the movie act the way they do if the plot didn't demand it?

Perhaps in the hands of a lesser director and lesser stars it would have been less problematic for the film to wind up in precisely the place A Star Is Born must wind up, but is that a reason, in 2018, to force Ally into a place of having to choose between her career and her man, of ending up in the same place as the character did 80 years ago, feeling weakened yet strengthened by avoidable tragedy?  The film seems so stuck in its old self that there are times when you wish Ally and Jack would just sit down and watch A Star Is Born to see where it's all headed.

None of that, strangely enough, is reason not to see A Star Is Born, or to marvel at its wonderful soundtrack, or to imagine the acting career ahead of Lady Gaga, or to enjoy the remarkable chemistry of the two leads. Indeed, there's not too much wrong at all with A Star Is Born ... except that it's A Star Is Born, that old chestnut, roasted and served up again with the same bittersweet flavor it's always had.

Viewed November 5, 2018 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Beautiful Boy"


The family has been gone for a swim meet, and as they let the dogs out of the car and unpack the groceries they notice something is wrong. A pot outside has been broken. There is some movement through the windows. One of the kids, who isn't more than 5 years old, says, "I saw Nic." And just like that, the day becomes yet again about Nic, just as it has been for years.

The Sheff family has not had a day's peace since Nic (Timothée Chalamet) revealed himself as a drug addict and began seeking treatment. In his effort to save his beautiful boy, Nic's father Dave (Steve Carell) has become addicted himself, addicted to the process of finding, rescuing and paying attention to his son.

This is ultimately the point of Dave Sheff's searing memoir, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, which chronicles the emotional toll that Nic's addiction to crystal meth (not to mention pot, alcohol, heroin, LSD and just about anything else you can inhale, swallow or inject) takes on the man who helped create the boy.

The movie version of Beautiful Boy is not based just on Dave Sheff's memoir, which I have read, but also on Nic Sheff's own memoir, Tweaked, which I haven't, and it is this ambitious film's unfortunate weakness that it tries to see the experience from both perspectives. Admirable though that may be, but leads to dramatic disappointment.

As it shifts back and forth from Dave's experience to Nic's, Beautiful Boy can't find a completely compelling narrative for either of them.  This is a film that means well, and that is carefully, lovingly made and even more carefully acted, but such caution feels safe. Narratively, it jumps back and forth in time, showing Nic at different ages and providing a gently glowing look back at what seems like an idyllic childhood in an expensive home in the middle of the rolling countryside of Marin County, the place where liberal rich people can go to be pretentious in private. The Sheff house is all wood and glass and rambling luxury, and what would have been really interesting is to see how this kind of millionaire's lifestyle, combined with the anger of divorce, affected Nic as a child.

Carell plays Dave as a passively sweet nice guy with a weird edge, laced with real temper and obsessive behavior, and there are tantalizing hints that he could have been a lot more than a 21st century Ward Cleaver. All around the edges of Beautiful Boy are indications of what the movie could have been, but director Felix van Groeningen and his co-screenwriter Luke Davies keep leaning in the direction of the old disease-of-the-week TV movies, where a famous face earned an Emmy nomination by playing someone whose seemingly perfect life goes off the rails and viewers are treated to end title cards underscoring the importance of supporting efforts to battle the illness.

And, indeed, that's exactly what the ending of Beautiful Boy provides, and throughout the movie brings in extraneous characters like a doctor played by Timothy Hutton explain a few important facts about the abuse of crystal meth, to drop facts and statistics that are meant to enhance the drama but instead bring it to a screeching halt.

So many luminous, golden moments of a perfect childhood are contrasted with the complex, roiling, raging person Nic has grown into, but there's no insight into why Nic's bucolic upbringing led him to become someone with such a deep, black hole of despair at his core.  Chalamet seems to have tried hard to understand it, and even though he spends most of the film looking and behaving with far too clean-cut a smile and swagger, he does find someone real in Nic, someone identifiable -- if only the filmmakers didn't keep cutting away from his story just when it was getting interesting.

Back and forth, back and forth, Beautiful Boy swings between past and present, between son and father, between addiction and obsession, never settling down long enough to let us feel fully connected to either one.  It's not until about 90 minutes in that Beautiful Boy finally achieves something of the raw power it has been hoping to convey, as Nic comes back to the family home while everyone else is away. A strung-out girlfriend in tow, Nic is looking for things to steal, for anything he can sell for some money to get a quick fix. It's the latest of many relapses for him, and Chalamet plays him with little remorse or pity. Then, just as he's about to flee with a few items in hand, the family comes back.

No one is sure what to do. Dave is disappointed after so many attempts to help his son, but stepmom Karen (Maura Tierney) is filled with an anger she hasn't yet shown. As Nic and his girlfriend drive off, Karen gets into the family minivan and drives after him, and a staggering range of emotions runs across her face as she pursues a boy she thought she knew, but who is too far gone to reach.

It's a scene filled with tension and devoid of dialogue; it's the first time Beautiful Boy presents emotions that really ring true, and it's a shame it has taken the film so long to find its center. It's also one of the rare moments in which Beautiful Boy doesn't try to explain to us what Nic or Dave is feeling or thinking. The film would have benefitted more from raw and painful moments like this one, instead of the fact-laden, earnest and well-intentioned but frankly dull approach it too often takes.

Viewed October 27, 2018 -- ArcLight Hollywood


Saturday, October 13, 2018

"First Man"


Ostensibly, First Man is a biography of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, a subject that should make for one hell of a good movie, yet this one is curiously aloof, as cold and distant as it depicts Armstrong himself. We may no longer live in an age of heroes, but is that reason to turn its main character into such a passive-aggressive bore?

It may well be that Armstrong was a man of few words, but First Man makes him into a constantly unhappy and vaguely bitter person, which doesn't give the audience much to work with when the outcome of the story is already known.

It's not that First Man doesn't get off to an exciting and perfectly pitched opening, with Armstrong testing the limits of his aircraft and himself as he heads ever higher and faster into Earth's atmosphere, then comes crashing down. First Man aims to put us right there into the cockpit -- and later the capsule -- with Armstrong, and that's the one thing the movie does staggeringly well. As long as he's airborne, so is the movie; the trouble is, almost all of it is set here on the ground, where Armstrong is glum, surly and almost always lacking in passion.

Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong with weird detachment; everything is going on in this guy's head, almost none of it showing on his face or in his actions. It's enough to frustrate his wife, played well but with almost stereotypical feistiness and headstrong independence by Claire Foy -- she's fantastic, but both the actress and the character only get to come to life when she's struggling and fighting against the impassiveness of her husband and his NASA co-workers.

The goal, it seems, was to humanize Armstrong by making us understand how deeply he was affected by the death of his 2-year-old daughter, Karen, but there's something missing in this characterization; his fixation on his daughter is more an extraneous plot device than an emotional revelation.

First Man has a big story to tell, moving both across time and (literally) space, with a great many characters -- which is another one of the challenges the movie's screenplay (by Josh Singer) can't overcome: There are just too many names and faces for any of them to register, especially with a constantly moving, jittery camera and choppy editing that make it difficult to follow who's who and what's what. The movie needs to resort too many times to on-screen title cards to tell us what's happening, and rarely makes any of it feel connected to the rest.

It's impossible to make a movie about the space program without recalling both The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, which is to the great detriment of First Man, because the comparisons are both apt and not complimentary.  Those movies, especially Kaufman's magnificent epic, took enormously complicated stories and made them comprehensible to anyone. First Man doesn't fare as well, which is most telling when it gets to the grim-but-necessary sequence that dramatizes the fatal Apollo 1 fire.

It's a defining moment both for NASA and for Armstrong, but if you don't know much about it, First Man doesn't connect it to the broader story. In this scene, as in much of the movie, the audience is expected to have some first-hand knowledge. The movie doesn't get anything wrong (one shot of the door to the space capsule, bulging and leaking smoke, is haunting), it's that none of the moments, even this one, seem to matter much. The entire movie lacks a certain enthusiasm, and is devoid of the adventurous spirit that you'd like to think motivated the astronauts as much as it did Americans.

Why did we go to the moon?  Why was it worth the cost in money and in lives?  First Man offers up a snippet of John F. Kennedy asking the same question, but has trouble figuring out the answer itself.  Perhaps it's telling that the most lively sequence in the film that isn't set in space is one in which protestors gather outside Cape Canaveral to decry the cost both in lives and in dollars of the space program. To the words of Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey on the Moon," which angrily denounces the wasteful spending to get men to the lunar surface instead of worrying about what's happening right here on earth, First Man gets an unexpected zap of energy criticizing the very project it's supposed to be glorifying.

After the boundless energy of Whiplash and La La Land (both marvelous and exquisite movies), it's unexpected and disconcerting to see Chazelle struggling to find both the story and the meaning here. In the car on the way home from First Man, I found myself looking up at the moon, thinking back to what I had just seen, and, as a backdrop for the moment, listening to Bill Conti's score to The Right Stuff.  That's a hard legacy to live up to, and it's not so much that First Man is the wrong stuff, exactly, it's just that it's never quite entirely right.

Viewed October 13, 2018 -- AMC Burbank 16


Thursday, September 20, 2018

"The House with a Clock in its Walls"


Kids' movies stink. They're dull, lifeless, uninventive, uninspired things that pander to children, talking down to them and treating them like idiots. The House With a Clock in its Walls is not, thankfully, a kids' movie, though it has a child at its core and is filled with colorful magic. But it's a real movie, a full-fledged one that adults can see by themselves and enjoy tremendously, while children will experience the rare satisfaction of being entertained without condescension.

While many movies featuring children treat adults as something distant and neglectful or strange and mystical, The House with a Clock in its Walls presents adults who are just as unsure of themselves as any child. One of its best attributes is that it shows that adults are capable of supreme self-doubt and children are capable of supreme courage, which is a wonderful thing to see.

Maybe it's saying something about the state of our own world that a story like this couldn't possibly take place in the 21st Century.  The House with a Clock in its Walls is set in 1955, that nostalgic moment in time when kids wore coonskin caps and button-down sweaters and when everything seemed hopeful, at least on the surface. (In this revisionist nostalgia, school hallways in middle America are filled with black and Asian kids, playing and laughing harmoniously.)

Ten-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro, terrifically engaging) comes to town after the death of his parents, and he's greeted by his kindly and eccentric uncle (Jack Black), who lives in a rambling old house filled with clocks that are strategically positioned to drown out the sound of one giant clock that is buried under or built within the house. Next-door neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) helps keep things ticking, and it's not long before Lewis suspects something is up with his weird uncle.

Uncle Jonathan comes clean about being a wizard, and it's here that the story both kicks in to gear and, oddly, the movie loses a bit of its oomph as it unveils a complicated plot about another wizard and his plans to destroy the world, which will happen when that gigantic clock somewhere in the house winds down.  The more we learn about Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), the wizard who used to live in the house, and how Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman fit into the history, the less interesting the movie gets.

Yet, it remains at all times supremely entertaining thanks to the work of its three leads, who have wonderful on-screen chemistry.  Black and Blanchett bicker and argue in the way of couples whose love has moved way beyond lust and into real fondness, and Vaccaro brings emotional dimension to his role as a suddenly orphaned, socially awkward youngster who is eager to find his own voice.

There's a delightfully wicked sense of humor at the heart of this movie, which may prove to be too scary for some of the little kids -- which is nicely in keeping with the movie's general assumption that kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for being; they can handle surprises and scares and jolts (and there are a few) if they're in service to a larger story that engages them, and The House with a Clock in its Walls is always engaging.

The director is a surprise: Eli Roth, who's better known for extreme, graphic, brutal horror movies like Hostel and Cabin Fever. With this film, Roth shows impressive flair behind the camera and restraint in his approach; there's some horror here, but it's all for fun. It's a stylish movie, and a great-looking one, but what's really surprising is how the film is suffused with unexpected qualities like kindness and patience.

It goes a little bonkers toward the end, but it also is filled with sweet and gentle grace notes, like a scene in which Mrs. Zimmerman and Uncle Jonathan argue with fierce passion, ending with a deeply moving revelation about the hard job of being a parent. It's also got some sweet and insightful things to say about being different, about the importance of not fitting in.

In many ways, The House with a Clock in its Walls recalls one of the best and most off-kilter family films ever made, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which also combines magic and enchantment with some sharp and cutting observations of the world and some tough but true lessons about life and its disappointments.

They're lessons kids need to learn, sometimes the hard way. The House with a Clock in its Walls is a lovingly crafted reminder that some of the lessons are still being taught to us when we're adults and old enough that we should probably know better, but all too often don't.

Viewed September 20, 2018 -- DGA Theater


Sunday, September 16, 2018

"A Simple Favor"


Two strangers agree to swap murders. An old woman kills a lost traveler. A hated rich man is found dead on a train. The best murder mysteries are simple to describe and extraordinarily complex to explain, yet elegantly simple once they are unraveled. You should have seen them coming.

A Simple Favor meets two of the criteria so well that it's frustrating to see the fall so short of the third in its critical final act. The trouble isn't so much that the movie should have been better than it is, it's that most of it is so much better than it turns out to be.

Here's the setup: Two moms -- one perfect (Anna Kendrick) and one far from it (Blake Lively) -- become best friends, and just as they start goading each other to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets, one of them disappears into thin air.

How? Where? Why? It's high-powered New York City fashionista and PR director Emily who disappears and seemingly simple, Polly Perfect single mom Stephanie who is left behind and turns herself into Nancy Drew (or maybe Veronica Mars) to get to the bottom of what happened.  Meanwhile, there's Emily's slightly less-than-distraught husband Sean (Henry Golding), who seems to have equally less-than-noble intentions, while his young son Nicky starts insisting with increasing certainty that he's seen Emily lurking around.

There's a lot going on here, and the script by Jessica Sharzer (based on a novel by Darcey Bell) is not afraid to come right out and name-check both Diabolique and Gaslight. You've got to be pretty confident to reference movies of that caliber, and for a great long time, director Paul Feig is nothing if not confident.

Like his ridiculously good Spy, A Simple Favor is a comedy-genre mash-up that doesn't skimp on either: It excels at comedy, but its central story is legitimate and fulfilling. The murder-mystery at the heart of A Simple Favor is a good one, but can't be content to present a straightforward whodunit -- it wants to be a stylish, fashionable mystery that deals in the sort of twisty, unpredictable plots of thrillers like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, so it piles on revelation after revelation until it feels like a parody of itself, and not the good kind of parody.

It has a great premise and an extraordinarily complicated explanation -- but try to piece it all together in your head afterward, and most if it won't make any sense.

At just about the time it should be shocking us, A Simple Favor becomes a bit of a head-scratcher. There's one scene in particular set in a cemetery that is no doubt intended as a triple-twist jaw-dropper but ends up as a weird eleventh-hour head-scratcher: Why is that person saying those things, and why does the other person seem so unbothered? And when the final moments of the movie attempt some ironic humor, it comes at the expense of logic and fulfillment: Shouldn't that character face a much worse fate?

Most audience members (myself included) would benefit from a scorecard to keep track of all of the characters and their motives, and one utterly unnecessary detour that attempts some odd combination of Gothic melodrama and mild character humor falls entirely flat.

So, why recommend A Simple Favor? That's easy: Kendrick and Lively, who are pitch perfect in everything they do, even managing to pull off the over-the-top ending.  But it's the beginning that matters most, and these two actresses radiate such chemistry on screen that they need to be cast again in something even better.  They lift A Simple Favor in remarkable ways: funny, smart, knowing, ironic, sincere, clever, biting, daring, even shocking, they are the reason to see -- and to recommend -- A Simple Favor.

Viewed September 15, 2018 -- AMC Burbank 16


Sunday, September 9, 2018

"The Nun"


God help anyone who sees The Nun.

Someone, somewhere must have committed an awful sin to result in The Nun, because sitting through it certainly is a major act of penance. I'll take Our Fathers and Hail Marys anytime over a punishment this severe.

The Nun is related to The Conjuring, but then again The Exorcist II: The Heretic was related to The Exorcist, and this movie is almost as bad as the notoriously awful 1977 sequel in which Linda Blair tap danced while Richard Burton looked ready to die from embarrassment.  About the only good news is that as far as "horror" movies go, The Nun isn't quite that bad, but it's pretty awful all right.

There are lots of scenes in The Nun. There is a lot of music. Also, the movie must have had the biggest dry-ice budget of any film in recent years.

The scenes don't fit together. The music doesn't match the scenes. The dry ice, however, is effectively used.

My favorite scene with the dry ice is when a handsome young foreigner living in Romania -- he speaks French and is even called "Frenchy," a name no movie that doesn't include the word Grease in its title should be allowed to use -- is whistling in the dark through a creepy cemetery.  He lights his way with a lantern.  The dry-ice smoke swirls menacingly around his feet.  And the whole thing is about as scary as it was back in the 1930s, when a scene like this was already long in the tooth.

It worked in Young Frankenstein because it was silly and had no intention of being scary.  It doesn't work in The Nun, when it wants to be scary and doesn't succeed at being silly, either.  Nothing in The Nun is scary, especially not all those scenes.

Let me explain for a moment about these scenes.  In a typical movie, they flow together in a more or less linear chronology, forming the film's narrative, the story that propels the action forward.  Not so in The Nun.  In this movie, the scenes relate to each other only in the loosest possible way -- they might contain the same characters, for instance, or those characters might say a few words that were previously spoken in the movie. But mostly the scenes seem to have been shot out of order, then edited together in an equally random way, in the vain hope that somehow they might end up creating a plot.

The basic structure is: A nun watches in horror as another nun is violently assaulted after she enters a door marked, helpfully (I guess), "God ends here." Quite a door to have anywhere, much less an abbey.  The nun who watched then commits suicide.  Frenchie (who, by the way, isn't French, he's -- wait for it -- French-Canadian) finds the body. Later, the Vatican decides to investigate, calling in a priest (Demián Bichir) who specializes in particularly loud and bass-heavy exorcisms. He is paired with a postulant nun (Taissa Farmiga, sister of Vera, who starred in the original Conjuring). The nun is chosen because she has visions.

They go to Romania. Frenchie takes them to the abbey.  He flirts with the young nun. He walks through a cemetery. He sees scary nun violence. The priest gets buried alive. The young nun manages to find him. They suspect maybe there is something bad going on. They split up to investigate further. The priest finds some weird books. The nun keeps seeing scary things. Awful things happen. From time to time, The Nun of the title (originally seen in the first Conjuring movie) pops up.

There are a lot of very loud sound effects to emphasize how scary it is. Eventually, everyone gets around to talking about a gateway to hell and imply that the hatred and violence of World War II somehow opened it up. Now, it's open again. That's why The Nun with the sharp teeth and pancake makeup keeps popping up.

See, the thing is, she isn't really a nun.  Whaaaaaaaaaaa?  She's evil!  Evil I tell you!  And she must be stopped!

Frenchie comes back, this time with a shotgun.  The young nun, who has come to Romania carrying only a tiny suitcase, finds a full nun habit to don and then decides she wants to take her vows, so just when they should be trying to close the gate to hell, everyone stops to watch her become a nun.

The Sound of Music was playing a couple of theaters down from where I saw The Nun, and I cannot lie, I wondered how these nuns would have solved a problem like Maria.  Likely with lots and lots of blood and even more dry ice.  And yet, I've gotta tell you, the scariest scream from The Nun is nothing compared with the cold and icy stare of The Baroness.  I'm pretty sure she could have closed that gate to hell with just one sharp word and left the demons feeling woefully inadequate.

The gate to hell closes.  The movie ends. There is a quick coda that flash forwards 20 years in which Frenchie, now apparently happily repatriated to his Canadian home, is seen as the subject of a study by psychics Ed and Lorraine Warren, so I guess the plan is to somehow relate stories back to the couple that started it all.  At best, it's a loose connection, but then, the whole movie is a loose connection, so it fits the mold.

The Nun left me wondering exactly how a movie about a young nun trying to close the gate of hell in an ancient castle in Romania could turn it to be bad.  How could you possibly botch that?  But they did, and how.  The Nun isn't merely awful; it's the worst movie of 2018.

Viewed Sept. 9, 2018 -- AMC Burbank 16