Movie Review ~ Candyman (2021)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: For as long as the residents can remember, the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood were terrorized by the word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer known as Candyman, easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror. A decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, a visual artist’s chance encounter with a Cabrini Green old-timer exposes him to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind the Candyman, unleashing a terrifyingly viral wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with his destiny

Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Tony Todd, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Williams, Rebecca Spence, Kyle Kaminsky, Christiana Clark

Director: Nia DaCosta

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Even as the Delta Variant rages through the U.S. and hints of another shutdown begin to loom large, films that were delayed from a year ago are sliding into theaters and making their rescheduled dates and for that I’m grateful.  Of all the movies that were bumped around the calendar due to the original pandemic lockdown in 2020, I was most disappointed that producer Jordan Peele’s ‘spiritual sequel’ to 1992’s Candyman was affected because as a huge fan of the original I was looking forward to what Peele and director Nia DaCosta could do with this property.  More than that, I was intrigued to see what it was going to be in the first place.  We knew it wasn’t a remake, but was it a direct sequel, a stand-alone film, a re-imagining of Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” that inspired the first movie?  We had to wait a whole year to find out but Peele (Us) and DaCosta kept us engaged along the way with creative trailers and morsels of hints that showed more of the movie yet still didn’t reveal all of their cards.

As it turns out, this is one of those films that was well worth the wait.  A rare delight that pays service to fans of the original while addressing a new generation of devotees that have come onboard over the years (and maybe during this last year alone), DaCosta’s Candyman picks at the fabric lining the jewel box the 1991 movie was placed in and uses it to craft a horrific new garment all its own.  There’s a distinct voice present throughout that isn’t just Peele’s with its direct or indirect societal symbolism but a generational one that lives, works, fears, and loves in the environment DaCosta and her crew probe to terrific results.  That it manages to cover a lot of ground in such a short time frame without ever feeling rushed is a testament to efficiency on all levels.

The original Cabrini Green towers have long since been torn down but their dark history remains nightmare material only spoken about in hushed whispers or, better yet, not at all.  Now, new housing has been built on the same site and after a brief prologue set in the late ‘70s we meet two new tenants of the gentrified Cabrini.  Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq) and her artist boyfriend Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Aquaman) are settling into their new digs when Brianna’s brother (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, The Kid Who Would Be King) tells them the story of Helen Lyle, a grad student that went crazy after visiting Cabrini looking for an urban legend known as Candyman.  With a hook for a hand, the killer was said to haunt the projects and called Cabrini his home, but Helen took the investigation too far, becoming obsessed with her own research, killing numerous people, and abducting a small child that almost died at her hands before she was finally burnt alive.  Scary stuff that Brianna doesn’t want to know about. (But viewers of the original know the story isn’t quite accurate…)

Once stunted artistically, the terrifying tale inspires Anthony in surprising ways.  Researching Candyman by visiting the old part of the neighborhood and meeting a long-time resident (Colman Domingo, Without Remorse), he comes away with a new zeal for expression, just in time for an art show at the gallery Brianna works at.  The piece he creates is a mirror and he provides instructions on how to ‘call forth’ the Candyman by saying his name five times to your reflection.  One unfortunate soul does it, then another, and before you know it, bloody death is everyone around Anthony…but is he to blame for all the carnage or is he simply fulfilling a destiny that started long ago and was never truly finished?  Perhaps a visit to his mother Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) will explain it all…

Originally written as a short story set in London’s tenement neighborhoods, the director of the 1992 film wisely moved the action to Chicago’s projects and it gave the film some credibility as a statement on how communities create their own legends.  Sometimes it is to protect themselves from the evil that lurks within but often it can be to keep the more wicked outsiders from entering.  Peele, DaCosta, and co-screenwriter Win Rosenfeld latch onto that notion and run with it, exploring how the tale of Candyman has evolved overtime and why it’s possible that a society might need a Candyman just as much as he needs them to believe in him.  It’s surprisingly not as tangled or heady as it could have been and the script isn’t interested in making more out of it than that. 

I also appreciated that while this new Candyman is brutal in its violence, much of it is restrained and either shown at a distance or just offscreen.  After the last year, many of us have seen death firsthand and so anything we see portrayed on film could never been as disgusting or horrific as what we’ve witnessed real people, not actors, doing to each other.  When it’s appropriate, DaCosta lets the audience have it but there’s ample build up to get to those moments of bloodshed.  Accompanied by stellar production design from Cara Brower (Our Friend), unique cinematography by John Guleserian (Love, Simon), and a nerve-jangling score courtesy of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, all of the elements are there to keep you on the edge of your seat, breathless, waiting for the next shock to arrive.

There was a time when remakes of these old titles felt like betrayals of trust but when they’re handled with such intelligence and care like Candyman has been, I find that I can relax a little bit when the next one is announced and hope that future filmmakers learn a thing or two from it.  This is how you take a fan-favorite property and do something of your own with it, while at the same time allowing that previous film to live on (and thrive) because your film is equally as terrifying and well-crafted.  Sweets to the sweet is a famous bit of graffiti seen on the walls of Cabrini Green in the original film and that goes double for DaCosta and her crew.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Addams Family (2019)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Members of the mysterious and spooky Addams family are readily preparing for a visit from their even creepier relatives. But trouble soon arises when a shady TV personality realizes that the Addams’ eerie hilltop mansion is standing in the way of her dream to sell all the houses in the neighborhood.

Stars: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Elise Fisher

Director: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan

Rated: PG

Running Length: 87 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  I have to admit when it was announced an animated reboot of The Addams Family was on its way to theaters…it happened.  It was a long time coming and always inevitable…but it happened.  I turned into one of those people that suddenly became overly protective of what had come before, treating it as some precious commodity that was untouchable.  How could they think of making another movie without the likes of Angelica Huston, Christina Ricci, or the late Raul Julia?  And animated?  True, the two live-action films were cartoon-y in their own way and The Addams Family had already been seen on the small screen as colorful cells on Saturday mornings for young audiences but I just didn’t want this particular property messed with.  Plus, this world that was created by cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938 was so smartly macabre I wanted it kept the way it was and left uncorrupted.

After what seems like a long path to movie theaters, The Addams Family has arrived with excellent timing as a Halloween outing option, though I was dismayed to see numerous parents ushering their young tykes into Joker playing next door instead.  It’s a mixed bag of a movie with some good elements in the form of spirited vocal performances and a droll script with a good message of acceptance that has a few genuine laugh out loud lines.  On the other hand, the animation is particularly ugly and off-putting, which in some cases may have been the point but largely was just bad design.

Part origin story (which I quite liked), we see how The Addams Family made their way to live in an abandoned asylum on the top of a hill in New Jersey.  Gomez (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year, an excellent successor to Raul Julia) and Morticia (Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde, curiously less successful) have raised their children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz, Greta), and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard, The Goldfinch) in relative isolation, keeping them away from the rest of the world that was so cruel to them when they were young.  The family is preparing for a gathering of the entire Addams clan for Pugsley’s mazurka, a sword-dance his father has been trying to teach him that is of little interest to the mischievous imp.  Preferring to play with bombs instead of blades, father and son can’t quite connect on this important upcoming event.  At the same time, when a bubbly big-haired TV makeover host (Allison Janney, I, Tonya) comes knocking hoping to re-do the gloomy Addams manse to fit in with the entire town of Assimilation she has just made-over, Wednesday becomes more curious with life outside their small lot and asks Morticia to go school and not be “home caged” anymore, a request that causes the blood to drain into Morticia’s face, one of several funny visual gags.

The bulk of the film is taken up by these two competing storylines revolving around the children, with equal time given to both.  When the family begins to arrive and Pugsley gets put in the spotlight, it gives the animators room to create more peculiar Addams relations that would likely have pleased their original creator.  Though he seemed popular with the crowd when I saw the film, I could have done with far less of Uncle Fester…but maybe it was just the way Nick Kroll (Vacation) has voiced him like he has a numb tongue that started to grate on me after a while.  I got a kick out of Bette Midler (Hocus Pocus) as Grandma and you can judge for yourself if Snoop Dogg (Pitch Perfect 2) earns his credit for voicing Cousin Itt.  There’s plenty of visual flair to these larger animated scenes, aided a bit by the 3D upgrade I sprung for which added some extra depth to the expansive Addams mansion.

I just couldn’t quite get over how grotesque most of the animation so often looked.  Apart from The Addams Family who have their own ghoulish glow about them, the rest of the townspeople are all spindly legged monstrosities that are really off-putting.  Perhaps that’s what the team was going for, to show some parallels between the family and the townspeople that judge them but…I just don’t quite buy that easy out.  There’s just too many hastily rendered faces with eyes that are so close together you can count them as one and mouths that look like stop signs.  Speaking of disturbing, there’s far too many moments where sharp objects (arrows, swords) either enter the mouth, the head, or the back…it’s nearly all with Uncle Fester so it’s a gag but it was over-the-top for my taste.

In all honesty, I should have been able to let go a little more from the outset because so much time had passed between the last live-action film released theatrically (Addams Family Values in 1993) and this new one from directors Conrad Vernon (Kung Fun Panda 2) and Greg Tiernan (Sausage Party).  An entirely different generation has emerged and deserved being introduced to their own version of The Addams Family like I was back in 1991 when the first movie came out.  It inspired me to look back at the original television series and the original Charles Addams cartoons and might do the same for some kids today as well.  I’m glad this option is available in theaters now to encourage a family night out at the movies, parents can take their kids to this one without much concern.