Friday, July 22, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Loving and Lights Out

Generally speaking, the only way a film has been released by July and possesses some serious Oscar potential, is if it premiered at the prestigious Canned Film festival. All of the above hold true for a director I've long vouched for and respected, Jeff Nichols, and his powerful dramatic release, Loving. The film centers around a real life civil rights struggle, the type of story that makes Academy members salivate, making it completely understandable why the film has been handed the "Oscar contender" label.

Once Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) discovers that his African American girlfriend, Mildred (Ruth Negga), is pregnant with their interracial child, the couple ventures to Washington, D.C. to obtain a marriage license. Yet, when they return to their small town Virginia home, local law enforcement arrests them for violating state law that prohibits interracial marriage. Richard and Mildred embark on a long and tireless court battle for their own civil rights that goes all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

As a long time admirer of filmmaker Jeff Nichols, thanks to an impressive catalog that includes indie hits such as Take Shelter and Mud, words can hardly describe my eagerness to catch his first legitimate Oscar-contending feature. With Loving, Nichols stays true to his indie roots and wavers from any semblance of a main-stream vibe. He keeps the experience intimate and authentic, peeling off layers of his characters as their unfair and unjust punishment for true love unravels itself. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga both give soulful performances that could very well turn them into Oscar finalists. Negga feels like a safer bet for major recognition, as both the stronger character and female role. And while Loving is a sweet and moving civil rights tale, the story isn't filled with many compelling or iconic moments. Therefore, Loving plays as a painfully slow true story that's told with grace and respect, but very little entertainment value.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

As a lifelong horror fan, I was extremely excited for my advanced screening of the cleverly concocted new entry, Lights Out. Director David F. Sandberg's innovative horror premise began as a short film in 2013 that sparked enough interest to get the major motion picture treatment. Although Lights Out left me slightly disappointed, due in large part to my elevated expectations, the film still stands as a decent scary movie that ratchets up the tension with a masterful level of creativity.

Rebecca (Theresa Palmer) is a young and independent woman living on her own. But when she learns that her little brother is experiencing the same traumatic events she encountered as a child, the siblings seek to discover the secrets behind a dark entity that lives in the shadows of their mother's (Maria Bello) home.

Lights Out uses visual effects to perfection with its dark and creepy villainous character, Diana. However, between all the suspenseful shrieking moments of terror that occur once the lights fade, the film is riddled with sub-par acting and ineffective characters. Instead of rallying for a protagonist that earns a deep-rooted connection with the viewer, Lights Out merely offers solid scares and a respectful 81-minute running time that keeps its pacing adequate. Normally I'm very critical of Maria Bello and have accused her of serious over-acting in the past. Yet, she provides a valuable role that enhances authenticity to the film's otherwise pedestrian story. Lights Out comes with its deficiencies, but Sandberg's big screen debut accomplishes the first goal of any horror film release, to scare the audience.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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