"Incarnate" is the latest from horror factory Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind the "Saw" and "Purge" franchises. I shared my screening with only one other person, an older gentleman who fell asleep about a third of the way through then left before it ended. I wonder which of us enjoyed the movie less. This is a ninety minute eye roll with fewer scares than I have fingers to a hand and hokey "thrills" more deserving of a Direct-to-DVD bargain bin than the big screen. It is so limp and lifeless a film that I can't muster up the give-a-damn to hate it. It has all the impact of wind broken on an elevator: deeply unpleasant but forgotten the moment the doors open and you go about your day.

The premise is familiar. A powerful demon possesses 11-year old Cameron and the Vatican consults Dr. Seth Ember to give it the boot. But in a twist on the typical formula, Ember is not a priest but a man of science. His work is eviction, not exorcism! Demons aren't hellspawn, they're just like any ol' malignant parasitic energy! Rather than compelling the demon with crucifixes and holy water and all that religious mumbo-jumbo, Ember evicts from within by using his aura to "dive" into the victim's mind - you know, with science! - where he punches the demon in the face while he convinces the possessed to reject the demon by jumping through a window.

An updated formula is still a formula though, and despite the pseudoscientific additions there are no surprises as "Incarnate" explains the convoluted logic and arbitrary rules of its poorly conceived "Inception" knockoff over pages and pages of clumsy exposition that both bore and hint at every plot twist and dramatic turn in painfully obvious ways. I may not be able to articulate why Ember's "dives" can only last eight minutes, but I sure as hell knew how the movie would end within twenty.

On the subject of the script, it's amazing to see talented actors struggle with such miserable material. The writing is incredibly bad. Conversations consist of a series of escalating clich├ęs delivered with all the dramatic nuance of an afternoon soap. "That's why I'm the only chance you've got." "I'm the one she wants!" and so forth, endlessly. I actually made a game of guessing a characters' next line. It was a depressingly easy game to win.

I'm willing to give the cast a pass on their performances because the characters aren't written as flesh-and-blood humans. The actors are never given an opportunity to explore their characters beyond a single defining trait or part. Take Ember. He clearly had a falling out with the Catholic Church at some point and more importantly has personal beef with the demon possessing Cameron. But he is written as a generic gruff badass who never shows vulnerability, so Eckhart grunts and grumbles his way into through a bland performance. Mazouz, whose work on "Gotham" is quite good, plays the stereotypical possessed child. He does exactly the things you'd expect and nothing you wouldn't. Boring. "Game of Thrones" veteran Carice van Houten plays Cameron's mother and is reduced to staring at a screen saying very worried-sounding things. Ugh.

At one point "Incarnate" winks at itself, joking that it avoids the spinning heads and vomit that are so typical of the genre. But in directly referencing "The Exorcist," the film drives home how lessor a copy it is, stripped of compelling themes like loss of self, faith and doubt. It portrays possession through digitally-deepened voices and red contact lenses, positively G-rated compared to Regan MacNeil's shocking transformation. Exorcism itself - sorry, eviction - is reduced to a couple of lame action sequences; there is nothing as compelling as the deeply personal struggles of Fathers Merrin and Karras. It's not even scary! I counted a total of three jump scares that were so telegraphed I actually become annoyed waiting for them to hit.

Well, it got my six bucks anyway. After the credits rolled, I processed the movie over pizza and decided to compare my notes with a few reviews by professional critics. The first one I pulled up suggested that a sequel could be really good. As I read, a chill ran down my spine.

Finally, "Incarnate" managed a scare.

Score: 1.5/5

'Twas the month of ol' Christmas and all through the cines,
Twelve* new releases for twelve bucks plus pennies.
The posters were hung by box office with care,
In hopes that some patrons would spend their cash there.

The audience nestled all snug in their seats,
snacking on popcorn and sodas and treats.
While my wife and her husband, your blogger most true,
Wracked brains over choices like which movies to do.

From YouTube the trailers arose with such clatter,
now posted below with my thoughts on the matter.
Watch and enjoy them, maybe comment below
Then it's off to the pictures to enjoy a show!

*As always this covers films nationwide only,
Poor limited-screen runs will likely feel lonely.
But frankly those movies are too hard to track,
So get off my back, man, and cut me some slack!

In Theaters Dec 2


At a Glance: When professionals fail to expel the demon possessing her 11-year old son, a mother turns to an unconventional exorcist who plans to enter his mind and face the evil there.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: Nothing says "happy holidays" quite like a ho-ho-horrible horror movie! If  "The Exorcist" and "Inception" had a shitty, unlovable baby, this would be it. I'll probably still check it out because it has Baby Bruce from "Gotham" and Two-Face from the Nolan Batman films because of my weird fan loyalty to all things Batman. I really like Batman.

In Theaters Dec 9

Office Christmas Party

At a Glance: To save their failing branch, two managers plan to impress a must-land client with an epic office party that, of course, spirals out of control.

Why I'm (Sorta Kinda) Excited: Did you see last year's "Sisters?" It was a pretty standard but entertaining house party movie that also came out around Christmas. Swap the house for an office and this looks like the same thing. More of the same may not be high art but it isn't the worst way to spend ninety minutes. Besides, the cast looks good, I guess.

Miss Sloane

At a Glance: This political thriller pits Elizabeth Sloane, a determined and successful lobbyist, against her most dangerous foe in a battle over gun control legislation.

Why I'm Excited: "Miss Sloane" released a few weeks ago in New York and Los Angeles to generally positive reviews, but Jessica Chastain's performance has received near universal praise. As an added bonus, the movie is enraging gun nuts by merely existing. A game: can you guess which of these zero or half star audience reviewers actually watched the movie? Hint: Probably none!

Nocturnal Animals

At a Glance: A woman receives a manuscript from her long-divorced ex-husband. As she reads the dark and violent novel, she finds herself again confronting their troubled relationship.

Why I'm Excited: This looks like everything I wanted "The Girl on the Train" to be and has a killer cast to boot. Like "Miss Sloane," this got a head start release in NY/LA and has gotten pretty positive reception. I haven't seen a good thriller in theaters since "10 Cloverfield Lane" in March. I'd love for this to break the dry spell.

In Theaters Dec 16

Collateral Beauty

At a Glance: A man grapples with his daughter's tragic death by writing letters to Love, Time, and Death, each of whom answer in person to help him again find meaning.

Why I'm (Naively) Excited: Okay, the trailer plays out like an Oscar-bait version of Scrooge's three ghastly visitors but I admit that it struck a chord with me. That said, despite the phenomenal cast and the director's reasonably solid track record, screenwriter Allan Loeb's filmography can be charitably described as terrible. Mixed signals clouding my judgement on this one.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

At a Glance: Bridging the original and prequel "Star Wars" trilogies, "Rogue One" tells the story of the band of rebels tasked with stealing the plans for the Empire's planet-killing superweapon, the Death Star.

Why I'm (Super Hella) Excited: You're kidding, right? It's a damn "Star Wars" movie. I don't care that there were massive reshoots and rewrites that culminated in an entirely new ending. I don't care that Disney executives were afraid that the movie didn't fit the tone of the franchise. I don't care that idiot losers are pooping themselves online that everything is ruined due to its female protagonist. It's "Star Wars." Day one, nerds.

La La Land

At a Glance: Chasing their dreams in Los Angeles, an aspiring actress and a down-on-his-luck musician meet and fall in love in this homage to the big musicals of old.

Why I'm (Singing I'm So) Excited: Damien Chazelle, the creative mind behind "La La Land," is also responsible for one of my favorite films of 2014: "Whiplash." This has been making the film festival circuit all year and to say the critical reception has been positive would be understatement - raving is probably closer to the mark. This will be a contender when Academy Award voting starts.

In Theaters December 21

Assassin's Creed

At a Glance: A condemned criminal is plucked from death row by a mysterious corporation and forced to participate in an experiment that lets him relive the memories of his ancestor, an Assassin locked in battle against the Templars during the Spanish Inquisition.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: I enjoy the Assassin's Creed games despite the ridiculous premise that you inherit your ancestor's memories through DNA. Even so, this is a video game movie and our first rule is "Never Get Excited About A Video Game Movie." Low expectations can only be met or surpassed!


At a Glance: A ship transporting thousands of colonists to a distant world malfunctions, waking two of the passengers 90 years early.

Why I'm Excited: I love small cast films, and I love the isolating things-aren't-what-they-seem premise that seems to be displayed in the trailer, though I am concerned that the trailer lays too many story beats out.


At a Glance: A koala hosts a singing competition hoping to save his failing theater, drawing entrants who seek to live their dreams and escape from disappointing lives.

Why I'm Excited: "Song Covers: The Movie" may not break any new ground but I trust Illumination Entertainment to deliver warm, family-friendly holiday fare. This is the only animated feature coming out this month and given the studio's track record it's probably safe to say this will be somewhere between fine and good.

In Theaters December 23

Why Him?

At a Glance: A father becomes locked in a holiday rivalry with his daughter's wild boyfriend.

Why I'm Excited: The trailers just don't do anything for me. The humor seems obvious and easy. However! I'm going to keep an open mind because the director, who also did work on the screenplay, is responsible for writing some pretty good comedies like "Meet the Parents" and "I Love You, Man." Trailers are edited separately from movies (hence our refrain to always judge a movie yourself: "Trailers Lie") so I'm hoping for a Christmas miracle.

In Theaters December 25


At a Glance: Based on the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning drama, "Fences" revolves around an African-American man raising his family against the backdrop of 1950s race relations.

Why I'm Excited: There's a lot working in "Fences" favor. The award-winning play's author returned to adapt the film to screen and the film is bolstered by a proven cast in Denzel Washington (also directing) and Viola Davis. Since it's early screenings, "Fences" has gotten a lot of critical attention, nominated for best picture/film at both the Critic's Choice and Satellite Awards. Like "La La Land," expect this to pop again when Oscar nominations are announced next month.

And that's it for 2016! What a year! What are you most excited to see this month?

On the way to the car after our screening of "The Girl on the Train," I peppered my wife, a fan of the novel, with questions. Not about differences between the book and the film, but about how the book had made her feel. What was the its tone? Its most shocking moments? Was it page turner or a slow simmer? I asked because, leaving the theater without the benefit of my own read-through, I had no idea what kind of movie "The Girl on the Train" was supposed to be. Whatever the marketing positioned it as - a "Gone Girl"-like edge-of-your-seat thriller, a twisty-turny whodunit - it isn't. "The Girl on the Train" meanders, weightless, never able to conjure the atmosphere or tension that engrossed readers.

It's not the source's fault. From what I gleaned while interrogating my poor wife, Paula Hawkins' novel is suspenseful and compelling, a missing-person mystery that unfolds through the competing perspectives of the three women tangled together at its center. Rachel, lost in a self-destructive spiral brought on by her now ex-husband's affairs. She relives her old life in pantomime, faithfully taking the train to and from the job she lost a year ago, when the drinking got too bad. She sucks down vodka until the day ends in blackout.

As the days tick by on her aimless commute, Rachel becomes fixated on a young woman, scenes from whose seemingly perfect love life voyeuristic-ally play out from windows and balconies. Broken and obsessed, Rachel invents entire lives for these strangers, naming them and telling herself stories about their perfect happiness together. In a cruel twist of fate, just a few doors down lives Anna, the woman who replaced Rachel in the home she once called hers, married to the man she never got over.

Rachel's dysfunction passes for normal until, to her horror, she spies her mystery woman making love to another man. Her fantasies shattered, wounded by the sting of her own rejection, and thoroughly intoxicated, Rachel decides to confront her but blacks out. She awakens the next morning, bloodied, to find that the woman - Megan - is missing. It's a great set up for a better film than is delivered here. The problem is all in the execution.

Like the book, the film jumps around in time and between the three woman to slowly reveal each piece of the lie-ridden puzzle connecting these characters. Independently, each scene is (more or less) competently constructed but the whole is directionless, structured with no sense of dramatic tension. What are presumably meant as big revelations seem barely shrug worthy. It's a thriller! You should not be asking yourself if you're supposed to be surprised!

Perhaps part of the problem is a lack of rising stakes. Emily Blunt's performance as the deeply disturbed and pitiable Rachel is fantastic (she's rightly been praised in even the most negative reviews), but the character almost never feels threatened. For example, detectives pop up a few times to accuse Rachel of murder and then vanish until the end of the film. The noose never feels like it's tightening; she's never really in danger of prison. Contrast that with Ben Affleck's character in "Gone Girl." Suspicion had consequences. Here it doesn't.

Without the atmosphere or tension of a solid thriller, "The Girl on the Train" is left with drama between its characters. It's hit or miss. Depictions of Rachel's interactions with her ex-husband or his new wife border on stalking and are the strongest, while a side plot involving Rachel and Megan's husband stretches belief. Most of the characters are one-note; their scenes focus on their singular traits on repeat. Anna doesn't trust Rachel. Megan is a troubled sex-fiend. 

"The Girl on the Train" does eventually find its legs near the end, but it's too little too late, managing to be surprising but not very satisfying by the time the credits start to roll. Ironically, the credits are where I got my first and only real shock - that Danny Elfman had composed the film's excellent and very un-Elfman-like score. 

I wanted to like "The Girl on the Train" more than I did. Maybe it fell victim to its own marketing. Maybe my expectations were off. In the end, "The Girl on the Train" may be a good example for those who believe in reading books before seeing their adaptations. The film is not a successful edge-of-your-seat thriller, but fans of the book may not care. Unlike me, they'll know what the twists are and when they're coming and hey, there's something to be said for anticipation. 

Score: 2.5/5

Welcome to the trailer round-up, where we do a quick run-down of each nationwide release hitting theaters and jump to ill-founded conclusions based entirely on their trailers, production news, and cast/crew! Always remember that trailers lie and are rarely indicative of a film's quality, so don't let anything said here stop you from seeing a movie - I certainly won't!

It's the start of Oscar season so you bet your ninny we've got novel adaptations and biopics! This month we have twelve films to preview.

In Theaters October 7

The Girl on the Train

At a Glance: Rachel Watson, life shattered by a messy divorce, finds comfort in alcohol and fantasies about a couple she sees from the train. After a night of heavy drinking, Rachel awakens to learn that the mystery woman has gone missing and that she is the prime suspect.

Why I'm Excited: This is basically "Gone Girl, Gone Harder" right? I liked that movie back in 2014, maybe I'll still like it in 2016! But seriously, reviews have started to come in and this movie is splitting critics with audiences reacting a little more favorably. I've avoided most of the new trailers and all reviews so I can give this a fair shake.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

At a Glance: Another adaptation! Rafe is the new kid in school, and quickly finds that his imagination and personality clash with the rigid, rules-oriented principal. After his cherished sketch book is destroyed, Rafe and friends plan an operation to break every school rule and get back at the overbearing faculty.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: Maybe it's the way the trailer is cut, but this seems like a C-tier Disney Channel Original movie. I freely admit that as a former middle school teacher I may be biased.

The Birth of a Nation

At a Glance: "The Birth of a Nation" is based on the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who became the leader of an armed slave rebellion in 1831.

Why I'm (Conflicted-ly) Excited: I've had this on my radar since it wowed the Sundance Film Festival in January. "The Birth of a Nation" grapples with a dark and powerful chapter of America's history, but at this point is impossible to see without consideration of director and star Nate Parker's own past. His recent inartful response to questions about a resurfaced 1999 rape charge (of which he was acquitted) has sparked backlash and put a cloud over the film's portrayal of a violent sexual assault. Co-star Gabrielle Union, herself a victim of sexual assault, wrote a thoughtful column in which she discusses the allegations but describes the film and the conversation around it as important. In that spirit, I'd like to see it, but it will be harder than usual to separate art from artist.

In Theaters October 14

The Accountant

At a Glance: There's not much plot to be gleaned from the trailer, so here's what IMDB says: "As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise."

Why I'm Excited: The cast, mostly. The trailer avoids spelling the story out, so let's turn to IMDB to make some educated guesses. The director has made some great movies, but the writer has two previous writing credits, both duds, one of which was described by a critic as "obvious Oscar bait" (maybe not his fault; a terrible movie could have a great script). Still, it is the start of Oscar fishing season. I'm holding out hope that this is more.

Max Steel

At a Glance: The first in a coming flood of post-"Lego Movie" toy-to-film adaptations, "Max Steel" follows the adventures of ordinary teen Max as he learns to use his amazing powers with the help of his robot friend Steel.

Why I'm (Not) Excited: You watched the trailer, right? This is a phase one Marvel movie if those were dull, colorless, and lacked a beloved franchise anchor. Uninspired. Generic. Boring. Were the people really clamoring for this?


At a Glance: A group of migrants illegally crossing the United States border are hunted by a murderous vigilante.

Por Eso Que Estoy Excitado: This is nakedly political horror and I love it. The trailer is really well cut, though the movie itself has gotten mixed reviews over its international run. Please note, this is a Mexican film and may only be available in limited release.

In Theaters October 21

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

At a Glance: Jack Reacher returns to unravel a conspiracy inside the government after this former unit leader is charged with treason.

Why I'm Excited:  Reacher is the clear second stringer to Tom Cruise's other, bigger, better franchise, "Mission: Impossible," but still could deliver enough to be worth the price of admission. Cruise may be bat-shit crazy but he's also America's Action Star, undeniably talented and a blast to watch on screen.

Keeping  Up With the Joneses

At a Glance: Jeff and Karen Gaffney are an average suburban couple thrown into the middle of a battle of spies when their new neighbors, the Joneses, turn out to be more than they seem.

Why I'm (Not) Excited:  The trailer covers a lot of ground, none of which feels particularly new or inspired; I've seen it called a cross between "Date Night" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." The cast is good and director Greg Motolla's previous work has been solid ("Superbad," "Adventureland"). Still, comedies are very hit-or-miss and keeping expectations low has historically served me well.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

At a Glance: ::holding a flashlight to face:: A long time ago, in 2014, a film called "Ouija" terrified audiences everywhere with it's shocking twist ending: the realization that they had spent real money to see bad garbage. Two years and $100 million dollars later, it returns to again steal cash from unsuspecting movie-goers who should really know better! OooooOOOOOoooOOOoooohhh!!!

Why I'm (Twist Incoming) Excited: Okay I'm not actually excited, but "Ouija: Origin of Evil" has had a much more stable production history than it's predecessor. The original suffered from problems with its financing, production studios backing out and then rejoining, and the original cut of the film screened so poorly that according to star Olivia Cooke more than half the film was completely re-written and re-shot. There's zero chance this is nearly as bad as that mess.

Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween

At a Glance: Tyler Perry's Madea 9: Ninety Minutes of References to Other, Better Movies

Why I'm (Spookily Not) Excited: Trailers are often guilty of showing a movie's funniest moments. Is this the best of "Boo?" What a depressing thought. They show the same joke twice (punching the clown) and I groaned aloud at the "Saw" reference. But hey, these movies are cheap to make and easily make at least $50 million a pop, so what do I know?

In Theaters October 28


At a Glance: The third film adaptation of Dan Brown's Langdon series, "Inferno" stars Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon, who awakens in a hospital with no memories of a heist he appears to have carried out. As Langdon hunts for clues to unlock the truth, he finds himself on the heels of a global threat.

Why I'm Ambivalent: These movies are popular but I haven't seen any of them. Trailer looks silly in a goofy fun, "National Treasure" sort of way.

American Pastoral

At a Glance: A middle class family is torn apart as their daughter embraces violent political radicalism in the 1960s. This is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Philip Roth and is star Ewan McGregor's directorial debut.

Why I'm Excited: Of all the trailers in this month's round-up, this is probably my favorite. It's very well put together. I hadn't heard of this before and now I'm definitely intrigued. That said, early reviews have not been great; the film has a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes with 8 reviews. But as always, we end our round-up with optimism! Only 8 reviews means there's room for that score to go up, up, UP!

Thanks for checking out this month's movie preview! What are you most looking forward to seeing this October? Sound off in the comments!

There is a character in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" who can bring toys to life and reanimate the dead. The effect is temporary and a crude imitation of life, magical puppetry by which a shell can serve a purpose before disappearing without consequence. I enjoyed my time with Miss Peregrine and her students, but I can't shake the feeling that they (and because so the film itself) are similarly superficial - fantastical and weird but singularly defined by peculiarity to the point of having no meaningful character at all. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Jake, a perfectly ordinary (or is he?) teen who once dreamt of exploring the world but now stocks shelves in a bland Floridian suburb is thrown into emotional crisis after the sudden, violent death of his grandfather, whose stories about a Miss Peregrine's home for incredible children and the monsters that hunted them seem to be wrecking havoc on his psyche. His psychiatrist suggests that a trip to the children's home may help Jack separate fact from fiction and give him closure, so it's off to Wales with Jake and his distant dad, who sees in Jake's journey an opportunity for a vacation of his own.

There Jake is disappointed to find Miss Peregrine's children's home destroyed, the victim of Nazi bombs dropped long ago. But as he explores the ruins, he finds himself being watched by none other than the supposedly long-dead children from his grandfather's stories. These are the peculiars, children with gifts that range from the amazing (starting fire with a touch) and the bizarre (a boy with bees living inside him) to the useless (one boy can project his dreams through his eye for others to see). Think of them as an assortment of the X-Men's C-team backbenchers. They haven't aged a day - and can't - because they live in a time loop courtesy of Miss Peregrine, the pipe-smoking, no-nonsense matron whose powers of time manipulation have safely sealed them away in a single, endlessly repeating day in 1943, a necessary precaution to protect them from the monstrous hollows, grotesque science experiments gone wrong who prey on the eyes of peculiars.

You might wonder at how these children would handle such isolating conditions or the prospect of an unchanging, futureless eternity. I certainly did; it's a necessary but steep sacrifice for basic safety. But aside from one or two lines, "Miss Peregrine's" backs away from this entirely. This may seem a nit-picky complaint about a children's movie, but the film consistently puts interesting or difficult issues on the table and then ignores them completely. Take as another example the strained relationship between Jake and his father (perhaps mirroring that shared by his father and grandfather), highlighted throughout the first half of the film and then abruptly discarded when his father simply disappears from the movie. No growth. No lessons learned. Just gone. The film is ripe for some (any) emotional development, and especially as a PG-13 it's fair to expect exploration of some (or any) of the issues it puts on the table.

But as I said, I did enjoy the movie. At least on its surface, "Miss Peregrine's" is a colorful and fun adventure. I smiled more than a few times and found myself chuckling each time Bronwyn, the diminutive strong-girl of the group, pushed the bigger boys out of the way to get a job done right. It won't matter to kids that most of these characters are paper thin, or that relationships develop not organically on-screen but because the script demands it. But it could have meant more, and that's frustrating.

I'd be remiss not to mention a few stand-out performances. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is a delight; the character's brilliantly realized, from her costume and wild blue-streaked hair to the quiet fury in any one of Green's glares; this is not a lady to mess with. Asa Butterfield's resolutely boring Jake is clearly batting above his average next to Elle Purnell, who ironically imbues light-as-air Emma Bloom with the most weighty performance of any character. And of course, the always wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, whose villainous Dr. Barron has a blast as he chews through scenery, although there is something a icky about the only black character playing the role of threatening menace to a group of innocent white children, especially in light of director Tim Burton's incredibly tone deaf comments on the subject.

All in all, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is a perfectly entertaining family adventure well-timed for the Halloween season. Younger viewers will love the fantastic world as imagined by Burton (he's very much in his wheelhouse) and there are enough thrills to keep older viewers engaged. It isn't deep or moving, but sometimes all you need is fun.

Score: 3.5/5
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