Review of “Candyman”

The sweetness of candy is its biggest appeal. It offers very little in nutrition, only a sudden burst of glucose to the bloodstream that then requires an equal burst of insulin from the pancreas to allow it to be absorbed by cells to be used to power the body. If the body doesn’t need as much energy as the candy provides, the glucose is then converted to fat. Chocolate is said to generate similar chemical reactions in the brain as seeing someone we love or feeling in love. There is an entire holiday, evolved from honoring, remembering and trying to protect us from spirits of the dead, built around the collection of candy by little kids. It is a tender trap of immediate gratification and long-term consequences. I love candy, am obese and have Type II diabetes. There are genetic reasons that might be involved, but being largely sedentary and eating too many carbohydrates, some of them candy, has put me in this position. Candy can be a gift, but if abused, it becomes a curse. Much the same can be said about this week’s movie, the sequel to and reboot of, “Candyman.”

An artist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is struggling with finding the inspiration for his next series of paintings due to be shown in an upcoming installation. His girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) is the gallery director. His work largely centers around social injustice and equality, but the gallery owner Clive Privler (Brian King) says Anthony’s work is his past and not his future. Looking for inspiration, Anthony walks around the mostly abandoned Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago where he meets William Burke (Coleman Domingo), one of the few remaining residents of the project and the owner of a laundromat. Burke tells Anthony the urban legend of Candyman, a local hook-handed character named Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) that was accused of putting razor blades in candy he passed out to children in the neighborhood. Fields is beaten to death by cops, but the razor blades continued to show up in candy, meaning Fields was innocent. The legend goes, if you stand in front of a mirror and say “Candyman” five times, Burke will appear in your reflection and kill you. Inspired by this, Anthony begins a new series of paintings depicting violence in graphic ways. The paintings are displayed for the showing in a room behind a mirror with each patron given a handout that details the legend and instructions for summoning the violent specter of Candyman. Following the showing, violent, grizzly murders are carried out against people in Anthony’s life. Is he responsible? Is he going insane? Is he Candyman?

Horror superstar Jordan Peele co-wrote, along with director Nia DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld, the script for “Candyman.” Peele is also a producer. His involvement immediately put this film on my “must watch” list. I’d never seen the original “Candyman” from 1992 or either of its sequels, so I was curious about what kind of film I’d be getting into. With Peele being part of a larger creative team and it being based on a previous property, would “Candyman” be a rehash of 1990’s slasher/horror, or would this 21st Century take on the character introduce something new? The answer is a bit of both.

The story of “Candyman” makes good use of its brisk 91-minute run time to squeeze as much as possible out of the original story and add biting social commentary about POC displacement and gentrification. Being a white male, I squirmed in my seat more than once as the characters discuss the history of Cabrini Green and knocking down low-income housing to build condos the original residents can’t possibly afford. There are moments when it sounds like Peele and the writers are making comments about their own success and how they are separated from the financial struggles and experiences of most minorities in America. It’s one of the rare scripts with aspects of social commentary that turns the gaze back on itself and says, “I’m guilty of this too.” Overall, this take should make fans of the original film very happy as this is a direct sequel. It shares history and characters from the 1992 film with even a photo and voice cameo from Virginia Madsen, and Tony Todd makes a brief appearance. While I haven’t seen the original, I have read a plot synopsis. From that limited information, I believe this sequel should leave original “Candyman” fans pleased with this continuation of the story.
The film is frequently trying to keep you off balance. There are camera angles that cause you to lose your sense of placement in space. Are we looking up from street level or down from above the clouds? Is Anthony going insane, hallucinating, or is he carrying out these murders in a hypnotic state? Since the movie is questioning what’s reality and what’s fantasy, the audience is never quite sure. It’s a nice mixture to keep you one your toes.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is amazing in “Candyman.” You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he struggles for inspiration, then no one sees the work the way he does. His obsession with the work poisons his relationship with everyone around him, as the legend takes him over, both emotionally and physically. There appears to be a rot that travels up Anthony’s hand from where a bee stings him as he wonders around Cabrini Green. That rot is emblematic of what happens to Anthony’s mind as the movie continues. Abdul-Mateen makes Anthony a frantic victim, confused about his physical and mental changes and wondering where it will end. The audience aches for Anthony knowing he likely can’t escape a painful fate. Note: If you suffer from trypophobia, or the fear of clusters of small holes, you may want to avert your eyes from Anthony near the end of the film, or stare at him to overcome your aversion.

“Candyman” is rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references. All the murders committed on screen are bloody as Candyman uses his hook to rip out throats or otherwise impale his victims. We see and man’s arm sawed off. There are also two murders committed by cops on black men. The actual violence is done off screen. Sexual references are a couple talking about their upcoming coitus that is interrupted, and Brianna’s gay brother making mild sexual jokes. Foul language is infrequent.

“Candyman” delivers some quality kills but comes up a bit short on the scares. The film works hard to convince us all the victims deserve to die for being mean, callous, selfish and opportunist. His first appearance in the film is likely his best, stalking his victims and only appearing in reflection but still slashing throats and other body parts in the real world. Candyman becomes an anti-hero in this iteration. I would have liked a bit more tension and visceral fear, but the artistry and style director DaCosta brings to the project raises “Candyman” hook, head and shoulders above many other slasher films.

“Candyman” gets four out of five stars.

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Reviews of “A Beautiful Planet” and “Keanu”

A Beautiful Planet

Images of Earth taken from the International Space Station are the stars of “A Beautiful Planet,” a 3D film shot with IMAX cameras. Narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, “A Beautiful Planet” highlights the sights of majestic beauty and natural awe visible from 250 miles in orbit including the dancing lights of the auroras, the shining of manmade lights from major cities at night and the wonders of seeing mountain ranges like the Himalayas and the twisting course of rivers such as the Nile while zooming overhead at 17,000 miles per hour. Adding to the beauty of nature is the wonder of seeing it in IMAX 3D. The viewer can see how the clouds are floating above the landscapes and the snowcapped mountains tower over the valleys below. Films such as this one really show off the capabilities of the IMAX 3D format.

We also get a look inside the space station as the film was shot by the astronauts themselves. Life in the zero gravity environment of the ISS is obviously quite different than here on the surface; however, there are enough similarities to make it recognizable to the average earthling. The astronauts have various jobs to do including keeping track of where every piece of equipment is lest it float off and get lost. They work out on specialized exercise gear to reduce the muscle and bone loss inherent during long periods of weightlessness. They need to keep clean and we watch an astronaut washing his hair while spherical droplets of water cruise past the camera seemingly close enough to reach out and grab. While a bizarre way of life, the international crew members, from the US, Russia, Japan, Italy and numerous other countries around the world, are shown adapting to it and seeming to enjoy it. While incredibly dangerous and requiring getting used to the stomach-churning sensation of being in constant freefall, “A Beautiful Planet” makes living on the International Space Station seem almost fun.

What isn’t fun is Jennifer Lawrence’s narration. I’m sure she was told to deliver the script in this way; however, it sounds like she’s trying to explain calculus to third graders. Her slow and plodding style became distracting after a time. Considering the beauty of the images, that’s saying something. It required a certain amount of effort to ignore her and just focus on the screen as the islands of the Caribbean floated by or Paris lit up at night zoomed past.

“A Beautiful Planet” is rated G.

As someone deeply interested in science and the space program “A Beautiful Planet” is exactly the kind of movie I want to see. It shows what happens when countries put aside their political differences and work together to increase knowledge and the betterment of humanity. It also doesn’t hurt that NASA and the other space programs of the world give us incredible images of our planet…the only one known to possess intelligent life. I believe you should show your intelligence and see this film.

“A Beautiful Planet” gets five stars.

Keanu

Cousins Clarence and Rell (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) are extremely close. When Rell experiences are painful breakup with his girlfriend, Clarence heads over to comfort and support him. Before Clarence arrives, Rell hears scratching at his door. He opens it to find an adorable kitten he takes in and names Keanu. Having Keanu gives Rell a reason to live and focus his energy on other things besides his heartbreak. Clarence and Rell go out one night to see a movie. When they return, Rell’s home is in a shambles as someone has broken in, stolen some items and taken Keanu. Walking across the driveway to his weed dealers’ house, Rell asks Hulka (Will Forte) if he knows anything about the break in. Reluctantly, Hulka suggests it may have been a drug gang he’d started working with called the 17th Street Blips. Hulka tells Rell and Clarence the gang’s headquarters is at a strip club. Clarence and Rell head to the club to see if Keanu is there. Adopting thug personas, Clarence and Rell are introduced to the head of the 17th Street Blips, Cheddar (Method Man). He has Keanu but calls him New Jack. Bragging about how many people they’ve killed, Clarence are Rell are mistaken for a hitman duo called the Allentown Boys by Cheddar. Cheddar, impressed with the reputation of the faux-killers, asks if they can go with his crew, including Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), Trunk (Darrell Britt-Gibson), Bud (Jason Mitchell) and Stitches (Jamar Malachi Neighbors), on a drug run and show them how professionals work. In exchange for their help, Cheddar will give them Keanu, a.k.a. New Jack. Clarence does not want to be involved in drugs but Rell talks him in to it. What none of them know is Keanu has been through several different owners’ hands, none of them good people. The kitten’s past is going to catch up with all of them.

“Keanu” is a very funny movie. It hits a few lulls over its 98 minute run time but they are brief and the funny parts of the movie more than make up for the slower parts. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are two very funny comedian/actors that have proven their talents in everything from “Mad TV” to their own show on Comedy Central “Key and Peele” to a guest starring role on the first season of “Fargo.” Now that their show has wrapped up the talented duo can work on other projects and their first is “Keanu.” It is encouraging to see they are able to maintain a fairly thin premise for the duration of a whole movie. I’d love to see what they could do with something more complicated.

Key and Peele are chameleons, able to slip on various personas at the drop of a hat. They do that several times during “Keanu.” This may sound kind of mean but Key’s character in the film is about the whitest black man ever to appear on screen. Clarence loves George Michael music. That’s about all he listens to in his minivan. Yes, I said minivan. His hitman character actually turns that into a plus as he’s driving around with the gang members. Peele also modifies his character to fit whatever mood is required. Rell really wants Keanu back and uses all his hood/banger machismo to try and intimidate Cheddar. It kind of works but all backfires on him as well.

The story, while ridiculous, follows a fairly predictable arc. I was afraid it would fall into the trap of creating a love story where none needed to or could exist; but, Key and Peele are far too smart to be so mundane and they turn what looks like a possible romantic moment between Rell and Hi-C into a funny bit of business.

All of the gang characters are stereotypes of young people with bad family histories and not a great deal of education. While they are shown doing bad things from time to time, none of the secondary characters are so awful they can’t be likable. The exception to that is Cheddar who is just an all-around bad dude and he won’t give Keanu back to Rell. Method Man, while not a great actor, is very good as Cheddar. He has a believable hard edge that makes him an intimidating character.

Some might argue that, aside from Clarence and Rell, no person of color in the film is anything but a criminal. That occurred to me as I was watching the film and it troubled me a little bit. While the driving creative force of “Keanu” is a talent pair of African-Americans, most of the minorities in the film are shown as criminals. Does the fact that Key and Peele made the movie exempt them from criticism of stereotyping young black and Hispanic people as predisposed to becoming violent felons? I think it’s a question that deserves to be looked at.

Another problem I had with the film is it tends to lean too heavily and too long on a joke before moving on. One scene in particular involves Clarence and some of the gang members sitting in a van while Rell and Hi-C do a drug deal. The film cuts back and forth between Rell in the house and Clarence in the van trying to spin George Michael music on his phone into something the gang members would respect. Clarence creates a story about what a tough guy George Michael is and how he didn’t have a father growing up and suggest he killed former Wham bandmate Andrew Ridgeley. It takes some time, too long in my opinion, before he has the guys in the van singing along with Michael. It eventually works out to be a somewhat funny scene but could have been better if it had been a little shorter.

“Keanu” is rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity. There are a couple of shootouts along with individual shootings and threats of shootings and stabbings. Gore is minimal and is largely limited to a couple of pools of blood and a hole shot through a character’s hand. Drugs are shown being used in various forms. Topless stripers are visible briefly for a couple of scenes both on a stage and in a dressing room. Foul language is common throughout the film.

While the film is silly and unbelievable in all aspects, “Keanu” is still a fun way to kill 98 minutes (stay to the end of the credits for a brief bonus scene suggesting a possible sequel). Key and Peele will probably have a very long career in movies, TV or whatever medium they choose to display their talents. It also doesn’t hurt they used several very cute kittens in the role of their title character. The showbiz saying of avoiding working with babies and animals apparently doesn’t apply when working with a baby animal as both lead actors come out looking great when paired with their furry costar, even though Peele is very allergic to cats. He used allergy medicine to get through his scenes involving the seven kittens used in the film. Sometimes art demands sacrifice.

“Keanu” gets four stars out of five.

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This week is the outbreak of war, Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” I’ll be seeing and reviewing it next.

Captain America: Civil War—

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKrVegVI0Us