Capsule reviews for Aug. 11

Annabelle: Creation

Almost inevitably, this sequel to a spinoff is an unnecessary genre exercise, but at least it’s a stylish improvement upon its predecessor. This follow-up to the 2014 film that follows the demonic doll from The Conjuring tells its origin story — about a dollmaker (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto), who are still grieving the death of their young daughter when they welcome a nun and six girls from a shuttered orphanage into their farmhouse, only to watch the deceased girl get revenge. The film delivers some scattered frights to please fans of the series, although the script isn’t original enough to generate much genuine suspense. (Rated R, 109 minutes).

 

Pilgrimage

If you aren’t familiar with the Norman wars in Ireland, then this brutal action saga won’t do much to fill in the historical gaps, except for the brutal part. Against the backdrop of a 13th century Norman invasion, a handful of monks are chosen to transport a valuable religious relic to Rome, with their journey growing more perilous by the day. Among those who must protect their lives as much as the cargo are a young novice (Tom Holland) and a hot-tempered mute (Jon Bernthal). The film is stylish but emotionally distant, more concerned with bloody fights and weaponry than any meaningful character or thematic depth. (Not rated, 96 minutes).

 

Planetarium

Although Natalie Portman tries her best as a psychic medium, she can’t resurrect this tedious French drama from director Rebecca Zlotowski (Grand Central) that lacks the payoff to match its intriguing concept. It takes place in 1930s Paris, where Portman in a spiritualist who stages séances with her younger sister (Lily-Rose Depp) for aristocrats willing to pay up. One of them (Emmanuel Salinger) envisions film roles for the siblings, who reluctantly agree to his wishes. Despite some visual flourishes and strong performances, the film’s bilingual screenplay detours in different directions without establishing a firm foundation in character or tone. It flashes but squanders its potential. (Not rated, 105 minutes).

 

Whose Streets

Its topical relevance is almost startling, yet the effectiveness of this provocative documentary following the rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is about more than simple good timing. It provides an incisive glimpse into the aftermath of the 2014 police-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, by chronicling the events from the perspective of community activists and family members of slain teenager Michael Brown. Obviously, the film’s resonance transcends the specifics of its setting. Yet even if the infuriating (in a good way) result is naturally one-sided — plus lacking in broader context — it’s also passionate and persuasive, and might prove galvanizing to those with an open mind. (Rated R, 90 minutes).