The Conjuring 2 (Movie) Review

The Conjuring 2 (Movie) Review

The Conjuring made $300 million worldwide a few years ago, making it a record-breaking hit for contemporary horror. That means a sequel (and that Annabelle spin off you already forgot about), was pretty much guaranteed even though no one particularly remembers much about it. The movie was merely an effectively constructed scare factory by director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, Furious 7) that peddled in Christian fears to pretend it was actually a true story. Since mainstream horror was dominated by torture, remakes, and camcorder hauntings for so long, it worked like gangbusters on audiences because they forgot about the old stylistic tricks that Wan trotted out at high speed. The sequel serves up more of the same only bigger, more expensive, and far longer. There’s a chance people will fall for it all again, but there’s also a more hopeful chance they’ll cry fowl at seeing the same old tricks without much variance.

The Conjuring 2 (Movie) Review 5This time the “true story” pulled from the files of Lorraine and Ed Warren (a pair of actual ghost hunting hoax conmen given icky credibility by these types of movies) is that of the Enfield Poltergeist. It involved a family in North London complaining of supernatural shenanigans with all sorts of photographic “evidence”. The movie obviously presents that silliness as real and on a massive scale, while we all get to play along pretending that’s true alongside some half-hearted discussions about it’s legitimacy (which are impossible to actually engage in, given the story takes place in a world already filled with real ghosties after the last movie). Still, Wan takes his time setting the stage. Creepy events pile up in a London home where a stressed cockney mother (Frances O’Conner) watches helplessly as her kiddies are haunted, and her youngest daughter (Madison Wolfe) is possessed. Meanwhile back in the U.S., the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) have retired from ghost hunting, but are pulled back in Godfather III-style when a nun-demon starts haunting their dreams.

The set up actually works fairly well. Wan takes full advantage of his bigger budget to stage increasingly elaborate haunting scenes with all sorts of impossible camera moves and pregnant silences punctuated by loud noises and prankster ghosts. It’s glossy, slick, Hollywood haunted house stuff that hits the right visceral notes that The Conjuring dabbled in, only even more elaborate (that time on the Furious 7 set certainly didn’t encourage Wan to embrace subtlety). When Wan’s on his game, his limitations (like competent storytelling, or crafting characters that feel remotely human) don’t matter much because he constructs the movie purely through jump scare set pieces that conceal the shoddy storytelling. Unfortunately, that effective set up takes a full hour to play out. The Warrens don’t even get to London until a full 60 minutes into the film, and then The Conjuring 2 sputters trying to make up for lost time explaining the stories and situations.

This two hour and 14 minute horror movie is at least 30 to 40 minutes too long. Most of that unnecessary runtime comes right in the middle as Wan stages a passionless debate between scientists and the Vatican-approved ghost busting Warrens about the reality of paranormal activity. There are also drab attempts to humanize the breathing mannequins used to populate Wan’s set pieces that are corny and irritating (especially a cringe-worthy sequence of Wilson singing Elvis to the scarred children that grinds the movie to a standstill). Some of the actors, especially the dependable Farmiga and the quite talented young Wolfe, are quite good when ghosts chase them around. However, the script’s attempts at domestic reality are pretty brutal, and should have been cut since they don’t add any of the emotional weight that was clearly intended. Eventually, Wan picks up the pace again for a spooktacular finale with one big scare scene after the next, but it’s too late at that point. The carefully crafted tension of the first hour has long since disappeared. What we’re left with is a ghostly light show with big production values building up to a final fight with the demon that is so ridiculous and anticlimactic in nature that it feels more like a parody punch line than an actual finale.

So yeah, The Conjuring 2 is quite flawed, and way too damn long for a genre that really should tap out at 90 minutes. However, there’s no denying Wan knows how to craft a big scare scene, and it’s fun to see him use so many expensive toys to craft one of the biggest Hollywood horror train sets ever mounted. That just might be enough to please all those folks who showed up for the last Conjuring flick looking for little more than the big screen equivalent of a fairground haunted house. However, it doesn’t make it a particularly good horror movie. This is a let down after the last one, which was already quite overrated. It’s a horror flick that’ll separate the genre nuts from the casually curious. Have you seen classic horror flicks from the 70s? If so, you’ve already seen everything you could possibly get out of this sequel, and you’ll only enjoy the craftsmanship. However, if you’ve only seen The Conjuring and other mainstream horror larks from the last decade that you can barely remember, then this sequel is for you! It would be nice to believe there were more folks in the former group than the latter, but unfortunately we don’t live in that fantasy world. The Conjuring 2 will likely be the most successful horror flick of 2016. God help us all.

Insurgent (Movie) Review

Insurgent (Movie) Review

Well, Divergent made a bunch of money so now we have Insurgent. That’s the reason that this sequel exists and it sure feels like it. Certainly the final product gives off the impression that no one involved with the movie had much invested beyond the fact that the production will likely make a ton of money and a boost the marketability of their respective careers. They’re probably right too. There’s nothing wrong with movies existing purely for commerce. Hollywood is a business after all. It’s just a shame for audiences who actually show up for something like Insurgent. Sure, it’ll be clear to anyone watching that this sequel is very expensive and they will have gotten their money’s worth of CGI spectacle. But, it’s too bad that a movie so encumbered by allegory and big sweeping societal generalizations presented as a message actually has so little to say.
insurinsert1So, if you saw the last movie you’ll know exactly where this story-in-progress left off last time and if not, don’t worry, Kate Winslet will explain it to you. Basically, we’re back in a vaguely dystopic future world where everyone in society is assigned a social group and function based on an adjective. The system kind of works, but the people feel repressed (you know, like the class and nationalism systems and blah blah blah). Our heroine is played by Shailene Woodley and she’s a real thorn in the side of this regimented society because she’s filled with so many qualities related to inner strength that she doesn’t fall into any one group. Actually, she falls into all of them (making her a divergent, like the title). Woodley figured that out by the end of Divergent and ended up getting in a big battle against the stuffy leaders of this world along with her hunky/caring boyfriend (Theo James).

Insurgent kicks off with Winslet’s ice cold leader blaming Woodley for all of the catastrophes from Divergent’s climax. So Woodley goes into hiding, eventually meeting up with a revolutionary group (led by Naomi Watts in black eye shadow that makes her seem evil-ish) who want to rebel against this repressive system. While Woodley and co. struggle to decide if they want to revolt, Winslet starts tracking down all of the divergents to help her open up a secret box with a secret message from the secret folks who founded this society. It turns out she needs an extra special divergent to do it and wouldn’t you know it? The protagonist of this franchise is extra special! Then a bunch of stuff blows up and there’s a cliffhanger. The end.

Once again, The Hunger Games casts a long shadow over every single plot beat, character, costume, scene, and idea in Insurgent. This movie franchise only exists because of all the money that the Hunger Games series continues to make and it shows. It appears as though director Robert Schwentke and co. spent more time studying Hunger Games sequels while mounting this production than they did paying attention to their source material. As a result, everything in the film is tediously calculated to try and trick audiences into thinking they are watching the latest Hunger Games movie. Unfortunately, like all photocopies, the quality has faded in transition and nothing feels quite right. Sure there are all the big emotional beats, CGI-heavy action sequences, and grand statements of social commentary that should, at least in theory, move us and thrill us like a Hunger Games movie, but nothing ever quite connects as planned.

Part of that is because this series is far dumber than the other one, so it’s never as profound as it thinks it is. Part of it is because Schwentke’s skill with action storytelling never stretches beyond staging a bunch of expensive explosions and hoping for the best. And part of it is because we all saw a far better version of this exact same movie a few months ago and even it wasn’t that great. Yep, Insurgent is a big ol’ waste of time, money, and resources. Unfortunately, it’s also one guaranteed to be a big hit because the timing and manipulative calculation are right.
insurinsert3Now, that’s not to say that Insurgent is completely devoid of any quality content. There are some very talented cast members who do their best. Shailene Woodley is a major young talent and she tries so damn hard to elevate the mediocre material she was given that you’ll wish there was an Oscar for “Best Effort” like a public school track and field day. Winslet and Watts are of course long time talents incapable of bad performances, so they made their cardboard villainesses (Or are they? Hmmmmm…) feel like they are two-dimensional rather than one-dimensional. Then there’s Miles Teller, a live wire who injects the few moments of fun into the movie in what amounts to little more than an extended cameo since his career was in a far better place when Insurgent contract negotiations rolled around than he was when he made Divergent. Those four folks are fun to watch doing pretty much anything and Insurgent proves that fact (you need only look at how lost every other actor feels to notice how good those four folks are). Unfortunately, the movie surrounding them simply isn’t worthy of their talents.

Insurgent is not a disaster (and it could have been given that Batman And Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsmith was involved), but it is a deeply mediocre movie that would likely disappear without a fuss if it wasn’t part of the obscenely popular YA sci-fi genre that’s the current big blockbuster trend. I suppose if you somehow were intrigued enough by Divergent to want to see the sequel, it’s worth a look. However, if you noticed how empty this series was the first time, there’s absolutely nothing here that will win you over. If anything this big, dumb, expensive mess of a sequel will likely lose franchise fans rather than bringing any new converts into the fold.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction Movie Review

Transformers: Age Of Extinction Movie Review

Transformers: Age Of Extinction isn’t a movie, it’s an endurance test. You could argue that Michael Bay’s entire career has been a never ending quest to discover “how much is too much,” but this one really takes the cake. You know all those jokes made about how Bad Boys 2 ended and then tossed in a trip to Cuba for overkill? Well, Transformers 4 pushes that style of blockbuster excess even further. The movie builds up to a 40-minute robot brawl climax, delivers it, and then tosses in a 50-minute trip to China with even more action for no apparent reason. Though that sequence in and of itself is not without its dumbbell Michael Bay charms, sitting through Age Of Extinction is like seeing the latest Transformers movie and then its sequel. That’s just too much to ask and even the most forgiving fan of this four-movies-and-counting precursor to the inevitable Gobots franchise has to admit that it’s just too much. This is a sequel too far that’s an hour too long with too many characters, too many Transformers, too many settings, too many action scenes, and just much too much in every conceivable way. I suppose that’s just the Michael Bay way, but even that guy needs cut back eventually. We’re in a recession, people!

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

So, the movie opens with Mark Wahlberg driving a pick-up truck through Texas while listening to country music. There isn’t a title card that says “AMERICA!!!!!” but that point is made and then underlined by including American flags in the background of almost every shot for the next hour of screen time (sometimes there are multiple American flags just in case you didn’t notice the first one). So, with Bay’s usual sledgehammer approach to subtlety, we’re introduced to Mark Wahlberg, American. He’s just your usual American guy who likes drinking American beer on an American farm while bringing up an American daughter (Nicola Peltz) in the American way and trying to live the American dream as an inventor/entrepreneur. Of course, he’s not very good at inventing. He just makes crappy robots and does repairs for neighbors while barely getting by. He does have a goofy assistant played by TJ Miller though (who is somehow a surfer in farmland, Texas) and they often buy goofy things like a giant truck hidden in an old movie theater. Shocker! Turns out that truck is Optimus Prime, who has been damaged in battle. So Wahlberg decides to fix him up like any good American, because as I said, he is an American.

“Possibly the most tediously excessive action movie that Michael Bay has ever made and given that he specializes in that particular brand of expensively fast-paced tedium, that’s really saying something”

Now, his daughter and comic relief assistant aren’t too thrilled with that idea because people are supposed to report any Transformer sighting to the government these days for a cash reward. Under the guiding eye of Kelsey Grammer (the film’s villain, no joke), the US government has been rounding up and destroying Transformers following the Chicago-stomping battle from the last movie. So, just as Wahlberg gets Optimus Prime working again and becomes his buddy, a group of evil government types (dressed in black, so you know they’re evil) show up to try and take the OG O.P. away. That leads to a big shoot out and chase with Wahlberg, Peltz, and her secret Irish boyfriend (honestly, who cares who plays him?) barely escaping with Optimus Prime. They discover that the Grammer has been partnering with a new and super evil Transformer to round up all the old transformers and give them to Stanley Tucci’s tech billionaire. You see, Tucci has secretly been analyzing Transformers to figure out to make his own Transformers out of the special alien metal that they are made from (it’s called and I swear to god I’m not joking: Transformium). So Tucci’s got his own secret army of new Transformers with updated tech and wouldn’t you know it? One of them is Megatron. Oh no! So, Wahlberg and his new Transformer buddies attack Tucci’s techno palace for another massive Transformer battle in the middle of Chicago. Sounds like that’s the climax of the movie, right? Wrong, what I’ve just described is actually two hours of set up for an even bigger Transformer battle in China that involves some sort of Transformer bomb that Grammer and Tucci got from that super evil new Transformer. Plus the Dinobots show up in the last 20 minutes to make the movie even longer. Why? Who cares? The important thing is that Bay got to make even more things go boom and Paramount got to film publicity-courting sequences in the massive Chinese movie-going republic.

Now, criticizing a Transformers movie for being loud, stupid, meaningless, and gratingly commercial is pointless. Of course it is. That’s the franchise. Expecting anything else is the mistake. The movie is filled with idiotic dialogue, padded plotting, endless explosions, and confusingly staged action scenes amongst the indistinguishable Transformers (Bay even tosses in duplicates of the hero Transformers this time just to make it even harder to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad). All the same problems that you had with previous Transformers movies are here again, only this time there’s more. But all the good qualities of the Transformers movies are here too. There’s some genuinely funny comedic relief from actors like Tucci, Miller, and Thomas Lennon. Many of the action sequences are thrilling and undeniably impressive (especially an intense sequence in which Wahlberg and some bad guy chase each other down the side of massive and ungainly apartment complex in China). And there’s also no denying that Mark Wahlberg is a better action lead than Shia Labeof or that Bay’s filmmaking is often screamingly unintentionally funny. In fact, if this movie were an hour shorter, it might even qualify as a campy guilty pleasure.

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However, Transformers: Age Of Extinction is not an hour shorter. Nope, it’s possibly the most tediously excessive action movie that Michael Bay has ever made and given that he specializes in that particular brand of expensively fast-paced tedium, that’s really saying something. It’s as if Michael Bay read the reviews of the last Transformers movie said, “Pffffft! They think that movie is too much?! I’ll show them too much!” and then went out of his way to do more of everything that bothered critics last time. It would be nice to live in a world where audiences could walk out of Transformers:  Age Of Extinction so confused and exhausted that they’d convince everyone they know not to see it and this blockbuster could bomb, ending the franchise. Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen. The movie will make a bazillion dollars worldwide based on the brand name alone and there will be another one of these stupid movies in three stupid years. Ah well, at least this turkey is still better than Transformers 2 and has robot dinosaurs. That’s something, right? Sigh…what a waste of time.