Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Conjuring

I started this post last night and then remembered I was breaking the one rule I set for myself when writing about “The Conjuring.”

Don’t do it after dark. I was lucky enough to not lose any sleep after seeing the film a week ago and I didn’t want to risk suffering from belated nightmares.

I don’t write reviews for the paper I work at that often, but here is a draft I plan to publish next week.

Read it if you dare.

I can’t resist a good scary movie. I should, but I just can’t.

You’d think I would have learned my lesson after a string of sleepless nights caused by “Paranormal Activity” or the because of the fear instilled by the cabin caper “The Strangers.”
Classics like “The Dead Zone” and “The Shining” still give me the jitters, but I won’t necessarily shy away from a repeat viewing. (As long as someone watches with me).
Thus I couldn’t hold back on heading to the theater with my friends to see this summer’s horror release “The Conjuring.”
imagesThe film comes from James Wan, director of the “Saw” series and “Insidious.”
It is promoted as being based on the true story of cases handled by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, especially one dating back to an 18th century haunted farmhouse purchased by a couple in Rhode Island.
The couple, Carolyn and Roger Perron (played by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) move into the home with their five daughters and it isn’t long before things start to go bump in the night.
Carolyn suffers mysterious bruises, notices all the clocks stopping at the same time of night and soon her daughters start experiencing strange occurrences in their rooms while they sleep.
Short of just leaving the house forever, Carolyn reaches out to the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) to help remove the spirits for good.
I certainly had covered my eyes and jumped in my seat several times by that point in the film, but it’s definitely not the scariest I’ve ever seen.
Surprisingly, I slept just fine that night and I wasn’t haunted by images of ghostly children and people being violently dragged around their home by an invisible being.
In the case of “The Conjuring,” the villains are former residents of the farmhouse – one a woman accused of being a witch who murdered her infant daughter and another a boy who was murdered there.
Perhaps I left the theater less scared because Wan took the time to develop the story of the Warrens and Perrons and somewhat of a slow approach to the moments of horror you want to look away from.
But that technique also prevents the viewer from having their cardigan covering their eyes at just the right time. Just sayin’
The Perrons are freed of their demons by the end, but I’m not so sure that’s the case with the Warrens. It’s made clear in the film that each case they investigate has a lasting effect on the couple, especially Lorraine.
I thought the final scene opened the story up to a sequel and sure enough rumors about “The Conjuring 2” are out there. I’ll give it a shot, but I am skeptical that it will be as good as the original.
There are even people who are skeptical that the hauntings at the farmhouse actually happened after the Warrens started their investigation.
According to a USA Today article, skeptics of the Warrens say they are just good at telling scary stories about what may have happened during their career.
Lorraine Warren, 86, helped as a consultant in the making of “The Conjuring” and is still a paranormal investigator, according to the article. She maintains the frightful incidents depicted in the film did happen. Ed Warren died in 2006.
Andrea Perron, the oldest daughter in the family, is quoted as saying the film has, “many elements of truth to it, and some moments of fiction.”
I admit the truth at the backdrop of “The Conjuring” drew me in more than the thrill of being scared silly.
Whether you’re looking for just the fear factor or a thriller with a solid story and acting, this film delivers on both levels.
And, speaking from experience, you should rest easy and be nightmare-free afterward.
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The Way Way Back

“The Way Way Back” is a film that will melt your heart and break it a little bit at the same time.

I most certainly would have been a crying mess, especially during the final act, had I watched the film alone in my living room. But I saw it in the theater and kept my emotions in check in order to maintain whatever street cred I have left in the world of Landmark Theatres. (I do work there, after all)

I will definitely buy this movie and just let it all out during my second, third and fourth viewings at home. But for now let me just go ahead and tell you why you need to see this film before it leaves the big screen.

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (also writers of “The Descendants” with Alexander Payne) are the writers and directors of the film, which took at least eight years to complete. “The Way Way Back” is their directorial debut.

The time it took to make this film is a representation of the heart it has and why it deserves to be seen.

The world of escaping from reality by watching movies is just a little bit of a better place because of this one.

The story focuses on Duncan (Liam James) who at age 14 doesn’t feel he fits in in the world and is suffering from the aftermath of his parents’ divorce.

To add to Duncan’s troubles, his mom’s new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) makes him feel less than while mostly pretending to care about having a relationship with the whole family.

James and Carrell are joined in the cast by Toni Collette (Duncan’s mom, Pam), Allison Janney as Betty, Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet and Rob Coddry.

Sam Rockwell plays Owen, the manager of the Water Wizz park who befriends Duncan during the family’s summer trip to Trent’s beach house.

Duncan spends as much time away from the house and his family as possible, which is how he discovers the water park during a venture into town one day.

After some time it’s clear that’s the place he fits in best and meeting Owen is just the thing Duncan needed.

Owen is young at heart and doesn’t take life too seriously but he connects with Duncan through having similar experiences in his childhood.

Eight, or more, years ago I am glad those who needed to saw the potential in the story of “The Way Way Back.”

Even beyond the age of 14 we all have experiences of not fitting in and not having any idea what we’re going to do.

It’s life and, as Owen tells Duncan, you just have to find your own way.

As I said there are scenes in the film that will pull at your heart strings but those come with an equal amount that are funny and witty.

Rockwell very much plays a character who is a mix of comic relief and being serious enough to teach everyone a lesson and help Duncan come into his own.

Faxon and Rash have roles as Water Wizz employees Roddy and Lewis and Rudolph plays a manager at the park alongside Rockwell.

I think Collette was a fine choice to play Pam, but her performance didn’t really stand out. Allison Janney, as the drunk, fun-loving neighbor Betty, provides comic relief as well. She has a stronger supporting role than Carrell and, while I’m a fan, I wasn’t really impressed with his performance.
Maybe it’s because Trent is developed as a character you do not like or relate to, but I still would have liked to see more of an impact from Carrell.

Overall, “The Way Way Back” is an effective mix of a modern-day family story with nostalgia represented by a beach town that comes alive in the summer and a vintage station wagon.

If for nothing else, see this this film so it won’t be a decade before Faxon and Rash make another one.

The Departed

Two of the three movies I am most excited to see this summer, “Pacific Rim” and “The Way Way Back,” are out in theaters this weekend.

ElysiumMy third pick “Elysium” (Matt Damon!) is due for release in August. If I see the first two in one weekend, which is the plan, what else am I going to watch?

There are countless movies on my list that I have not watched even once but, on a recent Saturday night off, I decided to revisit “The Departed.”

The 2007 Academy Award winner for best picture is inspired by the film “Infernal Affairs” from Hong Kong.

I have not seen that film, or the other two in its series, but get the sense Martin Scorsese’s creation was more of a tribute to it than a big budget remake.

It’s commonplace now that many films are based on other films or art forms and I appreciate how literary stories can be brought to life on screen or through a different person’s point of view.

The DepartedIn the case of “The Departed,” Scorsese took the story of police force corruption and the mafia from  Hong Kong to Boston. Writers from “Infernal Affairs,” Alan Mak and Felix Chong are credited for the film and William Monahan adapted the screenplay. He also won an Academy Award for his work.

It was nice to watch the film at home and rewind scenes to pick up details I did not notice years ago.

It starts with the stories of Colin (Matt Damon) and Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) coming up in Boston and working their way toward making rank in the Massachusetts State Police.

In the background is mafia boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) who knows Colin from a young age and gets to know Billy more later on.

Billy is more of a “wrong side of the tracks” kid trying to make his life right and Colin only seems like a good guy on the surface.

Colin is loyal to Frank and the mafia and therefore works as a mole from inside the police department. Any time an investigation into Frank’s crimes comes up, he can thwart the police from his trail.

Billy ends up working undercover from inside Frank’s crew to help with police investigations.

When Billy and Colin find out a there is a rat on both sides, they end up searching for each other.

The story builds slowly and watching it at home you can really take in the plot and the techniques of Scorsese and Monahan.

The lead actors, Damon and DiCaprio, played characters fighting their own internal battles as much as trying to survive in the world of crime and corruption.

Damon, as Colin, is only pretending to be one of the police force and is very private about his work with his girlfriend Madolyn (Vera Farmiga).

As Billy, DiCaprio ends up being used both by Frank and his bosses Dignam (Mark Wahlberg – nominated for best supporting actor) and Queenan (Martin Sheen) that he just doesn’t seem to have a place in the world at times.

Nicholson in the role of Costello, has more of a one note character who wants what’s best for himself and won’t protect those who work for him.

Billy is the one you want to have a chance in the world, but it’s surprising who ends up with the last word.

I hope I’ve inspired a second viewing of “The Departed” or if you haven’t seen it take a few hours on this hot day for a screening.

“When I was your age, they would say you can become cops or you can become criminals. Today what I’m saying is this, when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

– Frank Costello