Movie Review: “The Conjuring 2″

Starring
Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Simon McBurney
Director
James Wan

Horror sequels like “The Conjuring 2” are a dime a dozen, but director James Wan’s sequel manages to capture the spirit of the first film – hitting some familiar beats along the way – and takes the series and its two protagonists in a chilling new direction. What stands out about this franchise is that it’s not so much the scares that draw you in, although Wan does accomplish that, but rather its lead characters the Warrens.

The sequel begins with a new case – the famous Amityville incident – which screenwriters Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson and Wan only touch on briefly to give the audience a sense of where the characters are at in their careers and, rather seamlessly, efficiently establish a new internal and external threat in the film. Most of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren’s (Vera Farmiga) journey takes place in Enfield, England, where the Hodgson family is under attack from evil spirits. One of Peggy’s (Frances O’Connor) children, Janet (Madison Wolfe), is possessed by the spirit of Old Bill (Bob Adrian), a man that wants his home back. Although most believe the case is a hoax, Ed and Lorraine are willing to take a chance on the desperate family.

This sequel wisely puts a face to the villains. They’re more tangible, have identities and pose a greater threat. They’re all genuinely frightening, too, whether they’re seen or not. Wan waits for the right time to reveal his team of evil spirits, but the most effective depiction of one of the villains comes in a fantastic, seamless long take. As Ed tries to reason with Old Bill, who’s obscured in the background of a shot as Ed has his back to him, Wan and cinematographer Don Burgess capture the tense interaction all in one long take that slowly zooms, making the audience tighten up as the frame does. It’s a remarkable take – a slow burn of a shot that isn’t showy.

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Movie Review: “Warcraft”

Starring
Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Ben Schnetzer, Daniel Wu
Director
Duncan Jones

Hollywood has a pretty awful track record with video game adaptations, so when it was announced that director Duncan Jones would be bringing the mega-popular “Warcraft” franchise to the big screen, many people were hopeful that he would finally break the curse. Sadly, it doesn’t even come close. Although there’s no question that Jones (a self-proclaimed fan of “World of Warcraft,” the massively multiplayer online RPG that boasted 12 million subscribers at the peak of its popularity) is a talented filmmaker, “Warcraft” is a disappointing misfire that swallowed up several years of his career. That’s time he could have spent making more original movies like “Moon” and “Source Code” instead of this sluggish and derivative fantasy flick.

The story begins in Draenor, the dying homeworld to a warrior race of orcs. Their leader, the evil sorcerer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), uses a dangerous magic called the Fel – which feeds on the energy of life – to send a small war party of orcs through a portal to the peaceful realm of Azeroth in the hopes of conquering the land and using its inhabitants as fuel to transport the rest of the fleeing Horde. But not everyone agrees with his methods, particularly Durotan (Toby Kebbell), the noble chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, who believes that Gul’dan’s obsession with the Fel is what caused Draenor to wither away. Meanwhile, the human forces of Azeroth – led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper), heroic warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and powerful magician Medivh (Ben Foster) – scramble to defend their kingdom with the help of Garona (Paula Patton), a human/orc half-breed who must decide where her true loyalty lies: with the orc Horde that raised her or the humans that freed her from a lifetime of slavery.

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Movie Review: “Now You See Me 2″

Starring
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine
Director
Jon M. Chu

If the idea of a sequel to the illusionist action comedy “Now You See Me” is shocking, look no further than the box office numbers. The original film grossed four times as much as it cost, and probably would have netted even more if they hadn’t stacked the movie with so much high-priced talent. For the sequel, “Now You See Me 2” (that they didn’t call the film “Now You Don’t” seems like a missed opportunity), they went for a flashier direction style, which suits the story well. At its core, it’s a heist movie, so appropriating from the “Ocean’s” films is to be expected.

One year after the events of the first film, the master illusionists The Horsemen are still lying low, waiting for instructions from the secret organization of magicians who call themselves The Eye. Their handler, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), finally gives them a target: tech guru Owen Case (Ben Lamb), who has invented a mobile phone chip that steals customers’ personal information in order to sell it to the highest bidder. The Horsemen, who are now folk heroes and wanted men (and woman), crash Case’s launch party with the intention of exposing him, but they get the tables turned on them by Case’s former partner Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), who abducts the Horsemen and forces them to steal the chip before a slew of black market goons intend to. Rhodes and the Horsemen are completely stuck, but they receive help from an unlikely source.

It is so nice to see that Jesse Eisenberg has recovered from whatever chemical imbalance/hypnotic spell/caffeine overdose led him to give the worst performance of his life in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” He’s not extraordinary here, but no one is – it’s not that kind of movie, and that is why they cast the aforementioned high-priced talent. Get the right people to just read the lines, and everything else will fall into place. And that’s exactly what happens.

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2016 Father’s Day Gift Guide: Entertainment

Everyone loves watching a great movie or TV series, so we’ve compiled some of our favorite releases from the past few months that most guys will enjoy. And for more great suggestions, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s first crack at making a Western may have resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” but his second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. While Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins all deliver excellent work, Samuel L. Jackson’s show-stopping turn is the real standout, chewing up scenery with every juicy monologue and sly look. Granted, the first half of the film moves like molasses as Tarantino gets all of his pieces on the board, but the pacing is intentional, slowly building to a boil that spills out into a flurry of violence in the final hour. Though “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from the director’s movies, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script, some outstanding camerawork that benefits from the 65mm film format, and riotous performances from the cast.

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Blu Tuesday: 13 Hours, Zootopia and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

WHAT: On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants in Benghazi attacked the poorly guarded compound where the U.S. Ambassador resided, prompting a six-man security team led by Tyron Woods (James Badge Dale) to launch a perilous rescue attempt before returning to the nearby CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

WHY: Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making shitty “Transformers” films, so it’s nice to see him return to form with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why he’s one of the best action directors in the business. It takes nearly an hour before the first attack occurs, but Bay uses that time to establish the characters, provide an overview of the geopolitical landscape and build tension, because once it kicks into action mode, Bay rarely lets his foot off the gas, pummeling the audience with one explosive firefight after the next. This is Bay’s bread and butter, and he doesn’t disappoint with some expertly shot action sequences that drop the audience right into the middle of the combat. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), “13 Hours” is a marked improvement compared to his recent output that harkens back to earlier films like “The Rock.”

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on adapting the source material, filming the battle sequences and the CIA’s real-life Global Response Staff.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Zootopia”

WHAT: After proving her detractors wrong by becoming the first rabbit police officer in the animal city of Zootopia, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) must team up with a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to uncover a conspiracy that’s causing some of the city’s predators to revert back into savage beasts.

WHY: “Zootopia” might just be the best Pixar movie that Pixar never made. It’s smart, funny and works both as a delightful family film on the surface and a rich allegory for race relations on a much deeper level. In fact, it handles the subject of racism and prejudice better than most live-action movies, and that in itself is really impressive. The dynamic between Ginnifer Goodwin’s go-getting bunny and Jason Bateman’s sardonic fox is excellent, while the vibrant world that directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”) have created is incredibly imaginative, opening up numerous possibilities for sequels that would not only be warranted but welcome as well. Though the movie runs a little long at 108 minutes, there are so many great moments littered throughout that it’s hard to imagine another animated film providing much competition at next year’s Oscars. Sister studio Pixar may get all the love, but recently, Walt Disney Animation has been on a real winning streak, and “Zootopia” is its finest achievement yet.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette hosted by star Ginnifer Goodwin, three additional featurettes on developing the story, finding inspiration from real-life animals, and composing the score, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s many Easter eggs and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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