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: “The Conjuring”

Starring
Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, John Brotherton
Director
James Wan

The strange thing about horror movies of the last 10 years is that they’ve rarely been scary. They’ve been grotesque – take, please, “Evil Dead” from earlier this year – but few of them have been legitimately frightening. “The Conjuring,” on the other hand, understands that violence is not horror, and delivers a truly disturbing viewing experience. It may use a little Hollywood pixie dust to make it to the finish line, but the pre-Hollywood psychodrama is positively chilling, and the use of old-school techniques only adds to the creep factor.

It’s the fall of 1971, and Roger and Carolyn Petton (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor), along with their five daughters, are moving into an old farm house in Rhode Island. From the very beginning, the place seems a little off (the dog won’t go in the house, the basement is boarded up), but the family puts up with all of the seemingly unrelated annoyances (cold, the occasional foul stench, youngest daughter April’s new imaginary friend) and attributes it to, well, something rational, something explainable. It is not long, though, before the “house” ramps up the offensive, and an exasperated Carolyn asks local paranormal researchers Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) to come to the house and evaluate their problem. Lorraine, a clairvoyant, gets bad vibes from the very beginning, and after doing a little research on the former homeowners, she is fearful for the lives of the entire Perron family, Carolyn in particular.

Screenwriting twins Chad and Carey Hayes wrote the script of their lives here – though to be fair, one look at their IMDb profile and you’ll see that that is a backhanded compliment – by framing the ‘A’ story (the Perrons) and the ‘B’ story (the Warrens) side by side until such time that the families can come together organically. It’s a shrewd move, because it gives the audience the occasional, much-needed break from the terror that the Perrons are suffering, while slowly allowing the audience to get to know the Warrens and the, um, ghosts of their past that they bring with them to this case. That, plus Wan’s refusal to resort to the cheap ‘boo’ scare, gets the audience emotionally invested early, and never lets them go.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2011 Fall TV Preview: What’s New for CBS

Monday

2 Broke Girls

(8:30 – 9 PM, Sept. 26, with special preview on Sept. 19 at 9:30 PM)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), The Sing-Off (NBC), Terra Nova (Fox), Gossip Girl (The CW)

Starring: Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs, Garrett Morris, Matthew Moy, Jonathan Kite, Brooke Lyons

Executive producers: Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings

What the network says: “A comedy about two young women waitressing at a greasy spoon diner who strike up an unlikely friendship in the hopes of launching a successful business – if only they can raise the cash. Sassy, streetwise Max Black works two jobs just to get by, one of which is waiting tables during the night shift at the retro-hip Williamsburg Diner. Sophisticated Caroline Channing is an uptown trust fund princess who’s having a run of bad luck that forces her to reluctantly give waitressing a shot. At first, Max sees Caroline as yet another in a long line of inept servers she must cover for, but she’s surprised to find that Caroline has as much substance as she does style. When Caroline discovers Max’s knack for baking amazing cupcakes, she sees a lucrative future for them, but they first need to raise the start-up money. While they save their tips, they’ll stay at the restaurant, working with Oleg, an overly flirtatious Russian cook; Earl, a 75-year-old kool-kat cashier; and Han Lee, the new, eager-to-please owner of the diner. Working together, these two broke girls living in one expensive city might just find the perfect recipe for their big break.”

What we say: What’s this? A new sitcom in CBS’s Monday night lineup that isn’t a Chuck Lorre production? Will wonders never cease! Better yet, it’s a relatively strong one, though like so many other sitcom entries this season, it’s one where the leads are strong but the ensemble surrounding them is hit or miss…and, unfortunately, that includes Garrett Morris, who deserves so much better than hackneyed one-liners. (There’s a Duke University locker room joke, for God’s sake. Uh, zing?) Dennings, however, is the sarcastic version of Zooey Deschanel, which is to say that she’s cute, funny, and she could take you down a peg without even blinking, and Beth Behr is, for lack of a more elaborate phrase, sweet and pretty. The two of them also have instant chemistry together. If a cast as strong as “Mad Love” couldn’t make it more than a season, we probably shouldn’t pin any major hopes on “2 Broke Girls,” but it’s a certainly a show that we wouldn’t mind seeing succeed.

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