The Conjuring–movie review

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Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) has made the best film of his career with The Conjuring. Hopefully he’s on a roll here; it’d be nice to see more films as good or even better from him if that’s possible.

The story concerns Lorraine and Ed Warren, two paranormal investigators, who take on a case at a remote farmhouse. A truck driver with his wife and five daughters move into the house and soon learn that they are not alone in the within. There are ghosts in the house and one has evil intensions. In fact, it’s downright demonic in nature.

The first sign there is something wrong with the house is when the family dog won’t even enter it during moving day. Later the dog ends up dead. In time, some ghostly mischievous acts start happening: sleeper’s legs are pulled to during the night; the mother awakens with some minor bruising. As the intensity of these acts goes right up to threats and violence the mother decides to contact the Warrens.

The Warrens find that the house once belonged to a Satan worshipping witch who had killed herself by hanging from a tree on the grounds. The other ghosts in the house also have a connection to this witch since she has been haunting the place since her suicide. Either because it was going to happen this way or due to the Warrens presence in the house, the intensity of the events gets even scarier. They decide to bring in a priest to perform an exorcism on the house. But, they are informed that the case, though seemingly rather conclusive, needs approval from the Vatican. That’ll take time; and time isn’t on their side.

Director Wan and screenwriters, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes (The Reaping) set the proper mood right from the get-go by showing the Warrens in action during another demonic investigation concerning a doll at the beginning of the film. This doll makes another appearance later on, which was a nice tie-in between the two stories. There’s a tense feeling from the beginning with this tone setting sequence that not only doesn’t let up during the course of the film, it intensifies. There’s very little in the way of jumps scares—though there are a few. Wan and director of photographer John R. Leonetti (Insidious) use wide angle lenses, framing and camera movements that truly add to the off-putting atmosphere of the film.

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Much of the above work would be for naught if the acting wasn’t up to the task. Returning from working with James Wan on Insidious as Ed Warren is Patrick Wilson (Watchmen). Lorraine Warren is played by the great Vera Farmiga (Orphan). The trucker and his wife are played by Ron Livingston (King of the Ants) and Lili Taylor (Hemlock Grove). These four are the anchors of acting part of the film. Without such talent the film just wouldn’t work. All the young actresses playing the daughters do a fine job as well.

It’s true that we’ve all seen much of what occurs in this film before, from noises in the night and a clock stopping at the same time late at night. But Wan and company were able to execute these things with flare and success where they all come off as fresh and alive. I believe this may be viewed in time as much as a classic in the supernatural thriller subgenre of horror as any other film you can name.–Charles T. Cochran

Film Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

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Pacific Rim–movie review

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When growing up in the 1970s, there were the types of films that made us children excited and filled us with awe. My friends and I would walk home from our neighborhood theater and enthusiastically exclaiming things like “Do you remember when” this happened, or” Do you remember when” that happened. These films often starred actors like Doug McClure or Patrick Wayne; or, were made by the likes of Ray Harryhausen. There were also the Japanese big monster films (this genre is often referred as Kaiju) to add to that mix. But most of those I saw on TV. I did see Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster and War of the Gargantuas on the big screen. Though I’ve loved many films that fit into those genre favorites, there really hasn’t been a film that tapped into my childhood wonder like those films from that bygone age. Until I saw Pacific Rim that is. Director Guillermo Del Toro has successfully fashioned a film that recreates the feeling that was produced in this former little boy.

The film presents the premise that an inter-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean allows gigantic monsters to pass through. These monsters simply seem to want to attack big cities and kill people. The entire world then put aside their differences and pools their resources to construct equally enormous robots piloted by a two man crew to fight these creatures. This becomes so successful that the world barely views the monsters a threat anymore. But then the creatures seem to learn the robots weaknesses and things change from there. First walls are constructed around land masses. The monsters can simply tear through them with little effort. Humanity then falls back on the robots to figh this threat.

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Other plot elements include a childhood trauma caused by a Kaiju attack, a bitter rivalry between two pilots, as well a less bitter one between two scientists. This last plot point with these two scientists played by Charlie Day (Horrible Bosses) and Burn Gorman (The Dark Knight Rises), as well as Day’s scenes with Del Toro regular, Ron Perlman (Hellboy himself) are the best of the human elements of the film. The other elements are good enough, but don’t gain the interest as much as they should.

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What’s really important in this film is the big picture: from the creatures attacking to the human’s different reactions and then the true nature of these Kaiju attacks and its implications. And, let’s face it; the most important thing in Pacific Rim is the battles between the Kaiju and the robots; in other words, the cool stuff. And this film is over flowing with the cool stuff. There’s great visuals effects here that even people who have some trouble with the over use of CGI (like myself) will still love, I think. I still will love a good old fashioned man-in-a-rubber-suit Godzilla flick. But, this stuff looks mighty spectacular, especially at the IMAX 3D viewing that I attended.

Overall, the film’s a bit too long, but was very much a blast! See it on the big screen. That’s what this flick was made for.—Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)