Movie Review: “The Conjuring 2”

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“The Conjuring 2” follows Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick and Vera Farmiga respectively) as they investigate the “Enfield Poltergeist” case in 1977. Following the notorious “Amityville Horror” case, the Warrens were sent over by the Catholic Church in order to investigate the “Enfield Poltergeist”. Since the case is a media sensation in the vein of Amityville, there is more scrutiny this time around. When the Warrens experience the poltergeist for themselves, their skepticism goes away fast.

I consider the first “Conjuring” movie to be one of the best horror movies of the last fifteen years. That film had something that most modern horror movies lack-atmosphere. How does the sequel compare to the first movie?

In my personal opinion, James Wan is one of the best horror directors working today. Instead of focusing on jump scares like most modern horror movies, he focuses on building tension and atmosphere. Like its predecessor, “The Conjuring 2” has a great sense of doom and gloom throughout its duration. With movies such as “Insidious” and both “Conjuring” movies under his belt, Wan is on his way to becoming one of the horror greats. The movie’s art direction rivals that of “The Nice Guys”. The film feels like a really good glimpse into 1977 Enfield, England.

Once again, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are great as Ed and Lorraine Warren respectively. They have a great chemistry together. The supporting cast is also good too, especially Madison Wolfe as the second eldest daughter Janet Hodgson.

While this is a worthy sequel, there are a few elements of the film that keep it from being great. The first is the out-of-place CGI. I know “The Conjuring 2” has a much higher budget than most horror movies but the CGI in this movie felt rather out-of-place. Most horror movies tend to rely on practical effects rather than computer graphics since the latter manages to take out the willing suspension of disbelief. I noticed that there were a few jump scares throughout the movie. I wasn’t sure if this was Wan’s choice or the movie studio forced it on him. Either way, it’s very annoying.

Although the first movie was better, “The Conjuring 2” manages to stand on its own two feet. I wouldn’t blame the sequel since the original manage to set the bar high. I would take a “Conjuring” sequel over a “Paranormal Activity” sequel any day of the week.

SCORE: 4/5

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Movie Review: “Alice Through the Looking Glass”

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Even though I didn’t care for 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland”, I thought the visuals were the film’s best aspect. This is the same case for “Alice Through the Looking Glass” as it has Tim Burton’s fingerprints all over it despite not directing it this around (similar to the recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”).

Just like the previous “Alice” movie, most of the cast are pretty much hamming it up. It seems that Johnny Depp has been trying to evoke the spirit of Jack Sparrow in recent movie and this performance is no different.  Remember how Helena Bonham Carter’s version of the Red Queen was always screaming in the previous “Alice” movie? Well, the screams are turned up to eleven this time around. Be prepared, folks, or else your ears will bleed. In all seriousness, the best performance in this movie is Sacha Baron Cohen as the personification of Time. Mia Wasikowska is just as bland as ever as Alice. Baron Cohen seems to be the only person in this movie who is genuinely having fun with his character.

Although the plot tends to wander off at various points throughout the movie, the character of Alice actually has a purpose this time around instead of being just the audience surrogate. I felt that the stakes were higher and there was more to lose.

Overall, “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is better than its predecessor even though it has little to offer besides the visuals.

SCORE: 2.5/5

Movie Review: “The Nice Guys”

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Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a widower private detective taking care of his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) in 1977 Los Angeles. However, Holly considers him to be the “world’s worst detective” because of his reckless behavior caused by his alcoholism. One day, Holland is beaten to a pulp by Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), who is an enforcer who is paid to beat up people for money. After the daughter of a higher up in the Department of Justice goes missing, Holland and Jackson put aside their differences in order to solve the case. However, this particular case takes the duo into the underbelly of the Los Angeles porn industry.

Shane Black is one of the more unsung screenwriters working in Hollywood today. Not only is he responsible for writing the first two “Lethal Weapon” movies, he also wrote and directed the 2005 cult classic “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. “The Nice Guys” is a great spiritual successor to “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. Black’s greatest strength is his penchant for writing very witty dialogue. This particular asset greatly enhances the film’s characters as a result. In addition to that, Black knows how to write an engaging mystery while deconstructing its tropes at the same time.

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have a great comedic chemistry. Gosling’s drunkard character is a great comedic foil to Russell Crowe’s straight man. It’s also worth noting that Crowe also has great comedic timing although he relies more on dry humor. I don’t usually care for cute kid sidekicks in movies because they tend to be useless otherwise. In this case, however, Angourie Rice does a rather fantastic job playing Holly March, the daughter of Ryan Gosling’s character. Rice plays the role of adult in this father-daughter relationship since Gosling’s character is an incompetent alcoholic. What’s even more surprising is that Rice is actually an Australian. This is even more impressive since she is only 14 or 15 and can pull off a flawless American accent. The supporting cast, which includes the likes of character actor Keith David, does a fine job as well.

Overall, this is arguably the funniest film I’ve seen since “Deadpool” came out earlier this year. Shane Black feels right at home on this move rather than working a big-budgeted film like “Iron Man 3”. This film harkens back to the buddy comedies of yore. “The Nice Guys” is a great companion piece to “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”.

SCORE: 4.5/5

Movie Review: “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”

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The Lonely Island made their return to the silver screen with “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” almost a decade after their debut film “Hot Rod” hit theaters. “Popstar” is a mockumentary that follows pop star Connor Freil (Andy Samberg), or “Connor4Real”. A musical prodigy from an early age, Friel starts a rap group with best friends Owen and Lawrence (directors Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer) called the Style Boyz. However, Connor becomes the breakout star of the group. This causes a friction with the other members and the group splits up as a result. Connor decides to go solo and manages to hit it big with the album “Thriller, Also”. However, Connor tries to reconcile with the fact that his follow-up album fails to live up to the hype and his tour struggles as a result.

“Popstar” does a great job of satirizing the absurdities of the music industry. Andy Samberg does a fine job of playing a vain, pretentious pop star in the vein of Justin Bieber while also making that character sympathetic, which is a feat that is not easy to accomplish. The supporting cast does a fine job as well, but the person who really stands out is Tim Meadows as Connor’s manager, Harry Duggins. This is not too surprising since he was in a similar movie called “Walk Hard”. The Lonely Island does not disappoint with their humorous songs that lampoon today’s pop music such as the ironic “I’m Humble” to the Macklemore parody “Equal Rights” to the absurd “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” as well as a diss track aimed at the Mona Lisa. It’s essentially what the Lonely Island does best.

However, the movie’s sense of humor can be rather hit and miss at certain points. As with any mockumentary, there’s bound to be talking head moments. Considering the subject of this movie, those talking head moments consists of celebrity cameos. Of course, how funny these cameos are can vary from celebrity to celebrity. While this movie seeks to lampoon the excesses of the pop music industry, the humor in this movie can be really over-the-top. A lot of this movie seems to be padded as well in order to make up for its short run time.

Overall, “Popstar” is a fun, light-hearted jab at the pop music industry. However, if I had to pick the quintessential musical mockumentary, I’m going with 1984’s “This is Spianl Tap”. Otherwise, it’s good as a stand-alone film.

SCORE: 3.5/5