Tag Archives: James Wan

The Real Ghostbusters

Husband and wife partners fight 1970s demons ‘across the pond’

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The Conjuring 2

Starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga

Directed by James Wan

R

Beating the much-ballyhooed new Ghostbusters to the screen by several weeks, director James Wan shakes things up with a spook-fest of another kind—the second serving of his Conjuring series, based on the case files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who claimed to have investigated more than 10,000 incidents since the 1950s.

This time, fresh off the 1970s investigation that became New York’s “Amityville Horror,” the Warrens are summoned across the pond to a working-class London borough, where a single mother and her four young children are being tormented by what seem to be malicious spirits.

CON2-FP-037Oh, yeah!

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga once again portray the Warrens, a couple whose individual childhood brushes with the supernatural eventually led them to each other, into a paranormal partnership and marriage. The movie’s soft little subplot about their strong bond, scored to the recurring Elvis hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (which Wilson even gets to sing as a serenade, with a guitar!), is a dollop of pure sweetness in the carnival of creepiness.

CON2-FP-146Young Madison Wolfe, 11, who plays the Janet, the “possessed” youngest daughter of the British family, may look like a greenhorn, but you’ve likely already seen her if you watch TV, on Zoo, Scream, The Astronaut Wives Club or True Detective, or in the movies The Campaign, Trumbo or Joy. She’s terrific as the bedevilments in her home send her flying into the air, crashing into walls, teleporting from room to room and taking control of her voice, personality and body.

Wan, who also directed the original Saw and Insidious, certainly knows his way around a haunted house. He never overdoes the cheap thrills or gotchas, and he gets genuine jolts out of some truly nightmarish images—particularly a demonic nun and the “crooked man” from the old nursery rhyme. But he also has fun with bone-chilling scares he builds around mundane, everyday objects, like a blinking, bleeping toy fire truck, a bedroom poster of smiling actor-singer David Soul and a TV remote that won’t stay where it’s put.

The movie will probably feel a bit familiar, at times, to anyone who’s seen The Exorcist, it could stand to be trimmed by at least 20-25 minutes, and someone should have told the music department that just because a movie is set in England, you don’t have to use songs by the Bee Gees, the Hollies and the Clash if they don’t really fit.

CON2-FP-045As the Warrens wrestle with demons, they also wrangle with questions of belief and doubt, skepticism and proof. “Your visions are a gift from God,” Ed reassures Lorriane, who worries that her trance-like visits to the “dark side” have shown her too much, especially about what might become her own future. The movie frames the Enfield hauntings, which actually took place over a two-year period, in a Christmas setting, with prominent decorations on display and weirdly dissonant versions of familiar carols signaling that something unholy is afoot. In one scene, a freaked-out Lorraine stabs and shreds pages of her Bible with an ink pen.

If you’re easily spooked, The Conjuring 2 may not be the most relaxing way to spend your popcorn dollar. On the other hand, if you like getting the good, old-fashioned hell scared out of you, then step right up for a retro terror trip to re-live another harrowing, real-life event from the annals of America’s original ghost busters.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Need For Speed

A masterful cavalcade of carefully orchestrated vehicular mayhem

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Furious 7

Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker & Jason Stratham

Directed by James Wan

PG-13

Fast cars and stunt driving have always been Hollywood staples, but nothing raised need-for-speed thrills to the level of pop-art success like the Fast and Furious franchise, which began almost 15 years ago, spawned six sequels and became a $2 billion-plus property—one of the most lucrative ever—for Universal Studios.

Now, in the seventh installment, Vin Diesel and his virtually indestructible crew of pedal-slammers reunite to save the world from more devious dudes, including a super-bad Brit (Jason Statham) out to avenge the death of his brother from a previous movie. But the plot’s just so much air whizzing by from the dozens of vehicles that zoom, smash and sail across the screen. Don’t worry about following a storyline: Just sit back and marvel at the masterful cavalcade of carefully orchestrated vehicular mayhem, a dose of high-octane escapism ramped up to ridiculous, fantastical extremes.

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

In addition to Diesel (who’s also one of the franchise’s producers), the parade of gear-jamming, road-ripping all-stars includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, rapper-turned-actor Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, all of whom will be very familiar to anyone who buckled up for previous F&F joyrides. Kurt Russell comes aboard as a slick, mysterious quasi-governmental deep-cover operative, Mr. Nobody, who needs Diesel & crew’s help to put the brakes on an international criminal (Djimon Hounsou) who’s kidnapped a mastermind computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanual, who plays Missandei on TV’s Game of Thrones).

Director James Wan, the maestro of horror and suspense whose resume includes Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, creates some absolutely stupefying set pieces, jaw-dropping scenes of stunts and special effects. In one, cars drop from a cargo plane, parachute onto a winding mountain roadway and roar off to assault a heavily armored convoy, leading to a literal cliffhanger—then keep going! Another features the world’s most expensive car racing through—and I do mean through—the world’s tallest building.

And, as usual, the car scenes are broken up by equally impressive fight scenes, magnificent, crashing, smashing slam-o-ramas, choreographed to perfection and shot with inventive, topsy-turvy camera angles that bring you right along for the tosses and tumbles. Mixed martial arts fighting champ Ronda Rousey and Muai Thai warrior Tony Jaa both have bone-crunching cameos.

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Paul Walker

But for all the speed and spectacle, something else truly makes this one special for Fast and Furious fans—and that’s the final appearance of Paul Walker, one of the series’ top stars, who died (ironically) in a car crash in 2013 while it was still in production. Using footage already shot, digital effects and body doubles as stand-ins, the filmmakers were able to complete all the scenes—and amazingly, most viewers will likely never be able to spot any trickery.

Rather than simply a character, Walker’s role is a cornerstone of the entire movie, which actually becomes a eulogy and a tribute to him. At the end, as Vin Diesel’s character rides, literally, into the sunset and says farewell, literally, to his old friend, a montage of scenes from their previous movies plays. It’s not fast, and certainly not furious, and it may make your eyes misty, for just a sweet moment or two, from something other than gravel dust, exhaust fumes and the head-spinning speed at which the next sequel, number eight, is already being readied to head our way.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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