THE CONJURING. James Wan and I have come a long way. In 2004 he came to prominence as writer-director of the vastly successful Saw. That movie (and the franchise it spawned) did more for torture-porn than any other single project. Reactionary as I am (I'd put torture-porn right up there with found-footage in the category of least pleasant 21st century cinema trends), I avoided Wan completely until Insidious (2010). That movie forced me to re-examine my prejudices; I left the theater shocked at how much I enjoyed it.
By replacing gore and human malice with solid horror-craft, Wan produced a concise, original, occasionally funny little movie that legitimately gave me the creeps. With The Conjuring he expands his range again, this time serving up an early '70s haunted house/exorcism story that works even more effectively than his last one.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play Ed and Lorraine Warren, the world's preeminent paranormal investigators. After Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) Perron move into a remote farmhouse in Rhode Island with their five daughters, things start to go bump in the night. The terrifying occurrences escalate until Carolyn persuades the Warrens to take the case.
It's a pretty standard set-up, but with sure-footed technique and a competent cast Wan elevates it to much more than the synopsis might indicate. The production design and cinematography hit the right notes of creepiness and authenticity, giving the movie an enveloping, unnerving atmosphere. The Perrons' haunted house seems to have limitless secret passageways and creaking doors and corners for horrible things to lurk in. For the first two acts, Wan takes a shrewd tack, using slow, deliberate camera moves to imply those horrible things. As the pace of the nastiness picks up, he ratchets up the intensity and frenetic rush of the filmmaking.
The performances are, across the board, well-drawn and convincing, but Farmiga and Wilson are especially compelling. They bring a vulnerability to the Warrens that's critical to our sympathy.
I may not be the last person to really go in for a horror movie, but I'm pretty far down the list. It takes a director (and writers, and actors) with real skills to make a movie this scary, satisfying and artful. R. 112m.
RED 2. The first big problem: I've seen the trailer before almost every movie released in the last six months. The second: Almost all of the comedic beats and crucial narrative turns are in said trailer. That being said, I actually kind of liked it.
Forgive me for missing the first installment, but I don't get the impression I missed too much. This time out Retired, Extremely Dangerous (see?) CIA operatives Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) are once again called to action. This time, they've been framed as international terrorists and targeted by the Agency and MI6. There's a nutty professor (Anthony Hopkins), some assassins (Helen Mirren, Byung-hun Lee), Frank's girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker) and a portable nuclear bomb in the mix, just for good measure. And oh yeah, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a KGB operative.
Bruce Willis does his Bruce Willis thing perfectly serviceably, and Malkovich delivers some genuinely funny moments as the lovably drug-addled sidekick. Everybody else does fine work without really distinguishing themselves; the plot unfolds as a light, satisfying mystery (or would, if not for the spoilers in the trailer); and a lot of stuff gets blown up impressively.
At the end of the day, this is typical summer fare, but executed with better-than-average competency. It doesn't break any new ground, but it's fun and flashy — an easy amusement. Some will likely condemn it for its glib attitude toward violence, but I'm more than willing to go along with that in a comic-book movie. PG13. 116m.
R.I.P.D. has been getting kicked around since long before its opening as the biggest flop of the summer, and I don't really understand why. Although certainly derivative and unsurprising, it is at least mildly entertaining, with a good cast and some fun chase sequences. That makes it better than most of the movies I sit through of a given weekend.
After getting double-crossed and murdered by his partner (Kevin Bacon), well-meaning cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is saved from potentially harsh judgment in the afterlife when he's recruited by the Rest In Peace Department (see?). He's teamed with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an Old-West lawman with plenty of unresolved issues. They're tasked with policing the living world of hid-out dead souls. In the course of their daily patrol they uncover a sinister plot of potentially cataclysmic scale.
Reynolds plays Walker like he plays every character: likable, laconic, long-suffering. Bridges commits to his role with almost-misbegotten enthusiasm — but pulls it off because he's Jeff Bridges. The rest of the movie is predictable and noisy, with questionable effects sequences. I've seen this done better, but I've also seen is done much worse. PG13. 96m.
— John J. Bennett
THE WOLVERINE. Hugh Jackman busts out his pecs, lamb-chops and knuckle blades again as the gruff X-Man. This time he fights ninjas. PG13. 136m.
THE WAY WAY BACK. This coming-of-age comedy from the writers of The Descendants takes place at a water park and features a kick-ass comedic cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney and Steve Carell. PG13. 103m.
Before gobbling up the sequel in November, get seconds on The Hunger Games Friday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge. PG13. 142m. 8 p.m. Disney's Peter Pan turns 60 this year. Go say "happy birthday" Sunday at 6 p.m. G. 77m. This week's deliciously bad feature for Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night is It! The Creature From Beyond Space (1958). 69m. 6 p.m.
GROWN UPS 2. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade embarrass themselves and insult your intelligence. PG13. 101m.
PACIFIC RIM. Giant monsters versus giant robots. Result? Giant awesomeness. PG13. 132m.
DESPICABLE ME 2. Reformed villain Gru (Steve Carell) and his cute little peanut minions get recruited by the Anti-Villain League in this charming animated comedy. PG. 98m.
THE HEAT. Sandra Bullock, as an overachieving FBI agent, and Melissa McCarthy, as a brash, foul-mouthed Boston cop, fight crime in this comedy from the director of Bridesmaids. R. 117m.
THE LONE RANGER. Johnny Depp, oh how you have fallen. He plays Tonto in this loud, obnoxious Disney dud based on the old radio/TV show. PG13. 149m.
TURBO. The latest from Dreamworks Animation imagines a garden snail who longs to be fast. Voice talent from Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti and Michael Peña. PG.
THIS IS THE END. Stoner comedy about the apocalypse stars Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill. R. 107m.
WORLD WAR Z. The global zombie outbreak forgot about one thing: Brad freakin' Pitt. PG13. 116m.
— Ryan Burns