All Good Things in The Conjuring

The Conjuring Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren with sincerity in THE CONJURING

When the close-knit Perron clan (headed by a laid back Ron Livingston and lovely earthy Lili Taylor) move into a bucolic New England home on a deceptively serene lake, it’s not long before this old house they bought at auction begins raising hell.  Who you gonna call in the era before basic cable paranormal investigators?  Ed and Lorraine Warren – played in their pre-Amityville Horror days by Patrick Wilson (partially raised eyebrows and all manly reactions) and Vera Farmiga (wily, caring and determined).  The spectacular scenario is wisely set up by jumping back and forth between the two families who soon collide in a supernatural cataclysm.

The Conjuring, James Wan’s startling and enormously entertaining Destroy All Ghosts! story, plays like a montage of horror’s greatest hits from the past twenty years. Continue reading

Unenlightened Young Adult

Charlize Theron comes home to rot in YOUNG ADULT.

Dark comedies are so hard to do, and when done right they will appeal only to a limited audience.  The latest Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody concoction, Young Adult, is one such film.  Those looking for a laugh-out-loud “Hot Chick Gone Bad” riot better look elsewhere.  Those looking for a painfully honest character study should sit down and have a drink.  Anchored by a scathingly deadpan turn from Charlize Theron, Young Adult is as sharp as a tack and will burn in your throat like a shot of home-distilled bourbon.

Charlize Theron is Mavis Gary, a recently divorced semi-successful ghost writer for a once popular series of YA novels (both the series and Mavis are past their prime) who is spurred to return to her “hick” hometown when she receives an email announcing the birth of her ex-boyfriend’s baby.  Mavis Gary joins a solid line of Jason Reitman anti-heros/anti-heroines (just like the lead characters in his Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air) – people who think they have life all figured out, hold steadfast to their sense of self and of the world around them, and then are thrown for a big loop.  Charlize Theron fully inhabits this character (according to interviews, she played Mavis as if this were a drama), and although she physically looks like a more frazzled version of her real-life smoking-hot self, she still puts her whole body into the role with the same gusto she used to become a serial killer in Monster.  Theron must have the worst agent in Hollywood with all the crap she has been in (Aeon Flux anyone?) but every so often she turns in performances in movies like this that make you think if she had a better agent she could be the female Daniel Day-Lewis.  Theron gets that lost in her best characters – and Mavis is one of them. Continue reading

Tales of Woe

In a telling bit of dialogue about a fourth of the way through Cary Fukunaga’s impeccably directed adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a brooding Rochester (Michael Fassbender) asks the alarmingly beautiful Jane (Mia Wasikowska) to tell him her tale of woe.  You see, all governesses have tales of woe.  They make great stories.

While Jane Eyre targets the refined literary crowd with its tale of woe and romance, the surprisingly adept but still a bit creaky contemporary haunted house tale of woe, Insidious, targets the not-so-fickle horror crowd.

Mia Wisakowska bewitches in Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre.

Nineteenth century feminist literature is not typically my cup of tea.  I’ve not read Bronte’s tale.  Nor have I ever seen any previous film adaptation, and they are legion.  But like the works of Shakespeare, I know the story.  Rave reviews, including a most excellent piece from Wonders in the Dark‘s own Sam Juliano, peaked my interest.  Superb production values, understated but quietly sweeping cinematography, and a note perfect score from Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli help make this a world-class endeavor.

But the greatest appeal of this latest adaptation (apart from the uniformly excellent performances) is Cary Fukunaga’s direction.  Continue reading