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home : arts, entertainment and events - archive : entertainment May 24, 2016

   
7/18/2013 9:45:00 AM
Reviews: At the Movies

“The Conjuring” — As sympathetic, methodical ghostbusters Lorraine and Ed Warren, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson make this old-fashioned haunted-house horror film something more than your average fright fest. In 1971, they come to the Perrons’ swampy, musty Rhode Island farmhouse — newly purchased from the bank — to investigate the demonic spirit that has begun terrorizing the couple (Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor) and their five daughters. Lorraine is clairvoyant, and Ed is a Vatican-sanctioned demonologist. They’re best known as the married, devoutly Catholic paranormal pros whose work with the Lutz family served as the basis for “Amityville Horror.” The film is built in the ‘70s-style mold of “Amityville” and, if one is kind, “The Exorcist.” Does it live up to it? More than most horror films, certainly. But as effectively crafted as it is, it’s lacking the raw, haunting power of the models it falls shy of. “The Exorcist” is a high standard, though: “The Conjuring” is an unusually sturdy piece of haunted-house genre filmmaking. The director is James Wan, who’s best known as one of the founding practitioners of that odious type of horror film called “torture porn” (“Saw”). Here he goes classical. Though it comes across as a self-conscious stab at more traditional, floorboard-creaking horror, Wan has succeeded in patiently building suspense (of which there is plenty) not out of bloodiness, but those old standbys of slamming doors and flashes in the mirror. R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror. Running time: 112 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

“Fruitvale Station” — Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut is more than the dramatization of an obituary. It’s about empathy. In recounting the final day of 22-year-old Oscar Grant’s life, Coogler has made a film that piles small daily gestures — and one final, heartbreakingly tragic one — into an inspiring reminder about basic human decency. In a star-making performance, Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar, the San Francisco Bay Area ex-convict and former drug dealer who, famously, was fatally shot by a transit police officer early on New Year’s morning, 2009. The moment is glimpsed in raw cellphone footage at the movie’s start, before shifting back to the morning before and the start of Oscar’s last day. It’s a typical day of fraught improvisation for Oscar, a young black man trying his best in circumstances stacked against him. He struggles to balance his past, his unemployment and his family: girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), four-year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) and mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer). Jordan (“Friday Night Lights”) puts the film on his shoulders in an unqualified display of leading-man charisma. It’s a naturalistic, hoodie-clad performance, with “bruh” warmly peppered throughout his speech. The fullness of Jordan’s Oscar is as staggering as his end is appalling. R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use. 90 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.  
 
“Pacific Rim” — To say it’s the best monsters vs. robots movie that money can buy is not to denigrate this latest effort from the imaginative director Guillermo del Toro. To many devotees of the genre, it will be the ultimate pleasure: An army of 25-story-high robots creatively (and very noisily) battling the Kaiju, or monsters rising from the sea. The problem is that del Toro spent relatively little of his considerable talents on developing interesting human characters, and the film suffers as a result, though not fatally. Del Toro clearly considers his robots and monsters to be the real stars here, anyway. Leading the charge to save humanity are co-pilots Raleigh Becket (a handsome but bland Charlie Hunnam), and his partner, a young Japanese woman named Mako (Rinko Kikuchi, underused) with a beef against the Kaiju. Occasionally del Toro displays his subtler, more intimate style, and it would have been nice to see more of that. PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language. 131 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
—Jocelyn Noveck, AP


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