Tag Archives: Patrick Wilson

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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As far as conventional horrors go, The Conjuring (2013) was one of the best we’ve had in recent years. Despite the clichéd haunting plot we’ve seen countless times, legendary Aussie director James Wan was able to make the most of it with his reliable bag of tricks, combining a creepy atmosphere with well-timed “Boo!” moments to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Wan did not direct the failed prequel, Annabelle (2014), but he’s back again to helm the sequel to The Conjuring, imaginatively titled The Conjuring 2. This time, the world’s most renowned ghost-hunting duo, the Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), have returned to tackle the infamous Enfield Haunting in the UK. There was actually a recent TV mini-series called The Enfield Haunting starring Timothy “Mr Turner” Spall and Matthew “Mr Darcy” Macfayden, which was actually pretty decent and most likely closer to what really happened than the hyper-sensationalized version told in The Conjuring 2.

Anyway, like The Conjuring, the sequel focuses on both the Warrens and the family being haunted, the Hodgsons — a single mother (Australia’s very own Frances O’Connor) and four children living in suburban England — in particular the second-eldest daughter Janet, played superbly by Madison Wolfe. Some of you might already know the story because the haunting is perhaps the most well-known in British history, but if you don’t, brace yourself for some scary shit.

The film shifts back and forth between the Warrens and the Hodgsons, telling essentially two stories simultaneously. To Wan’s credit, splitting the screen time actually adds to the film rather than take away from it. The Warrens get a bit more of a personal story this time, and it’s good to see actors the calibre of Farmiga and Wilson strut their acting chops. They’re both really good, and their fantastic chemistry helps make their relationship the core the movie.

As with most haunting films, this one plays out as you would expect, starting with a few little weird things here and there to whet the appetite before all hell breaks loose and the ghostbusters come in to save the day. Notwithstanding the boiler-plate structure, Wan works his magic again, turning the first half of The Conjuring 2 into one of the most terrifying movie experiences I’ve sat through in years. I’m sure watching in the cinema definitely helped the atmosphere, but it really is due Wan’s masterful control over everything that is happening – from the atmosphere and the characters (it makes a huge difference when you care about them) to the use of darkness and lightning, and especially the blaring score and sound effects. I’m not going to lie: there were a few sequences where I had an anxious inner debate with myself on whether to shut my eyes for a couple of seconds.

After the nerve-wracking first half, however, the film does settle down, and the rest of the movie isn’t nearly as frightening. Though the rhythm picks up and tensions are supposed to rise, by the time the Warrens arrive to do their thing I had started to get that “here we go again” feeling. While Wan was fantastic in making me forget about how conventional the film was in the first half, in the second half he was less successful. There were still some decent moments as the film ramped up to its finale, but for the most part I found myself significantly more relaxed that I was in the first hour or so.

I also didn’t like the way the script wrapped up the story in a way that connected the dots and made the different strands converge. Frankly, in trying to find a way for help the story make sense it actually made things more confusing and make less sense. And of course, the movie definitely is too long at 2 hours and 14 minutes. It’s never boring or slow, but shaving 15-20 minutes off would have been welcome.

On the whole, The Conjuring 2 is a solid follow up to its predecessor. The first half was decidedly scarier than the latter, though even with a fair share of flaws, the film is still a top-tier horror flick, the type that only comes around a handful of times a year.

4 stars out of 5

PS: A new spin-off called The Nun is apparently in the works.

Movie Review: Stretch (2014)

Stretch-Poster

Usually, when a Hollywood film with a list stars ends up having its release delayed, before being pushed to a VOD debut, it means the movie probably stinks. In the case of Stretch, however, it says a lot more about the stupidity and conservative nature of Hollywood more than anything else. Stretch is undeniably weird, wacky, and all over the place, but it is also one of the most original and gut-bustingly hilarious oddball comedy in years.

Patrick Wilson stars as a down-and-out limo driver nicknamed Stretch, who came to Hollywood years ago with dreams of making it big some day. Instead of becoming a star, he’s dumped by his gorgeous gal (Brooklyn Decker) and develops a dangerous gambling habit that has him owing a sizable chunk of money to some very dangerous people. To make ends meet, he works for a limousine service that caters to Hollywood stars and wannabes, taking over the client list of a former driver, Karl (Ed Helms), who blew his brains out because the job made him so depressed.

Stretch’s luck appears to make a turn for the better when he runs into Karos (Chris Pine), a mysterious billionaire who offers to give him a very generous tip for being an extra accommodating driver. And so begins a wild night of mayhem that will involve gangsters, police, hookers, exes, bad acting, brilliant acting, reality TV stars and smartphone hook-up apps.

Stretch is a crazy romp, and I mean that in the best of ways. There’s a sharp satirical edge throughout, taking stabs and bites at Hollywood along the way, and the jokes and one-liners are fast and furious. The pace of the entire film is frantic, as Stretch keeps getting bounced from place to place and bumping into memorable and bizarre characters.

Writer and director Joe Carnahan, who has credits like The Grey, Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team on his resume, does a fine job of making Stretch a finely tuned mess where as audiences we are just happy to go along for the ride.

Patrick Wilson is legendary in this, and Chris Pine is as funny as I have ever seen him. Other supporting cast members such as Jessica Alba, Brooklyn Decker, James Badge Dale and Ed Helms all Play their parts with the requisite amount of fun. The highlights for me, however, would have to be the extended cameos from David Hasselhoff and Ray Liotta playing spoof versions of themselves, as well as Kevin Bigley playing ex-reality TV star Faux Hawk.

The film does get wrapped up a little too neatly and resorts to more conventional Hollywood tactics down the stretch, no pun intended. Notwithstanding its flaws, however, Stretch is an undeniably brilliant farce and one of the most hilarious and energetic popcorn movies I have seen in quite some time.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

I much preferred this poster to the one that just ripped off the one from The Conjuring
I much preferred this poster to the one that just ripped off the one from The Conjuring

The first Insidious from 2011 (review here) was a pleasure, a supernatural horror film that delves, unexpectedly for me, into the world of astral projection (oops, is that a spoiler?). It fell apart somewhat towards the end, but it started with aplomb and contained some genuinely creepy sequences and effective traditional scares. The fact that I watched the film feeling kinda weak after a bout of food poisoning might have also contributed to the overall experience.

When I first heard that they were making a sequel I was apprehensive. For all its positives, Insidious did not come across as a sequel-friendly film, especially given the way it ended. It felt like a studio cash-grab, to be honest, and my expectations were accordingly fairly low. In this light, Insidious: Chapter 2 actually exceeded what I had expected of it, which is a reflection of the skill of Aussie director James Wan (who will helm the new entry in the Fast & Furious franchise — RIP Paul Walker, by the way) and his buddy Leigh Whannel, who wrote the screenplay.

Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up where the first one ended, which means there could be a bit of confusion for audiences who did not watch the first one. Essentially, the plot centers on a family of four, a couple (played again by the formidable duo of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) and their two young sons, one of whom is naturally adept at astral projection. They were haunted by nasty entities in the first film and they are again, and this time the stakes are even higher.

This sequel is a more in-depth film that traces the story back to its origins (hinted in the first film) and keeps the narrative progressing in the present day. I understand the decision to call this Insidious: Chapter 2 as opposed to just Insidious 2, because it really is a continuation of the same story. As such, the structure of the film is less traditional and could throw some people off, and there were indeed times when I felt like the plot was wandering aimlessly in search of more scares.

However, as a horror film, Insidious: Chapter 2 is still damn effective, with some highly-skilled fright sequences that once again utilises every tool in Wan’s bag of tricks. People who have seen the first film and this year’s horror highlight, The Conjuring, will have a fairly good idea of what they are in for. Apart from recreating the eerie atmosphere from the first film, Wan uses plenty of misdirection to put you off guard before making you jump out of your seat with loud “boo” scares and frightening images. I wasn’t as unsettled as I was this time around but I can appreciate a strong effort when I see one, and it’s arguable that Wan has improved further as a filmmaker after The Conjuring (especially when it comes to deciding what to show and what not to show on screen). That blaring theme music (if it can be called music) that accompanies the title still gets me every time.

There is admittedly less freshness and intrigue this time around as the film steps into The Shining territory, and audiences who don’t “get” astral projection might find the whole thing kinda silly; laughable even. In many ways, Insidious: Chapter 2 is really just for the fans of the first one, and from what I’ve heard the wheels are already in motion for a third.

At the end of the day, I would have been perfectly happy if Insidious was a standalone film. While Insidious: Chapter 2 probably didn’t need to be made, it still is better than the vast majority of horror films to hit our screens every year, and because of that I didn’t mind it at all.

3.25 stars out of 5!

PS: Like it or not, astral projection is a real phenomenon, and it’s there to be explored for people who dare to venture into that kind of stuff (I don’t). That said, I’m not sure how accurately the film portrays it, but my guess is not very 🙂

Movie Review: Insidious (2011)

Well-made horror movies about hauntings are a rarity these days.  Genuinely frightening ones are almost impossible to find.  For me, Insidious was both.

Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan (the Aussie duo who kick started the Saw franchise), Insidious is a unique spin on the haunted house genre, something I didn’t expect and was pleasantly surprised by.

It tells the story of a young married couple played by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, who move into a new house with their three boys.  Weird things start happening and a tragic event occurs — but that’s just the beginning.  At some point in the film the story takes a turn and takes us in a new direction.  Some will like the fact that we are being treated to something we’re not used to seeing.  Others will despise it.

You will have to either know a little bit about what I am referring to or be able to keep an open mind in order to truly appreciate it.  If you can’t, you’ll probably write off the film as silly and farcical.  But if you can (and I could), I believe you’re in for a real treat.

For those put off by the Saw reference, don’t be, because Insidious is nothing like those torture porn films.  It’s also nothing like Paranormal Activity (also referred to on the poster because it has common producers, including Oren Peli), which I thought sucked.  Whannell and Wan have shown their versatility with this one, using clever and authentically frightening situations, escalating tension and downright freakish moments to create one of the most suspenseful ghost films I’ve seen in years.  Sure, none of the tactics are necessarily original, but the execution was undoubtedly superb.

The film does have a few shaky moments, especially towards the end, but if it’s frights you are looking for, then Insidious definitely delivers.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The A-Team (2010)

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about the 80s series The A-Team upon which the new film of the same name was based.  I was familiar with Mr T, and my old boss had once referred to our particular team for a large legal transaction as “the A-Team” (apart from me, there were two other lawyers — one was a sexual deviant and the other was nicknamed “Freakshow” for his horrible BO, saliva spraying, flaky dandruff, and body hairs poking out of missed button holes), but that was the extent of my knowledge.

This new “A-Team” features Liam Neeson (how can you not like a guy who played Oscar Schindler, Qui-Gon Jinn and kicked serious butt in Taken?) as their leader “Hannibal”, rising star Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) as the slick “Face”, Sharlto Copley (District 9) as “Howling Mad” Murdoch, and MMA fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as BA Baracus (the new Mr T).  These four dudes somehow come together and become extremely close (in condensed off-screen time), blowing things up and making wisecracks while they save the world from corrupt government officials and counterfeit money plates.

The A-Team is what it is.  An all-out, over-the-top action movie with a bunch of cool, wacky guys, a few rather tame/lame jokes, a couple of twists and turns in the plot, and lots and lots of explosions.  It starts with a bang and never lets the foot off the pedal.  Fun and exciting?  For the most part.  Engaging and riveting?  Not exactly.  As far as action movies go, I suppose it could have been a lot worse, but this was definitely no classic.  However, if you just want a couple of hours of light entertainment, The A-Team is actually quite up to the task.

Since I don’t know about the original there’s nothing to compare them to, but I think the chemistry is largely there for this crew.  I would say Jackson, not being a career actor and all, was the weakest link of the foursome.  He just looks uncomfortable out there churning out those lines.

To me, it was the villains that stole the show.  Patrick Wilson (super underrated actor) gets a pretty meaty role as a nasty but inept CIA Agent and seems to really enjoy being a douche, whereas Brian Bloom (I’ve seen him in Dollhouse and a bunch of other TV shows) unexpectedly excels as the evil private security dude.

On the other hand, Jessica Biel received a rather thankless role as the helpless agent on the side slash love-interest.  She was looking slim and pretty but that was about it.

Considering the “average” reception of the film at the box office, whether a sequel will be forthcoming remains to be seen.  In some ways The A-Team failed to live up to expectations because of the popularity of the original TV series, but in other ways it exceeded expectations because most people thought it would be complete trash (but it’s not).  Keep your expectations in check and go along for the ride.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).

Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).

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Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)

Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA

Running time: 163 minutes

4 out of 5 stars

Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see.  It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie.  Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes).  It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong.  Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness.  In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.

As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea).  All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War.  This becomes clear in the opening sequences.

However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie.  The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks.  There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions.  At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.

The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting.  For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion.  It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period.  Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.

Directing and Screenplay

Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last.  As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great.  The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored.  Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it.  For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.

Acting

rorschach
Haley as Rorschach was amazing

The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated.  For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions.  The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far.  You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face.  You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask.  Truly brilliant.

Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.

If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias.  While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character.  Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.

Violence, Sex and Special Effects

Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected).  I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.

The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late.  And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less.  On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.

As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking.  They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).

Conclusion

On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be.  It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.

There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent.  Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between.  I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.

I put myself in the third category.