REVIEW: THE CONJURING (2013)

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Ed Warren: The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges on which we decide to follow.

Director: James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

Synopsis: The true story of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren who must help a family deal with paranormal activity in their new home.

The Conjuring directed by James Wan is a classically styled horror film which relies on genuine slowly built frightening sequences and excellent characters to entertain and scare its audience. Unlike other recent horror films which rely on torture (Saw series) or found footage (Paranormal Activity series) to scare its audience, The Conjuring harkens back to the days of masterful suspense by directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and William Friedkin. Wan clearly a fan of these great auteurs gives his film a sense of respectability in not relying on gimmicks to surprise or shock his audience. He relies on mood, sound, atmosphere and a slow feeling of dread that surrounds every moment of this film. He utilises these elements extremely well in developing frightening sequences which admittedly we have seen done before, however he treats the scares with a genuine sense of authenticity and doesn’t pander to his audience. Although the film relies on haunted house and exorcism film genre conventions, Wan injects them with more than what we have seen in recent horror films and this easily excels all others in comparison.

THE CONJURING

Wan coming off the respectable horror film, Insidious, and the original Saw is now a genuine horror auteur and has reached his peak with this horror masterpiece. The film centres on the Perron family, father, Roger and mother, Carolyn (both played earnestly by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five children. They move into a new house and soon begin to hear bump in the night. These early sequences are well choreographed and don’t rely on fake scares like a cat jumping out of the corner, instead cinematographer John R. Leonetti weaves his camera around the house and allows the darkness to creep into the daughter’s bedroom. His camera works wonders in setting up the shocking situation this family will soon be in. We also meet paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who bring a sense of genuine chemistry to their partnership. Vera Farmiga excels as the tortured Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson plays Ed as a protective husband and father, a man willing to help and has a sense of duty to those in need. They meet the Perron’s and immediately sense a demonic presence in their home.

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The film then moves towards its compelling and shocking finale involving an exorcism that matches the original The Exorcist (1973) in its horror and intensity. With excellent acting, direction and cinematography, The Conjuring is perhaps one of the best horror films of the last decade. One which many will be aiming to replicate in our future.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)

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Maurice: Hurt bad?
Caesar: You know sign?
Maurice: Circus orangutan.
Maurice: Careful. Humans don’t like smart ape.

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Synopsis: A scientist testing a new drug to cure alzheimer’s uses apes as test subjects. The drug works and one ape named Caesar begins to grow more intelligent…

After 2001’s reboot directed by Tim Burton bombed critically and financially ten years later Fox decided to do another reboot. Only this time they moved away from remaking Planet of the Apes (1968) and made a hybrid prequel/remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). The one thing that differentiated it from the franchise (and had fanboys quite worried) was the fact that all of the apes would be completely CGI and not men in costumes. Although the one thing everyone praised in Burton’s reboot was the amazing costume design. This film opens in the jungle and provides a far more serious and compelling opening far removed from what we have seen in the past films. Thanks to the geniuses at Weta Digital we have amazing looking apes who look more like they are from a David Attenborough documentary than a Halloween party. The apes look and move exactly as real apes do and this opening is brilliant in showing not only this new universe but also the new tone this film/franchise will go in.

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After the jungle sequence opening we are introduced to Will Rodman (played earnestly by James Franco) who is a scientist experimenting with cures for alzheimers. We quickly learn that Will has a personal stake in this as his father is suffering from the illness (played heartbreakingly by John Lithgow). Will has a lab full of chimps who have been given a serum that increases their intelligence and gives them the IQ of humans. After a presentation goes wrong the experiment is called off and the chimps are all euthanized except for one baby chimp which Will takes into his own care. As weeks go by Will discovers this chimp has the AZL serum in his blood passed down from his mother and shows signs of increased intelligence far superior than any regular ape. The ape also befriends Wills dad, Charles and he names him Caesar based on his love of Shakespeare. The famous Shakespeare play Julius Caesar definitely has parallels to this story.

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As years go by Will begins dating comely Vet Caroline (played by Frieda Pinto) and Caesar grows claustrophobia as an ape with no jungle to explore. He watches outside the attic window at children playing and becomes depressed in his current predicament. Will begins to take him on trips to their local sanctuary where Caesar is able to climb trees and swing from the vines. These sequences are breathtaking and show the scope of the quality of Weta’s special effects. As with every Planet of the Apes film things soon begin to go wrong not only for Caesar but also for Will and Charles who begins to slide further into madness. Caesar ends up in a zoo owned by the nefarious John Landon (played with moustache twirling glee by Brian Cox) and his son Dodge Landon (played by Harry Potter villain Tom Felton). Here Caesar meets Maurice and Rocket and many other apes and begins to find a place among his primates. He soon becomes King due to his advanced intellect. Unfortunately Caesar also learns the evil of men and becomes distrustful of Will and sees his fellow apes as his equals. He rallies them together to rise up from their cages and take over the city. The action and special effects filled sequences that follow are truly breathtaking especially the action on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

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The film is ultimately a tragedy and shows the problems with our modern society between different classes, ethnicities and groups of people. Also the cost of trying to advance science and technology to play God. The film is an allegory for many issues in today’s society and unlike the older Apes films it doesn’t hit you over the head with the obvious subtext. Instead it provides an action filled and at times heartbreaking story of man and ape who lose their way.

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One more thing I need to praise in this film and that is Andy Serkis motion captured performance. After playing Gollum and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, Serkis has made body acting an art form. He is brilliant in this role and brings the ape Caesar to heartbreaking life. You follow his journey and side with his character more so than any human performer. Serkis’ Caesar has become one the greatest CGI characters in the past five years. He is truly a revelation and lifts this film from enjoyable to fantastic.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014)

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Hassan Kadam: Food is memories.

Director: Lasse Hallström

Cast: Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Le Bon

Synopsis: The Kadam family leaves India for France where they open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory’s Michelin-starred eatery.

Review:

Just like 2014’s other culinary delight Chef, The Hundred-Foot Journey provides glorious cinematography of delicious Indian cuisine along with French delights. The food is magnificent to look at and it’s hard to watch on an empty stomach. Unfortunately that is the only similarity to the enjoyable film Chef. This film starts out with an interesting plot and characters but ultimately plods to a predictable ending and can’t quite keep each subplot balanced as the film could have had a satisfying conclusion about a half an hour before the credits roll. To compare it to a meal; excellent entrée, passable main course, terrible dessert.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

The film deals with the Kadam family leaving India after tragedy (a similar plot element from imported Indian based films such as Slumdog Millionaire). They arrive in Paris and we are introduced to Papa (played well by veteran Om Puri) and his family who don’t have much to do besides son Hassan (played by Manish Dayal with little charm) who yearns to be a chef like his mother. Papa goes on to open an Indian restaurant in Paris opposite a well-established French cuisine restaurant run by Madame Mallory (played sternly by Helen Mirren). As the clash of cultures plays out we are given an enjoyable love story of not only man and food but also between Hassan and Madame Mallory’s sou chef, Marguerite (played by the luminous Charlotte Le Bon).

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With a clichéd plot and only somewhat interesting characters the film only excels in delivering luscious shots of Indian and French cooking and food. The film makes you fall in love with the art of cooking and eating. Unfortunately the film does plod along with little plot and an unsatisfying ending.

Rating: 2 Stars

REVIEW: CHEF (2014)

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Percy: Where are we?
Inez: This is Little Havana.
Percy: Like in Grand Theft Auto?

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt

Synopsis: A popular chef loses his job after having an altercation with a well-regarded food critic. He decides to return to his roots and goes on the road to make food in his hometown of Miami.

Review:

Just as the main character, Carl Casper, does in this film, director, writer and lead actor Jon Favreau leaves the pressures of blockbuster filmmaking (Iron Man 1 & 2, Cowboys and Aliens) and returns to his indie-film roots (Swingers, Made) with his latest film, Chef. The film definitely plays like a mirror to Favreau’s career as he came out fresh with 2008’s classic Marvel blockbuster Iron Man, however his films started to get stale with the 2010 sequel Iron Man 2 and the 2011 sci-fi flop Cowboys and Aliens. Pressures from the studios are represented by Restaurant Owner, Riva (played deliciously by Dustin Hoffman) who demands that instead of serving a new and interesting menu give the customers what they want despite the lack of innovation and originality. Despite Casper’s efforts the critics aren’t fans of his food and can taste the desperation to please. Just as the film critics responded to Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens.

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Favreau returns to form in this delicious and charming road movie. Favreau fills the cast with excellent actors from his previous films such as Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson (both fabulous). He also uses Sophia Vergara and John Leguizamo (actors who usually annoy me) to great effect in their supporting roles. The real stand out is Emjay Anthony as Casper’s son, Percy. Percy looks up to his father and is in desperate need of some father son time. After Casper’s downfall he goes on the road with him and discovers his father’s passion for food. Although their journey is quite clichéd, Favreau and Emjay Anthony deliver excellent chemistry and are believable as father and son.

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The film moves in a fast paced beat with the flavour of Favreau’s earlier films in particular 1996’s Swingers. Favreau should continue making his passion projects if they are as enjoyable as this. Also the cinematography of the food and cooking make the dishes look to die for. Do not watch this on an empty stomach all of the food in this film looks so good. An excellent film and one of the year’s best.

Rating: 4 Stars

REVIEW: SINISTER (2012)

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Ashley: Don’t worry, daddy. I’ll make you famous again.

Director: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Dalton Thompson

Synopsis: A true crime writer trying to reclaim his prior success moves into a home where grisly murders happened.

Review:

A taught thriller with an interesting lead and a new spin on the “bogey man” concept. Similar to previous Blumhouse productions (Paranormal Activity and Insidious) it doesn’t necessarily innovate the horror genre and often uses clichés from past horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween just as Insidious used Poltergeist as its main inspiration. However I found this to be an engaging entry into the horror films of recent times. It does have decent scares and develops its characters in realistic ways.

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Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is an over the hill true crime writer who is trying to recapture the success he had early on by investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young girl in a small town. He moves into the house that the family lived in and begins to hear bumps in the night. He also discovers old 8mm home movies which slowly reveal the many different murders that happened in the house by a mysterious “bogey man” with a very creepy mask. With Paranormal Activity and Insidious under their belts I can see Blumhouse as the New Line Cinema for our decade. Just as New Line produced low budget successful horror franchises in the 1980s with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th films with recognizable villains that give the teenagers something to watch on date night.

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This new bogey man isn’t quite established as Freddy was in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, however he provides enough mystery to be developed and fleshed out in later sequels. The film is engaging and the scares mostly earned. Performances are strong all around and Scott Derrickson shows a strong eye for horror conventions.

Rating: 3 Stars