The Conjuring 2 (2016) [Midnight Movie]

You’ve got to be a gifted filmmaker to make me care about a couple of characters based on the paranormal investigators known as The Warrens. Were they delusional or professional scumbags? Or both? I’m going with both.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a card-carrying skeptic, through and through. Before I saw The Conjuring I would have gladly forgotten The Warrens existed at all. In a piece of fantasy, however, the characters are fascinating. Years ago, as mentioned in the first film, Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren had a premonition so terrifying, she refused to tell her husband (Patrick Wilson’s Ed Warren) what she saw in it. I would have preferred it if The Conjuring 2 kept her vision a mystery, but this time around they spill the beans. Their reason for doing so, however, induces a feeling of dread which helps drive this sequel.

The Warrens have been called in to investigate the strange happenings at a London home occupied by a single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her three children. There’s an entity in the house who calls himself Bill. Bill likes to rip sheets from the beds and tug on the children’s ankles. When the mother tries to intervene, he graduates to biting, which leaves behind nasty sets of teeth marks on their skin.

Bill’s not the only presence at play here. The kids own a creepy old zoetrope. The spindly figure it depicts sometimes vanishes from the toy altogether, only to reappear creeping around the house in a mixture of CGI and stop-motion effects. It’s the best visual of the entire movie. Hell, it’s probably the best visual in any horror movie in years. Meanwhile the kids sing a nursery rhyme about this character, calling him the crooked man. (This is apparently a real-life nursery rhyme.)

Finally, there’s the demonic nun who seems unrelated to the London house, but frequently torments Lorraine. The demon is, disappointingly, a shoe-in for Marilyn Manson, which may be a case of director James Wan showing his age. And if this sounds like the movie is getting a little too overloaded with villains, I would have to agree. They should have kept the crooked man and dumped the Marilyn Manson lookalike altogether.

Still, The Conjuring 2 is the rare horror sequel which feels like a worthwhile continuation. It mixes in just enough new stuff to dazzle us while keeping enough of the old ingredients we liked so much the first time around. I do think it’s pretty dishonest to portray skeptical characters as stupid assholes, but hey, whatever—it’s Wan’s movie, not mine. Elsewhere, the characters are expertly written and the leads become even more interesting than they were in the first movie. Maybe the horror isn’t quite as good as it was in part one, but you’d need a very precise measuring tool to know for sure.

When The Conjuring 3 comes out I’ll be the first in line.

3D printing woes?

So I finally bought a 3D printer. The machine itself arrived today, but the PLA filament I ordered won’t be arriving until tomorrow, which is downright cruel. Thankfully, the machine comes with a few coils of sample filament, which has allowed me to print some extremely small projects. I got to experience a couple of failures, too.

I went with the Monoprice Select Mini. For one, I really like Monoprice and I tell people to check out their website a lot. Even though I heard they’re coming out with better models in April, I’m curious (read: impatient) to see how far two hundred dollars will take me right now. Besides, I foresee two things happening by the time April rolls around: either I’ve lost interest in 3D printing entirely or I’ll be shopping for something much more serious than the Select Mini. I think two hundred bucks is a pretty reasonable fee for finding out which.

That isn’t to say I think my losing interest is a strong possibility, just that I’ve got enough stuff going on right now. So I’m trying to justify my purchase not as a new hobby (which is the last thing I need), but as an early adoption of a skill that will be very common in the near future. Besides, 3D modelling in Blender, which is already one of my hobbies, will be closely related to printing. So win-win, right?

I think what I’m trying to say with this post is this: You can probably expect me to start talking about 3D printing a bit more in the coming weeks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Thingiverse Cthulhu to print.

(Update: the Cthulhu failed. It’s the first failure I’ve had that I can’t contribute to human error… and now I’m pretty much out of filament.)

Arcade game woes

Last Friday I decided to pull the electronics, but a fever I’ve been having on and off for about a week knocked me on my ass. I’ve been alternatively freezing and sweating my ass off ever since. Hopefully I’ll be able to start the bodywork next weekend.
Whenever I haven’t been too exhausted to stand, I’ve been playing Gyruss on my MAME cabinet. It’s one of the few space shooters I might like more than Galaga. 

full disclosure: this guy is way better than me

Gyruss music is just flat-out fucking rad, isn’t it?

* * *

I’ve finished the first draft of Church Camp. It’s easily the best first draft of anything I’ve ever written. More details soon.

The Conjuring (2013) [Midnight Movie]

One reason I avoided The Conjuring is I wasn’t a fan of director James Wan’s Saw, which I thought had great actors yet phony acting. Besides, the last time I saw Lili Taylor in a horror movie was 1999’s The Haunting, which helped kick off the crappiest era in horror movie history. Then there’s the conceit of calling this a true story (‘kay), which reeks of the same dishonesty that produced The Amityville Horror, one of the dumbest fucking movies ever made.

And if you think The Amityville Horror really happened, I would like to sell you a bridge, but there’s a good chance you’ve already got all your money locked away in a scam anyway. It just really rubs me the wrong way when movies try to exploit the “open-minded” by slapping “based on a true story” on a title card. Every other week I have to read news about children getting killed by make-believe exorcists and parents who chose prayer over medicine. (I imagine this problem might get worse now that Dr. Oz is focusing on faith-healing every Friday this month… that’s where we are now.) So when I heard this movie was about The Warrens, you better believe I rolled my eyes so hard they nearly popped out of my skull.

I could go on and on about why The Conjuring didn’t look like my cup of tea, but now that I’ve seen it I’m in danger of something which shocks me: I could gush about this movie. Really. I think this is one of the finest horror films ever made—this in spite of the fact that, from a distance, it appears to embody everything I dislike about modern horror.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who play the paranormal investigators known as The Warrens, are the kind of screen talent we don’t see much of today. They find themselves in introspective roles which might have been filled by the likes of Shelly Winters and Henry Fonda several years ago. There’s something satisfyingly old fashioned about their methods, which makes them perfectly believable in a story set in 1971, and I have to give James Wan credit for casting adults who look and act like real people.

Meanwhile, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor play The Perrons, the parents of five daughters who are targeted by the presence haunting their home. Eventually, the strange happenings in the house become so frightening the family resorts to sleeping in the living room together because they’re too scared to stay in separate bedrooms. It’s at this point The Perrons seek out The Warrens for help, who will have to document the case in such a way the church grants them an exorcism. Naturally, the presence doesn’t like The Warrens’ involvement one bit and things become increasingly violent.

Here’s a movie which successfully homages everything from The Exorcist to Poltergeist with a lot of respect. I have a feeling I wouldn’t like James Wan’s opinions on the source material’s legitimacy, but damn it, he’s made a great movie with genuinely creepy moments. I love that little room where the Warrens keep the relics they’ve accumulated over the course of their career… if that’s not a bubbling cauldron of imagination, I don’t what is.

I’ll be featuring the sequel next Friday. Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I just re-watched the original John Wick in preparation for the sequel and enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Dredd and Fury Road, similarly old fashioned action flicks. Both of those movies have a lot in common with John Wick’s fictional universe, the world-building of which is more suggestive than fleshed out. The fact that the sketchy people who live there have their own laws and currency makes the setting fascinatingly mysterious, much like Wick himself. Yet my favorite thing about the movie is that when characters say things like, “John’s not exactly the boogeyman… he’s who you send to kill the boogeyman,” you don’t snicker as you would in a movie which takes itself too seriously.

The entire point of John Wick is to entertain. As is such, a lot of it is style over substance, but it’s not all style, and unlike Tony Scott’s Domino era there’s not so much style it resembles a music video more than a movie. I think what I’m saying is John Wick is a damn near perfect film for my particular tastes. Besides, aren’t you getting sick of little goody two-shoes like Jason Bourne and all the other PG-13 action heroes?

In the first film, a grieving John Wick murdered everyone even remotely connected to the death of his puppy, which was his deceased wife’s final gift to him. At the end of the movie he broke into an animal shelter and stole a pit bull, then walked off into the sunrise. And when Chapter 2 comes along, it’s really good to see John Wick and that pit bull are still together, even though you can estimate the dog’s plot armor around 50%… 75 if you don’t believe they’d kill two dogs in the same franchise and somewhere around 25 if you remember how graphic the first dog slaying was… that long streak of blood was some fucked-up shit, after all.

Chapter 2 expands on the same criminal underworld as seen in the first movie, this time revealing the existence of a blood contract signed by Wick sometime before the events of the first film. The beneficiary of the contract has complete control over Wick, and Wick will never be free until he performs an impossible task. When Wick politely asks for the deal to be rescinded, his house explodes, which leads you to wonder what else he’ll get taken from him.

So here was my worry going into the movie: nobody wants to see John Wick put through as much hell as he was put through in the first movie. Yet if they don’t put him through the ringer, would we lose the satisfaction of seeing him shoot dozens of people in their faces and heads? As it turns out, they don’t put Wick through the same level of shit they put him through in the first movie… at least not up front. (Let’s just say—extremely vague spoiler—he doesn’t exactly walk into the sunrise at the end this time.) There’s a slower burn leading to Wick’s ultimate melting point, but the action scenes are no less exciting. In fact, they’re a little more creative this time around, which you’ll see during the very first stunt sequence of the movie.

And holy shit this movie is beautiful.

If you’re a fan of the original film, you’re almost certainly going to like this one just as much if not more. I don’t think I’ve been this pumped up since I saw Fury Road. If you want them to keep making these kinds of movies for adults, then go see it instead of whatever other bullshit they’ve got coming out right now. Hell, see it twice.

True Lies (1994) [Midnight Movie]

True Lies was the most expensive movie ever made when it came out (I remember a rumor that theaters were going to charge higher ticket prices just for this movie, but that never came to be). Unlike other big budget films of the era (Waterworld comes to mind), you can actually see where all the money went. Its action scenes are among the richest I have ever seen, the stunts are legendary, and it hurts to think we may never see actual fighter jets and helicopters interacting with actors ever again.

I’m not exaggerating here: True Lies has some seriously spectacular action. It’s disappointing to realize just a few years later Nicholas Cage was pretending to drive a CGI car while Jedi were becoming digitized dummies. You just can’t cheat your stunts and expect the audience to be wowed. The action sequence on a Florida Keys bridge blows most movies out of the water… and that’s not even the finale.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, Harry Tasker, is a spy who masquerades as a computer salesman. His wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) doesn’t have a clue what her husband really does for a living, but she longs for excitement in her dull life. Meanwhile their teenage daughter thinks her father’s a massive tool because, outwardly, he is. Why a boring white collar worker would have a bodybuilder’s body isn’t important. No one in the movie bothers to notice.

What’s strange about True Lies is the fact it forgets it’s an action movie about midway through. Early on, Harry and his partner (Tom Arnold) are hot on the trail of jihadists who’re attempting to smuggle nuclear warheads into the States. But when Harry discovers Helen is seeing another man (Bill Paxton) he diverts every bit of his team’s intelligence to finding out the man’s identity. Without spoiling too much of it, Helen is subjected to a cruel prank by a stranger, only to be subjected to another cruel prank by the very man she married. The morality of it all is questionable, but, uh, I don’t go to the movies to see saints. I enjoyed it even though the long, action-free middle of the movie might feel like a derailment to some.

And it’s hard to top the last forty minutes. Most movies which combine action and comedy suck at one or the other (often both, as almost every Lethal Weapon rip-off will prove), but True Lies is the rare action film with perfect comedic timing. In one scene Schwarzenegger is hanging from the reins of the horse which flung him over the side of a high-rise building. He glances up to the horse and begs it to save his life. Somehow, the filmmakers goad the horse into smiling back at him. In another scene, in which Schwarzenegger is injected with a truth serum, Helen asks if they’re going to die. He replies, “Yep!”

This isn’t just routine comedy squeezed into the film because audiences expect it to be there. This is genuinely funny stuff, and the timing of it—as well as the editing of the action scenes—reaches a musical quality. Not only was True Lies the glorious swan song of the 80s and early 90s action film, it satirizes the genre at the same time. In Terminator 2, director James Cameron took care to show why his vehicles exploded so as not to disturb our suspension of disbelief. In True Lies, vehicles explode because he’s indulging in gleeful absurdity. And my god it’s infectious.

I watch True Lies practically every time I make adjustments or upgrades to my home theater, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed it more than I do now.