Monday, July 22, 2013

Weekend Movie Round-Up: The Conjuring, Red 2, R.I.P.D.

As you know, I go see a lot of movies.  I've only met a handful of people that like movies even a teensy bit as much as me.  Some movies opened up this weekend. I will now talk about them.  This is


The first movie we saw this weekend was The Conjuring. The movie is supposedly based on the true story of the Warren family--a husband/wife duo of paranormal investigators.  They investigated the Amityville thing, also.  Anyway, this movie details another case they once had.

Some people on the internet have a surprising amount of fervor and anger over these Warren cases, but I'm going to be frank with you--I don't care.  I went to see this movie because it was directed by James Wan.  If you don't know who James Wan is, he directed some of my all-time favorite horror movies: Saw, Insidious, and Dead Silence.  I highly recommend all three of those movies because they are all fantastic.  So I went in expecting good things.  What did I think?


I know that there have a been a ton of haunted house movies that have come out this year, and, indeed, in the past couple of years.  The Woman in Black, Insidious, The Possession, Sinister, Dark Skies, and now this film.  It is a well worn story convention by this time.  However, James Wan is great at what he does.  He is a master at building atmosphere and having it pay off in spades with lots of tension that builds into horrifying moments.  Sometimes the pay off is a jump scare, but he's just as likely to just introduce a terrifying image calmly in the background and just let the camera settle on it.  It's one of my favorite things about his movies--he just knows how to put one together really well.  

The movie also knows the conventions of haunted house movies and either has fun with them, or subverts them well.  It doesn't start off with tiny cliched things like 'whoops, now where did my keys go?'  It establishes characters and motivations.  You see the haunted family's personal relationships that builds into one terrifying-ass game of hide and seek.  And that's only the start.  The tension builds from there.

It's not without its flaws.  There are a few elements introduced in the movie that don't go anywhere, and a few things that seemed like they'd be important that aren't really ever addressed again.

I didn't like The Conjuring as much as Insidious.  I felt like Insidious was just a really scary movie, despite not having the R-rating of The Conjuring.  But, that doesn't mean that this movie isn't goddamned awesome.

If you like horror, go see this movie.  It's worth the price of admission.

Red was an awesome movie based on the graphic novel by noted comics writer Warren Ellis.  I have no idea if the movie and the comic have very much in common, but I know that the movie was fantastic.  It was about a former CIA agent named Frank Moses who's retired and is living the boring civilian life.  He's adjusted, and seeks his thrills now with calling a customer service line to speak with Sarah, whom he's developed a bit of a crush on.  However, when assassins show up to take him out, Frank tracks down Sarah to keep her safe, then rounds up a crew of former friends and allies including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich playing a hilariously paranoid former operative, and Hellen Mirren as an incredible bad ass.

The movie's story is fun, the characters are memorable, the plot works really well.

Red 2 is an example of a sequel failing to understand what made the first one successful.  It waters down strong characters and spends most of its time trying to reference the previous movie.  This movie chooses to focus more on Frank's relationship with Sarah and how they're adapting to civilian life--except...Frank was already adapted to civilian life.  Sure, he was lonely, and he clearly had more fun being a bad ass...but this shouldn't be an issue.  The humor is supposed to come from the fact that Sarah craves adventure like she saw in the previous movie while Frank is paranoid that she'll get hurt.

John Malkovich's character was one of the best parts of the original movie, but his paranoia has been turned WAAAAY down in this film.  There are a few moments where he engages in some paranoid activity, but mostly he seems almost zen-like in this film.  Where, in the previous film he was worn down and haunted by what he knew about the government (and was actually vindicated given what happens in the first film), in this one, he's very calm, dispensing relationship advice to Frank, outwitting bad guys with relaxed ease, and even napping on a couch.

The movie was a massive disappointment.  It feels ultimately kind of pointless, and it lacks the heart of the first one in a major way.  Save yourself the money and just rewatch the first one.

1) This movie looks like a Men in Black rip off.  2) I know it was based on a comic.  I have not read the comic.  3) Men in Black was also based on a comic that came out before the R.I.P.D. comic.  What I'm saying is, it's possible for this still to be a MIB rip off.  Comic rip offs are just as common as movie rip offs.

With that out of the way, with the understanding that this is a Men in Black it any good?

In short: no.

Don't get me wrong.  It doesn't deserve the 11% that I last saw it had on Rotten Tomatoes.  That's a bit extreme.  It's hardly Grown Ups 2 territories of shitty.  It's just incredibly bland, boring, and stupid for way too much of the movie.  That said, I went in expecting nothing.  What I got was a surprising amount of laughs.  Not because the movie was good.  Not even because the movie was so bad it was funny.  It was because of Jeff Bridges.

Jeff Bridges is always brilliant in basically everything that he's in.  I love the guy.  I'm always excited to see his movies because he knows how to have fun with every role he's in.  And in this movie?  He clearly does not give a fuck.  This movie is boring, and he seems to know it, channeling his best Rooster Cogburn and just hamming it up in the best way possible.

While his character is awesome in most of the scenes, because it's mostly his reactions to situations, bitching about various perceived injustices and slights, or telling his rookie partner what's what, there is one place where Tommy Lee Jones did this role better: delivering exposition.  Jones has a way of delivering lines that are simply meant for exposition in a way that makes them sound important, in a way that is engaging, that Bridges character just didn't have.  When he's chewing the scenery or bitching for the 100,000,000th time about how coyotes ate his body, it's hilarious.  When he's trying to explain the rules of this MIB-lite world, it's boring boring boring.

Ryan Reynolds is mostly sleepwalking through this movie.  He has a few moments that are really funny, but those moments are when he's just shooting the shit with Jeff Bridges.  However, those moments are few and far between.  Every time the film starts to slow down and develop characters, another CG bad guy comes crashing through the scene.  It's like they were afraid if the characters weren't constantly barebacking a CG behemoth, the audience might get bored.

The largest thing lacking in this film, I think, is the direction.  Barry Sonnenfeld directed the MIB movies, and while you may have your problems with the sequels, they still felt like MIB movies.  They had a sort of off-kilter, mocking tone.  The movies were about more than just aliens among us.  There was lots of social commentary, the director took pains to make the aliens seem like the normal ones and all of the humans seems like the awkward aliens.  It was the whole point.  RIPD's tone feels too much like a generic action movie for the most part, with a few moments of awkwardly trying to copy the MIB tone. 

For example, in MIB, the agents get the latest alien news from the tabloids.  It's a twist on an old idea that tabloids only publish garbage, but in this film they're actually the most reliable news source.  In RIPD, the entrance for the RIPD is in the bathroom of a VCR Repair shop.  They make the joke, "When's the last time you had a VCR repaired."  It's a decent joke, but the rest of the movie's tone doesn't match up to that, so you have this movie that feels like it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be and it ends up failing in many regards.

The one thing this movie has going for it: it's short.

I have to repeat myself.  I know I was hard on this movie, but that's because there were moments where I saw what the film could have been: Jeff Bridges playing the accordian and singing a bitchy, passive-aggressive song about his partner = frickin' hilarious.  But it kept getting bogged down with too much other crap.

If you want to see this movie, I'd wait for it on DVD.  Give it rent when you're bored and have nothing else to do, but mostly only if you want to see Jeff Bridges ridiculous "not-giving-a-fuck" performance.  Otherwise, I'd say skip it.


Anyway, that's all for me.  Did you see any of these movies?  If so, what did you think?  Did you see anything else?  Share in the comments.