Tag Archives: CGI

Review: The Conjuring (2013)

Conjuring up Mediocrity

Courtesy of crankfun.com.

Courtesy of crankfun.com.

 Review of The Conjuring (2013)

By Adam Tawfik

On paper, horror entrepreneur James Wan’s The Conjuring had many things working in its favor. The MPAA uncompromisingly issued it an R-rating (as opposed to the typical PG-13 rating given to summer horror films), not because of violence or gore (like Wan’s Saw franchise), but on the grounds that the overall film was too psychologically scary, and no cuts could be made to remedy that.

With heaps of critical praise and a leading cast that includes Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor, two of the most consistently unique actresses working in independent and off-beat films, plus solid actors Ron Livingston and Patrick Wilson, this seems like a perfect commercial and artistic union.

Courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

Courtesy of comicbookmovie.com

Once again, the censorship board makes an arbitrary and idiotic ruling and that elusive union is yet again unattained. Unfortunately Conjuring only (marginally) lived up to its potential in its first act. Following an atmospheric retro 1970’s horror opening sequence, we meet paranormal husband-and-wife team Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga) as they deliver a lecture about their dealings with an uberly demented porcelain Annabelle doll dominating the apartment of two kindly nursing students.

Then we cut to the Perrons (Livingston and Taylor), a salt-of-the-earth couple with five daughters who buy a suspiciously inexpensive house somewhere way out in booneyville Rhode Island.  From the get-go the insidious but unseen spirits terrorize the womenfolk (and kill their dog). After bearing abuse for thirty minutes or so, Mrs. Perron begs for the Warren’s help.

It is around this juncture that Conjuring loses its steam. Although the Warrens become more integral characters, Chad and Carey Hayes’ screenplay provides a most superficial overview of the methodology of their paranormal investigations further butchered by the fact that it is primarily conveyed through a series of unambiguously prosaic dialogue exchanges rather than allowing the mystery to uncover gradually through a visual lens.

Courtesy of villains.wikia.com

Courtesy of villains.wikia.com

Wan badly overcompensates the second half’s plot deficiency with ostentatiously grotesque CGI ghosts whose obviousness ruins the low-key ominousness established by unseen terrors. Added to the clutter are two superfluous stock characters: an initially skeptical, but kindly and slightly bumbling police officer (played by John Brotherton in an annoyingly Seth Rogian style) and the Warrens’ handsome but dull assistant (Shannon Kook).

Regrettably, most of the acting is on par with the rest of the film. Patrick Wilson gives a robotic performance as the protagonist while Ron Livingston and the daughters (played by five interchangeable actresses) are all monotonously bland.

Courtesy of virtualborderland.wordpress.com

Courtesy of virtualborderland.wordpress.com

But the biggest disappointment is Vera Farmiga, who normally excels at playing otherworldly characters. Here she is surprisingly glib and acts more like a B-movie scream queen than an accomplished expert of the supernatural.

In its favor Conjuring provides the inexplicably underutilized Lili Taylor with her most significant part in a long time. Delivering the sole three-dimensional performance, Taylor vividly captures the essence of a loving and protective mother progressively crumbling under the mental and physical strain of fighting demonic forces co-opting her body. Even at her most demented she infuses her character with humanity and vulnerability that singlehandedly rescues the third act from total banality.

Courtesy of collider.com

Courtesy of collider.com

Making matters worse, the sub-plots are more interesting than the main story. The Annabelle doll vignette has a bounce and energy that the rest of the film lacks, and its story could have inspired a quirky and enjoyably trashy flick.

A tragic séance that led a disturbed man to murder and suicide (and left Lorraine with PTSD) is the film’s most promising element, but its underdevelopment (the scene was thirty seconds tops) made it devoid of any meaningful impact. Had it been properly fleshed out, an engaging and taut cinematic experience with rich characterizations could have emerged.

Courtesy of screencrush.co.uk

Courtesy of screencrush.co.uk

Conjuring is indicative of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking in that it is a polished, competent, and perfectly generic product. That critics and audiences have so widely flocked to it enables blandness to fester in popular culture in favor of other creative filmmaking expressions enlivened with personality and dynamism that have made several seminal 70s horror films (most notably The Exorcist, The Omen, and Carrie) and tons of fantabulously campy exploitative ones by schlock auteurs such as Roger Corman, Eddie Romero, and Jack Hill enduring classics.

Courtesy of allzinfo.com

Courtesy of allzinfo.com

Before you settle for this lifeless, middle-of-the-road trite or the upcoming sure-to-be lackluster sequel imaginatively entitled The Conjuring 2, be sure to check out some contemporary Asian horror. Films such as The Isle (South Korea 2000), Audition (Japan 1999), and the definitive haunted house story A Tale of Two Sisters (S. Korea 2004) are foremost character studies around which a subtle but taut narrative is constructed that relentlessly keeps tension bubbling before reaching a chaotic psychological and visceral closing that offers closure while leaving us reverberating in shock. Better yet, many of these films are available on Netflix waiting for a widespread appreciation.

Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

The Godless Jungle

Courtesy of Filmes-Torrent.net

Courtesy of Filmes-Torrent.net

Only God Forgives (2013) Review

By Adam Tawfik

At the most basic plot level, Only God Forgives seems identical to countless other male-oriented revenge action flicks; a handsome, young white man Julian (Ryan Gosling) is pressured to avenge the murder of his brother Billy (Tom Burke). In the hands of Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, God rises above the tediousness of most action fare on every level.

Amidst an epidemic output of gimmicky CGI or 3D flicks or equally unimaginative remakes of iconic classics that have flooded the Hollywood market in the last few years, God’s commanding surrealistic scenery is welcomed in an era where most directors pay little (if any) attention to mise-en-scene.

God, like Drive, Refn’s pervious film (also starring Gosling), is primarily a stylistic achievement. Although Drive sported some of the most jaw-dropping cinematography with virtually every frame as a colorful phantasmagoric orgasm, a vapidity in the narrative bogged down the overall film.

God evocatively employs mise-en-scene to convey the ominousness of the seedy side of Bangkok, particularly in its innovative but unsettling low-key neon red and yellow color scheme. Fused with a flurry of deep dark shadows, these normally warm colors add an anarchic psychedelic layer to a somber noir-like landscape.

Courtesy of RopeofSilicon.com

Courtesy of RopeofSilicon.com

The squalidness is reinforced in the background scenery. The large warehouse-like quality of many of the locations contribute an animalistic, subhuman quality to the proceedings. Alternately, other locations such as the nightclub with heaps of Chinese Lanterns and crowds of people still project a hollow emptiness in spite of the clutter. The nightmarish dream sequences with characters running around narrow corridors with red walls are aesthetically similar to Dario Argento’s Inferno and carry the paranoia and perplexity of the corresponding scenes, minus the camp.

God’s story and atmosphere is certainly harsher (perhaps too rough for many critics’ and audiences’ tastes), but ultimately more compelling than Drive’s. Yet it has been widely condemned as an incoherent, gratuitously violent mess.

This is because the filmmakers take an abstract, often un-PC stance on violence. On the one hand, they effectively present a dystopic world where violence is a necessary evil for survival, but at the same time, show how it spawns a vicious cycle of insanity. What gives God its power to disturb and transfix is its handling of the uneasy balance between rapid, senseless acts of violence and calculated personalized murders committed at an uncomfortably prolonged pace.

 

Courtesy of theendofcinema.blogspot.com

Courtesy of theendofcinema.blogspot.com

The lapses of silence in these latter types of sequences don’t feel ponderous like they did in Drive, because they all contribute to creating mood and character. In one particularly off-kilter sequence, all the clients and prostitutes of the nightclub blankly stare (with the exception of a female prostitute) as head vigilante Lt. Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) progressively slices a henchman associated with Julian’s family (Gordon Brown) to death, giving the impression that this kind of brutality is quotidian.

The moral ambiguity of the central characters gives the actors something to sink their teeth into. In his previous film with Refn, Gosling’s pretty-boy mannequin-esque persona struck me as too inorganically sanitized for the role of a daredevil stuntman-by-day-hit-man-by-night operating in LA’s criminal underworld and the romantic subplot with Carey Mulligan was pointless.

Courtesy of scriptshadow.net

Courtesy of scriptshadow.net

God lets him draw on his delicate looks to create a vulnerable character whose cerebral demeanor isolates him from the ultra-sadistic misogynists surrounding him. Gosling convincingly shows the inner turmoil between taking issue with the violent status-quo (in particularly in avenging the death of his murdering rapist brother) and latent violent misogynist urges acted out towards Mai, an “entertainer” (bewitchingly portrayed by Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) in his fantasy to compensate for his impotence.

Due to the predictably linear narrative and one-note archetypes in Drive, there was no doubt that the protagonist would be victorious. God offers no such assurance for Julian. Gosling bravely sheds the infallibility of the typical action hero as he allows himself to be beaten to a pulp several times on-screen by several people less virile than himself.

Courtesy of LondonCityNights.com

Courtesy of LondonCityNights.com

The most surprising adversary is Lt. Chang. As an average height, slightly portly middle aged man with soulful eyes, he hardly seems to be a formidable opponent for the muscular Gosling. But deception is his strength and Pansringarm believably projects a quiet but deadly ferocity, and in some scenes he appears and disappears as rapidly as a phantom. Even at his most heinous, Pansringarm brings an earnest and wise quality to his role.

In many respects Chang, not Julian, is the film’s true hero as he is the off-kilter God. Only he can exercise the right to moral vigilantism. In one altercation with the distraught father of the slain prostitute, who has just murdered Billy, Chang chops off his hand, reminding him that “This isn’t about your dead daughter. It’s about your three living daughters. This is to make sure you never forget them.” At the same time he is the most grounded character; he is the only one with a stable family unit and sings karaoke with his colleagues.

Courtesy of DCFilmGirl.com

Courtesy of DCFilmGirl.com

The most astounding revelation is Kristen Scott-Thomas, who sheds all traces of her elegant English sophistication in a bravura performance as Crystal, Gosling’s sadistic revenge-crazy matriarch. Audaciously resembling a white-trash komodo dragon, her uninhibited kinkiness and aggression is the root of Julian’s central conflict between his reluctance and morbid fascination with sex and violence.

Crystal makes no pretense of her partiality towards the brutish Billy over the passive Julian, whom she considers weak. In one darkly humorous scene, she belabors her comparison of Julien’s average-sized cock in favor of Billy’s “enormous” one in front of Mai, whom he has hired to act as his girlfriend, while he silently sits in shame. Hearing Scott-Thomas call Mai’s vagina a “cum-dumpster” makes this film required viewing.

Courtesy of IMDb.com

Courtesy of IMDb.com

God’s divisively zealous reception resembles that of Oliver Stone’s 1994 classic Natural Born Killers, which was also met with heaps of controversy and disparagement for its excessive violence. Stone and Refn are savvy at translating their heavy-handed directorial style into energetic, stylistic films that have the courage to provoke and disturb. If Killers can receive the love it deserves (even if it was ten years belated), here’s hoping that God will receive its deserved glory too.