Saturday, July 7, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: Boy meets girl, girl unimpressed, boy starts band

The Conjuring 2 (2016): By now, I don’t think James Wan’s idea of what is terrifying and my own will ever converge, unless I’ll ever be converted to the gospel of the jump scare as the most important thing in any horror movie. Otherwise, it’s the usual Wan stuff: high technical abilities put into the service of delivering jump scare after jump scare after jump scare (which generally works on me for half an hour and then quickly becomes annoying) and a script whose only substance is some generic Christian demon stuff, a bit of whining about sceptics, and some advertisements for Bill and Lorraine Warren, whose film versions are still the blandest yet supremely sanctimonious psychic investigators alive, seeing as their only character trait is being holy. To me, Wan’s movies are the emptiest of empty spectacle, that is to say, spectacle I can’t even enjoy as spectacle because I find it utterly uninvolving. Of course, given who well these things sell and how much lots of horror fans and critics love them, they must work better for others.

Goosebumps (2015): To reiterate that I do indeed enjoy me some spectacle, take this family friendly horror comedy by Rob Letterman based on the books by R.L. Stine, who also appears as a character played by a Jack Black who for once doesn’t seem to be playing his Jack Black persona. It’s deeply harmless, loud, and fast fun with competent young actors, lots and lots of CGI monsters, and not too many scenes of people learning valuable lessons to annoy me. There’s never a boring moment, likeable characters who don’t get into speeches about God at the slightest provocation and also don’t look as if they were at a 70s themed costume party. Even better: most of the ideas the film comes up with are actually fun and clever, with many a call-back to horror classics (and I suppose Stine’s work, though I can’t say I have any personal experience with it), even most of the jokes don’t seem to be written down to some assumed brain-dead twelve year old. If I had kids, I’d absolutely tie them to a chair to watch this with me.

The Family (2013): But then, I also mostly enjoyed this very violent comedy with Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as the parents of a psychopathically inclined mafia family in witness protection under the tutelage of a typically grumpy Tommy Lee Wallace in France, as directed by Luc Besson. To my own surprise and confusion, I found myself laughing a lot, despite my usual reaction to humour in Besson’s films being along the lines of running away screaming. Of course, part of the film’s charm are meta moments like the scene where de Niro’s and Wallace’s characters are witnessing a screening of Goodfellas (in my book probably the best gangster film ever made with or without de Niro), which of course results in some tearful reminiscing by de Niro’s character. Otherwise, there’s quite a bit of humorous ultra-violence, and jokes that reach from the dubious to the stupid, all filmed by Besson with his typical relish.

The moral of the story seems to be that Americans are dangerous lunatics, but families are good, though I might be wrong.

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