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Random Musings

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Spinning Them Tales

Random Musings

I’m always reading something or other. That seems fairly obvious, right?

Well, this summer I’ve immersed myself in the trials and tribulations of the folks who live at 28 Barbary Lane in Armistead Maupin’s genius “Tales of the City”. Set in my favorite decade (the 70’s, naturally), this iridescent gem of a novel has zany, colorful characters and plenty of WTF’s. In fact, there are so many funny and endearing plot points that I’m fairly certain many are going way over my head.

Check it out. Once I’m done the first book in the series, I’ll be posting a more in-depth analysis.

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A Conjecture on “The Conjuring 2”

Best of 2016, Film, Rave!

As a film scholar and enthusiast, I am often asked why do I like horror films so much. What is it about the genre where bloodshed, psychological warfare, and disturbing images intrigues me? To this question, I do not have an answer. Like with traditional art and sculpture, describing the feelings that accompany a particular piece is impossible. Same goes with film, in my humble opinion. The film going experience is less about the representation of a series of images used to form a narrative but about the visceral, more emotional responses the audience has to it. It is often these feelings that can make a film extremely successful or a major flop.

Before I begin to wane philosophically on the nature of cinema, I am bringing my focus back onto my most recent cinematic experience with the film The Conjuring 2. A sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring, the aptly titled The Conjuring 2 acts more as a partner piece to its predecessor rather than relying upon the conventions that so often mire sequels today. As opposed to a continuance of a particular story, The Conjuring 2 extends the world of Ed and Lorraine Warren, “Paranormal Investigators”,  into another time and place. This installment finds the two charismatic and spiritually complicated characters in 1977 London, England, where muted greens and plush carpets adorn every depicted scene. It’s all so 70’s. The Warren’s task this time is to assist a family who is experiencing strange, paranormal phenomenon in their City-subsidized house. Reports of levitation, unexplained sounds and the demonic possession of Janet, one of the four Hodgson children being plagued by these nightmarish incidents.

Instead of resorting to a plot play-by-play, I instead want to center more on the tangential elements of the film. The narrative is interesting in many ways. It develops enough back story of the Warren’s to support their intentions throughout the film without becoming iterative of the first film. There are also many unique questions asked throughout the movie, whether intentional or not by the director I do not know. These questions prompt the viewer to take each and every depicted character’s motivations with a literal grain of salt, giving the film an air of  incredulity. This incredulity compliments the skepticism that accompanies the Hodgson’s families attempts with convincing the authorities of their supernatural situation. The dialogue and cinematography, like the apparent ambiguity of the verity of the films’ events, are subtle and provocative, leaving the viewer with the dilemma of whether to believe what they are seeing, or to laugh off the incidents being presented as though it was one big elaborate hoax.

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The plagued Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe)

I mention the idea of a hoax because The Conjuring 2 is based on actual events reported by the Hodgson Family in 1977 London. What makes it so unique is that some the events depicted in the film are, in a way, re-enactments of the real life events that were recorded audibly and visually. Known as the Enfield Haunting, I ask you to Wikipedia it to see how the film successfully relayed the real Hodgson’s family experience into film as a piece of art.

I propose that aside from the traditional horror/thriller film tropes at play in The Conjuring 2, there’s also a whole lot of subversion going on. Yes, this film has components often associated with ‘popcorn flicks’ or mindless entertainment, but there’s also various concepts lurking below the surface, below what you as the viewer and the Warren’s as characters, cannot see. It’s a feeling that’s invoked. This feeling lies somewhere between skepticism and sympathy.

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Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren

Acted the hell out of, The Conjuring 2 is a solid, welcome addition to the horror genre canon. As Lorraine Warren, Vera Farmiga shines with tenacity and inherent conflict. Her scenes with that terrifying nun are a sight to behold. The younger actors, particularly the revelatory Madison Wolfe who portrays the possessed (?) Janet Hodgson, is stellar. Instead of pulling a Linda Blair-esque performance, her role is subtle and quite sad. But this film is less about the acting and more about the feelings.  Is The Conjuring 2 scary? Yes. Is it a classic horror film? Maybe. Is it an exercise in the power of cinema? Most definitely.

 

 

A Bumpy Walk: A Review of the Film “The Walk”

Movie Reviews

If you’re looking see a film where Philippe Petit’s historic tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center towers in New York City is meticulously depicted, then the Robert Zemeckis’ helmed The Walk is the movie for you. If you’re looking for a film with an adequate amount of character development and recognition of motivations, well, you may want to pass on this one. I suspect, however, that the key demographic for this film will opt for spectacle over substance.

The Walk is indeed a marvel to behold. The recreation of Philippe Petit’s walk way up high between the twin towers is so realistic and richly detailed that it’s hard to believe the film is a product of CGI effects. Petit, portrayed by the immensely talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an interesting character. His unwavering dedication to accomplishing ‘the coup’ (as he and his accomplices call it) is relentless and, to a certain extent, inspiring. From the subtle details of the inflection of his french-accented voice to the animated hand motions that accompany his screen time, Gordon-Levitt literally embodies a man whose only apparent goal in life is to achieve a feat that not only is incredibly dangerous, but would be history making.

Gordon-Levitt as PetitThe film itself is beautiful and epic in size. The first half of the film is set in Paris, with the city being depicted as full of whimsy and joy. Zemeckis is careful, however, not to depict the City of Lights as too cartoony or artificial. Instead, he uses the scenery of the beautiful architecture that defines the city as a vast difference to his presentation of New York City in the second half of the film. It’s a clear commentary on the opposition between the established history of France to the budding history of New York, especially in terms of construction and development.

Technically, the film is truly a spectacle. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski of Prometheus and, more recently, The Martian, spares no expense in richly detailing an era in history where societal norms and ideals are being upended. The viewer feels as though they have travelled in time to the ‘anything goes’ mindset of the 1970’s, thus making this controversial walk Petit wishes to complete not so unbelievable. Of particular glory is the actual imagery and scenes where Petit is walking between the towers. His consternation and confidence is riveting, the scenery at once both realistic and otherworldly. It’s truly a site to see.

the-walk03The supporting characters in the film fell a bit flat for me. The beautiful Annie, played by Charlotte LeBon, Petit’s girlfriend, really isn’t given much to do on-screen aside from supporting Petit on ‘the coup’. We don’t learn much about why she is so dedicated to Petit, and why she is so willing to leave everything behind in Paris to see her boyfriend achieve this feat. The other members of the team assisting Petit on his walk are slightly one-dimensional as well. They unwaveringly support Petit, but it’s never really explained why. Are they all in love with him? Are they all inspired by Petit’s tenacity and focus? We’ll never know.

Ben Kingsley shines, as expected, in his supporting role as the man who trains Petit to become the tight rope walker he becomes. Speaking with an indeterminate accent, Kingsley subtly acts as a father figure to Petit, opting not to withhold his honesty and feedback in hopes of making Petit a better, stronger man. The chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Kingsley is believable. I hope they act together again.

The soundtrack for the film is rather quite captivating as well. It almost plays out as a 60’s inspired, “Mission: Impossible” esque accompaniment to the intrigue and journey-driven formula of the movie. Well done.

All in all, The Walk is a definite must see. What lacks in substance is definitely a great style that will undoubtedly engage the viewer from beginning to end. Though bumpy at times, The Walk is a feat in film making.