Wednesday 24 May 2017

In the spirit of terrifying horror

The Last Exorcism, Cert 15A

Padraic McKiernan and Aine O'Connor

WHO said the devil just gets the best tunes? The evidence of super-scary feature The Last Exorcism adds substance to the suspicion that he also gets the best movies.

Mimicking the mockumentary format Ricky Gervais used brilliantly in The Office, and taking Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the eerie backdrop, this feature, directed by Daniel Stamm, centres on a couple of tumultuous days in the life of evangelical preacher and part-time exorcist Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). He may be the son of a preacher man and come from a family where "exorcists have run for generations", but the Marcus we encounter initially has grown disenchanted with the family business.

He has stopped believing long ago, but a need to pay the bills, combined with his belief in the faithful's need for delusions, allows him to make a moral accommodation with his status as a spiritual snake-oil salesmen. Part of his motivation for making the documentary that fuels the narrative is in the hope that, by coming clean on the tricks of the trade, he'll achieve a degree of personal redemption.

When he gets a letter from a farmer who believes his daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed and in need of an exorcism, Marcus adopts a have-crucifix-will-travel approach in the hope that this will be the perfect opportunity to expose the scam. Naturally, it isn't long before Marcus finds himself in way over his rotating head, as it were.

Impeccable performances from the central players, together with the creeptastic setting, combine with the distressing nature of the subject matter to create an experience that is guaranteed to set spines tingling.

Understated humour and unadulterated horror have rarely been used to such good effect.

PMcK

The Last Exorcism opens on Friday

Grown Ups

Cert 12A

TALK about putting the low into the lowest common denominator. Grown Ups may not offer conclusive proof that an Adam Sandler movie is the place where comedy goes to die, but it does present a strong case for the prosecution.

Also starring fellow comedians Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade, the film's set-up focuses on a reunion of a group of fortysomething former buddies who played on the same championship-winning school basketball team in 1978.

The reunion is prompted by the death of "Buzzer" (Blake Clark), their mercurial coach, and after a number of scenes aimed at putting the fun into funeral, the action moves to a lakeshore mansion that hot-shot Hollywood agent Lenny Feder (Sandler) has supplied so that both he and his homies can scatter Buzzer's ashes.

Together with their respective family members -- played by Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph, to name but a few -- they embark on a trip down memory lame ... sorry, lane.

Some of the less-easy-to-forget (trust me, I've tried) characters include a flatulent mother-in-law, played by Ebony Jo-Ann, and a sex-crazed 70-year old, played by Joyce Van Patten. Throw in some running gags aimed at mining mirth from such subject matter as breast-feeding, childhood obesity and bunions, and you've pretty much put yourself in the picture. By no stretch of the imagination can it be described as a pretty one.

Grown Ups is directed by Dennis Dugan, the same director who drove Sandler's last star vehicle, the atrocious You Don't Mess With the Zohan. While the script this time around is an improvement on that comedy cul-de-sac it's still difficult to recommend. Sandler fans and undemanding types might enjoy the relentless knockabout humour, but those who know the difference between a gag and something that can induce a mild choking sensation are guaranteed to be appalled.

PMcK

Grown Ups is now showing

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Cert PG

THERE is a fine but important line between comic and caricature, and just because Greg Heffley draws himself as a cartoon in his diary, that doesn't give director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) licence to turn him into a caricature on screen.

Jeff Kinney's phenomenally successful comic-novel series dealing with an old/evergreen subject, the pitfalls of fitting in at a big school, captivated millions. It did so, however, in a pitch-perfect way, displaying subtlety of characterisation in an unsubtle world. Greg was a likeable, self-obsessed little git.

In the screen version, the writers needed to adapt and convey these subtleties, and to address the episodic nature which cannot work as well on screen as in print. Instead, they invented a needless wise child and lost the finer points, in so doing making magic feel generic and stripping Greg (Zachary Gordon) of much of his appeal, he becomes just a self-obsessed (and foolishly optimistic) little git.

This is compounded by the fact that the character of Rowley, played with gusto by Robert Capron, is so much more likeable. Steve Zahn plays Greg's foolish father, Rachel Harris his harried mother; they are under-used but perform well within the limits imposed on them.

To be fair, the books were a hard act to follow, and while the film does not really do them justice, the Wimpy Kid devotee I brought along was fairly pleased with the screen version, debates about character subtlety being somewhat off the interest scale of the average nine-year-old. She was concerned with the film's fidelity to story and detail and overall the Cheese Touch, horrible older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and assorted episodes met with her expert approval.

So although not as good as the book, it was funny in places and easy to watch. No self-respecting Wimpy fan could fail to see it and no accompanying adult of said fan will suffer too much in the accompaniment.

AOC

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is now showing

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