Thursday 19 April 2018

Review: The Conjuring 2 has more than a whiff of The Exorcist

Cert: 15A. Now showing

Madison Wolfe as Janet in the horror sequel Conjuring 2.
Madison Wolfe as Janet in the horror sequel Conjuring 2.
Nixon and Presley on the silver screen.

Aine O'Connor

Horror sequels are not generally too highly regarded but to every rule there will be the exception. After the success of 2013's The Conjuring, based on events in the Amityville House, director James Wan and the writing team of Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes are back with the same principles to tell another 'Based on true events' horror story. It takes well-worn horror tropes, so old they might seem new, a very good cast, really good tone and delivers a good ole scare or three.

In 1977, in Enfield in London, life is tough for Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor). She has four children, her husband has just run off, she is broke, her washing machine is on the blink so a haunting is the last thing she needs. It doesn't take her long to realise however that her 10-year-old daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) is not faking and that the things that go bump in the night are not figments of anyone's imagination. The scary thing is no one believes them, but no-one can help.

The only people who might be able to, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the couple famed for fighting the Amityville demon, are having second thoughts about their profession. Lorraine has foreseen her husband's death and fears they are inviting evil but when their beloved church call on them to help they head to London to find out if the case is real.

There is definitely more than a whiff of The Exorcist from this and Wan employs all the old tricks, weird old man, flying furniture, self-starting toys and creepy voices. But the skill is in how he uses them - a kind of tease means proper jump moments. The pairing of Wilson and Farmiga really works too and the tone, super earnest but also tongue in cheek, just works. Stay for the end credits.

3 Stars

Tale of  Tales

Cert: 15A. Now showing

Walt Disney didn't borrow much from 17th century Neapolitan storyteller Giambattista Basile but the Brothers Grimm were big fans. Basile gathered together local stories of his time and what was deemed suitable for children back then was rather different to now. Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone takes from the collection of stories to offer three, interwoven in English, with an interesting international cast. The result is entertaining, looks great but is too long and a little hollow. In the kingdom of Longtrellis the King (John C Reilly) laments the Queen's (Salma Hayek, inset) inability to bear children so much that no possibility is excluded and no price considered too high. In Highills the king (Toby Jones) is so distracted with his pet flea that he forgets to find a suitable husband for his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) who ends up, as a result, married to an ogre. In Strongcliff the libidinous King (Vincent Cassel) becomes entranced by a distant voice and is convinced that she who possesses it must be a great beauty. But she is an old crone (Hayley Carmichael) with a sister (Shirley Henderson - both utterly unrecognisable except for the voices) albeit a wily old crone.

The stories are intertwined and occasionally the characters coincide. There are moments of humour and there are obvious lessons but the morals of the stories that presumably attached to the originals are lost.

2 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Gods of Egypt

Cert 12A. Now showing.

After baking in sunshine for a few weeks, we came crashing back down to earth when the rains arrived, reminding us all that October will be here before we know it. Gods of Egypt is, barring a miracle, unlikely to still be screening in the omniplexes come wintertime but should it pop up on TV one drizzly Sunday afternoon, it'd make the perfect pacifier for bored children.

This isn't to say Alex Proyas's sword-and-sandals historical fantasy (emphasis on the "fantasy") is quality - it is certainly not - but we won't completely discard it right now on the off-chance it comes in handy one cold, wet day.

Just as Emelia Clarke did recently in Me Before You, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau flexes those muscles that will hopefully be put to use in life post-Game of Thrones. He plays the god Horus, who on the day of his coronation is betrayed by uncle Set (Gerard Butler, camping it up), the god of darkness. Set kills Horus's dad Osiris (Bryan Brown, in from the cold), removes his nephew's powers via his eyes before banishing him, swiping his lover Hathor (Élodie Yung) and enslaving the mortal citizens. Among these is plucky thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites), who makes a bargain with the exiled Horus to bring his beloved Zaya back to life in return for helping Horus regain his powers and defeat Set.

Scant credibility is lent to the wonderfully daft malarkey by Geoffrey Rush (as Sun god Ra) as he, like everyone, scrambles about the green screen. Around the corners lurks some laughably poor CGI that nearly distracts from the skimpy costumes and extravagant monsters. A film designed for those days when you can't be bothered using your brain.

3 Stars

Hilary A White

Bang Gang 

Cert: Club. Now showing in IFI

Alex (Finnegan Oldfield, in a fine cast) has the house all to himself as his mother works in Morocco. He and similarly uninhibited best pal Nikita (Fred Hotier) get up close to George (Marilyn Lima) and Laetitia (Daisy Broom), two girls from their school who are also ripe for some sexual discovery sessions. Alex begins to throw orgies where the anything-goes activities become de rigueur and the rampant teenage free-love comes hand-in-hand with ample drug use. George and Laetitia's neighbour Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefebvre) is finally dragged there reluctantly and finds relief from his dad's debilitating illness through George's "affections".

Writer-director Eva Husson airs news reports of train crashes and heatwaves within earshot for a reason. While for the most part her explicit debut drama goes easy on its young Gallic charges in judging their actions, they are all brought down to earth with a thud when their club - dubbed 'the Bang Gang' - reaches sordid, Ancient-Rome levels of degeneracy. Mattias Troesltrup's cinematography and an icy electro score embellish a so-so tale of liberation getting out of hand.

3 Stars

Hilary A White

Cemetery of  Splendour 

Cert Club. Now showing in IFI 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul took the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2010 for his arthouse slowburner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. A special, unhurried energy characterised that outing which wove elements of magical realism into a pastoral Thailand vista.

Similar forces are at work in this tropical moodpiece that made many friends when it screened in the edgy Un Certain Regard category at last year's Cannes. There is something overpowering about the Bangkok auteur's woozy rhythms which creep in non-linear patterns and, in this case, show you things that don't seem to have anything to do with what's going on. These can range from an amoeba slithering across the cloudy sky to a man defecating in a wood.

Jenjira Pongpas returns from Uncle Boonmee… as Jenjira, a volunteer nurse working in a makeshift hospital where a unit of soldiers have all fallen into a mysterious slumber after construction work had unearthed an ancient royal cemetery.

Jenjira pays special attention to one snorer in particular who does not seem to have any family visitors. She is approached by two goddesses after she and her American husband place idols at a shrine, and is awoken to other long-dormant and breezily gentle vibes intruding into modern life.

Your mind is encouraged to put its feet up while watching Cemetery of Splendour. If you can do that, there is an ambience here that you'll gradually warm to.

For many, however, it may prove too hard a sell, what with its glacially slow pace, its kinked, unfocused narrative and Weerasethakul's self-indulgent aesthetic flourishes, all of which could have you going the way of the soldiers.

3 Stars

Hilary A White

Stranger-than-fiction visit fuels kingsize yarn

Cert 12A. Released on Friday

On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley was given an audience with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. The moment was captured by White House photographer Ollie Atkins and would go on to become the most requested image in the history of the US National Archives.

The idea of the two not-quite-human icons meeting under a preposterous pretence - Elvis wanted a drugs-bureau badge to add to his collection of law-enforcement insignias - proved irresistible to writers Joey and Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes.

If the whole thing didn't feel quirky enough, online retail giant Amazon made it its first ever film-distribution acquisition.

This slightly stranger-than-fiction aura fuels this knock-kneed yarn from US filmmaker Liza Johnson that combines elements of buddy movie and absurdist comedy.

Michael Shannon (Man of Steel) is not the most obvious choice to depict the King of Rock'n'Roll. But verisimilitude is not the name of Johnson's game, and more depth and humour is mined by Shannon's caricature of the star - more "Elvis impersonator" than "impersonating Elvis"- this way.

Playing his opposite number is Kevin Spacey who is superbly arch as the hunched bogeyman of the era. When the third act finally brings them together, the summit is so cartoonish and farce-edged it could only have been gleaned from actual accounts. Elvis shows off his karate and ignores the protocol spelled out by hovering staffer (and future Watergate culprit) Egil Krogh (a lovely turn by Colin Hanks). Nixon, meanwhile, plays ball, growling in agreement with this gun-loving, Beatles-hating alien life-form who might just be able to bolster his image with the youth vote.

Elvis's relationship with his aide and childhood friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) provides the emotional core to a film that would otherwise irk with its studied eccentricity. Jerry pulls his hair out at The King's dotty demands but there is a steadfast mutual reliance there, one Johnson could have explored further.

A flawed curio, then, but don't be surprised if the years grant it cult-classic status.

4 Stars

Hilary A White

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