Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Conjuring 2 and Weiner-Dog

Horror guru James Wan, pioneer of the Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring franchises, has nothing left to prove in the genre that he's helped mold. Perhaps that's why the director has shifted his focus of late to films like Furious 7 and the upcoming DC superhero tale, Aquaman, which is slated for a 2018 release. But despite Wan's clear eagerness to branch out from his horror roots, the filmmaker welcomes his latest endeavor, The Conjuring 2, to theaters all across the country.

Years after helping the Perron family survive an evil terror lurking in their farmhouse, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) gain worldwide acclaim for their paranormal investigations into the famed Amityville murders. And with their deeper journeys into the realm of demonic spirits, Lorraine expresses her desires to put an end to the family business before something terrible happens to them. However, a new dark and powerful force haunts a single mother and her four children in their London home, which prompts Ed and Lorraine to tackle one more case.

After directing the first pair of Insidious films, and now a double dose with The Conjuring franchise as well, we've seen about all we can from Wan's deep collection of scare tactics. As a result, the only distinction between these similarly themed movies is the underlying story being told. In the first installment of the series, Wan did a spectacular job of interweaving the Warren's storyline with the family being haunted. The connection was smooth, straight-forward and right to the point. Yet, The Conjuring 2 delves deeper into the emotional and psychological state of the Warren family and how Lorraine's inexplicable ability to connect with the paranormal has become a burden to them all. Therefore, the minutes begin to accumulate rapidly and what transpires is an over-extended and inexcusable 135-minute affair that's every been exhausting as it is scary. Make no mistake about it, though, Wan is an exceptional director with a knack for clever camera work. However, The Conjuring 2 suffers mainly from a recycled sense of scares and an overly ambitious plot-line that loses its credibility with every twist and turn.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade C+

Throughout the 90s, writer/director Todd Solondz represented a unique voice in the indie film community. His adored 1995 coming-of-age tale, Welcome to the Dollhouse, introduced audiences to a nerdy teenage girl named Dawn Wiener, who reappears more than two decades later in the latest effort from Solondz, Wiener-Dog. Although early reviews have been generally positive for this Sundance selection, Wiener-Dog sadly marks only a mediocre return for the once beloved indie filmmaker.

An anthology of sorts that spans the life of a lovable dachshund, Wiener-Dog follows four separate owners who care for the animal throughout trying times of their own. This partitioned piece of work begins wonderfully, but deteriorates greatly from its first half to its latter stages. Interestingly enough, the owners age chronologically, must like the dog, literally taking the audience on a life journey. Solondz creates an interesting dynamic and parallel between the humans and canine. Yet, there are many aspects of the film that fail to materialize.

Wiener-Dog delivers a highly cynical tone that's heavily support by witty moments of dark humor. For example. Julie Delpy's character is forced to explain to her cancer survivor son how spaying the dog is in its best interest. These deranged life lessons she tries to instill in the boy are priceless and crazed all at the same time, but these moments feel real and authentic which is deserving of praise. However, as the film pushes on past Greta Gerwig's reintroduction of the Dawn Wiener character, which is Wiener-Dog's pinnacle of achievement, the post "intermission" portion of the movie unravels quickly. Themes of meaningless and despair are caked into a second half that segues to a bitter finale which morbidly astonishes at first, but requires a sarcastic chuckle at second thought. There's beauty to be found in specific moments of the film, yet punishingly long shots and too much empty space fills a large chunk of what's left, leaving Wiener-Dog as a run-of-the-mill effort from a unique voice in the industry.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

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