Film Briefs: “The Conjuring”, “Elysium” and “Fruitvale Station”

conjuring-review-2Film Briefs is our way of giving our opinion on films we might not necessarily have the time to review in full.  This is a column where we sum up our feelings about movies currently playing in theatres and throw ‘em up just to give you an idea of what’s out there.

Follow the jump to see briefs for The Conjuring, Elysium and Fruitvale Station

The Conjuring

18-the-conjuring-600x300four-stars4Is it too soon to label James Wan the next John Carpenter? Just a thought.

In this day and age impressing a somewhat jaded horror fan is not an easy task. This is something that in less than 10 years Director James Wan has now properly done to me twice. First there was his influential breakthrough film, Saw (2004). That film helped usher in the short lived breath of sub-genre (and sub-par) films known as Torture Porn, not to mention six Saw sequels, all of which never matching the brilliance of the original. Now, in true neck-breaking Exorcist fashion, Mr. Wan has once again managed to turn my head, this time not by spearheading a new sub-genre but by putting a fresh twist on what was thought to be a slew of worn out horror film clichés.

The Conjuring not only takes place in the 1970s but contains most of all the now clichéd scare tactics that were first used during that golden age of horror; possessions, exorcisms, kids talking to ghosts, paranormal investigators, haunted house, a dark and scary cellar, and just for good measure there’s also one hell of a creepy doll. What’s impressive is that even in the instances where I see the scary moment coming I’m still rightfully scared. I can only chalk my scardycat response as being a result of all the filmmakers’ exceptional care that was given to this story, both in terms of pacing, framing of shots, believable acting, and scattered well-timed placing of the score.

By the end of this film you may or may not believe in otherworldly beings, but there’s one thing you can’t deny; that horror, particularly Hollywood manufactured, isn’t as dead and buried as you thought it was. There’s a director by the name of James Wan at the other end of that hand you see emerging from the cinematic burial site giving hope to horror fans the world over that this genre is still alive – and coming for you.

Elysium

Matt Damon;Jose Pablo Cantillotwo-stars1Cool visuals, cool concepts, even some cool weapons that shoot lightning bolts. Unfortunately, eye candy, ideas and big guns don’t equate for a cool movie.

Sitting through Neill Blomkamp‘s follow-up to his vastly superior debut, District 9 (2009), wasn’t my best summer experience of 2013, but certainly not my worst. That honor goes to you, Texas Chainsaw 3D. Okay, so it’s not even close to being that bad. However, Elysium does contain a constant barrage of uninspired music from first time composer Ryan Amon, and some heavy handed allegorical aspects of plot (free health care for all and classism), and both these things weighed too heavy on my viewing experience in order for me to get swept up in what was supposed to be a smart futuristic romp.

Basically, at every turn whenever something positive occurs there’s a negative and distracting aspect there beside it insisting that I not enjoy this movie. For instance, Matt Damon‘s solid performance is undermined at every turn by other proven actors who were apparently hired to just ham it up. This had me wondering just how seriously I was supposed to take this film. Also, at one point, about two-thirds of the way through, it occurred to me that a key point in the plot involving the locations of some fix-all machines made zero sense within the film’s reality. Also making zero sense, the ridiculousness of having a suit of armor drilled into one’s body over, instead of under, the shirt. But hey, at least he was wearing a neutral color to go with whatever pants he chose. It was from this point forward that I sat back and let my mind drift to a more beautiful planet, one not unlike the fictional Elysium, where the only movies that exist are the ones I am destined to love or have already deemed to be classics. My own cinematic utopia if you will.

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale_Station.jpg_cb10b6ec1a3fa22dfaefd43ce50d3fa5four-stars4Bay Area stand up! Bay Area native Ryan Coogler‘s power punch to the gut directorial debut feature deserves all the accolades that it’s been receiving thus far, and this coming from someone who is already super critical of biopics in general.

Though the day in the life true story account of Oscar Grant III‘s final day on Earth before being shot in the back while handcuffed and restrained on the ground by a Police Officer is sure to strike one hell of a chord with those living in the Bay Area, particularly Oaklanders, it’s clear this powerful portrayal of his story will affect audiences the world over. Having already won prestigious awards at Cannes (Un Certain Regard Avenir Prize) and Sundance (Audience and Grand Jury Prize) it’s hard not to see this film earning at least a couple of Oscar nods, especially for the remarkably natural performance of its lead actor, Michael B. Jordon.

Trust me, you’re going to want to bring a few tissues with you to this film, and if you’re looking for powerful new cinema that truly relates to the human experience in all of its flaws and beauty then you are not going to want to miss Fruitvale Station. However, I recommend not doing as I did and catching a matinée screening. It’s not like you’re going to leave the theatre with a smile on your face. The content in Fruitvale is no doubt a tough one to swallow. The way I see it, if you do leave the theatre smiling it’s most likely due to one of three of the following reasons: 1) Your faith has been restored in the future of young filmmakers and their ability to craft great works of art 2) You know either Oscar Grant, III, or his family and friends on a personal level and can take pride in his story being lovingly and respectfully immortalized on film, or 3) You’re a twisted and sadistic racist asshole.

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