The Conjuring: Nice House, Shame About the Ghost

by Ethan Alter July 19, 2013 6:00 am
<i>The Conjuring</i>: Nice House, Shame About the Ghost

Since bursting into the business with the first Saw movie back in 2004, it almost feels as if every horror movie James Wan has made since functions as, in one way or another, an apology for kick-starting the franchise that’s become synonymous with torture porn. 2007's Dead Silence, for example, was a mostly gore-free ghost story where the boogeyman was a squad of possesses ventriloquists dolls, while 2010's Insidious channeled the spooky '80s favorite Poltergeist in its depiction of a young child seduced by forces from the other side. (That low-budget chiller performed so well, a sequel -- also directed by Wan -- is due out in September.) And now here comes The Conjuring, which is essentially Wan's unofficial remake of the 1979 hit The Amityville Horror. Like that earlier film, it takes place in a seemingly picturesque homestead that's revealed to be a hotbed of such paranormal activity as clocks stopping at an appointed time in the dead of night (3:07 AM to be exact, a mere eight minutes before James Brolin always felt compelled to head out to the boathouse), strange noises in empty rooms and freaky spirits who pop up out of the woodwork at inopportune, yet perfectly timed, moments. The Conjuring, though, happens to be the best Amityville Horror movie ever made, leaving the original and its many sequels, reboots and imitators in the dust.

Revelation Row: A Spoiler-Filled Review of <i>Watchmen</i>‘s Greatest Triumphs (And Biggest Misses)

Already well on its way to becoming the most divisive work in geek history, Zack Snyder's film adaptation of Watchmen, the most revered comic book of all time, may best be approached as a giant -- you guessed it -- Rorschach test: you either see a pretty butterfly, or you see a dog with its head split in half. The naysayers are certainly out there in force, in both the mainstream publications and the fanboy blogs, and I don't begrudge them their sometimes valid, often contradictory, occasionally deeply flawed points of view. All I can do is report that when I gazed at this dense, two-hour-and-forty-minute-long inkblot of a movie, I saw the butterfly -- I saw a brilliantly realized, richly textured pop-fiction spectacle; candy for both the eye and the brain. Is this theatrical version a perfect cinematic treatment of Watchmen? No, and I'll explain why below. But in the final analysis, seeing this beloved story come to life in a completely fresh, unexpected way gave me the same sensation I felt when I first read it in its original single-issue form over 20 years ago: pure astonishment, quickly followed by a burning desire to experience it again and again. Nothing ever ends.

Young Adult: Not Just Another Mean Girl

by Ethan Alter December 9, 2011 6:00 am
<i>Young Adult</i>: Not Just Another Mean Girl

It wouldn't be accurate to describe Mavis Gary, the central character of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman's first post-Juno collaboration, as a grown-up version of Juno MacGuff. Rather, she's a grown-up version of the girl that probably made fun of Juno MacGuff. A former high school Queen Bee, Mavis (played by Charlize Theron) ditched her podunk Minnesota town Mercury immediately after graduation for the bright lights of Minneapolis, where she found fame and fortune as a writer of young adult fiction. Well okay, "fame and fortune" is probably overstating things a bit. Her writing gig brings in just enough to allow her to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment, plus amenities like cable television and a steady supply of Diet Coke (her own personal breakfast of champions). As for the fame part, although she's penned several installments in the popular YA franchise, Waverly Prep, her name doesn't actually appear anywhere on the cover of those books. Instead, she's relegated to one of the inside pages, while the series' original creator takes top-billing for novels she didn't write.

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