*NEW* THE CONJURING 2 REVIEW *NEW*

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Is this the best that James Wan could conjure up?

Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by a malicious spirit.

I enjoyed the Conjuring. It may have been a little over-hyped BUT it was certainly one of the best horror films I’ve seen in the last decade. I wasn’t surprised to hear that a sequel was in the pipeline BUT after the abysmal Annabelle spin-off, I was anxious to say the least.

The first hour was brilliant. It took the same winning formula from the original and perfected it. The tense opening act got the ball rolling as our infamous paranormal investigators took on the Amityville Horror case. Thankfully Wan didn’t focus on that too much BUT it was a nice touch tying it in with the Enfield Haunting.

BUT despite the bubbling suspense, I was still a little disappointed that Wan took on Enfield in the first place. Especially when the critically acclaimed TV drama (A must watch) came out earlier this year. It was tough for me NOT to draw comparisons. We all know of the Enfield Haunting to some extent. If you were lucky enough NOT to, then this will freak you out a whole lot more.

Luckily Wan provided a creepy new addition for his roster of demented demons. I won’t be looking at nuns in the same way. That’s for sure.

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Shudder.

Every time she appeared in Farmiga’s dreams, I fidgeting uncomfortably. Nails bitten off.

Vera Farmiga was fantastic and carried the film when the pace dragged. The same cannot be said for Patrick Wilson. He was laughable and quite weak this time around. I guess it didn’t help matters that the story revolved primarily around Lorraine and her inner turmoil. Her dealings with the afterlife taking its toll.

Madison Wolfe was excellent as Janet Hodgson. Thank God the main child actor delivered because the others certainly didn’t. It was terrible having to listen to a good portion of the supporting cast screeching in horribly mangled “Cockney” accents.

Janet’s possession sequences were frightening. That was until the demented host spoke. The ghoul of Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian) was creepy BUT once he started bellowing like Argus Filch from Harry Potter, it killed all the tension for me.

Wan loves to draw out a scene. Playing with the audience. Teasing the tension (aided by Joseph Bishara’s creepy score). The elongated hallway shots. The angles. The suspense as you knew something was going to happen or pop out.

For 60 minutes, I was fidgeting uneasily and caught up in it. Something I haven’t been able to do with a horror film in quite some time. BUT something somehow went wrong during the second half of the film. There was a moment where the film changed and lost all the fun for me. Spiralling downhill rapidly.

As soon as a neighbour’s Rottweiler morphed into something that looked like Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, my fears subsided as did my patience.

The pace dragged putting me into a mini-coma (The 132 minute length really did take the biscuit). BUT the longer it went on, the funnier it got. I would have said that this could have been ripe for a parody BUT by the end, it didn’t need one. It didn’t help having weak characters BUT the performances, my God!

Franka Potente (Creep) was completely unnecessary as another paranormal investigator. Talk about too many cooks spoiling the broth. Maria Doyle Kennedy (Orphan Black) was heavily underused in a ridiculous supporting role as a neighbour. Anyone could have played her.

Simon McBurney (Rev) was hilarious as paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse for all the wrong reasons. His conversation with a possessed Janet had me in stitches; “No, no, this isn’t your house!” Frances O’Connor (Artificial Intelligence) got on my wick as troubled mother Peggy. There was one scene in particular where she notices a demented corpse creeping towards Ed (Wilson) and what does our bewildered heroine do? Point a flashlight at the thing and say, “”Ere, whose that?”. Bearing in mind, we’ve had 80 minutes of messed up mayhem at this point. Come on!

Even the Nun (Bonnie Aarons) got on my nerves by the end. She kept popping up screaming and shrieking every five minutes. I desperately wanted her to go.

If Wan could have spend more time on pace, story and character instead of creating creepy new characters with needless spin offs then this would have been worth the hype! BUT the frantic finale dragged its heels and didn’t pay off.

Horror films just haven’t been the same in a very long time. Relying on hype and cheap scares. Scariest film of the year? Hell to the no. BUT it’s still the best of the rest. And that’s the biggest scare of all.

2.5/5

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EX MACHINA

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It may be a little mechanical in parts but it’s certainly not one for the scrap heap.

A ha . . . Anyway. Finally a film that didn’t make me question the purpose of my cinema pass.

A brooding, atmospheric and suspenseful thriller that ponders the existence of artificial intelligence and the very essence of life.

So what’s it all about? A young programmer (Domnhall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. (Alicia Vikander)

Brought to you by the guy who penned 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Now to me, I instantly had high hopes. I loved both. To some, there may be doubts.

The premise is hardly original but it’s take is certainly a breath of fresh air.

It does sound a little pretentious. And in parts it can be but it’s all helped by an original script and a small (No seriously. Four actors) but talented up and coming cast.

Domnhall Gleeson has been on the radar for some time featuring in such hits as About Time and Unbroken. He proves once again why he is one to watch. He plays the geeky programmer with aplomb and delivers his lines with an impeccable accent.

What I loved about the opening was how quick cut it was. It didn’t mess around or linger unnecessarily. Just straight to business. It set the tone, the pace and got the story going. Main character. Situation. Bang, bang, bang.

The cinematography by Rob Hardy was outstanding. Especially with the breathtaking panoramic landscape shots as Gleeson’s Caleb descends upon the Jurassic Park-esque compound of the reclusive genius Nathan (Isaac).

Oscar Isaac was brilliant as the eccentric inventor. A scene stealer at every chance. A chameleon with a tough poker face. Isaac is certainly banging on the door with his performances; Inside Llewyn Davis, Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year.

As soon as “Day One” flashed across the screen, the game begins. A suspenseful, haunting voyeuristic journey into madness.

When Caleb is first introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), it makes for slow burning but engaging viewing. The pair sharing pleasantries and sussing each other out. There is great chemistry between Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

She will certainly be one whose face you will have to get used to. Appearing in several future releases and one current (Testament of Youth); Seventh Son, Son of a Gun, Man from UNCLE.

However, if her performances are anything like this then I won’t be complaining. And no! That is not because she is a naked Swedish robot who has stolen my heart (What?)

The tension begins to bubble as the days count down. Strange things happen around the enormous techno compound. Unexplained power cuts that automatically lock every room. CCTV footage on every TV channel of Ava.

An air of unease and suspicion shrouds the house (and the film). The paranoia beginning to rear its ugly head.

Loyalties soon divided, perceptions blurred. The eccentric Nathan watching the couple’s conversation under a microscope. Ava desperate to escape. Warning Caleb not to trust Nathan.

This certainly kept my attention for the majority of the film as I tried to suss out what was really going on here.

The debates between Caleb and Ava made interesting points and certainly pondered the question of what is real? Can a robot feel? Judge what is right and wrong. Their chemistry igniting more and more.

The only issue is that with all the conversations, the slow burning pace and the beautiful landscapes, it does go on a little bit.

I could feel myself kind of wanting Day 7 (it occurs over a week) to reach it’s finale a little quicker.

It’s almost Kubrickian. The long sweeping shots, the hallways. God, the endless hallways. No creepy twins in this one. Only a sultry Japanese robot servant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). Alluring one moment, unsettling the next.

Garland even goes for a bizarre encounter involving a choreographed disco routine that really showed Nathan’s eccentricity (and that Isaac can dance). He also delivered the best retort I’ve heard in some time.

An angry Caleb storms in and asks why Nathan tore up something. His response? “I’m going to tear up the dance floor, dude.” Brilliant.

The finale was a little predictable but how it come about still surprised me and left me nodding my head in approval. That can’t be said for a lot of films these days.

I don’t want to divulge too much as I would like you to give this a gander.

The special effects were very good. The detail on Ava and Kyoto was remarkable. No over-indulgence on the CGI which made them look a lot less cartoony and more realistic.

I mean that could be down to the fact this had a much smaller budget but always a plus in my book in this day and age of relentless, OTT animation.

It’s certainly a dark broody affair. If you’re expecting fast action and bang for your buck with sexy robots, then watch I, Robot or Transformers but if you want a little bit of philosophical sci-fi then give it a go.

It’s not perfect. A little long at the tooth but engaging enough.

A step in the right direction.

3.5 (just)/5

TRANSCENDENCE REVIEW

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Transcen-dunce or dense. A mind numbingly drab affair of a concept that has just enough meat to be a generic TV movie you’d expect to see on late night SyFy. You know you’re onto a loser when the opening five minutes pretty much tells you what to expect and an established cast sleepwalk their lines and fail to make an impression. The list of contenders for worst film of 2014 keeps growing.

*WARNING POTENTIAL SPOILERS* A surprising . . . ly slow and spoilerific post-apocalyptic opening made for strange viewing, followed by a flashback piecing together the aftermath. Slow but go on. This is soon hit with mind numbing techno gobbledygook that even the normally prolific powerhouse that is Johnny Depp is so bored of explaining. Basically the gist is that controversial scientist Will Caster (Depp) is the foremost researcher in artificial intelligence who is working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. ZZZZZZ! However, this has made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. A crazy sporadic two minute killing spree soon stopped me fidgeting in my seat. Unexpected (if you don’t remember the trailer) and engaging, I thought here we go. Boy, was I wrong?

Their attempt to destroy Will inadvertently becomes the catalyst he needed to succeed. Fighting for his life, Caster becomes a participant in his own “transcendence” by uploading himself and becoming a power mad information feeding virtual freak. If I had known, the journey that was in store, I would have stayed at home. There is a surprisingly stale chemistry between the beautiful Rebecca Hall and Depp. It was as if writer James Paglan thought; well they are a couple, you must feel for them. We won’t enforce the feelings or develop them. Just insert some corny, generic couple-y moments that take up too much screen time. Once Depp is uploaded, he becomes a monotone and incredibly droll menace that dithers in the background. Hall does her best to carry the film with an impeccable accent. The divided loyalty and questionable motives behind the rebooted Depp made for potentially engaging viewing but it didn’t really go anywhere. An elongated and drawn out 45 minutes building up to Depp’s upload did not do any favours for patience. His drawn out complexion and wirey helmet (easy now) was reminiscent of a demented Hellraiser. Again, nothing surmountable.

I mean the battle and debate about the ever-growing potential of AI is always an intriguing one. “Was Caster really there at all or did the AI get too clever?” was intriguing at certain points. But at a whopping two hours, there just wasn’t enough with the inevitable ending vastly approaching. Fantastic to look at. The visual effects were good. A redeeming sequence in which “Caster” has managed to develop nano bots to create an army of super soldiers delivered the little action that appeared to be on offer with some more familiar supporting faces; Clifton Collins Jr (The Event, 24) and Josh Stewart (Criminal Minds, The Dark Knight Rises). However, there is one scene which had me in stitches, whether they ran out of budget or poor editing, one of the enhanced nano bots shows off his incredible talents by jumping up two steps on a ladder. If I could find it, I would show it. Hilarious.

That’s not all that’s hilarious. The story makes no sense at all. Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman do absolutely nothing to uplift this mess. Because their characters do absolutely nothing. Even though they are aware of the dangerous effects of Caster’s ever-growing power, they just look at charts, mumble some data mumbo jumbo, rush about at the end and . . . watch from the sidelines. Freeman proved one thing. That even with his dulcet tones, he can make any bad line good. “With one of the most advanced security measures in the world, my own team got killed by poisoned cake”. Paul Bettany’s character gets imprisoned by a terrorist cell. Sits about staring blankly into nothingness while being lectured at by Kate Mara’s cyber hippie terrorist. His motives become dreadfully unclear in which it skims forward two years and he’s joined the cell. Freeman even asks him how they got to him. A shrug. That’s all we get. A shrug. Something I fear the writer or director did while making this.

A dreadful directorial debut for Wally Pfister. Now Pfister is a talented cinematographer who has worked extensively with Christopher Nolan for the last decade on some of his biggest hits to date. With Nolan as executive producer, no one would have expected this. Pfister delivers a mess, a beautifully shot mess, but a mess all the same. Perhaps stick with the cinematography? Harsh, maybe. The idea was an intriguing prospect but a lack of pace, a plot holed story line with an inevitable ending is hardly going to make this a memorable film. I mean I’m going to remember this for the two hours I lost. This also marks another step down for the prolific Depp. He is still a talented actor and the argument that he has been poor since Dark Shadows is harsh. His performance redeemed The Lone Ranger in my opinion but it was still a flop. And this film will do him no favours. Perhaps a better look at the script before accepting the wonga. That’s the only reason why I think, or hope, that the cast took this.

It just proves that a little thing called story, along with some others called character, plot and interest still count. Sleep walking performances, along with a by the numbers story line, relying on the popularity of familiar actors does not a good or profitable movie make. I fear the memory of the film will transcend, evaporating like the little nano-bots into nothingness. Avoid or upload at your own peril. 1/5

Currently ranks #168 out of 169!