July 25, 2013


“The Conjuring” is a scary Mary, based-on-a-true-story, supernatural thriller about demonic entities harassing a family in Rhode Island in 1971.

The story is personal and intriguing with much naturalistic acting and loving attention to details. There’s a very gradual build to the full-blown horror stuff. The art direction is impeccable and we are transported to a simpler time (if you can believe the 70’s was a simpler time). The Perron Family: Mom (Lili Taylor—great 70’s Mom), Dad (Rob Livingston) and four girls are of modest means, and have moved into an old farm house with high hopes. It doesn’t take long for things to deteriorate. Bizarre happenings necessitate enlisting the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and the born-to-do-preternatural-visuals Vera Farmiga),“demonologists” connected with a “Fr. Gordon” and the Catholic Church. Ed and Lorraine have a daughter of their own. (Yeah, you can guess the demons are going to leave HER alone.)

We become involved in the lives of these two young families and cheer for them as things go from bad to hellish. Unexplainable, creepy little abnormalities begin happening, but then we being to see full-blown hissy-fitting demons and ghosts (which always ruins it for me). I’ve never been scared by or able to get into Stephen King tales for this reason. However, “The Conjuring” IS very scary, even when over the top.
The theology is both accurate and squishy at the same time which, of course, is problematic. Examples:

Accurate: Laypersons are not authorized to do exorcisms.
Squishy: In an emergency, laypersons are authorized to do exorcisms.

Accurate: Phenomena such as cold rooms, bad smells and things going bump in the night can accompany the presence of evil spirits.
Squishy: All kinds of ghosts, demons, birds, destruction, storms, possessions and other paranormal incidents happening wildly all at the same time in the same place.

Accurate: It’s good to have your kids baptized.
Squishy: The Vatican needs to give permission to do an exorcism for the unbaptized (???).

Accurate: The devil doesn’t possess things, things are only vessels in order to be able to possess humans.
Squishy: The house still needed an exorcism because the evil entities attached to “the family” and would follow them wherever they go (???).

There seems to be a heavy-handed Christian message below (with a begrudging tip of the hat to the Catholic Church). My guess? Evangelicals.

Witches are real and they’re evil. Evil humans. They engage in child ritual sacrifice.

The strength of a mother’s love and the love of family is a strong theme. But even stronger than this theme (repeated SEVERAL times) is the chillingly “pro-life” statement: “The demon possesses the mother so she will kill the child.” At one point, Caroline (the mother of the haunted family) asks Lorraine Warren: “But how could a mother [the witch] kill her own child?” Lorraine: “It’s not a child to her. She uses her God-given gift [giving birth, but then killing her child] to raise herself in the eyes of Satan.”

I usually never watch devil flicks (I’ve only seen “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”—excellent! and “The Rite”—good) because they scare the daylights out of me, and I hate making Satan a movie star. This is probably my last devil flick. But Fr. Gabriele Amorth, SSP, one of our Pauline priests, former head exorcist of Rome and author of “An Exorcist Tells His Story,” thinks that any movies about the demonic that help people believe in and understand the reality of evil and the devil are good, even if they’re somewhat theologically off base.

Me, Father Amorth & Andy, 2011
Society of St. Paul Generalate, Rome
(where Blessed James Alberione lived for many years)


--Lady at cinema ticket booth called “The Conjuring”: “nasty scary.”

--This film will worthily enter the canon of devil flicks.

--"Poltergeist"-like. Even an homage: lengthy shot of a TV gone all static-y.

--I haven’t done any background research on the actual story of either the Warrens or the Perrons (but you will see their photos at the end during the credits).

--Just the right amount of jerky handheld, but not too much! (Common mistake in horror/thrillers.)

--Lotsta rosaries! Yay!

--The pop music soundtrack was too psychedelic 60’s, but the scary soundtrack? Marrow-shriveling.

--There are a few hokey and tension-breaking moments, especially with the skeptical cop and “ghost-hunting” assistant.

--SHOULDA interviewed the young adults in my theater! They were cracking jokes and talking quietly during most of it. Were they scared? Skeptical? Did they think movie was cheesy? Had they seen better, scarier? What did they think of the film? [I think they WERE scared. The girls kept jumping in their seats.] After the film, they turned around, and, on seeing a nun in the last row were kinda transfixed like: OMGosh is this for real?! Is she a nun-specter? I am grateful for their fidgeting ‘cause it made me way less freaked out. Also, Ma kept dropping her water bottle which was a good distraction.

--I kept reaching over to Ma: “Are you OK, are you scared?” Ma: “Ha ha. Of course not. But this music is TOO LOUD!” [covers ears, drops water bottle] And later: "I'm sorry I had to learn about these things."

--The Malaysian director, James Wan, did two of the “Saw” installations. Yuck. He also did "Insidious" cuz he wanted to prove he could scare without gore. Well, he definitely can.

--ALL the horror tropes! Creaking doors and floors; knocking/banging [our quaint Boston cinema had an old wooden door that was making weird noises all during the film]; bogeyman behind the door; haunted Narnia-style wardrobes; bells and chimes tinkling; voices; grotesque dolls; animals see stuff people don’t; remote, dilapidated, old house; creepy cellars [I totally made Ma come to the cellar with me to do laundry after the movie]. A word about Boston "cinemas." Some of them (in the 'burbs) are ridiculous. They look like something Longfellow would have frequented. Some--in wealthy 'burbs actually have loose wooden folding chairs in re-purposed spaces--not built as cinemas. (See Lexington and Belmont.) And forget about decent technology.

--OK. At a certain point I’m like: “GET THE SAM HILL OUT OF THE BLESSED, I MEAN CURSED HOUSE! What?!  You’re too poor too move? Well, are ya too poor to be DEAD? Really? You’re still SLEEPING WITH YOUR KIDS IN THIS HOUSE? And you’re actually SLEEPING?” Did NOT suspend disbelief at these moments.

--The “thing” is incredibly HATEFUL. Yup. That’s about right.

--The camera is wonderfully fluid as it moves around the marvelously rambling and spacious old house.

--The set and props are so right on. Back in the day, I had a bathrobe exactly like one of the Perron girls.

--The only actor not up to snuff was the Dad (Ron Livingston). Way too detached. Earnest eyebrows. Does humble/ordinary rather well, but not Dad or hubby.

--Some of the actors already have other horror movies under their belts.

--SORTA SPOILER: Seemed like way too many hideous episodes connected with this one house going back in history.

--DEFINITE SPOILER: Were there any REAL Salem witches? One figures into the story.

--Witches is real and is bad people.

--Witches is women.

--“It” really is all about women. Satan always attacks “the woman.”

--“God entrusts women with the new person in special way.” –BJP2G “On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman”

--Now I really have to see “Mama,” a critically-acclaimed, “old-fashioned ghost story” (2013) starring Jessica Chastain. It, too, is about motherhood.


Fascinating article from "Entertainment Weekly" about the real goings on. Seems the film IS pretty faithful to the reality: http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20717859,00.html

July 6, 2013


Gru and his yellow, gobbledygook-spewing, Contac-capsule-shaped minions are baaaack! “Despicable Me 2” picks up where “Despicable Me” left off, but if you didn’t see the first installment, no worries, “2” is a hoot without it. All you need to know is that Gru (Steve Carell) is former dastardly doer of evil deeds on a planetary scale. A villain stylin’ like a Russian spy from the Cold War, complete with a 1960’s oversized turtleneck and skinny slacks.

Gru has settled down as a “legitimate businessman,” but what matters most to him now is his girls: “I’m a father now” is the excuse that keeps him out of a lot of trouble. He glories in his responsibilities toward his three spirited fillies, and the littlest one, Agnes, can melt his heart with the bat of an eyelash. But, of course, this domestic bliss is not to go unchallenged. Evil forces are at work in the world, and Gru is recruited to counteract them on account of his super villain skills (he stole the moon, but as Gru is quick to remind everyone: “…but I put it back”).

A fourth spunky female enters Gru’s life in the form of red-headed agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League. When they become partners in anti-crime, Gru is too frozen in his bad childhood memories of playground rejection and humiliation by girls to even entertain the thought of asking Lucy out. But his daughters pour on the pressure because “it’s time” for Gru to date, and little Agnes would sure love a Mom. Speaking of dating, the eldest girl, Margot, is getting sweet on a boy, and all the fiery Papa Grizzly in Gru comes out (to hilarious effect, of course).

There are so many great scenes and sequences in “2” that it’s hard to know where to start. Gru in love? It’s like the scene in “Enchanted” where Amy Adams’ character flounces through the park. The minions turning purple? The lipstick taser? The ice cream truck? The minion firemen? “El Macho” grabbing a random woman off the street to dance with? The minions as Boys To Men and then Village People cover bands (singing in minion language, of course)? There are just too many to count.

Kids will love this film (especially for the endlessly entertaining “sideshow” but also “main plot” minions), but adults will love it even more because of all the subtle and sophisticated humor. The only objectionable parts were the way a “bad date” of Gru’s gets treated (the violence done to the young woman is a bit extreme, even though partially unintended), and some heavy-duty, maximum Mexican stereotyping in bad guy “El Macho.” And, I’d like to know who declared open season on fat people and fake people.

“2” is a delightful collaboration (two directors and two screenwriters with impeccable credentials) with a strong dose of what feels almost like French whimsy, brought to you by Universal Studios, not known for animation, but certainly rivaling the best of Pixar. Sharpen your eyes and ears because there’s much to miss in every packed, juicy minute.


--Funny, funny, funny.

--Ma caught something I didn’t. When a hi-tech scope zeroes in on Gru’s macabre little lower-mandible challenged “dog” (also in the first film), the scope registers “species unknown.” :D

--There are some incredibly great and funny lines that I would love to share with you, but I’m #nospoiler.

--“2’s” equipment and contraptions are better than Bond’s any day.

--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? Yup! Gru is just so respectful of women! AND so cutely shy! AND: “What is fun without rules?” could be applied to TOB! AND “147 dates”! AND Gru has to rescue Lucy! AND other stuff!

--Revenge of the lab bunnies!

--Once a spy, always a spy.

--One of my fav scenes: the rogue purple minion POV cam!

--Secret weapon: Agnes’ bloodcurdling scream.

--The attack chicken could actually have been funnier. IMHO.

--Lots of DISCO! Yesss! It’s LONG OVERDUE  for a comeback! Thank you, Daft Punk! Props also to Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams for great original music.

--Google: “1960’s men’s turtleneck.” Ha ha.

--Google: “lipstick taser.” They exist!

--Very fun, cool and swinging “Mission Impossible-esque” themed soundtrack.

--One of the screenwriters, Cinco Paul, went to USC film school AND graduated summa cum laude from Yale. Um, that’s prolly why the script is so SMART.

--The minions always teeter on the brink of taking over the movie, but never do.

--Minions speak a mixture of Minion, French, Spanish and English!

--LOVE Lucy’s lady-spy turquoise raincoat!

--Gru: “What is fun without rules?”

--“I choose Gru!”

--Look for a quick cameo by Gru’s mother!

--I believe that, perhaps in general, American audiences are spoiled. In the sense that they are ruined. In the sense that maybe they have a surfeit of (often high quality) entertainment and so cannot savor, linger on the genius and joy of something like “Despicable Me.” People hardly laugh at the funniest movies. Have you noticed this??? Is it because they SKIM everything in life now with receding attention spans and nothing sinks in, nothing sticks, nothing deeply tickles the funny bone? Or brings pure delight to the imagination? Are they just mundanely going to watch a piece of something from Netflix on their smartphone in the cinema parking lot or play Candy Crush? FOLKS IN MY THEATER FILED OUT AS THE CREDITS ROLLED AND THEY COULD CLEARLY SEE THAT THERE WAS A TON OF MINION EXTRAS AND STINGERS!!!! MEH???!!!

--I am so ready for “Despicable Me 3” and a gajillion other movies like it.