THE CONJURING. Director James Wan has come a long way from the grisly torture porn of Saw. Building on some of the horror techniques he used in Insidious, and honing them to even greater effect, The Conjuring is a very stylish and confidently directed scare pic. The vibe of the film is decidedly retro. The '70s period setting helps the film stand out from other horror flicks being released these days. Patrick Wilson and, especially, Vera Farmiga are great as the ghostbusting Warrens. Having seen about a million haunted house stories on screen, I wasn't as scared as other people in my audience, but I still had a lot of fun here. Fans of old school horror are in for a treat. ***1/2 out of 5 stars.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES. I had heard the bad reviews going into this. I read all about the boos at Cannes, and many have ripped Ryan Gosling's near-mute, laconic performance to shreds. Still, I thought, how bad could it be? If you know me, then you know I love Drive. This is Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn's follow-up, and I was eagerly anticipating it. Many of the hallmarks of Drive are on display in Only God Forgives: synth score by Cliff Martinez, gorgeous cinematography, deliberate pacing. But, the overall effect is seriously diluted. The story is paper thin, none of the characters register, and the pacing really wears at your patience. I actually hated it quite a bit, though I liked being able to order it On Demand for $7.99 the same day it hit theaters. Take that as a sign though - there's a reason a movie of this pedigree went the On Demand route. *1/2 out of 5 stars.
RED 2. I liked the first RED well enough, but I didn't exit the theater demanding a sequel. Yet, here we are. Most of the original cast is back, with new additions like Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The movie is breezy enough, and offers forgettable escapist fare for non-discerning audiences, but the energy of the production feels really low. Bruce Willis and John Malkovich practically sleepwalk through their roles, leaving Mary Louise Parker all by herself to make funny faces and generally just ham it up. Not bad, not good. Just wholly unnecessary. **1/2 out of 5 stars.
TURBO. The timing of Turbo is unfortunate. Coming hot on the heels of family blockbusters like Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, a certain level of exhaustion sets in while watching Dreamworks' latest effort. That's a shame because Turbo is actually pretty decent. The story is serviceable - snail gets super powers and can go fast - if slightly derivative of Pixar films like Ratatouille and Cars. The voice cast is strong (Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Bill Hader, Samuel L. Jackson). The animation is terrific, the racing sequences are exciting, and there are a good amount of jokes peppered throughout the script. Some questionable racial stereotypes in the margins, but nothing too distracting. *** out of 5 stars.