Saturday, June 25, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Warcraft

Warcraft was written by Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones, and directed by Duncan Jones.

Leavitt previously wrote K-PAX, Blood Diamond, Seventh Son and In The Heart Of The Sea, which should tell you everything you need to know about his talent level. Jones previously directed Source Code (meh) and Moon (which wasn't bad).

Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones is also the son of the late David Bowie. Bowie's real name was David Jones, but he apparently changed it so as not to be confused with Davey Jones of The Monkees fame.

Warcraft is of course based on the video game franchise by Blizzard Entertainment. The story's based more or less on the 1994 game Warcraft: Orcs And Humans.

It's a decent, if somewhat derivative high fantasy film, that manages to humanize its Orc characters and give them some much needed dimension and depth. Think Star Trek: The Next Generation's Klingons, and you'll have the right idea.

If you're not a fan of the Warcraft phenomenon, don't let that scare you away from seeing the film. I've never played even a second of any of the games, and I didn't have any trouble following the movie. There are plenty of Easter eggs, in-jokes and hidden characters in the film that -only fans of the games will recognize and appreciate, but you won't need a Master's degree in Warcraft to enjoy it.

The film was first announced back in May 2006 (!), but was dropped because Blizzard feared comparisons with The Lord Of The Rings films. Given that Warcraft prominently features Orcs, this was a valid concern.

It was then scheduled for a 2009 release, and then pushed back again until 2011. Legendarily awful director Uwe Boll approached Blizzard Entertainment to direct the film, but they wisely had security throw him out of the building. Sam Raimi was then set to direct, but was ultimately replaced by Duncan Jones in 2013. It was Jones' idea to "humanize" the Orcs, and make them more than cardboard adversaries.

The movie has severely underperformed in America, grossing just $42 million so far, against its $160 million budget. I'm not sure why the film hasn't caught on with audiences. Maybe the film's coming too late, now that the games' popularity has faded somewhat?

Oddly enough Warcraft is an enormous hit in China, becoming the all-time highest grossing film ever there. It received the widest ever release there, and has grossed over $200 million there, breaking numerous box office records. If there's ever a Warcraft 2, it'll be because of China, which is fast becoming one of the biggest influences in Hollywood.

Like many modern blockbusters, Warcraft seems more concerned with setting up a franchise than it does telling its own story. It's not as blatant about it as some (I'm lookin' at you, Dark Knight V Hopeman), but it's obvious they're prepping for a sequel.


The Plot:
We begin on the planet Draenor, the home world of the Orc race. We meet Durotan, the leader of the Frostwolf Clan, his pregnant wife Draka, and his best pal Orgrim Doomhammer. Get used to these kinds of names, because the movie's chock full of 'em. Unfortunately Draenor's become uninhabitable, as the powerful warlock Gul'dan has befouled it with deadly fel magic.

Gul'dan unites the various Orc clans into a massive Horde. He drains the lifeforce from a camp of Draenei prisoners, and uses it to open a portal to the world of Azeroth. He plans to take the Horde through the portal, conquer Azeroth and set up housekeeping there. Durotan has his doubts about this plan, as he just wants to live out his life with his family and pending son. Gosh, these Orcs aren't really bad sorts after all. They're just like us!

For some insane reason, Durotan allows his wife Draka to join the raiding party. As they pass through the portal to Azeroth, Draka goes into labor. Once there, Gul'dan delivers her baby. Unfortunately it's stillborn, probably due to Draka leaping through a weird interdimensional portal to another world. Gul'dan uses fel magic to drain the lifeforce from a nearby dear and bring the baby back to life. Durotan names the baby Go'el.

The Orcs raid several human settlements in Azeroth, which draws the attention of Anduin Lothar, commander of the army of Stormwind. Lothar finds a "failed" mage named Khadgar rooting around the bodies, seemingly violating the dead. Khadgar says he was examining the bodies, which contain traces of fel magic. Lothar takes Khadgar to King Llane of Stormwind. There, Khadgar suggests the King consult the powerful mage Medivh, the Guardian who protects Stormwind. Fortunately the actual movie's far more coherent than this convoluted synopsis.

Lothar and Khadgar pay a visit to Medivh, who's sculpting a giant clay golem. Gosh, I wonder if that'll become important later on? Medivh is intrigued by the threat of deadly fel magic, and joins Lothar's scouting party. The soldiers are ambushed by a group of Orcs. Medivh uses his powerful magic to kill most of them. The Horde's leader, Blackhand, along with Durotan and Orgrim, manage to escape.

Khadgar finds an Orc-human hybrid called Garona, and captures her with a spell. Lothar takes her back to King Llane. When Garona offers her loyalty to Stormwind, Llane frees her. She leads the human soldiers to spy on the Orc camp, where they learn that Gul'dan plans to bring the entire Horde through the portal to Azeroth.

Meanwhile, it finally dawns on Durotan that he has no quarrel with humans, and Gul'dan is the true enemy. The dark mage destroyed Draenor and if not stopped, will do the same to Azeroth. Durotan invites King Llane to a meeting, hoping to form an alliance with the humans to destroy Gul'dan. Khadgar reads a book he "borrowed" from Medivh's library, which implies that Gul'dan couldn't have opened the portal on his own, and had to have help from someone in Azeroth. Just then Medivh sees Khadgar's research and burns it, taking back the book. Well, that certainly doesn't seem suspicious.

Durotan and his Frostwolf Clan meet with King Llane to negotiate an alliance. Naturally they decide the best place for this conference is in the middle of a steep-walled canyon that makes them sitting ducks for potential attackers. As Garona translates for Durotan and Llane, Blackhand and a force of Orcs attack right on cue. Medivh sets up a forcefield to separate the humans and Orcs. Unfortunately, Lothar's son Callan, who's a Stormwind soldier, finds himself on the Orc side, and is killed by Blackhand. Durotan realizes there's no hope for an alliance, and reluctantly retreats. Medivh is severely weakened by generating the field, and Khadgar and Garona return him to his headquarters. Khadgar notices Medivh's eye's glowing green, a sure sign that he's using fel magic— and that he's the traitor.

Khadgar returns to Hogwarts, er, I mean Dalaran, the magical school he attended, but fled before his training was complete. He meets with the mages there about Medivh. They confirm that he's been corrupted by fel magic, and possessed by a demon to boot.

Back at the Horde camp, Blackhand throws Durotan into prison, and wipes out the Frostwolf Clan. Gul'dan then infuses Blackhand with fel magic, making him even more powerful. Orgrim realizes Durotan was right about Gul'dan, and helps Draka and her baby escape. The imprisoned Durotan challenges Gul'dan to Mak'gora, a traditional Orish duel to the death for leadership of the Horde. Gul'dan accepts the challenge, but cheats by draining Durotan's life force, killing him. Well. That was certainly unexpected! The other Orcs disapprove of Gul'dan's cheating, but are afraid to speak up, lest he drain them as well. Gul'dan then sacrifices his human captives to open the portal, allowing the remaining Orcs on Draenor to pour into Azeroth.

Meanwhile, Draka flees with her son, pursued by the Horde. She places Go'el's baby carrier in a river and he floats serenely away, which is nothing at all like the Moses In The Bullrushes legend from the Bible. She's then shot and killed by the Horde.

King Llane sends Lothar and Khadgar to deal with Medivh. Once there, Medivh activates his golem, which comes to life and attacks (told you!). Lothar manages to destroy the golem, while Khadgar battles Medivh. Khadgar manages to kill the demon possessing Medivh, mortally wounding him in the process. With his last ounce of strength, Medivh closes the portal from Draenor and opens one to Stormwind. This allows Llane to evacuate most of the human prisoners from the Horde camp. Medivh then dies, and the portal closes. Llane, Garona and a small group of human soldiers then face the entire Orc Horde.

As the hopeless battle rages, Llane tells Garona she has to kill him. He claims this will bring her honor among the Orcs, and they'll make her their leader. She'll then be able to hammer out a treaty between the two races. Garona is hesitant, but realizes he's right. She kills Llane, and is instantly revered by the Horde. Lothar retrieves Llane's body and sees Garona's knife sticking out his side, and realizes she killed him. Since he wasn't made privy to Llan's plan, he believes Garona betrayed Stormwind.

Blackhand challenges Lothar to Mak'gora. Lothar accepts and defeats him surprisingly easily. Since he won fair and square, the Orcs allow him to leave with Llane's body (because like Klingons, they're all about honor, dontcha know).

Back at Stormwind, the leaders of Azeroth— humans, dwarves straight from the set of The Hobbit, and some freakish-looking high elves
— form an alliance against the Orcs, and elect Lothar as the leader of their forces. Orgrim takes one of Durotan's tusks from his desiccated body as a memento. Go'el's basket washes up on shore, and the Orc baby is found by a passing human.

• I appreciate the fact that Jones made the effort to humanize the Orcs, making them real characters with actual lives and a culture. They're infinitely more interesting than Tolkien's Orcs, who have little or no depth and exist solely as cannon fodder. It's always more interesting to how a conflict affects characters on both sides. Kudos!

 I get that Orc women are probably sturdier than human females, but... why in the name of sanity did Durotan think it would be a good idea to let his just-about-to-pop pregnant wife jump through a supernatural portal and take part in a battle?

• Speaking of Orcs, they were all very well done, and the CGI looked as realistic as possible for such outlandish designs. Unfortunately every time I saw a close up of one, all I could think was "How can they speak with those giant tusks jutting out of their mouths? And why aren't they constantly drooling?"

• From what I can tell (I've never played any of the games or read any of the books), most of the character designs in the film are spot on, matching their game counterparts almost perfectly. Movie Gul'dan in particular looks like the game character come to life.
• Supposedly some forty minutes were cut from the film for time. Let's hope there's a Director's Cut that restores the footage, which will no doubt make the story flow more smoothly and flesh out a few of the characters.

• I really liked the way magic was depicted in the film. Whenever Khadgar would cast a spell, his hands would be surrounded by a ring of glowing, arcane runes floating in midair. It's a pretty cool effect I've not seen before.

The upcoming Doctor Strange movie appears to use this same effect, or one very much like it, but Warcraft beat them to it by a good six months.

• We're told that Khadgar ran away from wizard school before his training was completed. For a "failed" mage, he seems pretty darned powerful to me. He casts spells and forms force fields left and right all through the film. If he'd actually completed his training he'd probably be just a step or two away from being a god.

Gratuitous Use Of The Wilhelm Scream: At one point Lothar and his men are ambushed by Orcs in the woods. One of the Orcs grabs a human and effortlessly flings him into the air. He utters the Wilhelm scream as he goes flyin.'

OK, it was a fun little Easter Egg the first 49,573 times it was used, but the novelty's starting to wear a bit thing. It's way past time this sound effect was retired for good.

• Dominic Cooper plays King Llane, and Ruth Negga plays Lady Taria, his queen. Hmm. Both have played characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they're currently starring together in AMC's Preacher series. Why do they keep turning up in the same projects? Are they a package deal?

Turns out that Cooper and Negga have been dating since 2010, and live together in London.

• The half breed Garona is the film's "hot" character, so she's much sexier than the standard Orc female. As such she's much more human looking. Well, apart from the green skin, pointed ears and what appear to be Tic-Tacs in the corners of her mouth.

What is it with all the green women in sci-fi and fantasy tales? You've got the Orion Slave Women from Star Trek, She-Hulk from Marvel Comics, Gamora from Guardians Of The Galaxy and now Garona. There's definitely some kind of fetish going on here.

• So did Medivh imply he was Garona's father? At one point he tells her a story of how he once met an Orc woman who was kind to him, and they grew "very close" or something. He never comes right out and says it, but it seemed like he was hinting that he's her baby daddy. I can't think of any other reason why he'd tell her that story, unless he thought they were kin.

• When Khadgar returns to Dalaran, the magical school he fled as a youngster. There he's confronted by Alodi, some sort of seer who gives him advice. Alodi was played by an uncredited Glenn Close.

Hmm. Close had a fairly large role in Guardians Of The Galaxy, and now this bit part in Warcraft. Is... is Glenn Close a nerd like us?

• I was very surprised that the script didn't shy away from killing off several main characters, including Durotan. Well done! Well, not well done to the killings, but to the fact that the plot wasn't always predictable.

• It was interesting to see an epic fantasy battle that featured firearms in addition to the usual swords, spears and bows. It was a bit jarring the first time I saw a human shoot an Orc with a gun, but after I got used to it, it was pretty cool.

• Azeroth seems to feature three main races: humans, dwarves and high elves. Unfortunately the dwarves here look EXACTLY like the ones from The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings films. And I do mean exactly. The first time I saw one I thought, "What's Gimli doing in this movie?"

They look like they're wearing some of the leftover armor from The Hobbit. And they're even wearing the big rubber hands to help them look like short, squat people!

Maybe there's only so many ways to depict a fantasy dwarf, but I think New Line and Peter Jackson could successfully sue if they wanted.

The elves on the other hand, couldn't look more different than their Tolkien counterparts. I'd go so far as to say they're downright goofy looking, what with their glowing eyes, protruding Andy Rooney eyebrows and foot-long pointed ears.

• As Draka's being pursued by enemy Orcs, she sets her son Go'el adrift in a river, where he floats merrily downstream until he's found by a passing human (thus setting up a sequel). 

Sigh... why would anyone write a scene like that at this point in time? There's no way to film it without invoking thoughts and comparisons to Moses. Surely there was a better way to introduce Go'el to his new family?

• As I mentioned earlier, the movie's filled with Easter eggs and shoutouts to the various Warcraft games. I'm not going to list them all here, as you can easily find them on the interwebs. I will say it's obvious that the film was made by people who love the games, and made sure they got all the details just right for the fans. That's rare these days in Hollywood, when the norm is to ask, "What can we change?"

Warcraft is a rare breed in Hollywood
— a videogame movie that actually works. It's surprising and derivative at the same time, as it attempts to build a dense and complicated world, and give some depth to its "villains." It's worth a look on the big screen for the spectacle and battle scenes alone. I give it a B.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Art In The Wild!

I was browsing in my local comic bookery last week, and imagine my surprise when I walked past the gaming section and spotted my RARRR!! game on the shelf! Cool!

OK, so technically it' s not my game... it's published by APE Games. They're a Texas-based company that's been manufacturing fine board and card games since 1977.

But I did create just about all the art for the game a couple of years back. You can read all about that particular project here. Apparently the game has just been reprinted, hence its appearance on the shelves.

Imagine, my monster art is sitting there on the shelf next to Star Trek and Minecraft games! I'm somebody! I'm finally somebody!

Of course now that I've spotted my game in the comic shop, I'm going to become obsessed with it and check to see if both copies are still there every time I go in. And of course if they are, I'll immediately become despondent and hide under my desk all weekend.

In order to prevent that, I suggest you all immediately check your local comic shop for the RARRR!! game, or better yet, order it directly from the APE Games site.

Sounds Like Troub-El To Me

Back in May, the Siffy Channel announced it was producing a new Superman prequel series titled Krypton. This week, they finally released details on the project.

According to Siffy, the series "will be set two generations before the destruction of Superman's home planet, telling the story of his grandfather, who's fighting to restore his family's honor following a public disgrace."

No doubt he'll successfully refurbish the family name just in time for the planet to explode. That's pretty much what has to happen, right? We all know Krypton's destiny. Who wants to watch the struggles of a group of people who are doomed to die in a few years? 

On the other hand, that worked out pretty well for Game Of Thrones, so never mind.

The pilot will be written by David S. Goyer, the "screenwriter" of both Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. That right there guarantees I won't be watching. Hell, I may even take an ax to my TV to make sure I don't see even a minute of the show by accident. 

Goyer's pilot will no doubt be dark, dreary and full of self-loathing characters wearing grim, pained expressions, who look like they don't want to be in their own show. It's too bad the show's set before Batman V Superman, else Jimmy Olsen could make a cameo and get shot in the head again. Just for fun!

So first we had Gotham, a Batman series without Batman in it, and now we've got a Superman-less Superman series. I honestly don't get the appeal of these types of shows. Who wants to watch a superhero show without any superheroes? Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. suffered from this problem in its first season, but the producers wisely course-corrected and finally started giving us some comic book action.

Siffy released a plot synopsis of the Krypton pilot, and it's a doozy. The show will center around Superman's grandfather Seg-El, an "athletic, quietly confident" man in his twenties. Obviously the Seg-El name is a little nod to Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Supeman. His possible love interest is Lyta Zod, who has a family tie to General Zod, and is a reluctant warrior. 

Also in the cast is Val-El, who's Seg-El's own grandfather, who discovered the Phantom Zone, Ter-El, Superman's great grandfather, and Dev-Em, described as a "Kryptonian juvenile delinquent." 

It all sounds like a bunch of Driv-El to me. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's Terrib-El. Dispicab-El, even. The whole thing's Inexcusab-El. It's Unthinkab-El. Whoever greenlit this project is Certifiab-El. OK, I'm done.

The show begins production this summer, and will likely premiere in the fall, just in time for a Christmas cancellation.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Godzilla Got Back!

This week Toho Studios released a new image from their upcoming film Shin Godzilla. The movie will of course be called Godzilla Resurgence in America, since it's now federal law that all films must have the word Resurgence, Retribution, Revolution or Redemption in the title.

Shin Godzilla will be the TWENTY NINTH film in the series (not counting the two American movies). Now that's a franchise!

Toho says the film will be a complete reboot, and will depict Godzilla attacking Japan for the first time. This is only the third time in the history of the franchise that this has happened. The series was kicked off of course in 1954's Godzilla, and was rebooted back in Godzilla 2000. Every other film in the series has been a sequel to the original, or acknowledged it in some form.

Here's our best look yet at the titular creature from Shin Godzilla.

Hmm. I'm confused here. Why is Jeannie's lamp attacking Tokyo in this film?

Yikes. That is one butt-ugly rubber monster suit. The giraffe neck, the shriveled little arms, and that pear shape! He looks like he needs to pull up his pants! This Godzilla definitely never skips leg day! Maybe that's why the film's called Shin Godzilla! Get it? Shin? Eh? EH?

For decades now it's been a tradition for Toho to completely redesign Godzilla in each new film. Why, I have no idea. Maybe to generate buzz for the aging franchise, or to give the fans something to look forward to?

This freakish new Godzilla suit, with its skeletal appearance and disturbingly tiny arms (that look like he's belting out a Shakespearean soliloquy) may be the worst looking one yet. He looks like a well done steak! Is this some sort of decomposing, Zombie Godzilla (now that I think about it, I'd pay to see that)?

He looks a little better from the side, but it's still a horrible, off-putting design. At least they're still using a guy in a suit, instead of a CGI Godzilla (although Toho has confirmed some scenes will feature a computer animated monster).

Overheard At Work: Garlic Fries

I work in a typical office, surrounded by many other workers in cubicles. Although I'm grateful to have a job I like, sometimes the vocal din from the surrounding coworkers is a bit overwhelming. Not to mention odd. Thank the gods old and new for headphones and Pandora.

The following is a 100% true actual conversation I Overheard At Work:

Man (to two women in hallway): "I'm inherently distrustful of garlic fries."
I'm right with you there, brother! Oh sure, it's a novelty when those kinds of fries first move into the menu, what with their enticing aroma and unconventional flavor. But once they get a foothold, it's not long before they start bringing in other exotic foods. You know, things like wraps instead of sandwiches. Foods lace with curry, basil and… and ginger. Then it's only a matter of time until God-fearing Americans are forced to find a less… ethnic place to eat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 was written by James Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes and David Leslie Johnson (it took four people to write this?). It was directed by James Wan.

Chad and Carey Hayes are twins and writing partners who seem to specialize in horror films. They previously wrote First Daughter (OK, so that one wasn't a horror film per se, although it was horrible), House of Wax, The Reaping, Whiteout and The Conjuring. Johnson wrote Orphan (an underrated film I liked quite a bit), Red Riding Hood and Wrath Of The Titans. He also wrote a couple of episodes of The Walking Dead (Chupacabra and Triggerfinger).

James Wan directed Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2 and Furious 7. He's also currently directing the upcoming Aquaman movie for Warner Bros.

As you might expect from the title, it's a sequel to 2013's The Conjuring, a very successful little horror film that wracked up an astonishing $137 MILLION dollars! Holy crap! I'm surprised it's taken this long to pump out a sequel!

The film stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, reprising their roles of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. It deals with another incident from the Warren's case files, this time the Enfield Poltergeist, which took place in England from 1977 to 1979.

The Conjuring 2 features a few genuinely creepy moments which elevate it above most so-called "scary" films. The Demonic Nun in particular was quite effective, and there's a feeling of darkness and dread that saturates the entire movie.

Like many movies of this ilk, this one claims it's based on a true story. I have absolutely no problem believing that. I'm positive it's true that this was based on a story.

The movie's already a hit, and Warner Bros. has announced that the Demonic Nun featured in the film will be getting her own spinoff, titled— what else— The Nun. I can see the tag line on the poster now: "Nun Will Survive." Sorry, sorry. This is getting to be a habit! Sorry, I didn't mean to wimple out! 

Oddly enough the Demonic Nun character wasn't in the original script, as the monster was going to be a typical horned devil-like thing. It wasn't until March 2016 that director James Wan had a dream about a scary nun, and decided to add the character to the film during reshoots.

The Conjuring spinoff Annabelle is also getting a sequel, and The Conjuring 3 is no doubt right around the corner. There's seemingly no stopping this horrific franchise!


The Plot:
We begin with a flashback to 1974 as real life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate the Amityville murders, their most famous and celebrated case. During a seance in the actual Amityville house, Lorraine has a vision of Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdering his family. She also sees the figure of a ghastly Demonic Nun, who impales her husband Ed on a jagged splinter of wood. 

Lorraine's so traumatized by both the brutality of the Amityville case and the vision of Ed's death, that she wants to quit the paranormal investigating biz.

We then jump forward to 1977, where we meet the Hodgson family, who live in Enfield, England. Peggy Hodgson's a single mom trying to raise her four kids in a dilapidated council house (that's public housing, for us non-Brits). Her eleven year old daughter Janet begins experiencing odd happenings around the house. Little things like nightmares, sleepwalking and teleporting from her second floor bedroom to the living room below. You know, the usual.

This is no shy ghost, as it flings furniture around in front of Peggy, the neighbors and even the police! That's a refreshing change from most horror films, where the ghosts suffer from performance anxiety and won't appear in front of a crowd. When the ghost begins physically biting Janet, Peggy is reluctantly forced to seek help.

A TV reporter brings noted paranormal expert Maurice Grosse to the Hodgson house to investigate the case. They interview Janet, who begins speaking in a deep, evil voice. Apparently she's being possessed by the spirit of Bill Wilkins, the previous owner of the house, who died in a ratty chair in the living room years before. Bill doesn't seem to realize he's dead, and doesn't take kindly to the Hodgson's trespassing on his property. Wow, even the ghosts of old men want you off their lawns! Most normal humans would hightail it out of there after receiving an eviction notice from an angry ghost, but not this family! There's still over an hour of runtime left at this point, so they decide to stay.

The case eventually reaches the Catholic church, which orders the Warrens to fly to England to investigate. Lorraine doesn't want to go, due to her visions of Ed's death. Ed assures her there's nothing to worry about, and promises they'll go only as consultants, and won't get involved. Lorraine's still leery about going, and later that day she has another vision of the Demonic Nun. In her trancelike state Lorraine slashes at the bible she's been reading. She realizes the Hodgson's are in mortal danger, and reluctantly agrees to go.

The Warrens arrive in England and meet the Hodgson family. They speak with Maurice Grosse, who's convinced the case is real. His colleague, note paranormal debunker Anita Gregory, believes Janet is faking her possession.

Ed interviews Janet, who becomes possessed by Wilkins almost on cue. Once again he claims the Enfield house belongs to him, and wants the Hodgsons gone. The Warrens witness several more events, including spectral biting and levitation. When Bill Wilkins completely trashes the Hodgson's kitchen, they're finally convinced.

The Warrens are ready to contact the church and give the Enfield Haunting two thumbs up, when Anita Gregory shows them a videotape she made. The tape shows Janet deliberately wrecking the kitchen, clearly not under any demonic influence (although how a small girl managed to so thoroughly demolish the room isn't mentioned). The disappointed Warrens leave the Hodgson's house and head back to America.

While waiting for their train, the Warrens feel something's not right. They review the taped interviews and realize that the ghost of Bill Wilkins is only a pawn, being manipulated by the vastly more powerful Demonic Nun— the one who's been haunting Lorraine's visions. They leave the train and head back.

At the Hodgson's, Janet reveals to her older sister that she did indeed trash the kitchen, but only because the demon threatened to kill her family if she didn't figure out a way to get rid of the Warrens. Just then Janet becomes repossessed (heh), and locks everyone out of the house. The Warrens return, and Ed breaks into the basement. As he makes his way upstairs, the Demonic Nun tries its best to kill him, even temporarily blinding him by bursting a steam pipe.

Lightning strikes a tree in front of the house, leaving a deadly sharp, jagged stump. Lorraine realizes it's the same stump that impaled Ed in her vision. She realizes she could banish the Demon back to Hell if only she knew its name. She remembers writing the Demon's name in her bible during one of her visions. She gets it out and sees the name "Valak" slashed across several pages. Lorraine enters the house in a desperate attempt to save Ed.

The half-blind Ed finds the possessed Janet in her bedroom, standing in an open window and ready to leap onto the jagged tree stump below. As she jumps, Ed grabs her with one hand while holding onto the bedroom curtain with the other. The curtain begins ripping, threatening to send them both hurtling down onto the tree stump.

Lorraine enters the room and the Demonic Nun, aka Valak, psychically pins her against the wall. She calls the demon by name, and manages to condemn it back to Hell. As it's sucked into the void, its hold on Lorraine is loosened. She grabs Ed, who pulls the now unpossessed Janet back inside.

We then see the Warrens back home in America, where Ed places a zoetrope from the Enfield house in his museum of haunted artifacts.


• This is some extreme nitpicking, but whatever. The name of the movie is The Conjuring 2, but what exactly is being conjured here? The ghost of Bill Wilkins? The Demonic Nun? Both seemed to appear on their own without anyone "conjuring" them up.

The original film shared this same problem. 

• If you're a regular reader of my blog (as millions are), you know of my hatred of watered-down PG-13 "horror films." You know, movies that are sanitized for audience protection, so teens can see them and pump up the box office.

I naturally assumed The Conjuring 2 was another one of these anemic films. Imagine my surprise when I found out it's actually rated R. Why, I have absolutely no idea. There's no nudity, little or no cursing, and absolutely no blood or gore. There's not even much in the way of violence. 

I'm wondering if has something to do with the demonic possession angle? Do movies that feature possessed children (like The Exorcist) automatically get an R?

• Like the previous film, this one proudly trumpets the fact that it's based on a true story that was documented by real-life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The film begins with a flashback to the Warren's investigation of the Amityville murders, which was their most famous case and also supposedly a true story. However, the so-called "Amityville Horror" has been thoroughly debunked over the years, as several members of the Lutz family have freely admitted they made up the whole thing for monetary gain.

If the Warren's signature case turned out to be a bunch of hooey, what does that say about the rest of them?

Amazingly the movie actually touches on this topic, as the Warrens appear on a talk show and a fellow guest accuses them of being frauds. Ed defends himself by saying that while the Lutz family made up the general story, there were many other elements of the Amityville case that were authentic.

It's a valiant effort on the part of the writers to hand-wave away the problem, but it fails miserably.

The filmmakers desperately want us to believe that the Enfield Poltergeist case really happened as well, but the cold hard truth is that it didn't. Not as shown, that is. It's now believed that the entire incident was a hoax, perpetrated by Janet Hodgson and her older sister, who was able to speak in a deep, "demonic" voice. In fact Janet has even admitted to faking many of the supernatural incidents that occurred in the house.

Additionally the Warrens were barely involved with the case in real life, although several other paranormal experts were, and swore the incidents were authentic.

If you're still on the fence about the veracity of the case, take a look at this. It's a series of still photos allegedly showing young Janet Hodgson "levitating" while being possessed. Ahem. Apparently my sister and I levitated in our bedrooms quite a bit as kids, and didn't even realize it.

It's perfectly fine to be a fan of these films and stories. Just remember though that they're  just stories, and have little or nothing to do with reality.

• Filming on The Conjuring 2 began on September 21, 2015 in LA. Due to the inexplicable series of events that plagued the production of the first film, a priest was brought in to bless the movie. Ouch! I just sprained my eyes rolling them so hard!

• Whenever a film is set in the past, it's a given there are going to be anachronisms. I didn't spot many in The Conjuring 2. The fact that the majority of the film's set in England may have something to do with that. After all, few Americans know what life in England was like in 1977. The only anachronism I spotted were the lights on the Hodgson's Xmas tree. They appeared to be small LED bulbs, which weren't widely used in Xmas decorations until the 1990s. 

• At the beginning of the film, Janet and a friend are caught smoking at school by a teacher. There's something really odd about the cigarette that Janet's holding. The end is conical, and has a glowing red tip even when no one's puffing away on it. I'm not a smoker, but I'm pretty sure cigs don't work that way. 

I'm assuming the filmmakers didn't want to give a real cigarette to a kid, so they whipped up a fake looking prop.

• It's nice to know that Transatlantic travel is apparently a thing in the afterlife! Lorraine is first haunted by the Demonic Nun in America, and later it pops up to pester the Hodgsons in England. Now that's a well traveled demon!

• The filmmakers did a terrific job of recreating the Enfield house, right down to the David Soul (remember him?) posters on the walls of Janet's bedroom. 

• The Big Bad in the movie is a demon named Valak, who for some reason takes the form of a terrifying, undead Demonic Nun. I think maybe it does this to unsettle Lorraine, who was raised a Catholic?

Valak's fairly scary as movie monsters go, but she (it?)would have been even more frightening if she didn't resemble Marilyn Manson in a habit. Or worse, Brain Guy from Mystery Science Theater 3000!

• Looks like someone really likes The Shining.

• At one point Lorraine finds in the living room, putting the finishing touches on a painting. He says he was having trouble sleeping, and so got up early to paint the image he kept seeing in his head. Lorraine's unnerved to see him painting the terrifying Demonic Nun from her visions.

Who knew Ed was such an accomplished portrait artist? Even stranger, he's as calm and soothing as Bob Ross during this scene, as if painting a ghoulish religious figure is the most normal thing in the world.

• The demon's name, "Valak," appears several times inside the Warren's home. We first see it as Ed works on his painting. The letters "V-A-L-A and K" hang from the window behind him. Later we see the Warren's daughter Judy making bracelets out of lettered beads in the living room. Three of her bracelets spell out "Valak." The last time we see it is in the Warren's library. There are five wooden letters placed randomly on the bookshelves. The letters are— you guessed it— "V-A-L-A and K" again.

It's not really clear why these instances of the demon's name kept popping up in the Warren's house, especially since they hadn't even agreed to take on the Enfield case yet. And why would Lorraine have a decorative "V" and "K" on her shelf, when those letters don't appear in any of her family's names? Maybe Lorraine (and her daughter too?) sensed the name in her visions, and began subconsciously arranging letters in her home? 

• One last thing about our friend Valak— he's apparently real. Well, real in the sense that he's part of demonic mythology, that is. Several ancient texts, including the Dictionnaire Infernal, Pseudomonarchia Deamonum and the Book Of Goetia all mention a demon named Valak (sorry, no mention of Ash's Necronomicon Ex-Moris).

Valak was (is?) supposedly a big deal, as he's described as the President Of Hell. Good gig! He also commanded thirty legions of demons, and was believed to be very powerful. 

There's just one catch— he didn't look like a scary nun. Instead he usually took the form of a child with angel wings, who rode a two headed dragon.

• When Maurice Grosse first records Janet/Bill, he answers a few questions and then grunts some seemingly random words, such as "I'M, IT, LET, LEAVE!" 

A few days later Ed "interviews" Bill and asks why he doesn't just leave. Bill moans and again spews out some incongruent words, like "trapped, won't, me."

Later on Ed realizes Bill is sending them a secret message. He takes the two separate taped interviews and plays them at the same time. The random words then line up to say, "I'M trapped! IT won't LET me LEAVE!" 

Gosh, Bill, that was much easier than simply saying the whole sentence to begin with. Lucky for Ol' Dead Bill that Ed was smart enough to figure out his secret code. And kudos to the ghost of a seventy two year old man for being technologically savvy enough to split his plea for help across two separate tape recorders!

Bill also recites some sort of riddle, which goes something like "It's something you didn't choose, but you own it for life." Lorraine correctly figures out the answer is "your name." She then realizes they'll have power over the demon if they can figure out it's name. She then remembers she wrote (well, slashed) the demon's name in her bible, and discovers it's "Valak."

Again, why did Bill have to be so cryptic here? Why couldn't he have just told Lorraine the demon's name? I suppose it may have been because Valak was hanging around listening, and wouldn't have let Bill simply tell them what they needed to know.

Ed and Lorraine then realize Bill is only a pawn, being manipulated by the even stronger and more malevolent Demonic Nun. So I guess bullying persists even into the afterlife. How depressing.

• The Enfield Haunting takes place during the Christmas holiday, and disrupts the Hodgson's celebration. Ed tries to cheer up the kids by singing Can't Help Falling In Love while doing his best Elvis impression. Lorraine looks on, realizing how lucky she is to be married to Ed.

It's a bold move to put such a scene in a horror film, but you know what? It works! It could have been the most cringe-worthy scene ever in the hands of lesser actors, but Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga pull it off. Plus Wilson can actually sing!

• The film ratchets up the tension by having Lorraine experience a vision of Ed dying, so the audience will spend the rest of the runtime worrying about him.

First of all, there's no way in hell Ed was ever going to die in this film. Not when there are still additional sequels to make!

Secondly, at one point Ed actually is in danger, but ultimately Lorraine saves him. So her highly publicized visions are pretty much worthless then, if they don't necessarily come true or can be easily changed.

• Paranormal debunker Anita Gregory shows the Warrens a video of Janet purposely trashing the Hodgson family's kitchen, proving that the entire incident was just a hoax. The disappointed Warrens reluctantly decide to head back to America.

Um… what about the fact that a small eleven year old girl was able to pick up a kitchen table by herself and hurl it through a window? What is she, bionic? Surely that was worth a writeup, or worth looking into.

• The Hodgson's youngest son Billy has a zoetrope that displays an animated figure of the Crooked Man as it plays the nursery rhyme There Was A Crooked Man. Near the end of the film when Ed is trying to save Janet, the Crooked Man from the zoetrope somehow comes to life and tries to stop him.

I have no idea why the filmmakers decided to shoehorn this character into the story. We already had Bill Wilkins and the Demonic Nun— adding yet a third monster muddied the waters even more. No wonder the ghosts want the Hodgson's out of the house. It's getting right crowded in there! You could remove the Crooked Man completely from the film and it wouldn't affect the plot one bit.

Plus what the hell is the Crooked Man supposed to be? Is he a ghost or demon who took the form of the nursery rhyme? Or are we supposed to believe the animated character somehow came to life and sprang out of the zoetrope? Apparently not even the director knows, as his fleeting appearances are never addressed.

Also, the Crooked Man looks completely out of place in the movie. Bill Wilkins looks like a decrepit old man, and the Demonic Nun looks like... well, like a scary demonic nun. They fit in with the established world.

The Crooked Man looks like he wondered off the set of a Tim Burton film. He looks more like a cartoon than a "realistic" ghost, reminiscent of the sketchy monster in The Babadook (a film that everyone but me seems to love). Even worse, he has a jerky, stop motion animated look to his movements. I think that was intentional, to show he was a cartoon come to life, but the effect failed miserably.

• For such a terrifying and powerful entity, Valak was surprisingly easy to beat. In the film's climax, Valak uses the Force to pin Lorraine to the wall of Janet's bedroom, while it tries to shove Ed out the window. Lorraine shouts, "Valak the Destroyer! I banish you to Hell!" and POOF! Valak gets sucked back into the abyss from whence it came. Well that was certainly easy! And disappointing. Somehow I was expecting a more prolonged good vs. evil battle.

• When Ed places the haunted zoetrope in his trophy room, you can see the horrifying Annabelle doll in a case in the background. The doll appeared briefly in a similar scene at the end of The Conjuring.

Annabelle was sort of a prequel to The Conjuring, although the Warrens don't bother to show up at all in Annabelle in the film at all. It's connection to the franchise is tenuous at best.

The Warrens really did keep a haunted Annabelle doll in a locked glass case in their trophy room. The real life Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann doll though, not that horrific abomination seen in the film.

The Conjuring 2 pulls off the difficult feat of being better than the original, and features a few genuinely creepy moments, especially those involving the Demonic Nun. Ignore all the "based on actual incidents" hype and just enjoy the story. It's worth a look on home video, but I wouldn't run any red lights to hurry to the cineplex. I gave the original film a B-, which in retrospect was way too high. It deserved a C at best. So I'm retroactively lowering the grade of the original and giving The Conjuring 2 a B-.

Flagged Post

In response to overwhelming consumer demand, this week the American Association Of Decorative Hardware And Fixtures announced it's making a fundamental design change in all flagpoles. Beginning immediately, all poles manufactured in America will be designed to display flags at half mast only.

Said Sid Silverbaum, President of the Association, "We got a lot of feedback from various groundskeepers, patriots and elderly veterans from around the country, who are exhausted from constantly having to trudge out to their poles and lower their flags to half mast every two to three days. Frankly it just doesn't make sense to make poles that display flags at the top anymore."

According to Silverbaum, the new Half-Master brand poles will be in stores by the end of June, just in time for the latest mass shooting or Independence Day, whichever comes first.

Scraping The Bottom Of The Star Trek Barrel

Each year the San Diego Comic Con features a series of overpriced, limited edition "exclusive" action figures and toys for sale.

This year Mattel's getting in on the act, offering an exclusive Hot Wheels 1964 Buick Riviera. Oddly enough, the toy car comes with a tiny Mr. Spock figure, casually leaning against the hood. It sells for a whopping $20, which is quite a markup from Hot Wheel's usual $1.50.

Apparently this is from that little-seen
Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise is captured by a race of alien hot rod enthusiasts, and Spock saves the day by showing off his awesome cherry ride, which shames them into releasing the ship.

Actually the exclusive is based on this publicity photo of actor Leonard Nimoy in full Spock regalia, leaning against the car he purchased during the first season with his Star Trek paycheck.

OK, so it's kind of an amusing photo (in that "Spock faintly smiles while slightly raising one eyebrow" way), but does it really deserve to have a toy based on it? It definitely feels like they're reaching here. 

What's next, an action figure of James Doohan polishing the five hundred piece Craftsman toolset he bought during Season 2?

As unnecessary as the Spock figure is, it's still not as silly as the Ice Cream Guy action figure from the Star Wars line.
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