Sunday, July 21, 2013

Villains, Scoundrels, & Spirits

I've gotten a bit behind in my new movie posts, so this is Part 1 of a two-parter post.  Sorry for getting so far behind, but summer is the time when movies come out fast and thick.  Here, I'm going to discuss three July movies - Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, and The Conjuring - then in the second part, I'll talk about Red 2 and R.I.P.D. (the Mary-Louise Parker double feature).

Despicable Me 2 is, as the title would indicate, the follow up to 2010's Despicable Me.  Steve Carell is back as Gru, the now-retired villain whose soft side was activated by three adorable moppets named Margo, Edith, and Agnes.  It's a fun movie and it comes in at a tidy 98 minutes, making it kid-length.  The minions nearly steal the show, which centers around Gru using his villainous thinking to smoke out a villain who is definitely not reformed.  There's enough here to keep the attention of kids and adults alike although, as is true of most sequels, the second time around, things don't feel quite as fresh and shiny-new.  Still, it was a fun romp and I now want a wide-brimmed hat that doubles as an edible guacamole tray.

Going to see The Lone Ranger was tricky.  While I try hard to stay review-free, word of mouth on this one was nearly devastating.  Listening to the chatter, you'd be convinced that this was the Movie That Would Kill Hollywood.  There was incredulity that Johnny Depp had been tapped to play Tonto and there was much disdain aimed at the stereotypical "ugh, me go now" dialogue.  I'd heard about the framing device of Depp's Tonto being an exhibit in a 1930s Wild West show, which seemed to me to be the height of insensitivity.  So it's safe to say I didn't go into this one with a light and joyful heart.

Yet that's how I left the theatre.  I suspect many folks missed several points here.  Lone Ranger was low-hanging fruit - this was going to be one that was easy to make fun of; we just don't like our heroes unconflicted these days and the white hat/black hat Western is a little too pat for our cynical time, which is a shame.  You know what?  I liked this movie and I feel a little defensive about that.  Yes, Tonto does have stereotypical elements to his character, but he's also the cleverest person in the movie.  (Silver the horse is his own special creation and is not a "person," so he's out of the equation.)  Also, Tonto is far from the only stereotype in the movie - you've got the Heartless Railroad Baron, the Naive Yet Honest-to-the-Core Lawman, the Protective Big Brother, the Plucky Wife, the Traitorous Ex-Friend, and yes, the Hooker-with-a-Heart-of-Gold.  This is a fun popcorn movie.  There's humor and love and honor and daring chase scenes that are deliciously over the top.  Honestly, I don't get the dismissive hate for this one.  I say check your realism hat at the door and just roll with it.

The Conjuring is a haunted-house movie.  Supposedly based on "actual events" (a phrase that really has no meaning after Hollywood gets done with those events), The Conjuring features a family down on their luck who buy a house at a bank auction - apparently sight unseen, judging from their surprise at locating the furnace - and move in with their five daughters.  Strange things begin happening immediately.  (Note:  When your dog doesn't want to cross the threshold of the house, begin asking questions.)  Spooky occurrences escalate and finally, the Warrens are called in.  The Warrens are an actual couple of 1970s ghost-hunters who would make their fame and fortune about a year after the events depicted in The Conjuring in the now-thoroughly-debunked Amityville Horror case.  Look, it's a fun movie, despite the fact that the people act like morons.  (Matches?  Really?)  It's also a strangely conservative, right-wing horror flick and one in which women do not come off that well.  All the trouble stems from weak women, although maternal love can be a force of great strength.  The Christian faith will save the day, even in a house occupied by unbaptized believers, who (of course) cannot save themselves.  (Just an aside - I really wanted Buffy to show up at the Warren house and question their habit of keeping a large room full of objects they consider cursed, possessed, and/or just flat-out creepy in a house with a young, impressionable daughter.  Deadbolts might be indicated.  Just saying.)

Honestly, the best part of The Conjuring (which contains no actual conjuring, by the way) was the audience.  I saw this one in a late-night viewing that was packed and every jump (it's a jump-scare movie, not a gore-scare movie) led to peals of laughter.  A popular theory about horror movies is that they allow us to confront and release our fears in a socially-acceptable way and that seemed to be on display that night, at least.

OK - that's it for Part One of this long post.  Next up - the Mary-Louise Parker Double Feature!

No comments: