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Review: ‘The Conjuring 2’ Has Ghosts Worth The Boasts

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[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ames Wan returns to his world of hauntings with more inspiration than you’d expect for a sequel to 2013’s surprise hit The Conjuring. He has an eye for the setting of 1970s England with period dressing and a rustic motif. He has an uncanny sense of atmosphere the way he’s able to captivate the viewer with frightening new tricks in the horror genre.

The Conjuring 2 MovieSpoon.com

This is the normal amount of crosses to have on a wall–if your home is possessed.

It also helps that he has a stellar cast backing him up. Wan knows the type of movie he wants to make and doesn’t let himself become pinned down with trying to one-up his previous movie. That creepy Annabelle doll, though popular enough to warrant her own movie, is reduced to a mere cameo as Wan clearly has more ideas than just rehashing the same old thing.

The movie picks up with ghost hunters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) continuing their investigations of the paranormal. Opening the picture is a prologue to reintroduce us to the ghost busting couple as they confirm the demonic intent of the Amityville Horror. Lorraine shows off her unique ability to make contact with spirits and witnesses the slew of shotgun murders that took place throughout the cursed house. While having these visions, she is also haunted by a demonic nun, which brings forth much foreshadowing of a grim future for the couple.

The Conjuring 2 MovieSpoon.com

I suppose a simple ‘go away’ won’t work?

Their primary mission for The Conjuring 2 takes place across the pond in Enfield, England, complete with UK stock footage of the 1970s and a soundtrack of “London Calling” to make the era and location clear as day. Single mother Peggy Hodgson has her hands full with too many kids and not enough money. Despite the multitude of issues her kids have, from speech impediments to smoking, Peggy still loves them enough to offer both praise and discipline.

Related: ‘The Conjuring 2’ Tops Week’s Revenue Charts With $40M

She’s a great mom, but doesn’t quite have the determination to punish the haunting spirit out of her possessed daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). The poor schoolgirl has been taken over by the ghost of Bill Wilkens (Bob Adrian), an angry old spirit that speaks through Janet with his bitter voice. He gives her the possessed girl special with levitation, moving of beds, turning of crosses and bringing demonic figures to life in the house.

Okay, so it may not be the most original of horror pictures being another haunted house where kids are put in peril. It’s been done before in countless modern horror pictures, including Wan’s own Insidious series. And, admittedly, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t exactly trump the first movie by employing the same scenario. Thankfully, however, Wan still has the creative juices flowing to give this horror template a fresh coat of paint and offer up some surprising scares.

The Conjuring 2 MovieSpoon.com

Patrick Wilson tries to scare away the spirits in ‘The Conjuring 2.’

I was rather impressed at how the movie finds just the right pitch to play with the audience’s anticipation of fear. When a character enters a dark room with a terrifying painting of a demon on the wall, you expect something to happen with that painting. The lights go off around the painting, shrouding it in darkness. I expected a jump-scare (as there are a few), but Wan drags out the scene just long enough to milk as much tension as possible. And when the climactic fright of the scene finally creeps onto the screen, there’s enough technique and creepiness to make it one of the best scares of the year.

Most of the scares are genuinely creepy with some impressive special effects and solid cinematography. The images of demonic beings don’t appear the least bit cheap or shoddy the way they lurk in the shadows and roar with intensity. There are several amazing shots throughout including a flooded basement with spooks hiding under the water and a terrifying angle of Ed dangling out the window on a curtain.

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Review: “Equalizer 2” Provides Equal Thrills and Flaws

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Denzel Washington is more of a force than a character in Equalizer 2. Around the Boston community he resides, he’s a kind guardian, watching over the citizens with good deeds and moral lessons, for the troubled youth to confused elderly. Around assassins, the man is an unstoppable killing machine that outright states who he is going to kill and informs his enemies they’re making a mistake going to war with him. He has some problems with coming to terms with his wife and their home, but there’s no time for that. Not in a jumbled thriller plot where there are throats to slit and necks to snap.

Director Antoine Fuqua is at least smart enough to know the biggest weapon in his arsenal for this film is Denzel, and we get plenty of him as ex-agent Robert McCall. It’s genuinely pleasing to watch him pursue the quiet life of a Lyft driver, occasionally breaking into his old assassin routine when some rich punks harm an innocent intern. He drives an old man in his feeble plans to find his lost family, paints the graffiti off of his apartment building, and tries to help out a young artist before he turns to a life of gangs. While I dug watching Denzel as the secret ex-hitman with a heart of gold, I kept thinking this is too much for him to take in, especially with a series of murders in Brussels that are pushed to the side until it’s needed later. Would you believe he’s trying to read a book in between all this?

Robert McCall (DENZEL WASHINGTON) insists that Miles (ASHTON SANDERS) leave with him in Columbia Pictures’ THE EQUALIZER 2.

It’s almost a shame that as the movie keeps cutting back to Brussels, where Denzel never ventures, reminding us that a standard government thriller arc is on its way, whether it fits in with the rest of the narrative or not. Scratch that; it is a shame. Denzel is such a paragon of virtue and violence in his smaller conflicts with ordinary people that the third act’s hitman conspiracy killing chain is a tiresome resolve. His charm depletes as he throws on the emotionless stare when he finds out who has been targeting his old friends, namely the chummy Susan Plummer (Ashton Sanders). A sad sign of a sequel is when they quickly sweep away characters we’ve grown to like from the previous film. The same can be said of Bill Pullman, returning for a role so minor I wondered why he even bothered coming back for a movie that can’t use him.

Equalizer builds up a thrilling and warm high from Denzel’s glow that unfortunately dims as an action set-piece wraps things up too quickly and routinely. Still, the action remains more cleverly intact than the arc of McCall. It’s hard not to get excited in a fast-paced moment where the driving McCall defeats a passenger attacking him with a butcher’s knife (interesting choice for a car assassination). Though that scene ends with perfectly-placed gunshots that’ll make audiences cheer, there’s an equally intimidating scene where Denzel bursts into a gang hideout and doesn’t even fire a shot as he escorts a young kid out of the gun-toting group.

And for as standard as the climax becomes, there’s still some brilliance in the staging of McCall picking off CIA assassins in a deserted town with a raging hurricane. In the same wall that McCall made great use of a Home Depot to defeat the killers, he takes advantage of woodworking shops and bakeries to prove he doesn’t need an arsenal to be a killing machine. What he does with a building of baked goods is nothing short of astonishing, especially for the gory end it deals one unlucky hitman.

Miles (ASHTON SANDERS) finishes the wall as Robert McCall (DENZEL WASHINGTON) watches him n Columbia Pictures’ THE EQUALIZER 2.

Fuqua had said that Equalizer 2 would only happen if audiences and Denzel Washington wanted it. I could see why Denzel wished to return as there are bits and pieces of that mesmerizing performance he does so well. It’s certainly an audience pleaser to be sure, packed with kills that shock and after-school special talk to make moral-seekers nod with approval. But there’s such an abundance of plot stacking going on that many of the characters and stories are either chopped up or kicked aside so that Denzel has an obligatory one-on-one battle to the death with the head bad guy, atop a towering structure no less. The routine showdown wasn’t as exciting or engaging as Denzel foil some bad boys while on Lyft duty or painting his apartment building to brighten his community. If only the film realized that enough to cut out the fat of a lingering CIA plot I wish would stay buried. It’s easy enough to see why McCall faked his death to leave that dreary life behind.


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Skyscraper Stumbles While Transylvania Takes Weekend

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In the battle of Dwayne Johnson versus computer-animated monsters, the monsters reign supreme. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the third in Sony’s highly successful animated monster comedy franchise starring Adam Sandler, arrived at #1 for the weekend with a gross of $44 million. That’s not exactly a huge surprise given that this is about the average opening take of the previous films. While the movie still has an $80 million budget to climb, it may very well have the legs to keep going for the rest of the summer.

Not so strong for a summer debut was Skyscraper, the Die Hard style action picture starring Dwayne Johnson. While Johnson is usually a huge draw, the movie only made a pitiful $25 million over the weekend, placing it at #3 in the top 10. Given the $125 million budget and the lukewarm reception, it’s doubtful the film will remain in the top 10 for very long.

While Ant-Man and The Wasp had a stellar debut last week, it’s certainly showing signs of ramping down quickly. As the third Marvel Cinematic Universe movie of the year, the superhero sequel took a 62% drop, making only $28.8 million over the weekend, with a domestic total sitting at $132 million. Not a terrible amount but certainly a big step down from the heftier takes of Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther.

Incredibles 2 is still lingering and still holding onto that mantle as the most successful animated movie ever made. In its fifth weekend, the movie made another $16 million to boost its domestic total up to $535 million. With its worldwide total of $856 million, it may well pass a billion if it has a steady descent that is very likely given the movie having the lowest drop of the top 5.

And it’s a delightful surprise in the top 10 is the surreal comedy Sorry to Bother You, expanding in its second weekend into 800 theaters. From that small debut, the film made $4.2 million to bring its total to $5.3 million. Whether it will stay in the top 10 or expand further depends on the good word of mouth of which the film already has plenty of.

View the full top 10 list below:

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation ($44,100,000)
Ant-Man and The Wasp ($28,840,000)
Skyscraper ($25,485,000)
Incredibles 2 ($16,220,000)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($15,515,000)
The First Purge ($9,130,000)
Sorry to Bother You ($4,258,000)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado ($3,850,000)
Uncle Drew ($3,225,000)
Ocean’s 8 ($2,910,000)

Next weekend will be a three-way battle of assassins, musicals, and online killers. Equalizer 2, the sequel to the 2014 thriller with the returning Denzel Washington, will hit over 3000 theaters. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, the sequel to 2008’s movie adaptation of the power stage musical, will be debuting in 3200 theaters. Unfriended: Dark Web, the chilling sequel to the horror film taking place entirely in desktop windows, will also be premiering in 1500 theaters. Given the staggering popularity of the musical, it’s fair to say that Mamma Mia might take the weekend if its fans are willing to go with it again.


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Equalizer Edges Out Mamma Mia for Sequel of the Weekend

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Two sequels battled it out for the top slot of the weekend and it was a very close call. The Equalizer 2, the action-thriller sequel to the 2014 film featuring the returning Denzel Washington, grossed a small $35.8 million. While that may seem like a pitiful debut for a summer action romp, consider its competition of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! The sequel to the 2008 romance musical based on the Broadway hit brought in $34.3 million. We’ll have to wait for the actuals as it may be too close to call but the estimates are calling Equalizer the winner. But considering Equalizer 2 had a budget of $62 million and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again a $75 million budget, neither are exactly big winners. Even though it only came in at #9, the real winner is Unfriended: Dark Web, the social media horror sequel, bringing in only $3.4 million for its debut but easily clearing its small $1 million budget.

Slowly becoming a winner for Sony is Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the animated monster comedy with the voices of Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez. In its second weekend, the film has made $23 million, raisings its domestic gross to $91 million and clearing its $80 million budget. Disney is still struggling to keep Ant-Man and the Wasp afloat, as its third weekend has only brought in $16 million, with a modest domestic gross $164 million, tiny compared to Marvel’s recent giants of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Deadpool 2.

Disney can’t be too worried, however, as Incredibles 2 continues to remain firm in the top 10 as one of the most successful animated films of all-time. Now in its sixth weekend, the animated superhero comedy has brought in $11.5 million for the weekend, placing its huge domestic total at $557 million. Still dominating worldwide is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the dinosaur action-adventure epic starring Chris Pratt, even though its domestic total is only sitting at $383 million after bringing in $11 million for the weekend.

The biggest loser for the weekend is by far Skyscaper, the action epic starring Dwayne Johnson and a very tall building on fire. After one weekend, the film has taken a 56% drop, sending it all the way down to the #7 spot with a weekend gross of $10.9 million. Considering its domestic total of $46 million and a budget of $125 million, it’s not looking for good for the usually reliable box office success of Johnson.

View the full top 10 below:
The Equalizer 2 ($35,825,000)
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! ($34,380,000)
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation ($23,150,000)
Ant-Man and the Wasp ($16,126,000)
Incredibles 2 ($11,520,000)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($11,005,000)
Skyscraper ($10,960,000)
The First Purge ($4,980,000)
Unfriended: Dark Web ($3,495,000)
Sorry to Bother You ($2,823,000)

Next weekend will find Tom Cruise versus DC superheroes. Mission Impossible: Fallout, the sixth in the action franchise starring Tom Cruise, will premiere in 4,000 theaters. The animated comedy Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, a theatrical adaptation of the TV show based on the DC Comics superheroes, will be arriving in over 3,000 theaters. The numbers are working in Mission Impossible’s favor but Teen Titans may not be far behind for the weekend to take the #2 slot.


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