Movies: 'The Conjuring,' 'Turbo' & '20 Feet from Stardom'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Living in Fairfield County, there are few people who haven't heard of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the renowned "Amityville" demonologists who, back in 1952, founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. Over the years, they assembled an Occult Museum at their home in Monroe, housing a collection of "dangerous" artifacts connected to black witchcraft, sorcery and curses.
Based on a true story about one of their earlier exploits, the film begins with the Annabel doll, a conduit for malevolent forces. After Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) Perron bought an old, secluded farmhouse in Harrisville, R.I., in 1971, they and their five young daughters were terrorized by bizarre, supernatural encounters with a dark, inhuman presence -- until they sought help from paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), who explained the three demonic stages: infestation, oppression and possession.
Aptly directed by James Wan ("Insidious," "Saw") from a somewhat disjointed screenplay by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes ("The Reaping"), there are horrifying night terrors and a suspenseful investigation into the creepy, creaking cellar, inexplicably using flickering matches instead of flashlights -- until the obligatory exorcism in which Taylor turns into Linda Blair, spewing blood and invectives while suspended, upside down, from the ceiling as "The Birds" circle menacingly outside.
FYI: For almost 50 years, the deeply religious Warrens were obsessed with ghost hunting and filming poltergeists, often in coordination with members of the clergy. A World War II Navy veteran and former police officer, Ed led the investigations, working with Lorraine, a light trance medium who reportedly perceives spirits that exist on a different vibrational field. Their work was the basis for the TV movie "The Haunting" (1991) and the feature film "The Haunting in Connecticut" (2009). Ed died in 2006. For more about the Warrens, go to www.ghostvillage.com/legends/warrens.shtml
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Conjuring" is a silly, scary 6. But I'll bet you'll have second thoughts if anyone suggests playing Hide 'n' Clap after seeing this horror thriller.
It's a "Fast and Furious" animated comedy, as a garden snail yearns to race in the Indy 500.
While daredevil Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) and his cautious, older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) toil at the Tomato Plant, Turbo's passion is speed. Firmly believing the credo of French-Canadian superstar racer Guy Gagne (SNL's Bill Hader), "No dream is too big -- no dreamer too small," Turbo ventures into the outside world, where he's swept off a freeway overpass onto the hood of a sports car. As he's sucked into the air intake valve, nitrous oxide explodes every atom of his body, changing his molecular structure. Suddenly, he's fast, really fast, blazing through the streets of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley like a neon bullet.
Then, Turbo and Chet are captured by Tito Lopez (Michael Pena), who -- with his brother Angelo (Luis Guzman) -- runs the "Dos Bros" taco truck at the Starlight Plaza, a Van Nuys strip mall. Tito's hobby is snail-racing, so Turbo joins the Racing Snails -- Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), Burn (Maya Rudolf), Skidmark (Ben Schwartz) and White Shadow (Mike Bell) -- whose tricked-out shells look like mini-street racing cars. With the es-car-goes as his pit crew and the financial support of Starlight shop owners (Michelle Rodriguez, Ken Jeong, Richard Jenkins), Turbo begins his tenacious trek to the Indy 500, where he learns that persistence is what pays off in the end.
This determined underdog story intertwines the parallel lives of two sets of brothers, and the inventive use of 3D actually enhances the snails' vulnerability. Since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2.5-mile track draws more than 250,000 spectators, that posed the greatest challenge: lots of seats filled with digital people. According to director/co-screenwriter David Soren, animators created a card system allowing them to blend fully modeled, three-dimensional, cheering crowds with flat cards of more crowds. In one shot, there are 478,000 characters.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Turbo" is a sweet, endearing 8, an astonishing, fun-filled adventure for adrenaline junkies of all ages.
"20 FEET FROM STARDOM"
As Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" plays, the song introduces this poignant documentary about pop music's backup singers, most of them African-American women, who could be described as perennial underdogs.
With the exception of Darlene Love, who under Phil Spector's sponsorship crossed over into the spotlight after backing Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Frank Sinatra and Sam Cooke, among others, most of the vocalists featured are not well known, even though they can be heard backing famous bands and solo legendary singers on many of the most popular recordings of the past half-century.
Like Judith Hill, who was Michael Jackson's last backup singer and recently competed, unsuccessfully, on NBC-TV's "The Voice," and Merry Clayton, a preacher's daughter who got her musical training in gospel choirs and went on to record with Carole King, Mick Jagger and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Lisa Fischer, who started out as part of Luther Vandross' group, won a Grammy in 1992 for her first single, "How Can I Ease the Pain," but the demands of stardom didn't sit well with her, even though she still tours with the Rolling Stones. Claudia Lennear was an Ikette with Ike and Tina Turner and a Stones regular in the early 1970s, and Tata Vega descended from being a promising Motown star into psychological uncertainty.
Filming was almost completed when Bruce Springsteen agreed to appear. Noting that not everyone is cut out for stardom, the rocker described a bus trip he took to Philadelphia for a 1973 David Bowie recording session, featuring the song "The Young Americans" with a young Luther Vandross among the backup singers.
Directed by Morgan Neville and produced by A&M Records exec Gil Friesen, the narrative mixes interviews with archival footage, including comments from Mick Jagger, Bette Midler, Sting and Stevie Wonder. Among those who didn't make the final cut were Cissy Houston and Emmylou Harris.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "20 Feet from Stardom" is an uplifting, intriguing 8, appealing to fans of R&B and classic rock `n' roll.