Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Cult Classic In the Making

After watching Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America, Saturdays 9ET), I am thoroughly confused—and that’s a good thing. To explain why, I could try to describe the experience watching the show—something akin to Doctor Who directed by the Cohen Brothers with a bit of Guy Richie thrown in for good measure—but I suspect that wouldn’t be very helpful, unless you’ve already seen both the episodes and the disparate references I would need to properly explain it. Instead, I’m going to take you back 20 years (don’t worry, as the titular character would say: it’s all connected).

I was a college freshman who had just finished reading Mostly Harmless, the final book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams. To tell you the truth, I was a bit depressed that there were no more Hitchhiker books to read. Then, I found out about the Dirk Gently books. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. Upon reading them, however, I was a bit confused. Each individual incident worked. Some even had that signature Douglas Adams humor. But, overall, the pieces didn’t fit the same way. The narrative seemed disjointed, and the tone—which was darker and stranger than the rollicking Hitchhiker books—wasn’t quite what I expected. Still, the characters and situations were intriguing, and before I knew it, I was drawn in. By the time that Dirk himself actually turns up—more than a third of the way through the book—I knew I’d keep reading through the end, and indeed through both Dirk Gently novels. These days, I find myself referencing Dirk nearly as much as The Hitchhiker’s Guide, though fewer people seem to get the allusions.

I anticipated the first episode of the television adaptation with the same eager excitement that I felt when starting the novels. After watching the first two episodes, I’ve experienced the same bewilderment. There is so much going on here that it is difficult to process. It’s interesting, compelling even, but also disconcerting in that the pieces don’t quite fit yet—and it is so utterly unlike anything I have seen on television before that I’m not exactly sure what to make of it. Normally, if I was that confused by a TV show adapted from a novel that I love, I would hate it—I’m a traditionalist when it comes to adaptations—but, strangely, I feel like this sense of confusion is showrunner Max Landis’ biggest achievement: it is not easy to utterly perplex the segment of his viewership which is intimately familiar with the source material. Whether or not he can pull it together into a satisfactory conclusion within the next six episodes remains to be seen; it is unfair to judge until after those episodes are released.

Now, I don’t want to mislead anybody: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency the television program is not a faithful adaptation of the novel with the same name. There are no Kublai Khan readings, no jokes about Beetles songs, and no horses stuck in bathrooms (although a corgi, a kitten, and, apparently a hammerhead shark do figure prominently in the first two episodes). Thus far, there are no professors of chronology, and while there may or may not be electric time traveling monks, they definitely don’t fulfill the same function as the monk in the original novel does. Aside from the titular character and the general premise of Dirk investigating the murder of a multi-millionaire, the show borrows little from the novel aside from an occasional throw-away reference (about a couch, say, or Thor) or quote as sop for fans of the source material. Indeed, it is probably better to consider this version of Dirk Gently as a sequel rather than an adaptation—much like The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul (the second Dirk Gently novel) featured only three of the same characters as the original novel.

In this version, Dirk, played by Samuel Barnett, is hired to investigate the murder of a millionaire—by the victim himself—six weeks before said victim is murdered in a hotel penthouse. Barnett plays the role in a way reminiscent to Matt Smith’s Doctor on cocaine, alternating between presenting himself as the (only?) character in the know, and being just as clueless and confused as everyone else. Though he claims to be “a leaf on the wind” of creation, he drives the show, and your opinion of the program may hinge on whether you find his performance charismatic or overbearing.

Barnett is joined by Todd, played by Elijah Woods, Dirk’s reluctant sidekick and, according to Dirk, his best friend. As the first episode begins, Todd starts the show as a bellhop in the very hotel where the murder takes place—which is what connects him to Dirk and the case that he is investigating–although he is fired soon thereafter. He reluctantly follows Dirk on his adventures, initially because of Dirk’s tenuous promise of monetary compensation, and later because the universe seems to have designated him as a focal point in the case. He also serves as the viewer’s anchor amidst the chaos. Wood’s role is reminiscent of the Doctor’s companions or Sherlock’s Watson, though unlike these characters he is a reluctant participant in the action. Still, Todd is the one bastion of normalcy amid the absurd chaos that surrounds him. Viewers are likely to identify with his motivations—he needs money to make rent and to buy the medicine that his sister, Amanda (Hannah Marks) needs to treat “pararibulitis,” a condition which causes her to have hallucinations she believes are real. This will give them something to hold on to as they, along with Todd, try to piece together this strange new world.

Wood’s performance is excellent, and his reactions to the ridiculous situations in which he finds himself—ranging from anger to indifference to exasperation—often mirror the viewer’s own. Although he initially rejects his connection to Dirk, by the end of the second episode he seems hooked until the end of the ride, determined to find out what his significance is in the mystery in which he has unwittingly become involved. As the second episode progresses, Todd takes the lead in many of the scenes, a development which bodes well for future episodes.

The report between Wood and Barnett is somewhat strained in the first episode, probably because of Landis’ decision to change Dirk’s backstory. Because Dirk and Todd have no prior connection (unlike the novel’s Dirk who went to college with Richard, who is Todd’s equivalent in that story), their initial encounters are often awkward. By the second episode, as Todd becomes more invested in the case, these issues are largely resolved. The tension between the two leads is still there, but the awkwardness is gone as they begin to work together to try and solve the mystery.

The leads are supported by a motely crew of cops and criminals. The most interesting of these is Bart, played by Fiona Dourif, a holistic assassin whose story parallels Dirk’s own. Although Bart holds many of the same views as Dirk, she ultimately wants to kill him, despite the fact that the two have never met. She also randomly kills most of those who cross her path. As a holistic assassin, the universe delivers her targets. Strangely, she does not kill Ken, a hacker whom she initially mistakes for Dirk Gently. Ken, played by Mpho Koaho, plays the Todd to her Dirk once Bart kidnaps him, and unlike the two leads, they click right away. Dourif and Koaho are clearly having fun with the absurd situation in which they find themselves, which shines through in all the scenes in which they appear. The parallels between Dirk and Bart clearly hint at some encounter later in the season.

The scale of the show is so large that it is difficult to cover all of the characters and plotlines. There are at least three different sets of cops and agents working for various government agencies, both known and secret. The best of these are Estevez and Zimmerman (played by Neil Brown Jr, and Richard Schiff, respectively) who remind me of Croup and Vandermar from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. There are also at least two supernatural criminal organizations, including the Rowdy 3 (there are four of them, they know), following Dirk, Todd, and Farah Black (Jade Eshete) the dead millionaire’s (remember him?) security officer.

All of this can be difficult to follow, which as mentioned above, is probably the point. Viewers will want to piece together the clues, but will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters and plot twists. They also may be distracted by the high level of violence, which could seem out of place in a Douglas Adams adaptation, but should hardly be surprising in a show produced by the same people who brought us The Walking Dead.

Ultimately, I believe the show will become a cult classic. I found it entertaining, and like Todd and Ken, am in for the duration, but the show requires effort on the part of the viewer, which may hinder its commercial success. Those looking for the next Doctor Who or Sherlock will surely be disappointed, but those who give it a chance and trust that, in the end, it is indeed all connected, will be rewarded. If Landis is able to pull together the myriad of disparate threads introduced in the first two episodes, his show will garner a dedicated following. To go back to my original analogy, while the show may never be as popular as The Hitchhiker’s Guide, it has a good chance to truly be the television version of Douglas Adams’ other series, which is really all we can ask for from a series called Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.


Ari Rubin lurks in the shadows. You may have thought you saw him in the back of the bar, or going into the subway station, but when you looked back, he was gone. His fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Scrivener’s Pen, and The Hopper Review. His short story “White Collar Blues,” which originally appeared in Skyline, was nominated for The Carve Magazine/Mild Horse Press Online Short Story Anthology Award by the editor. He can be reached at: birdman33@gmail.com and on twitter as @thesurrealari .

 

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The Accountant – A Review

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The Accounant is Directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Ben Affleck who plays Christian Wolff, an accountant and a math savant with autism and a Jason Bourne-like skill set who does accounting for the mob. After Anna Kendrick discovers someone skimming millions of dollars from a high-tech robotics company’s books, Wolff is hired to find the cause. The closer they get to discovering the truth; the ones responsible start being murder by the hitman Brax, played by Jon Bernthal.  The next target is Kendrick and Affleck.

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It’s more of a drama than an action movie. The first 2/3 is a slow burn until the final act which is where most of the action takes place. It’s like a cross between the Bourne movies and ‘A Beautiful Mind’.  The movie does a great job showing Wolff’s autistic tendencies, explaining them in detail during flashbacks.  The flashbacks show how his military dad dealt with Wolff’s autism and how he gains the skills we see him use as an adult. It also does a great job showing the sense of humor Wolff has which gives us a few laugh out loud moments. The movie really draws you in and makes you care about the characters especially Wolff.

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The only negative I would give the movie, since it’s on the long side, just over 2 hours, there is way too much backstory and exposition for J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson who are the agents trying to track down Wolff since he is tied to a number of different high profile mobs and also a huge shooting. They could have cut out at least 20 minutes of their back-stories and still given them 5 minutes to accomplish what they needed to. Watching their backstories bogs down the movie and takes you out of it somewhat.

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Overall it’s a great movie and I would recommend seeing it. It’s not for everyone but the story is well written and you end up caring for the characters, which is, bottom line,  always what you want in a quality film. 8/10

Twardowsky 2.0

Legendary Polskie Smok (Legende Polskis Dragon) director Tomek Baginski[2][3] is back with a redux of his classic short “Twardowsky”, a film based on the Polish retelling[4] of the age old German tale of Faust. A lone Polish astronaut (Mr. Twardowsky) manning a remote lunar outpost is put in an impossible position when dark forces seek to “renegotiate” his contract.

References:

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6073550
[2] http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1313617/
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomasz_Bagi%C5%84ski
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan_Twardowski
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust

No Man’s Sky – In Progress Review

 

No Man’s Sky: In Progress Review

– David ML

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Here is my review in progress after playing for about 2 weeks and over 60 hours.

First and Foremost, I’m really enjoying this game a lot! It’s an excellent example of a game that goes great lengths to make space exploration fun, with resource gathering which isn’t for everyone but if you like Minecraft or World of Warcraft then it shouldn’t bother you much in this game as it’s right in your wheelhouse.

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The elements of exploration, scanning, space travel, ect, gives you something beautiful to look at. Gorgeous Planets and Exotic Flora doesn’t make it as boring as watching people in videos play. The one thing that can get annoying is the sentinels on a lot of the planets will attack you after only mining a few resources which is kind of dumb. They should tone that down a bit. Maybe cap it at something like after 1000 of it then if you don’t stop until they go away they will attack or even 500. It’s a small nitpick, but it can be annoying.

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The art style is amazing if you are into this kind of style, even if you are not, looking into the sky at the other planets or moons is beautiful and posting some pics on facebook people are impressed by it and ask what is that. The art on the planets is very similar to The Witness which is also very pretty, it could be off putting or some that like more realistic graphics.

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Another slightly off-putting distraction is the dithering/pop in, there is a ton of it, especially if you are flying in the air. Not sure if its the PS4 not being powerful enough or just the procedural aspect of the game. Could be a little of booth, its a slight annoyance but most time if you are just walking around in the group its not that noticeable.

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I see some people complain about how you see similar looking plants and animals on different planets and even in different system, I am not sure why that is such a big deal since in real life that is how it would be anyways. You have to remember what shows up on these planets is procedural so its math based. So for example, you tend to see those tall mushrooms grow on different planets but just a different size or color. Well mushrooms are basically a fungus so they should show up on different planets if they have similar conditions to each other.

Even with animals lets say somewhere in our universe there was another planet almost like earth, one would thing that it would have similar life and plants like earth does.

The one nitpick I will say is sometimes what is on certain planets does not always make sense. Like if a planet if -100c, one would think there would not be much plant life but sometimes there is, but I guess you could just chalk that up to evolution and say those plants got a resistance to the cold.

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But at least for me visiting about 40 to 50 planets or moons so far, I have only seen a few animals that look similar to each other and those are usually on the same planet and always belong to the same species.

The little touches in the game are great though, like how if you are on a super cold planet, you will see ice on your visor start to form, and I love that and it was a nice surprise. Things like that are nice to see.

As for the storyline, the game does have a story, but its more looking for the lore, kind of like dark souls, where you could just play the game, kill all the bosses or in this case just jump from planet to planet and miss all the lore. You need to seek out the NPCs, or the monoliths, some have fun facts or puzzles or a choice of what to do.

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There is also something weird going on in some bases, which hopefully will pan out. Sean did say there are two endings so that is good. A lot of people complain about what happens when you get to the center of the galaxy, but those people have not really beaten the game. There are a lot of secrets to this game and a lot of the people who are speaking negativly about the story or “ending” are missing out on a lot. This game does not hold your hand nor does it spoon feed you information, it’s a puzzle and you need to figure it out. That is the huge part of this game that a lot of people are missing.

The only real issues which need to be patch ASAP is the sever always going down, which makes it a pain to upload your discoveries, I always wait until it’s in the green, so I know they are getting uploaded to the server. This has been fixed since release but it still does go down a few times while playing, but not as bad as before.

This could also be why those two players could not see each other because the servers were probably down. The best way to fix this would just be, if you are in someone’s solar system and someone else is there too, one of you invites them into their game server and then you see each other. Like an MMO instance basically or even dark souls when you invade someone or have them join your game. That should be super easy to implement, it could even happen automatically.

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The crashing has been mostly fixed with patches, that is the major issue this game has. Sean Murray said the latest patch will fix 90% of the crashes. I have not had a crash in about 3 days so that seems to be accurate.

The other issue is how dumb it was to not have a quit option on the menu, you have to basically force quit your game, which I am not sure why they did not have an easy quit feature. Seems like an odd omission.

There are a few other nitpicks like why no mini map for the planet you are on and why can’t you easily find the old planets you discovered and go right back to them. Those are things they can easily patch and need to be to be honest.

But all and all i really enjoy this game, its going to be polarizing for most like Minecraft where some love it or some hate it. But if you love space exploration IMO this game is a must buy.

After 60 hours so far id give it a 8.0 , it could go up if once they patch more things into it like Minecraft did or diablo III, the vanilla versions of those games were ok at best but now they are great. I am still finding all the secrets the game has to offer, like how to open portals.  That is probably the key to really finishing the game.

If they keep up with patches and keep adding newer and better things this game could be even better. It’s going to have its growing pains but even in its vanilla version, I am enjoying the hell out of it.

 

Ghostbusters (2016) – A Review

“Books Can’t Fly” – Erin Gilbert

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But actually Erin, yes they can.

At least in 1984 they did.

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This 2016 Ghostbusters is built on the bones of the Original Classic, the same way Force Awakens is built on what preceded it.   It feels familiar, all the pieces are seemingly there, the formula (comedic actors in a supernatural laced story about a spectral phenomenon that leads to an impending doom to be defeated by our four blue collar leads) is virtually the same.  However the magic that made the original so special to a generation seems to be lost in this update.  You can have all the ingredients for a great stew, but if you don’t use the right proportions and cook with care, then you risk spoiling the pot.

But tastes vary, and that’s where this movie may split the audience.  First and foremost, this whole One Hour and Fifty Six minute endeavor relies heavily on the audience to accept that there is a good dose of Fridge Logic at play (See Definition Here).  Rules established (not only in this film but in decades old Ghostbusters lore),  are disregarded by the 3rd act.  I can then understand if purists are up in arms when Proton Packs end up annihilating ghosts instead of merely acting as a lasso, rendering the containment traps and the containment unit rather useless in the story, but making for a phenomenal spectacle in the final act.  Is that a satisfactory trade-off?  Maybe.  It’s these instances of the lapse in care for the details that tarnishes the final product, and what we’re left with is what my friend Jay observed quite accurately while exiting the theater: “It’s like a Big Budget, Saturday Night Live spoof of Ghostbusters.”  Which leads me to this:

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Let me take a moment to talk about these women.  I am a loyal and unapologetic fan of Saturday Night Live,  and in particular these four.  Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones were and are some of the best parts of the legacy sketch-show, and guaranteed anytime Melissa McCarthy hosts you’ll laugh your ass off.

These women work hard in the name of comedy and this movie is GENUINELY funny, if anything, solely BECAUSE of these women.

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They really delve into the characters they’ve created, each with their own unique quality that helps drive the movie.  We’re introduced to this version of NYC (So blatantly Boston, where it was actually filmed, with it’s cracked pavement and a hint of colonial architecture) through Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert.  Allegedly our Protagonist who was once all for investigating the paranormal, but then comes to conflict with her former partner & friend Abby Yates (Read: Actual Lead of the movie), after Abby publishes a book of the paranormal they worked on together, which now discredits Erin as a legitimate Scientist and Professor seeking tenure at a prestigious college.  Abby has now befriended Kate McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann who is a quirky, unique and rather punk rock tinkerer who helps construct all the sweet GhostBustin’ gadgets.  We later meet  Leslie Jones’ Patty Tolan who has this great love and a wealth of knowledge of the history of NY that helps give a sense of NYC that seemed to just come naturally in the original.  They embark on their path to becoming a team when Erin is inevitably thrown out of her job at the college and instances of paranormal activity begin to arise.

This all roughly translates to:

Kristen Wiig = Peter

Leslie Jones = Winston

Meslissa McCarthy = Ray

Kate McKinnon = Egon

But Funny doesn’t always Mean Good, or Well Made.

This being the the flip side of this movie’s divide.  If you are looking for plain dumb (and I emphasize dumb) fun, then I’d advise going to the theaters this weekend, because this movie is your sure bet.

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Being a Ghostbusters fan since childhood, I only wished that SONY had treated this property with the care of the characters and the source material that Marvel Studios does with theirs.  If so, then the moments that were meant to feel serious would have done so, balancing and making the comedic elements that much better. Instead, here they are “all-in” with the jokes, making each scene sillier than the next and a far cry from the tonally spooky cold open we’re treated to where comedic actor Zach Woods faces our first instance of paranormal peril as a prankster tour guide.  There is also the shoe-horned cameos of the original remaining cast, which was much appreciated as a fan, but most of which served very little purpose than to appease the fans.  Which leaves me baffled why one certain cameo gets extended to it’s own sequence, seemingly offering something more than fan service, only to be then swept away and never referenced again (Spoiler Alert: a missed opportunity for said cameo to return as a Ghost, as was once a stipulation for said actor to return).  A fun scene, but in actuality only Harold Ramis & Ernie Hudson’s cameo incited reaction from my viewing audience.

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SONY opened the film with an inexplicable logo stating “Ghost Corps”, which gave me chills of a forced “shared universe” and “Franchise” Jump-Starter tease.  Given the uncertainty SONY had of promoting this as a sequel or a reboot, makes the whole thing feel disingenuous.  Not to mention the scathing history of production & controversy so widely  covered elsewhere and done superbly by the Group “Midnight’s Edge” it’s pointless to re-iterate here, But..

..check it out if you got 30 Minutes to kill and that stuff interests you.

 

Lastly the villain falls horribly short.  We meet this sinisterly Down & Out Nerd, who resents society and takes it upon himself to create these “Ghost Bombs”, little machinations that seem to explode and bring forth spectral entities to eventually bring forth and lead a “Ghost Apocalypse”.  This is a classic case of an under-developed villain with unclear motives and endless, tireless, resources.  Not to knock Neil Casey,neil-casey-ghostbuster-bild-news

he nails the role perfectly as I am sure it was written.  Which is literally to mock the internet that lashed out at the production of this movie, painting him in a cliche of vile nerdiness, regardless though it’s his best work since the last 60 seconds of “Mystery Team”.

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But unfortunately he has to share those evil responsibilites with Chris Hemsworth,

who is the hilariously ‘dumb-as-they-come’ receptionist of the Ghostbusters that ends up possessed and mildly villainous near the end,  right about when this movie really starts to unravel.

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The precursor to the final “Giant Something” (Stay Puft, Statue of Liberty, Here: The Ghost from the Ghostbusters logo) that is synonymous with closing out a Ghostbusters movie, is the makings of a dance number lead by Hemsworth meant to delay as to wait upon the arrival of the Ghostbusters.  Yes, the villain waits around for the heroes to show up. Ugh.  Which then, the full sequence was cut out of the movie, but left behind in clips over the credits.  Yes, It’s that kind of movie.

In Closing, this might suit your tastes.  It’s pretty okay for kids, they’d love it. But if you are looking for some of that OG Ghostbusters charm, look no further than right here.

 

 

The Conjuring 2 – A Review

“Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits.”  (per IMDB)

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Warner Brothers is Confident in The Conjuring 2.  So much so that they decided to try and capture lightning in a bottle for a 2nd time and release this haunting sequel in the beginnings of the summer season.  A bold move for a film that would seemingly fit well in the fall season on the cusp of Halloween.  But you all loved the first film, Released July 19th, in the dead of summer 2013.  The modest 20 million dollar haunting pulled in $318 Million Worldwide.  A Sequel, from the Studio Perspective, seems like a No Brainer.  But does it live up to the reputation that precedes it?

We start with Ed & Lorraine Warren as they are coming off of the Amityville House case. An Incident that is widely known as it has spun it’s own series of movies.  The Warren’s were very publically involved with the case, and it garnered them a lot of media attention.  This also called into question their validity as many believed they were frauds raveled in a hoax.

Cut to the title sequence and the promise of the Warren’s most diabolical case yet, the story of the Hodgson family.

We follow the Hodgson kids as they exit school and get a sense of who each of them are, primarily Janet who is the youngest daughter and the focus of the paranormal activity yet to come.  As Supernatural events begin to unfold in the house and progressively escalate, the media is brought in and the Warren’s are tapped to investigate.  During this 1st act, I can’t lie I looked at my watch to see where we were  going with this.  The beginning is somewhat of a slow burn.  But the time is not wasted as it sows small threads that pay off in the 3rd act, as Janet Hodgson’s possession comes with a flavor of The Exorcist and an unforeseen twist that ties personally back to the Warren’s personal demons.

Visually this outing takes it up a notch.  James Wan brings intense and chilling haunting sequences that fall in and out of “dream states” that haven’t been this seamless since A Nightmare on Elm Street.  And creature designs that are as chilling as they are menacing.  Inexplicably this film is Rated R for reasons that I can’t quite seem to pinpoint, aside from the allusion a “Rated R” Horror Film can give as a selling point.  But overall, Wan does it better here than he ever could with anything previous from the Furious to the Insidious.  As Ed Warren ventures into their Museum of Haunted Artifacts, he places an item on the shelf and I think back to “Cabin in the Woods” and how every little object was a different story waiting to be told.  I like to consider this the “Endless Sequel/Prequel Room” and want to see more of this loving couple’s adventures in the Paranormal.

In conclusion the only flaw I felt that hinders the movie slightly would be its lengthy run time, going slightly longer than its predecessor at a hefty 2 hours & 14 minutes.  Only a minor gripe stacked against a solid, well told story. It also ends with something that I love from any film that touts itself to be a true story, pictures and audio  from the actual case files.  Showing us the real Warrens, the real Hodgsons, an ominous easy chair and evidence of Janet’s possession.

Also, Patrick Wilson may have just publicly auditioned for an Elvis Presley Bio-Pic.  Go to the theaters this weekend.  You’ll see.