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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Granger at the Movies:‘Ouija: Origin of Evil,’ ‘Boo! A Madea Halloween,’ ‘Keeping Up w/ the Joneses’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

I’ve always been fascinated by the Ouija Board. For the past century, this creepy board game, manufactured by Hasbro, has intrigued players around the world.

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Its popularity rose sharply after America’s Civil War, since families lost so many loved ones in battle, many of whom remained unidentified. Using the Ouija Board, grieving relatives often gathered in the parlor to consult the ‘spirits’ for reassurance.

But there’s also been a fear that using the device could lead to demonic possession, which led to admonitions for users, like never play alone, never play in a graveyard or where a terrible death has occurred, and never bid ‘goodbye’ to the entity with whom you are in contact.

So it’s altogether appropriate that “Ouija: Origin of Evil” revolves around this supernatural concept. Set as a prequel to “Ouija” (2014), it begins with the Zander family back in 1967 in California.

Lonely, widowed Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) - a.k.a. “Madame Zander” - runs a fake medium business - creating séances with help from her daughters, 14 year-old Paulina (Annalise Basso) and 9 year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson), who simulate connections with a netherworld.

When Paulina discovers the Ouija Board at a neighborhood party, Alice buys one, thinking it will enhance her sessions. Problem is: young Doris becomes haunted by some malevolent Polish-speaking entity (Doug Jones) that turns out to be a Nazi doctor.

Predictably, Alice realizes that it’s time to summon a priest. In this case, it’s the principal of Doris’s parochial school, Father Tom (Henry Thomas), a widower who joined the seminary after his wife died.

Working with co-writer Jeff Howard and cinematographer Michael Fimognari, writer/director Mike Flanagan (“Oculus,” “Hush”) embraces the time frame wholeheartedly, utilizing the nostalgic Universal logo and old-fashioned place-card, giving these characters creditable backstories and, eventually, establishing a connection to the previous installment.

FYI: Ouija Boards have figured in other horror movies like “The Exorcist” (1973) and “Witchboard” (1986).

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a spooky 6 – for those who enjoy being scared.

Multimillionaire filmmaker Tyler Perry gets points for timeliness on “Boo! A Madea Halloween,” released three years after 2013’s “A Madea Christmas.”

Once again, Perry plays the titular Mabel “Madea” Simmons, a wisecracking, cantankerous grandmother. Perry also plays Madea’s brother/longtime foil, Uncle Joe, along with Brian Simmons, Madea’s nephew/Joe’s mild-mannered son.

The villains are sassy, disrespectful teenagers – typified by Brian’s feisty 17 year-old daughter, Tiffany (Diamond Webb), who talks back to her father when he tells her that he has to work on Halloween so she should remain at home with relatives.

With Madea left in charge, Tiffany and her nervous pal Aday (Liza Koshy) concoct a story about how their house is haunted by a homicidal maniac named Mr. Wilson and the bedrooms are only safe places.

Plus there’s Betty Ann “Aunt Bam” Murphy (Cassie Davis), Madea’s candy-stealing, medical marijuana-card toting cousin, and lusty, lisping Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely), as a Simmons family friend.

After Tiffany and Aday sneak off to a forbidden frat party, Madea realizes that they’ve stuffed pillows under their blanket. That unleashes Madea’s wrath, not to mention her bodice.

Which arouses the ire of hard-partying pranksters behaving like zombies and demented clowns, furious that their merrymaking got shut down.

After several eerie, supernatural encounters, tough-talking Madea seeks shelter in a church, where she repents her sins, specifically being a “ho” and spending “time on the pole.”

Writer/director/actor/producer Tyler Perry claims Madea is based on his own mother and aunt and says the idea for this project originated as a gag in Chris Rock’s “Top Five” (2014).

It’s the eighth in the low-budget Madea series and only the second that wasn’t adapted from a stage play. Nodding to YouTube audiences, Perry features several social media stars, including Tyga.

On the Granger Gauge, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is a frightful 4, filled with vulgar slapstick and a mockery of child abuse disguised as “a good whuppin’.”

“Keeping Up With the Joneses” typifies the old addage: “Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.”

Just after Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) pack their children off for summer camp, mysterious new neighbors move into a house in their secluded cul-de-sac in an Atlanta suburb.

They’re Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot). He’s a travel writer, a master of many languages who blows glass for a hobby; she’s an Israeli social-media consultant, enmeshed in food blogging.

But it’s obvious from the get-go that the glamorous, sophisticated Joneses aren’t who they pretend to be. So Jeff, who works as a Human Resources counselor at MBI, an aerospace defense corporation, and Karen, a home-design consultant, are determined to unmask their real identities.

That involves suspicious Karen following Natalie to the mall on a lesbian-tinged, lingerie-buying mission - and amiable Jeff lunching with Tim at a secret Chinese restaurant that specializes in serving live snakes.

Once it’s established that the Joneses are, indeed, covert operatives, the wannabe satirical action/spy caper goes nowhere at a tedious pace.

Formulaically scripted - with only one topical joke, involving Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner - it’s lethargically directed by Greg Mottola. Zach Galifianakis aces dorky, while Isla Fisher is perky. But roguish Jon Hamm and statuesque Gal Gadot seem to be in another film entirely, never connecting with their nosy neighbors or the flaccid plot.

On the Granger Gauge, “Keeping Up With the Joneses” is a tepid, tedious 3. Don’t bother.

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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)


Posted 10/26/16 at 09:37 PM  Permalink


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