Monday, September 16, 2013

Moonlight Movie Reviews - Insidious Chapter 2, plus some missed quickies...

Well, I went to the movies a few times recently, since my mother is in town, but that also makes it tough to find the time to write articles, so... here is a somewhat timely review (I know, Friday night would have been better, but I was dead on my feet) along with some pretty late ones. Maybe the late ones can help you decide one whether or not to rent or buy at least. Anyway, let's start with the somewhat timely one...

Back in 2011, I was pretty blown away by the best horror film I had seen in a LOOONG time. The film was "Insidious", a throwback to classic haunted house horror films such as Amityville and The Entity, with a lot of the style that made those films so amazing. It wasn't a lot of crappy, CGI ghosts. It was real, scary stuff, excellent, eerie music, and characters that were honest and well developed, with great talent behind them. Along with "The Cabin in the Woods" and the really exceptional "The Conjuring", it is one of my three favorite horror films since the 80's. Others have been great, don't get me wrong. Perhaps I should add "Trick 'r Treat" in with that bunch, though it's a very different kind of film, and maybe I'm leaving out some that others would consider horror films, but I don't necessarily myself (like Sleepy Hollow; maybe it's horror, but it is hard for me to think of a Burton film as horror).

"Insidious", the first chapter, was about the Lambert family's experiences shortly after moving into a new home. It was your typical, horrifying ghost stuff, and it was shortly after their eldest little boy went into a coma of sorts that things really escalated. The family does an amazingly brilliant thing after these hauntings get out of control. They move to a new house. Unfortunately, things just keep getting worse, and an expert is called in. The family soon learns that it is not the house that is haunted, it is their son, an accomplished astral projector in his sleep, a skill inherited from his father. Leaving his body at night, the spirits of the dead have been attempting to take his body for themselves, along with two particularly dangerous entities, an old woman that also haunted the boy's father when he was a child, and a demon straight from hell. Let me throw in that people seem to be mixed about the demon character. Many people, myself included, find him to be the scariest thing in the film. Others write him off for looking too much like Darth Maul. Oh, well. Oddly enough, those people still seem to find other aspects of the film very scary, enough so that their are big fans of "Insidious" in both camps.

Anyway, at the climax of the film, Josh Lambert, the father of the comatose child, Dalton, must remember his ability to astral project so that he can enter "the Further" himself and find his child's lost spirit. They then must get past the ghosts and demons keeping him from returning to his body. This is another part of the film that people have mixed feelings about. I think the whole movie is excellent, personally. It doesn't have that whole "based on a true story" believability of something like "The Conjuring" (brought to us by the same director, James Wan), but it still is totally creepy and totally works. It's a damn good movie.

So, how does "Insidious Chapter 2" live up to the original? Well, quick synopsis first. Chapter 2 picks up right where the first film leaves off, in which Josh Lambert was revealed, after saving his son, to be possessed by the old woman's ghost. Throughout the film, there are two things going on. One, the family is dealing with the impending danger from their possessed, murderous patriarch. Two, Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey, as in the first film) has enlisted the help of the quirky, ghost hunting characters from the first film, and the now deceased psychic Elise's old partner, whom we only learned about at the beginning of this newest chapter. Eventually, the two parts of the film come together, as the truth about the old woman ghost is revealed, and it culminates in another trip to "the Further" to make things right.

"Insidious Chapter 2" does a lot of things right, and it has its problems too. To cut to the chase, it's a fun and entertaining flick, but nowhere near as impressive as the original on the whole. The upside: the cast and director are back, the film picks up right where it left off, and it is not just a retread of the first film. It continues the story, it doesn't just tell it again. And if you are in the "Darth Maul demon was stupid" camp, well, he doesn't show up here, though I think the ending was implying his presence in the final shot. Oh, and what most people would find of supreme importance, yeah, I this movie is capable of giving some good scares. That's a tough thing to promise though. I know some people who completely disagree with me on that, so... it's pretty relative. Most movies don't make me jump though, and this one did, as did the Conjuring and the first Insidious. Wan is pretty darn good at this, for the most part.

What was wrong with Insidious 2 then? Well, I'm not going to say it lacked character development, as others have, but rather that you are expected to have gotten that from the first film. This is one of those kinds of sequels. The kind that expects you to have watched the previous film. And, personally, I'm fine with that. This film, again, picks things up right after the last one. Another complaint I've heard is that it is an unnecessary sequel that answers questions no one ever asked. I always find this a bit lame when it is used against sequels. I always have to think, "Who ever asked for the first film?" People wanted another story about the same characters. That's why most sequels are made, and if you give them a good story, then the sequel is justified. Any story is just told for pure entertainment or for an entertaining lesson. It need only succeed at one of those to fulfill its purpose, and to say it is "unnecessary" is, well, dumb. The first Insidious wasn't "necessary", but it was excellent anyway. But, I digress. Point is, I think, as with a lot of things, people are getting carried away when they choose to tear this movie down. It is, however, not perfect. It's true that the structure of the film is not a comfortable one for the viewer. It seems haphazard much of the time. I think this is a side effect of picking up right after the first,  but I can't deny it is there. I think it's just that feeling of being thrown into a film rather than eased into it. But, ya know, I get that from a lot of great sequels too. Back to the Future 2 feels that way, and to a lesser extent, even the masterpiece, The Empire Strikes Back. The rides are so fun though, that nobody cares. 

But, speaking of Back to the Future... Remember that bit where Marty is back in the 50's a second time, and seeing himself at the dance and all that? Remember when that was borrowed for the plot of Santa Clause 3? Well, it happens again in this film, as James Wan attempts to work time travel into the story. Honestly, though not everyone agrees with me, this is one of the bigger problems I have with the film. It's fascinating, as always, but we are supposed to accept that being a spirit just means you can time travel, which is... weird. I mean... why? That is a big part of saving the day in this film, and it is a very far-fetched thing. Yes, even in a film about ghosts, astral projection, "the Further", and all that good stuff. It's weird, it's interesting, but yeah, it nags at me too, just because there's no explanation for it or logic to it. It's just convenient for the plot that spirits be able to time travel. Hmm....

"Insidious Chapter 2" is also campier than the first film, in a lot of ways. Some are fine, others are bothersome, to some people at least. When in "the Further", the spirits were a bit Carnival of Souls-ish in the first film too, but here they're like John Waters' Carnival of Souls. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but a bit accurate for sure. I won't say that was a big bother to me, but what was a bit moreso was that the film has a serial killer mystery as a big part of the plot. I commend the film for being a different story than the first, but perhaps it was this aspect that almost made it feel like a different genre than the first at many times. Two comments I've heard from other reviewers on other sites do ring true. Yes, it does sorta combine The Shining with Sleepaway Camp in its climax, and yes, to some degree it feels like you're watching to different movies at once with the possessed dad side of the plot and the "investigating the spirit possessing him" plot, but a bigger problem, I think, is just how the serial killer, amateur investigation side of it just makes it seem more like a Silence of the Lambs sequel than an Insidious sequel, at least when that stuff is what is happening onscreen.

And, that's the long and the short of it. "Insidious 2" is simply not as good a film as the original. It is fun, entertaining, exciting, but it is also very clunky in comparison to the simpler, yet most excellent first film. I DO recommend you see it if you loved the first one, but I do warn that it is not as good. However, it IS different, and that is definitely good to a certain degree, except when it's too different, ha. So... "Insidious, Chapter 2": mild recommendation.

Okay, now, it's getting pretty late for me, so here is a very brief bit on a couple other movies I saw earlier but didn't get a chance to write reviews of...

Wow, I thought there were more than this. I guess it's because I saw "The Conjuring" a second time, and because I really wanted to see "Kickass 2" but didn't make it (at the Drafthouse, anyway, because who wants to see a movie anywhere else once you've gotten addicted to that place?), not to mention Percy Jackson 2, if mostly for Alexandra Daddario, and I nearly saw "Planes". Don't ask. It's the Disney loyalist in me.

Anywho, as I said, keeping it short... my mom wanted to see "The Butler" really badly. As I don't have anything but the internet, I hadn't heard about it. Must not have been in the target demographic... I mostly get "Meet Beautiful Asian Women" advertisements, and Disney World and toy ads. All depressing, because I have no money. But, anyway, yeah, saw The Butler. It was about a sharecropper's son who ran away and became a butler at the white house for most of his life. He saw many different presidential administrations and had some very intimate moments with some of the presidents. Meanwhile, his eldest son became a civil rights activist. The two had an estranged relationship until they developed a mutual respect for each others' important ways of life. Forrest Whitaker has the lead role, Oprah Winfrey plays his wife, and the too long unseen Cuba Gooding Jr. is a highlight. Various presidents are played by celebrity cameos such as Robin Williams and John Cusack. This is a pretty serious drama about civil rights and family. I'm not a drama kinda guy. I love all genres, but drama is near the bottom for me. However, this film is a well made and pretty engaging film. Some are going to find it boring. It's far less boring than "Lincoln" was. I thought Lincoln was okay, but yeah, it was somewhat dull. This one isn't really. It's probably not among the best dramas ever, but it's a good film.

And, ah, "The World's End." I love me some Pegg and Frost. This time, director Edgar Wright has Simon and Nick dealing with strange, science-fictiony occurrences during an attempt to finally, successfully complete a pub crawl they went on as teens 20 years ago. Simon Pegg plays Gary King, the organizer of the reunion pub crawl who has been dwelling on that graduation night since it happened. While his other friends moved on and got jobs and families, Gary remained the same, still dressing in goth clothes and with nothing to show for himself. This is his chance to relive the greatest night of his life, with some added closure, largely because he doesn't know what else to do with himself, perhaps because regular jobs and families simply are not for everyone, or simply don't fall into place for some as they do for everyone else. I can relate to that and know of others who probably can too. As previously mentioned though, things go awry when a sinister, otherworldly plot is discovered by the group of once-friends.

How good is World's End and how does it fair when compared to previous Wright/Pegg/Frost collaborations? Well, honestly, the film is great, but it's my least favorite. There is a more serious factor to this one. It's fun throughout, but it's not as fun as the other two films. I can put it most simply like this. Remember how, in "Shaun of the Dead", there were moments when other characters would viciously attack Nick Frost's character for being a slacker loser and such? Well, imagine if that was a much bigger aspect of the movie, but it's Simon Pegg they're ripping on. That's pretty much how The World's End is. Gary King's childhood friends, most anyway, are completely repulsed by the lack of "progress" in his life. I mean, it comes off as genuine contempt sometimes. I gotta say, between Edgar Wright and Ricky Gervais, and a lot of other people from the U.K., I get the feeling folks over there are extremely judgmental and downright mean to each other, like it's still Charles Dickens' time period or something. Ya know, I spent a week in London once, and they actually had a telethon on TV for bullying! That's how bad bullying is over there! I noticed in recent years that we were following suit though. Guess our telethon isn't that far off. 

I really only had two complaints about World's End. Besides that, it was a fun, action and comedy filled romp the way "Hot Fuzz" and Shaun were. The first complaint was what I just mentioned. Too much hate thrown at Gary King, who was generally a pretty lovable guy if you knew not to loan him money. My second complaint isn't a complaint really, just... something I have mixed feelings about, and that's the end of the film. I really don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but there were two ways they could have gone with the film. The ending was set up for a traditional, happy ending, but it chose to go with a bolder ending that was... well, the happiness level of it would have to be in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I am not sure I preferred the way they went with it. For some reason, I wanted a simple, happy ending in this film. But, I assume they wanted to make things happier for Gary than for anyone else, and you could say that could only happen the way they made it happen. I think that would have depended on how the other ending was written though. Anyway, this is all confusing if you haven't seen the film. I suppose, in the long run, yeah, they probably made the right choice. It just had a certain somberness to it, and that's what I didn't love. But, there was a bittersweetness to the end of Shaun of the Dead, too. Not sure why it would bother me more here. At any rate, the film is very good for the most part. The only real complaint I have is that I felt Gary King's old friends detested him just a bit TOO much, making the film's fun factor a little lower than where I wanted it to be. I also prefer zombie apocalypse to the very Doctor Who-esque plot this film holds, but it was fun anyway. In the end, perhaps a bit more Hitchhiker's Guide than Doctor Who. I definitely do recommend "World's End", but no, I don't think it's as good as "Hot Fuzz" or "Shaun of the Dead". Still, probably better than most movies you'll see this year.

And, that's it for now, guys. Talk to ya soon!

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