Insidious: The Last Key


Someone needs a manicure badly.

(2018) Horror (Blumhouse/Universal) Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Bruce Davison, Aleque Reid, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Javier Botet, Marcus Henderson, Amanda Jaros, Judith Drake, Hana Hayes, Thomas Robie, Josh Wingate, Danielle Kennedy, Melanie Gaydos, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins, Rose Byrne. Directed by Adam Robitel

 

Horror franchises can be very lucrative indeed for a studio. Look at the Friday the 13th franchise for Paramount, the Paranormal Activity franchise for the same studio and the Nightmare on Elm Street and the Conjuring universe for New Line. It’s hard to know where Lionsgate would be had it not for the money generated by the Saw franchise years ago.

Insidious has been part of a renaissance of horror franchises that have taken hold of studio imaginations. For the most part these horror franchises are very cheap to produce and can generate tens and even hundreds of millions of box office profits when all is said and done. They may not be prestige projects or win many awards – or even gain much critical respect – but they are vital to a studio’s bottom line. Insidious has for the most part (especially in the second two of the four chapters to date) followed the story of Elise Rainier, a psychic who is able to communicate with the dead and sometimes venture into a dimension she calls The Further in which the living and the dead can sometimes interact – although it is the supernatural who reign there.

Like the previous installment, this is a prequel. Elise Rainier (Shaye) is at home when she gets a call from a potential client in a small New Mexico town. When she hears the address, immediately it becomes obvious that she is terrified as she abruptly declines to take the job and hangs up.

That’s because the address is her own childhood home, now occupied by a lone man named Ted Garza (Acevedo). As a child (Kolker) and as a teen (Hayes) as her abilities were manifesting themselves, she was tortured by the souls of those who had died in the nearby prison where her abusive father (Stewart) works. He not only doesn’t believe in the supernatural, he thinks his daughter is crazy and whenever she confesses that she has witnessed something supernatural, she is beaten with a cane.

Eventually she runs off leaving her brother Christian to survive alone with his dad but not before she unknowingly allows a terrible entity into this world which ends up killing her loving and supportive mother (Ferrer). Troubled not only by the memories of the abuse she suffered but also haunted by the guilt over her mother’s death, she realizes she can’t find peace until she faces her own demons – literally. So with her assistants Specs (Whannell, who directed the last one) and Tucker (Sampson), she goes to Five Keys to do battle with evil.

There she’ll meet her now-grown brother (Davison) who hasn’t yet forgiven her for abandoning him, and his daughters Imogen (Gerard) and Melissa (Locke) who are both fetching which attracts the attention of Specs and Tucker but also Elise realizes that one of them may have inherited the gift/curse that she possesses.

Elise is one of the most admirable horror heroines ever created. Generally most horror franchises are about the monster and rarely is there a single hero that runs through the series. Insidious is the reverse of that (as is, to be fair, The Conjuring) but in the case of Elise, she is not a young person; Shaye is a rare hero of a certain age group (let’s call it AARP-friendly) who appeals to young people as well as others. She is grandmotherly at times but she kicks spiritual booty when she needs to. There has never been a heroine quite like her and in this film Shaye is at her absolute best.

In fact it’s safe to say that the acting is pretty solid all around. Sure, the two nieces are pretty much interchangeable and Whannell and Sampson occasionally try a little too hard for comedy relief but Davison is a savvy pro who compliments Shaye nicely and Ferrer does a bang-up job as the ill-fated mom. Acevedo also gets kudos for taking a character who has some depth and translating it into performance.

The Insidious series has never been gore-heavy and also quite frankly not really overloaded with scares as well, which makes it a target for some derision in horror fanboy circles. I’ve always appreciated that the scares in the first three movies are well-earned and if there are occasionally an over-reliance on jump scares (or startle scares as I like to call them) when they do go out to get you they generally succeed.

The one thing that keeps this from a higher score in my book is the ending; the final confrontation is a big letdown and is that unusual situation where it should have  gone on longer, even though because this is a prequel you pretty much know the outcome because…well, certain characters HAVE to survive or else the continuity is completely shot to hell. Of course, one of these days a franchise picture is going to shock the living daylights out of us by killing a character who is shown to have survived in one of the earlier films. Perhaps that will cause a paradox that will bring the whole universe to an end – or perhaps just a portion of it, like all politicians. That would be worth it, I’m sure we can all agree.

REASONS TO GO: This could be the best performance by Shaye in the series. In general, the acting is better than the average horror film.
REASONS TO STAY: This installment is a little bit less scary than other films in the franchise. The final confrontation between Elise and the demon is a bit anti-climactic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some disturbing thematic content and imagery, horror violence, scenes of terror and occasional profanity. There are also a couple of scenes of child abuse.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This film is meant to conclude the prequel series for the franchise, leading to sequels that may or may not continue the character of Elise Rainier.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/7/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 31% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Annabelle
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Downsizing

Advertisements

Insidious Chapter III


Insidious Chapter III

Stefanie Scott hears something that goes bump in the night

(2015) Horror (Gramercy) Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Michael Reid Mackay, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko, Corbett Tuck, Tom Fitzpatrick, Tom Gallop, Jeris Poindexter, Ele Keats, Phyllis Applegate, Phil Abrams, Erin Anderson, Amaris Davidson, Ashton Moio, Ruben Garfias, Fawn Irish. Directed by Leigh Whannell

When I heard they were going to make a third chapter in this series I have to admit i was skeptical at first. After all, the most interesting character had died in the first chapter and the second was far less credible than the first. There seemed to be nowhere for the series to go.

So when all else fails, try a prequel. In this case, we catch up with psychic Elise Rainier (Shaye) some years before she meets the Lambert family which would be a turning point in her life. She is terrified of the apparition of a bride in black (Fitzpatrick) who has promised to kill her one day. Because of it, she has given up doing readings.

A young teen named Quinn Brenner (Scott) hesitantly takes the bus to meet Elise, who at first wants nothing to do with her, but Quinn is so desperate to make contact with her mother (Keats) who passed away suddenly that Elise takes pity on her and tries her best to help Quinn out. We all know what is paved with the best of intentions.

Soon Quinn begins to see an old man who waves at her. She can’t quite make out his features but he creeps her out, to the point that she fails to get out of the way of a speeding truck and is gravely injured. She survives the accident but both of her legs are broken so she’s essentially bedridden once she gets home. Her dad Sean (Mulroney), already dealing with the loss of his wife as well as a son Alex (Berney) who is acting out not to mention trouble at work, does his best but he’s definitely overwhelmed. He doesn’t have much of a support system, other than a batty old woman (Applegate) and her husband (Poindexter).

Soon unsettling things begin to happen around Quinn, revolving around an old man wearing an old fashioned breathing apparatus (MacKay). Elise knows that there is an entity that wants to kill her out there but she can’t just abandon this young girl to a terrible fate. She decides to get involved, even as a couple of internet ghost busters named Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) also get involved.

With Whannell taking the director’s chair, the movie moves at a different pace than the first two. It’s a bit more leisurely and some might find it a bit slow. However, I must admit that I have a fondness for horror movies that build up their scares and come by them honestly rather than the quick-paced throw everything but the kitchen sink at the screen style that a lot of popular horror movies have adopted.

There is a ton of background; we find out how Elise’s husband died and how The Further (the other dimension where the dead go) got its name, so fans of the series will enjoy that. The Lambert family makes a brief appearance (not onscreen) early on which semi-sets up the action of the first two chapters. So in short fans of the series will have a lot to keep them happy.

Mulroney as the overwhelmed dad and Shaye are both screen veterans and both know what to do up there. Mulroney is the sympathetic figure who turns into a tiger when he has to fight for his daughter’s life. Sean is initially an unbeliever in the supernatural but after an encounter with the demon he is gung ho “call in the parapsychologists!”

Shaye has made Elise a memorable character who is an unlikely heroine, but kicks supernatural bootie nonetheless. After three films doing the character, she’s really at home in Elise’s skin, which does only good things for the movie. Shaye is one of those character actresses whose face is more familiar than her name, but this is a role that shows she can actually carry a movie on her own.

The reason you go to a horror movie is to be scared however and there are a few really good ones here, at least one of them non-supernatural in nature. However, the movie relies too much on jump scares, which is more like being startled than truly scared. The problem with this is that these scares are done with quickly and you don’t get that atmosphere of terror that a good horror movie creates. While The Man Who Can’t Breathe is pretty scary (and the make-up effects are plenty creepy), he isn’t nearly as frightening as The Bride in Black or any number of horror movie monsters of recent or not-so-recent films.

For those horror fans who aren’t too discriminating or those who loved the first two chapters in the series, you’re likely to go see this anyway regardless of what I say (and in all likelihood have already seen it). Those who are on the fence and looking for something to send shivers up their spine in the summertime, this is pretty much adequate for the task. Those looking for a horror movie that is going to scare the Beejezus out of them should probably go rent The Babadook and see that again.

REASONS TO GO: Mulroney is solid and Shaye is terrific. Some pretty decent scares.
REASONS TO STAY: Too many jump scares and not enough legitimate ones. Seems to lack the momentum of the first two chapters.
FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of images that are disturbing and lots of jump scares. There’s also some foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Whannell, who co-wrote the first two movies in the series and has been the writing partner for James Wan, who directed the first two movies, makes his directing debut here; Wan was unable to take the director’s chair due to his involvement with Furious 7; he does make a cameo appearance as a theater director early in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews.. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Exorcism of Emily Rose
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Jurassic World

Magic in the Moonlight


Emma Stone is shocked to discover she's co-starring with an Oscar winner.

Emma Stone is shocked to discover she’s co-starring with an Oscar winner.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, George Shamos, Erica Leerhsen, Catherine McCormack, Ute Lemper, Didier Muller, Peter Wollasch, Antonia Clarke, Natasha Andrews, Valerie Beaulieu, Lionel Abelanski. Directed by Woody Allen

The world is fairly evenly divided between the romantic and the pragmatic. Pragmatists believe that everything is explainable and that there is little to no mystery left in the world. Romantics believe that there is much more to life than what the senses perceive and that there are things in the world that can only be described as magic.

Stanley (Firth) certainly counts himself among the pragmatic although, perhaps oddly, he makes his living as a magician, masquerading as a Chinese illusionist named Wei Ling Soo. While he would say that he does so to maintain his privacy as well as the illusion of mystery, it seems somewhat hypocritical at the very least and cynical for certain. In 1928, however, this isn’t really an issue.

Stanley is the sort that can alienate the nicest of people in a matter of seconds. Pompous, arrogant and smug, he is completely certain that he is right in all things and the smartest person in the room. The trouble is, he usually is. He is engaged to Olivia (McCormack), a fellow intellectual pragmatic and a fine looking woman as well. They are very well-matched on the surface and Stanley feels a good deal of affection towards his bride-to-be. At the end of his world tour, he intends to vacation in the Galapagos with her.

 

However at the close of his Berlin show he is met by his old friend and fellow illusionist Howard Burkan (McBurney) who comes to him with a challenge. A woman by the name of Sophie Baker (Stone) purporting to be a psychic has attached herself to the Catledge family of Pittsburgh who happen to be friends of his. Their callow son Brice (Linklater) has become smitten with the girl, having already proposed marriage. Mother Grace (Weaver) is obsessed with making contact with her lately departed industrialist husband.

Stanley, a notable debunker of charlatans, leaps at the chance. Burkan drives him to their home in the South of France with a brief stop to lunch with Stanley’s dear Aunt Vanessa (Atkins) who practically raised him and instilled in him the practicality that makes up his personality, although she despairs at his prickliness that makes him something of a social hand grenade.

Nobody knows who Stanley is once they arrive at the Catledge villa; he introduces himself as an importer of Brazilian coffee beans. He meets Sophie and her suspicious mother (Harden) and proceeds to let slip his disbelief in the occult. However at a séance, he is unable to detect how she makes a candle levitate nor does she seem to be the source of the rapping noises that are overheard. The great debunker has to admit he’s perplexed.

 

He grows further so when she seems to know things she couldn’t possibly know – even Aunt Vanessa is taken with the charming young lass. The more he begins to doubt his own convictions, the more alive Stanley feels – and the more he begins to fall for the beautiful young girl. However, he can’t keep that nagging feeling out of his head that there is no such thing as magic. It’s a war in his soul for which it seems there can be no compromise.

Allen has been in a bit of a career renaissance in his 70s with nine films released including two of his most acclaimed and commercially successful – Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris. I will admit that I had fallen out of love with Allen not long after Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo – it seemed to me that most of his movies between then and now were passionless and seemed to be the work of someone who was working to stay busy. However Midnight in Paris did change my mind and I have again begun to look forward to his new movies – not that all of them have been great. Still I had high hopes for this one.

It is charming to be sure, a throwback to an early era – not just the era of the flapper when this is set, but also to the comedies of the ’70s which this is more akin to which were in turn inspired by comedies of the 30s and 40s. Call this a throwback of a throwback if you will.

 

Firth proves himself a phenomenal performer, once again showing that he may be the best male actor of this decade. His Stanley takes the guise of an inscrutable Oriental because Stanley himself is inscrutable; for all his bluster and bravado he is unable to express his emotions any better than those he despises can express their intellect. Stanley is clearly not a likable fellow yet Firth makes us like him in spite of his faults and by the time the movie ends, Stanley has made an organic and believable change. It’s not just good writing that accomplishes this – Firth makes it real.

Most of the rest of the cast does the kind of solid work you’d expect from a cast with this kind of pedigree – not to mention from a Woody Allen movie. Allen has always been able to get good performances from his actors.

I’ll have to admit that the second act seems a bit rushed and that the movie ends up a little bit more neatly tied up in a bow than I might have expected. I supposed when you’re 79 years old and you’re still churning out a movie every year (and sometimes more) without fail, you can be forgiven for taking a few short cuts.

 

Nonetheless this is solidly entertaining and charming. I have to admit that I do love movies set in this era and I love those kind of 70s-era all-star events that made the Agatha Christie movies so entertaining. While not a murder mystery per se, it has some elements you’d find in a movie by the mistress of the murder mystery. If Allen continues to make movies of this quality, I for one won’t be disappointed.

REASONS TO GO: Colin Firth is really, really good. Overall charming and recalls not only the Roaring ’20s but also the ’70s as well.

REASONS TO STAY: Ending is rushed a little bit. A few shortcuts are taken.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some innuendo and period smoking (which is apparently a big no-no for the MPAA these days).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the ninth movie made while Woody Allen was in his 70s. Should he release a movie next year, it will be his tenth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/27/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Great Gatsby

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Giver

Insidious


Insidious

Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are skeptical this "breathing in the ear amplifier" will improve their sex lives.

(2011) Supernatural Horror (FilmDistrict) Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lyn Shaye, Andrew Astor, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Corbett Tuck, Heather Tocquigny, Ruben Pla, John Henry Binder, Joseph Bishara, Philip Friedman. Directed by James Wan

The things that happen to us when we sleep are mysterious, even with all the technology at our disposal. Nobody really knows what awaits us when we close our eyes.

At first glance things look pretty good for Josh Lambert (Wilson) and his wife Renai (Byrne) – pronounced “Renee” but spelled differently. They have just moved into a pretty spiffy old house. Josh works as a math teacher at the local high school – or is that college? We’re never really sure. I’m betting the latter because it’s a really spiffy house and Renai isn’t working. Well, she’s writing songs…but she’s also unpacking, taking care of two energetic young boys and a baby. Okay, she’s working harder than Josh is.

But there are some odd things going on. Things are being moved around. There are odd sounds that can be heard at night. Things disappear. Of course, some of it might be due to the chaos of moving. The sounds, well, it’s an old house, spiffy as it is.

Then things turn darker. Their eldest son Dalton (Simpkins) takes a tumble in the attic. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to be anything particularly serious; a little bump on the noggin. But he doesn’t wake up the next morning and nothing can rouse him from his slumber.

The doctors can’t explain it. His tumble didn’t produce any brain trauma. There’s no inflammation, no infection, nothing that would explain his coma, but he is most assuredly in one. After a few months of fruitless tests, the boy is sent home to lie in his own bed. A home nurse (Tuck) explains to Renai how to lubricate his feeding tube while Renai muses how the universe must be testing her to see how far she’ll bend before she breaks. It’s an honest moment but the universe isn’t done with her yet.

Things go from bad to worse. The paranormal activity in the house increases. Sinister figures are half-glimpsed and then fully seen. Things don’t just go bump in the night, they go CRASH BANG!!! Security alarms go off without reason, while the security company that installed them doesn’t respond.

So they do what any sensible family would do. They move. Josh’s mom Lorraine (Hershey) welcomes them to the neighborhood. Renai is relieved; at last the nightmare is over. But it’s not – it’s just beginning. The apparitions are showing up in the new place, more menacing and more solid than ever. At last, the couple in desperation calls a psychic that Lorraine recommends – Elise Rainier (Shaye). But before she shows up, she sends a couple of paranormal experts – Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson), who show up with elaborate homemade equipment. The looks on the face of Josh and Renai are pretty easy to read although they’re polite.

Then Elise herself shows up and makes the pronouncement that it isn’t the house that’s haunted, its Dalton. You see, apparently he astral projects at night while he’s asleep and like most young boys, he goes a little farther than he’s supposed to, ending up in a realm she calls The Further (yes, it’s capitalized). That’s where people go when they die. That’s where Dalton is. That’s where dear old dad has to go to fetch him (you see, Dalton inherited his skills). And Josh needs to do it fast; there are some real bad dudes out there who have plans for Dalton’s empty shell of a body.

The movie was written and directed by the team who did the same for the Saw series, and produced by the guy who directed Paranormal Activities, so the pedigree is good. Wan does a good job bringing out the chills and that all-important sense of dread that haunted house movies need to have in order to be successful.

He’s got a decent cast to work with. Wilson is most often cast as a baddie but here he plays a troubled father with a skeleton in his own closet (and yes, that’s pretty literal) who is weak in moments when he should be strong. That makes him a little bit more likable in an odd way – he’s like, normal and not some Hollywood superdad. Byrne’s best scenes come early after which she’s mostly supposed to scream, cry and beg. She can do hysterical as well as anybody can.

For my money, Shaye steals the show as the psychic who is something of a nod to Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist. She knows far more about the afterlife than anybody alive, and is able to reach into the other dimension and communicate. Like Rubinstein, she knows trouble when she sees it and is well aware the other side has some things in it that should stay there – not that they’ll stop trying to cross over at any opportunity mind you. Whannell (who wrote the script) and Sampson add much-appreciated comic relief, looking at magnetic fields through View Masters. Priceless, I tell you.

Now, despite the twist (which is given away in the trailer so I don’t have a problem revealing it here) that I thought could have really been a game-changer much the way the twist in The Sixth Sense was, the movie doesn’t really add too much to the genre. What happens is that Elise Rainier goes off to explain the Further in great detail, with a whole lot of paranormal technobabble until all you can do is throw your popcorn at the screen and yell “enough!” The movie would have worked better without the explanation and left the cast to work it out on their own. I also thought the sending of the dad in to fetch his son was a little too reminiscent of JoBeth Williams going into the closet to rescue the late Heather O’Rourke from the light – I half expected Wilson and Byrne to start calling “Carol Ann!” in reference to the character.

Even with all that, this is still a crackerjack of a horror flick. It scares you properly; none of these false scares or red herrings; they come right at you and put the horror right in your face where it’s supposed to be. There’s no overt gore (although there are certainly some disturbing images of dead things) and the movie is the better for it. The humans act like rational people other than a couple of slight miscues but still in all this is as good a horror movie as I’ve seen for awhile.

REASONS TO GO: Some very effective scares and a nice performance for Shaye. Some of the off-beat humor is very welcome.

REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t really add too much to the haunted house genre and the twist is mostly a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of creepy images and big time scares, as well as some foul language. The overall theme that involves a child vulnerable to demonic possession might be way too much for small children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first release from the new distribution company FilmDistrict.

HOME OR THEATER: While the big scary noises do enhance the movie and work best in a theater, the intimate nature of the movie is just fine at home.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Cold Souls

Hereafter


Hereafter

Despite how it looks, Matt Damon is NOT sleepwalking his way through this movie.

(2010) Drama (Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Thierry Neuvic, Lyndsey Marshal, Derek Jacobi, Steve Schirripa, Rebekah Staton, Declan Conlan. Directed by Clint Eastwood

There are three things we all have in common; we were all born, we all are living our lives and all of us will eventually die. The last is perhaps the most terrifying thing in our reality; when we die our existence is over…isn’t it?

Marie LeLay (de France) is a popular French television journalist who is on assignment (or is it vacation? The movie isn’t too clear about that) in an unnamed South Pacific/Indian Ocean coastal city. She is there with her producer Didier (Neuvic) whom she is also romantically involved with. He’s a bit of a lazy slob; it’s their last day in paradise and he hasn’t gotten gifts for his children. Good-naturedly (and perhaps wanting one last crack at the marketplace) Marie goes downstairs to the town to shop.

As she is shopping, she is startled to see a wall of water coming at her – the town is being hit by a tsunami. She tries to run, but there’s no outrunning a wave like this. She is sucked under and dragged out towards the sea. She fights with all her strength to try and get a handhold anywhere, but she is struck in the head by debris and sinks to the bottom. Game over, no?

No. A pair of men pull her out of the water and try to revive her. She eventually comes to but only after having an experience she can’t explain, one with white light illuminating darkness, strangely familiar figures in the light and a sensation of peace.

The experience shakes her up. After reuniting with Didier (who was on a high enough floor in the hotel to not even get his feet wet), she goes back to Paris to resume her duties and finds herself distracted. Didier urges her to take some time off and write the book on Francois Mitterrand that she always wanted to write. Realizing she isn’t at the top of her game, she reluctantly agrees.

In London, a pair of twin brothers Marcus and Jason (the McLaren brothers, who alternated in the two roles) are desperately trying to keep social workers from discovering that their mother Jackie (Marshal) is messed up on drugs and alcohol again, knowing that if the authorities discover the truth they’ll be taken away from their mother for sure. With a bit of luck they are able to fool the social workers. Relieved, Jackie sends Jason, the more outgoing of the two, to the chemist’s to pick up a prescription, one that will finally begin the rehab process for her. Jason and Marcus are absolutely overjoyed.

That joy is short-lived. A group of young street thugs spy Jason talking on a cell phone and they want it, as well as the drugs he’s carrying. They chase him down the street, and Jason runs into traffic to escape, directly into the path of a lorry. He’s killed instantly despite Marcus’s pleas to come back (Marcus heard the whole thing over the phone and went running out to save his brother, fruitlessly as it turned out).

In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Damon) is annoyed at his brother Billy (Mohr). Billy has brought over a client named Christos (Kind) for a reading. Not the book kind of reading; you see, George is a kind of a psychic. His readings involve communicating with the dead, and Christos wants to talk to his late wife in the worst way.

The trouble is, George has given the life of a psychic up. He was once fairly well-known – a book was even written about his gifts – and he had a thriving business with a website and everything. However, the cost to George’s soul was too great, and he yearned for a normal life. He is setting out to provide himself with just that, taking a job in a sugar factory and taking Italian cooking lessons from a chef (Schirripa) in a local learning annex, meeting a sweet and somewhat chatty girl named Melanie (Howard) in the process. He is just beginning to really fall for her when she discovers the nature of his talents, which leads to him discovering something about her that she had wanted to keep buried.

All three of these people, touched in one way or another by death are on paths that are getting ready to intersect. What will happen when they do is anybody’s guess.

I had very high hopes for this movie. After all, Eastwood has become the most consistently high-quality director in Hollywood, and writer Peter Morgan has such acclaimed works as The Queen to his credit. The subject matter is also intriguing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I was left feeling kind of flat by the whole thing. There doesn’t seem to be much insight going on, other than to say that most people who spend too much time thinking about death are forgetting that they have a life. While Damon and de France are solid in their parts (particularly Damon who turns into one of the most compelling performances in his career), the McLaren brothers – who are amateur actors – seem a bit overwhelmed by what they’re doing. Unfortunately (and I hate to criticize child actors), they were terribly inconsistent in their performance. At times there seemed to be some talent there; at others, they seemed completely lost. Eastwood deliberately cast non-professionals in the role because he didn’t want veterans of “Child Acting 101” to deliver an unbelievable performance. While I agree with the sentiment, unfortunately he needed someone along the lines of a young Haley Joel Osment or even an Abigail Breslin to really make that part of the movie work.

The opening tsunami sequence is absolutely astonishing, giving viewers a you-are-there feel and is some of Eastwood’s best filmmaking work to date. Not known for big special effects shots and computer imaging, I thought this scene had enormous power and really set the movie up quite nicely.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere and the ending kind of peters out. Eastwood has said in several interviews that he didn’t want to create an afterlife movie, but rather begin a conversation about the afterlife and whether or not it exists. The movie seems to opine that some sort of consciousness remains when the body dies but whether or not this is Heaven, Valhalla or just the brain shutting down is left up to the discretion of the viewer and in that sense, the movie works marvelously. Still, I felt a bit let down at the end and while perhaps I just wasn’t on the same page as Eastwood for this one, I think it fair enough that my reaction be part of the review. Eastwood is a master craftsman and this movie certainly reflects that craft, but it left me feeling…well, nothing.

REASONS TO GO: The opening scene is nothing short of jaw-dropping, and Damon puts on one of the performances he’ll be remembered for.

REASONS TO STAY: The ending is a bit vague, and leaves one wondering what the purpose of the movie is.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images regarding death and the afterlife, and a few bad words here and there but for the most part, suitable for older teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes depicting the tsunami were filmed in Lahaina, Hawaii.

HOME OR THEATER: The opening scene should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: MegaMind

The Skeptic


The Skeptic

Tim Daly is being haunted by Tiger Woods.

(IFC) Tim Daly, Tom Arnold, Zoe Saldana, Edward Herrmann, Robert Prosky, Andrea Roth, Bruce Altman, Lea Coco, Sarah Weaver. Directed by Tennyson Bardwell

We all believe in something; some believe in the spiritual, others in the rational. Some believe in nothing at all, but even that is believing in something.

Bryan Beckett (Daly) falls into that category. Then again, he’s a lawyer so I suppose that goes along with the territory. He believes only in what he can see, what he can touch and what he can hear, and even those things he doesn’t necessarily trust. His wife Robin (Roth) has begun to suspect that he doesn’t believe in marriage either, so she asks him to leave so he can maybe get a handle on whether he believes they should continue in their relationship or not.

He kind of wants to but then again, what is marriage anyway but a contrivance of the ecclesiastical and secular authorities to put an intangible relationship into some kind of quantifiable box and quite frankly, Bryan is all about the tangible baby and those who think otherwise are nutcases and idiots.

His aunt certainly qualifies as a nutcase. As she has come to the end of her life, she has come to believe in the supernatural to a great extent. When she dies suddenly, she leaves Bryan her house. Bryan sees it as an investment opportunity, but when Robin kicks him out, he uses it as a cheap bed for the night.

As you can guess, he begins to experience things he can’t quite explain. He hears people whispering but there isn’t anyone there. He sees fleeting images of a mysterious woman but again, he is alone. His partner and best friend Sully (Arnold) thinks he’s cracking up and needs a vacation. Eventually Bryan contacts the founder (Altman) of a paranormal investigative group that his loony tunes aunt had been involved with and is surprised to find him as skeptical as he. However, he does introduce Bryan to a sexy psychic (Saldana) who believes there is something malevolent in that house. Bryan thinks its hogwash. Is he right and just imagining these things, or is she right in which case he’s in mortal danger?

This is a movie that tries very hard not to pander to the baser instincts of the horror genre and in general it succeeds. Director Bardwell is out to create a mood of tension and spine tingling creepiness and when he succeeds, the movie is at its best. However, he necessarily has to temper the chills with the cold water splash of reality and the juxtaposition of the two is a very difficult tightrope to walk and he doesn’t always succeed completely.

Daly who was such a promising lead in “Wings” has had a checkered film career. He does a reasonably good job of playing the rational lawyer who’s more than a little bit of a cold fish. Unfortunately, his character as written tends to make it difficult for the audience to identify with him and root for him; he’s so good at portraying the unemotional, detached part of the character that at the end of the day there’s no emotional bond for the audience to hang onto. The central premise of the movie makes it nearly impossible for you to really root for the main character.

The end is a bit of a letdown and one that you can see coming early on. After watching The Skeptic I found myself not really caring that I’d seen it; it has some things going for it, enough that I can recommend it for those who like supernatural horror movies as well as psychological thrillers. However, I don’t see general audiences caring enough about the main character to make this movie a must-see.

WHY RENT THIS: A traditional haunted house movie that doesn’t involve teenagers is quite refreshing. Bardwell delivers a very creepy atmosphere in places

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This lacks in visual frights compared to more extravagant fair like The Haunting in Connecticut. The ending is a bit of a letdown.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing and frightening images, as well as some sexuality and a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the final film role for veteran character actor Robert Prosky.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Grown Ups

The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations


The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations

Chris Carmack finds out that Rachel Miner already has a boyfriend.

(After Dark/Lionsgate) Rachel Miner, Chris Carmack, Melissa Jones, Kevin Yon, Lynch Travis, Sarah Habel, Mia Serafino, Chantel Giacalone, Ulysses Hernandez, Richard Wilkinson. Directed by Seth Grossman

One of the more heinous attributes of Hollywood is that they’ll take a movie that has some degree of success and manufacture ultra-low budget direct-to-DVD sequels that often have little to do with the first film and very rarely have any cast members reprising their roles. These films are often bottom of the barrel when it comes to quality and readers should beware when renting them, attracted by the title only.

The Ashton Kutcher sci-fi fantasy movie The Butterfly Effect came out in 2004 and while not a smash success made a moderate profit. Here, the two films have little in common except the lead character is able to travel through time at will, as long as he can see a picture of the place he wants to travel to. Here, the character is Sam Reide (Carmack) who poses as a psychic. He travels back in time, sees the crime happen, then returns to tell the police who did it. Detective Glenn (Lynch) has an impressive arrest record thanks to Sam.

Sam is aided in this by his sister Jenna (Miner). Time traveling is dangerous; it amps Sam’s body temperature up, so much so that he must time travel from a bathtub filled with ice cubes. Jenna monitors his vital signs to make sure Sam doesn’t cook himself alive while time travelling.

Sam and Jenna are very close and they have a reason to be; Sam time traveled to save Jenna in a house fire. As usually happens when the past is altered, there is a heavy cost. The act of saving Jenna caused their parents to perish in the fire. Since then, Sam is under strict orders – as nagged to by his mentor Goldburg (Yon) – to use his powers to observe, not affect.

However this all changes when Elizabeth (Habel), the sister of Sam’s murdered girlfriend Rebecca (Serafino), approaches Sam convinced that the man on Death Row accused of the murder, Lonnie Flemmonds (Wilkinson) is innocent. Sam is reluctant to go back, and Goldburg reinforces this but Sam is obviously shaken by the encounter, so much so that he has some wild sex with the bartender Vicki (Jones).

He ultimately changes his mind and goes back, determined to prevent the murder despite the protestations of his sister and Goldburg. While there, he sees a drunken Elizabeth in her car outside Rebecca’s apartment and orders her to stay in the car. He goes into the house and finds he is too late to save Rebecca; while he’s in the apartment Elizabeth is attacked and murdered in her car.

Thus it goes, with the smallest of events leading to catastrophic consequences. That’s nothing new; it was explored in more clever ways in the first movie (the second, a direct-to-video disaster from 2006, was even worse than this one is). The saving grace for the movie is its inclusion of the police procedural into the sci-fi fantasy mix.

The acting here is atrocious, with Rachel Miner the only “name” actress in the cast. She does okay but frankly isn’t given a lot to work with. I hope the check cleared at least. Most of the rest of the cast commits the cardinal sin: they act like they’re acting. They speak in cadences no real human being speaks in, and while the dialogue they’re given to say is pretty craptacular, I can’t say they even do it justice, and that’s pretty bad.

The action sequences, such as they are, are handled well enough but to be honest, there really isn’t much to recommend the movie. As it is, if you’re into sci-fi and fantasy and you liked the first movie, you might be moved to see this one. Be warned; chances are you won’t like it. That’s too bad; the series has an interesting conceit and with a little imagination can make for some fine entertainment.

Generally, most of the movies in the After Dark series range from okay to really good. Unfortunately, they appear to be running into a dry well. Perhaps it’s time for a year off in order to stockpile some movies that live up to the ones from the first two festivals.

WHY RENT THIS: An intriguing procedural that, if nothing else at least gives some variation to the series.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Poorly acted, poorly written and the end “revelation” isn’t much of a twist and it just makes you go “ewwwwwww!”

FAMILY VALUES: No….nudity, sex, graphic violence….just no.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This came out as part of the After Dark Film Festival III, the “Eight Films to Die For” for 2009. This remains the horror film festival in the world based on attendance and number of venues.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Hot Tub Time Machine