Film Review: Insidious: The Last Key (dir by Adam Robitel)


Traditionally, good films are not released in January.

With most filmgoers more interested in catching up with the probable Oscar nominees and no one wanting to spend too much money after Christmas, January has become the month when the studios release all of the low-budget films that they’re hoping they can make a few bucks off before everyone forgets about them.  January is the month that sees sequels to the franchises that have a small but loyal fan base.  Just as last January saw the release of a new Underworld and a new Resident Evil, this January sees the release of Insidious: The Last Key.

Though it would subsequently be overshadowed by The Conjuring and its sequel, the Insidious franchise got off to a good start with the first film in the series.  Released in 2010, the first Insidious was a genuinely scary movie, one that can still give your nightmares if you watch it on a stormy night.  There are so many moments from that film that have stuck with me: the dancing ghost, the red demon suddenly appearing over Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, and the franchise’s first trip to the Further.  Of course, the thing that really elevated Insidious was the performance of Lin Shaye, in the role of demonologist Elise Rainier.  Lin Shaye played Elise with a combination of eccentricity and quiet authority and, from the minute she first showed up, you wanted to know more about Elise’s paranormal career.  Elise was the most popular character in the movie, which made it unfortunate that she was dead by the end of it.

Despite Elise’s death, she’s continued to be at the center of the Insidious franchise.  The first sequel dealt with her death by having her appear as a spirit, leading the hero through the Further.  The third film in the franchise was actually a prequel, dealing with one of Elise’s earlier investigations and showing how she first met her two comedy relief assistants, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).  The Last Key is another prequel, revealing the details of Elise’s childhood and following her all the way through 2010.  The Last Key ends with a call back to the first Insidious movie, suggesting that the franchise has now come full circle.

The Last Key is another haunted house movie.  This time, the house in question is the one where Elise and her brother (played, as an adult, by Bruce Davison) grew up with their horribly abusive (and possibly demon-possessed) father.  In 2010, the house has been purchased by Ted (Kirk Acevedo).  No sooner has Ted bought the place then it becomes obvious that it’s haunted.  However, Ted can’t just abandon the place because he’s sunk all of his money into this house, which he was hoping to be able to then sell to someone else.  Apparently, you can’t get much money for a haunted house.

(Well, whatever.  I’d pay good money to buy a haunted house and then I would open it to the paying public every October.  I would make a fortune, assuming everyone didn’t get killed.)

Anyway, it all pretty much leads to everything you would expect to happen in an Insidious movie.  Doors open and close.  Malevolent beings appear in the shadows.  Everyone goes to the Further.  Lin Shaye gives another entertaining and fully committed performance, obviously enjoying the chance to be the star of the film.  Nothing about the film is particularly surprising but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t often effective.  Watching this film is a lot like listening to a skilled storyteller tell the story about the girl, her boyfriend, and the escaped mental patient who has a hook for a hand.  You know exactly what’s going to happen.  You know that it none of it really happened.  You know the story is borderline ludicrous.  But you still find yourself jumping at every unexpected sound.  You still find yourself staring into the shadows, wondering if you really saw something moving or if it was just your imagination.

Needless to say, The Last Key is never as effective or as scary as the first Insidious or either of The Conjuring films.  There were a few moments — mostly dealing with Elise’s childhood — where The Last Key showed the potential to be something a little deeper than what I was expecting but those moments were rarely followed up on.  In the end The Last Key is a rather modest and workmanlike horror film, the type that makes you jump while you’re watching it but which you will also probably end up forgetting about a day or two after seeing it. However, for a January horror film, it’s good enough.

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Official)


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

One of my most-anticipated films this summer of 2014 has released it’s latest trailer and it shows the central conflict which will drive this sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

It’s been many years since the pandemic from the “simian flu” tore through the planet as shown during the end credits of the first film. Now the surviving humans must now contend with the growing population of hyper-intelligent apes led by Caesar from the first film.

While the first film showed the rise of Caesar as a revolutionary leader it looks like this sequel will now put him in the role of war leader as his apes must now gear up for a war with the surviving humans that can’t seem to be avoided.

Plus, all I can say is this: Apes on horses with assault rifles.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

To say that 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes went a long way in washing out the taste out of fans mouth after having seen Tim Burton’s reboot of Planet of the Apes would be an understatement. Rupert Wyatt was able to bring the franchise back to prominence by actually treating the story as a sort of scifi allegory instead of a platform to once again exercise one’s filmmaking quirks.

It was a no-brainer that a sequel will follow up the success of the 2011 film. But with a fast-moving schedule there were several casualties. Rupert Wyatt didn’t think he had enough time to shoot the film the way he wanted to so he was replaced by Matt Reeves. James Franco is also gone from the project. Instead we get several veteran actors like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kirk Acevedo joining Andy Serkis.

The film seems to take places a decade or so after the release of the deadly virus at the end of the first film. Humanity has survived both the virus and the wars which followed it, but civilization as we know it now are a thing of the past. With humanity trying to rebuild it must now deal with a rising nation of genetically-enhanced apes led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar. With Gary Oldman on one side seeming to be the leader of humanity’s survivors I don’t see peace as being a goal in this film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release.

Review: The Walking Dead S4E08 “Too Far Gone”


TheWalkingDeadS4

“We’re not too far gone. We get to come back.” — Rick Grimes

[some spoilers]

The Walking Dead had it’s mid-season finale over this past Sunday and like previous mid-season and season-ending finales of the past three season this one went for the gut-punch. Season 4 of the show has seen a major improvement in how the writers were finally treating some of the major characters on the show.

The first five episodes were pretty much using a plague situation within the prison community to explore the growth of some of the lead roles in the show. We saw how Rick tried to escape the burdens of leadership by attempting to just be a farmer and a good role-model for his son Carl. It didn’t necessarily work out the way he wanted it to. In the end, Rick finally realized that leadership was what the group needed from him and what he was really best suited for.

We saw a major character shift in one of the show’s less realized characters in the past meek Carol Pelletier. This season we see how she has grown into becoming just as much a cold, calculating survivor as The Governor, but still retaining some of the humanity the latter seems to have lost when the zombie apocalypse happened to the world. It was a surprise to see Carol in such a new light. A person who would do anything to protect the group with special attention to the young children — especially two young girls — who have survived this far into the zombie apocalypse.

Then we had Hershel finally get to have his time in the limelight. Episode 5 has been a near-unanimous choice as the strongest episode of the first half of the season and nothing about the mid-season finale changes that. That’s how good “Interment” really was in the overall scheme of this new season’s first half. We saw Hershel finally become the show’s moral center but one that didn’t have the rigidity of ideals that Dale had. Hershel kept his humanity but also knew that this new world meant having to put one’s life on the line and not just pay lip-service to one’s ideals. I know that Dale would’ve done the same, but we never truly saw him put it all out there. He was great with the speeches, but the writers could never have him act on them. With Hershel they were able to reset the show’s moral compass and write the role properly.

The last two episode saw the return of The Governor. It was a peculiar two-parter which focused only on the return of Season 3’s main villain. Scott M. Gimple and his crew of writers tried to dial back the cartoonish way the character had become a villain by the end of Season 3. They tried to put the character back on the road to redemption. They even gave him a new surrogate family with a young girl who looked eerily like his previous daughter pre-zombie. Yet, while the attempt was an interesting one the character arrived full-circle to the very Governor we first met in the early episodes of Season 3. He wasn’t as mustache-twirling evil that he had become by the end of last season, but that redemption road that episode 6 and 7 was all about ended up being a red herring.

Now, we come to the mid-season finally which literally reset’s the finale of season 3. It was a finale that was underwhelming at best. The war between Rick and the Governor never truly materialized. This was finally rectified with the arrival of the Governor and his new band of camp followers but this time he has a tank. It’s a scene straight out of the comics and it was one that readers and fans of the books have been waiting for years to happen.

“Too Far Gone” marks a turning point for the series in that we finally leave another fixed location but do so with some major characters never to return. It was an episode that started off like a sizzle reel of every complaint detractors have about the show. Dialogue that went nowhere and just seemed to spin the episode’s wheels to fill time. Yet, as the episode progressed the entirety of the first half’s story-arcs began to take shape.

Rick was willing to share the prison with his worst enemy. He wasn’t too far gone that he would put himself as innocent of doing some heinous things to survive. He might not like the Governor, but for the sake of both groups not killing each other he would swallow his pride and accept everyone. The prison has room for everyone and the didn’t need to interact. It’s a major character growth for Rick who always saw his group as the good guys in any conflict. But like any leader he was getting tired of the battles that hurt only the survivors. The real threat were still the zombies who were slowly gathering outside. Hershel’s reaction to finally seeing Rick realize that one didn’t have to sacrifice their humanity to survive in this new world was one of the most poignant scenes in the series to date.

What followed it moment’s later would become one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the series and one fans of the books were dreading to see.

Hershel was the MVP of this season’s first half and it was only appropriate that he went out in such a memorable, albeit very gruesome manner. It’s not often we see someone decapitated on any tv show. What had been an episode that threatened to meander just the way the finale of season 3 ended up doing instead became a final 20-minutes of intense action that saw both groups fail to hold onto the prison and the survivors scattered to all points of the compass. In the comics, this particular story-arc saw Lori and Judith die just when readers thought they were about to be safe from the battle. With Lori already dead a full season ago the only question which remained during this mid-season finale was whether the writers would actually pull off the unthinkable and do the same to tv version of Judith.

Children have never been seen a sacred cows on this show, yet infants seemed to remain safe. The episode ends with the question of whether Judith is dead or alive hanging in the air. It’s to the visceral power that this show brings to the table that peope will wait the near to three months of hiatus before the show returns of the second half of season 4. The show will remain one that’s obsessed over by the general population while derided by a minority who have valid complaints about it.

“Too Far Gone” could almost be the motto of this show. Any sort of major change on how the show’s stories has been told might be too late to implement. The fans like the show for it’s violence, gore and the soap opera stories. It’s not perfect television, but it is television which seems to have grabbed, caught and held the attention of not just the American tv viewing public but the global tv viewing public. Maybe, it’s just time to just make the that decision each viewer has to make. Either stay on the ride and hold on until the rollercoaster ends or jump off now and forever hold their peace.

Season 4