Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ten Statements About....INSIDIOUS CHAPTER TWO (2013)

Don’t look now, Barbara Hershey! Don’t look!
“It’s been so long since I felt pain. I forgot how much I enjoyed the sensation. Not as much as I enjoyed inflicting it."

1) This, ladies and gentlemen, is a well-made script for a sequel. It builds on the original, doesn’t contradict it, gives some secondary characters room to shine, and even clarifies some of the hazier concepts from the first film. It works seamlessly as a ‘true’ second chapter to the story and not another adventure hastily tacked on to pull more money out of fans of the first film.

2) Patrick Wilson is really having fun with his part in this. The script by James Wan and Leigh Whammel gives Wilson an opportunity to play the kind of part I don’t think he’s ever had the chance to assay before, and boy does Patrick dig in!

3) I am somewhat surprised at how much time Barbara Hershey gets in this part of the story, given how she was almost incidental to the first film. But then, Wan and Whammel’s creation of that second layer to the story justifies her taking the position as major player. Hell, she’s practically the female lead, which works because...

This is the extent of Rose Byrne's contribution to this film.
4) As much as I love Rose Byrne, her Renai is a bit, well, drippy in this one. There are long stretches where she’s there only to be The Girl School Screamer to be menaced by the evil entity of the piece (which, come to think of it, makes her the inversion of Barbara Hershey’s character in The Entity, which was nowhere near as good as this film). When she finally takes up a pot in the final act to try and brain the bad ghoul, I only thought ‘what took you so long?’

5) Whoever Lindsay Seim is, she’s made the list of Actresses I Need To Watch. In her small turn as the younger version of Lin Shaye’s Elise at the beginning of the film, she does an uncanny approximation of Shaye. I knew exactly who she was the showed up on screen, and she creates a strong continuity between these past scenes and the present ones.

6) Here’s something Wan does that he should teach Producer Oren Peli. Wan manages to incorporate some ‘found footage’ sequences that enhance the film without drawing us out of it. The moments, like when Leigh Whammel’s Specs and Angus Sampson’s Tucker investigate Elise’s Reading Room, are integrated subtlely and add to the atmosphere Wan is trying to achieve.

7) There is an attempt to create a method of reaching the spirits for Steve Coulter’s Carl that is effective, but it doesn’t have the retro-creepiness of Elise’ bizarre gas mask apparatus from the first film.

Boo! I's a ghost! A ghooooost!
8) I love how Wan and Whammel’s script ties up all the loose ends from both this and the original, although I am of two minds as to how effective it is when Shaye’s Elise at one point literally faces the camera and mutters, ‘so that’s what that was all about.’

9) I rather like how Wan has enough faith in us as an audience that he allows some of the apparition appearances to come without fanfare, never drawing attention to itself. Some of the creepiest moments have one of the two ghosts just cross across the background while the actors in the foreground, giving us just enough to doubt what we saw.

10) I like the ultimate evil entity that is the cause of all the trouble, although the mythology behind it may be the one weakness of the plot. If this entity, when it was on earth, was notorious enough to get itself a nickname...why didn’t anyone discover the room with the bodies of its victims until Hershey and company stumbled across it.

Overall...a really, really good follow up to Wan’s really, really good original. Fans will not be disappointed by it, and the way it ties up the Lambert family’s story while opening the door for new stories in this mythology is very satisfying.

I saw this at the Loews Village 7, taking advantage of AMC’s $7.50 matinee-before-noon policy. The trailer package was almost identical to the one I saw when I saw The World’s End save for the extended trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug that made me sad that Peter Jackson is overextending that sliver of a book in the name of branding rather than, you know, doing films that are important to him, and Pompeii, which apparently seeks to Zack Snyder-ize that volcanic disaster. And I still don’t get the appeal of the Ron Burgundy character. At all.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Yes, it is the Doctor about to pitch a cricket ball in space...
and that moment is one of the least stupid in this serial.
“We’ve got to get to Earth and warn them!”
“Or what?  Who’ll believe us?  We’ll be laughed at!”

1) This was the first serial Davison and crew shot for the 19th Season and It.  Is.  Horrifically Bad.  And I don’t think its horrific nature can be attributed to the four principals (well, three of the four; Matthew Waterhouse’s been doing this for long enough that there’s no excuse for him to be awful) trying to get into their characters.

2) I suppose I should be grateful that Nyssa gets a couple of things to do--to the point where you can almost see why Davison wanted it to be just her as companion--and that’s she’s the least risible of the quartet.  But even Sarah Sutton has her moments of overacting badness, which only contributes to the heavy fog of terribleness that just pervades the entire story.

3) Boy, when the crew starts to refer to the Urbankins as ‘frogs,’you never again can get past the fact that these are not-very-good actors in not-very-good masks and awful robes.  Even Stratford John, who is a decent actor who tries to infuse his character of main baddie Monarch with a degree of charm, can’t overcome the unwieldiness of the big ol’ sparkly green mufti.

4) The biggest problem with this story is that is smacks strongly of Making It Up As You Go Along.  There is no forward coherence as to the scheme, and the ultimate reason behind Monarch’s actions (and the final twist regarding his nature) smacks of a spur of the moment decision.  That sense of the production staff having no idea where they’re going just sinks the serial something fierce.
"Well, the Greek Guy is your Exposition News Network
reporter...the rest of us?  Damned if we know..."

5) The four ethnic types and their coterie....what purpose do they really serve?  I don’t think the script ever gives a true rationale as to why Monarch has been gathering these people up with each subsequent trip to Earth, and save for some expository dumpage from Philip Locke’s Bigon, they pretty much do nothing but provide some, ummm, local color and stretch out the paper thin plot so that it’ll somehow fit into four episodes.

6) And speaking of stretching the plot...how much of the serial’s running time is made up of those ‘recreations’?  It seems like a third of the story’s running time is spent watching the repetitive performances.  And I still don’t understand why the final explosion where all four presentations just go off at the same time.  If that whole aspect of the story wasn’t an argument for the ultimate switching to a three-episode serial structure Nathan Turner used at the end of his tenure, I don’t know what is.

I'd look like this, too, if I was stuck in this serial.
7) So, ummm....the only reason The Doctor susses out Monarch’s real nature, which leads to his vanquishing of the froggy villian, is because his thoughts on time travel are stupid?

Words. Fail. Me.

8) I honestly don’t know who’s worse--Adric with his gullible super-earnestness, falling in with Monarch....because that's Adric's move at this point, or the overtly hysterical Tegan.  I personally waver towards Tegan, simply because of the way her screaming and stomping about not only goes thoroughly over the top, but it actually drags Davison’s performance down at moments (the exchange cited above is ludicrous in the way Davison’s voice actually cracks at an inopportune time).  Even at this early stage, you can see how the ‘Kindergarten TARDIS’ concept simply wasn’t going to work.

9) Okay, I’ll give the serial this much--I rather liked some of the tech on display.  For some reason, I really responded to the simplicity of the oxygen helmet, which has a quaint retro look to them.

10) I think we can safely put the cliffhanger of Episode One in amongst the Lamest Cliffhanger Of All Time.  Having an alien frog show up as a severe looking woman in the dress Tegan sketched out, and having Tegan be creeped out by it is not fascinating viewing.

Overall...Ugh.  Just...ugh.  It’s not the worst Davison serial.  It’s not the worst Davison serial this season.  But it’s still rotten and stinking of cheese.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ten Statements About....ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

"My life...is good."
“This never happened to the other fellow."

1) Let’s get this out of the way....George Lazenby is actually quite good.  He’s the most energetic Bond we’ve had (which makes sense, given he was 28 at the time), handles himself extremely well in the fight scenes, and even manages to create a delivery that gives us some continuity between him and Connery.  Plus he is handed the most emotional arc of any Bond, including a devastating final scene, and acquits himself handily.  

2) Especially after the excesses of You Only Live Twice, the refreshing thing about this film is how naturalistic it is.  The only real gimmick Bond has is that cumbersome electronic safe cracker device that requires a big ol’ crane to transport, and the science fiction-y plot Blofeld has put together is certainly within the realm of believable science (Hell, it makes this iteration of Blofeld the first bio-terrorist in the movies).  In a way, an argument could be made that this is the first ‘soft reboot’ Bond film that sought to give the franchise a new direction.

3) Since you could see Broccoli thinking Lazenby’s inexperience as an actor being a liability, he stocks the film with lots of veteran actors...and none is as great as Diana Rigg as Tracy.  Rigg is stunningly gorgeous, proved that she had the proper physicality for the Bond franchise in The Avengers, and had the acting nuance to convince us that this was a woman Bond could not live without.  The rumor has always been that she and Lazenby hated each other, but you’d never know it from what’s on the screen.
"I had briefly considered going undercover as a
lollipop-sucking cop, Mr. Bond..." 

4) I am not as big a fan of Telly Savalas’ Blofeld as some people, but he is the best Blofeld for this movie.  He matches Lazenby’s energy and has a refreshingly hands-on approach when it comes to maintaining the security of Piz Gloria.  If Blofeld had been played more as a delegator like Donald Pleasance or Charles Grey did in their performances, the film would have been lacking a formidable opponent.

5) ...but then, one of the things I really like is how the roles of Mastermind and Henchmen are kind of switched.  Even though Blofeld is the main villain, he oversees his soldiers, is on the frontline for all the chase scenes, and even drives the car for when he enacts his special revenge on Bond while Ilse Steppat’s Irma Blunt seems to do all the supervisory work.  It’s a subtle but effective little bit.

6) Peter Hunt, who was the editor of the previous Bond films, got to direct this as a thank you from Broccoli--and it’s a shame he didn’t have a much, much bigger career as a director because he does an amazing job.  He chooses to shoot with naturalistic light whenever possible, taking full advantage of the gorgeous Swiss scenery.  His choice to create thematic motifs for every character results in some striking shots.  Hunt’s choices results in one of the most unique and distinct looking Bond films.

7) I really enjoyed Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy’s father Draco--and so did Richard Maibaum, apparently, as he returns to this type of ‘honorably criminal’ supporting character in For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.  Draco also has echoes of one of my favorite Bond supporting character, From Russia With Love’s Ali Karim-Bey.  Maibaum utilizes Draco just enough for us to appreciate him, allowing him to be a valuable resource at times without letting him overstay his welcome.

8) And while we’re on the subject of Maibaum, this is the last time in a long time where the movie faithfully resembles the novel.  Hell, it’s perhaps the most faithful adaptation of all outside of the previously mentioned From Russia With Love.

9)  Boy....the women who are Blofeld’s patient....yeah.  I find it amusing that amongst all these gorgeous women--which includes amongst its number Joanna Lumley (who will solidify the whole Bond/Avengers connection by going on to be Purdy in The New Avengers) and Catherine Schell--the one who makes the most impact is the daffy, energetic Angela Scoular as Ruby.  She may not be the sexiest woman in that group, but she’s the most fun.

10) I know it really existed, but the chalet that becomes Piz Gloria is one of the best villain hideouts in the series (you’ll notice that Ken Adams’ name is absent from the credits)...and not the least because it provides some wonderful vistas and sunrises for Hunt to shoot.

Overall...a film that does not deserve it’s reputation as second rate Bond  (earned probably due to the hideously bad two-part television edit ABC showed for decades), it’s actually a unique and engrossing film which ranks as one of the series’ best.