Friday, September 13, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Hollywood Horrors

I’ve never before had to sign an agreement not to publish my review or reveal plot points of a movie, as all Los Angeles-based critics were required to do before a recent press screening of Insidious: Chapter 2. This sequel to 2011’s deserved horror hit opens today in theaters across the US. Having endured the film and its few, ho-hum twists, I can understand why the studio (FilmDistrict) wanted to make every effort in advance to prevent bad buzz from slipping out.

Picking up immediately where the first Insidious left off, the Lambert family (once again headed by Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and grandma Barbara Hershey) has regained their son from a shadowy netherworld but also garnered a malevolent spirit that has secretly possessed Wilson’s husband and father, Josh. Viewers know that Josh/"the Bride in Black" killed paranormal investigator Elise (played by Lin Shaye, who manages to make a welcome return appearance from beyond the grave here) at the end of "Chapter 1". While Josh's wife Renai has her suspicions, she becomes too trapped in haunted house movie clichĂ©s to face the truth.

It isn't long — ten minutes, to be exact — before the baby's unattended rider toy starts lighting up and carrying on like a casino slot machine, son Dalton is having bad dreams again, and Renai is hearing the piano play by itself. Ultimately, the first hour or so of the sequel is chock full of all the predictable horror movie conventions that the first Insidious and shared director James Wan's more recent low-budget blockbuster The Conjuring so smartly avoided. Wan and screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell even crib from The Conjuring, substituting a "hot & cold" spook hunt for the July release's now-infamous clapping game.

Chapter 2 is just plain sloppily-made, too; it is hard to tell at times whose house we are in and whether it is day or night. The movie does improve in its final half hour, when it plays more directly and cleverly off of events in the first film, but not well enough for me to recommend it. GLBT viewers should also be warned that there is a sensationalized subplot involving gender identity issues that left a bad taste in my mouth. Insidious: Chapter 2 is one of the year's biggest cinematic disappointments. It would have been more appropriately titled Insipid.

Character actor Harry Dean Stanton faced off against one of the most terrifying monsters to ever grace the silver screen in 1979's Alien. He's appeared in other horror movies during his 250-film career (or as Stanton puts it, "fifty fucking years" on camera) and held his own alongside the domineering likes of Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, both of whom Stanton considers his best friends. For my money, one of Stanton's liveliest yet most nuanced performances is as the evangelist Paul in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, wherein he has a riveting conversation with Willem Dafoe's Jesus about how the saint-to-be may have made up Jesus' salvific mission in order to sell books.

Sophie Huber's new documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (opening this weekend in LA and New York), is an insightful, well-constructed exploration of the sad-eyed actor's life and career. Stanton isn't the most open subject, but his former directors David Lynch and Wim Wenders as well as Kris Kristofferson, Sam Shepard and Debbie Harry (!) provide details, occasionally with Stanton in the same room. Lynch calls Stanton "an expert at reading between the lines," then shows a lovely scene from his 1999 film The Straight Story that perfectly illustrates his point. I also love that the denizens of the West Hollywood bar where Stanton has hung out for the last 42 years look like they stepped right out of one of Lynch's stranger productions.

In addition to his acting achievements, Stanton has been noted for his singing voice. While it can be heard onscreen in Cool Hand Luke and a few other films, he has largely sung in private or for small groups of friends. He sings several hymns and folk songs in the documentary, crediting his late mother for encouraging his voice. In between film clips and philosophical ruminations, Stanton offers much advice for young actors with his chief suggestion being the decidedly non-technical "Play yourself." Good stuff.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Insidious: Chapter 2: C-
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.


Drew Grimm Van Ess said...

I never really cared for the first film, so I have no plans on seeing Insidious 2. From what I hear, it's not getting good reviews at all, and I can't say I'm surprised. Good review.

Reverend said...

Thanks, Grimm, and thanks for reading!