Monday, August 20, 2012

Insidious (2011)


Insidious relies on classic, old-fashioned type of scares: bumps-in-the-night, greatly-suspicious-room-corners, corner-of-your-eye sightings, etc. What horror movie wouldn't be complete with cupboards bursting open and creepy children running out?

[Also, the over-hyphenation of my first paragraph.]

I've basically described the first half of Insidious in that paragraph.

Which is a shame, because during the first hour or so, the movie was truly scary. Our definition of a horror movie nowadays is limited to torture and/or death porn, and it's awfully refreshing to watch a non-handheld camera / -"true story" movie with all the low-budget trappings. This from James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the guys that re-introduced torture porn to the world with the first Saw movie (which then led to the overbloated Saw franchise).

[I gave up after # 4.]

It even builds up as a psychological thriller at first, as you're given to wonder whether these things are actually happening, or whether the wife (played by Rose Byrne) is actually losing her mind and hallucinating a red-eyed black demon due to her son's comatose state.

Mid-way, there's a very, very good scene with mother-in-law Barbara Hershey (I'm using all real names here), where she relates to Byrne and Patrick Wilson (who plays the husband) about a dream she had about their son. The story is shown in scenes flashing between her retelling and the dream itself, so that we could see what she saw. With the lack of lighting (only a small bedside lamp) and the comatose boy, you don't even notice the demon in the corner until it (slowly) raises a shadowy arm and points at the boy.

Immediately after Hershey ends her story and looks at Wilson, the demon popped up from right behind him to give us all a jolly bejesus-ridding. I still get goosebumps from that scene.

After that, it got slightly disappointing. My gripe with the movie lies in the second act, where explanations happen.

Astral projection. Really?

I mean, within the context of the movie it does fit well with the sudden occurrences: the boy's spirit had wandered too far from his body, which is why malevolent spirits are looking to inhabit his currently-empty physical self. Possession takes time and energy; which is why the spirits haven't actually gotten down to the actual relocating yet, and are merely having some fun with Rose Byrne. But then you toss in Wilson's backstory (he had a similar episode to his son's when he was young, but blocked it out from memory), and then astral-projects himself in order to lead his son's soul back into his body...

From hints and hauntings to actual confrontations with the spirits (plus some freaky-deaky encounters in the spirit world which, though interesting, were not fully explained), you have quite a departure from the tone set earlier in the movie.

Mind you, even with the unexpected turn in storyline, the second half is not without scares: the turn-table scene where Leigh Whannell (yes, he's in this also) writes what psychic Lin Shaye relays to him is terrifying enough, and the subsequent scene where the spirits in question upend everything including our young boy's body (with glimpses of those spirits in trusty Polaroid photos). And the ending, of course.

Because a Wan-Whannell movie would not be complete without the obligatory twist in the end. But the set-up for it doesn't make sense. When you are getting your son's soul out, you do not stop halfway and yell at the ghost that used to haunt you. You get back into your body first, then you start yelling.

In case you're not spoiled yet... good.

7/10. Still can't get over the second part. One thing's for sure though, you'll never look at ceiling corners the same way ever again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Double Feature: The Expendables (2010) and The Expendables 2 (2012)

The Expendables was a review I never got around to writing.

Sure, I enjoyed it, but the more I postponed my completion of the review, the more the movie became a bit 'meh' for me, and I really couldn't pull all my points together for a proper review.

Testosterone? Check. Action? Adequate enough. Looking back, my gripe about the movie was the slight emphasis on Jason Statham's character. Nothing against Statham, but leave a bit more screen-time for the others, eh?

This didn't mean that the movie wasn't fun, but I would say that most of the fun came from the cast line-up. Up until then, I didn't even know how much I'd missed Dolph Lundgren, and thus, got a massive huge kick out of watching him and Jet Li duke it out on-screen.

I was quite glad to see him not die at the end. 6/10.

[Review for numero dos starts now.]

The idea behind The Expendables is awesome in the sense that it can be considered as the mother of all action movies. Just as how The Avengers is the mother of all superhero movies (at least, until that Justice League movie materialises), The Expendables collects action stars old and (semi-) young, and weaves them a shared storyline for our viewing pleasure.

And that list is not exhausted yet.

It’s the nostalgia factor that gets to me. How often do you see Lundgren these days? Or, though he has a reason, Arnold Schwarzenegger? Jean-Claude Van Damme even? Or Chuck flippin’ Norris?

Like taking a trip down memory lane.

And no worries to be had here about egos. Half of the stars in the movie haven't really been in anything big in a long while.

Did I say I totally miss Dolph Lundgren?

The first movie didn't exactly explore its homage potential, apart from a few jabs at Schwarzenegger's stint as Governator of California. As Arnie's role (and others) have been expanded in this sequel, I'm very pleased to announced that there are homages and pop culture references a-plenty (especially for the more established action stars), and with that, it's basically a chance for all the old-timers to poke fun at themselves and each other.

And it works. Granted, the cheese and cliched-dialogue factor is ultimately at an all-time high, but
It so does. One of the best scenes in this movie involves Chuck Norris. Let’s just say that he’s capable of being an Expendable (note the singular) all by himself.

This time around, Lundgren (yay!!), Terry Crews and Randy Couture, who round out the rest of the Expendables, are given more time to shine. Some of the funniest scenes in the movie involve the three.

On that note... poor Liam Hemsworth.

Action-wise, the second movie delivers far, far more than the first. From the first very-loaded-and-action-packed 15 minutes (only then we get the title card), till the final scenes where everyone in the movie poster (except for two) packs guns and knives and puts them to appropriate use, there's a ton of action to go around. I seem to notice more blood and more guts in this one, though it's been a long while since I last saw the first one. I mean, there was violence, but it's not as gratuitous as this one. Even punching begot copious amounts of blood-letting.

Jet Li fans, you may be disappointed with this outing; he’s only in this movie for 15 minutes (guess which 15), after which he takes a parachute out. Even Lundgren glares at him for that.

[Surprisingly, Li still gets third billing, right after Statham.]

It’s definitely much better than the first movie (though I think it’s well-established by now that seconds are mostly always better than firsts). Even with the inclusion of a girl proper this time around, it didn’t detract much my enjoyment of this movie.

I think I’m an awful feminist. I prefer to have my movies 100% testosterone-fuelled, rather than have a token "strong, sexy, sassy, one-of-the-boys" female member of the team. I find it redundant and unnecessary to have eye-candy for the boys when guns, grenades and booze should cut it. Luckily, this movie doesn't create any love interest notions, although for a moment I thought we might actually go down that road.

Thank goodness.

JCVD is adequately slimey as the bad guy (ha ha) Vilain (pronounced vee-layn), but the final fight between the Italian Stallion and JCVD wasn’t that all hyped to be. Maybe it’s due to different fighting styles (JCVD is more martial arts than Stallone) or due to age, but there wasn’t as much fighting as I would’ve liked.

[Fun fact: Stallone initially offered Gunnar (currently played by Lundgren) to JCVD, but JCVD declined. Totes in his face yo.]

Suggestion for The Expendables 3: Bring in Ray Park, please! Then he can have a showdown with Jet Li (hopefully). Someone should also bring in Steven Seagal. I’m sure Stallone can fit him in somewhere. Apparently, the third movie is in the process of signing Nicolas Cage (NOT THE BEES!!!), and they’re looking to get Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford and BladeWesley Snipes.

8/10. I had so much fun with this movie, I can hardly wait for the third.