Friday, September 20, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Life is but a dream

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody watched himself sleep... then he flew away...


Seeing the success Toho Film were having with their giant monster movies, most notably the Godzilla series, fellow Japanese company Daiei Film decided to try their hand at the genre with this daikaiju offering.

The film begins with American forces spotting a jet of unknown origin, believed to be a Soviet aircraft, flying over an area of the Arctic. An aerial dogfight breaks out over a patch of frozen wasteland that is said to have once been part of the lost continent of Atlantis. The enemy plane is taken down, sent crashing into the icy ground below, the impact detonating the A-bomb it was carrying on board.

The ground splits open and from the ice crawls a monster, a sixty meter tall tusked turtle that walks on two legs and spews fire from its mouth. Legend has it that giant turtles used to walk the Earth but were lost in time when they all became trapped in Arctic glaciers. Now one has been awoken from several thousand years of hibernation. This creature is to become known as Gamera, and it wastes no time before beginning to wreak havoc on a world it no longer fits into.

Gamera makes its way to Japan, of course, and causes mass destruction, racking up a bodycount as military forces scramble to stop it. While this is going on, we find out that Gamera not only breathes fire, it also feeds on fire, as well as other energy sources such as petroleum and electricity. It somehow emits a signal that jams radio transmissions, conventional weapons are entirely ineffective against the massive turtle, and blasting it with nukes will only make it more powerful. The worst case scenario for the people of Japan is if Gamera is to make its way to an atomic energy plant.

It's left up to a zoologist, his assistant, and a scientist to brainstorm ideas on how to stop Gamera. Also getting involved along the way is a small child, a little boy who had a beloved pet turtle until his sister and father talked him into releasing it because they for some reason seemed convinced that raising a turtle will make him hate humans? I didn't quite understand why they were so anti-turtle, but the boy's experience with his turtle gives him great empathy for Gamera. Empathy that the monster seems to reciprocate.

Over the years and sequels that have followed, Gamera has become known as "the friend to children everywhere" or a "friend to all children", and that is evident right here in his first film, when he saves the young boy from a precarious situation. This old turtle monster will wipe out boats and buildings full of adults, but it won't let this kid come to any harm.

The boy's desire to not see any harm come to Gamera in return is not held by many other people, and top secret military projects are put into play to try to stop the beast - first, they bust out some experimental freeze bombs, which will freeze anything solid for ten minutes, and pair that with dynamite to try to kill Gamera by knocking him onto his back, the weakness of all turtles. Except this one. When Gamera gets stuck on his back, he just pulls his head and limbs into his shell, then fire starts bursting from the holes, causing him to spin around on the ground like a Whizzer firework until he gains enough momentum that he's lifted into the air and goes flying off across the sky, looking much like a flying saucer.

With that attempt to stop Gamera chalked up as a failure, humanity is forced to fall back on the mysterious Plan Z as its last hope.

I've heard a lot about Gamera over the years and have always been interested in checking out his movies, but though I'm quite familiar with Godzilla, this week's viewing of Gamera, The Giant Monster was, at long last, my first exposure to the flying, fire-breathing turtle. His debut film is an entertaining one. It's definitely reminiscent of early Godzilla, just not quite on the same level. It doesn't really have the message of the first Godzilla movie, it's not as engaging or impressive as that one, but it is an interesting and worthwhile "B-side" sort of take on the concept.

If you dig Godzilla, you'll probably get a kick out of Gamera.


Saw collaborators James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (writer) reteamed to tell this story of horrific supernatural events that centers on the Lambert family - married couple Josh and Renai and their three young children, in particular their son Dalton.

Things appear to be going very well for the Lamberts as the film begins. They're happy, the kids are healthy, they've recently moved into a new home, and circumstances have allowed for Renai to take some time off from work to take care of the baby and work on her song writing.

But soon, things begin to get strange. There seems to be something off about their new house. Tragedy strikes after Dalton takes a hard bump on the head while snooping around in the place's creepy attic. He goes to bed that night, but does not awake in the morning. Dalton has slipped into a coma. Even though medical professionals can find no reason for it, Dalton remains in this coma as month after month passes by...

Things get even more unnerving at the Lambert house when Dalton's comatose body is brought home to lie in his own bed in his own room. Strange occurrences begin to happen more frequently, with greater intensity. Banging noises, doors opening on their own, threatening voices overheard on the baby monitor, bloody handprints, glimpses of ghostly figures... ghostly figures which eventually move up to trying to attack the Lamberts.

Renai doesn't put up with this for too long, making the smart demand that they move out of this place immediately. And so they do. The Lamberts vacate this seemingly haunted house and attempt to move on with their lives...

Unfortunately, it wasn't the house that was haunted. It's Dalton himself. Ghosts and demons continue to appear in the Lamberts' new home, so desperate measures are taken. A call is made to an old friend of Josh's mother. A paranormal investigator named Elise Rainier.

When Elise and her comedic relief assistants Specs and Tucker, with their modified toy ghost hunting tools, show up just under halfway into the running time, the film takes a left turn into new territory. This is a point at which it loses some viewers, while others begin to appreciate it more because it now moves away from being a straightforward, run of the mill haunted house movie and becomes its own, more original story.

Elise and her cohorts are quickly able to deduce that Dalton is a "a traveler", he has the ability of astral projection in his sleep. He believes he's dreaming, but he has actually left his body behind and is traveling through other dimensions. But an evil force has lured him into a place called The Further, "a world far beyond our own, yet it's all around us. A place without time as we know it. It's a dark realm filled with the tortured souls of the dead. A place not meant for the living." Dalton is trapped there, and while he's trapped spirits and demons have intentions of taking over his physical form to use for their own agendas. One particularly freakish, hooved, steel-clawed demon with a penchant for Tiny Tim's take on "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" is very close to accomplishing this goal.

Dalton inherited his ability from his father. Though the memories are suppressed, Josh had a similar experience in his childhood - his astral projections drew the attention of the spirit of an old woman who wanted to possess his body. Elise stopped this from happening. But now Josh must find it within himself to astral project once again and travel into The Further to find and rescue his son. It's a concept and sequence that allows Wan to present to the audience something that they've never seen on their screens before.

Wan piles on the creepy, disturbing images throughout the film, every jolt driven home by a piano and violin based score by Joseph Bishara that at times seems overbearing and yet is continually cool. Wan and his collaborators were definitely out to make this film as frightening and unnerving as possible, and the movie is masterfully put together to work toward that end.

The film is further bolstered by the great cast - when it's Patrick Wilson (who would go on to star in Wan's The Conjuring), Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, and Barbara Hershey carrying things, you know going in that there's not going to be a weak link in the bunch. They portray good, smart characters, and get to handle some strong dramatic moments.

Insidious's clear desire to scare the hell out of anyone who would dare lay eyes on it is very admirable. It's a pure horror film that's so well made and effective that any genre fan could proudly recommend it to even someone with just a casual interest in watching a scary movie.

Yet despite all these glowing words, I have to admit that I was feeling a bit underwhelmed as I exited my theatrical viewing of Insidious in 2010. I can be a tough nut to crack sometimes when it comes to modern mainstream horror, and I was sort of resistant to the charms of the film at that time. I did enjoy it, up until a point... That point is the final couple minutes, when things go in a predictable direction that I saw as an annoying misstep. It made me wonder why I had spent any time invested in the story of these characters. I didn't soften on that until I saw the trailer for this year's sequel and was shown hope that maybe things weren't as dire as they seemed to be at the end of this one. Having finally had my second viewing of the movie this week, I'm now sorry I had written it off over the last few years.

Insidious, you are awesome.


The sequel to Insidious, coming again from the team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, picks up not only directly from the first movie's ending that had disappointed me so much three years ago, but also expands the backstory provided in that film with flashbacks to the experience Lambert father Josh had with astral projection and spirits when he was a child himself in 1986, in particular the day his mother Lorraine called in paranormal investigator Elise Rainier to solve their issue.

Jocelin Donahue previously had a horrific time in the '80s period film The House of the Devil, and once again finds herself in the '80s here, playing Lorraine in the 1986 scenes and making a good younger doppelganger for her present day counterpart Barbara Hershey. Standing in as Elise the way she appeared twenty-seven years ago is Lindsay Seim, and the filmmakers have made the strange decision to dub over Seim's performance with the voice of the actress who plays the character in present day, Lin Shaye. It's quite odd to hear a thirty year older voice coming from this younger woman.

The first Insidious ended with Josh apparently trapped in The Further while the spirit of the evil old woman who had wanted to possess him in 1986 finally took hold of his body. It appeared that the possessed Josh would then get right to work massacring the family that we had come to care about... Thankfully, the sequel shows us that was not the case. The evil spirit is in Josh's body while he remains trapped in The Further, but it takes a much more subtle approach to its new lease on life. It makes Josh's family believe that he is his normal self, and they attempt to move on with their lives.

While the police investigate the Lambert house to get to the bottom of what occurred at the end of the previous film, possessed Josh, his wife Renai, and their three young children move in with his mother Lorraine for a temporary stay... and during this stay, it quickly becomes apparent to everyone that their problems are not over, as freaky, ghostly occurrences are still happening around them. A piano playing by itself, strangeness in the baby's room, spirits desperate to live again continuing to torment young astral traveller Dalton...

But this one isn't about Dalton and the forces that focused on him, there is no demon lurking around, this one is all about Josh and the old woman. And people begin to notice that Josh is acting strangely. The presence of the dead soul inside his living body is causing the body to deteriorate, and its inhabitant believes that to rejuvenate its fleshy vessel, it will eventually have to wipe out the Lambert family.

While time ticks down on the bomb that is possessed Josh, Lorraine teams with Elise's comic relief assistants Specs and Tucker as well as their 1986 predecessor Carl to figure out just what's going on.

When it comes down to the Amityville Horror/Shining-esque climax, we get a reversal on things that happened in the first movie, and we find that Dalton has an ability far more impressive than his astral projection skills - this kid can fall asleep immediately, no matter what's going on around him.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is a solid follow-up to the first film, a continuation of the story that I was welcome to get after the ending of the previous film didn't sit well with me. Even though I had already come to terms with the first movie by the time I watched the sequel, Chapter 2 made me feel even better about its predecessor.

This sequel further explores everything that happened and all of the exposition that was laid out in the first film. Ways are found to give whole new levels of meaning to moments in part 1, we see things play out from different perspectives that we didn't even know were there before. We find out everything about this spirit that has had its eye on Josh since his childhood, who it was and what kind of person it was when it was alive. Even the casting choice, which made sense the first time around since it worked perfectly, makes even more sense after watching this one. We see how accurate Elise's description of The Further was, particularly an unexpected play on the line that it's "A place without time as we know it." It's like Wan and Whannell had these puzzle pieces in mind the whole time.

Chapter 2 falls slightly short of 1 for me just because it's not the all-out onslaught of horror that the previous movie was. It has a lighter tone overall, which largely comes from the fact that Specs and Tucker have much bigger roles this time out, and those dopes can manage to clown up even the most suspenseful of scenes. Still, it is a worthy sequel that does well telling its own story in its own style. It may not quite live up to the first in my opinion, but it does contain some very interesting stuff.


The talent and screen presence of actor Miles Teller stood out to me in a very positive way when he stepped into the Chris Penn role in the recent Footloose remake, and here he proves quite capable of carrying a film in the lead role of Sutter Keely, a young man dealing with challenges and hardships as he goes through his final year of high school.

Sutter is a fun, likeable guy, the outgoing "life of the party" type, he emanates charisma. But much like his absentee father, who his mother won't allow him contact, he has a drinking problem. He gets drunk on beer at the high school parties, he talks his way into clubs where he has older people buy him drinks, he carries a flask of harder stuff that he uses to spike the gas station soft drink cups he's always carrying around with him. Sutter lives in the now, he basks in the glory of his youth and is reluctant to have to move on into adulthood. His prospects post-graduation aren't all that promising.

When his party girl girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson of Rampart and the 21 Jump Street movie) decides she wants someone who could provide a future for her and dumps Sutter, he goes out and gets wasted. He wakes up the next morning lying the middle of someone's lawn, clueless as to where his car is, and with a girl standing over him. Aimee Finnecky (Shailene Woodley of The Descendants), a fellow senior at Sutter's high school but someone he's never spoken to previously.

Aimee's not the type of girl that Sutter would typically spend time with - she's awkward, introverted, not into makeup, has geekier tastes - but they strike up a quick friendship anyway, which becomes especially beneficial when Sutter needs a geometry tutor and finds that Aimee knows her geometry.

Still hung up on Cassidy, Sutter takes Aimee to a party and immediately ditches her with some other guys so he can try to win his ex back. When Cassidy quickly goes off with someone else, Sutter falls back on the Aimee contingency. During a walk through the woods, he introduces her to hard liquor thanks to his flask, finds out that she's never had a boyfriend before, assures her that she's beautiful, then kisses her...

Sutter and Aimee are in a relationship from then on, but it's one that the viewer can never be quite certain of, because it's clear that she's way more into it than he is. She's experiencing things with Sutter that she's never felt before, she's falling in love with him. He's not taking it as seriously, brushing it off to a friend as something that will be over in a month or so, after which Aimee will just forget about him and move on.

We know that it would actually be very hard on her if things were to end, and there are intimate moments that are almost cringeworthy because the viewer is aware of how things are out of balance. There are times when we don't want Sutter to be doing this, leading Aimee on, she deserves better, we don't want to see her get hurt. And yet, while we know Sutter could ruin Aimee if he continues down the path he's on, there's also the feeling that, if he were to decide to change his ways, she could also be his salvation.

I absolutely loved this movie. Teller and Woodley are fantastic in the lead roles, and there are great supporting turns from Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hitcher '86) as Sutter's mother, Kyle Chandler (Super 8 and Argo) as his long lost father, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Die Hard 4 and 5) as his sister.

The story and tone are very real and true-to-life, and as such the film is very emotionally effective. As I recently said about Up in the Air, this is the sort of movie that reminds me why I want to be a filmmaker myself, I want to make movies that are as relatable and involving as this film is, and I found watching it to be truly inspiring. I have got to get to work...

1 comment:

  1. wow wtf is this horror movie demon shit?
    It's like all the time the demons are thecool characters in games or horror movies ALL THE TIME!!!!!