LOS ANGELES OVERNIGHT (2018)

March 8, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Low budget independents must be analyzed differently than a tentpole or a status-pic with money behind it. That’s only fair, and in fact, quite necessary for cinematic sanity. This first feature film from director Michael Chrisoulakis is one that we might catch at a film festival, and at first glance, it appears he has done everything right. The film has a blend of familiar faces and newcomers. Much effort has gone into the stylish look of the film, and there is even unconventional music accompanying the oddball characters.

Sometimes taking all the right steps still doesn’t mean the finished product will click with audiences, and that appears to be the case here. Priscilla (Arielle Brachfeld) is being treated by her hypnotherapist played by legendary director Peter Bogdanovich in a terrific opening that grabs our attention immediately. Priscilla is a struggling/aspiring actress who is also a Marilyn Monroe waitress at a crummy little diner.

Benny (Azim Rizk) is one of the diners few customers, and his motivation is less about food and more about Priscilla. One day she overhears a couple of small time crooks (led by Lin Shaye) chatting in riddles – “Apple Jacks down the rabbit hole”. Financially strapped Priscilla proceeds to draw lovestruck mechanic Benny into a situation that will likely end badly.

Writer Guy J Jackson (who also plays one of the criminals) seems to try and shove all of his ideas into the script, so what’s lacking is a cohesive story or any chance for viewers to connect to Priscilla – or certainly any other character.  We can’t even take the “big” crime boss seriously since his goal is to build some type of sanctuary that will benefit humanity. Benny does have the best line in the film when he admits, “I dance like a mechanic”. Other comedic bits mostly fall flat (although a tip of the cap for the mortgage broker joke), as do most of the attempts at building suspense, due in part to an excess of groan-inducing dialogue.

The film is a noir-wannabe with some effort given towards the atmosphere and tone, but the overwrought electronic score is too generic, and the arbitrary slow-motion effects simply remind us of the lack of budget (better to take advantage of imagination). One of the worst cinematic on-foot chase scenes takes up a chunk of the film, but on the bright side, we do get the rarely seen Sally Kirkland, and it is fun to pick out the director’s influences based on how a scene plays out. The jury is still out on Ms. Brachfeld. She might be worth keeping an eye on, as she has a Miranda July quality about her, though without the comedic instincts. First films are challenging, and there might be enough here to push Mr. Chrisoulakis on to better projects.

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INSIDIOUS: Chapter 2 (2013)

September 22, 2013

insidious2 1 Greetings again from the darkness. This is a perfect example of why it’s acceptable for writing standards to be lowered (somewhat) for horror films. This isn’t science fiction or history. We are in the theatre for one simple reason … we want to be frightened (to jump in our seats). Two years after the first Insidious, director and co-writer James Wan, screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who also appears as Specs) and producer Oren Peli, re-team for this sequel. It’s also just a few months after Mr. Wan’s very successful and well-made The Conjuring.

I enjoyed the first one.  There was a nice story that borrowed a bit from Poltergeist and some other horror classics. In a rare treat, Wan and Whannel actually tie in the sequel to the story from the first. Sure, some of it is a stretch with all of the parallel dimensions and multiple entities, but for the most part, it works and provides some nice thrills and chills.

insidious2 3 An especially nice surprise is the creative return of Lin Shaye as Elise, who stole all her scenes in the first entry. While the voice-over of her “younger” scenes was distracting, her screen presence helps hold the final act together. Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins and Barbara Hershey are back as the family Lambert … and this time we get more backstory on why the family seems unable to escape the demons.

Wan, Whannell and Peli have done a very nice job of rejuvenating the horror genre, while still including the traditional fun of active closets, abandoned hospitals, creaky doors and musty basements. A certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required, but if you are looking for some scary fun, you could do much worse than the two “Insidious” films.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the horror genre (especially haunted houses and possession) OR you enjoyed Insidious from a couple years ago.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting Oscar-caliber performances or an airtight script

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBbi4NeebAk