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Review: The Draining Charm of ‘Insidious: The Last Key’

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When I last left Insidious with its third chapter, I noted how this horror series finally found its groove in Lin Shaye playing a kick-butt psychic Elise with her lovable ghost-hunting duo of Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) in tow. But The Last Key seems to settle in almost too comfortable with its characters. For a story that details more of Elise’s past, it feels strangely casual with its dark origins, accented with the cute comradery of the paranormal-investigating trio. Don’t get me wrong; I still love this collection of characters, but something so personal as this felt like it should have been more than, as Elise describes her work, another day at the office.

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the fun chemistry between Shaye, Sampson, and Whannell. Few horror films that go for the easy jumpscares and messy logic of investigating ghosts rarely give us such a likable group. Their antics are amusing with Shaye’s motherly leadership, Sampson’s big-lug nature, and Spec’s awkwardly chipper way of trying to wedge into the conversation. Even though they’re working with a script that’s requiring their charisma to be stretched as far as it can go, they become such a lovable pack that they could have their own series. This is why it’s a bit disheartening that this film feels like the sputtering end to their journey.

insidious the final keyTheir latest case involves the house where Elise grew up. The newest owner has been experiencing some hauntings in the house and is in need of some help. Elise is reluctant at first but realizes she can’t run from the past, only barrel towards it with Tucker and Specs in their new ghost-hunting RV. She arrives to discover the house is still housing a ghastly monster that brandishes keys on its fingertips, using each one to lock out a sense of your soul. It’s a pretty creepy creature in design, but, as with everything in The Last Key, feels underutilized for all its terror. The most frightening things you’ll see him do is shove keys in your flesh and smack you across a room. Paranormal demons apparently have wicked backhands.

The enjoyment of the story depends on how accepting you can be of the multitude of twists and revelations thrown at the screen. The more Elise delves into her past, the more crazy stuff she discovers. She grew up believing her powers made her mad, but maybe she wasn’t all that crazy. She thought she was the only one, but perhaps there is another. The current occupant of the house is a drunk, but maybe he’s more. The movie continues to spin these crazy surprises around every turn, just in case the many jump scares don’t make your eyes wide.

It’s sad that a film series such as this resorts to an onslaught of crazy plot additions without bothering to explore much of what it already has. There’s heaps of wasted potential that mounts almost as high as the twists. Elise grew up in a house close to a prison where the flickering electricity meant a death row inmate had passed on. She mentions some spirits, but we rarely see them. Sure, there’s a prison motif in The Further, the paranormal realm that Elise has the power to travel within, but it never showcases much past the smoke and cages. There’s a lot to unpack that nearly all the dialogue is reduced to simple exposition, robbing the film of its more remarkable moments where Elise reconnects with her brother and Tucker and Specs hopelessly try to woo two sisters they meet in town.

For as much as I smiled at the laughs brought on by the talented cast and the creative creepiness with Elise’s haunted house of her youth, I fear the Insidious films have reached their end for enjoyment unceremoniously. There are bursts of brilliance here and there, as when the audio crackles so we can hear Tucker’s fancy ghost microphone, but they’re few and far between in a story that could use more character and less gimmicks. The previous film left me hopeful the future of the franchise, but not this time. It’s such a shame considering the franchise had built up such a strong ensemble and can’t find them a robust script fitting of their characters. They deserve more than the standard rollercoaster horror vehicle that has run out of steam for them. Maybe an Insidious series isn’t such a bad idea after all. I’ll bet series writers could find more to do with that ghost-hunting RV then use it as a mere conveyance.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.


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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.


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“Alita” Fights For First, Romance and Horror Behind in Box Office

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Valentine’s Day weekend wasn’t exactly the weekend where the romantic comedy took the top spot. But, surprise, the top spots were taken by a sci-fi action picture and an animated comedy about toys. #1 for the weekend was Alita: Battle Angel, the cyberpunk tale based on the manga and directed by Robert Rodriguez, premiering to a debut of $27 million. Though at the top spot, the film cost $170 million so it remains to be seen how well the film will do over the course of the next few weeks when it goes up against other blockbusters.

At #2 in its second weekend is The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, the animated sequel to the 2014 surprise hit, making another $21 million. Though not terrible for its second weekend, the film has only made $62 million so far, way less than the previous film. It, too, remains to be seen if it can weather the storm of new films on the horizon.

We now come to the romantic comedy for the weekend, Isn’t It Romantic, a satire on rom-coms starring Rebel Wilson. Debuting at #3, the film made $14 million, not as strong even when considering that it debuted on the 13th for a box office total of $20 million. The other new film, Happy Death Day 2U, didn’t fare much better with an early debut and a weekend total of $9.8 million. Although it should be noted that Happy Death Day 2U was a somewhat cheap production at $9 million so the film has already made its money back.

Though the box office was pretty low all around, the drops were fairly low, with the thriller Cold Pursuit and the horror The Prodigy taking the biggest drops of 45% and 46%. With the lowest drops, no surprises, were the soft dramas of The Upside and Green Book, both proving to have the legs to carry themselves over months in the box office.

Take a look at the full top 10 box office results for the weekend below:

Alita: Battle Angel ($27,800,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($21,215,000)

Isn’t It Romantic ($14,210,000)

What Men Want ($10,920,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($9,816,000)

Cold Pursuit ($6,000,000)

The Upside ($5,590,000)

Glass ($3,859,000)

The Prodigy ($3,150,065)

Green Book ($2,751,000)

Next weekend is all about the dragons and warriors. How to Train Your Dragon 3, the animated fantasy adventure of the on-going saga, will hit over 4,000 theaters. Fighting with My Family, a comedy about a family of professional fighters, will debut in over 2,500 theaters.





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