Tag Archives: Barbara Hershey

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) Review

Time: 106 Minutes
Age Rating: M – Supernatural themes and violence
Cast:
Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert
Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert
Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert
Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier
Steven Coulter as Carl
Barbara Hershey as Lorraine Lambert
Leigh Whannell as Specs
Angus Sampson as Tucker
Director: James Wan

Josh Lambert and his family relocate to his mother’s old house in the hopes of recovering from past trauma. However, they soon encounter strange and chilling paranormal events.

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After the success of Insidious in 2010 and its cliffhanger ending, a sequel was inevitable. It seems that the films following the original weren’t that well received, even the immediate follow up by original director James Wan. However, I quite liked it.

Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up right after the first movie, so I don’t recommend watching the two movies too far apart. The story for the most part is good enough and paced steadily. There are two plotlines going on, one focussing on the main Lambert family with Josh being possessed by a demon, and the other following the characters played by Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as they investigate the demon. I found myself more interested in the latter plotline; it was interesting learning about the backstory. The Lambert family plotline had potential; Josh’s mind getting hijacked was interesting, but I felt that it could’ve been handled better. It mainly consists of haunting occurrences and jumpscares, and not much else. One thing I do like about Chapter 2 is how it continues the story instead of just rehashing the stuff in the first film. It builds on the first movie and fleshes out the story and backstory, provides context, and ties up the loose ends. Much like Insidious and much of James Wan’s other movies, the third act goes over the top and it is a little silly, but that’s to be expected. Chapter 2 isn’t without its issues. More so than the first movie, it falls into some horror cliches. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, whether it be with some of the exposition or the comedy. While there was a good balance with its humour and scares in the first movie, Chapter 2 is a tonally unbalanced at points. The biggest issue though comes as a result as one of its biggest strengths. While it gives a lot of answers, it takes away from the feeling of the unknown and therefore much of the unsettling feeling is rather lacking. The more that is explained, the less scary it becomes. Finally, there’s a plot twist in the third act which is dated, at the very least.

Like with the first movie, the acting and character development is particularly good. Rose Byrne is believable in her part, and the movie even finds a way to bring Lin Shaye back to reprise her role of Elise, especially given that she was the standout character in the first movie. There’s also more screentime for the comic relief provided by Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson, as they are more heavily involved with the plot. The standout performance however is from Patrick Wilson, mainly because his character of Josh is now possessed by a demon, giving him the opportunity to really ham it up. He’s great, and one of my bigger complaints is that we don’t get to see as much of this throughout the movie. He really gets to shine in the third act, but I wish the descent into madness got more screentime.

James Wan’s direction once again is solid. There’s some memorable and haunting imagery, good production design, and some solid thrills. The sound mixing is superb, and Joseph Bishara’s score continues to be unnerving. It builds ominous tension over time, and you feel it mostly in the first half. While it is a more polished movie, I think the previous movie did a better job at generating the atmosphere. There are plenty of jumpscares throughout, I think they are fine, but they are a little hit or miss and aren’t nearly as effective as the last movie.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is good continuation and is almost on a similar level of the previous movie, with strong direction and good performances. It is a more polished movie and is more complete storywise, but I think the first film is slightly better if only for the atmosphere and tension it generated. Still, worth checking out if you enjoyed the first Insidious.

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Insidious (2010) Review

Time: 101 Minutes
Age Rating: M
Cast:
Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert
Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert
Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier
Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert
Barbara Hershey as Lorraine Lambert
Leigh Whannell as Specs
Angus Sampson as Tucker
Director: James Wan

Josh and Renai move to a new house, seeking a fresh start. However, when their son, Dalton, mysteriously falls into a coma, paranormal events start occurring in the house.

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I previously watched the first three Insidious movies and I liked them. With the 5th film coming this year, I decided to go through the whole franchise beforehand. While the following movies had a mixed reaction, the first Insidious was received pretty well and was a hit. Over a decade later, I think it’s still pretty good and holds up today.

Insidious is yet another collaboration between director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, and on the whole, the script is pretty good. Initially, much of the movie is familiar when it comes to ghosts and demon possessions. Still, it manages to make itself stand apart from similar movies. While it begins as a usual ghost story, it goes into different directions in the second half, especially when it starts getting into things like astral projection. Additionally, the strong family dynamic and likable characters help to get you invested in the story. From the beginning there is a real sense of doom which is sustained throughout the entirety of the movie. As I said it goes in different directions in the second half, and the third act is where some people might not like it. However, I like the departure it takes, and even enjoyed when some of the horror got a little cheesy. It also delivers an unexpected ending which was certainly put there to lead the way for a sequel. There is a lot of exposition of the movie, mostly from Lin Shaye’s character, which could’ve been trimmed down. It’s not necessarily a runtime issue since its only 100 minutes long and the pace is solid, but it does over explain some things.

The actors are great in their parts and help to bring their characters to life. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are great as the parents, and Ty Simpkins is good as the child who falls into a suspicious coma. Other actors are solid including Barbara Hershey as Wilson’s mother and a pair of paranormal investigators played by Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson. However, Lin Shaye is the standout as a psychic who comes to help the family with the paranormal activities.

James Wan delivers another well-crafted horror movie with Insidious. Interestingly, it’s a horror movie that’s PG-13 and while it easily could’ve amped up to an R rating, it achieved what it needed to here. Personally, I wasn’t scared of the movie, but nonetheless the horror was handled well. The jumpscares can be quite in your face, but they are put together well and some of them are quite clever. Most of all though, the film successfully builds up the tension and atmosphere. The desaturated colour pallet and memorable nightmarish imagery add to the tone, sense of unease and atmosphere. Finally, the instrumental score from Joseph Bishara is excellent and fits the mood of the movie well. The main theme is particularly one of the most distinct and recognisable modern day horror themes, and never fails to set me on edge and give an unsettling feeling.

Insidious is still an entertaining, tense, thrilling, greatly directed and performed supernatural horror film. I wouldn’t call it one of the best horror movies out there (even within the 2010s), but it is quite good and worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.

Black Swan (2010) Review

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Black Swan

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] contains violence, sex scenes & content that may disturb
Cast:
Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen
Mila Kunis as Lily/The Black Swan
Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy/The Gentleman
Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers/The Queen
Winona Ryder as Elizabeth “Beth” MacIntyre/The Dying Swan
Director: Darren Aronofsky

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina whose passion for the dance rules every facet of her life. When the company’s artistic director decides to replace his prima ballerina for their opening production of “Swan Lake,” Nina is his first choice. She has competition in newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) however. While Nina is perfect for the role of the White Swan, Lily personifies the Black Swan. As rivalry between the two dancers transforms into a twisted friendship, Nina’s dark side begins to emerge.

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I liked Black Swan when I first saw it, and it definitely got all the acclaim that it deserved. I’ve already watched most of director Darren Aronofsky’s work (with the exception of The Fountain), but I wanted to have another look at some of his movies, and so I started my rewatches with Black Swan and got even more out of it this time. Aronofsky’s direction was really great and as usual Natalie Portman is fantastic.

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I won’t go into too much depth about the plot in case you still haven’t gotten around to seeing the movie yet. Darren Aronofksy really keeps this movie tight at an hour and 50 minutes long, it keeps the pace up pretty quickly and on a second viewing I really noticed it. It starts out as a movie about what an artist would do for art, and it is that throughout, but it also turns into a psychological thriller. It really goes crazy in the third act to say the least, and when the film needs to go horror, it really goes there. Looking at the plot from beginning to end, it’s so perfectly crafted and well put together.

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Everyone in the cast was outstanding, however this is really Natalie Portman’s show, giving a career best performance here. Her character’s whole thing is that as how she is now, she’s perfect for the role of the White Swan but in order to perfectly perform The Swan Queen, needs to delve deeper into darker territory to portray the Black Swan as well. Her descent and change were very convincing, and Portman works well. Her performance is essentially what drives the whole movie, as great as Aronofsky’s direction is here, Black Swan wouldn’t have worked without Portman’s excellently performance. Mila Kunis gives probably her best performance yet as a seemingly rival to Natalie Portman who seems to work as the Black Swan, which would compel Portman towards a different side. Vincent Cassel is also really great as the director of the ballet, who also pushes Portman further towards becoming more of the Black Swan. Definitely one of Cassel’s most standout performances. Barbara Hershey was also good as Portman’s obsessive mother, adding even more strangeness and uneasiness to the whole movie. Winona Ryder is in here in a smaller role as the previous Swan Queen before Portman, but she still really worked in her few scenes.

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Darren Aronofsky’s direction of Black Swan is excellent. I know it should go without saying but the actual ballet portions of the movie are showcased, choregraphed and displayed on screen very well. When it comes to the psychological horror side (especially towards the latter section of the movie), it’s effectively creeping and unnerving. The limited sections of crazy visual effects still hold up really well 9 years later. The score by Clint Mansell really works (which is to be expected of him at this point), very haunting yet beautiful, much like the whole movie.

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Black Swan is Darren Aronofsky’s best film yet, and considering some of the movies that he’s made, that’s saying a lot. His direction was great, really portraying a descent into madness well, with great acting, especially from Natalie Portman who gives an extraordinary performance here. Definitely one of the best films of 2010 and the 2010s, and worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Review

Time: 163 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Willem Dafoe as Jesus
Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot
Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene
Harry Dean Stanton as Saul/Paul of Tarsus
David Bowie as Pontius Pilate
Director: Martin Scorsese

Jesus (Willem Dafoe), a humble Judean carpenter beginning to see that he is the son of God, is drawn into revolutionary action against the Roman occupiers by Judas (Harvey Keitel) — despite his protestations that love, not violence, is the path to salvation. The burden of being the savior of mankind torments Jesus throughout his life, leading him to doubt. As he is put to death on the cross, Jesus is tempted by visions of an ordinary life married to Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey).

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I heard about The Last Temptation of Christ for some time, mainly that Martin Scorsese directed it and that it was really controversial when it was released. I really had no clue what to expect going in. I like Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel, and of course I’m a fan of Martin Scorsese. However with the story that has already been done many times before, I didn’t really know what Scorsese would really do with it. I really didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, but it really was fantastic.

The Last Temptation of Christ was actually based on a novel of the same name, which in itself was already pretty controversial. There have been plenty of movies about Jesus, so I wondered what would make this one stand out. The film actually begins with a preface that it’s not based on the gospels and not necessarily biblically based, so you should probably know that going in. The thing that immediately got my interest was the more human take on Jesus, he’s even started out not really sure if he’s truly the son of god, and he’s very much a flawed person, like most people are. I can tell that for some people that would be a deal breaker but if anything for me, that’s what got me on board with the movie from the beginning. This whole movie is a character study following him, and I was invested throughout. Then there’s the last 30 minutes to an hour of the movie which was probably the most controversial part to a lot of religious people at the time. For those who don’t know about that section, I won’t reveal it, but it’s not like The Passion of the Christ where it’s from a bunch of endlessly violent scenes (even though this movie does have some violent scenes). It also never feels like it’s being controversial for the sake of controversy. It’s mainly the exploration of Jesus as a human being, and I found that compelling. This is quite a long movie at 2 hours and 40 minutes, so you have to prepare yourself for that. Thankfully I was wrapped up with what was happening, but if you aren’t invested early on, it might be a bit of a chore to get through.

Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ does seem like an odd casting for many reasons, but I have to say that his performance here as the conflicted Jesus is amongst his best work. He’s the main lead of the movie, and the movie relied heavily on him working, and thankfully he brought this performance to life and really anchors the whole movie. The most prominent supporting actor is Harvey Keitel who plays Judas, and it’s a different portrayal of him than most are used to. Yes, Keitel is playing the only Brooklyn Judas (and he keeps his accent) and with that he seems a little out of place at times, but he acts his part really well. The rest of the cast do well, including Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, Harry Dean Stanton as Saul/Paul of Tarsus, and David Bowie in a surprise one scene appearance as Pontius Pilate. Now there comes the obvious when it comes to the casting, the Romans sound like Brits and the Hebrews like New Yorkers. While that’s definitely distracting at first, it’s definitely an intentional choice that paid off in the end.

Martin Scorsese directed this excellently as he usually does. For a budget of 7 million dollars, this movie really looks outstanding and still holds up over 3 decades later. The cinematography is stunning, and the production design and costume design is fantastic. Overall on a technical level, it’s really great.

The Last Temptation of Christ is outstanding and one of Martin Scorsese’s finest films. Scorsese’s direction was excellent, the acting was great (particularly Willem Dafoe), and Scorsese’s take on the story is thought provoking and effectively emotional. Even if you’re not interested in religion or the topics, I think there’s a lot that you can appreciate about it, even if it’s just on a technical and acting level. However there’s a compelling story at the heart of it that I’m sure most people can connect with.

Boxcar Bertha (1972) Review

Time: 88 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Barbara Hershey as Boxcar Bertha
David Carradine as Big Bill Shelly
Barry Primus as Rake Brown
Bernie Casey as Von Morton
John Carradine as H. Buckram Sartoris
Director: Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s second feature loosely adapts the autobiography of Bertha Thompson, portraying the adventures of the Depression-era criminal following the death of her father. Bertha (Barbara Hershey) joins union organizer “Big” Bill Shelly (David Carradine) in fighting anti-union forces after an unexpected murder drives them to a life of robbing trains. The atmospheric tale depicts their life on the lam, doing whatever is necessary to survive.

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After Who’s that Knocking at My Door, Martin Scorsese’s next film would be an exploitation movie of all things, and produced by Roger Corman. While he’s definitely advanced as a director and there are some good parts to it, Boxcar Bertha is ultimately just another exploitation movie that’s not the best showcase for his talents.

I will preface this by saying that my review is looking at it many years after I saw this movie, so I’m going back and reminding myself of what the movie is. My memory of the movie isn’t all that great. The ‘plot’ is really nothing special and it’s rather uninteresting really. More than likely a big part of it is due to the fact that this was an exploitation movie, and it needed to rely on sex and violence, and those only served to distract and heavily affect the pacing. For my problems with the movie, I do feel like removing a lot of those elements would’ve improved the movie quite a lot. With that said, I can’t say for certain that Scorsese not making this an exploitation movie would’ve made this actually good. The highlight of the entire movie was the last 10 minutes, Scorsese took the plot to a dark and violent place, and not the over the top exploitation route either. So I guess if you stuck around for the whole movie, you are rewarded by a good point to end it off on.

A lot of the cast is quite talented and it still comes across in the movie, but there’s only so much that they can do with the material that they are given. The characters aren’t exactly delved into a lot. Barbara Hershey is the highlight performance as Bertha, and she worked well with David Carradine as the lead couple of the movie. Some of the other supporting actors like Barry Primus and Bernie Casey also work. Nothing to really say about the rest of the cast.

Martin Scorsese’s direction sure has improved since his last movie, but it doesn’t really feel like one of his movies at the same time. It feels like a Roger Corman movie delivered with the talent of a director of Martin Scorsese’s calibre at that time. You can really see from Boxcar Bertha that he had more skill than this movie deserved. A lot of the violence and sex are straight out of a B movie. As I said earlier though, the latter portion does feel like it was directed by Scorsese and that was quite good.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a bad movie, but Boxcar Bertha is really nothing special. I like some of the acting, and Scorsese’s direction really shines through from time to time, but otherwise it’s just another exploitation movie. It’s one of my least favourites of his movies, if not my least favourite. The best thing to come out of this was the fact that after director John Cassavetes saw a screening of this movie, he told Scorsese to direct something much better, and indeed a year later he would come out with Mean Streets, which was basically his breakout movie. I’d basically say if you’re a Scorsese completionist or if you’re into exploitation movies then check it out. Otherwise this isn’t essential viewing by any means.