The first weekend of the new year offers just one movie in wide release, creating the perfect opportunity to catch up on some of the Oscar bait that you might have missed over the busy holiday season. Since there’s so little to talk about in terms of new releases, this week we’ll cover a few of those titles as well.
As they tend to do, another horror franchise has been spread thin and stretched to the max, which is a shame because this micro-budget series has been pretty good to date. The first ‘Insidious‘ came out of nowhere, and while it may have looked like another generic, by-the-numbers PG-13 horror movie, it had a great quality to it. For me, it felt like the good horror of the ’80s. ‘Chapter 2‘ came along and not only brought the scares, but expanded on the universe and story. ‘Chapter 3‘, which turned out to be a prequel, lost its two main cast members and some of the quality. However, it kept the scares by building on more than just jump cuts and loud noises.
Now, we have ‘Insidious: The Last Key‘, which not only loses the quality and the scares, but also manages to lose the “chapter” title, despite it falling in with the canon, retaining the three ongoing cast members, and closing the gap between prequel ‘Chapter 3’ and the original ‘Insidious’. Psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her two sidekicks (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) are back. When the team is hired by a man living in the house that Elise grew up in, she must return home to Five Keys, New Mexico to confront the dark demon that both tore her family apart and taught her the danger of her powers. As a child, Elise released the key-fingered monster that still rules there today. Now, she must defeat the evil mess that she created. Just like Elise does, I feel like someone needs to clean up the mess that this franchise quick devolved into. Creator and co-star Whannell one again penned this screenplay, but boy is it lacking. Having it brought to the screen by a no-name director who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing makes it all the worse. Supposedly, this is the last chapter in the franchise. With it being so unmemorable and needless to the overall ‘Insidious’ arc, it will be easy to omit ‘The Last Key’ from memory and from your video library.
I recommend spending your weekend checking out some other recent movies that are vying for Oscar love.
Although it seems to be hit-or-miss with critics, audiences are eating up ‘The Greatest Showman‘. I have to admit that I’m on the bandwagon. The family-friendly musical features fantastic performances from Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, and Rebecca Ferguson. The traditional style of most musicals is left behind for a contemporary flavor, each track of which will get stuck in your head until you hear the next. My bet is that at least two numbers will be nominated for Best Original Song. A lot of folks are loving the big ensemble numbers, but I’m hoping for “Never Enough” to take the trophy.
With ‘Darkest Hour‘ now playing widely, I recommend that bio-pic lovers seek it out. Gary Oldman is getting all the buzz for his stellar performance as Winston Churchill, but I’m also on the Joe Wright train for his direction. The story is one that’s not widely known to those of us in the United States. The film perfectly paints the history of England that leads right into the story of ‘Dunkirk’. Watching the movies in that order will provide a great amount of backstory and will make ‘Dunkirk’ all the more powerful to experience and understand.
‘The Shape of Water‘, which is now playing widely, has a lot of critical praise. Whether that’s enough to land it an Oscar is another thing, but it’s certainly a visual masterpiece that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Having first watched it at home on a DVD screener, I can attest to that fact more than most.
I also have several recommendations that have not yet expanded widely, but are still playing on a decent number of screens. First is ‘I, Tonya‘. I love this movie so much that I’d love to see it go the distance. It’s one of those rare comedic dramas that can make you laugh constantly, only to pull the rug out from under you and make you feel for the ridiculous characters that you’ve been laughing at. It comes from one of the very best screenplays of the year, a director who has a unique vision, and a leading lady (Margot Robbie) who’s willing to shed everything to become the character. The laughs, charm and heart of this black comedy go a very long way.
In addition, ‘Call Me by Your Name‘ has the ability to reach deep into your heart with its simple and lifelike story and pacing. While it may not be Best Picture worthy, it’s one that you won’t soon forget. The acting is excellent, but Michael Stuhlbarg really steals the show with his final scene.
‘The Post‘, ‘Phantom Thread‘ and ‘Hostiles‘ are three that I also recommend checking out once they become available. For now, they’re still playing on a very limited number of screens.