Mini Reviews (June 2015)
Autumn in New York, Banshee Chapter, All Relative, 13 Sins, Out of the Dark, Insidious: Chapter 3, Entourage, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, These Final Hours
Autumn in New York (June 2/15)
Directed by Joan Chen, Autumn in New York follows Richard Gere's Will Keane, an aging yet successful playboy, as he finds himself falling for a young woman (Winona Ryder's Charlotte Fielding) suffering from a terminal illness. It's a relationship that is, admittedly, somewhat unappealing due to the tremendous age difference between the actors, and yet it's just as clear that the coupling never quite becomes as off-putting as one might've expected (and feared) - with the charismatic efforts of both Gere and Ryder certainly going a long way towards allaying the ick factor. (Having said that, it's hard to deny that the actors' respective characters lack any real romantic chemistry.) Chen, working from Allison Burnett's script, has infused Autumn in New York with the feel of an old-school weeper, with the movie's lackadaisical atmosphere and emphasis on picturesque shots of New York City certainly perpetuating the not-entirely-unpleasant antiquated vibe. It's unfortunate, then, that the movie takes a steep nosedive as it progresses into its uneventful midsection, as Chen's continuing efforts at emphasizing the stars' relationship paves the way for a disappointingly flat second half. The tearjerking finale, as a result, simply isn't able to pack the emotional punch that Chan has surely intended, which ultimately confirms Autumn in New York's place as a well shot, well acted, yet wholly ineffective romance.
Banshee Chapter (June 5/15)
Banshee Chapter follows Katia Winter's Anne Roland as she begins looking into the mysterious disappearance of a close friend (Michael McMillian's James Hirsch), with the character's investigation eventually pairing her with an off-kilter, Hunter S. Thompson-esque journalist named Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine). Filmmaker Blair Erickson does an admittedly terrific job of drawing the viewer into the proceedings right from the get-go, with Banshee Chapter's opening stretch setting a tone of suspense and otherworldly horror that's certainly quite promising. The better-than-expected atmosphere proves to be short lived, however, as the aforementioned investigation, which takes up the bulk of the movie's overlong running time, is almost entirely devoid of intriguing elements designed to hold one's interest. It doesn't help, either, that the otherworldly incidents that begin plaguing the central character hardly make a lick of sense, with Erickson's decision to hold off on anything resembling an explanation until the third act nothing short of disastrous (ie without any context, it's difficult to either care about the protagonist's exploits or find any of this stuff frightening/creepy). The ensuing haunted-house finale is, to say the least, underwhelming, and it goes without saying that Banshee Chapter is, in the end, just another run-of-the-mill low-budget horror effort.
All Relative (June 5/15)
An affable yet forgettable romcom, All Relative details the relationship that commences between Harry (Thomas Sadowski) and Grace (Sara Paxton) - with problems ensuing as Harry realizes that he earlier engaged in a one-night stand with Grace's mother, Maren (Connie Nielsen). There's nothing especially wrong with All Relative - it's well acted and decently paced - and yet there's never a point at which the viewer is wholeheartedly drawn into the almost excessively familiar narrative. Filmmaker J.C. Khoury has infused the proceedings with a styleless, made-for-television-like feel that compounds the pervasively underwhelming vibe, with the director's ongoing attempts at comedic levity generally falling flat. It's worth noting, however, that the film does improve slightly in its midsection, as Khoury offers up a few surprisingly affecting instances of drama that all-too-temporarily buoy the viewer's waning interest. The third act reverts to the blandness that so dominates the movie's early scenes, unfortunately, and All Relative peters out long before it arrives at its predictably predictable conclusion - although, to be fair, one could certainly do a whole lot worse in terms of lighthearted, straight-to-video romantic comedies.
13 Sins (June 11/15)
13 Sins follows Mark Webber's Elliot Brindle as he agrees to participate in a mysterious competition that will, if he wins, net him millions of dollars, with problems ensuing as the character is asked to complete a series of increasingly sinister (and flat-out illegal) activities. It's an appealingly high-concept premise that is, in the movie's early stages, employed to better-than-average effect by filmmaker Daniel Stamm, as the director and cowriter offers up a compelling central character and places him in a scenario that's inherently engrossing. (Elliot is, for example, commanded to make a child cry as one of his first tasks.) The lighthearted bent of several of the film's early scenes perpetuates the impressively watchable vibe, and it doesn't hurt, either, that Webber delivers an affable, sympathetic turn as the movie's beleaguered protagonist. By that same token, however, Stamm and fellow scripter David Birke offer up a story arc for Webber's character that is, to put it mildly, less than subtle, with Elliot's transformation from meek loser to Tyler Durden-esque anarchist difficult to swallow and ultimately paving the way for a third act that peters out significantly - which confirms 13 Sins' place as a decent thriller that could (and should) have been great.
Out of the Dark (June 17/15)
A hopelessly generic ghost story, Out of the Dark follows Paul (Scott Speedman) and Sarah (Julia Stiles) as they and their daughter (Pixie Davies' Hannah) travel to Colombia for work - with problems ensuing as it becomes progressively clear that the family's new home is haunted. It's an exceedingly familiar setup that is, at the outset, employed to somewhat promising effect by director Lluís Quílez, as the director, after opening the proceedings with an appropriately creepy pre-credits sequence, offers up a deliberately-paced first act that benefits rather decisively from the pervasively mysterious atmosphere (ie one can't help but attempt to figure out just what's going on here). And although Quílez peppers the movie with undeniably spooky images and interludes, Out of the Dark falls prey to a slow-burn midsection that's devoted almost entirely to Paul and Sarah's tedious investigation into aforementioned ghosts' origins. The increasingly formulaic bent of Javier Gullón, David Pastor, and Àlex Pastor's screenplay ensures that the film grows less and less interesting as it plods along, with the predictable (and seemingly endless) finale ultimately cementing Out of the Dark's place as a cookie-cutter horror effort that squanders its charismatic lead performances and workable setup.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (June 23/15)
A prequel to its two predecessors, Insidious: Chapter 3 follows the Brenner family (Dermot Mulroney's Sean, Stefanie Scott's Quinn, and Tate Berney's Alex) as their new home is increasingly menaced by an unseen (and decidedly malevolent) entity - with the characters eventually forced to turn to Lin Shaye's psychic and a pair of goofball internet ghost hunters (Leigh Whannell's Specs and Angus Sampson's Tucker). Screenwriter and first-time director Whannell has infused Insidious: Chapter 3 with precisely the sort of deliberate execution that one has come to expect from this series (and films of this ilk), with the lackadaisical pace effectively establishing the newly-introduced characters and cultivating an atmosphere of slow-burning dread - although, by that same token, it's just as clear that the lack of horrific happenings within the movie's first half is sure to test the patience of certain viewers. Whannell's old-school sensibilities are reflected most keenly in the movie's overtly tense moments, as the filmmaker does an effective job of infusing such sequences with a palpably suspenseful vibe that is, for the most part, free of modern-day jump scares. (This isn't to say that random instances of surprise shocks are completely absent, of course.) And while Whannell peppers the narrative with a handful of unusually engrossing interludes - eg a central character is possessed by the aforementioned entity - Insidious: Chapter 3, as a slightly above-average ghost story, ultimately falls right in line with both Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2 and it's finally clear that the movie will leave fans satisfied (and detractors as disappointed as ever).
Entourage (June 24/15)
Picking up where the series left off, Entourage details the typically lighthearted exploits of Vince (Adrian Grenier), Eric (Kevin Connolly), Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) - with Vince's short-tempered agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), figuring prominently within the proceedings as well. Entourage, by and large, plays like an extended episode of the long running HBO program, as writer/director Doug Ellin infuses the film with exactly the sort of glossy sensibility that defined the show's eight season run - with the emphasis continually placed on the protagonists' girl-crazy, success-obsessed comings and goings. The wish-fulfillment vibe that was part-and-parcel with the television show is certainly present here, and yet it quickly becomes clear that the absence of substance, which was acceptable in the context of a 22 minute program, becomes more and more problematic as time progresses - with Ellin's initial refusal to introduce any kind of conflict among the characters perpetuating the movie's stagnant atmosphere. It's a relief to note, then, that Entourage does improve around the midway point, as Ellin slowly-but-surely begins weaving in elements of actual consequence and the movie finally does start to achieve some palpable propulsion. The feature-length running time continues to be problematic, however, and Ellin attempts to compensate by tossing in one subplot after another, with the most egregious example of this an eleventh hour (and completely pointless) Johnny Drama digression. Still, Entourage essentially delivers everything that one might've expected and hoped for out of a big-screen adaptation - although it's ultimately clear that the series' detractors will find absolutely nothing here worth embracing.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (June 27/15)
It's not difficult to see what filmmaker Scott Glosserman is attempting to do with Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, as the movie pokes fun at the various conventions and tropes that one has come to associate with the slasher genre. There is, however, little within the movie that wholeheartedly works, with the storyline, which follows a camera crew (led by Angela Goethals' Taylor) as they detail the activities of an up-and-coming murderer (Nathan Baesel's title character), containing a number of palpably ludicrous attributes that hold the viewer at arms length from beginning to end. The biggest problem here is the camera crew's ongoing willingness to document Leslie's crimes, as it becomes more and more difficult to swallow that the three individuals wouldn't, at the very least, report Leslie to the authorities. (Such concerns wouldn't be quite so prominent had any of the comedic elements here managed to elicit laughs.) It is, as such, worth noting that Taylor's inevitable change of heart rings completely false (ie why the turnaround at that point?), while the film's third act, in which the movie morphs into exactly the sort of slashing it was previously mocking, is so hopelessly by the numbers that one couldn't possibly care less about the outcome. There's little doubt that the idea behind Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is relatively sound (ie highlighting the cliches inherent in this genre), but it's ultimately the underwhelming execution that confirms the movie's place as an almost total misfire.
These Final Hours (June 28/15)
Set in the buildup to the planet's annihilation, These Final Hours follows Nathan Phillips' James as he attempts to make his way to a wild end-of-the-world party on the other end of town - with James' journey complicated by the sudden appearance of a scared little girl (Angourie Rice's Rose). It's an inherently engrossing premise that's heightened by writer/director Zak Hilditch's stylish visual sensibilities, as the filmmaker kicks off the proceedings with a gripping opening stretch that effectively establishes the central character and the impending calamity. (In terms of the latter, Hilditch smartly conveys relevant information via radio broadcasts.) It's just as clear, however, that Hilditch doesn't quite have enough material here to justify a full-length running time, and the movie, which progresses at a decidedly deliberate pace, does lose its momentum as it moves into its episodic midsection. (There is, for example, a stretch set at James' mother's house that goes on far too long.) Phillips' strong turn as the conflicted protagonist plays a pivotal role in holding one's interest throughout, while the sporadic inclusion of engaging sequences (eg James attempts to prevent Rose from making a grisly discovery) elevates the proceedings on a continuous basis. The predictably bleak finale proves to be far more captivating than one might've expected, and it's ultimately clear These Final Hours stands as an extremely promising effort from an up-and-coming filmmaker.