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Mini Reviews (October 2015)

Goodnight Mommy, Sleeping With Other People, The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story, Wish You Were Here., Time Lapse, Circle, Brick, Grace: The Possession, D.O.A., Truth

Goodnight Mommy (October 16/15)

Written and directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, Goodnight Mommy follows nine-year-old twins Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) and Elias (Elias Schwarz) as they grow increasingly suspicious of their mother's (Susanne Wuest) true identity after she undergoes face-changing cosmetic surgery. It's an intriguing and seemingly foolproof scenario that's rendered increasingly irrelevant by Fiala and Franz, as the filmmakers offer up a screenplay that's almost entirely lacking in exposition and context - which does, to a more and more pronounced degree, cultivate an atmosphere of complete and total indifference (ie it's impossible to care about any of this without an inkling of what's really going on). The proliferation of unanswered questions grows and grows as time slowly progresses, while Fiala and Franz exacerbate the already-tedious atmosphere by offering up a handful of overlong, aggressively pointless sequences. (It's worth noting, however, that there are one or two admittedly compelling moments sprinkled throughout, with, for example, an untimely visit by two Red Cross workers briefly infusing the proceedings with a tension that's otherwise entirely absent.) The movie's third-act shift from endless psychological drama to bloody and gruesome horror flick is, to put it mildly, less than seamless, and although Fiala and Franz offer up a last-minute twist that's undoubtedly quite impressive, Goodnight Mommy is ultimately an ineffective chiller that's often just too sedate and detached for its own good.

out of

Sleeping With Other People (October 16/15)

Another misfire from Bachelorette filmmaker Leslye Headland, Sleeping With Other People follows platonic friends Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) as they help one another navigate the treacherous world of modern relationships. It's clear right from the get-go that Headland isn't looking to cultivate an atmosphere of relatable authenticity, as Sleeping With Other People immediately boasts the feel and tone of a garden-variety sitcom that one might find on HBO or Showtime. Headland's screenplay forces the personable actors into a series of repetitive conversations that tend to strain credibility, with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by the writer/director's strict (and frustrating) adherence to romantic-comedy plot devices. (This isn't, for example, a film that requires a third-act complication preventing the two leads from getting together.) The inclusion of a few admittedly effective moments prevents the movie from scraping the bottom of the barrel, and it's clear, too, that the genuine chemistry between Sudeikis and Brie's respective characters results in an all-too-fleeting sweetness to certain scenes. But by the time the eye-rollingly melodramatic third act rolls around, Sleeping With Other People has rendered all of its positive attributes moot and confirmed its place as a lazy, perpetually unfunny romcom that brings nothing new to the genre.

out of

The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story (October 19/15)

The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story details the creation and production of the now-infamous Beverly Hills, 90210 spinoff, with the narrative following the various actors and producers as they attempt to step out from under the shadow of its famous predecessor. It eventually becomes clear that The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story is almost completely lacking in the salacious, trashy elements that defined the long-running Fox program, with the movie instead boasting (or suffering from) an incongruously sanitized feel that's at odds with the over-the-top approach demanded by the material. And although Dana Schmalenberg's screenplay offers up a handful of interesting tidbits (eg the original actor hired to play Billy was let go after he gained too much weight), The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story generally comes off as an almost excessively glossy movie-of-the-week that's devoid of compelling figures or interesting situations. It's clear, as well, that the bland performances are exacerbated by a total lack of conflict among the various characters, and it goes without saying that this is contrary to Melrose Place's entire modus operandi (ie where are the cat fights and snarky one-liners?) The end result is a rather pointless endeavor that seems unlikely to hold any appeal for long-time fans of Melrose Place, which, given that newcomers to the series will be left baffled by most of this, confirms The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story's place as a complete misfire and waste of time.

out of

Wish You Were Here. (October 19/15)

The directorial debut of actor Kieran Darcy-Smith, Wish You Were Here. details the fallout that ensues after three friends (Joel Edgerton's Dave, Felicity Price's Alice, and Teresa Palmer's Steph) return from an Asian holiday without a fellow traveler (Antony Starr's Jeremy). It's a straight-forward premise that's employed to oddly uninvolving effect by Darcy-Smith, as the movie, in its early stages, withholds a good deal of exposition and context from the viewer - with Darcy-Smith choosing instead to parcel out information slowly and over time. The mysterious atmosphere does, admittedly, go a long way towards keeping the film's opening half hour somewhat interesting, and yet Wish You Were Here. fizzles out to an increasingly demonstrative degree once it passes a certain point. There's little doubt that the film's downfall is due primarily to its almost aggressively middling midsection, as Darcy-Smith places a pronounced emphasis on the impact that the aforementioned vacation has on the three central characters - with the movie subsequently revolving almost entirely around the protagonists' less-than-enthralling domestic squabbles. It's clear, too, that the film's arms-length vibe is compounded by an overlong running time and a seriously deliberate sense of pacing, which ultimately ensures that the big revelations of the third act are hardly able to carry the weight that Darcy-Smith is obviously going for. Overlooking the stellar performances and attractive cinematography, Wish You Were Here. simply contains too few positive attributes to warrant a recommendation and it is, in the end, impossible not to wonder exactly what Darcy-Smith originally set out to do with this misfire.

out of

Time Lapse (October 19/15)

It's ultimately difficult not to feel more than a little disappointed by Time Lapse's complete failure, as the movie boasts an irresistible premise that's heightened by a thoroughly engaging opening half hour - with the most obvious problem here a repetitive midsection that transpires entirely within the confines of one location. The narrative follows three roommates (Danielle Panabaker's Callie, Matt O'Leary's Finn, and George Finn's Jasper) as they stumble upon a device that sees one day into the future, with the friends' initial elation eventually giving way to fear, mistrust, and violence (especially when an evil bookie enters the picture). Filmmaker Bradley King does a nice job of initially setting up the three central characters and the engaging, sci-fi-oriented premise, with the protagonists' gleeful exploitation of the aforementioned machine certainly lending the proceedings a captivating wish-fulfillment sort of vibe. The affable atmosphere persists up until around the half-hour mark, after which point Time Lapse becomes, to a more and more pronounced effect, wrapped up in the less-than-engrossing complications that inevitably ensue - with the thoroughly wrongheaded decision to transform one of the characters into an all-out villain exacerbating (and accelerating) the movie's downfall. And although the twist ending is quite impressive in both its cruelty and unexpectedness, Time Lapse ultimately feels like an Outer Limits episode that's been ungainly stretched out to feature length.

out of

Circle (October 20/15)

Circle essentially takes a premise that would've been ideal for a 22-minute episode of The Twilight Zone and expands it to a watchable yet erratic 87 minute running time, with the movie following dozens of characters as they awaken in a darkened room and are subsequently forced to decide which one of them deserves to live (ie folks are voted on and executed every two minutes). What follows is essentially an ongoing debate among the surviving protagonists as they attempt to figure out what's going on while also continually voting for one another's deaths, with filmmakers Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione offering up a fairly stereotypical selection of characters that includes, among others, an arrogant businessman, a pregnant young woman, and a tattooed criminal. It's an intriguing setup that fares best in the movie's first half, as the obvious novelty of the situation is heightened by the characters' apparent (and justified) confusion - with the narrative eventually adopting a rather repetitive feel as it progresses into its less-and-less interesting midsection (ie the film becomes more about the group's infighting than their efforts at figuring out what's going on). It certainly doesn't help, either, that Circle's third act seems to consist entirely of the survivors making a series of deals to determine who goes next, while the thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion ensures that the whole thing ends on as underwhelming a note as one could've envisioned - thus cementing the movie's place as an ambitious low-budget endeavor that doesn't, in the end, wholeheartedly work.

out of

Brick (October 23/15)

Rian Johnson's debut, Brick follows Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Brendan as he embarks on a quest to discover who murdered his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin's Emily) - with Brendan's quest aided and hindered by a variety of exceedingly, excessively off-kilter figures (including Noah Segan's Dode, Matt O'Leary's The Brain, and Lukas Haas' The Pin). It's clear immediately that Johnson isn't looking to offer up a typical high-school set mystery/drama, as Brick boasts an aggressively stylized sensibility that is, particularly at the outset, nothing short of disastrous - with the viewer's efforts at embracing both the narrative and the characters foiled at every turn by Johnson's less-than-subtle modus operandi. The movie's arms-length atmosphere persists until Brendan starts his investigation in earnest, with Gordon-Levitt's predictably captivating performance playing an integral role in Brick's dramatic transformation from interminable experiment to decent thriller. It's impossible, however, to completely connect to the material at any point during the film's overlong running time, as Johnson's screenplay, heavily inspired by the works of Dashiell Hammett, relies far too much on artificial-sounding rhythms that are compounded by one's ongoing struggles at discerning what's actually being said (eg "see the Pin pipes it from the lowest scraper for Brad Bramish to sell, maybe.") Johnson's obvious comfort behind the camera ensures that Brick is, at the very least, watchable, and yet it's impossible not to wish that the first-time filmmaker hadn't leaned quite so heavily on the antiquated shenanigans.

out of

Grace: The Possession (October 26/15)

Though it features an admittedly interesting gimmick at its core - the film does, for the majority of its running time, unfold entirely from the perspective of its central character - Grace: The Possession quickly (and repeatedly) establishes itself as a generic, thoroughly run-of-the-mill horror effort that wears out its welcome almost immediately. The narrative follows Alexia Fast's sweet, naive protagonist as she arrives at college and soon begins experiencing odd occurrences, with Grace's strict grandmother (Lin Shaye's Helen) eventually bringing the girl home to receive treatment/counseling from a pair of priests (Alan Dale's John and Joel David Moore's Luke). The aforementioned point-of-view visuals initially go a long way towards compensating for the hopelessly familiar storyline, with filmmaker Jeff Chan using the first-person perspective to infuse certainly early sequences with a bite that would otherwise be absent. It's not long, however, before the novelty of the movie's appearance is rendered moot, as scripters Chan and Chris Pare flood the midsection with elements of an aggressively hackneyed nature - with the complete and utter lack of surprises ensuring that one can't help but tune out as the film progresses. (The frustratingly deliberate pace only exacerbates the movie's growing atmosphere of tedium, to be sure.) And while the larger-than-life exorcism that dominates the third act injects the proceedings with some much-needed energy, Grace: The Possession is ultimately an ineffective experiment that demonstrates why more films haven't been shot using a POV sensibility.

out of

D.O.A. (October 26/15)

D.O.A. follows Edmund O'Brien's Frank Bigelow, a philandering accountant, as he arrives in San Francisco for a few days of rest and relaxation, with a routine trip to a local jazz club taking on a deadly vibe after Frank is slipped a slow-acting poison. Frank must subsequently embark on a quest to discover who has, for all intents and purposes, murdered him (and why), and the protagonist ultimately finds himself drawn into a confusing conspiracy involving an assortment of menacing characters. Though it ultimately fizzles out to a rather distressing degree, D.O.A. boasts an effective first half that's heightened by O'Brien's appropriately frantic performance and filmmaker Rudolph Maté's sleek, stylish visuals - with the noirish atmosphere ensuring that the movie, at the outset, manages to live up to the massive potential afforded by its seemingly foolproof premise. It's because of O'Brien's strong work as the dying central character that D.O.A. slowly-but-surely loses its grasp on the viewer, as scripters Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene take the emphasis off Frank's handling of the situation and instead stress the disappointingly dull conspiracy that led to his fatal condition - with the needlessly convoluted narrative paving the way for an action-oriented third act that falls flat. And while the downbeat conclusion is admittedly impressive in its abruptness, D.O.A. is ultimately an underwhelming thriller that could and should have fared so much better.

out of

Truth (October 28/15)

The directorial debut of screenwriter James Vanderbilt, Truth follows news producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) as she and reporter Dan Rather (Robert Redford) prepare and film a report detailing discrepancies in George W. Bush's military service - with the 60 Minutes piece eventually coming under close scrutiny after the veracity of certain elements are questioned. Vanderbilt, working from his own screenplay, takes a deliberate, measured approach to the material that surely proves an effective choice, as Truth, for the most part, comes off as an engrossing little drama that benefits substantially from a raft of above-average performances. (In addition to Blanchett and Redford's typically stellar work, the movie boasts strong turns from a supporting cast that includes Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Bruce Greenwood.) And while the movie remains completely watchable from start to finish, Truth does suffer from an overlong running time that's exacerbated by a handful of overly dry stretches - with Vanderbilt's tendency to emphasize the minutia of the situation certainly not helping matters. It's clear, however, that Truth is at its best when focused on the hard-news aspects of the storyline, as Vanderbilt's handling of smaller, character-based moments generally fall flat (eg there's an almost astonishingly clumsy parallel drawn between Mapes' relationship between Rather and her abusive father). The end result is an interesting yet erratic true-life story that could and should have been so much better, with the inherently compelling subject matter compensating for the few missteps contained within Vanderbilt's approach.

out of

© David Nusair