Mini Reviews (November 2016)
The Edge of Seventeen, Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood, Hidden Figures
The Edge of Seventeen (November 8/16)
Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen follows Hailee Steinfeld's Nadine, a less-than-popular high schooler, as she attempts to survive the trials and tribulations of one especially traumatic and eventful school year. It's fairly distressing to note that The Edge of Seventeen, despite its plethora of positive attributes, proves unable to overcome its often excessively familiar atmosphere, as first-time filmmaker Craig leans heavily on the various tropes and conventions one has come to expect from movies of this ilk - including a compassionate yet sardonic teacher (Woody Harrelson's Mr. Bruner) that imparts a series of life lessons to the protagonist and a love interest that's been right under our hero's nose the entire time. There's little doubt, then, that one's efforts at wholeheartedly embracing the material fall rather flat on a consistent basis, although it's equally clear that the movie does, at least, contain a number of welcome subplots and supporting performances - with the most obvious example of this Hayden Szeto's ingratiating and thoroughly charming turn as the aforementioned love interest. And while the film's midsection fares marginally better than one might've anticipated - the narrative settles into a somewhat watchable low-key, character-study type groove - The Edge of Seventeen climaxes with a misguidedly upbeat closing stretch that feels at odds with all that's come before - which ultimately confirms the movie's place as a forgettable teen drama that's rarely as compelling as its various performances (ie Steinfeld is often much, much better than the film deserves).
Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood
A slapdash, overlong, and downright interminable endeavor, Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood follows private investigator Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller) as he's hired by a pretty television producer (Erika Eleniak's Katherine Verdoux) to find her missing brother (Corey Feldman's Caleb) - with Rafe's investigation eventually leading him to an underground brothel populated entirely by vampires. It seems fairly obvious that Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood might've worked well as a half-hour episode of the eponymous TV series, but, as becomes more and more clear, there's simply not enough material here to wholeheartedly sustain an 87 minute feature - with the movie subsequently riddled with sequences that go on much, much too long (eg Rafe visits a bar to question a suspect, Caleb and a friend initially arrive at the aforementioned brothel, etc, etc). The increasingly distressing pacing issues aside, Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood boasts few attributes designed to keep the viewer from checking their watch every five minutes - with Miller's sarcastic performance ultimately progressing from amusing to nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying (ie he's just so relentlessly sardonic and cynical). It's clear, too, that the action-packed final stretch is as tedious and padded-out as everything preceding it, with the end result a hopelessly misbegotten and misconceived endeavor that should never have gotten the big-screen treatment.
Inspired by true events, Hidden Figures follows a trio of '60s-era African American women (Taraji P. Henson's Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer's Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monáe's Mary Jackson) as they overcome a variety of obstacles to help launch NASA's first successful space missions. It's inherently compelling subject matter that is, for the most part, executed to underwhelming effect by filmmaker Theodore Melfi, as the director, along with coscripter Allison Schroeder, approaches the material with a pervasively heavy hand that grows more and more aggressive as time progresses (ie there's just no subtlety anywhere here). The viewer's ongoing efforts at connecting to the admittedly likeable characters are thwarted at every turn, naturally, and it goes without saying that the film's many, many feel-good interludes are hardly as heartwarming as intended. Far more problematic, however, is the decidedly, often oppressively episodic bent of Hidden Figures' narrative, as the movie lurches from one padded-out, less-than-enthralling sequence to the next with little thought towards cohesiveness or momentum - which ensures that the film isn't able to generate the excitement obviously intended within its far-from-stirring third act. Hidden Figures' failure is a shame, certainly, given the potential afforded by its captivating real-life origins, and it's ultimately difficult to recall a more promising endeavor that so thoroughly squandered its various positive attributes.