Mini Reviews (January 2017)
Satanic (January 4/17)
Astonishingly tedious from beginning to end, Satanic follows four friends (Sarah Hyland's Chloe, Steven Krueger's David, Justin Chon's Seth, and Clara Mamet's Elise) as they decide to tour a series of true-crime occult sites in and around the Los Angeles area - with horror ensuing as the one-dimensional protagonists inevitably run afoul of a real-life satanist. It's almost impressive just how uninvolving Satanic remains for the duration of its punishing runtime, as director Jeffrey G. Hunt, along with scripter Anthony Jaswinski, proves hopelessly unable to draw the viewer into the deliberately-paced and thoroughly meandering narrative - with the movie's hands-off atmosphere compounded by a total lack of compelling or sympathetic central characters (ie they're all just so bland). The directionless bent of Jaswinski's screenplay paves the way for a midsection that's rife with irrelevant and inconsequential detours, and it does, as a result, become increasingly clear that the filmmakers simply don't have enough content to sustain the movie's 85 minutes. There reaches a point, then, at which the viewer is left with little to do aside from wait for the far-from-likeable characters to start croaking, although it's worth noting that Hunt even manages to bungle this seemingly foolproof aspect of the proceedings - as each and every one of the film's deaths occur offscreen. The appreciatively grim conclusion does little to allay the otherwise interminable atmosphere, to be sure, and it's ultimately difficult to recall a more misguided and downright torturous low-budget horror flick (ie this really is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff).
Lion (January 11/17)
Based on a true story, Lion follows five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) as he inadvertently climbs aboard a closed train and, days later, finds himself thousands of kilometers from home without a way to get back - with the movie subsequently detailing Saroo's eventual adoption by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman's Sue and David Wenham's John) and, decades later, his decision to track down his birth family. There's ultimately little doubt that Lion works best in its low-key yet surprisingly compelling first half, as filmmaker Garth Davis places an emphasis on Saroo's episodic exploits on the streets of Calcutta and, eventually, his rescue by the aforementioned couple - with the inherently fascinating nature of these scenes heightened by Pawar's impressive turn as the affable central character (ie Saroo, in his hands, is just such a sympathetic figure). The movie's momentum does take a palpable hit, however, once the focus shifts to the adult Saroo (played by Dev Patel) and his efforts at finding his family, as the protagonist's largely internal struggles (eg should he embark on a search, how does he search, etc, etc) results in a second half that feels, for the most part, like it's spinning its wheels. The strong work by the various performers - Kidman hasn't been this good in quite some time - generally compensates for the palpable unevenness, while the feel-good climactic stretch ensures that Lion concludes on a decidedly positive note (which, though not enough to compensate for the erratic midsection, at least confirms the movie's place as an interesting story told relatively well).