There’s going to be some major Park City film coverage taking over this month, so before I head out thought I’d leave you film fans with a quick current critical film sneak peek to tide you over. So in my very first Encapsulated Movie Reviews column of 2017 I lost some sleep and took on a whopping seven films that you can check out while I’m movie binging in Utah. A doc on family vs. religion, a heist flick by a gal who’s been making movies since she was twelve, a dark drama about disappearance, a graphic novel come to life, a suspense story told from two different perspectives and two horror tales that both scream beware of strangers – WHEW! Check out the skinny on the films An Act Of Love, Coin Heist, Claire In Motion, Bad Kids of Crestview Academy, Detour, We Are The Flesh and The Bye Bye Man all below!
AN ACT OF LOVE
A doc with a story filled with interesting twists and turns, An Act Of Love tells the tale of the fallout that befalls a local Pennsylvania pastor named Frank Schaefer when he decides to officiate his son’s same sex marriage ceremony against the church’s laws. With interviews and perspectives on both sides of the issue, the doc has candid conversations that are damning (Good News guy Rev. Rob Renfroe’s ‘wish it would go away” approach to the subject of the LGBTQ is denial at it’s finest!) and telling (the folks upset seem to be reaching for issues!), but also uplifting (hearing from Schaefer’s supporters brings a tear to the eye!) as well. And while there’s no particular style savvy to this very straightforward doc, it’s the devoted dedication of a man to his son no matter what that truly lifts Love high.
For a gal who got her start making a zombie film at the ripe old age of twelve, writer/director Emily Hagins has certainly grown to be a fine filmmaker. Not only does she manage to get some very moving turns out of her high-school set characters, but her robbery set pieces are fairly well staged. (I did get tense at times!) Not that there aren’t some flaws in her storytelling (the whole idea of the motley crew making counterfeit coins to sell and save their school is a tad obtuse!) and overblown ideas (Emily would be wise to abandon unneeded gimmicks and make a straight forward teen drama – she’s got the skills!), but Coin Heist has way more good stuff than bad that demands Hagins be appropriately hailed.
CLAIRE IN MOTION
(Breaking Glass Pictures)
I actually loved the premise of this one – wife wake to find her husband and father of her only child has disappeared and begins to try to unravel the mystery behind it. Problem is in the execution, which has results that are less than spectacular both from a plot twists and emotional gut punch point of view. What does save this one from being just another ho-hum drama is the sullen work by leading lady Betsy Brandt as the titular Claire – her face tells a more layered tale than the story and screenplay combined.
BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADEMY
Another example of a graphic novel come to life that just can’t quite translate the panel panache to the big screen. Not that this tale of a murder mystery happening within the hallowed halls of Crestwood Academy during Saturday detention doesn’t have a few good gory moments (the table saw kill is a bitch!) quirky characters (Sean Astin’s doofus Headmaster is good for a few laughs!), and sinful one-liners, but surprisingly all the fun and originality on the page just doesn’t come across – even when forced animated sequences are used. A tad tired and trite, these Bad Kids we’ve seen before.
Detour is a flick that has a serious problem of trying way too hard to be smart. Meaning within it’s dark themes and gimmick of using two storylines based on different decisions (it’s choose your own adventure!), the film becomes so obsessed with being one step ahead of the audience that it forgets to enlist characters we care about. Lead Tye Sheridan, so real and raw in Mud and Joe, is totally miscast as a distraught teen with skeletons, Bel Powley wasted as the emotionless femme fatal and Emory Cohen forgettable as a one-note bad guy. (John Lynch, aka Shades from Hardware, deserves much better too!) Messy and unmemorable, this is one cinematic scenic route not worth taking.
WE ARE THE FLESH
What begins as a fascinating and creepy tale of an unstable man living underground who is forced to deal with a new brother and sister team who show up looking for help, suddenly out of nowhere turns into an uninspired explicit array of sexually deviant behavior and it’s not a pretty picture. Close-ups of male and female genitalia, oral sex in full view and incest and rape are all used for shock value in an attempt to be controversial, but frankly have little dramatic effect. So while this one may be trying to be a thought-provoking auteur piece with stark visuals, shocking themes and a sense of discombobulating otherworld irony, the sad Flesh still feels stagnate.
THE BYE BYE MAN
Unapologetically lopping off big cinematic story chunks from the likes of Candyman (don’t say his name!), Final Destination (he will find you!) and even It Follows (it never stops!) without any of the excitement or originality, The Bye Bye Man is a horror flick that only utilizes lame jump scares and unscary monsters – all to no effect. (Plus the anticipation of the titular baddie is much more scary than the real thing!) Not to mention that acting is bargain basement (sole exception Carrie-Anne Moss who is barely in the film!), the story all over the place and outcome perfectly predictable. Bad big budget genre work at it’s worst, bye-bye is a fitting sentiment.