Encapsulated Movie Reviews – Nine New Indie Titles

Keeping the love of all things indie going, this week presents some interesting cinema in many different genres to keep the avid film fan busy.  (Or at least provide a distraction to the weekend box office chewing Marvel movie machine!)  Docs on the dark side of show business, controversial conservation and caustic comedians, stories about dying more than once, the power of an immortal swordsman, the danger of an overactive imagination, playing another round of ‘do you want to play a game’, the life of a past president and an immigrant tale like no other all make up the nine flicks covered in this weeks edition of Encapsulated Movie Reviews.  Check out the critical opinions on An Open Secret, Happy Death Day, A River Below, Blade Of The Immortal, Gerald’s Game, Gilbert, Jigsaw, LBJ and Most Beautiful Island below!

(Esponda Productions)

A damning and affecting doc that unfortunately fits into the current sick sexual assault state of affairs, Amy Berg’s An Open Secret will make you scream.  Scream that show business parents show such naiveté towards the adult around their talented teens, scream that the hopes and dreams of youngsters are being quashed and used against them for nefarious purposes and scream that such vile behavior still exists today.  (Hey SAG-AFTRA stop trying to suing storyteller Berg and go after the real predators who target kids – shame on you!)  But most of all it’s the offenders themselves both known (vile talent Manager Marty Weiss admits his dark deeds on tape!) and unknown (skinhead character from The Return of the Living Dead Brian Peck is a sex offender – who knew? – that still works with kids today – gross!) who do everything from selling the kids headshot on eBay to eager perverts to creating a commune of creepiness where pedophilia runs rampant that will make anyone and everyone scream till their skin crawls.  With X-Men director Bryan Singer seemingly poised to be the next big story scandal in Hollywood (he’s heavily entangled with disturbing events in the doc), hopefully the cycle of underage abuse will – open or closed – be a secret no more.

(Universal Pictures)

While the idea of dying and reliving the same day over and over has been done to death both in comedic (Groundhog Day still rocks!) and horror (see the five-star The Deaths of Ian Stone!) film forms, what makes Happy Death Day stand out is not it’s recycled story line, but what lies in between.  Meaning even the film acknowledges the unoriginality in its core theme, but then adds unexpected healthy doses of humor and heart (surprise, surprise!) to create something scary but special.  It’s a testament to the talent of Director Christopher B. Landon (see his previous dark and clever five-star outing Burning Palms for more of the same genius!) and his two charismatic leads (the naughty then nice Jessica Rothe and earnest Israel Broussard!) that they’re able to move past familiar film territory and create a memorable movie – been there, done that, but still happy to die again.

(Independent Release)

When I saw the review quote ‘A River Below will f@ck you up’ I had to witness its doc wares for myself – and that critic wasn’t lying.  Going on a journey that questions the moral and ethical ramifications of a damning act of extreme conservation, what’s genius about A River Below is that it takes no sides.  Simply chronicling all angles of a leaked video stunt involving the slaughter of a dolphin, helmer Mark Grieco exposes much more than what’s on the tape to give human context to a tragedy with good intentions that effects everyone involved.  Good and bad, saints and sinners, A River Below let’s them all come out in the wash.

(Magnet Releasing)

While this 100th film from master craftsman Takashi Miike is a tad overblown and with long story lags, that’s not to say there isn’t ‘take your breath away’ moments we have come to expect from the famed Japanese director.  Steeped in sensational sequences (the opening sword battle is exhaustingly decadent!), insane ideas (sacred worms fusing wounds keep the lead immortal hero together!) and classic Miike visuals, the only problem with Blade of the Immortal is there is too much of it – at times an assault on the cinematic senses.  So while overly ambitious and way too long, Miike’s 100th is still a damn fine movie mess.


There’s an effective ‘theatre of the mind’ angle running throughout this movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, but it’s a clever tactic that here grows tired.  Meaning there’s only so much impending dread that can be had via the mindset of Carla Gugino’s handcuffed to a bed stranded and frustrated wife.  And while there are great uses of characters that aren’t real (love the sassy undead Bruce Greenwood as Gugino’s sadistic husband!) and that possibly are (more of Carel Struycken’s Moonlight Man please!), the film never rises above simply being a clever gimmick used to tell a story of skeletons in the closet.  Never reaching is full fright potential, Gerald’s Game feels tied down.

(Submarine Deluxe)

At long last we get to see the man behind the curtain known as comedian Gilbert Gottfried – is there more to the funnyman than a notoriously caustic false front?  Yes…and no.  We do get a fascinating look into the childhood of a young Gilbert, his humble beginnings, telling tales via his two sisters and hidden personal details that captivate.  (Notoriously cheap Gottfried rides the bus to gigs and hordes complimentary hotel toiletries like they’re going out of style!)  But it’s the exposing of his seemingly empty personal life that lends itself to a merely going through the motions existence.  Seeing him awkwardly interact with his two kids, his desire to constantly be on the road and his by-the-book seemingly relationship with his significant other (their lack of chemistry and off body language speaks volumes!) opens up little in terms of doors of depth – lots of funny, not much feeling.


Getting away from the rushed sequel once a year and taking over seven in between films, one would think Jigsaw would be a well-crafted return to house that John Kramer built, right?  Wrong. Yet another mundane and uninspired sequel that could have come out in 2011, Jigsaw once again plays with timelines and the death of Kramer to play out a film that’s business as usual.  (Undead filmmakers The Spierig Brothers – what happened?!)  And while there are a few clever kills, twists and turns, Jigsaw is still a puzzle successfully finished years ago that should have been put back on the shelf.

(Electric Entertainment)

While seeing the noble actions of former president Lyndon B. Johnson going from an aging dinosaur to a progressive politician in the wake of the Kennedy assassination is interesting to the uninitiated, LBJ is still a tad on the dramatic dry side.  Meaning even the paring of a dedicated Woody Harrelson and whimsical storyteller Rob Reiner doesn’t make the lackluster subject matter any easier to swallow and instead of being an engaging outing it feels more like a dull Oscar reaching one.  In a world where the movie magic should be front and center, LBJ hovers disappointingly in the background.

(Orion Pictures / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Proving that even female filmmakers can create work that’s gratuitous and exploitative, this extreme take on the struggles of immigrant life plays out like a more explicit version of Fear Factor. Director, writer and lead actress Ana Asensio uses salacious shocks to heighten her tale of downtrodden undocumented young women – nudity, humiliation, apathy and abuse – but instead of adding meaning the movie comes across as just plain mean.  It could have been a conscious choice on behalf of Asensio, but that still doesn’t make rough ride Most Beautiful Island one to recommend.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

2 Responses to “Encapsulated Movie Reviews – Nine New Indie Titles”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Man, I’m so in the weeds with Happy Death Day and apparently quite alone.

  2. Brian White

    Man I need to see this Happy Death Day. Looked like a throw away movie, but everyone except Aaron is raving about it as a MUST-SEE!