For those of you keeping track, it’s Back-to-School Night, Part Deux at the cinemas this weekend. First stop, Sociology, where you’ll note the detailed study on how high school experiences impact the rest of one’s life. Biology is next, and a presentation on teen pregnancy. Then you’ll proceed to baseball in Gym, advanced studies in mise en place in Home Ec, and creating a video game OR filming a porno in Technology. In an unrelated note, there are also lots of cops on screen.
Horror film checklist: unsolved mystery, mentally disturbed and on-the-loose villain, sparsely populated locale, strikingly beautiful heroine(s). Check, check, check, check. We’ve got ‘em all in this weekend’s “House at the End of the Street,” from director Mark Tonderai. Newly divorced Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) moves to an upscale, rural community and into what she thinks will be her dream home, only to discover that the house next door is haunted by a case of patricide. Its inhabitant, Ryan (Max Thieriot), is the only survivor of a murderous rampage his sister enacted on their family many years earlier, her last act before mysteriously disappearing. Despite the obvious signs of depressed property values, Sarah and her daughter, Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), don’t get the hell out of Dodge. Instead, Elissa befriends Ryan, drawing the two women into the dangerous world of the house at the end of the street. Our review says the film “is like one of the ‘Twilight‘ films mixed with ‘The Devil’s Rejects,’ full of half-baked psychology, borderline inept filmmaking, and an undercurrent of deeply ugly misogyny that is scary, but not in the way the creative team intended. Forget about what happens in the movie, the mere act of watching ‘House at the End of the Street’ is an act of torture.” Metacritic: 40 Rotten Tomatoes: 11%
Veteran crime writer David Ayer (“Training Day,” “Street Kings”) delivers another tale that blurs the line between cops and criminals with “End of Watch,” which he also directs. Brian (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike (Michael Peña) are patrolling police officers for inner city Los Angeles (a favorite locale for Ayer), and often revert to questionable tactics as they enforce the law. Their hotheaded natures are tested beyond the usual dangers of the tough neighborhoods when the pair stumbles upon a massive conspiracy. Anna Kendrick co-stars. While Ayer clearly knows his characters and the locale and depicts them well, the film operates more as a recapitulation of his past work than as anything fresh. “Ayer has no concept of thematic or narrative follow-through, a fact that’s only emphasized by his trite use of POV photography to visually enhance violence,” we wrote in our review out of TIFF. MC: 66 RT: 85%
Clint Eastwood is still crotchety and family averse in “Trouble with the Curve,” from first-time director and longtime Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz. Eastwood plays a scout for the Boston Red Sox who, with little delight, brings his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), on a recruiting trip. The struggles in their relationship become clearer as the venture continues, and then Mickey has a romantic encounter with another scout (Justin Timberlake). Because someone should be nice to the girl! Our review says, “ ‘Trouble with the Curve’ doesn’t offer much nuance and attempts to reach emotional heights mostly via close-ups of Clint Eastwood welling-up while staring directly into the camera, while leaving a whole army of a cast completely underutilized,” concluding, “we’re left with a film that’s lifeless and below everyone who’s on screen.” MC: 59 RT: 54%
Pete Travis brings a dastardly (but charming) video game character to three dimensions (literally) in “Dredd 3D.” The titular Dredd (Karl Urban) is one of a swarm of vicious cops that monitor futuristic wasteland city Mega-City One; he’s the baddest baddie copper of them all, but also manages to improbably retain his humanity and sense of humor. Both come in quite handy when Dredd is saddled with a new recruit (Olivia Thirlby) whose below-average law enforcement abilities are compensated with her extensive psychic talents. And again once the duo is facing an army of housing project tenants unleashed by a drug lord (er, lady; played by Lena Headey). Our review says, “within genre conventions, ‘Dredd’ satisfies as a containment thriller, buddy cop movie and futuristic action gorefest; the performances are strong, the characters thoughtfully developed and the visuals beautifully executed,” but admits the film is “one without deeper substance to make its experience remotely meaningful.” MC: 57 RT: 80%
A year in high school is presented with realism and pathos as Stephen Chbosky translates his book, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” to the big screen. Upon entering ninth grade, the uncertain but optimistic Charlie (Logan Lerman) quickly comes under the tutelage of two seniors (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) who draw him into their group of friends, hoping to help him adjust to the rollercoaster rides that are high school and adolescence. Paul Rudd also stars. Our review says the film “presents teenagers as actual people, in all their complicated, messy and endearing ways, and it’s this quality that pushes the film far beyond your standard entry in the genre,” and reasons, “touching and brimming with the energy, enthusiasm and tides of teenage love and life, ‘Perks’ could very well be the next classic of the genre.” MC: 65 RT: 76%
The porn industry gets a squeaky clean veneer that somehow manages to seep into its core in “About Cherry,” directed by Stephen Elliott and co-written by Elliott and adult film actress Lorelei Lee. Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) wants to make more money, so her boyfriend suggests she pose for nude photos. Though initially miffed by the thought, it’s not too long before naked pics become naked videos. For professionals (including a director played by Rollergirl… that is, Heather Graham). And for cash. Clearly a logical progression for a super-sweet small-town girl who’s short a couple bucks. James Franco, Dev Patel, Lili Taylor, Jonny Weston, and Diane Farr co-star. Our review says, “the cast works hard at being winning in often unsympathetic roles. But the story’s flaws run so deep and the writing is so pedestrian that it’s really difficult to find much to cheer about. ‘Cherry’ tries hard to provoke us into reassessing the porn industry, but is so ham-fisted that the result is not a look on the bright side, but a whitewash.” MC: 35 RT: 11%
Following the release of several documentaries that showcase artistry in the world of haute cuisine is an explanation of how the featured chefs garner fame and stature in the first place. Lutz Hachmeister’s “Three Stars” focuses on ten Michelin-starred chefs working at nine different restaurants, exploring their various techniques and styles to determine what has made each of them a standout. Meanwhile, interviews with Michelin Guide representatives offer insight to the effects a rating may have on a chef’s and/or restaurant’s business and reputation. Our review says, “ ‘Three Stars’ is a treat, largely because it eschews the standard arc of documentaries. Even though it runs a bit over 90 minutes long, the film is patient and lingers with its subjects and narrative arc, allowing viewers to truly become immersed and appreciative of each of the chefs and their particular goals and aspirations,” and calls the doc “a gentle reminder of the people who are truly interested, fascinated and forever challenged by food, and strive to innovate and reorient our relationship with it.” MC: 52 RT: 20%
The tremendous and impactful social movement that arose in the face of the AIDS crisis is documented in “How to Survive a Plague.” Director David France has been recording related events from the movement’s earliest days, and through his observations, provides a view of a group of people forced into activism by repeated social and scientific rejections. Eyewitness accounts, archival footage, interviews with key scientists, and detailed explanations of drug development and experimentation unite to create a documentary that is teeming with real, touching emotion and necessary knowledge alike. Our review says, “it’s a remarkable work that is emotional, educational, and most importantly, empowering. One of the best documentaries, and best films, of the year, it is required viewing for anyone with a desire for making their own world a better place, inspiring you to act up and fight back.” MC: 92 RT: 100%
The incidence of brain trauma within the realm of contact sports is explored in “Head Games,” a documentary from Steven James (“Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters“). Medical experts offer extensive evidence on the dangers of concussions, including a peek into the dissection of a real brain. Meanwhile, athletes and coaches at all levels of play share their experiences of head trauma. The doc also illustrates how the stigma of subbing out of a game after a big hit is consistently contrasted with the longterm effects of repeated concussive blows. Finally, an examination of how professional leagues are changing their policies to better protect their players’ health rounds out the picture. Our review says, “an absolutely potent blend of science, investigative journalism (the anecdotes by New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz are particularly illuminating and entertaining) and first-hand accounts from parents and players, Steven James’ brisk film succeeds because it refuses to be alarmist. Instead, it’s a deeply humane and moving look at a complex issue that at the very least demands that a conversation begins not about short term fixes, but long term solutions.” MC: 68 RT: 67%
A group of teenagers form an exclusive club for those who are expecting in “17 Girls,” from French directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin. Rooted in actual events from a town in Masschusetts, the film begins with a high school girl’s revelation to her friends that she’s pregnant. Not too much later, another in the group follows suit, sparking the idea that they could turn their clique of popular girls into a collective for young, single mothers – if they were all pregnant. So then they are – all with child, that is – and predictably invoking the ire and confusion of their community’s adults. Our review says, “the story is ripe for a greater understanding of class and sexual values, ones that the film does not pursue in favor of depictions of the life of youth untethered, unmanaged, and true. The accomplishments of ‘17 Girls’ lean towards truth simply out of the film’s own clear-headedness, but the avoidance of the troubling/fascinating aspects of the story make the film less art, and more of a boilerplate ‘Based On True Events’ account.” MC: 59 RT: 71%
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