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May Movie Review Round-up
Staci Layne Wilson
staci_wilson
AugustineAugustine – is a historical biopic which examines of the real case study and unusual relationship between Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, the pioneering 19th century French neurologist - whom Sigmund Freud studied under - and his star teenage patient, the illiterate kitchen maid Augustine. Prone to spectacular fits of “hysteria” in which she would writhe on the floor, expose and sexualize herself, Augustine is sent away for treatment to the local asylum. While the subject matter is interesting and the performances, cinematography, music and settings are beautiful, the story itself lacks focus and substance. As the plot unfolds, the aim comes undone, leaving the viewer abandoned and wanting.

Barrymore – Legendary actor Christopher Plummer reprises his Tony Award-winning performance as iconic stage and screen idol John Barrymore in this tour-de-force performance shot for tv and dvd viewing audiences. At the height of his career, Barrymore was the most celebrated entertainer of his generation. The reigning king of both Broadway and Hollywood, his decline and fall from grace was the tragic result of a self-destructive spiral into vice and excess. And now, with his career in tatters, he makes one final attempt to reclaim his former glory on the stage in this powerful, heartbreaking, humorous and compassionate portrait of a tortured soul and living legend. It reminded me a bit of one of my own favorite one-man-shows along those lines – Nevermore, in which Jeffrey Combs portrays a crumbling Edgar Allan Poe onstage. That’s where stories such as this belong: live, alive, and onstage. In spite of creating a CGI world around Plummer, much is lost in this translation, making an impressive performance from him seem inert.

Berberian Sound Studio – It’s 1976: Berberian Sound Studio is one of the cheapest, sleaziest post-production studios in Italy. Only the most sordid horror films have their sound processed in this studio. Gilderoy, played by Toby Jones, is a naive and meek sound engineer from the English countryside who is hired to orchestrate the audio mix for the latest film by a local horror maestro (probably modeled on Dario Argento, as the film Gilderoy is working on – The Equestrian Vortex – takes place at all-girls academy that’s riddled with witches). The longer the sound man spends mixing screams and the bloodcurdling sounds of hacking and stabbing, the more time and realities shift. Gilderoy finds himself lost in an otherworldly spiral of sonic and personal mayhem, and has to confront his own demons in order to stay afloat in an environment ruled by exploitation both on and off screen. Berberian Sound Studio is gorgeously shot, and authentically approximates period giallo music. The sound effects and design are crisp and clear, though the overdriven screams seem redundant and unrealistic after awhile. This is a film that could have benefitted greatly from tighter editing and a more definitive end-point.

Black Rock - Three 20-something women – Sarah (Kate Bosworth), Abby (Katie Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell) – get together for a private campout at one of the most treasured settings of their childhood, a derelict, uninhabited island off the coast of Maine. The idea is to renew their bond of sisterhood, which has fallen by the wayside over the years due to betrayal and lack of forgiveness. They quickly learn that the island is anything but empty, when they encounter three dishonorably discharges soldiers from the Gulf War, who have come to the island to hunt. Before long, the girls find themselves the targets of the hunt and are forced to band together in order to survive the senseless, relentless, attacks. Black Rock is needlessly imbued with ditzy dialogue heavily reliant on f-bombs; perhaps used to confuse and bombard an audience who’s already counting the plot holes and logic-lapses just five minutes in. This is another in a spate of recent films which which brings nothing new to the table, and makes one wonder why anyone (especially screenwriter Mark Duplass) felt this movie had to be made. Movies aren’t easy to make, so why bother with one that’s got so little going for it?

Dead Man’s Burden - Set in 1870 in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Dead Man's Burden is the story of young, beautiful and blonde – but tough as nails - Martha and her husband Heck, who are struggling to make ends meet on the New Mexico frontier. When a mining company expresses interest in buying their land, Martha and Heck see their ticket to a better life. Their hopeful plans are soon complicated when Martha’s oldest brother Wade, presumed dead during the war, returns to the family homestead after learning of their father’s death. Considering it’s a low-budget, shot-on-digital film, Dead Man’s Burden is an admirably ambitious project. The best westerns are usually epic… I think of my own favorites, like Once Upon a Time in the West, Dance With Wolves, or Unforgiven. It’s been many, many years since there’s been a worthy Western. Dead Man’s Burden isn’t it, but it’s not a bad horse opera and is unflinching in its depictions of harshness and violence.

Erased - stars Aaron Eckhart as a former CIA agent who moves to Belgium with his estranged 15-year-old daughter and takes a job as a security consultant at a multinational corporation. When he discovers that he and his child have been marked for termination as part of a wide-reaching international conspiracy, a game of cat-and-mouse ensues as Logan tries to outsmart his hunters and uncover the truth. The film was originally shot a couple of years ago and was released in other countries under the title The Expatriate. While Eckhart is excellent in the film, and I did like the dynamic of father/daughter rather than your standard ex-CIA dude/hot chick, the plot and the action sequences are routine. It’s a serviceable thriller, but brings nothing new to the arena.

Kiss of the Damned – Beautiful, alluring, ageless vampire Djuna tries to resist the advances of the handsome, human screenwriter Paolo, but gets swept away, gives in to their passion and makes him immortal as well. When her selfish, dangerous and rootless troublemaker sister Mimi unexpectedly comes to visit, not only is Djuna’s love is threatened, the whole vampire community becomes endangered. Here’s another ho-hum tale which brings little to its genre. Some of the stilted acting from the foreign cast is fun in a 1970s sexploitation way, and there is a bit of bloody eroticism, but any episode of True Blood is sexier, more entertaining and thought-provoking than Kiss of the Damned.

Parker – stars Jason Statham as… a small time crook on the run, burned, and out for revenge. Surprising, I know. But try to imagine Statham ripped to 0% body fat, wielding weapons of all manner, commandeering vehicles, making love to the ladies, and get even with the bad(der) guys. Also starring Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis, and Clifton Collins Jr., Parker is a functional enough actioner but lacks pizzazz.

Sightseers – Sloppy, bearded schlub Chris wants to show his new girlfriend, Tina, his world and he wants to do it his way: road-tripping through the British Isles in his Abbey Oxford Caravan. Tina’s led a sheltered life living with her castigating mum in their den of dogs, and so she’s eager to break free to see the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, and especially the Keswick Pencil Museum. But it doesn’t take long for the dream to fade. Litterbugs, teenagers, and over-booked caravan camp sites, not to mention Tina’s meddling mother, conspire to shatter Chris’s dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him the wrong way, over the edge. Snail-paced and about as suspenseful as a vacation slide show, Sightseers is not worth seeing at all.

Stuck In Love - Three years into his unwanted divorce, literary novelist Bill (Greg Kinnear) can’t stop obsessing over his ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly), now remarried. Even as his much younger friend-with-benefits, Tricia (Kristen Bell) tries to push him back into the dating pool, he remains blind to anyone else’s charms.  Meanwhile, his fiercely independent collegiate daughter Samantha is publishing her first novel while recoiling at the very thought of first love with a diehard romantic; and his teen son Rusty is trying to find his voice, both as a horror writer (Stephen King is his hero) and as the new boyfriend of a dream girl with nightmarishly real problems. Somewhat reminiscent of Californication, but lacking the sardonic bite, this sweet romantic dramedy and coming-of-age yarn is predictable but tolerable.

Thale – This Scandinavian dark fantasy film tells the tail, er, tale of a pair of crime-scene cleaners who discover a mythical, long-tailed she-creature in a concealed cellar. Her caretaker is dead and rotten upstairs, and she never utters a word, unable to tell her story. But the pieces of the puzzle soon come together, and the bumbling investigators realize she's been held captive for decades… and that she is not the only one. However, her sisters are far less friendly than she. Augmented by some rather hokey CGI (imagination is free; if the budget wasn’t enough to make the effects good enough, they should have been left out entirely), the suspense aspect quickly peters out and yet the story soldiers on. And on.
 

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