Movie Review — “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise”

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The charms of “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise,” essentially a tour documentary about a big pop band created by an Australian megachurch, plum evaded me.

Meandering, stream-of-Biblical consciousness tunes, all under-written and over-produced pop pablum, performed by bearded, ripped-jeans wearing 30something white Aussie hipsters? Who wants to hear that? Or see the (labored, but not inspired) music in the process of creation?

Many do, apparently. They don’t play to empty houses.

The youth ministry group Hillsong provides subtitles with the lyrics, not just for the film, but on stage as well. They’re the sort of tunes one forgets before first hearing — generic, wussy chords, murky sound mixes that don’t seem to capture half of the instruments we can see members “playing” on stage.

No, kids. Raising your hands to the sky doesn’t make the songs better. It just signals your audience to grade you on the Christian curve.

It’s a musical ministry that has toured the world, a dozen or so musicians “with purpose, with a calling.”

They’re a “family ministry” (lots of people with the same last name, like any family business). Group members declare “You don’t work for a church to earn money…It’s not worth what we’re being paid, but it’s worth what we’re doing.”

They’re looking for converts, or actually to revive the already converted, with their tunes about the one “seated on high, the Undefeated One…There is no other name — Jesus Christ, Our God.”

You don’t have to question their sincerity — their back stories, families separated for months at a time during tours, the baby born with a heart murmur, the worship leader whose sister killed herself — to roll your eyes at these wimpy, flat shimmering piles of notes they call songs. Michael John Warren’s film renders the stage productions honestly, the tunes open to lyrical mockery and the band itself whiter-than-whitewashed, duller than dull.

“The songs mean nothing if they don’t help people connect with God,” one member — and really, aside from Taya Smith, they all blandly blend into one — proclaims. So the tunes, pieced together on smart phones and then vetted by their ministry for Biblical rectitude, aren’t necessarily meant to be chart-topping singles. Still, the film reveals a creative process that is short on…something.

“I’m trying to find the words, but it’s like, ‘Jesus, please, now!'”

Let’s not blame Jesus for bad poetry.

They’re passable singers, but nobody who could cut the mustard on Broadway or “Australian Idol.”

They say their biggest worry, in between facing enraptured True Believer crowds in famous venues all over the world (Red Rocks, the LA Forum) is “being underwhelming.”

Are you ready for some bad news, kids?

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MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements

Cast: Jad Gillies, Taya Smith, Matt Crocker, Michael Guy Chislet, Brian Houston, Bobbie Houston, Joel Houston, Dylan Thomas
Credits: Directed by Michael John Warren. A Pureflix release.

Running time: 1:49

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Movie Review: “Magnificent Seven” only middling this time around

seven1Antoine Fuqua and his screenwriters take care to credit the original Japanese “Seven Samurai” screenplay, and still utterly miss the point with their “Magnificent Seven” remake.

A tale of redemption, of desperate men facing their fates with the fatalism and bravado of their code becomes a simplistic shoot-em-out under the director of “Training Day.” It’s all about revenge, gunplay and mass slaughter, with sassy characters delivering death and jokey one-liners in the Old West.

Fuqua tried, in other words, to deliver “the cool parts” of the 1960 “The Magnificent Seven,” but seems to have forgotten much of how those were set up, given nobility and meaning, by the Americanized version of Akira Kurosawa’s film. And slapping Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score over the closing credits doesn’t excuse all that comes before.

Denzel Washington has the Yul Brynner role, that of a man in black with a black hat on a black horse — a black man, this time — summoned to save a town under the thumb of a ruthless gang of cutthroats.

The gang, this time, are the hired guns of a rapacious mine operator (Peter Sarsgard) whose mines poison their water, enslaves miners and demands that every other honest citizen in Rose Creek sell-out and leave town.

Sam Chisum (Washington), a “sworn warrant officer” of assorted courts, licensed lawman of several Western states, is who the spunky widow (Haley Bennett) turns to.

“I seek righteousness, as should we all,” she hisses. “But I’ll settle for revenge!”

Chisum — “not a bounty hunter” — proceeds to use his own “Most Wanted” list –ostensibly, the desperadoes he is supposed to be hunting — to flesh out his posse.

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Chris Pratt is the wisecracking, card-hustling, hard-drinking Faraday, who interrupts the brothers who are about to shoot him with a card trick.

“You’ll get a hoot outta this!”

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is the Latino pistolero they need.

“Oh good, we got a Mexican.”

Ethan Hawke is the drawling New Orleans-born sharp-shooter/poet who quotes Shakespeare and comes with his very own Chinese knife-fighter partner (Byung-hun Lee). They somewhat resemble the Robert Vaughn and James Coburn characters in the 1960 film.

Matrin Sensmeier is a Commanche exiled by his tribe and ready to sign on.

And Vincent D’Onofrio, plus-sized, high-voiced and Bible quoting, is the aged mountain man/Indian fighter who steals the movie.

“I b’lieve that bear is wearin’ people’s clothes.”

I liked the weathered, dust-covered (save for Denzel’s duds) world Fuqua gives us, though that attention to detail wavers during the epic shoot-out that is the film’s long, drawn out finale. Characters fill the air with lead, shriek about being “low on ammo,” while we can see gun belts fully laden with bullets around their waists.

History’s laziest Westerns, many of which starred John Wayne, featured those magical talismans the Gatling Gun and dynamite at crucial moments. It’s not a spoiler to say they turn up here. The derivative, unschooled script makes us expect them.

This “Seven” is more diverse, less patronizing than the famous Western it remakes. But it lacks the moral certitude and righteousness of its predecessor, a pre-Vietnam “America saves Paradise from a Dictator” allegory.

Stripped of their samurai origins, no longer hungry swordsmen or gunmen desperate for one last gasp at making a noble statement as they earn a few meals and a pittance from peasants, most of the characters lack the higher purpose that motivated earlier versions of this tale.

And without that, all they’re left with is one-liners and six-shooters, both of which pop off with unerring precision if little motivation.

 

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 for extended and intense sequences of Western violence, and for historical smoking, some language and suggestive material

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Haley BennettVincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgard,Byung-hun Lee Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, 
Credits: Directed by Antoine Fuqua, script by Richard WenkNic Pizzolatto. An MGM/Columbia release.

Running time: 2:12

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Movie Review: “My Blind Brother”

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Guilt, love and pity wrestle for primacy in “My Blind Brother,” a cute and cutting romantic comedy about the “able” person stuck in the shadows behind a blind “hero.”

That’s how everyone refers to “The Amazing Robbie,” a character given a mean, narcissistic edge by Adam Scott. He can’t see, but he runs Ohio marathons. He’s planning a Great Lakes swim. All for his charity, the Out of Sight Foundation.

All for others. Right.

Maybe brother Bill (ever-droll Nick Kroll) wouldn’t feel that way. He’s the guy who has to train with Robbie, the brother with eyesight lashed to him by a ribbon so that Robbie can manage his latest media-friendly feat. He’s the fellow Robbie always forgets to thank from the podium, or interviewed on TV. He’s an afterthought, even to his parents.

“Look, Robbie, I made your favorite, moussaka!,” Mom says. As for Bill?

“You can just take the eggplant out.”

Bill is guilted into each new exploit, even though he wants out.

“Kids don’t stop being blind, Bill.”

Bill drowns his guilt-ridden sorrows in a bar, where he meets a weeping, equally guilt-ridden Rose, played with heart and hurt by Jenny Slate. Her boyfriend was hit by a bus — right after she broke up with him. The Rose and Bill drinking game becomes “Who is the worse human being?”

“I’m a superficial narcissist!”

“I’m lazy and resentful!”

They have chemistry, shared misery, and their alcoholic embrace would go somewhere, only she won’t let it. Too soon. Too guilt-ridden.

But what does Rose find to atone for that guilt, after giving up drunken delusions of Peace Corps service? She’ll become a ‘reader,’ the guide a blind athlete needs to lead him through his exploits. And wouldn’t you know it? That guy turns out to be Robbie.

Writer-director Sophie Goodhart tore down and rebuilt her 2003 short of the same title for this, hanging onto one very funny central idea. The disabled can be…difficult. And demanding. And self-centered.

blind2.jpgThe dynamic here is that Rose stumbles into a pity affair with Robbie, while Bill pines away for her as they share training responsibilities. Zoe Kazan is Rose’s annoyed roommate, the one she tries to palm Bill off on, the one who sees where the real sparks are and what sad, broken-hearted Rose is really up to.

Charlie Hewson is funny as Bill’s blind, dope-smoking pal, the one who reassures Bill that Robbie “isn’t so amazing.” Talia Tabin (“Parks & Rec”) stings Bill’s rude, bullying Russian underling at the photocopy shop he manages. 

The love triangle here, all co-stars on TV’s “Parks & Rec,” clicks largely because of Jenny Slate’s “Obvious Child” fearlessness. She makes a “morning after” nude scene hilarious by scrambling into panties backwards.

As Rose and Bill threaten to give in to the inevitable, behind Robbie’s back but not actually behind it because he’s blind and doesn’t need to have his back turned, Slate, Kroll and a deadpan Scott make getting undressed, then hurriedly dressed, a sparkling bit of physical comedy.

“My Blind Brother” takes things in some very predictable directions, and Goodhart was too goodhearted to let Scott go full-bore jerk as Robbie. The character errs on the side of anti-archetype. He’s believably real — as real as Bill’s grim acceptance of his fate and his responsibility for it, as real as Rose’s resignation about doing one good thing for one person, no matter what it costs her.

All that adds up to a comedy with chuckles instead of belly laughs, and not quite enough of those, and poignant moments of hard, sad reality that everyone plays nearly perfectly.

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MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexuality and drug use

Cast: Adam Scott, Jenny Slate, Nick Stoll, Zoe Kazan
Credits: Written and directed by Sophie Goodhart A Starz Digital release.

Running time: 1:25

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Movie Review: “Danny Says” profiles a musical tastemaker for a generation

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Danny Fields was “the Company Freak” for Elektra Records in the 1960s, the “interface” between the drugs, sex and rock’n roll culture he immersed himself in, and “the suits.”

He was “the speck of sand in the oyster” who instigated great things — The Doors’ rise to stardom, the birth of Glam.

He is a gay man who “was never in, he was always ‘out'” who identified many a future star, from ur punks the MC-5 to Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen to The Ramones.

That last band, which launched punk in both America and Britain, even wrote a song about him. The new documentary about Fields, “Danny Says,” takes its title from that tune, and offers a refreshingly frank if somewhat adoring appreciation for the man who always seemed to be not where the action was, but where it was going.

Brendan Toller’s film has Fields, born Daniel Feinberg, accepting plaudits hurled his way by Iggy (born James Newell Osterberg, Jr), Alice Cooper, Judy Collins and others.

And he hum-brags through 100 minutes or so of Danny’s Greatest Hits.

The magazine that published the infamous Beatles’ “more popular than Jesus” interview and quote? Danny ran it.

The guy who transformed Elektra from a sleepy folk record label to a rock and then punk giant? Danny, as a sort of A & R guy and Dr. Feelgood, pulled that off.

His gift was he would “look at something every else should see,” Iggy says. From The Doors to Aerosmith, Lou Reed to Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Danny was the first to see and hear something special in them.

It’s rare to hear someone at the heart of the drug-addled/corpse-riddled music scene of the 1960s speak so frankly about the era and his place in it without apology. Danny Fields is that guy.

Yeah, he got Iggy, introduced Iggy to Bowie, and gave Iggy his first taste of cocaine. No, Jim Morrison didn’t care for him at all. According to Danny.

He glommed onto the Warhol crowd, pushed Nico into the spotlight and at Jim Morrison and always had the best drugs when the artists wanted them. He hung with music tastemaker journalist Lisa Robinson, and has funny anecdotes about boats she missed.

But as celebratory as Toller’s film is, Fields comes off as not necessarily the best influence to have in your corner. The death toll among his “discoveries” speaks to that, though the film doesn’t broach that subject.

No more than the subject of him changing his name. A lovely prologue lets Fields show us his bar mitvah home movies and rattle off his wunderkind college arrival, his odd jobs on his way to where the action was. But there’s something a little creepy about him that Toller doesn’t pursue.

Was he hand-picked to make this film? His IMDB biography seems self-written and just as self-adoring, an artiste provocateur.

Which is what this film actually lacks, provocation. The film celebrates him, but the lack of critical mulling over from people who aren’t in his fan club doesn’t keep him from seeming somewhat unlikeable.

Danny Fields is no “Supermensch,” no Tom Dowd, no matter what “Danny Says.”

You can’t help but feel a lot was left unsaid, that even the frankest comments seem only about the dead, that Danny Fields was everything he says he was — and more, and just possibly, less.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity, frank discussions of drugs and sexuality

Cast: Danny Fields, Iggy Pop, Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, Jann Wenner, John Cameron Mitchell, Jac Holzman
Credits: Written and directed by Brendan Toller. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:47

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Box Office: “Blair Witch” bests “Bridget?” “Snowden” bombs,”Sully” closes in on $70

boxThe heroic pilot picture “Sully” will enjoy one more weekend at the top of the fall box office, thanks to a strong Friday and projections that it will hit the $21-22 million mark for the weekend, and $70 million overall, by midnight Sunday.

Next week, “Deep Water Horizon” will chase Hanks and Clint off the top spot. Trust me.

None of the newcomers are setting the world on fire, which means whatever the Brits and the rest of the world may still love about Bridget Jones and her now-digital diary, America is over her and Renee Zellweger and Firth. They waited entirely too long to make the third film, and did such a horrid job with the second one.

It should have a certain f-bomb laced resonance with an over 35 audience, late unplanned pregnancy, etc. But the character hasn’t matured as she’s aged beyond “klutzy cute kid” and Zellweger has fallen off the radar, with only her alterations to her appearance meriting any coverage during this long, fallow stretch of her career.

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” will clear $8 million, kind of a bomb. It may give the “Blair Witch” reboot a run for its money, but even that is underperforming, opening in the $8-9 range as well. A good horror picture or one with a little franchise buzz will do mid-teens every time. Not this one.

And both of those are besting Oliver Stone’s latest, “Snowden.” Making the leaker who landed in Russia a hero isn’t going to sell a lot of tickets, even if Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys-Ifans and Nicolas Cage are in it and as good as the hagiography script lets them be.

 

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Movie Review: “Blair Witch” paints itself into a corner

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Well well well, Millennials. You’re the most tech-savvy generation in human history, but pitching a tent confounds you, and you still can’t find your way out the woods.

You can load an app to your smart phone and control a camera drone with it. But you’re still terrified by tied-up twigs.

“Blair Witch” is a sequel/reboot of the hand-held camera classic “The Blair Witch Project,” a film so close to the original that it’s no wonder the filmmakers don’t acknowledge the first film in the screenplay credits.

Considering the generation that’s grown up without seeing the 1999 film — and I polled four Millennials this week, including alleged horror fans, none had — maybe a remake is all that was called for.

But taking a bigger and more attractive cast back into the Black Hills Forest around Burkittsville, Maryland (British Columbia, actually, because who could get lost anywhere in Maryland?) doesn’t make for a better, or even remotely different movie.

Simply put, there is no “Blair Witch” without the “Project” that launched it.

The lame idea that writer Simon Barrett came up with is that a brother of Heather, the young film student who disappeared 17 years ago, is sure he’s seen footage of her — or something that looks like her — from those woods. He wants to “find that house” where she and those who vanished with her could only stare at the corner, facing away from some unspeakable spectral horror.

James (James Allen McCune) thinks Heather might still be alive. In any event, he wants answers and closure. His pal  Peter (Brandon Scott) humors him, but laughs at such beliefs behind James’s back. Film student Lisa (Callie Hernandez) wants to video the search, with ear-bud cameras, GPS, a camera drone, the works.

And Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) is along for grins and giggles.

First obstacle, the guy who found the “new” footage is a nerdy local “researcher” and Blair Witch buff who insists that he (Wes Robinson) and his witch hunting girlfriend (Valorie Curry) come along.

They’ll roast wieners, make s’mores by the campfire. It’ll be fun!

Don’t worry about leaving the cars in the wilderness, “No one cares” that they park there. “No one LIVING that is!”

So the dynamic is set — city kids camping for the first time, locals with supposed local knowledge, people whom the first four don’t trust, along for the ride.

It’s a symptom of this Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”) film’s general haplessness that so little is done with any promising idea in all this. The stick figures are hung in trees all around the campsite, the locals are accused, the groups split up in a huff, and bad things go down, one camper at a time.

Seventeen years of shaky-cam/first-person-point-of-view pictures have ruined the novelty of scaredy cats running through the woods, only seeing what their puny flashlights expose in the pitch darkness. Cheap frights — characters keep sneaking up on each other while they’re filming, with deafening sound effects accompanying them bumping into each other — and a selection of horror stunts borrowed from the “Son of Blair Witch,” aka the “Paranormal Activity” movies, deliver the only hair-raising moments.

There’s no wit, no methodical build-up to the suspense, no time to empathize with the characters, just unneeded bits of exposition the first film didn’t need to scare you to death.

“Legend says that if you look directly at the witch, you’ll die from fright!”

Among the cast, Hernandez (TV’s “Graves” and “From Dusk Till Dawn”) is best at getting across the notion that she’s experiencing something impossible, something utterly terrifying. Her wild-eyed gulps of fear rival Heather Donahue’s fumbling, panting confession in the tent in “The Blair Witch Project,” one of the most iconic scenes and images in all of horror.

The woods around Burkittsville are cursed by the Blair Witch, but we’re the ones dealing with a curse that’s worse. We’re trapped in a movie era of repetition, pointless reboots and inferior copies of the original.

If only the potential audience for this one could be bothered to Netflix “The Blair Witch Project” — preferably on something other than their phones — this reboot could have been avoided. Actually, it still should be.

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MPAA Rating: R for language, terror and some disturbing images

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Credits: Directed by Adam Wingard, script by Simon Barrett, based on “The Blair Witch Project.” A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:29

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Movie Review: “Before the Fall”

 

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Here’s an idea sure to get your movie into a LOT of film festivals.

Turn Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice” into a gay romance. Maker the “prejudice” homophobia and suggest the “pride” is, well, gay.

Writer-director Byrum Geisler’s “Before the Fall” uses the characters — a lovelorn Bennett, the proud Darcy, the cad Wickham, the mooning/swooning Bingley — and bends them to his will. Jane, the older sister of Austen’s book, becomes the straight BFF of Ben, not Elizabeth Bennett.

And in the movie’s cleverest conceit, Geisler picks up on all that scenic rambling those Great Brits do in the various film versions of the book. He sets this tale of love and misunderstanding in lovely Abingdon, in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, and shot his movie in the fall.

Everybody in Abingdon, home to the world famous Barter Theater, is into hiking. Yes, even the gays. Yes, even the bitchy ones (played by Daniel Wallen and Bryan Pridgen).

Abingdon is where Ben Bennett (Ethan Sharrett) practices law and looks for love. His pals (Wallen and Pridgen) complain that “the queens got left out.” But they have each other. Closer to stereotypes, they prowl and “Meow” at every eligible unattached man to wander into town.

New attorney George Wickham (Jonathan Horvath) gets Ben’s attention, and before you can gasp, “Elizabeth Bennett, you tramp!” is suggesting “Why don’t you stay the night?” after a date.

Cheerful nature-lover Bingley (Jason Mac) is also new in town, and once we’ve determined he’s straight, he sets off sparks with Ben’s gal-pal Jane (Brandi Price). It’s a pity he works for a non-profit, with no prospects.

And then there’s the haunted Mr. Darcy. Lee Darcy (Chase Conner) is a miserable factory worker living with Kathy (Carol Marie Rinn) and drinking. A lot.

“Why are you so miserable, Lee?”

Oh yes, Lee’s “confused.” In another twist Austen that would have given Austen the vapors, he’s an abusive drunk. Which is how he runs afoul of the town’s gay legal eagles.

If “Pride & Prejudice” can survive the coarseness of “Bridget Jones,” travel to India (“Bride & Prejudice”) and into World War Z (“Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”), there’s no reason it can’t work in this re-setting. But you’ve got to try and match the warmth, the brittle hurt and above all the wit of Austen. No mean feat.

Frankly, even though the “queens” of the piece are stereotypical, a lot more of their snark would have lifted this. When your funniest line is “Open your EYES, Shelby,” gays quoting from “Steel Magnolias,” you’re just letting us know what your movie’s missing — humor, and Southern accents.

Elizabeth Bennett’s flaws are usually harder to find in adaptations of the book — the sexy/saintly Jennifer Ehle set the standard. Giving Ben some of Darcy’s arrogance and meddling helps.

Bland performances mean that little crackles about the mismatched Bennett/Darcy relationship, and the only sparkle-in-their-eyes moments come from the straight couple, Jane and Bingley.

And there’s an edge to this that doesn’t fit the material. Domestic violence, alcoholism and a ready rural willingness to hurl gay slurs smother the warmth of the story. This 90 minute film omits about half the characters of the populous book, and the poverty depicted here is Appalachian genuine, not Empire Era genteel.

“Before the Fall” has the germ of a great idea, one that will get the film noticed and some festival play. But the promise of “Pride” is, in this case, not fully kept. It lacks the wit and the light touch to come off.

 

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MPAA Rating: unrated, domestic violence, adult situations, alcohol consumption

Cast: Chase Conner, Ethan Sharrett, Brandi Price, Jonathan Horvath, Carol Marie Rinn, Daniel Wallen, Bryan Pridgen
Credits: Written and directed by Byrum Geisler. A Washington House production.

Running time: 1:35

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Movie Review: Is “ClownTown” behind all the creepy clown sightings all over the South?

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So there’s this no-budget indie thriller “ClownTown” coming out Sept. 30.

Is there a connection between it and the sudden surge in scary clown sightings all over the South, originating in South Carolina?

The setting is rural Ohio, but the rutted, remote roads could easily pass for S.C., and at least one character in the country-music-concert-going cast has a drawl.

The clowns seem inspired by all manner of painted Pagliaccis, from serial killer John Wayne Gacy to Stephen King’s “Pennywise” to “The Baseball Furies” street gang of “The Warriors.”

So. Maybe. Probably not, but maybe. Check the distributor’s phone records, see if anybody put in a call to any of the “Blair Witch Project” boys.

The movie, actually filmed in Ohio, is pretty bad, but not campy bad. Frank (Greg Violand), the old man who explains the sordid history of ClownTown to the five travelers trapped in it, has the only funny line.

“Clowns OWN this town, now.”

It’s a perfunctory by-the-numbers slasher pic with no frights and only the two female leads getting across the idea that something terrifying is happening. The guys? A quartet of stiffs.

A stop in Stanley’s Diner leads to bad directions, and a set-up. Jill (Katie Keen, a beauty and a great screamer) loses her phone. Her beau (Andrew Staton) and their traveling friends Sarah (Lauren Compton, another gorgeous screamer) and Brad (Brian Nagel) are stuck with her as she tries to track the lost phone down.

No way they’re going to make it to the big country music show they’re Jeeping to.

Billy and Dylan (Tom Nagel, and Jeff Denton) are roughnecks who stumble into the lost four just as it’s getting dark, just as clowns start to turn up, reflected in their rear-view mirrors but unseen. Until it’s too late.

There’s a machete clown and a baseball bat wielding clown, a crowbar clown and a tire-iron clown. Only the girl clown, offering makeup to any of their victims they manage to take hostage, has any lines. She’ll make you real “purty,” she will.

clown1A pointless “Scream” prologue shows ostensibly the first victim, a nubile babysitter whose role required her to strip off her top. I’ll leave her name out of this to spare her mother the embarrassment.

Did that stripteease trigger the Clown Apocalypse? Not really, not that they’ve explained here.

The women shriek in terror, the guys just stare blankly as this or that “buddy” is butchered, tentatively running as if their only fear is that they’re not going to hit their marks. Every guy in this thing who isn’t in clown makeup is as bad as the ridiculous, obvious and disjointed script they’re trying to play. An awful lot of the guys, and a woman playing a waitress, share the director’s last name — Nagel.

But who knows? Maybe this is a movie where the real genius is in the marketing. Start with clown sightings in the South, work your way north.

Keep an eye on the news. See if the cops ever catch anybody pulling these clown stunts. If any suspect’s name is “Nagel” we’ll have our answer.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic violence, nudity

Cast: Brian Nagel, Lauren Compton, Andrew Staton, Katie Keene, Tom Nagel, Kaitlyn Sapp, Thomas A Nagel
Credits: Directed by Tom Nagel, script by Jeff Miller . An ITN release.

Running time: 1:24

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Movie Review: Emma Thompson brings back the laughs for “Bridget Jones’s Baby”

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Getting Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson into the cast of “Bridget Jones’s Baby” was a coup, and as Bridget’s OB-GYN, she’s the perfect droll foil to all the rom-com pregnancy nonsense going on around her.

Letting her take a pass at the script was even more inspired, as the Oscar winning screenwriter (“Sense & Sensibility”) renders this third and hopefully final film in this Britcomedy about a “singleton” who keeps a diary warm and watchable.

Because a dozen years ago, the sequel to “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” was a bit of an abortion.

Not “LIT-rally,” as Bridget herself might put it. But “Edge” certainly was a comedy that never should have been brought to term.

Here, we open with a funeral and end with a wedding. We bury Hugh Grant’s louche lout at a ceremony Bridget and his legions of female conquests cannot keep a straight face through.

Then Bridget gets pregnant. And as ever, there are two men she figures could be the father. It’s just two different men.

Because even at 43, having “reached my ideal weight” with her cute and cozy flat and job (TV newscast producer) she’s plainly incompetent to do, she’s still the klutz.

Renee Zellweger re-connects to Bridget as best she can, though the pratfalls and potty-mouth are somehow less endearing in a grown woman “of a certain age.” She’s cracking to her new BFF, a saucy anchorwoman (Sarah Solemani), about being “past my sexual sell-by date,” and that any dreams of motherhood must be dashed as “I’m sure my eggs must be hard-boiled by now!”

But it’s easy to believe that this pathologically careless cutie — lousing up live interviews by taking phone calls during newscasts — could get pregnant by accident.

The interior monologues — diary entries (now on computer) — are still here, but less vital to the narrative. “Can’t go back and keep making same mistakes,” she types. “Must make new ones!”

A one-night fling in a tent at a rock festival with a dashing, willing American (Patrick Dempsey) might have led to her condition. Or another one-nighter with her longtime off-and-on beau, now married and moved-on (Mark Darcy) could have been the magic moment.

Either way, she’s unmarried with child and utterly hapless at the business of figuring out who the dad is and keeping the two potential dads from running into each other and figuring out her secret.

Dempsey brings his “McDreamy” A-game to this comedy, and he makes a far more engaging contrast to the stuffy stiff Darcy that Colin Firth could play in his sleep. Sure, the whole handsome heel vs. snobbish man of character thing worked for Jane Austen, and for novelist Helen Fielding, who copied copied and goofed-on “Pride and Prejudice” for “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

And nothing against Hugh Grant, terrific, at least in the first film. But Dempsey lands his funny lines, manhandles Zellweger when called for and gives this story something new– American charm. His best scene? A disastrous live TV interview on the show Bridget produces, in which she has her anchor pal prod the dating website guru on his love life, genetics and the like.

Dempsey, a movie star since childhood, plays this like every irritated celebrity trapped in an off-the-rails interview, someone who still has something to sell and who cannot get up and leave. It’s wonderful work that he handles as if it’s happened to him a hundred times. Which it probably has.

Firth, wearing the perpetual scowl of an unhappily married barrister stuck defending a rude and plainly Russian girl band NOT named Pussy Riot against extradition to a villain state (plainly Russia), has aged into a dead ringer for Sam the Eagle of The Muppets. Still a hearthrob, but now an Oscar winner utterly unchallenged by this part.

Zellweger, who has endured years of abuse about how she has changed her appearance, doesn’t really silence that here. She’s lovely, though how she managed the odd trick of looking much older in the opening scene than in the last one is less of a mystery than it should be.

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Her performance captures a little of the sparkle of the first film, now fifteen years in the past. But there’s a weariness about the character that’s not entirely due to her ongoing, hapless and unhappy state of singleton-hood.

The script, which Fielding had a hand in, has a gutless touch or two — you’ll know them when you see them — and far too much low-hanging fruit, easy laughs, none easier than having Bridget, assorted mom-pals with children (Shirley Henderson) and children themselves filling the screen with F-bombs.

It’s not just easy, it’s lazy. That’s the thing about profanity in general and the F-bomb in particular. The more liberally you apply it to a featherweight comedy, the weaker the effect.

The weighty stuff the movie might have wrestled with — a media culture of young, trend-chasing faux hipsters — makes no worthy foil for Bridget. Because the idea of an incompetent like her standing up for “journalism” is as laughable to her as it is to us.

Still, in a just world, you’d hope this would land the one-time America’s (and Britain’s) Sweetheart a new acting lease on life. Zellweger shows flashes of her Oscar winning talent and is certainly not past her sell-by date, even if she’s tampered entirely too much with the packaging.

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MPAA Rating:R for language, sex references and some nudity

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Sarah SolemaniShirley Henderson
Credits: Directed by Sharon Maguire, script by Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson A Universal release.

Running time: 2:02

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Movie Review: Krasinski ” finds heart, and low-hanging comic fruit in “The Hollars”

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John Krasinski finds his way back on the big screen, both in front of and behind the camera, in the sentimental and sweet but obvious and sit-commie “The Hollars,” a melodrama about an amusingly dysfunctional family brought together by terminal illness.

That’s what drags son John (Krasinski) home to rural Ohio. Mom (Margo Martindale) has a brain tumor.He’s an aspiring artist and graphic novelist (comic book designer) failing in New York, about to become a father. His rich girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) is close to term.

But back home, Mom’s bad news sends Dad (Richard Jenkins) into a weepy shame spiral. Dad so badly misread Mom’s symptoms that he told her it was her weight.

“He sent me to Jenny Craig!”

Brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) is living out his own train wreck, stalking his ex-wife and two daughters, regretting the divorce ever since she (Ashley Dyke) took up with a new, better man, a handsome and tolerant youth pastor (Josh Groban) at church.

A better title for this James C. Strouse script, which Krasinski took by the horns and got made, would have been “Piling On.” Troubles pile up at John’s feet from the moment he shows up in the hospital. Dad’s HVAC business is bankrupt. Ron used to work there, but was fired, and now lives in his parents’ basement.

Mom is wondering if she wasted her life. Even Mom’s nurse has a beef with John. He, apparently, is the fellow who married and had a child with John’s ex, played by the winsome Mary Elizabeth Winstead. And Jason, played by Charlie Day at his most Charlie Day (screechy and annoying) is worried she still has a thing for John.

Which she, of course, does.

That’s a HUGE knock against “The Hollars,” its screaming obviousness. John takes a moment to collect his thoughts at the Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole. He climbs on the old tire swing, and…you know the rest.

The casting is so on-the-nose that pairing up the great pros Martindale and Jenkins has no potential for surprise, though both have moments that pay off. That on-the-nose business goes for Krasinski himself, who settles into the rhythms of “The Office,” doing the whole sweeter than/maybe smarter than his surroundings bit he did so well there.

Sit-commie.

The wildcard here is the South African Copley, who seems miscast and out of his comic depth, but who is consistently out-there and hilarious in pathetic and predictable (for the character) ways.

There’s always something to be said for a comedy that errs on the side of “heart,” and “The Hollars” has that — warm moments, a few genuine tears, a spell just starting to be cast when something silly comes up to jolt the works back into the realm of comedy.

Randall Park is pleasantly nonplussed as the doctor who has to deal with Ron’s inane “Asian” questions.

“What martial arts do you practice?”

“None.”

Jenkins has a lovely, offbeat moment of song, an established tradition in romantic comedies since time immemorial — or at least since “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

hollars2And Kendrick shows up to amp up the pathos and throw paranoid-pregnant-woman hilarity at the looming tragedy.

It doesn’t really skip by, but Krasinski keeps the squishiness to a minimum and lets his co-stars land the laughs even if “The Hollars” are nothing to shout about.

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 for brief language and some thematic material

Cast: John Krasinski, Margo Martindale, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Charlie Day, Randall Park
Credits: Directed by ,John Krasinski, script by James C. Strouse . A Sony Classics release.

Running time: 1:28

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