Film Reviews: Opening This Week (April

A critical digest of the week’s latest U.S. theatrical releases. Where applicable, links to longer reviews have been provided.

6 Souls
Distributor:
Radius-TWC
One of the movies’ least convincing three-faces-of-Eve routines occupies centerstage in “6 Souls,” a schlock supernatural shocker that has finally escaped into a handful of U.S. theaters five years after it was shot and more than three after it first opened internationally. Cannily retitled (from the original “Shelter”) to ensure better placement in alphabetized VOD menus, this DOA pickup for Weinstein Co. sub-label Radius may scare up a few smallscreen curiosity seekers, owing to the presence of top-billed Julianne Moore, before taking its rightful place in the genre graveyard.
— Scott Foundas
Read the full review.

Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner
Distributor:
Cinema Guild
Cindy Kleine pays tribute to her famed theater-director hubby in “Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner,” with thoroughly delightful results. Gregory’s tale-spinning fluency dazzles just as much as it did in Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre,” but this time with a wry familiarity all Kleine’s own. Shot at home or in various improvised rehearsal spaces — with much photographic evidence of Gregory’s sterile, unhappy childhood, as well as occasional clips from “My Dinner With Andre” and the other filmed Gregory/Wallace Shawn collaboration, “Vanya on 42nd Street” — the film juxtaposes work and biography with wondrous open-endedness, and should enchant fans as well as those new to the table.
— Ronnie Scheib
Read the full review.

Bert Stern: Original Madman
Distributor: First Run Features
Bert Stern would seemingly make for an ideal documentary subject, celebrated for his iconic photographs of famous femmes — chief among them his legendary “last sitting” of Marilyn Monroe and his Sue Lyon poster for Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” — and remembered for the groundbreaking abstract imagery that reshaped the advertising industry. But while “Bert Stern: Original Madman” mines its subject’s work for a steady stream of striking visuals, his self-narration proves to be of little interest, offering little variation on a single theme: his love/lust for women. In the hands of helmer Shannah Laumeister, Stern’s longtime g.f., this subject quickly sinks into malaise (“So who’s the love of your life?”).  The parade of exes — from Balanchine prima ballerina Allegra Kent to supermodel Twiggy — adds few insights, and other interviewees only heap on the praise that Stern’s modesty apparently forbids (“I don’t take photographs; I only push the button”).
— Ronnie Scheib

The Brass Teapot
Distributor: Magnolia
Aladdin had his magic lamp. An American couple settles for a special kettle in “The Brass Teapot,” a fresh riff on “be careful what you wish for” fables, in which things quickly get out of hand after two young lovers inherit a vessel that rewards them with cash every time they injure themselves. No pain, no gain, as they say, though they’d better look out, as the enchanted teapot corrupted Genghis Khan and Hitler before them. Snapped up by Magnolia out of Toronto, this VOD-led indie should score some extra coin in limited release, but plays just fine on smallscreens.
— Peter Debruge
Read the full review.

Evil Dead
Distributor: Sony
The rare remake that likely will be enjoyed most by diehard fans of its predecessor, “Evil Dead” often comes off as the cinematic equivalent of a cover-band concert tribute to a supergroup’s greatest hits — albeit with a lot more gore. First-time feature helmer Fede Alvarez’s blood-soaked reprise of Sam Raimi’s franchise-spawning low-budget shocker, “The Evil Dead,” boasts far better production values than the penny-pinching 1981 original and conceivably could delight genre fans who have never seen the first version or its previous remakes/sequels. But it’s bound to play best with those who catch Alvarez’s many wink-wink allusions to Raimi’s pic.
— Joe Leydon
Read the full review.

Tomorrow You’re Gone
Distributor: Image Entertainment
Director David Jacobson’s longtime fascination with lonely, troubled criminal minds (“Dahmer,” “Down in the Valley”) fails to yield an equivalent level of audience interest in “Tomorrow You’re Gone,” a dreary muddle of a thriller about a lowly ex-con, Charlie (Stephen Dorff), who takes on a murderous mission at the behest of a mysterious benefactor (Willem Dafoe). Working from Matthew F. Jones’ adaptation of his own novel, “Boot Tracks,” Jacobson seems to have directed Dorff to hold the same clenched, constipated expression for 93 self-consciously gloomy minutes, leaving Michelle Monaghan to break up the monotony as a sparky porn actress offering sex and salvation. There are intimations throughout that Charlie may not have the strongest grip on reality, though there’s nothing ambiguous about the picture’s overriding tedium; its commercial outlook is best summed up by its title.
— Justin Chang

Trance
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
“Everyone knows amnesia is bollocks,” snarls one of the thugs in “Trance.” Hypnotism, on the other hand, is fair game in this brash, beyond-belief psychothriller from director Danny Boyle, who seizes on a script co-written by Joe Ahearne and longtime Boyle collaborator John Hodge as a chance to play elaborate mind games with fans of his early work. A trippy variation on the dream-within-a-dream movie, Boyle’s return-to-form crimer constantly challenges what auds think they know, but neglects to establish why they should care. The pic’s flashy style, plus its stark violence and nudity, ought to transfix male genre auds.
— Peter Debruge
Read the full review.

PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED

The Company You Keep
Distributor: Sony Classics
Original review date: Sept. 5, 2012, Venice Film Festival
“Old hippies never die, they just smell that way,” bumper stickers used to say, but the dropouts largely come up smelling like roses in “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford’s unabashedly heartfelt but competent tribute to 1960s idealism. Cannily casting eminent baby-boomer thesps —  including Julie Christie, who was a poster kid for the counterculture — against young name actors like Shia LaBeouf, the pic attempts to bridge the generation gap with this story of a Weather Underground fugitive on the lam, played by Redford himself. Although more engaging than the helmer’s last few films, “Company” won’t spark riots at the box office.
— Leslie Felperin
Read the full review.

Down the Shore
Distributor: Anchor Bay Films
Original review date: Jan. 7, 2011, Palm Springs Film Festival
“We’ve all got to pay for our sins,” says a character early in “Down the Shore,” cluing the audience in to the drama to come between lifelong friends and a stranger who enters their lives. The greatest virtue of this rather standard family tale, directed by vet acting coach Harold Guskin and written by Sandra Jennings, is James Gandolfini’s most substantial feature role to date, echoing Tony Soprano in home only (New Jersey) and reminding auds why he’s a genuine American acting treasure. Minor fest, theatrical and cable prospects look good.
— Robert Koehler
Read the full review.

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal
Distributor: Doppelganger Releasing
Original review date: April 25, 2012, Tribeca Film Festival
Original title: “Eddie”
Amusingly casting a somnambulant, flesh-eating weirdo as a struggling artist’s much-needed muse, Canadian-Danish genre mashup “Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal” contemporarily tackles the rarely overlapping areas of parasomnia, cannibalism and creative block. This bizarro but largely effective debut by scribe-helmer Boris Rodriguez features a well-calibrated perf by Dane Thure Lindhardt (“Keep the Lights On”) as a once-visionary painter who, while teaching at a Canadian art school, discovers that the vision of freshly mauled flesh sets his creative juices flowing again. Premise and sharp execution will assure a cult following for this English-language item, but the lack of subtext or emotional resonance will hamper wider crossover.
— Boyd van Hoeij)
Read the full review.

Free Angela & All Political Prisoners
Distributor: Codeblack Films/Lionsgate
Original review date: Sept. 10, 2012, Toronto Film Festival
Fugitive, radical, communist and philosopher Angela Davis was the lefty hipster’s pin-up girl and the right-winger’s Afro-ed nightmare, and her authority and charisma are on full display in “Free Angela & All Political Prisoners,” Shola Lynch’s near-epic review of the case that made Davis a household name in the early ’70s. While never quite nailing the key question at the heart of Davis’ celebrated prosecution, “Free Angela” is an impressive act of research, editing and period recreation; renewed interest in ’60s politics should assure some robust arthouse runs and healthy ratings for Black Entertainment Television.
— John Anderson
Read the full review.

Lotus Eaters
Distributor: Phase 4 Films, Meneret Prods.
Original review date: Oct. 19, 2011, London Film Festival
Irish helmer Alexandra McGuinness’ debut “Lotus Eaters” wants desperately to be a portrait of the beautiful and the damned, with its tale of West London rich kids doing drugs and shagging each other, but it’s more like a spectacle of the spoiled and annoying. Pic has some redeeming features, like its glossy, fashion-shoot-inspired black-and-white look, and a clutch of respectable perfs among some very poor ones from the toothsome young cast, but the script is a mess, the characters barely sympathetic. Only niche auds are likely to get high on this.
— Leslie Felperin
Read the full review.

No Place on Earth
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Original review date: Sept. 8, 2012, Toronto Film Festival
A substantial contribution to Holocaust cinema, “No Place on Earth” defies the notion that the era has been exhausted of its stories, or the ways they can be told: In uncovering its tale of Ukrainian Jews who spent 511 days underground during World War II, eluding Nazis and their own treacherous countrymen, “No Place on Earth” is a genuine hybrid of historical drama and dramatic reality, with witnesses portrayed by actors, and the real-life survivors providing the movie’s grounding in fact. Despite the occasional cross-genre collision, the story is gripping and moving; its History Channel connection will provide apt exposure.
— John Anderson
Read the full review.

Simon Killer
Distributor: IFC Films
Original review date: Jan. 20, 2012, Sundance Film Festival
For a 23-year-old thesp, Brady Corbet seems unusually preoccupied with sociopaths, so much so that he and the creative team behind “Martha Marcy May Marlene” have built yet another unsettling broken-psyche study in “Simon Killer.” Directed by Antonio Campos (“Afterschool”), the film fashions Corbet into a sort of modern-day Ripley, amoral and disengaged enough from the feelings of others to become a potentially fatal liability in any relationship. Whatever revelations Corbet and Campos uncovered in exploring this character are well disguised from audiences, however, yielding a sexually explicit, emotionally opaque pic dependent on festival accolades to avoid being relegated to pervy VOD fare.
— Peter Debruge
Read the full review.

Thale
Distributor: XLrator Media
Original review date: Sept. 6, 2012, Toronto Film Festival
A nutty Norwegian mashup of drollery, myth and jolts to the nervous system, “Thale” does a deft dance between grossout comedy and horror fantasy. Still, it’s too wordy by half, saying what it should be showing  —  which is ironic, given helmer Aleksander L. Nordaas’ able hand, early on, with unspoken, unseen horrors. The pic simply takes on too much mythological baggage to achieve maximum thriller thrust, although Silje Reinamo is eminently watchable as the titular lethal Scandi wood nymph, and brings eloquence to a wordless role. Genre fans may find the whole thing too poetic.
— John Anderson
Read the full review.

Upstream Color
Distributor: Erbp
Original review date: Jan. 21, 2013, Sundance Film Festival
As mystifying as his 2004 sci-fier, “Primer,” albeit for entirely different reasons, Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color” is a stimulating and hypnotic piece of experimental filmmaking. It’s also a poem about pigs, a meditation on orchids, a cerebral-spiritual love story, an intensely elliptical sight-and-sound collage, and perhaps a free-form re-interpretation of Thoreau’s “Walden.” Surely the most challenging dramatic entry at Sundance this year, this unapologetically avant-garde work regards conventional narrative as if it were a not-especially-interesting alien species; the mainstream will take no notice, but adventurous auds are in for a strange and imaginative trip.
— Justin Chang
Read the full review.

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