Movies: 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower,' 'Won't Back Down' & 'Sinister'
Published 4:47 pm, Friday, October 19, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER"
Back in 1999, when Stephen Chbosky's young-adult novel was published, some book critics compared it with J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" in the way it sensitively captured the confusion and angst of being a teenager.
As he begins his freshman year in high school in suburban Pittsburgh in 1991, troubled Charlie (Logan Lerman) is recovering from the emotional aftermath caused by his best friend's suicide and the death of his aunt. Confiding only in an anonymous pen pal, Charlie fervently hopes that this will be the beginning of a new chapter in his life. While his first few days are wretched with loneliness, he's soon befriended at a football game by Patrick (Ezra Miller), an audaciously gay senior, and his inseparable stepsister Sam (Emma Watson).
Welcomed into their eccentric group of rebellious, self-proclaimed "wallflowers," Charlie confronts issues of sexuality -- straight and gay -- and friendship. He experiments with drugs and becomes the reluctant crush of a self-described Buddhist/punk rocker (Meg Whitman). Charlie slowly struggles toward conquering his demons and discovering his own identity. Helping him along the way are his concerned parents (Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott) and sister (Nina Dobrev), along with an encouraging English teacher (Paul Rudd).
Adroitly adapted for the screen and subtly directed by Chbosky, its innate compassion elevates it above other coming-of-age dramas. And Chbosky's casting choices are perfect. Logan Lerman ("3:10 to Yuma") embodies the compelling awkwardness of anguished adolescence. Leaving her ionic role as Hermione Granger in the "Harry Potter" franchise behind, Emma Watson epitomizes Charlie's delicate yet damaged dream girl, while Ezra Miller ("We Need to Talk About Kevin") gives charismatic Patrick's clowning an added dimension of pathos. For added pleasure, Chbosky includes them all in an amusing tribute to the enduring appeal of "The Rock Horror Picture Show."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is an earnest, eclectic 8 -- with a memorable music mix that includes David Bowie, Air Supply and New Order.
"WON'T BACK DOWN"
When reviewing a movie, I try to be as objective as possible -- but this social issue story about exasperated mothers hit a resonant chord. Many years ago, when my daughter had completed an elementary school assignment and asked for something more to do, her incompetent-but-tenured teacher told her to "count the holes" in the ceiling tiles. Furious, I went to the teacher, principal and, eventually, superintendent. I got results -- but that was in the affluent suburb of Woodbridge.
As a single mom whose child attends Adams Elementary in the poverty-stricken, downtown Hill district in Pittsburgh, Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has no such luck. When she realizes her second-grade daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is dyslexic and asks for help, the teacher (Nancy Bach) curtly explains that union rules prevent her from helping any child after school hours. And the smarmy principal (Bill Nunn) refuses to transfer Malia into a different class.
Jamie's frustration leads her to befriend Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), a conscientious teacher whose son, Cody (Dante Brown), is having trouble in math. Together, they discover that there's a "parent-trigger law" that allows concerned parents who wish to rescue a failing school to take control and redesign it to foster effective learning. Obviously, their educational reform campaign is opposed not only by the stubbornly entrenched administration but also by a representative (Holly Hunter) of the powerful teachers' union.
Based on an actual incident that occurred in Los Angeles in 2010, the contrived, exposition-heavy script is co-written by Brin Hill and Daniel Barnz, whose heavy-handed direction lacks nuance or subtlety. So despite its obvious emotional appeal, it tackles complex issues and distorts or simplifies them into banal generalities. Which is somewhat surprising since it's co-produced by Walden Media, which was also involved with the excellent, pro-charter school documentary "Waiting for Superman."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Won't Back Down" is a preachy yet persuasive 6, appealing to desperate, often outraged parents who are deeply concerned about the obvious failure of the American public school system.
For those searching for pre-Halloween scares, this nightmarish suspense thriller blends found footage with the search for a serial killer and a haunted house. Setting the tone, the opening scene shows a suburban family of four standing beneath a tree, hoods over their faces and nooses around their necks, just before they're hoisted into the air, writhing and struggling, until they finally swing silently.
Months later, true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), who is desperate to repeat his success of a decade ago, decides to move his loyal, long-suffering wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), son Trevor (Mark Hall D'Addario) and daughter Ashley (Clare Foley) into that same creepy house, hoping not only to solve the mystery of what happened but also to write a new best seller because, supposedly, the family had a third child, Stephanie (Victoria Leigh), who went missing after the murders.
Going up the creaking steps into the attic, flashlight in hand, whiskey-swilling Ellison finds a box containing a movie projector and five reels of Super 8 footage that depict families slaughtered in various, macabre ways. In one of the snuff films, Ellison glimpses a dark figure with a demonic face, a ghoulish, ghostly image that keeps reappearing, along with a strange symbol. Obsessed, Ellison consults via Skype with an expert in the occult, Jonas (Vincent D'Onofrio), who identifies the symbol as that of a diabolical pagan deity named Bagul, who was believed to consume the souls of children.
As the plot thickens, so does the chronicle of carnage as bloodthirsty Bagul from Babylonia moves into the mortal realm, predictably posing an undeniable danger to tortured Ellison and his unwitting family if they remain in that cursed house.
Formulaically co-written by Ain't It Cool News reporter C. Robert Cargill and heavy-handed director Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose"), it premiered at a super-secret midnight screening at the South-by-Southwest festival several months before its official opening.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Sinister" is an edgy, intense, supernatural 6, ominously heralding a fright-filled fortnight.