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On this page: BLAIR WITCH | 4TH MAN OUT
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last update 14.Sep16
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Blair Witch
dir Adam Wingard
scr Simon Barrett
prd Keith Calder, Roy Lee, Steven Schneider, Jessica Wu
with James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry, Matthew Mytrea, Kayla Adams, Rhys Williams, Lani Gelera, Casandra Ebner, Breanna Watkins
scott, curry and mccune release US/UK 16.Sep.16
16/US Lionsgate 1h29

Book of Shadows (2000)
Blair Witch Genre fans who are willing to put up with unlimited amounts of nonsense will enjoy this 17-years-later sequel to the 1999 hit that launched the found footage craze. This follow-up is set up similarly, with opening text saying camera memory cards were discovered in the woods. Then director Wingard proceeds to edit it heavily for maximum cinematic impact, including a fantastical sound mix and a moody score.

James (McCune) has always wondered what happened to his sister, who vanished when he and his best pal Peter (Scott) were very young. Now in college, James gets his film school friend Lisa (Hernandez) to use this as a documentary project and, accompanied by Peter's girlfriend Ashley (Reid), they head into the woods where the town of Blair used to be. Guided by metalhead redneck locals Lane and Talie (Robinson and Curry), things begin to get strange immediately. And after the first night camping, time and space both seem to turn on them.

The plot has a lot more focus than the first film, with carefully structured exposition, back-stories and a clearly planned-out sense of momentum as the supernatural mayhem escalates. Of course, this means that the movie is violating the rules of the genre from the start, and anyone sensitive to that will find it difficult to suspend disbelief as the filmmakers make themselves more and more obvious with every scene.

Meanwhile, the actors let their performances expand as well, starting with realistic banter and drunken antics, then turning serious when the loud crunching crashes begin. By the end, all of them have tipped over into full-on hysterics. Some of this is believable, but most is far over the top. Poor Hernandez has the most difficult role in this sense, as Lisa is pushed far beyond the brink in the film's freakiest sequence, which plays horrifically with claustrophobia.

But frankly, anyone who isn't scared by loud noises and growling music will find all of this more annoying than frightening. We only jump because of the sound, not because there's anything nasty on-screen. There are more glimpses this time at the potential terror lurking in the corners, and all of this is assembled with skill by a talented crew. But to be honest, these touches are funnier than intended, especially if you imagine watching the movie with the volume turned down.

15 themes, language, violence
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4th Man Out
dir Andrew Nackman
scr Aaron Dancik
prd Lauren Avinoam, Lauren Hogarth, Jed Mellick
with Evan Todd, Parker Young, Chord Overstreet, Jon Gabrus, Kate Flannery, Jennifer Damiano, Jordan Lane Price, Doug Moe, Brooke Dillman, Alex Rennie, Jake Epstein, Nick Clark
young and todd release US 5.Feb.16,
UK Mar.16 flare
15/US 1h26

bfi flare
4th Man Out With a clever script, this is much more than the usual coming out comedy, as its focus is on the way a group of friends are forced to redefine their connection when one of them reveals that he's gay. Intriguingly, the film is much more about how the straight world copes with homosexuality than the other way round. Which makes it both important and hilarious.

As he prepares to come out on his 24th birthday, Adam (Todd) has a raucous day planned with his pals Chris, Nick and Ortu (Young, Overstreet and Gabrus), whose usual banter is loaded with gay innuendo. So this new information causes ripples through the gang, who now aren't sure how to interact with each other. As Adam's best friend, Chris wants to help, but his friend-with-benefits Jess (Price) is sure Adam has a crush on him. And as Chris helps Adam look for a boyfriend, he's trying to connect with the smart, lively Tracy (Damiano).

Writer Dancik skilfully balances these dual storylines, as both Chris and Adam look for more grown-up romance while reevaluating their friendship. If anything, this makes the film much more straight than gay, as only Chris gets any action (Adam seems oddly asexual). But this also fits the characters' personalities, as Chris is slick and outgoing, while Adam is a shy car mechanic. These kinds of inversions on the usual formula make the film stand out from the crowd, even when the usual plot structure kicks in.

Todd and Young are terrific in the roles. Their camaraderie essentially makes the film a brom-com, but there are constant unexpected textures to their interaction. And Overstreet and Gabrus add continual comedy touches as their believably goofy friends. All of the side characters have a complexity that adds layers of interest to the witty dialog and amusing situations. This is a rare comedy that's both smart and consistently hilarious.

And it has some vital things to say about friendship. Amid the snappy one-liners and riotously sharp gags, the film is exploring the importance of sharing the truth with people who are closest to you, even if that causes awkwardness. Because the people who matter will be able to work through that to create an even tighter bond. Yes, the most notable aspect to this script is that, unlike most movies, the characters never let an awkward moment stay that way: they confront it and move forward.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Hell Town
dir-scr Steve Balderson, Elizabeth Spear
prd Steve Balderson
with Debbie Rochon, Jeff Montague, Ben Windholz, Amanda Deibert, Owen Lawless, Blake Cordell, Sarah Napier, BeckiJo Neill, Jennifer Grace, Matt Weight, Krysten Day, Pleasant Gehman
lawless, day and weight
release US 23.Aug.16
15/US 1h30
Hell Town This horror comedy is cleverly presented as the only three surviving episodes of a lost TV series, hosted by Debbie Rochon on Twisted Classic Television. A deranged high school soap with both murderous and gay undertones, this is absolutely hilarious, a rare pastiche with a sharp edge to it.

With dad dead and mother (Gehman) in a coma, the Manly children are struggling: Butch (Windholz) is just out of jail, Chanel (Deibert) is planning her epic debutant ball, and shirtless jocks Blaze (Weight) and Jesse (Lawless) are having different kinds of girl trouble. Laura Gable (Neill/Grace) has a crush on Butch, who's more interested in her popular sister Trish (Day). No one's interested in their goth sister BJ (Napier). And their father (Montague) is making his three daughters fight for their inheritance, because his only son Bobby (Cordell) is gay.

Through all of this, someone is murdering the school's jocks, although the mystery isn't very difficult to work out. The show is like a mash-up of Twin Peaks, Dallas and Buffy, and episodes are shown complete with the hilarious "previously on" segments. Which not only help viewers follow the convoluted plot, but also the replacement casting of Laura between episodes. And in between episodes there are adverts for Debbie's super-grisly movie and her own brand of coffee.

Each relationship or potential relationship is deeply tortured, while the dialog is pure genius, packed with random interjections that elicit bursts of laughter ("What's a hosebeast?"). The clearly older-than-teen cast hams all of this up in fine soap-acting style, punching both the momentous plot points and the nonstop lusty innuendo. None of these roles could be much juicier, as each conversation explodes with nutty melodrama and subtext. The entire ensemble of spoiled rich kids is amusing, and watching them get their just deserts (in one case literally) is great fun.

Intriguingly, filmmakers Balderson and Spear weave in all kinds of topical meaning into the silliness, mainly focussing on the minefield of teenage sexuality, including issues of bullying, self-loathing and casual, institutionalised homophobia. But of course the main point of this movie is to indulge in a bit of riotously camp craziness. Every scene bursts with over-the-top love, murder and drama. And it leaves us wishing that all of the episodes had survived that terrible warehouse fire.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Hunt for the Wilderpeople
dir-scr Taika Waititi
prd Carthew Neal, Matt Noonan, Leanne Saunders
with Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Oscar Kightley, Stan Walker, Rhys Darby, Mike Minogue, Cohen Holloway, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi
dennison and neill
release NZ 31.Mar.16,
US 24.Jun.16, UK 16.Sep.16
16/NZ 1h41

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Both a hilarious comedy and an unusually charming adventure, this is another triumph from actor-filmmaker Taika Waititi, who has a keen ear for meaningfully funny dialog and witty visual touches. In this film, he brings his characters vividly to life with the help of an ace cast while pointedly addressing some important social issues with a light touch.

Ricky (Dennison) is a bad egg, a 13-year-old ward of the state who never lasts long in foster homes. So tenacious social worker Paula (House) places him with with the unflappable Bella (Te Wiata), who lives on the edge of the bush with her grumpy husband Hector (Neill). Ricky shakes things up, but as he begins to bond with Bella, she dies suddenly. And when he runs into the forest, Hec follows, leading to a massive manhunt as Paula and her police sidekick Andy (Kightley) track them through the wilderness.

The film is a treasure trove for fans of quirky characters and situations, and yet it also works as a personal odyssey for two lost men at different points in life. Frankly, the script is genius, deflating any sentimentality with a steady stream of spiky sarcasm. Almost every conversation takes an unexpected turn as characters taunt each other with sardonic insults and teasing banter. Hec and Ricky are terrific characters, outcasts who discover each other reluctantly and find a connection nobody quite knows how to interpret.

Both Neill and Dennison are terrific in these roles, lively and honest, with impeccable comic timing. But then everyone in the cast is a naturally gifted performer. Te Wiata gives Bella a riotously likeable mix of no-nonsense humour and unflappable energy. House is terrific in a role that often tilts toward cartoonishly exaggerated (the only element in the film that rings false), even if Paula's increasing mania is deeply telling. And then there's Kightley's wry policeman, Ngatai-Melbourne's dream horse-riding girl and Darby's psychotic bush-man Sam.

Along the way, Waititi makes gorgeous use of New Zealand's spectacular landscapes, sparking echoes of The Lord of the Rings even before an astute joke makes the connection. There's a fantastic song score accompanying the action. And several scenes touch on issues both big (the need for better care for orphans, the militarisation of the police) and intimate (the pain of grief, the yearning for connection). Yes, everything about this movie is rather majestical.

12 themes, language, violence
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