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Reviews for July 22nd, 2016

Documentary Round-Up

      Hooligan Sparrow centers on Ye Haiyan, a.k.a. Hooligan Sparrow, a woman from the rural provence of China who became a sex worker before becoming an activist. She bravely speaks out against the injustice of a school principal who got away with six elementry school girls. Director Nanfu Wang is just as brave as Ye Haiyan because she risks her life to get footage in a country that suppresses and oppresss anyone who dares to question the government. There's even footage of Wang getting roughed up by someone, yet she still doesn't give up her struggle. Perhaps struggle is an essential part of any achievement. The fact that these smart and courageous indivuals are women is all the more refreshing and important---if only women everywhere around the world were to stand their ground and speak up no matter what the consequences. Powerful, poignant and illuminating, Hooligan Sparrow will keep you at the edge of your seat while opening your eyes to an urgent human rights issue. It opens at Cinema Village.

Absolutely Fabulous

Directed by Mandie Fletcher


Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Opens at select theaters.

For a Few Bullets

Directed by Anzi Pan

      Zhuang (Lin Gengxin), a professional thief, teams up with Shi Fo (Tengger) and his wife (Liu Xiaoqing) to steal a precious artifact that the Japanese also want. Cue the double crossings, a romantic interest (Zhang Jingchu), and plenty of action sequences.

      Director Anzi Pan eschews realism and goes for an outrageously thrilling, witty, fast-paced and amusing adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously. Sure, a lot of it is shallow and preposterous, but so what? The plot seems easy-to-follow with a wide variety of action scenes and with just the right amount of humor to make it a fun experience. Tone isn't something that's easy to set, but Anzi Pan acheives and maintains it from the get-go. He's also fortunate to have the charismatic Lin Gengxin as his leading man. Although For a Few Bullets doesn't quite reach the brilliant, crazy and bold heights of Sukiyaki Western Django, it's still a pleasantly diverting blockbuster---as long as you're willing to check your brain at the door and suspend your disbelief for 115 minutes.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by China Lion.
Opens AMC Empire 25.

Lights Out

Directed by David F. Sandberg

      Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) arrives at the home of her estranged, mentally ill mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), to take care of her younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), because of behavior problems he's been having at school as a result of Sophie's mysterious visions of an imaginary friend named Diana who only appears when the lights are out. A few months earlier, Martin's father, Paul (Billy Burke), had died in his factory after coming into contact with a pernicious supernatural entity. It's now up to Rebecca along with her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), to figure out what kind of entity is haunting Sophie and why.

      While the screenplay by Eric Heisserer does tread familiar ground that makes it quite formulaic, at least it follows the formula effectively while producing a few genuine scares along the way. Heisserer keeps the plot lean and simple for the most part, but gradually adds a few layers of complexity in terms of backstory and the evolving dynamics of Rebecca's relationship with her mother. Unlike in most modern PG13 horror films (the vast majority of open on VOD), Lights Out doesn't have a clunky screenplay with dumb characters nor any bad laughs for that matter. In other words, during its brief running time of 81 minutes, you'll feel entertained and immersed in the psychological drama. The performances by Bello, Palmer and Bateman are all solid and believable without over-acting. Admittedly, though, the third act does seem rushed, and the ending feels a bit abrupt. d

      Aesthetically, Light's Out has terrific set designs, lighting designs and an appropriate musical score that adds to the creepiness. The fact that Director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer don't rely on gore as a means to shock the audience serves the film very well. The suspense and tension are derived from the story and characters rather than on cheap jump scares, so the scares comes from your imagination more often than not. Kudos to Sandberg and Heisserer for trusting the audience's imagination. It's by no means groundbreaking or a new cult classic, but if you're looking for a lean, gripping, well-acted and creepy psychological horror film that doesn't overstay its welcome, Lights Out delivers the goods.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Warner Bro. Pictures.
Opens nationwide.