Come Out and Play
When Beth (Vinessa Shaw) and her husband, Francis (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), arrive to Punta Hueca, a remote island off the coast of Mexico, for a romantic getaway, little do they know that terror awaits for them. The island appears to be peaceful and quiet. Children play on the picturesque beach and seem to be enjoying themselves. Once they reach the center of the town, though, they realize that it's mysteriously deserted except for those little children who turn out to be a bunch of vicious murderers. Beth and Francis have no choice but do defend themselves against the children or else they'll end up being just another one of their innocent victims.
Come Out and Play would have worked much better as a short or as a Grindhouse film. As a feature-length film, it has sporadic creepiness, but drags more often than not because of its wafer-thin premise that quickly overstays its welcome. Basically, the shock value comes from watching seemingly innocent children attacking adults and the adults fighting back or at least trying to. If the film's writer/director, credited just as Manikov, would have added more dark humor or clever turns of events, the experience would be at least a guilty pleasure. The fact that Beth is pregnant and looks like she can go into labor at any moments comes across as something tacked-on as an attempt to make you care about her, but neither she nor Francis are characters worth caring about. They're also not particularly bright. Even though you know that their lives are at stake, there's no palpable tension to be found. Moreover, Manikov moves the film at a pace that feels sluggish. Until the inevitable, bloody, action-packed third act, the second act is rather tedious and banal, and in dire need of some oomph whether it be clever surprises or comic relief or something along those lines to hold your attention.
At a running time of 87 minutes, Come Out and Play is occasionally creepy, but mostly inert, unimaginative and tedious.
The three documentaries open this week all try to tug at your heartstrings with different results. 108: Cuchillo de Palo isn't particularly well-shot or stylish, but it's the most emotionally powerful of the three docs. It follows filmmaker Renate Costa as she travels to her childhood hometown in Paraguay to shed light on why her uncle, Rodolfo, was found dead in his home years ago. Rodolfo, as she discovers from neighbors and friends, was gay, and the dictatorial government at that time hunted down, tortured and killed gays and lesbians. Costa does a decent job of maintaining suspense as she interviews more of the townspeople to learn about what her uncle was truly like back then. She wisely doesn't resort to preachiness to make you realize that the people and government's attitude toward gays and lesbians hasn't fundamentally changed throughout the years. The way she ends the film is on a subtle, lyrical and provocative way that may not give closure, but at it leaves you with a touch of melancholy. 108: Cuchillo de Palo opened at the Maysles Cinema via Icarus Films on Monday, March 18th. The documentary Murph: The Protector, opening at Regal E-Walk 13 via Mactavish Pictures, is a poignant and inspirational tribute to Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, a NAVY Seal who died in battle overseas in 2005 before posthumously being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2007. Director Scott Mactavish plays it safe by just having Murphy's friends and family discuss the background info about Murphy, i.e. what led to his decision to join the Navy, how courageous he was, and how his parents learned about his death. All of those interviews make for quite a tender and somber experience, and the lessons learned from Murphy's basic story is one that teaches the importance of courage, persistence and kindness. Murph: The Protector doesn't dig deeply enough into those virtues nor does it ask any powerful, provocative questions, i.e. "What makes a good soldier?" or something along those lines, but it's stylishly-edited and will make you at least somewhat teary-eyed by the time the end credits roll after a brief 1 hour and 17 minutes. The weakest doc among the three is You Don't Need Feet to Dance about Sidiki Conde, an African immigrant whose legs became paralyzed due to polio at the age of 14. Despite his disability, he nonetheless learned how to dance, play music and perform daily routines all on his own. He now lives in an East Village apartment in New York and also teaches disabled kids in a workshop, so he's clearly an exemplar of someone who's strong-minded, generous and brave. Director Alan Govenar, though, fails to show Conde's story in an engaging or provocative fashion, no matter how many times you watch Conde going about his daily life. You never really get a large enough sense about what Conde is thinking and feeling; just whatever's on the surface. Concurrently, there aren't enough scenes with Conde's dancing/music performances, so you're left both underwhelmed and undernourished. First Run Features opens the film at the Quad Cinema.
Dorfman in Love
27-year-old Deb Dorfman (Sara Rue) lives with her father, Burt (Elliott Gould), in Los Angeles, and works as an accountant for her brother, Daniel (Jonathan Chase). She has a crush on one of her co-workers, Jay (Johann Urb), so when he informs her that he'll be leaving town for a week on business, she volunteers to cat-sit at his loft. There, she meets and befriends Jay's neighbor, Cookie (Haaz Sleiman), who assists her with giving the loft a makeover.
Director Brad Leong moves the film along at an appropriately brisk pace and should be commended, especially, for choosing the right actors who fit their roles with ease. Sara Rue oozes as much charisma as Drew Barrymore---she's cute, charming and likable. Elliott Gould makes the most out of his brief scenes as comic relief, although his character's shtick involving homophobic remarks gets old pretty quickly. Haaz Sleiman, whom you might remember from The Visitor, is appealing and well-cast. Moreover, screenwriter Wendy Kout does offer a few witty, humorous lines albeit nothing particularly quotable or laugh-out-loud funny.
Unfortunately, what sinks Dorfman into mediocrity is its shallow and sitcomish plot that fails to bring any of its characters to life no matter how hard the actors try to elevate the material. It's clear that the loft's makeover is a metaphor for the concurrent makeover that Deb undergoes. She gets a new hair style/color, wardrobe and make-up. That particular transformation is works well at least on a superficial level, but screenwriter Wendy Kout doesn't quite show Debís innate transformation enough so that there's a solid, believable character arc or---dare I say it---some depth. You won't find yourself believing that Deb has truly changed or learned anything insightful by the end of the film. It seems as though the plot follows a standard romcom formula, but forgot to connect the dots in a way that's at least somewhat grounded in realism. Ultimately, it doesn't truly earn its happy ending which feels too rushed and contrived.