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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 30, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 53
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Macabre Jane Doe a shockingly good ghost story
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
Now playing


Sheriff Sheldon (Michael McElhatton) has a problem. After he and his team are called to a catastrophic crime scene that brutally took the lives of an entire family, bits and pieces of them strewn all about the house, the small town peace officer is dumbstruck when they find a mysterious body in the basement. This Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) is perfect, nary a mark on her, and considering the condition of every other deceased individual they've so far found this is a perplexing set of circumstances indeed.

Sheriff Sheldon takes the body to the local mortician, Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox), and even though night is upon them he begs him to perform an immediate autopsy. The mortician agrees, his son and partner Austin (Emile Hirsch) deciding to stay and help, foregoing an early evening out with his lovely girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) in order to make sure his dad finishes before morning. But as they begin the process of figuring out what killed this young lady, a mysterious malevolence begins to grow inside the mortuary, father and son suddenly not altogether certain that the body they are cutting into and dissecting is as dead as it looks.

Director André Øvredal exploded onto the scene in 2010 with the fantastic found footage fantasy-adventure-thriller Trollhunter, an astonishing Norwegian import that consistently surprised as it built its way to its fiery conclusion. It's taken awhile, but his follow-up effort, the English language supernatural horror-thriller The Autopsy of Jane Doe, was well worth the wait. Working from a smart, wittily unsettling script by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing, featuring a pair of strong, increasingly frazzled performances from Cox and Hirsch, Øvredal manages to create a palpable sense of dread that's deeply disturbing. This is a good movie, at times even great, and if not for a few minor missteps right at the end I'd not hesitate for a second to call this terrifying little gem one of the year's most spectacularly discomforting winners.

It's all very nonchalant at first. Tommy and Austin are going about their respective days. The father loves that he's been able to work so closely with his son, especially with his wife's somewhat recent death still affecting them both. But the kid is ready to move on, he's in love with Emma and knows he can't stay forever working at the mortuary. Austin is ready to set out on his own and make his way in the world, and after he and his dad finish figuring out what it was that happened to this particular Jane Doe he intends on letting him know just that.

It's that normalcy, that everyday banality that helps make all that comes next even more insidiously disconcerting. While Tommy and Austin's chosen profession is inherently creepy just by its nature, the fact they, and the filmmakers, look at it as just another job needing to be done allows for a sense of familiarity and warmth to resonate even when the pair start cutting up a dead body to see what it had for dinner. Øvredal orchestrates these moments as if they were nothing more than everyday occurrence, and as such the growing nightmarish terror that begins to develop wormed its way under my skin to the point I almost couldn't take it.

Safe to say, Jane Doe isn't what she appears to be. Each shred of skin, snip of hair and bit of DNA revealing disturbing truths that make her equally pitiable and scary, the monster lurking within the blood and bone looking to avenge itself against all comers, no matter how innocently they might have wandered into its territory. The script discloses the secrets behind who Jane was and why she is still a threat with lithe, delicate grace, making sure the intelligence of the two Tildens is apparent no matter how extreme or crazy things ultimately became.

Once the carnage begins, Øvredal refuses to cut any corners or allow the viewer to catch their breath. The winds of change whip through the underground nooks and crannies of the mortuary with unrelenting fury, forcing Tommy and Austin to look at the world in profoundly different ways than they ever had before. It's tense, the director staging things with a breathless relish that's staggering, Cox and Hirsch anchoring things with a determined authenticity that's appealingly relatable.

Everything is ghoulishly perfect, up until the moment it is sadly not, the climactic scenes not nearly as well thought out or as nicely devised as everything else in the picture proves to be. Not that what transpires is dumb; it's more that it happens with such speed and is so perfunctory it is nowhere near as interesting or as much fun to watch as all that preceded it had been. It's a rather benign, and not exactly inspired, coda to what had been an exemplary thriller, taking things in a somewhat forgettable direction that's understandably disappointing.

Up until then, though, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a stunner. Øvredal cements his status as a filmmaker on the rise, giving the found footage genre a notable jolt of inspired electricity with Trollhunter six years ago and now managing to do the exact same thing with supernatural ghost stories and tales of witchcraft and sorcery with this. A strong film, filled to the brim with shocks and scares, even with an ending that doesn't quite work I still kind of loved this chilling horror opus, and as such I'm eager to dive into its macabre layers again relatively soon.


Laughs in Why Him? not worth the price of admission
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WHY HIM?
Now playing


All-American dad and Michigan publishing magnate Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is excited to spend the holidays with his Stanford student daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch). It's going to be a holly jolly family affair, her mother Barb (Megan Mullally) and younger brother Scotty (Griffin Gluck) equally excited about making the trip to California. The only caveat is they're all a little hesitant about meeting Stephanie's current boyfriend, the seemingly larger-than-life, sexually outgoing Laird Mayhew (James Franco), their only encounter with him so far hardly making the best of first impressions.

But Laird isn't the freeloading slacker they all assumed. Turns out, he's a video game mogul and a bona fide multimillionaire. He welcomes the Fleming family onto his spacious estate with open arms, hoping to show them his love for Stephanie is honest and pure. Problem is, Laird has no filter, none at all, saying and doing every utterly inappropriate thing that goes through his head the moment it enters his noggin. No matter how much money he has Ned is positive this is not the man for Stephanie, and before the Christmas holiday has passed he's going to make it his mission to ensure his only daughter comes to that same realization.

Working from a story he concocted with actor Jonah Hill (Sausage Party) and fellow screenwriter Ian Helfer (The Oranges), with Why Him? John Hamburg returns to the feature-length director's chair for the first time since 2009's moderately successful I Love You, Man. In a lot of ways, this overlong and overstuffed mess of a comedy reminds me a lot of that Paul Rudd-Jason Segel-Rashida Jones enterprise in that both made me laugh, both tugged at my heartstrings and both featured very talented actors going above and beyond in service of material that rarely deserved their herculean efforts. That move, for all the chuckles it might have produced, sadly wasn't all that good, and as unhappy as it makes me to proclaim it, you can pretty much say the exact same thing here.

Pity, because Hamburg allows Cranston, Franco, Mullally and Keegan-Michael Key (portraying Laird's take-charge business manager and friend Gustav) free range to milk as much potential laughter out of the material as they all can. They're all-in, each of them, throwing themselves headfirst into things no matter how dopey, tone-deaf and potentially offensive (and not in an appropriately politically incorrect way, but in a manner decidedly opposite of that) some of what happens might end up proving to be. This is especially true early on, a number of genius, laugh-out-loud bits occurring making me believe, if only for a second or two, this comedy could end up being something special along the same lines of This Is the End or Pineapple Express.

None of it holds together, however, the interconnected bits playing more like rough ideas for a flurry of 'Saturday Night Live' sketches than they do parts of a strong, finely-tuned narrative. Interesting ideas like rival companies vying with Laird's for mobile video game supremacy are hinted at only to never be mentioned again, while the melodramatic schmaltz layered over the material concerning Ned's printing business is so maudlin even John Hughes during his Curly Sue, Dutch and Career Opportunities downturn would have found similar material to be far too syrupy to have been included in even his schlockiest of misfires.

But there are some big laughs, most of them happening in ways I didn't see coming. There's a brilliant bit where Ned jubilantly calls out Laird and Gustav for their Inspector Clouseau / Kato relationship, their clueless reactions to his discover priceless. Mullally has an extended bit where she goes out of her way to seduce Cranston into a little clandestine hanky-panky, the veteran character actress having a field day playing the sequence out to its side-splitting conclusion. Then there is what feels like a ten-minute skit involving Cranston and a technologically advanced toilet that shouldn't work, shouldn't be funny and should be a total, and horrifying, chore to sit through. Instead, thanks in large part to him and him alone, the sequence is an uproarious riot, a fact that leaves me increasingly flabbergasted the more I think about it.

All of which makes the movie's failure to consistently entertain even more frustrating. The script doesn't hold together, the last third a particularly hackneyed slog that's as tiresome as it is banal. Deutch, so good in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! and one of the only redeeming elements of the otherwise loathsome Vampire Academy, gets virtually no opportunity to showcase her skills, while the less said about the facets of the story concerning Gluck's smart-aleck little brother Scotty the better. As for how the issues regarding Ned's printing business are concerned, it's just bad, plain and simple, and it's hard to believe that as far as resolutions to a major plot point are concerned this is the best the filmmakers were able to come up with.

I can't hate Why Him? The movie did make me laugh, Cranston and Franco a delightful pair, while Mullally and Key are more than ready to steal every moment they can when the opportunity arises for them to do so. But too much of this comedy feels rushed and slapped together, the dramatic moments falling so flat caring about what happens to any of the characters or their respective problems is practically impossible. It's all sound, all fury, the nothing at the center signifying a creative indifference no audience member should pay good money to experience.








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Six concerts in 2017 to get really excited about
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Macabre Jane Doe a shockingly good ghost story
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Laughs in Why Him? not worth the price of admission
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