The last time David DeFalco stepped behind a camera, it was for the 2005 shocker “Chaos.” A morally bankrupt, technically abysmal reworking of “Last House on the Left, “Chaos” strived to be the final word on screen inhumanity; instead, it was insufferable, highlighting DeFalco’s diseased world view and inability to coherently piece together a feature film. Dialing back the gruesomeness to fiddle around with the DTV action market, DeFalco returns with “Wrong Side of Town,” a burly, brainless exercise in tough guy cinema, with a slew of D-list celebrities and professional wrestling buddies to help fill out his limited vision for weightlifter heroism.
It’s refreshing to see Robert De Niro shove aside his tough guy screen persona now and then, to remind viewers used to his antics that beyond his icy glare and powder keg temper lies a uniquely sensitive actor. “Everybody’s Fine” is a thorough tear-jerker, but the feature earns most of its sentiment, due in great part to De Niro and his gentle, worrywart lead performance. I’m not suggesting this is De Niro at his most invested and commanding, but his communication of concern adds a needed push of authenticity to a film forever on the precipice of pure schmaltz.
“The House of the Devil” is a throwback horror film that actually makes an effort to look and sound like a bygone era. Granted, 1980’s genre nostalgia is nothing cinematically revolutionary, perhaps even tiresome cliche at this point, but writer/director Ti West keeps to the task at hand. Forgoing irony or vile retro winks, “Devil” plays it straight. While that doesn’t generate the most riveting suspense piece of the year, it does deliver a hugely satisfying chiller that’s effectively minimal and marvelously made.
I’ll give director Drew Barrymore this: she made Ellen Page appealing. “Whip It” takes the tart-tongued “Juno” star to the crashin’, smashin’ world of roller derby for a coming-of-age dramedy that bites off a little more than it can chew. Energetically woven by Barrymore, the film suffers from an acute case of the adaptation blues, trying to cram in as many plot points as possible to fill its belly with caloric melodrama. It’s a diluted journey of feminine self-realization, better with bruises and teamwork than it is with pliable matters of the heart.
There’s a power of mimicry and lavish flight photography that keeps the bio-pic “Amelia” in the air. This is not a strong motion picture, nor a particularly informative one. Instead, it’s a finely polished soap opera from a wonderful director starring fantastic actors, and nobody can quite connect the ambition of the piece with the execution. Moments of midair ecstasy hold it together and without those peaceful pauses of expression, “Amelia” is simply mawkish entertainment, stable and worthwhile for the uncommitted moviewatcher, but it never finds a comfortable altitude.