Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Military marksman Col. Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines, Running Scared) is called into top-secret duty to neutralize a surveillance robot gone haywire in San Francisco. It won't be easy, because for one thing, the android is undetectable from a human. For another, it has a built-in nuclear bomb that will detonate upon imminent threat.
I plead guilty: My friends and I have goofed around with a camcorder before and made stupid movies, but we were smart enough to know that no one outside ourselves would think they were funny. If only the makers of Caesar and Otto's Deadly Xmas realized the same.
Critics of our criminal justice system don’t have to search far for
nightmare scenarios of wrongful convictions. From cases of false
confessions to exonerations through DNA testing, the past few decades
are rife with tales of injustice that would give even Kafka the willies.
It says something about the horrific saga of the West Memphis Three that their experience still manages to be so shocking.
One might have thought that three HBO documentaries, the Paradise Lostfilms of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, would have been sufficient to tell this story.
But West of Memphis, which opens Friday
exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial, is an
essential chronicle of how the judicial system can go horribly wrong
with the misinterpretation, whether deliberate or inadvertent, of just a
1993, three 8-year-old boys — Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and
Michael Moore — were found in a creek along Robin Hood Hills in West
Memphis, Ark. Their bodies were naked, hogtied with shoelaces and
covered in slashes.
determining the murders had all the trappings of a satanic ritual,
wound up charging three troubled youths who seemed likely to be caught
up in occultism: Damien Echols, 18; Jessie Misskelley, 17; and Jason
Baldwin, 16. Misskelley, who had an IQ of 72, offered up a confession in
the wake of a grueling, 12-hour interrogation.
West of Memphis uses
archival and contemporary footage to illustrate how the killings’ more
sensationalistic aspects colored the trial. Jurors saw graphic photos of
the victims and heard expert testimony about Satanism. They heard from a jailhouse informant how the defendants had mutilated the genitals of one of the boys.
Echols received a death sentence, while Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life terms.
serious doubts about the prosecution’s case surfaced shortly after the
verdict. Misskelley’s heavily edited confession had stemmed from leading
questions. Key prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony. A crush
of forensic experts scoffed at the notion of satanic ritual, contending
instead that snapping turtles and other animals in the creek bed had
inflicted the injuries.
discrediting of the occult angle changed the sense of the crime itself,
suggesting that the perpetrator might have known the victims
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (who made another powerful documentary about perverse injustice, 2006’s Deliver Us from Evil) painstakingly builds a case for the innocence of the West Memphis Three. But that is only half her agenda. West of Memphis also posits that the actual killer could be Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the boys.
The case against him gets considerable heft from the doc’s producers, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who made The Lord of the Rings trilogy
and evidently sank some money into investigating Hobbs. Some of what
they discover is compelling, particularly DNA analysis of hair found at
the crime scene. Other scraps of information — such as third-hand
suggestions pointing to Hobbs’ culpability — are hardly worth the
Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, West of Memphis veers
a bit — only a bit — from exhaustive to exhaustion, something that
could have been remedied with a little less from high-profile supporters
Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins. But the star wattage, a reminder that
fighting for the freedom of the trio was as much a celebrity cause as it
was cause célèbre, has its instructional use, too.
convicts who claim their innocence get the attention of a Jackson or a
Johnny Depp. It’s worth noting the admonition of Echols in a prison
interview: “This case is nothing out of the ordinary. This happens all the time.” —Phil Bacharach