Review Round-Up: “Can You Keep A Secret?,” “Depraved,” “Haunt,” “Liam Gallagher: As It Was,” And “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!”


The round-up returns once again! With so many independent releases hitting theaters here in early September, it’s almost impossible not to have to play catch-up like this. Today, we’ve got five new films to give a quick take on, including one in Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! that I admittedly forget to discuss last week. Joining that documentary are the horror efforts Depraved and Haunt, along with the doc Liam Gallagher: As It Was, as well as the indie comedy Can You Keep a Secret? It’s quite the group! How many of them are worth your time and money? Do any especially stand out from the pack? Time to dive in and answer just that…

Can You Keep a Secret?

Romantic comedies used to be big business. Hollywood loved to put them out. Now? Not so much, and it’s a shame. It has become the job of independent cinema to craft what previously was mainstream crowd pleasing fare. Can You Keep a Secret? is just the latest example of this. A decade ago, it might have made $100 million at the box office. These days, it largely exists as a indie/VOD option. What a shame. Anyway, Can You Keep a Secret? at least offers evidence that the rom com deserves to remain a viable genre. The film is a small scale delight.

The movie is obviously a rom com, with an unlikely meet cute and everything. After a disastrous presentation in Chicago, Emma Corrigan (Alexandra Daddario) boards a flight back to New York. Seeing how haggard she is, the flight attendant bumps her up to first class. Seated next to a good looking man (Tyler Hoechlin). Then, turbulence hits. Convinced that they’re about to die in a horrible crash, Emma impulsively begins spilling her guts to this stranger next to her. Throughout the entire flight, her secrets are unleashed. Safely on the ground, she’s convinced she’ll never see him again, until it turns out that he’s actually none other than Jack Harper, the billionaire CEO of her company. Now, he knows every humiliating detail about her too. Luckily, he seems charmed and even smitten with her. So, an unlikely relationship begins. Of course, being a rom com, complications are inevitable. Elise Duran directs a script by Peter Hutchings, adapting Sophie Kinsella’s novel. Jeff Cardoni provides the music, while the cinematography is by Autumn Eakin. In addition to Daddario and Hoechlin, the cast includes Laverne Cox, Kate Easton, David Ebert, Kimiko Glenn, Sunita Mani, and more.

There’s some tremendous charm on display here. Both Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin are romantic comedy gems, with Daddario in particular pulling off a lovely mix of silliness and sexiness. They both easily overcome the screenplay’s periodic shortcomings, namely in trying to make the third act all about splitting them up. The comedy here is hit or miss, though the romance is very much on point. Daddario and Hoechlin make a winning pair and the more time spent with them charming each other, the more it rubs off on the audience.

Can You Keep a Secret? is a lot of fun. It doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy wheel, but it knows that a winning pair in front of the camera can cover up a lot. The pair here is as good as the genre has had this year, and in particular, it shows how Daddario is going to be a big star before long. If you enjoy rom coms, this is one to make time for. You won’t regret it!

Depraved

For years now, Larry Fessenden has been an under the radar filmmaker for most, though for a certain segment of fright flick fans, he’s a rock star. Now, he’s tackling Frankenstein with Depraved, his latest effort. In some ways, this is his best work to date. In other ways, it’s his most frustrating. It’s easy to see what he was going for. Unfortunately, the execution is slightly dulled, making this a bit of a missed opportunity.

This horror tale is a loose Frankenstein remake, set in modern day Brooklyn. At the start, we meet Alex (Owen Campbell), an average Brooklynite. After sex with his girlfriend Lucy (Chloë Levine), he leaves her apartment and is murdered on the walk home. Then, he, or at least his brain awakens in a warehouse, attached to a new body/parts of multiple ones. As it turns out, Henry (David Call), a brilliant surgeon and former soldier suffering from PTSD, has reanimated him. Christening the new creation Adam (Alex Breaux), he and his financier Polidori (Joshua Leonard) are hoping to revolutionize medicine. Alex makes incredible progress, soon all but passing for a regular human being. Of course, his old memories, as well as human needs, begin to make him dangerous, turning everyone against each other, with tragic results. Anyone familiar with Mary Shelley’s classic story will know where this is going early on. Fessenden writes and directs, with the rest of the cast including the likes of Maria Dizzia, Ana Kayne, and Addison Timlin. James Siewert and Chris Skotchdopole teamed up on the cinematography, while the score is by Will Bates.

Larry Fessenden is his own worst enemy here. With an almost two hour running time, he loses the sense of pacing midway through, before alternating between emotions and horror late in the third act. All the ingredients are here for something terrific. It just doesn’t fully translate. There’s too many scenes in the middle section that are unnecessary. Fessenden clearly thought that spending as much time as possible with Adam would make this ultimately a tragedy. However, a little less would have gotten us to the horror aspect sooner. By the time that happens, it’s no longer an interesting part of the story. Then, there’s little things, like how sections of Brooklyn are oddly deserted when needed for the plot, or how Adam is completely ignored as he walks around late in the game, despite looking like a monster. Even as a jaded lifelong New Yorker, I know that’s not how it would go down.

Depraved is so close to being a recommendation worthy film. Ultimately, it adds nothing new to the Frankenstein legend, which is a shame. Frankenstein is due for a modern retelling. Sadly, Fessenden only brings it to Brooklyn, instead of fully bringing it to life. This is an interesting movie to watch for adventurous indie cinema fans, but for those looking for strong horror fare, it’s too frustrating to recommend with any enthusiasm.

Haunt

After the success of A Quiet Place, a smash hit horror film, writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods easily could have cashed in. Reportedly, they even had meetings with Disney and LucasFilm about the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises. Instead, they opted to step behind the camera for a much different and much smaller fright flick. Haunt is a movie hoping just to gross you out and scare you. While it doesn’t do either remarkably well, it has an enjoyable enough vibe to ever so slightly come out ahead.

The film takes place on Halloween, with a group of friends ending up in decidedly the wrong haunted house. Initially, Harper (Katie Stevens), wasn’t planning to go out at all, but when Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) drags her out, they run into Nathan (Will Brittain), which perks her up. Harper is dealing with an abusive boyfriend, so some decent treatment by Nathan is much needed. Then, his obnoxious buddy Evan (Andrew Caldwell) shows and insists they all go looking for a haunted house. Out on the road, they find an “extreme” one, which needs you to sign a waiver and surrender your cell phone. That should tip them off, but this is a horror movie. Anyway, what initially begins as just simple scares gets creepier and creepier, before a fight for their lives begins. The aforementioned Beck and Woods both write and direct here, with Ryan Samul handling the cinematography, as well as a score by tomandandy. The rest of the cast includes Schuyler Helford, Shazi Raja, Phillip Johnson Richardson, and more.

This horror flick is largely content to be just average. Then, the third act hits. The final section of Haunt gets crazy and that’s where the fun kicks into gear. Without spoiling things, the concept of masks is given a bit of a twist, allowing for a new kind of scare tactic to emerge late in the game. Early on, the set up is a bit protracted and the characters are annoying/bland. Then, things start to grow on you, right as the violence begins. Beck and Woods manage to thread that needle fairly well, if not as perfectly as in A Quiet Place.

Haunt will appeal to unfussy horror fans. Anyone looking for A Quiet Place will be severely disappointed, but as a potential VOD Halloween option going forward, it has a definite appeal. Beck and Woods clearly have their genre influences as filmmakers and wear it on their sleeves. Nothing here is extraordinary, but just enough here is fun for fans of this sort of thing. If you count yourself among those ranks, give it a look!

Liam Gallagher: As It Was

Oasis is a terrific band. Hell, they’re an underrated one. Fronted by long sparring brothers Liam Gallagher and Noel Gallagher, a split was probably inevitable for them. The fallout from the end of the glory days for the brothers in Oasis, as well as what came next for Liam, fuels the film Liam Gallagher: As It Was. Unfortunately, there’s no narrative thrust, so the lack of cinematic fuel prevents the flick from being particularly compelling, unless you’re already a massive fan of this Gallagher.

This documentary follows Liam Gallagher in the aftermath of his split from his band and his brother. When the breakup occurred, many speculated that Liam would either reconcile with Noel or fade away. Instead, he re-focused on his own music, eventually leading to a solo comeback. Through it all, he deals with the perils of fame and notoriety, as well as ample amounts of alcohol. There’s legal wrangling, struggles, and eventual musical success. More or less, this is a feature length Behind The Music episode, just from only one particular point of view. Gavin Fitzgerald and Charlie Lightening co-direct here, with cinematography by Jj Rolfe.

For me, the issue here is that the doc just isn’t very interesting. Liam comes off as a one note rocker, which is infectious in small doses, but wears thin. Otherwise, you just follow him around and listen to others talk about him, without ever really saying anything of note. It’s a misstep that the film never examines him in any cerebral sort of way. It winds up closer to fan worship than anything else.

Liam Gallagher: As It Was is a documentary that will please Oasis fans, those curious about this particular Gallagher, and Liam himself. That part is where the movie suffers, frankly. Instead of probing him, it celebrates him and lets his own view of things be the gospel. Another side of the coin would have been greatly appreciated. I love Oasis, but this doc never manages to make their mercurial former member of any significant interest. Liam Gallagher never makes himself film worthy.

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!

Morgan Spurlock is a unique documentarian. He’s not quite the overt showman that Michael Moore is, but he certainly makes it a point to insert himself into his documentaries. The films always have a gimmick to them, most notoriously eating McDonald’s for a month straight in Super Size Me. Well, a fast food related quirk is at the forefront of Spurlock’s latest flick Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, a sequel in name only. This time around, the director takes aim at the fast food industry, but by entering in through the back door, as it were.

The doc isn’t quite a sequel to Super Size Me, so much as a second look at the fast food industry. This time around, Morgan Spurlock, again appearing on screen as the central protagonist, wants to see things from the other side of the table. So, he opts to open his own restaurant. What to serve, though? Well, it seems like chicken is the new thing, specifically chicken sandwiches. So, that’s what he’ll serve. Grilled is healthier, but no one eats it, so a crispy fried chicken sandwich is where it’s at. As he develops his fast food joint (and don’t worry, there’s a twist at the end that’s not hard to see coming, but still is pretty clever), he raises his own chickens on a farm, learning about the Food and Drug Administration and what a crock that all is. He’s again seeking to mix entertainment and information. Spurlock directs and writes with Jeremy Chilnick, with cinematography by David Vlasits, as well as a score from Jeff Meegan and David Tobin.

This time around, Spurlock’s film isn’t quite as much fun, but it’s just as informative. In particular, when he learns about the folly that is the FDA, he’s pulling back the curtain on some pretty upsetting stuff. The same goes for the plight of chicken farmers, who are almost being enslaved by gigantic companies like Purdue. Without the Super Size Me gimmick, however, this suffers from slow pacing, preventing any chance at the same sort of success the prior installment enjoyed.

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! won’t come close to matching the cultural impact of Super Size Me, but it’s still a doc with something important to say. Whether many audience members give it a chance or not remains to be seen, but it’s worth checking out. The flick will make you certainly look at chicken sandwiches in a whole new light. You may still eat them, but the film will undoubtedly be on your mind when you do…


All of these films are in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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