Quick Movie Reviews (Guns Akimbo & Disappearance at Clifton Hill)

Guns Akimbo

As a satire of overamped gamer culture it seems Guns Akimbo may itself be too overamped to hit heights of an adrenaline-pumping good time. Yet that doesn’t stop the film from showing off its virtuosity — shots that turn cartwheels, frantic cutting, an onslaught of graphics — it’s nonstop in the vein of a kid who just scarfed down six bowls of Reese’s Puffs. The film centers on Miles (Daniel Radcliffe), a coding drone who spends his days glued to various devices. One night, he gets into an insult match on a site for “Skizm,” an underground fight club that selects random oddballs and criminals and pairs them against each other in mortal fights. Spectators watch remotely, à la The Truman Show. Although there is a system of scoring points, the violence is very much real.

guns akimbo
Image via Saban Films

So it goes that Skizm’s boss (Ned Dennehy) and his goons, offended by Miles’ online commentary, slam in his door and bolt guns to his hands, turning him into a participant. The surgical altercations complicate almost any task (other than shooting), producing some physical comedy that Radcliffe executes pretty well. Miles’ opponent: Nix (Samara Weaving), a merciless high-scorer. Will this dorky asthmatic, unable to properly use his phone, participant summon his inner alpha from the virtual realm? The overall message — Miles’ nice-guy demeanor is both his weakness and his salvation — does get pretty muddled by all the hyperactivity. But, in a case of life imitating fiction, the film’s writer-director, Jason Lei Howden, was just embroiled in a cyber-bullying skirmish where he seemed to show him targeting film critics of color just before the film’s release. The film’s distributor, Saban Films, said in a statement that they did not condone his “online behavior.” Considering what happens to his protagonist, that is just a slap on the wrist. Finding a way to be exhausting yet never exhilarating, Guns Akimbo‘s nonstop freneticism ultimately arrives in mind-numbingly dull fashion.

Grade: C

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

Like a lot of the best mysteries, the wonderfully moody neo-noir Disappearance at Clifton Hill is less about solving a crime than about understanding its meaning. With its eccentric amateur detective, its eye-catching Niagara Falls setting and its dissonant jazz score (from Alex Sowinski and Leland Whitty), this movie plays more like an arthouse indie drama than your everyday thriller. More David Lynch than David Fincher.

The opening shots of Disappearance at Clifton Hill seem to be of a fog permeated with some kind of green slime. And once it lifts we’re with a small family on a fishing trip. One of two little girls is separated from her sister and parents, and comes upon a young boy with a gauze over one of his eyes. He’s a discomfiting figure, and he’s soon pursued by adult figures who are more discomfiting, obscured by brush. The young girl isn’t sure what ultimately happens, but she, and we, understand that whatever it was, it wasn’t good. We jump to decades later, the witness, Abby (Tuppence Middleton), is now faced with selling her mom’s rickety Niagara Falls motel. Her sister Laure (Hannah Gross) is all for it. Abby retains an attachment and resents the third-generation business hotshot who wants the property. Her haunted memories find a link to his back story, and her suspicions, in turn, are fed by Walter, a local podcaster, self-styled historian and conspiracy theorist. He’s played with droll, gravitas-filled understatement by filmmaker David Cronenberg. Cronenberg’s entrance — he emerges from a lake in wet suit and full scuba gear — is one of the more noteworthy in recent genre cinema, in part because the robust performer is seventy-six-years-old.

disappearance at clifton
Image via IFC Films

As Abby becomes an unlikely sleuth, obsesses with the kidnapping and begins to intertwin with a married pair of down-market magicians and the various crumbling attractions of a fading vacation spot, her trustworthiness also begins to become shaky. Disappearance at Clifton Hill has its fair share of plot twists, and they’re all admirably delved into. But what effectively looms over those twists is the film’s strongest feature, which is its dank atmosphere which is sustained almost throughout by director Albert Shin. And ultimately, Shin (who also cowrote the film with James Schultz) doesn’t seem overly interested in explanations as an end in themselves. As Abby gets to the bottom of her mystery, she finds every answer raises more questions. But that’s OK, because where Disappearance at Clifton Hill really excels is in exploring the visual and sonic textures of a decaying tourist spot, and in hailing the plucky resourcefulness of a broken woman, trying to piece her memoires — and maybe herself — back together. Palpably moody and idiosyncratic, Disappearance at Clifton Hill mixes its spills and chills for a knotty neo-noir of childhood memories, festering resorts, and clammy, dread-filled atmosphere.

Grade: B

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