Note: This review was first published during coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

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Rebecca Hall stars as Christine Chubbuck, the real-life Florida newswoman who, in 1974, committed suicide on live television. The film follows Chubbuck’s final months, as loneliness, social anxiety and mounting pressure from work pull at her fraying nerves.

Hall is excellent, convincingly playing the barely-contained eruptions behind her character’s fixed expressions. Her Christine is simultaneously off-putting and sympathetic, perpetually getting in the way of her own happiness, which seems just one good day away but always out of reach.

Beyond Hall, however, the film is thin. Aside from her infamous death, Christine Chubbuck was an otherwise uneventful person, a small-market television reporter who lived with her mother and focused on her work. Director Antonio Campos attempts to compensate with a pleasant ensemble of coworkers (played by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, Veep’s Timothy Simons) but the end results feels undercooked.

Grade: B-

‘Christine’ opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 4.

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For readers of Dan Brown’s novels, the announcement that Ron Howard would be skipping the third novel in the Robert Langdon series and moving straight to ‘Inferno,’ the fourth, was welcome news. The neglected book, appropriately titled ‘The Lost Symbol’ was a laughable mess that exacerbated Brown’s flaws as a writer, pitting our hero against a villain, tattooed from head to toe, in a frantic chase to locate 1) an undercover video of a benign Mason ceremony and 2) a mystery McGuffin that turns out to be, ultimately, a King James Bible.

Not a Bible with a special message inside, or a map to some pseudo-fantastical discovery, just a plain old Bible. Genesis to Revelations. Available for $10.38 with free shipping on Amazon Prime.

Oh and Langdon dies, spoiler alert, except he doesn’t, in one of many eyeroll-inducing attempts at faking out the reader.

Compared to that misfire, ‘Inferno’ was a welcome quasi-return to form, falling short of the thrills of ‘Angels and Demons’ and the lesser-but-more-popular ‘Da Vinci Code’ but offering a satisfactory page-turner for long airplane rides or afternoons by the swimming pool.

But it’s still absurdist, pseudo-intellectual pop literature, with more than a little bit of ego masturbation by its author, who crafted a fantasy proxy so glaring in his womanizing, tweeded Langdon that it rivals Woody Allen for self-aggrandizement.

Howard, and star Tom Hanks, are able to smooth some of those edges, adding some maturity to the goings-on and focusing on the puzzles and pistols more than the buxom brunette that Langdon is paired with for the current adventure. But it’s hardly enough, as ‘Inferno,’ like its predecessors, can barely drum up the energy to explain that convoluted and nonsensical plot that loosely connects the anagrams and scavenger hunts that make up the goings-on.

‘Inferno’ does score points for trying something new. It opens in a fog, as Langdon is recovering in a Florentine hospital from a bullet-graze to the head and concussion, which has wiped out his memory of the past 3 days. After regaining consciousness, he is plagued by apocalyptic hallucinations and before you can say “Alighieri” he is being shot at by a would-be assassin and forced on the run with the doctor who treated him (Felicity Jones, to be seen next in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’).

The film’s omni-chase structure, ostensibly, sends its protagonists through famed locales like the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Vechio. The eye candy of Dan Brown’s settings is part of the charm of the franchise, and yet in ‘Inferno,’ Howard keeps his camera cropped tight, robbing any hope of architectural and historical eye candy. It’s likely a result of the actors being nowhere near the actual locales, but whether due to movie trickery or no its a wasted opportunity for what would otherwise be a glitzy romp through Florence, Venice and Istanbul.

There are high moments. The perpetually-underrated Ben Foster puts in good work as the de facto villain, a billionaire decrying overpopulation from the rooftops whose death sets the film’s plot in motion. And screenwriter David Koepp takes creative license from the source material, deviating from Brown’s more questionable choices and crafting a third act climax that delivers satisfactory tension when paired with Howard’s competent directing.

It’s almost enough, and certainly gets more mileage than the novel would suggest. And while it escapes cinematic hell, it lands far from heaven.

Grade: B-

Inferno opens nationwide on Friday, October 28.

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Somewhere in Suburbia, USA, human resources drone Jeff Gaffney and his interior designer wife Karen (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) are living generic middle-class cul-de-sac lives when their curiosity and fascination is piqued by the arrival of new immaculate, world-traveled neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot).

Don Draper and Wonder Woman moving in next door would be enough of a counterpoint to the nebbishness of Galifianakis and Fisher, but there is, of course, more to the story as Tim and Natalie turn out to be government spies looking to bilk information about the high-security firm that their mild-mannered neighbor works for.

What follows is textbook formula for the “My friend is a spy!” genre, with Hamm and Galifianakis bonding over home-brew and a near snake poisoning  and Fisher playing the amateur sleuth whose suspicions leads first to a protracted and unfunny lingerie scene for Gadot and finally the big reveal that kicks that back half of the film into motion.

Of course Galifianakis and Fisher will be forced into a covert operation on behalf of God and Country. It’s a foregone conclusion, as are most of the major plot beats in the film equivalent of a paint-by-numbers sketch.

And yet, throughout the predictable proceedings, the charisma of the cast is able to keep things relatively afloat. Hamm and Gadot ooze charm without really bothering to show up and act, while Galifianakis and Fisher bounce off the walls. The results is a reasonably entertaining, albeit unmemorable, way to spend two hours with a soft PG-13 rating that allows for *just enough* adult humor in an otherwise harmless comedy.

Grade: B-

Keeping Up With the Joneses opens nationwide on Friday, October 21.

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Ben Affleck’s new movie, “The Accountant,” is all over the map. Ostensibly, it’s about a math savant with high-functioning autism who earns his keep as a black market book keeper for mega-corporations, drug cartels and terrorists.

But it’s also a family drama about a gifted child raised under the stern gaze of a militaristic father, which molds the boy into a killing machine.

But it’s also a romance, with a social misfit rushing to save the nerdy damsel in distress, played by perfect human Anna Kendrick.

It’s also a pseudo-superhero movie, with a hyper-intelligent one-man-wrecking-machine doling out vigilante justice with the help of J.K. Simmons, in a striking parallel to his upcoming role as Commissioner Gordon in the Justice League movie.

It’s also a revenge flick.

In truth, the disparate elements don’t combine into a coherent hole. The tone is wildly inconsistent, trading blase mayhem with awe-shucks humor and quiet introspection. With Affleck at its center, it feels like Good Will Hunting, Daredevil and Argo crammed into a single stew.

But that stew is not abjectly terrible. Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) and writer Bill Dubuque (The Judge) clearly set out to make a thinking man’s action film, and to a large extent they succeed. Accountant, with its seemingly emotionless protagonist and no-frills choreography, makes for a unique storytelling format that leans into and twist the tropes of the genre.

Were it not for a few too many unreasonably contrived plot coincidences, the movie would be a valid, albeit not superfluous, success. That the film’s major reveal is so glaringly apparent can’t lessen the dull thud that it lands with, and the film’s action sequences escalate nicely before culminating in a final standoff that is shot in near-darkness, making it nearly incomprehensible. And a B-plot focusing on an up-and-coming Treasury investigator feels completely tacked on as an afterthought, and that’s before an exposition dump at the start of Act II renders the whole sequence largely moot.

There’s enough happening onscreen to keep an audience engaged — though the film runs a little long at 128 minutes —  and the John Wick-esque shoot ’em up style is one that I’m happy to see more film’s embracing. But for all the film’s assets, it can’t quite keep them organized to offset depreciation.

Grade: B-

*The Accountant opens nationwide on Friday, October 14

Galavant (2015-2016)

Galavant ran for just two short seasons on ABC, racking up 18, 22-minute episodes that are perfect for a quick binge. The show is a medieval musical comedy centered around the adventures of Galavant (Joshua Sasse) and his squire (played by Community’s Magnitude — “Pop POP!”) and filled with self-referential meta humor.

In short, it’s weird, and definitely designed for the music theater crowd. But after a somewhat shaky start the show leans into its surrealism, delivering bigger laughs and winningly absurdist song-and-dance sequences. I would have loved more episodes (not gonna happen) but at the same time the 18 installments are well-planned, making for a coherent and complete story, which is all-to0-rare among cancelled-too-soon television shows. And with only 9 hours of programming, it won’t weigh down you queue for long.

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Dope (2015)

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a good kid growing up in a tough neighborhood. A string of circumstances land him and his friends with a bag full of dope (hence the title) and no choice but to turn to some extra-curricular drug dealing in order to get back to their normal geeky ways.

The good-guy-forced-to-do-bad-things is familiar territory, but Dope takes a fresh approach, keeping things on the lighter side and splitting its time between coming of age story and loving tribute to hip-hop and urban culture.

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Better Off Ted (2009-2010)

Another two-season ABC tragedy. Better Off Ted ran for 26 episodes of bizarre workplace shenanigans, based out of a soulless R&D company that produces everything from itchy office chairs that increase employee productivity to perfectly aerodynamic bagels.

The protagonist is Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) but the strength is really in the ensemble, which includes Arrested Development’s Portia De Rossi and the paired perfection of Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Berrett as a sort of live-action Beaker and Bunsen. Gone too soon, but never forgotten.

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The Hunting Ground (2015)

On a more serious note, every man woman and child (of an appropriate age for mature themes) should watch The Hunting Ground, a searing documentary about the plague of campus sexual assault. If there’s a better study of the subject in film form, I have yet to see it. Chilling, evocative and necessary.

Trolljegeren (Troll Hunter – 2010)

From Norway, with English subtitles, Troll Hunter is about…well…hunting trolls. And it’s delightful.

Shot in a documentary style, the movie skips around Norway while a ragtag bunch of troll hunters encounter and take care of an escalating string of monsters.

It’s kind of hard to describe. Watch it.

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Writer-director-star Nate Parker blew the doors off Sundance with this historical epic, which netted a record $17.5 million pickup. The film tells the story of Nat Turner, who led a violent slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, and is filled to the brim with commentary on America’s past, present and future.

While limited by a independent budget, Parker’s camera captures plenty of stomach-churning horrors. Prior to his rebellion, Turner visits neighboring plantations as a preacher-for-hire, providing a window into the disparate treatment eked out by slaveowners reacting and adapting to economic downturn.

The film seems perfectly poised to drop into the current national conversation on race in America. Its rough edges could slow it down in the mainstream market, but it’s a meaningful, boldly-made film with plenty to say.

^That^ is what I wrote about “Birth of a Nation” when I saw it January, back when Nate Parker was the belle of the Sundance ball and before his past as an accused rapist had been shouted from the rafters by dogged and necessary criticism. In the months since, Parker has failed to mitigate those criticisms, instead holding adamant to his acquittal, refusing to apologize for whatever part he played in the victimization of a now-deceased woman  (she committed suicide in 2012) and clinging to his perceived status as a wrongly-accused, innocent man.

The problem, Mr. Parker, is that as one character explained in “Hannibal,” innocent isn’t a verdict, not guilty is.

In light of the off-screen drama that now surrounds “The Birth of a Nation,” the film’s flaws are all-the-more glaring. Under Parker’s relatively inexperienced direction, the movie lacks any subtlety, with its depictions of barbarism delivered as bluntly – and literally – as a hammer to the teeth. There is a dearth of chemistry between the film’s romantic leads, and a stiffness to the dialogue that undercuts the character beats and dramatic tension.

From the lens of a low-budgeted drama by a novice multi-hyphenate director and star, those flaws are forgivable in service of a lesser-known piece of American history worthy of dramatization. But the increasing weight of Parker’s personal issues drags the movie down into the dirt.

For those able to separate art from artist, “The Birth of a Nation” remains and interesting and ambitious project. But for many, and unfortunately for the myriad professionals involved in the making of this film, the quality is not high enough to distract from the mistakes of its director and star.

Grade: B

*The Birth of a Nation opens nationwide on Friday, October 7.

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*Note: portions of this review were originally published during coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

The quirky family dramedy is a perennial staple, and the genre’s demands are thoroughly satisfied by “The Hollars,” directed by The Office’s John Krasinski. This is a film where an aloof son (Krasinski) is summoned home due to the ill health of a parent (in this case, character actress Margo Martindale) and the ensuing reconnection to his past thrusts him out of a rut a changed, matured and awakened man, ready to face his future.

It’s a familiar formula, but one that is successfully executed by the incredible ensemble cast, which includes perfect human Anna Kendrick as Krasinski’s pregnant, no-nonsense wife, Richard Jenkins as his endearingly buffoonish father, Sharlto Copley as a mildly-unhinged brother and small but memorable parts for Josh Groban, Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

But it’s not all sunshine. The potential loss of a parent hangs over the proceedings, and the b-plot hinges on Copley’s character struggling to cope with the recent separation from his wife and children. But the drama side of things floats above despair, avoiding the sharper edges of hipster negativity that populate similar work by Zach Braff or the Duplass Brothers — not a knock on either style, simply a comment a tone.

The tidy, group-hug ending may be a little too breezy for some, but ‘The Hollars’ is funny, it’s heartfelt, and it goes down smooth.

Grade: B+

*The Hollars opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, September 23.