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Review: Danny Huston’s ‘The Last Photograph’; plus ‘Boy Genius,’ ‘The Whistler’ and more

Danny Huston, ‘The Last Photograph’
Danny Huston in “The Last Photograph.”
(Freestyle Digital Media)

‘The Last Photograph’

Danny Huston was a director before he became a character actor — just like his father John. Lately he hasn’t been as active behind the camera and some rust is evident in “The Last Photograph,” his first film since the mid-’90s. But if nothing else, Huston has given himself one of his best roles, playing a father reeling from his son’s death in the 1988 Pan-Am Flight 103 bombing.

Adapted from a Simon Astaire novel, “The Last Photograph” stars Huston as Tom Hammond, an eccentric London bookshop proprietor who obsesses over the last time he saw his son Luke (Jonah Hauer-King). He thinks about a cheery Christmas party in 1988, and the conversation he had with Luke on the way to the airport. But when someone inadvertently steals the last photo of his son, the theft forces Tom to reckon with what his life has become.

Huston bounces around between timelines and cuts in news footage from the bombing’s aftermath. He also withholds some key information until later in the film — a choice not that dramatically fruitful. “The Last Photograph” can be unnecessarily confusing, and some of its digressions (like any scene involving Luke and his girlfriend) don’t add much to the story of Tom’s grief.

But Huston is outstanding, playing a broken man who pretends he’s fine, even as his rudeness and tics tell a different story. At the film’s best, the director uses his dreamy, fragmented narrative approach to reflect the disjointed state of his protagonist, who’s always slightly spacey, because the most important part of him is stuck in the past.

'The Last Photograph'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 6, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD
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‘Boy Genius’

Skylan Brooks, Tracy Thoms, Miles Brown in ‘Boy Genius’
Skylan Brooks, from left, Tracy Thoms and Miles Brown in the movie “Boy Genius.”
(Gravitas Ventures)

As the lines between TV and cinema keep blurring, we’re bound to get more films like “Boy Genius,” an ungainly cross-format hybrid that resembles both a feature-length sitcom (reminiscent of “Young Sheldon” and “black-ish”) and a movie rejected by the Disney Channel. Despite its winning cast and genial tone, “Boy Genius” never really sparks.

Talented young actor Miles Brown plays Emmett, a 12-year-old prodigy attending high school alongside his older brother Luke (Skylan Brooks), who’s been in and out of trouble for most of their adolescence. When their stern principal (played by Nora Dunn) accuses Luke of a string of thefts, Emmett teams up with local mystery novelist Mary Locke (Rita Wilson) to find the real culprit.

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Director Bridget Stokes and screenwriter Vicky Wright throw a lot into the mix, including fantasy sequences where Emmett imagines himself as the school hero, animated interludes that explore his family’s troubled history, and pointed scenes where the black pre-teen asks his white senior citizen crime-solving partner to examine her privilege.

Yet even with capable supporting players like Tracie Thoms (as Emmett’s hard-working single mom), Zach Gilford (as a friendly cop) and Ravi Patel (as a bumbling science teacher), “Boy Genius” remains frustratingly bland and disjointed throughout — like it was assembled from discarded pieces of family-friendly television pilots.

'Boy Genius'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘Night Hunter’

Henry Cavill, ‘Night Hunter’
Henry Cavill in the movie “Night Hunter.”
(Saban Films / Paramount / DirecTV)

The biggest mystery in the serial-killer thriller “Night Hunter” isn’t the identity of a super-predator, or the location of his abductees. The real question here is how such a preposterous compendium of crime movie clichés could attract a heavyweight cast. With Henry Cavill as a moody detective, Alexandra Daddario as a criminal psychologist, Nathan Fillion as the team’s mostly silent member, Stanley Tucci as their boss and Ben Kingsley as a judge-turned-vigilante, “Night Hunter” boasts more acting talent than novice writer-director David Raymond knows how to use.

Brendan Fletcher is at the center of the action, playing Simon, a mentally handicapped man who’s the chief suspect in a series of sex crimes, initiated online. But Simon’s diminished capacities raise questions about whether he had an accomplice. So while the bosses want our heroes to book Simon and close the case, instead they team up with Kingsley’s rogue agent, using the kind of high-tech bad-guy-finding equipment that only seems to exist in American cop shows.

“Night Hunter” features some absolutely batty plot twists and crazy contrivances that would almost be fun if Raymond hadn’t pitched this film as something somber and revelatory — like “Seven” or “Silence of the Lambs.” Perhaps that’s the kind of movie this overqualified cast thought they were going to be making. Perhaps they didn’t read the script.

'Night Hunter'
Rated: R, for disturbing and violent content, language throughout, and some sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘The Whistler’

‘The Whistler’
A scene from the film “The Whistler.”
(Uncork’d Entertainment / Dark Star Pictures )

According to folklore from the Los Llanos natives of Colombia and Venezuela, centuries ago a child murdered his miserable wretch of a father, and when his family tortured and killed the boy as retribution, he came back as a ferocious ghost dubbed “el Silbón” (or “the Whistler”), who now descends from the trees after whistling an ominous tune to savage drunks and philanderers.

Venezuelan director Gisberg Bermúdez and his co-writer/brother Gisyerg Bermúdez take a multi-directional approach to adapting this legend into the movie “The Whistler.” Part of the film retells el Silbón’s origin story, and part follows a father who worries that his daughter is being possessed by the creature’s spirit.

It requires some concentration to track the ways these two stories intertwine and slip between each other. Like a lot of recent South American and Central American horror, “The Whistler” is primarily a mood piece, relying heavily on deep shadow and rich sound design to spook the audience. But it’s a richly imagined film, drawing its eerie power from the depths of male guilt.

'The Whistler'
In Spanish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 6, Laemmle Glendale; available Sept. 17 on VOD


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‘Satanic Panic’

Hayley Griffith in the movie “Satanic Panic.”
Hayley Griffith in the movie “Satanic Panic.”
(Eliana Pires / RLJE FIlms)

There’s something just a bit off about “Satanic Panic,” a knowing horror-comedy with some wonderfully wild moments, but with pacing too slack and choppy to give its best jokes their proper punch. Director Chelsea Stardust and screenwriter Grady Hendrix — working from a story he co-wrote with his “Mohawk” collaborator Ted Geoghegan — get a good performance from Hayley Griffith as Sam, a pizza delivery gal who gets in trouble when she complains that a satanist cult didn’t leave her a tip. But the movie’s highlights are scattered.

To be fair though, some of those highlights are pretty high. They include: a campy turn from Rebecca Romijn as the coven’s snippy high priestess; a funny cameo from Jerry O’Connell as an opportunistic pervert; and a sharp supporting performance by Ruby Modine, as a jaded millennial who helps Sam evade her witchy cohorts. Ultimately though, “Satanic Panic” just has its handful of cleverly gory scenes and its general enthusiasm for classic horror to recommend it. It falls just devilishly short of being good.

'Satanic Panic'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 6, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD


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