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Review: A funny, intense ‘Harpoon,’ Aaron Paul, a terrifying ‘Clown’ and more

Christopher Gray holding the titular weapon in “Harpoon.”
Christopher Gray in “Harpoon.”
(Epic Pictures)

‘Harpoon’

In the opening minutes of writer-director Rob Grant’s horror-comedy “Harpoon,” a rich brat named Richard (Christopher Gray) repeatedly punches his slacker best friend, Jonah (Munro Chambers), accusing him of sleeping with his girlfriend, Sasha (Emily Tyra). The two suspects claim they were actually texting about Richard’s birthday present: an expensive spear-gun. Chastened, he invites his pals to go deep-sea fishing — and soon they’re stranded in the middle of the ocean, on a yacht with no working radio, very few supplies and three suspicious folks.

Grant attempts two tricky maneuvers with “Harpoon” and, for the most part, finesses them both. First, he sticks the audience with three characters who are varying degrees of nasty, with terrible secrets that spill out over the course of long days stuck at sea. To compensate, Grant plays up the comic side of this trio’s awfulness, such that when someone happens to get choked — or speared — during the course of an argument, it’s almost a relief.

“Harpoon” also has a high degree of difficulty because of its limited location. But Grant manages that fairly well too by throwing in a few flashbacks and big-picture explanations, narrated by comedian Brett Gelman. (It also helps that the movie zips by in 82 minutes.)

Some of the stylistic fillips feel excessive, and at the end of the day, this is just a tawdry, gory B-picture, with little to say about human behavior. But it’s often funny and generally suspenseful — a fine afternoon on the water, all things considered.

'Harpoon'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 4, The Frida Cinema, Santa Ana; available October 8 on VOD
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‘The Parts You Lose’

Aaron Paul, left, and Danny Murphy in “Parts You Lose.”
Aaron Paul, left, and Danny Murphy in “Parts You Lose.”
(Eric Zachanowich / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

A lot of talented people worked on “The Parts You Lose,” a sleepy drama that never perks up. Aaron Paul and Danny Murphy give strong performances, as an injured fugitive and the deaf child who hides him on his family’s farm. But director Christopher Cantwell and screenwriter Darren Lemke struggle to find the right frame to put around the central relationship.

The film is mostly about Murphy’s character, Wesley, who’s close with his mom (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) but can’t bond with his gruff dad (Scoot McNairy). Though the criminal in his barn is mean, Wesley connects with him anyway, and stymies the local authorities’ efforts to bring him in.

Cantwell spins a blue mood out of his chilly rural Canadian locations; and Paul admirably resists making his thug charming. But this story of a lonely kid in need of a father figure seems stubbornly small, given the creators involved. It’s a premise in search of a plot.

'The Parts You Lose'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 4, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘Semper Fi’

Nat Wolff, in red jumpsuit and handcuffs, and Jai Courtney, in a police uniform, in “Semper Fi.”
Nat Wolff, left, and Jai Courtney in “Semper Fi.”
(Lionsgate)

The ensemble drama “Semper Fi” is half “The Deer Hunter”-style portrait of military brotherhood on the homefront, and half prison-break thriller. Both halves are handled well by director Henry Alex Rubin, who also co-wrote the film with U.S. Army vet Sean Mullin. But whenever the film shifts its focus to one side of its story, the other suffers.

Nat Wolff plays “Oyster,” one of a squad of Marine reservists about to be deployed in Iraq. When a rowdy night in a bar leads to a manslaughter charge, Oyster is shut away in a prison staffed by abusive guards, while his older brother Cal (Jai Courtney) fights alongside their pals overseas. When their tour ends, the Marines come back determined to free their friend.

The prison material in “Semper Fi” is grabby but pulpy. It’s never exactly clear — from a thematic perspective anyway — why Oyster is so mistreated behind bars, though it makes the pulse-pounding rescue sequence more righteous.

Still, the movie’s most memorable material is also more grounded. All the scenes of Oyster and Cal and their crew (played by formidable character actors such as Finn Wittrock, Beau Knapp and Arturo Castro) capture the reality of young men and women who serve their country honorably, then hope to live lives of dignity and purpose after they’re discharged.

'Semper Fi'
Rated: R, for pervasive language, some violence and disturbing images.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Playing: Starts Oct. 4, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Cuck’

Zachary Ray Sherman in “Cuck,” making the hand gesture for pointing a gun.
Zachary Ray Sherman in “Cuck.”
(Gravitas Ventures)

The character drama “Cuck” is provocative, from its title to its story, which follows a Southern California loner named Ronnie (well-played by Zachary Ray Sherman) as he falls into the darker pools of on-line rage. Too maladjusted to talk to women, and too prone to fits of rage to land his dream job in the military, Ronnie takes comfort in YouTube ranters who reassure him that liberals and immigrants are to blame for his problems.

Director Rob Lambert — who also co-wrote the film with Joe Varkle — aims to sympathize with the Ronnies of the world, without letting them off the hook. At its best, “Cuck” emphasizes those moments when Ronnie is reachable: when he’s treated like an ordinary person and tries his best to respond in kind.

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The film takes an odd turn when Ronnie gets roped into a neighbor’s porn business, which exacerbates his feelings of alienation and impotence. Throughout, the narrative keeps arcing inevitably toward a predictable and tedious eruption of violence. But the way the movie ends isn’t as powerful as where it begins: with one lost boy, adopted by wolves.

'Cuck'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 4, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD

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‘Wrinkles the Clown’

“Wrinkles the Clown” holds a little girl in his arms in a scene from the documentary.
A scene from “Wrinkles the Clown.”
(Magnet Releasing)

Anyone who’s seen the unsettling viral news stories and videos about “Wrinkles the Clown” — a Floridian who hires himself out to parents who want to frighten their misbehaving children — will definitely want to watch director Michael Beach Nichols’ documentary about the phenomenon. The film is partly about what prompts a person to do something so despicable. But it’s even more about the kids — and the adults, for that matter — who become fascinated by what they see on a screen and have a hard time differentiating fact and fiction.

To reinforce that point, Nichols makes a conceptual choice that some may find questionable, but which reveals just how much presumption and flimflammery has been involved with the Wrinkles saga. Twist aside, though, the “Wrinkles the Clown” doc is still fairly horrifying. From the alarming reports of copycat clowns to the many scenes of youngsters reacting to Wrinkles rumors, this movie’s a reminder that even abstract concepts can have a dark, persuasive power.

'Wrinkles the Clown'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 4, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD.


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