Under the Influence 

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Normally this would be the WSSF 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown recap column, written late Tuesday night heavily under the influence of whiskey and glee. In the past that column would practically write itself (if you can't remember something, it didn't happen right?). Sadly, the Showdown occurs on a Wednesday this year, a day later than usual and too late for Pique's press deadline. The Showdown movies will undoubtedly be amazing though so work some Internet magic and find them online. And because partying seems to be the daily special every day right now, the download of the week is Project X. It's a kinda-based-on-true story of a teenage house party gone horribly awry, like riot gear and police choppers awry. Maybe it's the found-footage style ,or the chops of the actors, but this one is good enough to give serious anxiety to anyone who remembers throwing a party when their parents were away, or anyone who is a parent now. This is slick, visceral filmmaking, whether you like the juvenile subject matter or not.

At the Village 8 this week, Kevin James is back in the least anticipated sequel ever Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. This time, Paul Blart is on vacation in Las Vegas when duty calls and he's forced into action to apprehend some kind of criminal masterminds mid-heist. Insert obese, elderly and Segway jokes here. This one looks about as witless as cinema can be and the fact that it exists at all (because the first one made $183 million) is actually pretty depressing. Skip it at all costs.

On the other end of the spectrum, Unfriended is about a girl who gets cyber bullied to the point where she commits suicide. Then, on the one-year anniversary of that tragedy, her spirit returns to wage revenge and uncover who first posted the video that set it all off. Like a traditional horror movie, Unfriended consists of dumb teenagers dying one after the next, but the gimmick here is all the action unfolds as we view it through one character's computer screen via group chats, instant messages and other cyber avenues. It's the newest twist on the found-footage genre, and this computer-POV works as a portal into the attention spans and minds of its characters. Unfriended also has decent mystery, thrills and gore with the kind of naturalistic acting we can expect, as more and more people grow up in front of cameras and constantly projecting a better version of themselves out there.

Cyber bullying is a real horror of the digital age, so it's good to see a film address that topic, but the troubling part of this picture is why would I pay to go watch a movie on the big screen if the whole thing is built to look like I'm watching it on my computer? Personally, I'm waiting for the small screen version, which should be available for download soon.

Also opening just in time for Earth Day, Disneynature's Monkey Kingdom should have the family audience on lockdown this week. Perfectly narrated by Tina Fey, the film follows a mother toque macaque (a.k.a.: monkey) and her baby through some not-as-anthropomorphized-as-you'd-expect-from-Disney trials of life and family in the wilds of Sri Lanka. Despite the fact that these monkeys are an endangered species the film doesn't hammer any messages over our heads, instead it opts to "show" rather than "tell" and hopefully build empathy and understanding as to why these creatures are special (and thus deserve protection). For adults it's an incredible look at the complex social order of these animals and the scenes of the monkeys at play cut into pop-scored montages are truly beautiful. Plus the soundtrack includes The Monkees. Monkey Kingdom is a perfect illustration of why we no longer need zoos to teach kids about animals and show them the majesty of the world beyond the concrete.

Another film to keep an eye out for (not playing here but worth driving for) True Story is a sort of murder-mystery-mindbender-In Cold Blood-kinda flick about a disgraced journalist who learns someone has been impersonating him, and that someone may, or may not, have killed his own family. It's based on a real story (and book) by Michael Finkel, stars Jonah Hill and James Franco and is produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment ,which means it will rule because Pitt never slips. Case in point: Angelina. Exhibit B: World War Z, 12 Years a Slave, Moneyball, The Departed, and The Tree of Life are just a few other epic Plan B releases. And finally, Angelina, Angelina, Angelina.


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