Movie Review: ‘Unfriended’

“Unfriended,” a horror thriller from the Russian producer-director team of Timur Bekmambetov and Levan Gabriadze, is part of a long, proud tradition of visual gimmickry pressed into service on behalf of genre, from the seemingly unbroken single take of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” and Robert Montgomery’s subjective camera in “Lady in the Lake” to the poly-format “Project X.” Here, Gabriadze gives a relatively ho-hum revenge plot an extra jolt by presenting it entirely in one take, in the form of a multitasking Skype session between six friends who are maliciously threatened by a mysterious anonymous avatar.

Presumably, the humanoid-shaped éminence grise knows what they did last summer. And, as “Unfriended’s” unsavory backstory unspools, it turns out what they did wasn’t nice at all. As chief protagonist and audience surrogate Blaire (Shelley Hennig) frantically tries to IM, e-mail, Google, Facebook and YouTube her way out of impending doom, viewers watch all the pinging, dinging, toggling and buffering as if they were looking over her shoulder, images appearing and collapsing in now-pixelated, now-lagging stutter steps.

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The conceit works, until the headache-inducing visuals — punctuated by manic flurries of terrified clicking and dragging — make viewers want to call the help desk (or at least reach for the nearest dropper-bottle of Systane). The pretty, fresh-faced Hennig makes a convincing damsel in distress, even when she utters the preposterous question, “What’s a troll?” Her co-stars possess the kind of bland SoCal good looks of so many TV-ready young actors these days; the cast member who makes the deepest impression is the wonderful Jacob Wysocki, who was so touching as an oddball high school student in 2011’s “Terri.”

Here, Wysocki provides essential comic relief in a story that otherwise adds little to the crop of scary movies morbidly obsessed with the torture and early demise of hyper-sexualized adolescents. The not-so-subtle subtext of Nelson Greaves’s script for “Unfriended” is that cyberbullying is bad (while we’re at it, stay in school), but the filmmakers’ overriding interest is in jacking up the suspense to make the blurrily filmed whammies land with any kind of palpable oomph.

They succeed, sometimes. Finally, by a wacky third act twist involving Chatroulette (remember Chatroulette?), the ludicrousness of the plot seems less like a bug than a feature. At times, “Unfriended” really clicks — but ultimately, it’s a drag.

★ ½

R. Contains violent content, pervasive profanity, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use — all involving teens. 80 minutes.

Weekend Movie Review   15042001

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LOS ANGELES, CA — Even in its debut weekend, Kevin James’s “Paul Blart” sequel couldn’t outpace “Furious 7.”

The reigning box office champion might have slowed from its blockbuster debut, but “Furious 7″ maintained first place for the third weekend in a row with an estimated $29.1 million, according to box office tracker Rentrak on Sunday.

This brings the high-octane action movie’s domestic total to a staggering $294 million, well above the $202.8 million that “Fast & Furious 6″ had earned at the same point in the cycle in 2013. The film crossed the $1 billion mark Friday.

“The film has set a new standard for the potential for box-office in the pre-summer month of April and has truly become part of movie folklore with its record setting numbers, strong reviews, spectacular word-of-mouth and of course the outpouring of support for late star Paul Walker,” Rentrak’s Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian said.

“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2″ came in a close second with an estimated $24 million. While the PG-rated comedy didn’t perform as well as the first film’s $31.8 million opening in 2009, it did surpass Sony’s modest expectations. Also, it only cost $30 million to produce.

“It’s a great result. It’s going to be very profitable for us and a big success,” Sony’s President of Worldwide Distribution Rory Bruer said.

“It was something that Kevin really wanted to do and we wanted to do it with him,” he said. “Kudos to Kevin for working so hard in promoting the film.”

Dergarabedian said “Blart’s” opening “proves that if you give the people what they want, you can make a tidy profit.”

Meanwhile, the low-budget, social media themed thriller “Unfriended” took third place with $16 million – sixteen times its production budget.

With “Furious 7″ topping the charts again and a strong debut for “Unfriended,” Universal’s President of Domestic Distribution Nick Carpou marveled how both of films are “so successful at both ends of the spectrum.”

“When you find success you look to repeat them,” he said of Universal’s partnership with Blumhouse on microbudget horror films. “It works.”

“Unfriended” is the 11th microbudget film to open above $15 million for Blumhouse. Other successes include “Ouija,” “The Purge” series and “The Boy Next Door.”

According to exit polls, audiences for “Unfriended” were 60 percent female and 74 percent under the age of 25.

Rounding out the top five were holdovers “Home” and “The Longest Ride,” with $10.3 million and $6.9 million, respectively.

Disney’s animal film “Monkey Kingdom” debuted to $4.7 million to claim the seventh spot, in line with last year’s “Bears,” also from Disneynature.


Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included.
1.”Furious 7,” $29.1 million ($167.9 million international).

2.”Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” $24 million ($7.1 million international)

3.”Unfriended,” $16 million.

4.”Home,” $10.3 million (10.4 million international).

5.”The Longest Ride,” $6.9 million ($2.1 million international).

6.”Get Hard,” $4.8 million.

7.”Monkey Kingdom,” $4.7 million.

8.”Woman In Gold,” $4.6 million ($1.1 million international).

9.”The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” $4.2 million ($4.1 million international).

10.”Cinderella,” $3.9 million ($7.5 million international).

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to Rentrak:

1. “Furious 7,” $167.9 million.

2. “Home” and “Ever Since We Love,” $10.4 million.

3. “Cinderella,” $7.5 million.

4. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” $7.1 million.

5. “Run All Night,” $6.3 million.

6. “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” 4.1 million.

7. “Mr. X” and “Shaun The Sheep,” $3.2 million.

8. “Why I Did (Not) Eat My Father,” $2.8 million.

9. “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” $2.2 million.

10. “Child 44″ and “The Longest Ride,” $2.1 million.

Band and Choir Concerts; Honor Band/Choir Returning to GSC

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GLENVILLE, WV—Students and faculty in the Glenville State College Department of Fine Arts are preparing for their annual Band and Choir Concerts on Friday, April 24, 2015 at 7:00 PM in the GSC Fine Arts Center Auditorium.

Additionally, the GSC Honor Band and Honor Choir weekend for high school students will take place the 24th and 25th, culminating with that event’s concert on Saturday at 7:00 PM also in the Fine Arts Center Auditorium.

The Friday concert will feature GSC’s Concert Choir and Chamber Singers, under the direction of Assistant Professor of Music Teresa Dody, and GSC’s Concert Band, under the direction of Assistant Professor of Music and Fine Arts Department Chair Lloyd Bone. The Seventh Annual GSC Honor Band and First Annual GSC Honor Choir will take place throughout Friday and Saturday. High school students from throughout the Mountain State will be in attendance vying for a performance spot in one of the honor groups.

“These two events over two days are a great opportunity to represent and recruit for GSC. Last year we had nearly 125 students from around the state on campus! Our concert is one of the main events of the weekend for the honor students,“ said Bone.

Both concerts are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Sheri Skidmore in the GSC Fine Arts Department at or 304.462.6340.

Book Review: ‘EPITAPH’

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The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been dramatized in numerous books, on stage, on screen, and in one particularly far-fetched episode of “Star Trek .” In “Epitaph,” Mary Doria Russell revisits the iconic shootout, delving into its dramatic back story and aftermath. With vast amounts of research and a poetic prose line, she puts the hard kernel of the gunfight’s violence at the center of a setting as wide and complicated as the young United States itself.

It’s a remarkable accomplishment, especially given that the battle, which erupted just up the street from the O.K. Corral, in the Arizona territory town of Tombstone on Oct. 26, 1881, lasted a mere 30 seconds. The result of a long-standing feud between a group of five “Cow Boys” (Ike and Billy Clanton, Billy Clairborne, and Tom and Frank McLaury) and a group of Tombstone lawmen (town marshal Virgil Earp, assistant town marshal Morgan Earp, and their deputies, Wyatt Earp and John Henry “Doc” Holliday), the shooting happened in a quick fusillade, with the two sides standing a mere six feet apart. In instants, Morgan and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday were wounded, and Billy Clanton and the McLaurys were dead.

On the surface, it’s just one in the long list of such gun battles that made the Wild West so dangerous for settlers — and irresistible for TV producers (as fans of HBO’s “Deadwood” will recall, Morgan and Wyatt Earp made an appearance in that great show), but hardly the stuff of epic. And yet, Russell has crafted an epic tale out of it just the same. She sets the event within the broader context of the times — creating a sweeping canvas that touches on subjects as disparate as the politics of President Chester A. Arthur and life in the Jewish quarter of San Francisco. It’s a stunning performance, richer in depth than Larry McMurtry’s version in “The Last Kind Words Saloon” (2014) and much broader in scope than Loren D. Estleman’s brilliant 1987 novel “Bloody Season.”

In fact, “Epitaph” most closely resembles McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” in its moral core and sheer plenitude of character. Russell lavishes detailed attention on every member of her huge cast. There’s Wyatt Earp’s unofficial “wife,” Josie Marcus, who fights to keep her lover’s reputation pure, and John Clum, the hapless editor of the Epitaph, the local newspaperman who eventually prefers not to live in a town where “the gravediggers were more prosperous than the newspaper owners,” and Tombstone Sheriff Johnny Behan, described by Doc Holliday as “that presumptuous, third-rate, overdressed Irish bigot.”

But inevitably, everything comes back to the Earps and Doc Holliday. (The latter so indelibly brought to life in Russell’s luminously good 2011 novel “Doc.”) Russell portrays the men as battered knights errant, friends and good men in a venal, dishonorable world. Everything about Holliday, she writes, “seemed slightly askew. His smile, his posture, his demeanor.” Brothers Virgil and Morgan are formidable but friendly; Wyatt is something more elemental, a brooding figure capable of producing “a look so hard it felt like a shove.” When the infamous gunfight breaks out, Wyatt is an invulnerable tower: “Still standing, taking careful aim, like a man shooting at beer bottles or tin cans. Each shot separate. Bang. Bang. Bang.”

And in the shooting’s aftermath, when the town’s nefarious Cow Boys rally and first grievously wound Virgil and then kill Morgan, Russell gives her novel a black final act, the so-called Earp Vendetta Ride, in which Morgan Earp’s killers are hunted down by Wyatt, who is at last freed from a lifetime of controlling his rage. “The long struggle for control was over,” Russell writes. “He was bred to this anger. It had been in him since the cradle.” Pursued by a posse composed of the very Cow Boys who shot his brothers, Wyatt Earp the lawman dispenses with the law: “He wasn’t going to sit in court and listen to their smirking friends lie under oath. Oh, he was with me in Contention that night. We was playing cards, Your Honor, so he couldn’t have shot Morgan Earp.” The whole section is so bleakly Jacobean that it demands to be read in one tense sitting.

Russell follows the Earps and Doc Holliday to the end of their stories, and by the time a character, contemplating a dying Wyatt, asks, “What happens when the old lion leaves us?” we’re asking it, too.


A Novel of the O.K. Corral

By Mary Doria Russell

Ecco. 581 pp. $27.99

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