Category: Movies

Elle

grouchyeditor.com Elle

 

Elle begins with a brutal rape, but in its aftermath the victim does not go to the police, nor does she inform close friends. In fact, middle-aged Michele appears to be borderline blasé about the attack. When her rapist continues to stalk her, she almost seems to welcome it. But why? The answer unfolds gradually, and while it does Elle is a tantalizing mystery with a commanding performance by Isabelle Huppert. But once we learn the reason for her strange behavior – not to mention the identity of the rapist – the suspense of the film begins to lose its power. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Passengers

grouchyeditor.com Passengers

 

Considered a critical and box-office failure, it’s true that Passengers is no science-fiction classic, but if you enjoy big-budget spaceship movies that look cool and keep the plot simple, as I do, you could do a lot worse. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt play space tourists who get a much longer trip than they bargained for in this essentially simple, old-fashioned romance. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Her

grouchyeditor.com Her

 

At first, I was disinclined to like this drama about technology and our evolving connection to it. Protagonist Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his privileged pals seemed to embody every negative stereotype about West Coast liberals: living lives of economic ease, self-absorbed, and endlessly seeking emotional safe spaces. But Theodore’s growing relationship with his computer operating system, a husky-voiced charmer dubbed “Samantha,” tapped into some disturbing truths about the modern world. The result is a film that achieves something rare. It makes you think and it makes you feel. Release: 2013 Grade: A-

 

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Becoming Cary Grant

grouchyeditor.com Grant

 

“Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” – Cary Grant

 

Well, maybe not everyone. Possibly not viewers of Becoming Cary Grant, a mostly cheerless yet spellbinding documentary about the demons haunting Hollywood’s most famous leading man.

The filmmakers use Grant’s own home movies, a melancholy musical score, and excerpts from the actor’s unpublished autobiography to tell the story of a 9-year-old Bristol boy who lost his mother (she was committed to an asylum), then as an adult went through a series of failed marriages, and who gradually invented the persona of “Cary Grant,” the enigmatic, charismatic star we all know from the movies.

It’s a sad — if incomplete — portrait of the man everyone wanted to be. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

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Manchester by the Sea

grouchyeditor.com Manchester

 

Hollywood bad boy Casey Affleck won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance as a traumatized janitor in this drama about tragedy overwhelming a working-class family in Massachusetts, but man … if there’s a better actress working in film today than Michelle Williams, who in one five-minute scene delivers an emotional knockout punch, I’m not sure who it might be. Release: 2016 Grade: A-

 

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Arrival

 

If Arrival is supposed to be the 2001: A Space Odyssey for today’s generation, I feel sorry for today’s generation. The film plays mind games with us and yearns to be profound, but I found it pretentious and nonsensical. It’s like those time-travel movies that expect to be taken seriously, even though time travel is considered impossible – at least by today’s science.

When aliens land on Earth, star Amy Adams’s linguist is recruited to decipher their message. The “universal truths” she decodes are meant to be hopeful, but I’m thinking most of us would go mad at worst, or be psychologically paralyzed at best, were they our actual reality.

And dare I point out that Arrival’s clichéd plot is sexist? Once again we have a situation in which all the boys want to do is make war, and only a female is intuitive enough to break through to the aliens.  Release: 2016  Grade: C+

 

**

 

Room

grouchyeditor.com Room

 

Room is structured as two movies in one, and both halves are superb. The first half is a harrowing thriller, apparently inspired by the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland, in which a young woman and her son are imprisoned for years in a small shed. The second half is a gut-wrenching drama about the fallout when the victims (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay) finally escape and must reintegrate into the real world. Release: 2015  Grade: A

 

**

 

The Love Witch

grouchyeditor.com Samantha Robinson

 

I’m not sure if this colorful but clunky film is intended as parody or homage to 1960s supernatural thrillers (think Hammer Films), but either way it feels forced and flat. Comely Samantha Robinson (above) plays a modern-day witch who uses potions and sex appeal to seduce one hapless male after another, but alas, none of them are up to her retro-feminist standards. If you want to chuckle at genre fare like this, I suggest you check out the real deal. Say, The Brides of Dracula? Release: 2016  Grade: C

 

**

 

The Witch

grouchyeditor.com Witch

 

A Puritan family in 1600s New England, banished to the wilderness for transgressing against village mores, finds life in the wild an unholy nightmare when someone – or something – begins to bedevil them. Mostly, this is an ultra-realistic, atmospheric study of the struggle to survive at that time and place, with religion serving as both a source of comfort and terror to the family as it confronts something wicked in the woods. Release: 2015  Grade:  B+

 

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Barney Fife in a haunted-house movie – who wouldn’t hand over their last (and only) bullet to see that?

OK, maybe you wouldn’t. But I have a great deal of affection for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, the 1966 Don Knotts vehicle that might have been the first motion picture I saw all by myself, unfettered by parents or older siblings, in an honest-to-goodness movie house.

I recently re-watched Mr. Chicken, and I am happy to report that I still find it enjoyable. Silly and featherweight, sure, but fun. Is it remotely scary? Not unless you’re about the same age I was when I first saw it 50 years ago. But it’s suitably creepy in that old-dark-house mode that Hollywood does so well.

 

 A Barney and Otis reunion

 

The plot:

Luther Heggs (Knotts) is a lowly typesetter at the Rachel (Kansas) Courier Express. Luther dreams of becoming a big-time journalist and of winning the prettiest girl in town, Alma (Joan Staley). Unfortunately for Luther, he is Luther: timid, bumbling, tongue-tied and inept. But opportunity knocks when Luther is tasked with spending the night in the Simmons Mansion, or “murder house,” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of a murder-suicide that might or might not be unsolved.

 

The “murder house”

 

What I Like:

1.  Nostalgia, if you were a 1960s kid. The jazzy opening theme reminds me of early James Bond soundtracks. The spooky mansion is straight out of The Munsters (reportedly, some of the same Universal Studios sets were used in both Munsters and Mr. Chicken). The locale is a small town in the Midwest; I was raised in a small town in the Midwest.

 

Reta Shaw demonstrates small-town flirtation with Dick Sargent

 

2.  The Don Knotts in this film is the Don Knotts we knew from The Andy Griffith Show. I was never a fan of Knotts’s other famous TV character, Mr. Furley from Three’s Company. Mr. Furley was too lascivious. I preferred naive Barney Fife. Regardless, very few actors did fear and false bravado as well as Knotts.

 

Don Knotts does his thing

 

3.  The plot is your basic haunted-house story, nothing you haven’t already seen with Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, or Bob Hope. But the screenplay is peppered with delightfully quirky throwaway scenes: The elevator that won’t stay put. The picnic speech. The oddball townie who, out of nowhere and seemingly everywhere, keeps hollering “Attaboy Luther!”

 

 The intrepid reporter

 

4.  That organ music.

 

The infamous organ

 

5.  Joan Staley. Who is Joan Staley? This is Joan Staley (NSFW).

 

Alma matters to Luther

 

6.  And finally, for anyone who appreciates vintage 1960s cinema and sitcoms, this movie features the finest collection of comic actors from that era – although if you blink you might miss some of them. Take a look at the rogues gallery of familiar faces who appear in Mr. Chicken in the sidebar at the end of this review.  Grade: B+

 

 Our hero

 

Director: Alan Rafkin  Cast: Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, Dick Sargent, Skip Homeier, Reta Shaw, Lurene Tuttle, Philip Ober, Harry Hickox, Charles Lane  Release: 1966

 

 

Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

Remember These Faces?

 

.                    

                             Hal Smith                               Reta Shaw                           Dick Sargent

.                    

                             Burt Mustin                           Lurene Tuttle                       Eddie Quillan

.                    

                            Charles Lane                         Harry Hines                         Ellen Corby

.                       

                            Herbie Faye                            Jesslyn Fax                        James Millhollin

 

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Shadow of Truth

grouchyeditor.com Shadow

 

Shadow of Truth is a crime documentary in the mode of Making a Murderer, but I thought it was even more disturbing than Netflix’s 2015 miniseries. Both series suggest that an innocent man is incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit. But in Murderer the mystery revolves around an apparently commonplace sex-crime, whereas in this Israeli series, the killer of a high school girl was, possibly, motivated by a bizarre, gruesome compulsion. One complaint:  Four episodes are not enough to do justice to such a convoluted case. Release: 2016  Grade: B+

 

**

 

Lights Out

grouchyeditor.com Lights Out

 

A Malevolent Something named “Diana” terrorizes a single mother and her two kids in this James Wan-related horror flick (he produced). Diana only appears to her victims when the lights are off, and director David Sandberg makes good use of our primal fear of the dark and the fact that what we don’t see is often scarier than what we do. Too bad Sandberg’s treatment of our other sense, hearing, is much less sensitive. To me, it’s cheating when every scare-shot is accompanied by a DEAFENING SOUNDTRACKRelease: 2016  Grade: C+

 

**

 

Train to Busan

grouchyeditor.com Train to Busan

 

I guess it’s a cultural thing, but Korean movies are often unintentionally humorous to my American eyes. The South Korean actors don’t just cry; they wail hysterically. They don’t just shout; they scream at the top of their lungs. It comes off like a clinic on how to overact.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing to find a snark-free, sarcasm-free story — like time traveling back to 1950s Hollywood for wholesome, goofy fun but with modern special effects. Busan is non-stop entertaining, with heroes who are clearly good and villains who do all but wear black hats when passengers on a high-speed train do battle with zombies. It’s a lot of fun. Just try not to chuckle too much at the acting.  Release: 2016  Grade: B+

 

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Most slasher-flick producers figure that if they can convince a few actresses to take their clothes off on camera, and then toss in a bucket of blood, the job is done. Not so with Girl House, a better-than-average slash-‘em-up that – gasp! – does not insult the intelligence.

That doesn’t mean that the actresses in Girl House keep their clothes on, or that there are no buckets of blood. It does mean that you won’t be bored between stripteases.

 

The Story:

In a prologue, two pre-teen girls chase a boy through the woods. They catch him and then, as naughty girls are wont to do … they pull down his shorts. They then proceed to trick the poor schlub into showing them his penis:

 

.        

.         

 “We wanna see what’s down there,” says mean girl Camren Bicondova

 

.        

“That’s it? Looks like an acorn!”

 

As we all know, this is how serial killers are born.

 

 

Fast forward to the present, and we meet college student Kylie (above), a nice girl who needs money. In her desperation, Kylie does what most college students who need money do: She goes to work at McDonald’s.

Just kidding. She takes a job at the titular “Girl House,” a wired-up mansion in which half a dozen hotties are spied on, 24 hours a day, by thousands of horny Internet viewers.

 

 

The house is supposedly secure, but the girls’ guardians don’t reckon with a certain young man whose rage against females has festered since he once had his pants pulled down by two naughty girls. Someone’s going to pay for that.

 

 

One by one the Web-cam girls get picked off, but not before most of them fulfill the obligations of movies like this by stripping down to their birthday suits. As a bonus for the viewer, the actresses in Girl House don’t seem like future porn stars; they’re exploited, sure, but … see “Casting Call” sidebar below.

 

 

Girl House plays better than it sounds. The characters all have at least the semblance of personality, the production values are decent, and the pace is snappy. It’s no Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Halloween – but it does have more T&A.   Grade: B-

 

 

Directors: Jon Knautz, Trevor Matthews  Cast: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Chasty Ballesteros, Nicole Arianna Fox, Alexis Kendra (Peters), Camren Bicondova, Baylee Wall   Release: 2014

 

 

Watch the Trailer (click here)

 

 

 

**

 

Casting Call:

 

 

How do you cast the girls for a movie like Girl House? We’re guessing the casting director caught some of the performances below. (Click on thumbnails for a larger view.)

 

Ali Cobrin (“Kylie”)

.                        

Ali Cobrin’s good side and, uh, other side in American Reunion (2012)

 

**

 

Chasty Ballesteros (“Janet”)

.                        

Chasty Ballesteros gets butt-pumped in Showtime’s Ray Donovan (2013); enjoys crotch play and displays her rear in the 2013 Cinemax series The Girl’s Guide to Depravity

 

**

 

Alyson Bath (“Devon”)

.                       

Alyson Bath, sometimes billed as Shirleyann Mason, gave it (and the audience) her all in the 2009 Cinemax series Lingerie

 

**

 

Nicole Arianna Fox (“Mia”)

.                        

Model Nicole Fox strips for a photo shoot in Redlands (2014)

 

**

 

Alexis Kendra (“Business Woman”)

.                       

Also known as Alexis Peters, Alexis Kendra went topless in Hatchet II (2010); in Goddess of Love (2015) she got bolder, including the ass shot and the full-frontal above. At top, she contemplates life while seated on a toilet.

 

**

 

Elysia Rotaru (“Heather”)

.                       

Elysia Rotaru puts the girls in Girl House

 

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Antibirth

grouchyeditor.com Birth

 

Antibirth reminds me of those 1980s late-show curiosities in which the characters are frequently stoned and, evidently, the films’ directors had also been smoking something. Think Re-Animator and B-movies of that ilk. Danny Perez’s sloppy, gory, hodgepodge of horror has a campy plot – something is growing in the heroine’s womb, and it doesn’t seem to be human – but it’s often a hoot, thanks to an anything-goes performance from Natasha Lyonne as the pregnant stoner and a tone that evokes the best (or worst) of those wacky late-show relics. Release: 2016  Grade: B

 

*****

 

The Shallows

 

If you’re in the mood for some mindless summer fun – and who isn’t in the dead of winter? – you could do a lot worse than The Shallows, in which poor Blake Lively gets stranded on a rapidly submerging rock while a circling shark eyes her for dinner. After a dubious first act, in which the director seems more interested in filming Lively’s bikini-clad, muscular buttocks than in creating suspense, the movie delivers some solid, if also ridiculous, thrills. But hey, “jump scares” are allowed when it’s a shark movie you’re watching.  Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

 

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Note:  The Grouch recently caught an airing of the hospital thriller Coma on TCM, and he was overcome with nostalgia. This was the film that led to Grouch’s first-ever movie review, which was published in the April 14, 1978 edition of the St. Cloud State University Chronicle.  We thought it would be fun to reprint that old review, verbatim, so here you go:

 

Typical thriller ‘Coma’ comes to life in second half

 

 

Somewhere around the middle of this picture, Coma snaps out of it and really begins to move.

Up until that point, the only things saving the film from a slow death are the dynamite musical score by Jerry Goldsmith (remember The Omen), and an equally impressive performance by Genevieve Bujold as the heroine. Bujold is given a role that we’ve all seen before in countless thrillers: a woman discovers an evil secret, yet no one, not even her boyfriend, believes her when she tries to tell them about it. They even send her to a psychiatrist.

Bujold manages to make her character unique and she succeeds in gaining audience acceptance.

Susan Wheeler (Bujold) is a surgical resident who shares living quarters with her boyfriend, also a doctor, played by Michael Douglas. They both practice medicine at Boston Memorial Hospital, one of the best in the country.

Things are pretty much business as usual in the hospital until Susan’s best friend lapses into a coma during what should have been a minor operation. Suspicious, Susan begins to investigate and discovers records of 12 supposedly routine operations that resulted in comas. But why? Telling would ruin the suspense of Coma, even though it doesn’t get all that suspenseful until the last half of the film.

Meanwhile, director-writer Michael Crichton tries to hold his audience’s attention by various other methods. He tries to revolt the audience with several “hamburger” shots of brain slices, slabs of liver, etc. He tries to titillate them with shots of Bujold scrubbing herself behind a translucent shower door. The picture becomes fun in its second half.

 

 

Someone thinks that Susan has learned a little bit too much. Her investigation has led her to the Jefferson Institute, where nurse Elizabeth Ashley says “we merely provide care as inexpensively as possible” for thousands of coma patients. Government subsidized, the institute is a chilling edifice that, strangely enough, is staffed by no more than five persons, including nurse Ashley. It is here that Susan finally solves her mystery.

Aside from Bujold’s excellent performance, the rest of the cast seems less than inspired. Douglas does all right as the boyfriend – we’re never quite sure if we can trust him or not – but Richard Widmark as the chief of surgery is a little too obvious right from the start. Elizabeth Ashley comes off like she is doing an impression of Gale Sondergaard in an old Sherlock Holmes movie.

One word of caution: if you already have a fear of hospitals and/or doctors, you probably don’t want to catch this flick.

 

 

Director: Michael Crichton Cast: Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Rip Torn, Richard Widmark, Lois Chiles, Hari Rhodes, Gary Barton, Frank Downing, Richard Doyle  Release: 1978   Grade: B+

 

 

Watch the Trailer  (click here)

 

 

Oddly, this screen capture of Bujold showering did not appear with the original review.

 

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The Best Offer

grouchyeditor.com Hoeks

 

Geoffrey Rush plays an aloof, eccentric art auctioneer who gets more than he bargained for when an agoraphobic young heiress (Sylvia Hoeks) asks him to sell off her rare collection. I wonder how I might have reacted to The Best Offer had I not seen similar plots – in particular a certain Hitchcock film that I shall not name lest I reveal Offer’s twist ending. The movie is handsomely produced, well acted, and lovely to listen to, but it’s also a story that telegraphs its surprises, especially if you’ve seen similar fare.  Release: 2013  Grade: B+

 

*****

 

Don’t Breathe

grouchyeditor.com Breathe

 

Some of the best nail-biters have simple plots. In Burning Bright, a Bengal tiger terrorizes a young woman and her autistic brother in a house. That’s the plot. In Black Water, a hungry crocodile terrorizes three tourists trapped in an Australian swamp. That’s the plot.

For about an hour, Don’t Breathe reminded me of those low-budget, efficient thrillers because it keeps things simple: Three small-time burglars are surprised when their chosen victim, a blind war vet, turns the tables on them after they break into his house. That’s the plot. The movie is taut and genuinely chilling. And then … well, that wasn’t good enough for writer/director Fede Alvarez, who decides to add a little Cujo here, a little Silence of the Lambs there. Should have left well enough alone. Release: 2016  Grade: B

 

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