Category: Reviews in Short

Calibre

 

Two buddies go on a hunting expedition in the Scottish Highlands and experience the worst nightmare since Ned Beatty was forced to squeal like a pig in Deliverance.

Calibre isn’t in the same league as Deliverance, but it does deliver a palpable sense of pending disaster and, if you’re a city kid, it will lend credibility to your worst (albeit stereotypical) fears about backward country folk. Release: 2018 Grade: B+

 

**

 

It

 

I wanted to like this movie, really I did. I enjoyed Stephen King’s novel years ago, and lord knows It was popular at the box office. But oh, man, where to begin? What we have here is 135 minutes of horror-movie rehash, with every predictable trope and cliché imaginable, about a group of pre-teens battling evil in small-town Derry, Maine. The kids’ parents are themselves either evil or missing in action, and the film’s so-called “horror” is simply a series of jump-scares, loud noises, and shopworn special effects.

You might ask if there was anything I did like about It. Sure: It has a nice look, and Bill Skarsgard’s creepy clown in the opening scene was pretty cool. Release: 2017 Grade: C-

 

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

I’m not a fan of director Wes Anderson’s breakout film, The Royal Tenenbaums. The movie’s tone is quirky to a fault, and its oddball characters left me cold. The characters in Grand Budapest are also an eccentric bunch, but this time Anderson hits a comic sweet spot.

Ralph Fiennes is especially good as a harried concierge who is falsely accused of murder and on the lam with his loyal “lobby boy.” Anderson’s visuals are endlessly inventive, and he delivers something rare: inspired slapstick for intellectuals. Release: 2014 Grade: A-

 

**

 

The Dinner

 

Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall have more than food on their minds when they convene at a ritzy restaurant to discuss the consequences of a horrific crime involving their kids. The Dinner took me by surprise more than once, because none of its characters are what they first appear to be. The smooth-talking politician might not be so bad, his charming wife might harbor dark impulses, and the “woke” narrator might have major issues.

The movie crams an awful lot of unpleasant subject matter into two hours, including mental illness, privilege, and racism, but it’s also a smart story with unpredictable performances from its quartet of stars.  Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

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Cargo

 

The last scene of Cargo is either a moving example of creative inspiration – or the most embarrassing thing an actor’s done since Nicolas Cage wore a bear suit in The Wicker Man. You be the judge.

Cargo, in which dad Martin Freeman strives to save his infant daughter in a zombie-infested world, starts well, and then there’s that wild ending, but everything in between is just standard zombie-movie fare. Release: 2017 Grade: C

 

**

 

Norman

 

Norman is a fun, gentle, entertaining movie that bucks the superhero/comic book/special effects trend – and that might explain why you probably haven’t heard of it. Richard Gere is amusing as an elderly Jewish con man who somehow becomes “friends” with the prime minister of Israel, leading to global scandal for them and fond memories of similar fare like Being There for viewers. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

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Cold War

 

Imagine odd couple Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar (Felicia Ungar?) as a cohabitating male and female. Now give them a debilitating flu bug and confine them to their small house for several days. Will either of them come out of that situation in one piece?

That’s the premise of Cold War, a romantic comedy in which lovers Maggie (Madeline Walter) and Jon (Michael Blaiklock) find out the hard way if there is such a thing as too much togetherness.

A movie like this can go sour if your two leads aren’t engaging enough to hold the audience’s attention for 90 minutes, but I never got sick of Maggie and Jon.  Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

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Wind River

 

A grieving father (Jeremy Renner) teams up with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to find the killer of a Native American girl in Taylor Sheridan’s latest thriller.

Sheridan films are often scenic and boast dynamic action scenes. Yet there is something about his characters that leaves me unmoved. People we are clearly supposed to care about will have tragic back stories. Or they die violently. But I’m just not that invested in them. That’s how I felt about Hell or High Water, and that’s how I feel about Wind River.

Great Utah scenery, though. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

**

 

Bullet Head

 

I’m a sucker for a good animal-on-the-rampage thriller. The shark in Jaws, the St. Bernard in Cujo, and the tiger in Burning Bright – they are much more terrifying, to me, than a special-effects creature from outer space, or a demon in the closet, which are often more silly than pee-your-pants scary. I nearly wet myself several times during Bullet Head, in which a trio of thieves (John Malkovich, Adrien Brody, Rory Culkin) are stalked in an abandoned warehouse by a crazed mastiff. And, believe it or not, the movie is actually pro-dog. Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

**

 

Bad Match

 

Bad Match doesn’t have the budget or the big stars of Fatal Attraction, but it does share its famous predecessor’s thriller DNA and it delivers a neat twist ending. Harris (Jack Cutmore-Scott)  is a self-centered Millennial who spends his leisure time playing video games and banging girls he finds on a dating site – until he swipes right on the wrong target (Lili Simmons). Nothing particularly new in this karmic morality tale, but bad boy Harris’s descent into ruin is a thing to behold. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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Voice from the Stone

 

My main complaint with modern horror is that so much of it substitutes sound and fury for genuine suspense. Rather than build tension, these movies assault the senses with loud noise, frenzied camerawork, and gore. But there is an opposite extreme, exemplified by Voice from the Stone, in which the burn is so slow that it induces boredom.

Emilia Clarke looks lovely as a nurse employed by a grieving widower to look after his disturbed young son at their Italian estate, which, like Clarke, is lovingly photographed. But the first hour is so understated and muted that by the time things finally start to happen in the third act, I was nearly comatose. Release: 2017 Grade: C-

 

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Aval

 

It’s tempting to write off Aval (English title: The House Next Door), India’s homage to Hollywood horror classics like The Exorcist. Much of the dialogue (a peculiar mix of Indian languages and English) and relationships evoke corny melodramas from the 1950s. At some point the story, in which a doctor and his wife learn that someone in their Himalayan neighborhood is possessed, stops making a lot of sense, and a few scenes are unintentionally funny.

However … there’s no question that several of director Milind Rau’s set pieces are chilling, with clever camerawork and stunning visuals. Also in its favor: the movie is consistently entertaining. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

**

 

The Babysitter

grouchyeditor.com Babysitter

 

A 12-year-old boy discovers that his oh-so-hot babysitter is actually a psychotic devil worshipper in this Netflix horror-comedy that starts out silly and grows progressively more ridiculous. But no worries: It’s meant to be silly, it’s well-produced, and it’s often amusing. Oh, and Samara Weaving gives a killer performance as the blonde from hell. Release: 2017  Grade: B+

 

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Voyeur

grouchyeditor.com Voyeur

 

This might be one case where the movie is better than the book. Famed journalist Gay Talese’s nonfiction account of a Colorado Peeping Tom was often a repetitious slog through the mind (and journal) of Gerald Foos, a motel owner who for years spied on unsuspecting guests through ceiling vents and then recorded his observations.

This documentary, on the other hand, is less about peeping and more about two old men who are both preoccupied with how they are and will be perceived by the rest of us. The juxtaposition of the proud and meticulous Talese with his partner in crime, the alternately insecure and self-aggrandizing Foos, as they strive to publish Foos’s perverse tale is an often-fascinating look at fame – and infamy – in America. Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

**

 

Nocturama

grouchyeditor.com Nocturama

 

Nocturama is stylish, beautifully shot, and has several scenes that are truly harrowing. But too bad the editor wasn’t in charge of things, because the movie also has a lot of sequences that drag on needlessly – especially during the first hour. Writer-director Bertrand Bonello’s premise is a good one: A group of disaffected young people are persuaded to plant bombs on the streets of Paris, and then hide out in an upscale department store while all hell breaks loose in the city. But in that first hour, Bonello’s camera dwells on every corner the kids pass, every elevator they use, and every subway change they make on their way to planting the bombs. Yet the rest of the film is a chilling portrait of what could come next in the form of terrorism.  Release: 2016 Grade: B+

 

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Spielberg

 

This retrospective about the famed filmmaker often resembles DVD commentary tracks in which everyone involved with a movie kisses the director’s ass. Of course, in this case the director is worthy of much praise, but still … it gets old.

Speaking of old, maybe it’s my age and nostalgia for my misspent youth, but I’ve always preferred early, “immature” Spielberg to later, “mature” Spielberg. Yes, his more-adult dramas are well done, but other directors can do that. Conversely, no one’s been able to match the excitement of Spielberg’s early roller-coaster rides. Release: 2017  Grade: B

 

**

 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

 

I suspect The Autopsy of Jane Doe looked a bit ridiculous on paper. Much of the story is either far-fetched or horror-movie cliché. But when you have a talented director (Andre Ovredal), a suitably spooky setting, and an old pro like Brian Cox as your star, you can turn a so-so screenplay into something special – something genuinely creepy and suspenseful. Cox and Emile Hirsch play father and son coroners who spend one terror-filled night dissecting a beautiful corpse (Olwen Kelly). Generally, I’m not a fan of gore, and this movie has plenty, but hey, it is about an autopsy. Release: 2016 Grade: B+

 

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The Survivalist

 

Like the similar-themed apocalyptic thriller The Road, The Survivalist is relentlessly grim. A bearded hermit lives in the woods, planting seeds and arranging tin cans as a primitive alarm system to warn him of potential marauders. Nothing much happens in his Robinson Crusoe existence until one fateful day when two women appear at his cabin. This is a well-made film, well-directed and well-acted, and despite an unhurried pace it’s generally absorbing. But that sluggish pace and the pervasive gloom of the story, while realistic, also produce a movie that at times feels like an endurance test. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

El Bar

 

Unlike The Survivalist, The Bar is fast-paced, infused with humor, and over the top. After two men are inexplicably mowed down outside the door of a humble Madrid café, a small group of customers find themselves trapped inside. Is there a sniper in a nearby building? Are there more targets in their midst? And why have the two corpses been dragged away? It’s a fun premise, and Alex de la Iglesia directs the action with gusto. But by the time star Blanca Suarez gets stuck in a drainage hole because her boobs are too big to slide through the opening (below), The Bar becomes downright silly. Release: 2017 Grade: B-

 

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                                                          How not to slip through a drainage hole

 

**

 

Life

grouchyeditor.com Life

 

Life won’t win any awards for originality, but hey, if you’re going to copy, at least this movie copies from the best. We get bits of Gravity, bits of Predator, and a whole lot of Alien. If you like those science-fiction/horror classics, you will likely enjoy Life, which borrows and expands on several of its predecessors’ best ideas. The plot: Jake Gyllenhaal and a small group of fellow astronauts must destroy a hostile alien organism before it makes its way to Earth – with or without the astronauts. Sound familiar? I will say this: For a movie that steals so blatantly from the classics, Life’s twist ending is both original and clever. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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