Category: Reviews in Short

Game Night

 

These days, Hollywood has a difficult time making what used to be called the “screwball comedy.” In the past, screwball characters were lovably goofy as they bumbled and stumbled through silly plots. Think Bringing Up Baby. Today, the main characters in this kind of farce aren’t merely goofy; they tend to be borderline psychotic.

Still, the nut jobs in Game Night — a group of clueless suburbanites obsessed with party games — are fairly amusing, and their dialogue is often witty. And if there’s a better character actor out there than Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad, Fargo, Black Mirror), I’d like to know who it is. Release: 2018 Grade: B

 

**

 

Murder on the Orient Express

 

I like actor Kenneth Branagh, but he isn’t my favorite “Hercule Poirot.” That would be David Suchet. And I enjoyed director Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, but it isn’t my favorite interpretation of Agatha Christie’s famous mystery. That would be Suchet’s television version or, possibly, the 1974 movie with Albert Finney. 

Outside of some spectacular (often computer-generated) scenery, the latest film doesn’t offer much new, but so what? Some stories are like comfort food; no matter how many times you’ve had it, and as long as they don’t change the ingredients, eventually you come back for more.  Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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De Palma

 

It’s probably not cool to praise director Brian De Palma in the “Me Too” era. De Palma took shots for alleged misogyny and violence against women (in his films, mind you) long before anyone had heard of Harvey Weinstein. To hell with that criticism. If I want vanilla at the movies, I’ll go see a boring superhero flick.

De Palma, like the man he’s often compared to, Alfred Hitchcock, was above all a master craftsman. His obsessive attention to detail, along with a firm grasp of what looks great on film (yes, including the naked ladies), allowed him to shine in the 1980s. My only complaint about this documentary, in which De Palma discusses each of his films chronologically, is that it’s much too short. Release: 2016 Grade: A-

 

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Cam

 

I am not particularly tech-savvy (surprise!), and I’ve never been a webcam girl (gasp!), but despite these handicaps, I recognize a good cautionary tale about technology when I see one. Cam, in which a sex worker’s (Madeline Brewer) online identity gets hijacked by a mysterious doppelganger, is like Black Mirror with boobs. Some of the computer-related details might or might not be accurate, but that hardly matters to an ignorant Luddite like me. Release: 2018 Grade: B+

 

 

**

 

Crooked House

 

So you’re adapting an Agatha Christie novel for film, something that’s been done, oh, maybe 500 times. Also problematic: This Christie whodunit, Crooked House, has no Hercule Poirot, no Miss Marple – just a cast of shady suspects. So how do you make your movie stand out?

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner does it by emphasizing showy visuals and hammy performances from veterans like Glenn Close and Gillian Anderson. The actors do not disappoint, and the movie is certainly watchable. But it’s not all that memorable, either.   Release: 2017  Grade: B-

 

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Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

 

Hedy Lamarr: Was she a typical story from Hollywood’s “golden age,” a self-centered actress who succumbed to drugs, vanity, and other trappings of wealth and celebrity? Hedy Lamarr: Was she the (unacknowledged) inventor of a groundbreaking military technology called “frequency hopping”? Was she the victim of shallow, sexist male contemporaries?

Answer: Probably all of the above. Lamarr was a fascinating woman, but this documentary reminds me why books are usually better suited to subjects like her. Lamarr’s life was simply too complicated, too interesting, to be captured in an 88-minute film.    Release: 2017   Grade: B

 

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Baby Driver

 

I can picture young Tom Cruise and young Steven Spielberg teaming up to make a film like this 30 years ago. The result might have been a popcorn classic. Unfortunately, young Ansel Elgort as getaway driver “Baby” lacks Cruise’s charisma, and filmmaker Edgar Wright seems primarily interested in action scenes.

The action scenes are pretty good – especially Wright’s clever use of a synchronized soundtrack.  But there is also a lot of mundane exposition filling the gaps between chases. Baby Driver is an agreeable ride for a couple hours. But it ain’t no popcorn classic. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

**

 

Hereditary

 

Hereditary reminds me of 2014’s The Babadook: Both films are creepy, absorbing family dramas … but it’s a stretch to hail either as a modern horror classic. In Hereditary, Toni Collette plays a cursed mother who is besieged – to put it mildly – by mental illness and violent tragedy in her small, tight-knit family. All of this doom and gloom is detailed in a superb first hour. But, as in Babadook, the “horror” that dominates the second hour is simply not that original, nor that scary. Release: 2018 Grade: B

 

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The Mansion

grouchyeditor.com Mansion

 

I have a real weakness for horror movies in which a group of people are trapped at some isolated location and then snuffed out, one by one. This kind of film can have amateurish acting, sloppy cinematography, and a plot as tired as grandma’s bunions, and I’ll likely still watch it. The Mansion, a mix of (mostly) comedy and horror from France, is no And Then There Were None, but if you share my weakness for this genre you’ll enjoy the creepy old house and the systematic offing of numerous knuckleheads — one by one. Release: 2017 Grade: C+

 

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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-

 

**

 

mother!

grouchyeditor.com mother!

 

All poor Jennifer Lawrence wants in this movie is a little peace and quiet for herself and poet-husband Javier Bardem. Good luck with that. I guess you should never invite strangers into your house.

I’m not sure why mother! is so polarizing. I suspect it might be because it’s a bit of a bait-and-switch. What begins as a slow-burn psychological thriller in the vein of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, or perhaps his Repulsion, takes a hard turn at the midpoint to an over-the-top religious allegory, and you know how people feel about religion. And babies. But I liked the film because, a) it’s very well-made, and b) it’s thought-provoking. And in this age of endless superhero and comic-book movies, that’s worth celebrating. Release: 2017 Grade: B+

 

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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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