Category: Reviews in Short

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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Split

grouchyeditor.com Split

 

Yes, James McAvoy is impressive playing a psycho with multiple personalities in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest “comeback” picture, the thriller Split. Problem is, McAvoy’s disturbing characters often seem like the only reason to keep watching the movie. The plot, in which McAvoy’s crazy man abducts three teenage girls and confines them in a basement, takes a decent premise and goes from clichéd to ridiculous to boring. Sorry, but this is hardly a return to form for Shyamalan.  Release: 2017 Grade: C

 

**

 

The Edge of Seventeen

grouchyeditor.com Edge

 

After enduring the first 20 minutes of this coming-of-age comedy-drama, I wasn’t sure if I could continue watching. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s script employed done-to-death voiceover narration, a la The Wonder Years, and worse, the protagonist was an incredibly bratty and vulgar teen. Eww. But then a funny thing happened on the way to study hall: The more our heroine was assailed by life’s slings and arrows, the more I grew to like her. By the end, I was cheering for her. Unlike so many teen-oriented movies, this one is smart, poignant, and boasts a winning performance from star Hailee Steinfeld. Release: 2016 Grade: B+

 

**

 

The Big Sick

 

The Big Sick has a lot going for it: It has heart, and it has endearing performances from writer-star Kumail Nanjiani and the supporting cast. Nanjiani plays a stand-up comedian of Pakistani descent who has to deal with his Muslim-traditional family and, after his WASP girlfriend lapses into a coma, her bickering parents.

Unfortunately, The Big Sick also has a Big Flaw. As the ailing girlfriend, Zoe Kazan is clearly intended to be spunky and lovable. But whenever her entitled, annoying character appeared on screen, I began to feel ill. Release: 2017 Grade: B-

 

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Toni Erdmann

grouchyeditor.com Erdmann

 

A bohemian music teacher attempts to reconnect with his uptight, unhappy, businesswoman daughter in Bucharest, and havoc ensues. The two leads (Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek) have great chemistry, and there are some truly memorable scenes — including a (nude) birthday party to end all birthday parties. But writer-director Maren Ade’s otherwise impressive film has a near-fatal flaw: At 162 minutes, it’s much, much too long. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Hell or High Water

grouchyeditor.com Hell High Water

 

Part Bonnie and Clyde, part old-time Western, Hell or High Water aims for realism, but in its quest to be taken seriously and hammer home some social commentary, it’s not as much fun as it could have been. That is, with the notable exception of crusty (of course) Jeff Bridges, who as a retiring lawman on the hunt for two bank robbers provides the movie’s only source of levity and wit. Release: 2016 Grade: B

 

**

 

Get Out

grouchyeditor.com Get Out

 

A black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) goes home with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her parents, and he’s in for quite a weekend. For an hour or so, Get Out cleverly skewers upper-class white folk who feign empathy and understanding of race relations, but then writer-director Jordan Peele’s story sinks into horror-movie clichés. It’s a sharp and suspenseful ride – until that last act. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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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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