Category: Reviews in Short

Bad Education

 

Bad Education is intellectually rewarding but emotionally bereft, mostly because there are no characters to root for. And yes, that includes the charismatic high-school superintendent played by star Hugh Jackman.

In HBO’s fact-based film about scandal in Roslyn, Long Island, we watch in mounting disgust as the school officials and citizenry of Roslyn prioritize property values and glossy college resumes over other things. Little things like, oh, millions of embezzled taxpayer dollars. That is, until the high-living thieves are caught by an enterprising student journalist.

It’s highly watchable stuff; I just wish I cared more.  Release: 2020 Grade: B

 

**

 

Downton Abbey

 

At the midpoint of this theatrical offshoot of the long-running British TV series, I began to seriously question my taste and judgment: Why on earth had I slavishly watched nearly every episode (52 of them) of this ridiculous soap opera, which aired from 2011 to 2016? In the movie, the king and queen of England are coming to visit the upstairs/downstairs gang at their fancy digs, and I am supposed to care … why?

But here’s the thing. There is a fine line between warm and fuzzy (a good thing) and cloyingly sentimental (a bad thing), and no one is more adept at finding the sweet spot than Downton creator Julian Fellowes. By the time the credits rolled on this — let’s face it – motion-picture cash grab, Fellowes had worked his magic and I was once again sucked in to the hoity-toity hokum. Release: 2019 Grade: B

 

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The Platform

 

If you like your movies loaded with symbolism and metaphors, The Platform is piled high with none-too-subtle commentary on class warfare, capitalism, socialism, racism, and religion. All of that adds substance to the film, but the unpredictable plot is what held my interest in this Spanish thriller.

A man volunteers to spend six months in “the hole,” a concrete prison with hundreds of floors through which a food-filled platform descends on a daily basis – a rectangular slab piled high with consumables for the prisoners. The catch? Everyone on the upper floors pigs out, leaving nothing but scraps for the poor souls below. The Platform is often gross and always grim, but it kept me glued to the screen, wondering what fresh hell would be coming next. Release: 2019 Grade: B+

 

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Harpoon

 

Harpoon is a bit gory for my taste (pun intended), but this tale of three friends on a boat trip gone bad is otherwise a fast-paced, entertaining black-comedy-slash-thriller. Munro Chambers, Christopher Gray, and Emily Tyra shine as young pals who grow paranoid, distrustful, and hungry – oh, boy, do they ever grow hungry – when they are stranded at sea with little food and water. None of this threesome is particularly sympathetic, but they are all very amusing rascals. If nothing else, Harpoon might get you to Google “Richard Parker” (both of them). Release: 2019 Grade: B

 

**

 

Wij

 

Perhaps I’ve grown jaded, or maybe I’ve seen too many movies based on books by Bret Easton Ellis, but I was unmoved by the alleged “shocking” escapades of the kids in this Belgium-Netherlands co-production. Director Rene Eller’s movie follows a group of eight teens who go bad thanks to, oh, the usual culprits: Internet porn, reality TV, and/or indifferent, clueless, or non-existent parents. You’ve seen most of this before – although probably without quite so much bare skin. Release: 2018 Grade: B-

 

 

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Girl on the Third Floor

 

Girl on the Third Floor is further evidence that a talented director can take a silly ghost story and, with skill and creativity, deliver more than a few goose-bumps. C.M. Punk plays a no-account husband who, after cheating on his pregnant wife (Trieste Kelly Dunn) with a sexy blonde (Sarah Brooks), gets his #MeToo comeuppance at the hands of some angry female spirits. Director Travis Stevens uses the creepy old house the errant husband is renovating to good effect. Too bad Stevens’s efforts are undermined by a weak script. Release: 2019 Grade: B-

 

Trieste Kelly Dunn

 

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Us

 

Jordan Peele’s 2017 hit Get Out created a stir because it was a rarity: a horror movie with smarts. Critics gushed because, face it, when it comes to the scary-movie genre, the bar is awfully low. But to me, Get Out failed to achieve goal number one:  it wasn’t particularly frightening.

Not so with Us, Peele’s 2019 follow-up. Lupita Nyong’o stars as the female head of a family of four that encounters their wicked doppelgangers while on holiday in Santa Cruz, California. This time, Peele pleases both critics – there is symbolism galore; what do the doubles represent, the global underclass? Our individual dark sides? – and horror-film aficionados. Peele wisely puts the scary first, the message second.

Also, it turns out you can spend all the money you want on special effects or monsters or gore, but there’s nothing more terrifying than a knowing, evil grin — especially from someone who looks just like you. Release: 2019 Grade: B+

 

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Burning

grouchyeditor.com Burning

 

Until its ending, which I thought was unnecessarily ambiguous, Burning felt like a Korean version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. A young man (Ah-in Yoo) falls in love with a free-spirited girl (Jong-seo Jun) in the first half of the film and then, after the girl vanishes, he spends the second half engaged in an obsessive search that leads to some very dark places. But until that abrupt and unsatisfying ending, the movie is compelling and filled with haunting images. Release: 2018  Grade: B+

 

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Dolemite Is My Name

 

I’m old enough to remember when Eddie Murphy burst upon the American scene in movies like 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop and, of course, on TV’s Saturday Night Live. It was a dynamic time for Murphy and for his audience, because we hadn’t seen anything quite like him.

So it’s a bit melancholic to see middle-aged Eddie in Dolemite Is My Name, sporting a pot belly and lacking that brash, youthful energy of days gone by. But Murphy retains some of that spark, and in Dolemite he’s given a role that leaves behind fat suits and haunted houses in favor of some depth. Alas, the story of 1970s comedian-turned-movie-“auteur” Rudy Ray Moore is oh-so-familiar and predictable. It’s in the same ballpark as Ed Wood and The Disaster Artist, but not quite as good. Release: 2019 Grade: B-

 

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Walking Out

 

I have a weakness for movies like this one. You know: wilderness movies with hungry bears, or deep-sea movies with dead-eyed sharks. That’s because, unlike most sci-fi and horror films, these scary stories could really happen. To you. Or to me. Walking Out, in which a father and his teenage son encounter peril in the Montana mountains, does well with its survival elements. On the downside, although Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins are believable as dad and son, their on-screen chemistry left me a bit cold. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

**

 

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

 

Whenever a studio announces plans for a movie version of a beloved TV show, the hope, at least among fans of the series, is that the movie version will be bigger and better. Bigger budget = better experience. There is good news and bad news about Netflix’s two-hour revival of the classic Breaking Bad. The bad news?  The movie, which follows the trajectory of young Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) after the death of Walter White, is no better than the series. The good news? The movie is just as good as the series – and you don’t get any better than that. Release: 2019 Grade: A

 

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A Young Man with High Potential

 

Is it just me who finds it off-putting when a perfectly good suspense-drama finds it necessary to include a 10-minute sequence of graphic gore? Young Man concerns a social nerd/computer genius (Adam Ild Rohweder) who falls for a sexy girl (Paulina Galazka), then lets things get out of control and winds up running from the law – a cliché plot, for sure, yet suspenseful and well acted. But when Crime and Punishment veers into Blood Feast, it loses me. Release: 2018  Grade: B-

 

 

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A Simple Favor

Anna Kendrick does A Simple Favor.  Big mistake.  

 

I was beginning to despair of ever again seeing anything clever and funny, i.e. entertaining, in a Hollywood “comic thriller.” But then I saw A Simple Favor, which has it all: clever script, fast-paced direction, and engaging characters. Anna Kendrick is perfectly cast as a Susie Homemaker with a video blog who gets drawn into a murder investigation when her new “best friend,” a glamorous mystery woman (Blake Lively), goes missing.

At times the plot does get a bit far-fetched. I gave that a pass because of the top-notch cast and a tongue-in-cheek tone that works.  Release: 2018  Grade: A-

 

**

 

Personal Shopper

Pretty much how I felt while watching this film

 

A Simple Favor is a female-centric movie for everyone. Personal Shopper is, alas, a female-centric movie for diehard fans of Kristen Stewart only.

Stewart plays a celebrity’s assistant in Paris who grieves for her recently deceased twin brother. And grieves. And grieves. The first hour of the movie was intolerable: Kristen mopes, Kristen strips, Kristen engages in endless, pointless text messaging with a mystery man who might be her brother’s ghost. No, thank you. Release: 2017  Grade: D

 

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