Category: Reviews in Short

Spotlight

grouchyeditor.com Spotlight

 

It’s easy to see how Spotlight won the Best Picture Oscar: It’s an “important” movie, well-produced, well-written, and well-acted. It’s also easy to see why it grossed only $45 million at the American box office: Unlike, say, another newspaper movie called All the President’s Men, Spotlight is cerebral and clinical, more documentary and less Hollywood thriller. It’s not the kind of movie you can say you “enjoy,” because the subject matter — priests molesting kids — is so unpleasant. But you won’t be bored. Release: 2015  Grade: A- 

 

*****

 

The Invitation

grouchyeditor.com Invitation

 

Director Karyn Kusama conducts a graduate course in suspense and — if you’ve had it with what passes for “horror” these days — you’d be wise to attend. The plot: A man accepts a dinner-party invitation from his ex-wife and her new husband at their secluded house in the Hollywood Hills. Old friends of the former couple are also among the invitees, but aside from the hosts’ expensive wine and fancy digs, something feels a little … off … from the moment guests walk in the front door. You might guess where things are headed, but Invitation has creepiness galore on its way to a nasty little twist-ending. Release: 2016  Grade: B+

 

*****

 

No Escape

grouchyeditor.com No Escape

 

For an hour, No Escape is everything you could ask from an action-thriller: It’s relentlessly exciting and has heroes who behave in a believable manner – until they don’t. Owen Wilson and Lake Bell head an American family newly arrived to a Southeast Asian country when the prime minister is assassinated, unleashing violence in the streets and forcing the Americans to run, claw, and fight for survival. But after that thrilling first hour, the screenwriters resort to action-flick clichés and downright silliness. Release: 2015  Grade: C+

 

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Kilo Two Bravo

grouchyeditor.com Kilo

 

Here’s a tense, realistic slice of war in which a small band of British soldiers in Afghanistan gets trapped in a riverbed littered with active landmines. This is the rare thriller in which the gore is not gratuitous, the special effects are actually special, and the term “nail-biter” can be taken literally — I was certainly biting mine. Release: 2014  Grade: A-

 

**

 

Victoria

grouchyeditor.com Victoria

 

Victoria has a gimmick, sure. It’s a 138-minute movie shot in one long take — no edits, no breaks. But once you stop marveling at the technical skill of the filmmakers, the single-shot gimmick actually aids the story, pulling you along with young Victoria as she impulsively hangs out with some bad boys on a night when things go horribly wrong in Berlin. The movie artfully transitions from playful lark to exciting heist to, most surprisingly, a touching finale. Release: 2015 Grade: A-

 

 **

 

Everest

grouchyeditor.com Everest

 

We’ll never know exactly what transpired atop Mt. Everest on May 10, 1996, the day that eight climbers expired while attempting to scale the peak, because survivors dispute the details. But I do know two things about 2015’s Everest: 1) as an adventure movie, it boasts climbing scenes that are spectacular and harrowing, and 2) as a human drama, the film is somewhat lacking. When people die every day somewhere on the planet from poverty, natural disasters and senseless violence, it’s hard to muster empathy for a bunch of rich adventurists who perished in pursuit of bragging rights.  Release: 2015  Grade: B

 

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Neighbors

2

 

For a comedy, Neighbors has a decent premise: New parents Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne find their neighborhood peace and quiet disrupted when noisy, chaotic fraternity boys move in next door. But what follows is 90 minutes of adolescent humor, nonsensical plot developments, and off-putting gross-outs. If you make a movie this lame, you’d best not reference better comedies like Meet the Parents and Animal House, which only reminds us of what we’re missing.  Release: 2014  Grade: D

 

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Trainwreck

grouchyeditor.com Trainwreck

 

Comedian-screenwriter Amy Schumer and director Judd Apatow try to please fans of modern gross-out humor — the twist is that, these days, it’s more often the girls than the boys who are delivering the gross-outs — and lovers of more traditional, fairy-tale romantic comedies with this movie about a cynical party animal (Schumer) who falls for a nerdy sports doctor (Bill Hader). The end product is a bit uneven, but the film’s heart is in the right place, its characters are likeable, and there are enough funny bits to make for an enjoyable two hours.  Release: 2015 Grade: B

 

**

 

Dark

grouchyeditor.com Dark

 

This psychological thriller about a New York model’s gradual descent into madness bears a strong resemblance to Repulsion, the 1965 classic from director Roman Polanski. But following an opening, steamy sex scene between stars Whitney Able and Alexandra Breckenridge, Dark’s slow-burn suspense dwindles to a snail’s pace, taking a long time to reach the climax. On the plus side, Able is quite good as the paranoid model, and it’s refreshing to absorb horror that takes place in the mind rather than in some blood-spattered setting.  Release: 2015  Grade: B-

 

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Unfriended

grouchyeditor.com Unfriend

 

For anyone who’s ever been creeped out by an anonymous lurker, or a troll, on the Internet, Unfriended will hit home at least for the first half of the movie, in which a small group of tech-savvy teens find their Skype call invaded by an unwelcome visitor. Unfortunately, events that follow – involving a ghost and some vicious online behavior – grow more and more ridiculous. If nothing else, the movie, which occurs entirely online, is a good primer for novice users of Instagram, Facebook, and other sites where the kids hang out.  Release: 2015  Grade: B-

 

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

grouchyeditor.com Kingsman

 

A street kid is recruited by an international spy (Colin Firth) to combat an evil billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) who plans to dramatically reduce Earth’s human population – ostensibly to combat global warming. This British spy movie is more in line with the sillier James Bond adventures starring Roger Moore than with the more recent, dead-serious Daniel Craig outings. The plot is outlandish and the villains cartoonish, but hey, that’s what we paid for. And besides, who doesn’t want to “do it in the asshole” with Swedish actress Hanna Alstrom? Release: 2015  Grade: B

 

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Mad Max: Fury Road

grouchyeditor.com Fury

 

Director George Miller returns to post-apocalyptic Australia to deliver a two-hour cartoon that looks really cool, but which has very little to engage the mind. That’s a fine thing if you’re 12 years old, but some of us geezers recall a time when big-budget action flicks at least made a token effort to provide the semblance of a plot, or one or two characters who do more than grunt their lines. But if all you require is a movie with spectacular chase scenes and things that go boom, this ought to more than satisfy you.  Release: 2015  Grade: B-

 

*****

 

Black Sheep

Sheep

 

Genetic engineering goes wrong, turning thousands of harmless sheep into bloodthirsty beasts as they run amok in the New Zealand countryside. It’s not quite as funny as it sounds – there’s too much emphasis on gore and special effects, not enough on the (sorry) sheer lunacy of actual sheep on a killer rampage. Then again, the image of hundreds of corpulent sheep congregating on a hilltop, preparing to attack like the schoolyard crows in The Birds, still brings a smile to my face. Release: 2006  Grade: B-

 

*****

 

The Imitation Game

grouchyeditor.com Imitation

 

After watching this movie and then doing some research on the real-life people and events that inspired it, I felt much the same way that I felt years ago after reading James Frey’s infamous “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces: Yes, it was a bummer to learn that the film (or book) took so many liberties with reality – but I liked it anyway.

Is it fair to criticize the makers of The Imitation Game for altering the story of Alan Turing, the gay, brilliant mathematician who was instrumental in cracking a Nazi code during World War II? I think it is, especially when the movie opens with the standard “based on a true story” tagline, and especially when the names of real people are retained. If you can shrug off that “artistic license,” though, Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Turing and the inherent suspense of the story make for a touching, powerful drama.  Release: 2014   Grade: B+

 

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Ex Machina

grouchyeditor.com Machina

 

Take “Hal” from 2001: A Space Odyssey — or any of the replicants from Blade Runner — toss him (or her) into the plot of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and you’ll get something akin to this cautionary tale about a reclusive genius and his latest project: a doe-eyed android named Ava. The question is: Just how “human” is Ava?

Writer-director Alex Garland (Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) delivers a visually striking, dreamlike motion picture — although the characters are a miserable lot, the tone is oppressive, and at times the story drags. Still, this is thought-provoking science fiction, mostly because it’s such a plausible glimpse at our future.  Release: 2015  Grade: B+

 

grouchyeditor.com Machina

 

**

 

Phoenix

grouchyeditor.com Phoenix

 

A presumed-dead Holocaust survivor (Nina Hoss), shot in the head, has facial reconstruction surgery and returns home to her husband – but he fails to recognize her. Oh, and he might have betrayed her to the Nazis. Absorbing and suspenseful, Phoenix raises memories of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, with its haunted tone and themes of fantasy and identity.  

I do have two minor complaints.  The plot suffers from what I call Agatha Christie Syndrome:  People who really ought to recognize someone, do not (or vice versa). And I don’t understand why romantic mood-pieces like this one, which cry out for a musical score, eschew them. Release: 2014  Grade: B

 

**

 

Welcome to New York

grouchyeditor.com Welcome

 

Abel Ferrara’s thinly veiled account of the alleged sexual assault of an immigrant chambermaid by French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn is an intriguing, if not particularly powerful, docudrama. It’s not easy to be repulsed by a hedonistic, unrepentant rich man when he’s portrayed by an actor as charming as Gerard Depardieu. But it’s always fascinating to see how the world’s elite behave and misbehave – whether or not that behavior is real or the product of a screenwriter’s imagination. Release: 2014 Grade: B

 

**

 

American Sniper

grouchyeditor.com Sniper

 

I lost all faith in the veracity of war movies “based on a true story” back in 2003 when the military and NBC (Saving Jessica Lynch) sold us a bill of goods about the saga of Jessica Lynch, so I have no clue how faithful Sniper is to the life of Navy sharpshooter Chris Kyle. I doubt that the real Kyle was as charismatic as Bradley Cooper is in this controversial take on U.S. involvement in the Middle East. But old pro Clint Eastwood knows how to stage a tense, suspenseful battle sequence, and his movie is certainly thought-provoking. Release: 2014 Grade: B

 

**

 

The Girl

grouchyeditor.com Hedren

 

Toby Jones is superb as Alfred Hitchcock and, surprisingly (to me, at least), Sienna Miller is more than his match as Tippi Hedren, the Minnesota model whom Hitchcock turned into a movie star, in the process becoming dangerously obsessed with her. I have no idea how closely The Girl adheres to reality, but as a beauty and the beast docudrama, it’s much better than I expected.  How does it compare to Hitchcock, the Anthony Hopkins vehicle that also came out in 2012? This is better because, like so many of Hitchcock’s movies, it’s absorbing and deliciously twisted. Release: 2012  Grade: A-

 

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Miss Meadows

Meadows

 

One odd duck of a movie, part quirky black comedy, part vigilante crime drama. There’s a fine line between lovably eccentric and flat-out annoying, and Katie Holmes can’t quite pull off the former as a troubled schoolteacher who divides her time between correcting strangers’ grammar and mowing down neighborhood thugs. Not sure who thought that mixing this tap-dancing, pistol-packing Mary Poppins with creepy sex offenders was a good idea, but I couldn’t wait for the end credits so I could say “toodle-oo.”   Release: 2014  Grade: D+

 

*****

 

John Wick

Wick

 

A retired hit man (Keanu Reeves) goes ballistic when gangsters snuff out his mutt and steal his car in this mindless shoot-‘em-up for people who are too lazy to play video games. Clunky dialogue and an impressive waste of acting talent (Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Michael Nyqvist) also distinguish this mind-numbing waste of time. Hey, I don’t like it when they kill the dog, either, but this is ridiculous.  Release: 2014  Grade: F

 

*****

 

Black Sea

Black Sea

 

Jude Law plays a recently fired salvage skipper who leads a band of miscreants on a risky mission to steal gold bars from a Nazi submarine resting on the bottom of the Black Sea.  It’s a decent little thriller, and proof that you don’t need a big budget to make an exciting action movie – just some good performances and a script that isn’t too far-fetched. Release: 2015  Grade: B

 

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Hausu

2

 

Seven schoolgirls visit an old woman’s house in the country and get more than they bargained for in this standard-issue horror film from Japan. Just … kidding. There is nothing “standard issue” or normal about this 1977 mind-fuck from director Nobuhiku Obayashi. I suppose it’s what you might get if you tossed Where the Boys Are, The Haunting, and an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon into a blender – and then dropped acid before watching the result. Release: 1977  Grade: A, B, C, D and F

 

*****

 

 Oslo, August 31st

Oslo

 

Absorbing drama about a day in the life of a drug addict (Anders Danielsen Lie), a young man on leave from rehab for a job interview and who decides to revisit old pals and haunts in Oslo. What keeps this compelling film from cinematic greatness is its tone of clinical detachment, which makes it difficult to care all that much about the young man’s fate. Release: 2011 Grade: B+

 

*****

 

Alone with Her 

.                                 Ana27Ana28Ana29

 

Déjà vu, baby. I’m pretty sure I saw this movie before, way back in 1982. Back then, it featured a film star’s son (Andrew Stevens, Stella’s boy) cast as a perverted loner who is obsessed with a beauty (Morgan Fairchild). He spies on her when she’s naked, attempts to ingratiate himself with her, makes her life a living hell, and is finally unmasked in time for a climactic showdown.

This go-round, in Alone with Her, the film star’s kid is Colin Hanks, son of Tom, and the victimized girl is Ana Claudia Talancon. But as was the case with 1982’s The Seduction, Alone is more unpleasant than suspenseful. Fairchild and Talancon take showers in their respective movies;  after watching this creep-out, you might need one, as well.  Release: 2006 Grade: C

 

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