Category: Reviews in Short

Gringo

grouchyeditor.com Gringo

 

If you think selecting a president this year is akin to choosing between having a root canal or a colonoscopy, it could be worse. We could be stuck with Libertarian candidate John McAfee, the software mogul who wound up accused of rape and orchestrating not one but two murders in Belize. Documentarian Nanette Burstein interviewed McAfee’s hired thugs, his victims, and his teenage “girlfriends” who observed as he turned one part of Central America into his own Heart of Darkness.  

It’s hard to say which is more stomach-turning: the way McAfee exploited poor Belizeans, or the way America’s fawning business and tech communities have welcomed him back to the U.S.A.  Release: 2016  Grade: B+

 

**

 

Amanda Knox

grouchyeditor.com Knox

 

Amanda Knox is not a particularly likeable woman – but that doesn’t necessarily make her a murderer. After watching Netflix’s new documentary about the Seattle woman’s trials and tribulations in the Italian justice system, I remain as clueless as ever to her guilt or innocence in the death of roommate Meredith Kercher. But I do know this: The movie reaffirms my belief that I never want to find myself on trial in Italy – especially with flamboyant, egotistical prosecutor Giuliano Mignini running the show. Release: 2016  Grade: B+

 

**

 

Rams

grouchyeditor.com Rams

 

Two Icelandic farmers – feuding brothers who haven’t spoken to each other in 40 years – find their livelihoods threatened when disease strikes their beloved sheep stock. Rams is one of those “little” films in which nothing much seems to happen – but it’s so unusual that it could stay with you for a long time.  Release: 2015  Grade: B

 

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High-Rise

grouchyeditor.com High Rise

 

To borrow a cliché, watching High-Rise is like witnessing a slow-motion train wreck:  It’s unpleasant, incomprehensible, yet oddly mesmerizing. Tom Hiddleston plays a 1970s doctor who moves into a state-of-the-art high-rise apartment building and gets entangled when the tenants – upper-crust Brits on the top floors, poorer Brits on the lower floors – engage in class warfare that turns violent.  I enjoyed this train wreck. But I’m not sure I’d want to watch it again.  Release: 2015  Grade: B

 

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The Wave

grouchyeditor.com Wave

 

Norway delivers an exciting disaster movie that more than holds its own against similar fare from Hollywood. A geologist learns that a restless mountain is about to crumble, dumping enough rock into an adjoining fjord to create a 250-foot wall of water that will turn his scenic village into Davy Jones’ Locker – and the populace has just minutes to reach higher ground. It’s a familiar disaster-flick scenario, but director Roar Uthaug beats Hollywood at its own game by making the action and characters more realistic. Also, the special effects are impressive. Release: 2015  Grade: B+

 

*****

 

Night Will Fall

grouchyeditor.com Night

 

If you get off on “torture porn” like The Green Inferno by filmmaker Eli Roth, this disturbing movie might cure you of the affliction, because Night’s raw footage of dead, dying, or decomposing concentration-camp victims is a reminder that gore and brutality aren’t just the province of Hollywood special-effects wizards. Ostensibly, this film is about an unreleased documentary briefly overseen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1945, but what lingers is the horror of Nazi Germany. Release: 2014  Grade: A

 

*****

 

Crimson Peak

grouchyeditor.com Crimson

 

Mia Wasikowska plays an early-20th-century damsel who marries and then moves to an eerie estate with her British husband (Tom Hiddleston) and his sinister sister, played with venomous relish by Jessica Chastain. This is an old-fashioned ghost story with modern-day special effects and, best of all, the visual aesthetics of director Guillermo del Toro. The gloomy estate hides secrets, the brother and sister harbor secrets … and none of it is particularly scary. As a romance Crimson also falls short, but Del Toro’s gorgeous sets and old-style direction make for a memorable two hours. Release: 2015  Grade: B+

 

*****

 

Wildlike

grouchyeditor.com Wildlike

 

Here’s a small gem with a larger-than-life setting. Ella Purnell plays a 14-year-old runaway who flees an abusive uncle and finds a reluctant ally in a backpacking, grumpy widower played by Bruce Greenwood. The movie begins as a total downer but transitions into a touching, odd-couple dramedy thanks to memorable turns from Greenwood, young Purnell, and the beauties of Alaska. Release: 2014  Grade: A-

 

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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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