Reviews in Short: December 2013

Robot & Frank 

.      Frank1  Frank2


Sometimes silly but always engaging, Robot & Frank is a showcase for 74-year-old Frank Langella.  Langella plays a grumpy, unreformed burglar whose adult son comes up with an antidote for dad’s failing memory:  a caregiver robot.  The movie is ostensibly science fiction, but its theme is human memory — and the loss of it.  What makes Robot stumble is its desire to add thrills to the mix, including a lame heist sequence.  Release:  2012  Grade:  B




The Conjuring

.      Conjure1  Conjure2


One day, someone will give director James Wan a quality script and he might produce a horror classic.  Wan, who gave us Insidious and now this film, is a master at staging and framing shots for maximum shock value — the first half of Conjuring boasts some of the scariest scenes I’ve watched in ages.  Unfortunately, once a pair of demonologists (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) show up to clear a family’s house of evil spirits, the screenplay devolves into clumsy dialogue and rip-offs of better films like The Exorcist and Poltergeist.  Still … those first 45 minutes are chilling.  Release:  2013  Grade:  B+





.      Oldboy1  Oldboy2


A man wakes up in a hotel room with no clue how he got there and no idea that he will be imprisoned there for the next 15 years — and that’s just the beginning of his ordeal.  Korean director Park Chan-wook’s trippy revenge-mystery doesn’t always make sense, and it’s a tad too long, but it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen.  And a twist near the end is a real whopper.  Release:  2003  Grade:  B+





.      Absentia1  Absentia2


Straight-to-video horror movies often share similar traits:  a few scary scenes; a good performance or two; and last but not least, a goofy script that sabotages much of what is positive about the film.  So it is with Absentia, in which residents of a Los Angeles neighborhood keep vanishing into a … oh, never mind.  But there are some chills here, and lead actress Katie Parker is appealing.  Release:  2011  Grade:  B-




Everything or Nothing

.      Bond2  Bond3


I suppose I expected something different from a documentary about the making of the James Bond movies, like more girls, gadgets, and guns.  Instead, Everything focuses on behind-the-scenes drama, in particular the clashing egos of producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli and Bond creator Ian Fleming.  It’s an interesting tale, just not as entertaining as the films themselves.  One noticeable absentee from the roster of interviewees:  Sean Connery.  Release:  2012  Grade:  B




The Silence

.      Silence1  Silence2


A young girl is raped and murdered in a field, the killer is not found, and 23 years later — to the day — another girl goes missing at the same spot.  The Silence is unusual in that it concentrates as much on the victims’ families as on the crime.  The result is a compelling drama from Germany, but also a thriller that’s a bit short on thrills.  Release:  2010  Grade:  B





.      Grabber1  Grabber2


In Bride of the Monster, there is an infamous scene in which poor, aging Bela Lugosi tussles with a rubber octopus.  There’s a similar scene in Grabbers, but with a difference:  This time, we are supposed to laugh.  This Irish horror-comedy about an island village besieged by monsters is an affectionate nod to silly B-movies past, but aside from a hilarious turn by Ruth Bradley as a drunken cop, the laughs are sporadic.  The real grabber here is the breathtaking Irish scenery.  Release:  2012  Grade:  B





.      Tal1Tal2  Tal3


You’ve probably heard of “catfishing,” the pernicious practice of conning people by using fake Internet profiles.  Filmmaker Nev Schulman has made a career chronicling the phenomenon, beginning with his 2010 movie Catfish and continuing with an MTV series.  But this movie, similar in theme to Catfish, predates Schulman’s documentary and, for my money, is the better film because the stakes, murder, are much higher.  The final twist is a stunner.  Release:  2009  Grade:  B+


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