Movie News & Reviews

DVD Picks: ‘Dirty Grandpa’ and ‘The Witch’ top May 17 releases

‘Dirty Grandpa’

(R, 102 minutes, Lionsgate): Robert De Niro plays Dick, the recently widowed grandpa of Jason (Zac Efron). Dick insists that Jason drive to Florida even though his formerly close grandson is scheduled to get married in a few days time. His intended is the uptight, pearls-wearing Meredith played by a game Julianne Hough, who is forced to play the type of character that is hateable only because the leading man – the guy who chose to be with her in the first place – is fated to fall in love with a free spirit who allows him to live the life he’s truly meant to.

But after years of marriage, Dick is ready to let loose, so he wants to drink, smoke and bed women who are younger than his grandson, much to the surprise of said grandson who thought dear old granddad was really kind of boring. Enter Aubrey Plaza, a talented comedian who hasn’t quite found her niche other than “Parks and Recreation,” and her two friends, including Efron’s love interest Shadia (Zoey Deutch).

If “Dirty Grandpa” does anything, it should be to make you stop weeping for De Niro’s lost greatness. He brought this upon himself.

Contains crude sexual content throughout, graphic nudity, and for language and drug use. Philadelphia Inquirer

‘The Witch’

(R, 92 minutes, A24 Films): A grim, uneasy sense of doom pervades “The Witch,” writer-director Robert Eggers’s audacious and assured feature debut. An avatar of a sub-genre that might be called Colonial gothic, this chillingly atmospheric story of Calvinist zealotry and creeping hysteria joins the ranks of such landmark horror films as “The Omen,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist.”

“The Witch” begins in 1630, as an English settler named William (Ralph Ineson) is being banished from his New England plantation of Puritan colonists, forcing him to move with his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), and their four children to a hardscrabble farm on the outskirts of a forbidding forest. When their oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), takes her infant brother for a walk one day, she ventures too close to the woods, which are strangely charged with palpable but invisible forces. A series of bizarre events begins to unfold, each more terrifying than the last, calling into question whether the farm’s blighted crops, strangely behaving animals and apparent descent into madness are a function of William’s and Katherine’s religious paranoia or the handiwork of Satan.

If “The Witch” belongs to anyone it’s Taylor-Joy, a dead ringer for Michelle Williams who makes a stunning debut as a young woman caught between the depredations of both the natural and supernatural worlds. Along with Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays Thomasin’s attentive brother Caleb, Taylor-Joy elevates “The Witch” from the impressive to the revelatory, delivering a performance that is delicate, steely, vulnerable and potent all at once.

For fans of horror at its most sinister, “The Witch” is not to be missed. It casts a spell that lingers long after its most disquieting mists have cleared.

Contains disturbing violent content and graphic nudity. Washington Post

‘Theeb’

(Unrated, 100 minutes, Noor): The World War I-era Bedouins at the heart of “Theeb,” a breathtaking coming of age/survival drama filmed in Jordan, live at the same isolated, unforgiving place and time as those in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Once again, as they try to create Arab nationalism through an uprising against the Ottoman Empire, assistance appears in the form of a visiting English officer. Once again West and East meet in a clash of ritualized hospitality and civilized modern militarism.

The film debut by British-born writer/director Naji Abu Nowar frames its brutal adventure story through crucially different focal points. It follows two young orphans fending for themselves at an isolated encampment after the death of their father, an esteemed sheikh. Teenage Hussein (Hussein Salameh) is recruited by an English soldier (Jack Fox) and his Arabian guide, who ask him to take them to a desert well located near an Ottoman train track leading to Mecca. When they leave, younger Theeb, whose name is the Arabic word for “wolf” (magnetically played by preteen Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat), mischievously tags behind without permission.

Nowar directs his suspenseful saga, which he calls “the first Bedouin western,” with muscular, no-nonsense style, from the breathtaking visual aesthetic to the excellent performances by his nonprofessional cast. Their fresh performances are in part based on the slim, savvy script. The story’s would-be heroic European, the traditional locals, their marauding relations, even the character of a young boy, all avoid stereotype.

The film, which was nominated for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards, feels like a rare blast of poetic realism, part fable and part docudrama. It’s phenomenal.

Contains violence. Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

‘The Perfect Day’

(R, 106 Minutes, IFC Films): Writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa’s “A Perfect Day” is a valiant attempt to give war’s diligent, unsung cleanup personnel — humanitarian aid workers — a slice of absurdist/melancholy movie memorializing to call their own. But the film suffers from a marked lack of narrative energy and a regrettable surfeit of clichéd characterization.

Benicio del Toro’s weary security chief (for the fictional Aid Across Borders) is saddled with an uninteresting romantic entanglement involving a suddenly reappearing old flame (Olga Kurylenko). Meanwhile, the dynamic between the crusty, smart-ass veteran (Tim Robbins) and the wide-eyed newbie (Melanie Thierry) feels manufactured rather than illuminative about who’s drawn to this work.

The movie is more focused when simply depicting the infuriating snafus – bureaucratic, local or otherwise – that prevent the gang from trying to extract a dead body from a village well. There’s also a delicately encroaching, war-ravaged sadness to a subplot about a young boy Del Toro takes under his wing. Though beautifully filmed in high mountain areas that lend an arresting visual crispness, “A Perfect Day” is a regrettable meander through standard antiwar sentiments.

Contains: language including some sexual references. Los Angeles Times

Also out May 17

  • “The Perfect Day”
  • “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty”
  • “Orange is the New Black: Season 3”
  • “The Program”
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