For This week’s Cultural Dispatches from the Alamo, Griff sets his sights on five recent releases:


Death Wish

This is a remake of the zeitgeist-catching, B-movie from the early 70’s. The ripped-from-the-headlines story of an architect striking out at the criminals who roam an untamed New York — an urban jungle where the strong and sociopathic were red in both tooth and claw – was generally loathed by film critics. It featured Charles Bronson exuding his granite-like Bronson-ness and allowed him to finally become a bankable actor.

The newest remake was similarly unloaded on by the critics:  it didn’t help that schlock-meister Eli Roth directed this version, nor were the films’ prospects of being embraced by the Ingmar Bergman-set improved when vile Republican Bruce Willis was cast as the lead.

Surprising myself (I’ve avoided Roth’s slasher-porn oeuvre), I really enjoyed Death Wish. In the past decade Willis has become something of a mortgage-payment actor, taking a lot of money for short stints in forgettable films when he’s not flogging the decaying corpse of Die Hard. Death Wish shows some of his best actual acting in years (see the scene with his shrink’s comments on his improving mental state), and a number of the supporting characters are terrific, especially the ubiquitous “hey, I’ve seen that guy before” character actor Dean Norris, who frankly steals every scene he’s in.

Griff o’ meter: Worth full price  $$$$$


The Meg

Giant prehistoric shark. Water… which means Jason Statham gets to take off his shirt and display that authentically Olympian physique and dive better than any stuntman could hope to do so.

Oh, the story?

Well, there’s a giant prehistoric shark, and Jason Statham plays a guy named Jonas who has to fight him. The film was heavily co-financed by a Chinese studio, which means a very lovely actress named Li Bingbing (I do not exaggerate) and a very cute young girl are shoe-horned into the plot in such a way that it will be very easy to recut the film and sell it with Ms. Bingbing as the hero supported by the hunky diving English dude.

Regardless of the limitations put on the story by eventual Chinese censors (there’s nary a kiss betwixt the two leads), the film has some laughs and thrills.

It’s dumb fun, with a little too heavy a dollop of dumb.

Griff o’ meter: Matinee only if they throw in a free drink. $$


I Feel Pretty

Amy Schumer. Guuuurl Power. Lessee, probably lots of jokes about girly bits, lots of profanity, with a generous helping of gratuitous slams of conservatives, Republicans, and anybody else the Kool Kidz have identified as icky.

There was very little of that in the finished film. Sadly, a lot of the best jokes were in the trailer, but the real surprise was that Amy Schumer can act. She did a hell of a good job as the woman who went from one self-delusion — “Nobody likes me because I’m chubby” to another self-delusion: “wow, I’ve magically turned into a babe” –– which delusion fits a personal mantra of mine: “Change your Story, Change Your Life.” Overall, Schumer was better than the film, which rather predictably stumbled to a conclusion. Still, some laughs to be had.

Griff o’ meter:  Redbox it



Hey, who doesn’t love a horror movie in the summer time? In this case, the vampire takes his victim into a shallow pond and leaves her there to drown, because somehow sacrificing her life will enable him to continue his shadowy undead existence.

Australian actor Jason Clark, fleshy, pasty-faced, and as pale as Bela Lugosi, gives us a character with expressions that appear a few seconds later than they should, as if they can only be produced with great deliberation, deserves an Oscar for his work as Teddy Kennedy (as does Ed Helms for the family fixer who realizes too late that the price of service to the life-sucking Kennedy family will be nothing less than his soul). However, we all know that any film which shows us what a shambling simulacra of a human-being the Lion of the Senate was will never reach those exalted heights.

Griff o’ meter:  Worth full price $$$$$$… and, what the hell, own it, too.


Equalizer 2

Sometimes, you just need to watch some righteous ass-beating. The first Equalizer was a terrific surprise: competent, creative, and compelling. It has the guts to take its time telling the story and introducing the characters. Sure, it was a basic Western, with the retired gun-fighter who wanted to just live in peace, but dammit, the world is full of bad men who need a lesson in proper behavior.

The sequel is smart and took some risks. Rather than decide “Hey, let’s do more of the same, just bigger with more guns and more explosions,” they went with a different approach that followed the character on a different path, almost randomly assisting people who he happened to hear needed help.

There were still righteous ass-beatings, with a bit more character development. I found it slightly less intense that the first film, but a worthy continuation of the first, again, with some thoughtful explorations of duty and devotion to what is right.

Griff o’ meter:  Matinee, but you’re buying your own Milk Duds. $$$$