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What Did You Watch This Week? (Reviews Of Grimsby, The Other Side Of The Door, Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, American Ultra, & Vacation)

What You Watched This Week Short reviews of James Bond’s brother adventure ‘Grimsby’, Indian-set chiller ‘The Other Side of the Door’, teen zom-com ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’, mismarketed stoner-actioneer ‘American Ultra’ and the should-have-stayed-at-home ‘Vacation’.

Grimsby (aka The Brothers Grimsby)
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Rebel Wilson, Penélope Cruz
Director: Louis Leterrier

Grimsby football-mad father of 11 Nobby (Cohen) finally finds his long lost brother (Strong), who in the intervening years has become a polished super spy. But when he accidentally makes his brother chief suspect in an assassination, and causes Daniel Radcliffe to get AIDS, the two go on the run… Sacha Baron Cohen has been responsible for some brilliant comic characters: Borat, Ali G, Bruno. He isn’t as sure-footed with Nobby, or as amusing – when out promoting the film in character and during early scenes in the movie it’s not quite working. But that all changes when he teams up with Strong, with whom he makes a great double act. Strong’s a brilliant straight man, his looks of bafflement and concern are constantly amusing, in between barking ridiculous lines with sincere urgency. Cohen and Strong both do whatever it takes to get a laugh, neither leaves with their dignity intact. It’s extremely filthy and pushes the boundaries, but while the likes of ‘Vacation’ uses penis gags as a lazy crutch, the x-rated gags here are genuinely hilarious (particularly the elephant scene and sucking poison scene). Although ‘Grimsby’ is Cohen’s funniest narrative movie (‘Borat’ was a mockumentary), a lot of the humour is UK-centric – his impression of Liam Gallagher’s swagger and many other cultural jokes are going to be lost elsewhere. If you’re amused by someone lighting a firework between their buttocks and you’re British, it’s a must see. Grade: B+

The Other Side Of The Door
Starring: Sarah Wayne Callies, Jeremy Sisto, Sofia Rosinsky
Director: Johannes Roberts

When an American mother living in India (Collins, ‘The Walking Dead’) loses her son in an accident she caused, the guilt drives her to attempt suicide. In response her Indian housekeeper tells her about a temple where if you scattered the ashes on the steps and wait inside, you can speak to your departed one last time through the door. But that door must not be opened. When the warning isn’t heeded the spirit re-enters the family home, which pleases the mother at first, before it gradually reveals its rotting soul… This might be the most surprising horror movie I’ve watched, in so much as who wrote/directed it. Writer-director Johannes Roberts has been churning out straight-to-DVD dreck for over a decade but has somehow turned it around to create a genuinely spooky, nuanced, well-acted, pretty original piece of work. This may have much to do with producer Alexandre Aja (‘Haute Tension’, Horns’ – one of the best horror directors around) and the loan of Aja’s cinematographer. The Indian setting makes a huge difference, and they capitalise with terrific use of location and production design. Exteriors in particular are vibrant, eerie and culturally isolating. Scares are well designed throughout and the surviving daughter is endearing rather than annoying (unlike many kid actors in horror). This is as much a drama about loss, echoing ‘The Babadook’, and each step of the journey to opening the door feels logical and motivated. Perhaps the latter possession section could have been swapped out for something more unique, but it’s not fatal. Grade: B+

Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner
Director: Christopher B. Landon

Ben (Sheridan – ‘Mud’, Cyclops in ‘X-Men Apocalypse’) and Carter, two of the three members of the dwindling scout group led by Scout Master Rogers (Koechner), decide to sneak off from their last ever camp-out to attend a huge warehouse party. But while they were out in the woods, sticking marshmallows to their heads and making belching calls, a zombie outbreak has taken hold, meaning they’ll need to put all their badge training to use if they’re going to survive… After a fairly uninteresting start this picks up steam, turning into a raucously amusing outing. Zombie-comedies are tired as hell (perhaps the same story with a different monster would have veered it away from box office doom), but ‘Guide’ is smart and wins over in a ‘Monster Squad’ kinda way. The trio of scouts are all likeable and it makes good use of settings, be it a battle in a Dolly Parton-themed house as ‘9 to 5’ plays, getting chased by an irate zombie bouncer in a strip bar, or a casual chat in a police cell while surrounded by zombies trying to get in. There’s the subtly of a zombie extra wearing a ‘yolo’ t-shirt, and the unsubtly of a toothless granny only able to suck on the ass cheek she’s trying to bite. All in all, if you’re open to it you’ll have a good time. Grade: B

American Ultra
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton
Director: Nima Nourizadeh

The sleepy small-town existence of a phobic stoner (Eisenberg) and his girlfriend (Stewart) is disrupted when his past reappears in the form of a government operation set to wipe him out. This unwitting sleeper agent will need to overcome his memory loss and naivety, while unlocking his dormant fighting skills, to improvise his way through the hoards of government agents and trained insane-asylum killers on his case… You’d expect from the synopsis and marketing that this is a stoner-comedy but there isn’t a laugh until quite a way into proceedings. Instead its tone is very similar to the film it’s imitating and updating, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’. Just as that 1996 outing was overlooked and underrated, this is too, though it’s not as good. It’s violent, bloody and has good dramatic performances from Eisenberg and Stewart – the love story between them as they go through big character arcs has great chemistry. The script by Max “son of John” Landis (‘Chronicle’) is playful and inventive but doesn’t telegraph its tongue in cheek aspects so, as with ‘Goodnight’, many won’t ‘get’ that aspect. Grade: B

Vacation
Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Charlie Day
Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

Sequel/reboot of the 80’s franchise. Following in the footsteps of his father Clark and hoping for some much-needed family bonding, a grown-up Rusty Griswold (Helms) surprises his wife (Applegate) and their two young sons with a cross-country car trip to family theme park Wally World. Misadventures ensue. On the way they’ll fall out, bond, and stop in on Pa and Mom (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo) at their B&B. Leslie Mann plays Rusty’s sister Audrey, and Chris Hemsworth (in his first comedy) is her husband, an irritatingly handsome and successful anchorman. Charlie Day cameos as a suicidal river-rafting guide. This is the directorial debut of the ‘Horrible Bosses’ co-writers, who also penned the screenplay. There is an inherent charm to this simple concept, something that was original writer John Hughes’ hallmark. However Ed Helms simply doesn’t have the charisma that Chevy Chase had in the role, doesn’t convince as a dumb enthusiast, and is just not funny enough to carry the film. That, together with the direction and writing, means 4 out of 5 jokes fall flat. Driving cross country should offer limitless comic scenarios but instead this version is obsessed with sex, penis and sh*t. Just the visit to Hemsworth’s mansion has two different overplayed willy scenes. The kids aren’t well observed either (as they were in ‘European Vacation’) reduced to basically one repeated gag – that the unlikeable younger one bullies the older one. And then there’s the two people who die – so misjudged. You could compile a funny 8min reel from its good moments (the rat on the shoulder, the empty chair, the truck driver’s chuckle etc), but the other 90min just aren’t worth the trip. ‘We’re the Millers’ was much better. Grade: C-

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