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Oprah graces A Wrinkle in Time, our city stars in Meditation Park and a sharp new director helms Thoroughbreds

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THOROUGHBREDS: Unlike so many, this film has a great deal on its mind. We get it in razor sharp dialogue, amoral scheming by two privileged but disturbed young women and an auspicious debut by a new director. Cory Finley wrote this material as a play. It is literate, well-spoken and definitely influenced by the writer he cites as an inspiration, Harold Pinter. An ordinary situation turns dark and menacing, then absurd and dangerous. You can sense its theatrical origins but it never feels stagey. The talk is riveting.

 

Two young women in the country-house set in Connecticut plot a murder. Ostensibly they’ve come together for exam preparation. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) is tutoring Amanda (Olivia Cooke), who is something of a know-it-all and claims to have no emotions. “No feelings whatsoever, only schizoid tendencies.” But Lily gradually reveals she has demons inside her too. She wants to kill her stepfather. Amanda is all for it and in a chilling scene at an outdoor chess board, describes how she once killed a horse. The motivation and character of the two are carefully detailed and perfectly believable. They try to involve a guy they meet at a party in their plan. He’s an under-achiever with big pretensions played by Anton Yelchin, in his last screen role. And in a postscript scene Finley lets out his pessimism with the provocative suggestion that in the modern world the emotion-less actions of these characters are becoming the new norm. (International Village and two suburban theatres) 4 out of 5 

GRINGO: This one’s a lark but you have to accept a few things to enjoy it. There’s little sense to it. It’s full of coincidences that would never happen in real life. It attacks money-grubbing types with no philosophical impetus, just cynicism and a low opinion of human nature. It outs all these things together for no particular reason other than the wish of a scriptwriter to throw them all in. Dark and funny some of them are.

Here’s the basic plot: David Oyelowo, as a mid-level functionary at a U.S. drug company, hears rumors of a pending merger that might put him out of a job. He’s assured by his boss (Joel Edgerton) that won’t happen but then sent on a mission to Mexico to tell a cartel boss they can’t do business with him anymore. He stages his own kidnapping, is pursued by both the cartel and drug enforcement cops and hears from his wife (Thandie Newton) that she’s leaving him. Actually she’s been sleeping with his boss, who by the way has also been sleeping with the second in command at the company, a marvelously assertive Charlize Theron. 

 

Enough? No there’s more. His boss too wants to find him and calls on his brother (Sharlto Copley) an ex-mercenary now reformed to a more spiritual life as an aid worker in Haiti to go and rescue him. Meanwhile, a couple from a guitar shop in Chicago have been convinced to go down and contact the cartel and bring home some bootleg pills. You know they’re all going to meet up, get into car chases and major shoot outs. Trump warned us about these Mexican crooks. You also know what you have to do to consider this as entertaining fun. Stop thinking. Nash Edgerton, the director,  is Joel’s brother. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

THE STRANGERS PREY AT NIGHT: Wow, 10 years later it’s happening again. Back in 2008, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman were terrorized at a country house by three mask-wearing psychopaths. Now three equally-psycho intruders wearing the same masks terrorize a whole family at a dark and seemingly deserted trailer park. Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson play the parents with Lewis Pullman as their bored son and Bailee Madison as their petulant daughter.

 

Out in the dark and ready to pounce are Dollface, Pin-Up Girl and Man in the Mask. We never learn why. The closest we get to an explanation is when one of them is asked “Why are you doing this?” she says “Why not?” No, not much character development. Luckily none of that torture porn that used to be around either or excess gore. But the film with all its creaky noises, shock startles, stabs and rising dread is pretty well crafted. It’s not all that scary and carries no deeper meaning  but cranks up the tension well. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 2 out of 5

Also now playing …

THE HURRICANE HEIST: Here’s an idea somebody pitched. Wouldn’t it be spectacular to stage a robbery at a US Treasury facility during a hurricane. Lets make that a Category 5. Think of the action, the special effects, the car crashes, roll overs even. Well, somebody bought it, put Rob Cohen in charge, (he helmed The Fast and the Furious remember) and set it in Alabama but filmed it mostly in Bulgaria. The studio didn’t see fit to screen it for the media, so I can’t tell you whether it’s any good. But you can imagine. (International Village and suburban theatres

 

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