Saturday, May 21, 2022

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Granger at the Movies: ‘Unhinged,’ ‘Waiting for the Barbarians,’ ‘The Pale Door’

Soon, Rachel becomes the focus for his gruesome fury: “I don’t think you know what a really bad day is, but you’re going to find out.”

When he steals her cell phone and scans her contact list, it turns out that he’s determined to hunt down, assault, and kill everyone she holds dear.

The action-packed screenplay was written by Carl Ellsworth (“Disturbia,” “Red Eye”) and formulaically directed by Derrick Borte (“American Dreamer”), who keeps snarling, glowering Crowe behind the wheel, pedal-to-the-metal most of the time.

While lumbering Crowe is certainly competent as “The Man,” it’s a crazed, sadistic role, a volatile part that might easily have gone to Nicolas Cage or Mel Gibson.

Originally scheduled for July, “Unhinged” is the first major release since the COVID pandemic closed theaters. Reminiscent of old Charles Bronson killer-thrillers, it’s already opened in Crowe’s native Australia, along with Canada, Germany, and England. According to global box-office reports, it’s earned $1.7 million but it needs to gross $30 million in the US to be considered profitable.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Unhinged” is a feisty 5. Not worth risking a trip to the theater; wait for it on VOD.

Pulitzer Prize-winning South African author J.M. Coetzee has adapted his 1980 novel “Waiting for the Barbarians”—a cautionary tale about the sins of colonialism—into a mediocre VOD movie.

The Magistrate (Mark Rylance) is in charge of a remote border outpost. A career diplomat, his mission is to protect the interests of the Empire against the “barbarians” who wander the desert. After observing them for many years, he doesn’t view these peaceful nomadic people as any kind of threat.

Yet when there’s a minor theft, stiff-mannered Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) is dispatched by the Bureau of State Security to investigate. Smugly sadistic, he believes in “patience and pressure … pain is truth—and that will be end of it.”

Joll’s “interrogation” methodology involves such extensive and merciless torture that the Minister, a kind and gentle man, is not only horrified but also disappointed and disillusioned.

Reaching out in sympathy to a persecuted young woman (Gana Bayarsaikhan) who was crippled and blinded by Colonel Joll, the Magistrate offers her shelter and ritualistically bathes her wounds, establishing an emotional/sexual connection.

Eventually, the Magistrate offers to return her to her “tribe” somewhere in the windswept desert wasteland. When he comes back to the outpost, he’s met by Joll’s sneering second-in-command, Warrant Officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson), who accuses him of being a traitor and tortures him accordingly.

Making his English language debut, Colombian director Ciro Guerra (“Embrace the Serpent,” “Birds of Passage”) and cinematographer Chris Menges (“The Mission,” “The Killing Fields”) filmed in Morocco and Italy, lending an evocative cinematic authenticity to the bleakly generic drama.

FYI: After this, his first produced script, J.M. Coetzee also adapted his 2014 novel “In the Heart of the Country” but it has not yet been made.

In English and Mongolian (English subtitles) on the Granger Gauge, “Waiting for the Barbarians” is a sinister 6, a heavy-handed allegory that leaves no doubt about who the brutal barbarians really are.

After a botched train robbery, the horror/Western “The Pale Door” finds the legendary Dalton gang taking shelter in a mysterious ghost town where nothing is as it seems at first glance.

It’s prefaced by an ominous Edgar Allen Poe quote: “And travelers now within that valley, through the red-litten windows, see vast forms that move fantastically to a discordant melody; while, like a rapid ghastly river, though the pale door, a hideous throng rush out forever, and laugh—but smile no more.”

What the Daltons heist from the train is a locked trunk which, when they pry it open, contains a young woman named Pearl (Natasha Basset), her arms locked in shackles. She offers not only a hefty reward but also medical help for Duncan Dalton (Zachary Knighton), their wounded leader, if they’ll take her home to the tiny town of Potemkin.

While young Jake Dalton (Devin Druid) is obviously quite attracted to Pearl, mysterious Maria (Melora Walters) explains that, many years earlier, the women of Potemkin took her in on the day Pearl was born. That leads to a flashback that culminates with her being burned at the stake as a witch by legendary Cotton Mather (James Landry Hebert).

In the meantime, members of the Dalton gang (Noah Segan, Stan Shaw, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Tina Parker) are being “entertained” at the local brothel by a bevy of eager-to-please prostitutes.

As it turns out, they’re a creepy coven of witches who covet Jake because his virginal blood contains the supernatural restorative powers they crave.

Inanely and ineptly scripted by Cameron Burns, Roman Dent and director Aaron B. Koontz, it’s a muddled mess, containing one line of dialogue that mirrors my reaction perfectly, when a gang member mutters: “I’ve had enough of this strange ####.”

On the Granger Gauge, “The Pale Door” is a flawed, flimsy 4. Available on Prime Video, Fandango, and Vudu—but don’t bother.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

Soon, Rachel becomes the focus for his gruesome fury: “I don’t think you know what a really bad day is, but you’re going to find out.”

When he steals her cell phone and scans her contact list, it turns out that he’s determined to hunt down, assault, and kill everyone she holds dear.

The action-packed screenplay was written by Carl Ellsworth (“Disturbia,” “Red Eye”) and formulaically directed by Derrick Borte (“American Dreamer”), who keeps snarling, glowering Crowe behind the wheel, pedal-to-the-metal most of the time.

While lumbering Crowe is certainly competent as “The Man,” it’s a crazed, sadistic role, a volatile part that might easily have gone to Nicolas Cage or Mel Gibson.

Originally scheduled for July, “Unhinged” is the first major release since the COVID pandemic closed theaters. Reminiscent of old Charles Bronson killer-thrillers, it’s already opened in Crowe’s native Australia, along with Canada, Germany, and England. According to global box-office reports, it’s earned $1.7 million but it needs to gross $30 million in the US to be considered profitable.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Unhinged” is a feisty 5. Not worth risking a trip to the theater; wait for it on VOD.

Pulitzer Prize-winning South African author J.M. Coetzee has adapted his 1980 novel “Waiting for the Barbarians”—a cautionary tale about the sins of colonialism—into a mediocre VOD movie.

The Magistrate (Mark Rylance) is in charge of a remote border outpost. A career diplomat, his mission is to protect the interests of the Empire against the “barbarians” who wander the desert. After observing them for many years, he doesn’t view these peaceful nomadic people as any kind of threat.

Yet when there’s a minor theft, stiff-mannered Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) is dispatched by the Bureau of State Security to investigate. Smugly sadistic, he believes in “patience and pressure … pain is truth—and that will be end of it.”

Joll’s “interrogation” methodology involves such extensive and merciless torture that the Minister, a kind and gentle man, is not only horrified but also disappointed and disillusioned.

Reaching out in sympathy to a persecuted young woman (Gana Bayarsaikhan) who was crippled and blinded by Colonel Joll, the Magistrate offers her shelter and ritualistically bathes her wounds, establishing an emotional/sexual connection.

Eventually, the Magistrate offers to return her to her “tribe” somewhere in the windswept desert wasteland. When he comes back to the outpost, he’s met by Joll’s sneering second-in-command, Warrant Officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson), who accuses him of being a traitor and tortures him accordingly.

Making his English language debut, Colombian director Ciro Guerra (“Embrace the Serpent,” “Birds of Passage”) and cinematographer Chris Menges (“The Mission,” “The Killing Fields”) filmed in Morocco and Italy, lending an evocative cinematic authenticity to the bleakly generic drama.

FYI: After this, his first produced script, J.M. Coetzee also adapted his 2014 novel “In the Heart of the Country” but it has not yet been made.

In English and Mongolian (English subtitles) on the Granger Gauge, “Waiting for the Barbarians” is a sinister 6, a heavy-handed allegory that leaves no doubt about who the brutal barbarians really are.

After a botched train robbery, the horror/Western “The Pale Door” finds the legendary Dalton gang taking shelter in a mysterious ghost town where nothing is as it seems at first glance.

It’s prefaced by an ominous Edgar Allen Poe quote: “And travelers now within that valley, through the red-litten windows, see vast forms that move fantastically to a discordant melody; while, like a rapid ghastly river, though the pale door, a hideous throng rush out forever, and laugh—but smile no more.”

What the Daltons heist from the train is a locked trunk which, when they pry it open, contains a young woman named Pearl (Natasha Basset), her arms locked in shackles. She offers not only a hefty reward but also medical help for Duncan Dalton (Zachary Knighton), their wounded leader, if they’ll take her home to the tiny town of Potemkin.

While young Jake Dalton (Devin Druid) is obviously quite attracted to Pearl, mysterious Maria (Melora Walters) explains that, many years earlier, the women of Potemkin took her in on the day Pearl was born. That leads to a flashback that culminates with her being burned at the stake as a witch by legendary Cotton Mather (James Landry Hebert).

In the meantime, members of the Dalton gang (Noah Segan, Stan Shaw, Bill Sage, Pat Healy, Tina Parker) are being “entertained” at the local brothel by a bevy of eager-to-please prostitutes.

As it turns out, they’re a creepy coven of witches who covet Jake because his virginal blood contains the supernatural restorative powers they crave.

Inanely and ineptly scripted by Cameron Burns, Roman Dent and director Aaron B. Koontz, it’s a muddled mess, containing one line of dialogue that mirrors my reaction perfectly, when a gang member mutters: “I’ve had enough of this strange ####.”

On the Granger Gauge, “The Pale Door” is a flawed, flimsy 4. Available on Prime Video, Fandango, and Vudu—but don’t bother.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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