Theater/VOD Hits & Misses: ‘THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY’, ‘BARNEY THOMSON’ and “AVA’S POSSESSIONS’

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

A lot of movie titles come through the pipeline in any given week. With the many streaming options now available to go with wide releases, it’s good to know about the smaller titles in case they are better entertainment options. This week, we take a look at three comedies that range in style and execution, two which are good surprises and one that misses big.


Miss: THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY
Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong and Rebel Wilson

The latest from over-the-top comedy auteur Sacha Baron Cohen tells the tale of two brothers separated at youth, who are reunited under unfortunate circumstances. Knobby (Cohen) is a drunken hooligan that sloughs it in the blue-collar town of Grimsby. After years of looking for his brother, he finally finds Sebastian (Mark Strong), who is a secret agent on mission to protect a philanthropist (Penelope Cruz) from assassination.

Knobby cares so much about reuniting with his brother that he has no peripherals in terms of the situation. For instance, he hugs Sebastian as he’s about to kill the assassin. Sebastian accidentally shoots someone else and is now wanted as the assassin. Knobby is in the big brother seat as they try to figure out everything before they are killed.

As the movie goes on, it’s clear that Cohen and his team of writers had really outlandish set pieces without caring about any sort of narrative structure, character development, or all-around continuity. For instance, Knobby finds Sebastian without any sort of sound reasoning; if Sebastian can be found by some drunk, then he’s not credible as a badass spy. Also, Strong is supposed to play the straight man to Cohen’s buffoon but he blindly goes against any logic as Knobby does. They’re both idiots at the end.

Those outlandish set pieces though are pretty hysterical, including the main shocker involving wildlife. But all of the huge laughs can’t compare to the laziness with the rest of the jokes (save the pedophile jokes for never), and can’t save the movie from being palatable.

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY is playing in theaters everywhere today.


Hit: BARNEY THOMSON
Director: Robert Carlyle
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson and Ray Winstone

Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) is a no-nothing milquetoast of a man who has nothing but his job as a barber in the Scottish town of Bridgton. However, being a sad sack has finally gotten to him and his attitude leaves Barney clientless. As he pleas for his job, he accidentally kills his boss with scissors and now his life gets less boring. The problem is that there has been a string of murders by The Body Parts Killer, and the head detective (Ray Winstone) sees Thomson as a suspect. Barney finds solace in his mother (a scenery-chewing Emma Thompson), who tries to help keep his accident a secret.

The winner of two BAFTA Scotland Awards (Best Feature and Best Actress for Thompson), BARNEY THOMSON is elevated by its stylish direction and dark humor. Everything that happens to Barney is purely by accident, but, the narrative is told by Barney to even make it more lighthearted given the serial killer circumstances.

The lives of our protagonist and his antagonist detective are mirror images of two people stuck in a town they despise. We never once question Barney’s character as a good guy trying to get out of a deep pit of despair. It has its flaws, but its wit and character never loses its grip on the audience.

BARNEY THOMSON is playing in select theaters and streaming on various VOD services.


Hit: AVA’S POSSESSIONS
Director: Jordan Galland
Cast: Jemima Kirke, William Sadler and Carol Kane

Most horror movies that deal with demonic possession mainly look at the possession itself, and ends with said demon getting exorcised or expelled somehow. They never look at the aftermath, the result of the carnage/anguish caused by the possessed (you are dead to me EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC). In this dark indie comedy, we meet Ava (Louisa Krause) as she comes to after her exorcism. She is ordered by the court to attend Spirit Possession Anonymous, which is a secret support group kept by the Vatican, while she figures out what happened in the past month during her possession.

AVA’S POSSESSIONS does a nice job of keeping its cynicism on its sleeve. It takes a lot of the rules with demonic possession narratives and turns them on its head. For instance, just because they were exorcised, the demon can still come back. The whole point is to regain control of yourself to keep your demons at bay. It plays like a neo-noir more than a horror, with the mystery being its central theme. Some of the acting can be a little shaky from the supporting cast, but it’s a nice little gem to come across. If you’re a fan of meta horror or wry comedies, give this one a shot.

AVA’S POSSESSIONS is streaming on various VOD services.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.