Capsule reviews for Nov. 17

Almost Friends

Some intriguing coming-of-age concepts are lost in a heavy-handed mishmash in this lightweight romance about Charlie (Freddie Highmore), an aspiring chef who has a crush on a local barista (Odeya Rush), whose boyfriend is an arrogant jock (Jake Abel). Besides that obstacle, Charlie must contend with his own social awkwardness and a family life thrown into disarray by a sudden visit from his estranged father (Christopher Meloni). The two stars develop an offbeat chemistry, although the screenplay by director Jake Goldberger (Don McKay) pushes an abundance of cutesy contrivances to muddle the emotional payoff. Despite some solid moments, there’s not enough freshness amid the familiarity. (Not rated, 101 minutes).



There’s not much substance beneath the Gothic horror surface in this mildly unsettling but mostly tedious psychological thriller from director Mitchell Lichtenstein (Teeth). It takes place in Victorian London, where a mother (Jena Malone) experiences hauntings after a troubled birth, which prompts some overprotective maternal instincts that cause alarm with her high-society husband (Ed Stoppard). Amid the muted emotions and pretentious supernatural trappings, the handsomely mounted film hints at deeper Freudian explorations of sexual repression and gender politics. Yet it remains cold and emotionally distant, and not especially creepy, only somewhat redeemed by an intensely wacko finale that at least should generate discussion afterward. (Not rated, 95 minutes).


Cook Off

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this ensemble comedy feels so stale — it was made about a decade ago and is just now finding its way to theaters. That also explains the presence of a much younger Melissa McCarthy as one of a handful of eccentric contestants who bring their wacky recipes to a national cooking contest to compete for a million-dollar prize. The mostly improvised dialogue and mockumentary structure provides only intermittent chuckles in this lampoon of reality cooking competition shows, except the film is neither witty nor insightful in its comic observations, instead relying on low-brow gags and stereotypes out of desperation. (Rated R, 98 minutes).



The titular Portuguese coastal city provides a resplendent backdrop for this gritty yet evocative romance in which the performances are deeper and more complex than the material. It follows the relationship ups and downs of an American expatriate (the late Anton Yelchin) and a French student (Lucie Lucas) who each have powerful memories of the passionate one-night stand they once shared. While the overall impact is slight and the nonlinear script — bittersweet and deliberately paced — feels disjointed in spots, rookie director Gabe Klinger mixes film styles to craft some lovely imagery. Plus, the two actors have an appealing chemistry that conveys both intimacy and poignancy. (Not rated, 76 minutes).


Sweet Virginia

Strong performances elevate this slow-burning thriller set in the appropriately chilly backdrop of Alaska, where former rodeo star Sam (Jon Bernthal) is the night manager at a rundown motel, where he befriends one of the guests (Christopher Abbott), unaware that he’s a hitman with ties to recent murders in the area, including the husband of Sam’s mistress (Rosemarie DeWitt). Things become more complicated from there, thanks to a web of deception that ominously tightens as the desperation for each of them increases. Some stylish neo-noir touches from director Jamie Dagg (River) compensate for some uneven stretches before the suspense ratchets upward in the final act. (Rated R, 93 minutes).