★★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS
Rating: R for language, including sexual references and some drug use.
"The Oranges" is a juicy midlife-crisis comedy/drama, more tart than sweet. David Walling (Hugh Laurie) has desires. His wife, Laurie (Catherine Keener), has moods. They remain in their smothering marriage because of inertia, filling time with neighbors Terry (Oliver Platt) and Carol Ostroff (Allison Janney), who are tangled in their own emotional grudge match. "Who knew two families could be so close?" beams ever-optimistic Terry at a dinner toast.
They get a lot closer when the Ostroffs' daughter Nina (Leighton Meester) returns home rebounding from a breakup and begins a love affair with David. Awkward! When the initial shock subsides, each character must decide whether it's worth flouting convention to pursue happiness.
The actors are ideally cast. The sardonic Janney delivers her lines like a knife thrower, and Laurie looks simultaneously exultant and sheepish. Alia Shawkat fumes and fusses amusingly as Laurie and Keener's daughter, and Adam Brody looks on agog as their son, who would have made a much better match for Meester. When it's funny, it's laugh-out-loud funny, yet when the situation calls for groans of vicarious embarrassment, it provides them in spades.
V/H/S ★ 1/2 OUT OF FOUR STARS
Rating: R for bloody violence, strong sexuality, pervasive language and some drug use. Theater: Lagoon.
This anthology of "found footage" horror featurettes is predictably hit-and-miss. The framing story involves a crew of vandals hired to break into a home and steal a videotape. The place turns out to be a veritable Blockbuster of horrific tapes, which the burglars view before meeting their own unpleasant fate. Some of the entries are too crude or preposterous to be truly scary despite oodles of gore. But the best in show have their compelling moments.
Opening segment "Amateur Night" gives us three crass voyeurs recording their pub crawl with spy-cam glasses. We get to know and despise them before a reversal with a weird girl they bring to their motel room turns them into pitiful martyrs to sexism. "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger" turns a Skype-style computer chat into a suspenseful and unpredictable psychological thriller with an O. Henry twist finale. The most energetic and technically accomplished offering is the last, "10/31/98." The segment records what happens when four dudes crash the wrong Halloween haunted house. The episode slides inexorably from horseplay to surreal, flinch-inducing fatalism. The other two entries and the wraparound story are punishingly amateurish sleaze.