When my brother and I were kids, we would quietly laugh anytime our grandparents traded caustic put-downs, which, the older they got, was often. Did they still even love each other? We didn’t think about that, we just thought that two old married people openly showing weary disgust was pretty funny.
It’s funny in Le Week-End as well, and made even more effective when balanced with the couple’s search for their long-lost romantic side.
Brits Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) are celebrating their wedding anniversary with a weekend in Paris, the site of their honeymoon 30 years earlier. The finances are nearly as empty as their nest, and their love life……well, it’s been awhile.
Most times, you’d be able to fill in the rest of the blanks: Paris! Romance! Sex! Love! Happy!
Instead, director Roger Mitchell (Notting Hill/Hyde Park on Hudson) and writer Hanif Kureishi(My Beautiful Laundrette/Venus) explore plenty of dark side, giving us a couple at a crossroads in life that feels real, often heartbreakingly so.
As Nick, Broadbent is his usual sublime self, effortlessly bringing to life the quiet desperation described so succinctly by Pink Floyd as “the English way.” Broadbent’s performance is both funny and poignant, never letting us forget that Nick’s desperation over his golden years is rooted in the fear of losing his wife.
No wonder, as Duncan is glorious. In her hands, Meg is playful, hateful, and still plenty sexy. Most of all, she is an intelligent, accomplished woman with a yearning that she’s not quite sure how to satisfy.
Kureishi’s smart, snappy script doesn’t take sides or provide easy answers. Though a scene-stealing performance from Jeff Goldblum as an old friend of Nick’s shows a glimpse of the film’s hand, we’re trusted to be party guests capable of our own conclusions about this couple, the human condition, and our own lives.
One or two convenient plot turns aside, Le Week-End is a treat that, while frequently sobering, remains ultimately inspiring.
The wonderful, must-see Chilean import Gloria drops on home audiences today, boasting a beautiful performance by Paulina Garcia in the lead role. A sort of coming-of-middle-age tale, it’s a film of surprising honesty and candor, with every emotional moment heightened by Garcia’s generous performance.
Treading somewhat similar territory and yet telling a tale entirely its own is Starting Out in the Evening. Here’s another film boasting an absolutely magnificent central performance, this time from the ever-reliable Frank Langella, who plays a long-retired writer coaxed back into the profession and into life. It’s bittersweet and deeply touching, with Langella hitting every emotional note perfectly.
It’s almost May…what’s that I smell? Lilacs? Goose poop? Fresh spring roadkill? Nope, it’s that similar fragrance mashup of boutonnieres, hair spray, and desperation that equals prom.
Let’s all relive our own prom anxieties while the kids struggle through their real-life horror, shall we?
Yes! Best prom movie ever! Sure, it opens like a ‘70s soft core porno with images created by a director who has clearly never been in a girls’ locker room. But as soon as that bloody stream punctures the dreamlike shower sequence, we witness the definitive moment in mean girl cinema.
No, Senior Prom, or “Love Among the Stars,” doesn’t go as well as it might have for poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) and her classmates. Contrite Sue Snell (Amy Irving), who’d given up her own prom so boyfriend Tommy (William Katt, sporting an awe inspiring ‘fro) could accompany Carrie, sneaks in to witness her own good deed. Unfortunately for Sue, the strict rules of horror cinema demand that outcasts remain outcasts. Sure, Sue shouldn’t have been mean to Carrie in the first place, but being nice was the big mistake. Only bad things would follow.
Quote: They’re all going to laugh at you.
Prom Night (1980)
This bland Jamie Lee Curtis slasher crystalized a formula that would be mimicked (often more successfully) for decades. Open with a flashback, turn it into a secret kept among a handful of friends, flash forward to one big event these friends are planning, nightmare resurfaces and red herrings await.
But that’s not the reason to see Prom Night. See it for the super-colossal dance floor boogie. Go Jamie Lee and Jamie Lee’s thumbs, go! Is that Leslie Nielsen? Who brought that glitter? It’s always fun to see someone die on prom night.
Quote: It’s not who you go with, honey. It’s who takes you home.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
No one rocks a brown corduroy suit at a formal dance like my husband, but Napoleon Dynamite comes in second. And what about Deb’s awesome sleeves? That’s a styling couple.
Kip may have found his soul mate, but poor Napoleon’s still swimming the tepid pool of young love, llama food, best friends, delusional uncles, ailing grandmas, and sweet moves. Thank God for it.
Quote: I like your sleeves.
Poodle skirt to hot pants, that’s the transformation at the heart of this generation-pleaser. Did Sandy (Olivia Newton John) have a yeast infection by the time she got those pants off? Well, of course she did, but it was worth it to call John Travolta a stud and do a frisky dance in the Shake Shack.
Let’s not forget the prom, though. Cha Cha DiGregorio (the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s…with the worst reputation!) might have planned to dump Kenickie and steal Danny (Travolta) away from the fair and timid Sandy, but she did not know the hygienically questionable lengths Sandy was willing to go to keep her man.
Quote: It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s what you do with your dancin’ shoes.
See this one now, not the ridiculous remake. (How do I know it’s ridiculous? Because it’s a remake of Footloose, for Lord’s sake.)
Kevin Bacon moves to a hyper-conservative town and has to dance his way out. John Lithgow scowls. Sarah Jessica Parker looks unfashionable. Chris Penn learns to disco. Tears are shed, families are mended.
Quote: If our Lord wasn’t testing us, how would you account for the proliferation, these days, of this obscene rock and roll music, with its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
Years before Sarah Michelle Gellar began her 145-episode vampire battle royale, and one year before writer Joss Whedon would pen the animated masterpiece Toy Story, Kristy Swanson joined that guy from 90210 (Luke Perry) to stake the undead at the big high school formal as the silver screen Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Bonus points for casting choices in Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer as marauding, stinky vampires. Additional points for an early, non-Oscar nominated role for Hilary Swank.
Quote: All I want to do is graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Part 3 of the Molly Trilogy, Pretty in Pink mopes with a cool redhead (Ringwald) from the wrong side of the tracks as she stokes her anxiety about prom and its place in her existential dread.
Some claim you can learn all you need to know about a person by asking which is their favorite Beatle. I disagree. The real question: who did you root for, Blane or Duckie?
Quote: His name is Blane?! That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance.
Like many other genre fans, I was cautiously and nostalgically optimistic when a Dutch company bought the Brit horror producer Hammer Films with the promise of reviving the brand. Soon came the excellent, stylish remakeLet Me In and the surprisingly spooky The Woman in Black. My optimism grew.
The Quiet Ones lets Hammer return to its expansive British dwellings for a period piece where mad science meets Sumerian curses.
OK, well that does sound like a flop, but wait. One of the writers, Oren Moverman, penned the exceptional indie dramas I’m Not There, The Messengerand Rampart. Surely he can take that premise and whip it into shape. I mean, unless he was actually brought in to salvage a muddled mess second draft adaptation of an old, unfilmed screenplay.
Wait, he was?
Well, that second draft surely benefited from the skilled hand of a genre expert, yes?
It’s 1974, and an Oxford professor (Jared Harris) recruits two of his brightest students plus a willing, if nervous, cameraman to work with him on an unorthodox experiment. He intends to pull the negative energy out of Jane (Olivia Cooke – sort of a young Christina Ricci minus the sex appeal). Once he’s pulled it out, he wants to put it into an object – say, a creepy doll – and then throw it away, convinced that this will cure all mental illness everywhere. But Jane’s negative energy has a spirit of its own, and mad science rarely benefits its patients, anyway.
So, yes, The Quiet Ones suffers from a confused screenplay, but also from the uninspired direction of John Pogue (Ghost Ship – ugh).
Pogue misinterprets the old adage that in horror, less is more. This saying holds true only if you’re artfully leaving certain things to the ripe imagination of the viewer. If, instead, you’re wheeling your camera around in a frenzy to avoid having to show what’s going on, or your characters are conveniently pulled into closets just as the horror happens, you may just be a lazy filmmaker.
Not that The Quiet Ones is all bad. All performances are solid, with Harris bringing real zeal to his role. There are a couple of fun scares, too. For a casual consumer of horror, it’s better than about 50% of the material that hits screens, and offers a fun if forgettable way to spend 90 minutes.
“Take the lawyer, the wife and the boobs, and you’ve got the perfect killing machine.”
That’s about as funny as The Other Woman gets, as Cameron Diaz (lawyer), Leslie Mann (wife) and Kate Upton (you know) form an unlikely team of BFFs out to take sweet revenge on Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the man who’s been two timing all three of them at once .
Ridiculous, contrived, obvious and painfully unfunny, The Other Woman also sports a truly awful example of film editing, which is only fitting for a project so lazily slapped together you expect Adam Sandler and Kevin James to show up.
Director Nick Cassavetes seems only interested in assembling music montages, as the ladies get mischievous to the tune of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, defiant to I’m Coming Out, and quietly reflective to some audio wallpaper about aiming high or some shit.
Really, it’s a shame, because Diaz and Mann both have comedic chops, and they do give it their all, trying hard to put some life into a script that’s as dead as Julius Caesar. It is nice to see Mann play against type as a meek, ditzy housewife, and her chemistry with Diaz is real, so here’s hoping they get another chance to team up in something more worthy,
Forgive them. The Other Woman was clearly just a stupid mistake. It meant nothing.
You have to give director Matty Beckerman and his Alien Abduction cast and crew credit. They do the most they can with what they have.
This efficient if uninspired thriller succeeds by taking standard elements and executing them with skill. Whether it’s the premise (aliens come for a family out camping in the hills) or the format (found footage), the concept for this film could hardly be more tired. But by simply handling all aspects of the production with competence, Beckerman reminds us that there is a reason these elements have been overused. They strike a chord.
Riley Morris (Riley Polanski) is an adolescent with autism. He, his parents, and his older siblings head out on a camping trip into the Brown Mountains. What we see of their ill-fated adventure comes to us via Riley’s handheld camera, evidence found in a pasture in the hills.
Beckerman never cheats with the found footage approach, which in itself is a victory. Riley uses the device as a way to separate himself from reality while still participating in it, and his family – comfortable by now with this self-soothing habit – go with it. This effectively sidesteps any “just put the camera down and run” moment in the film.
Beckerman also actually relies on the footage from a single point of view, rather than inexplicably stringing together webcam feeds and surveillance footage with the boy’s home movies. It may mean little to many, but I for one was pleased by the integrity of the found footage concept.
This first person point of view also requires a limited vision of the creatures (because, when one shows up, Riley naturally turns tail and runs). It gives the creatures a shadowy menace, keeps us from noticing any flaws in costuming, and gives the whole affair an air of constant dread.
Performances are better than average for the genre as well, with the exception of a handful of trite or overly sentimental moments. (The short period where Riley turns his camera on himself is not only the film’s weakest scene, but is a direct rip off of Blair Witch’s weakest scene – an odd call-back to the originator of the genre.)
You couldn’t call Alien Abduction groundbreaking or unpredictable. The title tells you all you need to know, in fact. But screenwriter Robert Lewis knows how to warp Americana folklore into a compellingly familiar campfire yarn, and Beckerman knows how to product an efficient, effective thriller.
Writer/director Eliza Hittman makes a startling feature debut with It Felt Like Love, an in-the-moment take on teenage sexuality that’s worth a truckload full of Perks of Being a Wallflowers or Spectacular Nows.
To be fair, Hittman isn’t really interested in that audience. There’s no sweet sentimentality here, or confident, pimple-free teenagers proclaiming their misfit bonafides. Instead, Hittman lets us into the life of a curious young girl entering a summer of yearning and self-deception.
14 year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti) and her 16 year-old best friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni) are Brooklyn girls enjoying the freedom of summer break. Chiara is also enjoying the affection of the latest in a string of boyfriends, and Lila becomes anxious to emulate the sexuality of her experienced friend.
After spotting the college-age Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) at the beach, Lila begins finding ways to insert herself into Sammy’s world. It is a fixation that leads Lila into some potentially dangerous situations.
Hittman mixes an impressively sparse script with an impressionistic visual style, creating a loose, evocative narrative.Her camera lingers on torsos, limbs and sweaty faces, quietly reinforcing the anxieties of body image, and giving her film an almost tactile immediacy.
Lila and Chiara aren’t prone to speeches that bring sudden moments of clarity, just small moments in a time of life that can often be quietly, achingly desperate. Hittman also creates thoughtful juxtapositions, from young girls using overtly sexist music for a dance routine to the social ripples caused by varying levels of sexual experience among peers.
Piersanti is fantastic in the lead role, personifying Lila’s confusion over the world and her place in it, while never resorting to showy theatrics that would undercut any authenticity. She’s another young actress to keep an eye on.
Hittman does rely a tad too heavily on symbolism (the sea, carnival rides, an open door), but that remains a small dent in a film that is not only a refreshing look at female adolescence, but a fine introduction to a very promising pair of artists.
Israel’s hypnotic fairy tale nightmare Big Bad Wolves releases today. We follow one driven cop, one driven-to-madness father, and one milquetoast teacher accused of the most heinous imagined acts. Not for the squeamish, the film boasts brilliant performances, nimble writing and disturbing bursts of humor. It treads in dark, dark territory, but repeatedly dares you to look away. It’s a bold and brilliantly realized effort.
It’s hard to imagine anyone really aching for a double bill like this, but it’s impossible to watch Big Bad Wolves without thinking of the under-seen and under-appreciated Prisoners. Hugh Jackman is a revelation as the father bent on finding his missing daughter in a film that bludgeons your senses and leaves you shaken. Impeccable casting, relentless intensity and crafty writing make this a challenging, fascinating film.
Over the weekend, vinyl nerds the world over celebrated Record Store Day. Well, we want to keep the party going with a trip through a celluloid world where vinyl still rules. For your perusal, our 5 favorite album-oriented movies.
5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Kubrick’s masterpiece is a real horror show, with one pivotal scene taking place in a record store where our hero, minus his droogies, picks up some Ludwig Van and a couple of young ladies for an afternoon’s respite from the old ultraviolence.
Quote: What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little save pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper! Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited.
4. Pretty in Pink (1986)
Andie (Molly Ringwald) works at a hip record store. Too hip for Blane (Andrew McCarthy – always ready for a good cry), and yet Andie is blind to Blane’s lameness and Duckie’s clear superiority. Why even work in a record store if you’re not going to use boys’ musical tastes as a date-worthiness gauge?
Quote: This is a really volcanic ensemble you’re wearing.
3. Empire Records (1995)
A gaggle of misfits fights the man to save their hipster haven. Today it seems almost adorable that the employees of an independent record store have to be worried about being bought out by a chain, but in 1995, this was still a threat.
Quote: Let me explain it to you: Mitchell’s the man, I’m the idiot, you’re the screw up and we’re all losers. Welcome to Music Town.
2. High Fidelity (2000)
Record store owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack, in his last really good role) is having a crisis of commitment. Meanwhile, we learn that Jack Black is 1) an unrepentant scene stealer, 2) a pretty great singer.
Quote: Get your patchouli stink out of my store.
1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
England’s loudest rock band, touring in support of its new album (there’s none more blacker), finds fame fleeting. It’s the best mockumentary of all time, among the funniest films ever made, and it boasts – among countless other brilliant scenes – the world’s most hilarious record store promo, courtesy Artie Fufkin, Polymer Records.
Johnny Depp fans could use a little good news. The genuine talent hasn’t made a film worth watching since 2011’s Rango, and that was a cartoon – and his only half-decent movie since 2007’s Sweeney Todd.
Unfortunately, Transcendence isn’t going to help matters.
Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a very happily married scientist doing research that will make unfathomable breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. And oh what a muddled mess it turns out to be. The movie, I mean. The A.I. turns out to also be Johnny Depp, which beats the hell out of Arnold Schwarzenegger any day.
Making his debut as a feature director is Wally Pfister – Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer. Predictably, the film has an evocative look. Unfortunately, he did not pick up his colleague’s grasp of the intricacies of a heady fantasy.
Jack Paglen’s screenplay offers a cautionary tale about our blind acceptance of the invasion of technology. Unless it’s warning us about pollution. Our personal isolation? Lack of privacy? All of the above, often while undermining its own other arguments? Bingo.
Basically, Paglen bites off more than he or his cast can chew. The film offers sparks of relevance, but it can’t decide what direction to go. It layers its fantastical warnings around a love story, and at least for that it relies on the natural talent of its leads, Depp, Rebecca Hall, and Paul Bettany as their colleague and friend.
Their work draws whatever attention the film manages to pique. Unfortunately, it’s not enough, particularly since their tale is saddled with a dopey ending that defies even the film’s own nonsensical internal logic.