Somewhere between Girl, Interrupted, and “Girl, I’m gonna have to interrupt you because you’re going on and on and not saying shit,” is By the Sea. In it, Angelina Jolie plays a disturbed woman named Vanessa who can barely muster more than a sentence at time as she vacations in costal France with her novelist husband, Roland (Brad Pitt). Jolie wrote, directed, and produced this portrait of a relationship on the brink of collapse. From anyone else, it would be mystifying as to how something so dull and inept got made by a major studio. From an A-lister, it makes sense. Superstar entitlement—that which comes from within and without—is the only logical explanation for this horrendous movie.
Few communities are more culturally rich than the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, which boasts some 167 spoken languages, a strong LGBT presence, and some of the greatest restaurants in the city. Frederick Wiseman, the 85-year-old director of observational documentaries (whose narratives are never forced with on-camera interviews, but merely suggested through motifs and editing), turned his camera on Jackson Heights for about nine weeks, during the summer of 2014, to capture the neighborhood’s diversity and the looming threat of gentrification.
Some time in the middle of Gaspar Noé’s new movie Love, star Karl Glusman ejaculates all over the camera. It’s a sight gag because the movie is in 3D, and probably the only instance of an anatomical closeup in the whole, sex-filled 135-minute movie. Generally, Love is more focused the bonds of its love-triangle-trapped characters Murphy (Glusman), Electra (Aomi Muyock), and Omi (Klara Kristin). When they are depicted having sex, as they frequently are onscreen, whomever’s having it is almost always in the same frame at all times. They are often performing actual sex acts, like the three-minute hand job/finger bang that opens the film.
Nasty Baby, the latest movie from Brooklyn-based Chilean director Sebastián Silva (The Maid, Crystal Fairy), is one of the low-key weirdest things I’ve seen all year. In a Fassbinder-esque turn, Silva plays an artist character named Freddy who’s attempting to have a baby with his boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) and their friend Polly (Kristen Wiig). Shot at Silva’s own Fort Greene apartment, Nasty Baby (named after an art piece Freddy is working on) feels like a little slice of modern privileged life until a turf war breaks out between Freddy and an older, mentally unstable black man on the block named the Bishop (Reg E. Cathey). Tension escalates and explodes in a final-act shocker that some will find to be a jarring tone shift.
Superficially, Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls looks like what would happen if Friday the 13th got the Wes Craven’s New Nightmare treatment: It’s a self-referential exploration of tropes (it takes its title from scholar Carol J. Clover’s brilliant analysis of horror cinema), a genre-excavation using a movie-within-a-movie conceit. (Note that the film-within-the-film is not Friday the 13th exactly, but the very similar fictional ‘80s horror hack-’em-up Camp Bloodbath). The action follows Max (Taissa Farmiga) and some of her friends, who get sucked into the slasher flick Max’s mom Amanda (played by Malin Åkerman) starred in during the ‘80s. When they figure out what’s going on, they realize they have to rely on their knowledge of the genre to find their way out.
One night in Berlin, a young woman from Spain meets a group of local guys while leaving a nightclub. She clicks with one of them, and so she decides to hang out with the group. Instead of being repelled when they attempt to break into a car that isn’t theirs, she’s enticed. They kick off a wild night that involves ominous drug dealers, heist, baby-theft, peril at almost every turn, and more partying. And it’s all captured in one single take.
With The Green Inferno—the first of two new Eli Roth movies that will be released in the next two weeks—Eli Roth attempts the virtual impossible: making a modern cannibal movie. The Green Inferno is a throwback to the small but notorious cannibal subgenre of Italian horror movies that were made mostly during the late ’70s and early ’80s. The movies were characterized by extreme gore, on-screen mutilation of live animals, sexual violence, and depictions of jungle-dwelling natives as man-eating savages. They are intentionally revolting and, at best, effective assaults on the senses.
Even if it were possible to ignore its numerous failings at adequate representation and historical accuracy (problems that many noticed when its trailer hit the internet last month), Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall would still be a monstrosity. Its badness is nearly unfathomable. Emmerich has made several disaster movies (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day), but his work has never achieved the level of cataclysm that Stonewall does.
All is forgiven, M. Night Shyamalan. If we had to endure the director’s last decade of cinematic abortions—which ranged from the hilariously bad (The Happening) to the utterly unwatchable (After Earth)—to get something as hilarious, weird, surprising, and nonstop entertaining as The Visit, it was well worth it. Not only is Shyamalan’s latest movie his best since The Sixth Sense, it’s an adrenalin shot to the creatively comatose subgenre of POV horror. Even more exciting is that it’s one of at least four solid horror movies opening this month (the others include Goodnight Mommy, Cooties, and Eli Roth’s ode to Italian cannibal movies, The Green Inferno). One moment, the horror genre seems deader than the bodies it piles up on screen, staler than the air in the haunted houses it’s been fixated on for the past few years; the next, we’re treated to an embarrassment of riches. (I would love to know if there ever in the history of modern horror have been four solid entries into the genre released in one month. I doubt it. That it’s happening in 2015 blows my mind.) We should probably stop laughing at Shyamalan when his name pops onscreen during the trailers for his upcoming movies. Instead, we should be thanking the man.
One of the biggest stories about horror cinema in 2015 is actually the story of a trailer: When the American preview for the Austrian film Goodnight Mommy dropped in late July, it immediately went viral inspiring a rash of reaction videos and copy deeming it the “scariest trailer of all time.” (At this point, the view count on the trailer is just under 6 million.)
At one point in the middle of Joel Edgerton’s The Gift, I thought to myself, “This movie is playing me like a violin.” It is taut throughout and includes one of the most suspenseful cinematic scenes in recent memory. It’s gorgeously shot. It juggles potential misdoing among multiple characters for a good chunk of its running time, casting suspicion and then retracting it over and over again, up to the last frame. It does that vicariously infuriating thing that the best domestic thrillers do by making its ostensible antagonist’s harassment of the protagonists seem obvious yet completely unprovable to authorities. Maybe what I responded to the most was that it’s a throwback to one of my favorite sub-subgenres, the late-summer/early-fall domestic thrillers of the ‘90s like Single White Female and The Good Son (as well as What Lies Beneath, to an extent, though it doesn’t have that film’s supernatural bent). What sets it apart from those low-key classics is its firm social consciousness.
At one point early on in Josh Trank’s woeful reboot of Fantastic Four, Sue Storm (Kata Mara) tells Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), “I gotta say it’s fun having you here,” as she’s doing scientific things in the science lab she works in. It’s delivered directly and without irony, but it lands like a punchline; at this point in the movie, there’s nothing fun about Fantastic Four, and this is before the movie takes a maudlin nosedive. Once our superheroes accidentally obtain their powers, they spend much of their time complaining about them. Fun is, and remains, the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl is astonishing in its audacity. It gives agency to its 15-year-old female protagonist Minnie (Bel Powley) when she has an affair with a man who’s 20 years her senior and also her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), and then it dares you to contemplate her level of victimhood. It portrays the sex between Minnie and Monroe as enjoyable and hot. It finds humor in a fucked-up situation that might be portrayed as a tragedy in a less compassionate movie: One of the times Monroe announces he has to stop fucking her, Minnie gasps in offense, “Why would you say that? Do you think I’m fat?”
You can be mean, or you can be dumb, but only one of the two. Really, you can technically be whatever you want, but if you are both mean and dumb, you’re going to have an extremely hard time making it in a world where success often depends greatly on the ability to connect with other people. Immense beauty can render this rule of thumb irrelevant, but that’s rare and fleeting and, eventually, irrelevant itself.
Who do you look at when you’re conducting an interview with someone who speaks in a foreign language—the subject or the translator? That remained unclear throughout my 30-minute discussion with Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami and his translator Yuko Sakata earlier this week at the Criterion offices in New York. Close Criterion associate Janus Film is distributing Murakami’s first movie, Jellyfish Eyes, which Murakami was in town to promote. My eyes mostly darted back and forth between Murakami and Sakata as I asked questions about his work and movie, an ‘80s-esque tale about a boy and his fantastical pet that he uses to battle his classmates’ similarly fantastical pets in Pokemon fashion. To do so, they use controllers (“Devices”) issued by a local research center that’s actually run by an ominous bunch (the Black-Cloaked Four) who are stealing the children’s negative energy. Jellyfish Eyes is at once conventional by owing much of its plot and spirit to countless films and shows that came before it, and utterly insane. It’s by no means perfect, and often rests on cute—a fact of which Murakami himself seems to be aware. “Although the theatrical version may appear somewhat rough on the edges, I believe, for a first film, I have managed to create something with a solid structure,” he says in an interview provided in the movie’s press notes.
At first blush, you might think that Trainwreck is not your average romantic comedy. At its center is a female protagonist whose habits include getting drunk, getting high, fucking, and breaking hearts. She’s surrounded by feminized males who enjoy tea-party settings, Downton Abbey, and cuddling. That it’s all been thought up by and stars Amy Schumer may be all you need to believe that Trainwreck has the potential to be something truly special. Well, it isn’t.
Sean Baker’s Sundance hit Tangerine was shot on iPhones, and it looks like it. Its colors are nauseatingly saturated and its angles are often strange and unflattering. It stars non-professional actors and it shows. Leads Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (she plays Sin-Dee) and Mya Taylor (Alexandra) recite their lines in a stilted manner, frequently pausing too long between cues to seem natural. Its primary plot is so simplistic it’s insulting: Sin-Dee searches for and then abducts Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), the biological woman (“real fish”) with whom Sin-Dee’s pimp/fiance Chester (James Ransone) had sex while Sin-Dee was in jail.
The question at the center of Asif Kapadia’s new documentary Amy is: Can gossip foster compassion? Throughout the sensitive, 128-minute probe into the life of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, we see footage of (and presumably shot by) the paparazzi that plagued her, the performances that defined part of her career, the public inebriation that overshadowed it.
You can’t look away from Ukrainian director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s new movie The Tribe, which opens today in New York. This is true in the usual figurative sense—the movie about a gang of teen Ukrainian thugs and prostitutes is a gritty, lurid parade of shocks—but it’s also literally true. If you look away, you’ll miss way too much.