A few times a month, I watch big-budget blockbusters that ultimately underwhelm me because they are corny, cynical, insulting to my intelligence, and otherwise ludicrous. Jurassic World, the first new Jurassic Park movie in 14 years and fourth film in the franchise overall, is all of those things at one point or another but I’m willing to forgive its (relatively sporadic) flaws for one simple and humongous reason: DINOSAURS.
Melissa McCarthy reteams with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) in Spy, which opens today. As usual, McCarthy’s character is considered wholly unappealing by almost everyone she encounters. This is entirely related to her character’s appearance, which is to say Melissa McCarthy’s appearance. This is her brand. Below are some of the ways in which McCarthy’s character, Susan, is humiliated throughout the movie.
Things got heated last night on Gawker’s roof, during a post-screening Q&A with the directors of the new movie Heaven Knows What, Josh and Benny Safdie, the film’s director of photography, Sean Price Williams, and one of its stars, Buddy Duress. It happened when Gawker employee Victor Jeffreys pointed out that he had seen one of the movie’s performers panhandling (or “spanging” as many who do it call it) on the street yesterday. There we were on the roof of a beautiful building in a beautiful part of New York and the first-time actor in question, Manny Aguila, was nowhere to be found.
If you want an example of the profound unfunniness of Pitch Perfect 2, look no further than the clip above in which a host of acapella groups competes in a sing-off of “’90s Hip Hop Jamz.” It includes a German team, Das Sound Machine, showing off their zany accents that make them sing things like, “Zis iz how wee do eet,” and, “Zat girl is poizuuun.” Not featured above is their rendition of Kris Kross’s “Jump,” which features altered lyrics, “Kommissar will make you! / Deutschland will make you!” Are you ROTFL yet? Elsewhere in the film, Snoop Dogg sings a straightforward version of “Winter Wonderland.” I was mortified for him.
David Robert Mitchell's It Follows is like nothing we've seen before, and yet it owes so much to what came before it. A cross-breeding of tropes from the past 40 years of horror cinema, the movie is gorgeously shot, vividly told, and full of teen characters that have an unusual amount of compassion for each other. At its center is Jay (played by The Guest's Maika Monroe) who contracts an STD that makes her see visions of ghosts following her. The only way to avert death is to pass on the bug.
He's responsible for the likes of 1983's Videodrome, 1986's The Fly remake, 1988's Dead Ringers, and 2005's A History of Violence, but David Cronenberg may have delivered his most disturbing movie with Maps to the Stars. It's a tale of celebrity aspiration and Hollywood misery that weaves together incest, mental illness, a dead kid or two, a burn victim (played by Mia Wasikowska), a washed-up actress gunning for another hit who resembles what Lindsay Lohan might be like in 15 years (Julianne Moore as Havana Segrand), and a Bieber-esque child star who's already been to rehab (Evan Bird as Benjie Weiss). It's full of desperation, violence, and excruciatingly grim humor. There are images in this movie that are as indelible as they are hard to look at.
The clip above depicts chaos or democracy (or both), depending how you look at it. It's from Amanda Rose Wilder's documentary Approaching the Elephant (opening today in New York), which documents the first year of the Teddy McArdle Free School in Little Falls, NJ. Shot over the course of the the 2007-2008 school year (Teddy McArdle has since closed), Elephant captures the freedom and tumult that results from allowing young students (here they range in age from 6-11) to govern themselves, in this case, giving them equal say with their adult supervisors in terms of curriculum and rules. "Free schooling" (sometimes referred to as "democratic education") is a concept that has existed for over a century and the execution of its ideals varies from school to school. Approaching the Elephant is a snapshot of one, filmed in the observational style akin to Wilder's influences like Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles, and the Dardennes.
Sam Taylor-Johnson's movie adaptation of E. L. James's novel Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic thriller without the thrills. It's a hooker fantasy without any cash transaction. (At least Christian Grey could have the decency to pay Anastasia Steele for her trouble and degradation!) It's S&M without any real pain. It's sex without a single fluid swapped.
There are many radical things about Spike Lee's newest joint, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, but you might not get that from hearing him talk about it. As a remake of 1973's Ganja & Hess, Sweet Blood pays tribute to experimental black cinema of the past. It stars Stephen Tyrone Williams as Dr. Hess Green, an affluent archeologist who develops a craving for blood (though Lee has warned repeatedly that Sweet Blood is not a vampire movie). Bloodletting aside, the film's centerpiece is a monologue on the strength derived from the difficult of growing up female and black, delivered by British actor Zaraah Abrahams as Ganja Hightower, Hess's love interest. Several scenes feature a black Baptist church service (in the Lil' Peace of Heaven Baptist Church, where much of Lee's Red Hook Summer was set). These are things we rarely see on film.