Sequels are always a delicate thing. On the one hand, everyone wants to see more of a good movie (e.g. The Godfather: Part II and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), but on the other, a part of you knows that you're likely to be somehow dissatisfied with the result. Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to 2005's (was it really all those years ago?) Sin City, Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For, follows the same formula and features the same aesthetic, and yet, it seems to be lacking the same magic. Promotional poster for Sin City 2

Who is the dame to kill for, you may be wondering? Why Eva Green, of course. In the role of Ava Lord, a real Circe type, Green makes the most of showing off her body with what essentially amounts to non-stop nudity. After awhile, you stop even noticing those two nipples staring right at you. The film, in fact, centers mostly around her story line, as she reels Dwight back in to supposedly save her from her evil husband. With the sick minds of Rodriguez and writer Frank Miller joining together again, one would have hoped for some even more sadistic shit, but the sequel is decidedly short on disgusting and repulsive imagery (not counting Joseph Gordon-Levitt's fingers getting rearranged). More than that, Clive Owen is noticeably missing in the role of Dwight. Are we really just supposed to go along with Josh Brolin as his replacement? I don't fucking think so.

Eva Green as Ava Lord: a dame people kill for

Among other plotlines, Marv (Mickey Rourke) returns to start fights whenever possible, as beating the shit out of people is his primary passion in life. Plus, what else is there to do in Sin City if you're not bashing someone's face in out of frustration? Joining forces with Dwight and Nancy (Jessica Alba, also reprising her role) at different points in the story, Marv seems to serve more as the muscle in the script rather than someone with a worthwhile personal journey of his own (guess they gave that to him enough in the first film). The character of Johnny, however (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), presents one of the most intriguing tales and gets one of the more minimal amounts of screen time. As the bastard child of Senator Roarke (Powers Booth), Johnny has a gift for gambling that he uses against Roarke in a private poker game. Winning the game ends up costing him a few good limbs--and one good dame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the beleaguered Johnny

Though Johnny isn't the only new character introduced into the mix, the other ones, like Joey (Ray Liotta) and Sally (Juno Temple) or Mort (Christopher Maloney) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), have such marginal, brief vignettes within the larger picture that there's nothing really compelling about watching them. Even a cameo from Lady Gaga, which should be, if nothing else, mildly entertaining, errs on the side of dull and inane.

Jessica Alba in a look inspired by Edward Scissorhands

While the pacing of Sin City 2 is definitely slower than its predecessor, it still feels like it has the high-octane energy you would find from a Quentin Tarantino movie--but it simply doesn't have the conviction. Whether it's because too much time has passed since the first one or it just doesn't have the charisma that Clive Owen brings to every film, Sin City 2 fails to achieve the same level of awe-inspiring reverence. Yeah, it's good and yeah there's still tits and violence galore--which is what we demand from Rodriguez and in general--but that's really about all you can say about it.

 

 

Michel Gondry holds the distinctive cachet of a director like Wes Anderson. Everything he does is fraught with whimsy, and the characteristics of an auteur. Thus, it can be difficult for a fan to admit when Gondry has ventured too far out of his ordinary wheelhouse, which is the case with his latest film, Mood Indigo (or L'Écume des jours in French, meaning Froth on the Daydream, also the title of the Boris Vian novel on which it is based). Like The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, Mood Indigo favors the fantastical in terms of special effects, layering them on much more thickly than the aforementioned films. Promotional poster for Mood Indigo

Gondry and co-writer Luc Bossi remain largely faithful to the premise of the book, which focuses on the affluent Colin (Romain Duris, of The Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls). Colin's wealth mercifully keeps him from working, as he concentrates on more important things like playing a rare instrument, called the pianocktail, that makes cocktails while you play it. His friendship with Chick (Gad Elmaleh), a literary fanatic obsessed specifically with the works of Jean-Sol Partre (yes, a spoonerism for Jean-Paul Sartre--and how often do you get to use the word "spoonerism," by the way?), begins to shift when Chick meets a woman, Alise (Aïssa Maïga), with his shared passion for Partre.

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Alise, who also happens to be the niece of Colin's servant, Nicolas (Omar Sy), helps nudge Colin toward the woman of his own fancy at a party. Chloé (Audrey Tautou, who, for some strange reason seems to be having trouble making a comeback), instantly allures Colin, though he feels tongue-tied and awkward upon their first encounter. Before going to the party, Colin specifically practices a dance to Duke Ellington's "Chloé." Incidentally, "Mood Indigo" is also the title of another Ellington song. Once the two start dancing together, their love is cemented, quickly leading to marriage and even more rapidly leading to Chloé contracting a strange illness while on their honeymoon. This illness involves a water lily growing inside of her, wreaking havoc on her lung. Colin goes bankrupt trying to give her the best medical care, only to lose her in the end anyway.

Awkward love

With a mood that shifts between light-hearted and utterly depressing, the severe contrast in tone doesn't quite carry off when viewing the movie as a whole. Of course, the cinematography, music and effects are what manages to salvage what the story lacks. As Gondry's seventh film, one would expect a bit more in the way of cohesion. However, it could be that adaptations are not what works for him. With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as the benchmark for what he's capable of directorially, Mood Indigo falls noticeably short.

 

Growing up is neither easy nor enjoyable most of the time, particularly as a boy at the dawning of the twenty-first century. Richard Linklater quite literally documents this experience in his latest feature, Boyhood, an epic twelve years in the making. Although some might be inclined to think that a film that uses the same children as they grow into adolescence errs on the side of gimmicky, Linklater's story, attention to pop culture detail and distinctive dialogue style proves that this film is anything but artifice. Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) as a boy with his father, Mason (Ethan Hawke), and sister, Samantha (Lorelai Linklater)

Following the travails of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), a boy from a broken home, as he grows up in the strange time that was the early 00s, Linklater unfolds a plot that is mundane in theory, but layered with richness and relatability as you become increasingly invested in Mason's character and his interactions with other people in his life as he grows up (often times, sooner than he should as a result of being exposed to his mother's series of replacement husbands). Olivia (Patricia Arquette) tries her best to deal with the unexpected punches life throws her way, navigating the waters of parenthood on her own for most of her children's early life. Mason's sister, Samantha (Lorelai Linklater, Richard Linklater's daughter and no stranger to being in his films if you've ever seen Waking Life), has her own set of issues to deal with, though often serves as a constant source of annoyance to her brother.

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After Olivia re-locates their family to Houston to be closer to her mother and go back to school, she quickly re-marries to her college professor, Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella), as a means to form an intact family. Combining her two kids with Bill's boy and girl, the couple seems happy for awhile, until Bill shows his true colors as a violent alcoholic. The trauma of plucking Mason and Samantha from a living situation they had become so used to causes emotional upheaval in their existence that they thought they had finally evaded. Transferring to different schools, the brother and sister start over again, while still remaining in close contact with their father, Mason Sr. (Linklater favorite Ethan Hawke). Many of the cultural references in Boyhood stem from conversations Mason and Samantha have with him, especially as he discusses politics pertaining to the hotbed issues of the moment: Bush's shittiness as a leader, the conspiracy behind the war in Iraq, etc.

Entering teenhood

Other pop culture moments with pronounced attention to detail include Sam singing "Oops... I Did It Again" at the top of her lungs much to Mason's annoyance and Mason watching this once viral Funny or Die video. And, in many ways, this is what makes Boyhood most interesting to watch: Seeing the events of the 00s unfold and their subconscious effect on Mason's development. It is particularly resonant for those who are actually Mason's age at the end of the movie. The fanfare surrounding the release of the movie is, in most respects, deserved, though it does show a very specific (read: white) experience in American youth culture. And that might not necessarily appeal to everyone who didn't grow up with a white middle class background. Other than that, however, the film is worth your near three hours of time, serving almost as a cautionary tale about investing too many emotions in your children (as evidenced by the scene in which Olivia sobs as Mason leaves for college and says, "I thought there would be more").

 

Sometimes, a movie likes to ride on its "indie" status. It Felt Like Love, the first film from writer/director/producer Eliza Hittman, is just such a movie. With a thin plot that focuses on a sexually immature teen named Lila (Gina Piersanti), It Felt Like Love is sparse in dialogue and lacking in visual richness. Being an awkward, gawky teenager is a plight that will always remain resonant, no matter how much technology and vernacular evolves. And yet, the struggles Lila faces in her coming of age story are generally unmoving. Promotional poster for It Felt Like Love

Wanting to desperately to be as desirable as her best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni), who seems to have no trouble attracting boys her age with her looks and confidence, Lila often appears pathetic and/or psychotic. With an opening scene that highlights this fact, we see Lila on the beach wearing unrubbed in sunscreen on her face as she watches Chiara and her boyfriend longingly.

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Seizing any opportunity to seem like someone could be interested in her, Lila pursues Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), an older tough guy whose reputation dictates that he's willing to bone whoever. This alone makes her a candidate for Ms. Low Self-Esteem. Although Sammy is somewhat willing to mess around with her, his ultimate interest lies in Chiara, as she comes across as more unattainable.

One of many uncomfortable moments

Filled with dull moments of quietness that are intended to be profound, It Felt Like Love is a mere one hour and twenty-two minutes long. However, it starts to feel a lot like hate by the final minutes.

 

Joe Swanberg continues to rise through the ranks of independent film directors with his follow-up to 2013's well-received Drinking Buddies. This time, instead of focusing on the impossibility of male-female friendships, Swanberg centers his plot around the neurosis brought forth by the appearance of family. Playing the lead character, Jeff, Swanberg falls somewhat short in an acting capacity, which is only part of what makes this film a pale comparison to Drinking Buddies. Promotional poster for Happy Christmas

After breaking up with her boyfriend, the reasons behind which remain nebulous, Jenny (Anna Kendrick, one of those inexplicably annoying actresses you can't pinpoint exactly why you dislike) takes advantage of the kindness of her brother, Jeff (Swanberg), who offers her his basement in Chicago. Jeff's wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey, who you may recognize as the Jaclyn Smith-wearing, baby-toting in a bar woman in Sweet Home Alabama), becomes averse to Jenny after she gets trashed on her first night staying with them. Upon attending a party with her friend, Carson (the always blah Lena Dunham), Jenny gets out of control with her drinking and weed-smoking, prompting her to stubbornly pass out on the hostess' bed.

Jenny's first night out turns out to be a bust

Concerned about her behavior, Kelly feels reluctant about letting her watch Jude (Joe Swanberg's real life baby of the same name), their two-year-old son. Jenny, who was supposed to watch Jude the morning after her party, ends up being too hungover to do so, leading Kelly to call their former basement resident, Kevin (Mark Webber of Snow Day fame), to care for her son while she goes to brunch. Jenny awakens to find Kevin in the living room, and the three end up going to the park together. When Kelly returns, Kevin takes off, but not before getting Jenny's number so he can "lend her some DVDs"--a.k.a. sell her pot when she needs it. Jeff urges Kelly to give Jenny another chance to prove that her fuck-up was a one-time instance, and so, with no mask of certainty, Kelly leaves Jenny alone with Jude while she runs some errands.

Full-time fuck-up

After successfully keeping Jude alive for a few hours, Jenny and Carson pour themselves some drinks from the tiki bar in the basement and invite Kelly to join them. A few sips of beer later, Kelly confesses to feeling a tinge of resentment toward Jeff because she's the one who has to watch Jude all the time, leaving her no opportunity for writing (she had previously written one novel). Jenny and Carson encourage Kelly to keep writing and convince her that she can "have it all."

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Filled with a renewed sense of hope for her career's potential as a result of this conversation, Kelly asks Jeff for the Christmas present of being able to go somewhere and write in private. Jeff is happy to oblige, offering up his empty production office as a quiet place for her to work. In the meantime, Jenny keeps herself busy by fucking with Kevin's head. Clearly the one who's more into it, Kevin treats her well and buys her a gift for the holiday, though ultimately ends up pissing her off anyway because he won't come home with her on Christmas Eve (he wants to, but has to wake up early to go to his mother's house the next day--proving that a mother always trumps a girlfriend in these Oedipal times). With her self-esteem in a shaky state after being what she perceives as rejected, she goes back to the basement and proceeds to drink and smoke weed. In this altered state, she puts a frozen pizza in the oven and forgets about it. About an hour later, the house is filled with smoke, setting off the alarm and waking up everyone else.

Christmas morning, after a night of drama caused by Jenny leaving the oven on

Jenny's selfishness and lack of concern is, presumably, supposed to be fascinating to the audience, but, for the most part, it's just vexatious. The main issue with Happy Christmas is how hard Swanberg tries to make his characters seem complex through simplicity, but with dialogue that consists primarily of "like" and "sorry," becoming engaged is a somewhat difficult feat.

 

As someone who has already played an emotionless alien earlier this year, there may be no better actress suited to the role of an all-knowing stoic than Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson's Lucy. Like most Besson films, Lucy takes place in an "exotic" location--Taipei (a location portrayed in a manner that fortifies Tao Lin's decision to write his most depressing novel with this city as the backdrop and title). For some reason, our eponymous heroine is living there and dating a douche bag drug runner named Richard (Pilou Asbæk) who handcuffs a suitcase to her hand when she refuses to go in place of him to drop it off to Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), a notorious drug lord. Channeling

Upon fearfully entering the hotel room to gain an audience with Mr. Jang, a group of his lackeys comes down to greet her by shooting Richard as he watches from outside and then taking her up to Jang's room by force. Panicked and uncertain, Lucy imagines the worst when she sees the carnage Jang has already inflicted based on the body pile in his hotel room. After a translator instructs Lucy to open the suitcase handcuffed to her wrist via phone, Jang is pleased to find that the contents are bags of synthetic CH4, commonly delivered to fetuses in pregnancy for growth and development, but only in very minimal doses. When tested on one of their random addicts on hold in the hotel room, his reaction is delirium and euphoria, quickly negated by Jang's impromptu decision to shoot him.

Scarlett Johansson's expression for most of Lucy

Jang's translator then tells Lucy that the cold-blooded killer has a job for her. When she says she doesn't want a job, she finds herself waking up in a hotel room with her stomach freshly stitched together after being cut open so that Jang's henchmen could insert a bag of CH4 into her stomach in order for her to smuggle it through airport security (though with them body scanners these days, I don't really see how that's possible). Somewhere along the way, Lucy ends up in a holding cell where her captors not only try to rape her, but also kick her in the stomach, causing the CH4 to rip open and spread throughout her body--which imbues her with superior knowledge of everything, hence the Limitless comparisons.

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Interspersed throughout the story are lectures from esteemed professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), who argues that if a human could tap into even 20% of his or her brain's capacity, complete control over one's body could be achieved (even though I kind of already thought most people do have control over their body, which just goes to show that I'm only accessing 10% of my brain). The only other species capable of doing this is, unsurprisingly, dolphins.

By the time Lucy has reached over 50% brain capacity, she can do just about anything

What is surprising, however, is that instead of seeking vengeance upon Jang once she goes to the hospital and gets her stomach emptied of the CH4 bag, she merely stabs him in both hands and accesses his memory to see where the other drug mules have gone so she can get the rest of the product for herself. It's a very zen attitude, if you think about it. With her new mission being to collect the remaining three bags and use them on herself for Professor Norman's continued research, Lucy has found her purpose within the minimal amount of hours she has left to survive at the rate her brain is expanding.

Promotional poster for Lucy

At times, Lucy can veer on the somewhat trite side, for example, with parallels between Lucy and the first bipedal human, which scientists dubbed Lucy when the skeletal remains were discovered in 1974. Nonetheless, Besson has always been a seasoned writer-director when it comes to making his films both entertaining and thought-provoking--not to mention that his soundtrack choices never fail to impress, Damon Albarn being a case in point on this particular film.

 

Every so often, a movie from India comes along that forces you to reassess your own priorities (I know, for me, the last one was Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice. Seriously.). Ritesh Batra's--previously known primarily for his short films--debut, The Lunchbox, is the type of movie to affect all the senses (except, of course, touch). Centered around the lonely lives of a widower named Sajaan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan) and a neglected wife named Ila (Nimrat Kaur), the two find themselves brought together by the unusual circumstance of Ila's lunchbox being delivered to the wrong address. And so, instead of winning back the affection of her husband through her cooking, she ends up currying (no pun intended) favor with Sajaan. Promotional poster for The Lunchbox

After being counseled by her "Auntie" (a term of respect for the more geriatric set in India) on how to cook an amazing lunch, Ila knows her husband, Ranjeev (Nakul Vaid), won't be able to resist her once he tries her latest recipes. She puts two and two together when Ranjeev's reaction to the food is lackluster. Thus, she decides to send a note to the person who is actually receiving her lunches. This strikes up a consistent daily correspondence that both Ila and Sajaan take pleasure in. Sajaan's highlight of the day, in fact, is Ila's masterfully prepared cuisine. So intense is his enjoyment that he can't even be bothered to train Mr. Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the man who is supposed to replace Sajaan when he retires.

Ila, as she prepares her Indian delicacies

Shaikh is an enigma in his own right, claiming to be a seasoned accountant, only to later be found out by the head of the department as a fraud. In the time before that, however, he manages to get into the good graces of Sajaan, who is both in need of a friend and takes pity on Shaikh when he tells him he's an orphan. They begin having lunch together most every day, giving Shaikh the opportunity to notice the glow Sajaan has about him when he eats Ila's food and reads her notes.

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The most remarkable aspect of The Lunchbox is the manner in which it highlights how much easier it is to share a connection with someone you barely know, particularly in a city of millions. There is something simultaneously beautiful and melancholic about this fact, and how easy it is to drift apart from those who you're supposed to be closest to. In Sajaan's case, though, his wife was lost to death rather than Ila's somewhat more tragic circumstance of losing her husband on both an emotional and physical level. Her distance from him augments when she realizes he's having an affair--merely fortifying her interest in and attraction to Sajaan (mentally speaking, of course).

Riding to work in close quarters with Shaikh

As close as they feel to one another, revealing their innermost thoughts and observations of the world around them, a meeting between the two falls through when Sajaan has the realization that he's become an old man, smelling his residual malodorousness when he returns to the bathroom that morning to give himself a touch-up shave. And so, instead of approaching Ila when he sees her at the restaurant in which they're supposed to rendez-vous, he simply watches her, admiring her for her spirit and youth. In response to what she presumes is his callousness instead of his consideration, she sends him an empty lunchbox the next day.

Ila waiting for Sajaan

Very much a statement on Indian culture--with dialogue like "this country has no place for talent"--The Lunchbox is a much needed glimpse into the everyday life of denizens struggling to make a connection in spite of being constantly and quite literally pushed together. The closest resemblance to it in America is, of course, New York--but even that saturation of humanity doesn't compare to the kind in cities like Mumbai. How the love story ends between Ila and Sajaan isn't necessarily the point of the film. It's that they found each other at all.

Perhaps the only place in the world with a higher concentration of mafiosos than Southern Italy is New York City. In the early 1990s, warring crime families were preoccupied with power, glory and, above all, gold jewelry. Director Raymond De Felitta, no stranger to stories centering around New York-Italians, sheds light on a latter day Bonnie and Clyde named Tommy and Rosemarie Uva, two small-time crooks from Ozone Park, Queens (though in the movie, they're from the Bronx and Queens, respectively) who unexpectedly find a way to rob and take down the mob. Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as Tommy and Rosemarie Uva, channeling a mafioso look of their own

Stylized in a way that requires far more attractive people to play the Uvas, Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda embody the roles of the passionate couple to an artfully artless level of perfection. After spending eighteen months in prison for robbing a flower shop, Tommy gets out to find that Rosemarie has stopped doing drugs and gotten "a real job" at a collection agency. Somewhat inspired by her newfound nobility, Tommy tries to emulate her by also getting a job at the same place. His attention is drawn away from the boredom and soullessness of asking people to pay up by the pomp and circumstance of the John Gotti trial.

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Fascinated and repelled by the mafia because they killed his father after he couldn't pay them back for a loan, Tommy is drawn to the trial, where he hears Sammy the Bull's testimony against Gotti. Although the trial is open to the public, it seems as though Tommy is the only outsider interested enough to show up. His interest is further piqued when Sammy the Bull not only gives the addresses of several mafia social clubs, but also mentions that none of the "wiseguys" there are allowed to bring guns. An idea quickly brews in Tommy's head, prompting him to lure Rosie back into another brief flirtation with a life of crime.

The real Tommy and Rosemarie

Tommy's get rich quick scheme? Knock off the unsuspecting mafia members in the social clubs throughout New York. He promises Rosie that once they get enough money to get ahead, they'll stop and go back to living on the level. But, of course, the temptation of the cash proves too great to stop. As the two continue to gain notoriety not only among the crime families of NYC, including the boss, Big Al (played somewhat unconvincingly by Andy Garcia), the media and FBI begin to take notice as well. One reporter in particular, Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano), highlights their story as one of human interest, and even goes so far as to get involved in promoting their well-being by purchasing them plane tickets to Mexico so they can escape the inevitable hit that's going to be taken out on them.

Robbing the mob

As his first major script, screenwriter Jonathan Fernandez does a precise job of setting the backdrop for a time in New York that people have a tendency to forget about (P.S. "Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite" is the perfect choice for establishing the tone for said time at the beginning of the film), as they're often too busy thinking about the 1980s or the years leading up to 9/11. But the inception of the 90s holds a very specific sort of untapped allure. New York was experiencing so many palpable changes and transitions (David Dinkins being one of the main ones). And this is a large part of what makes Rob the Mob so endearing: Its specificity...and yeah, the tragic love story element.

 

 

 

It's been a long time since someone's tried diligently to make a coming of age movie about girls. Maybe the last commercially successful time was Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood/Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (I'm sure the word "sisterhood" has no bearing on either film's box office revenue...) and the last truly amazing time was Now and Then. Naomi Foner (a.k.a. Naomi Gyllenhaal, Jake and Maggie's mama) does her best to revive this genre, but can't help but veer toward something of a Lifetime vibe in Very Good Girls (the title alone is sort of a giveaway of the inevitable badness). Besties

Foner, who previously hit her stride with the scripts for Losing Isaiah and Bee Season, struggles to make her main characters, Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), come across as anything other than utterly vacuous. The two friends share an affinity primarily due to the fact that neither one has managed to lose her virginity. Otherwise, they are decidedly different, with Lilly's family being the stodgier, more conventional kind and Gerry's being the stereotypical bohemian kind. Moreover, the roles of their parental and sibling figures are wasted on the talents of Ellen Barkin (more plastic surgery laden than ever), Richard Dreyfuss, Kiernan Skipka and Demi Moore.

Promotional poster for Very Good Girls

The film's title becomes over saturated with irony when Lilly and Gerry encounter an attractive ice cream seller on the beach named David (Boyd Holbrook, who I guess is supposed to be a poor woman's Ryan Gosling). Gerry is the first to exhibit overt interest in him, which automatically leads David to favor Lilly. Oblivious to his disinterest, Gerry pursues David shamelessly, even going to the restaurant where he works for dinner with her parents. David's attraction to Lilly, however, grows stronger, and he ends up papering the area near where she works with a picture he took of her that features the caption, "Where do you live?" This would be much creepier if he wasn't good looking.

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Unable to resist the temptation, Lilly gives in to David and loses her V-card (yes, I said V-card)  to him at long last. Her guilt over betraying her best friend reaches a crescendo when Gerry's father is killed in a subway accident (it's New York, so...um, I guess that's believable). Wanting to somehow absolve herself, she asks David to start seeing Gerry as some sort of emotional compensation for her loss. But Lilly's jealousy gets the better of her when Gerry lies and says she slept with David. This prompts Lilly to seek comfort in the grossness of her boss, Fitzsimmons (the undisappointingly smarmy Peter Sarsgaard, Foner's son-in-law). She can't bring herself to actually have sex with him, but still tells David she did in order to get back at him. In the meantime, she clutches nebulously to her breasts and I suppose we're maybe supposed to infer she's pregnant, though this is never addressed.

David, the object of both friends' affections

While the drama of the script is occasionally interesting, it's almost as though Foner relies exclusively on Fanning and Olsen prancing around in various states of undress to make up for character development and plot. And while that might work for anyone who's watching it specifically to masturbate, it doesn't really work from an audience engagement standpoint. But, on the plus side, at least there's some new music from Jenny Lewis on the soundtrack.

 

 

 

 

You know that demographic. The kind that goes to the movies specifically to see Melissa McCarthy. Well, The Fault in Our Stars targets just such an audience member: The trashy type who thinks she's not trashy because she owns a Michael Kors handbag. It's not to say John Green's novel isn't perfectly enjoyable, but several things get lost in the translation of the film version, directed by Josh Boone (whose debut was Stuck in Love) and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (both of whom also wrote another Shailene Woodley vehicle, The Spectacular Now). Feel the cheese.

With the ever-increasing rarity of the rom-com, female audiences tend to cream themselves each time a film faintly resembling the genre comes out. Unfortunately, The Fault in Our Stars is a cancer-rom, with very little in the way of comedy. Right from the beginning, our heroine, Hazel Lancaster (Woodley), apologizes for the story. While the movie remains mostly faithful to the book, the screenplay deviates in several key ways, chiefly choosing to cut out Augustus' (Ansel Elgort) dead girlfriend, Caroline, who also suffered from cancer. I guess they didn't want to make him seem like too much of a cancer fetishist. Moreover, the explanation for the title of the book never even comes up, though it is a key part of their love story. For those curious and with no intention of reading the novel, the origin of the title stems from William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." Hazel's favorite author, Peter Van Houten (played by Willem Dafoe, who still can't manage to give this film any edge), maintains that in Hazel and Augustus' case, the fault is entirely in the stars.

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Hazel's mother, Frannie (Laura Dern, who is difficult to watch in anything other than Blue Velvet), encourages Hazel's relationship with Augustus, even offering to chaperone them on their trip to Amsterdam. Hazel deems such encouragements "cancer perks," though it doesn't make the plot line seem that much more believable.

Laura Dern in The Fault in Our Stars

Although there are numerous uncomfortably cheesy moments in this film, that isn't what makes it unwatchable when you're not of the Twilight set. It's that the filmmakers have tried so overtly to make a non-bathetic cancer movie. This isn't really possible. The closest anyone has ever gotten is Joel Schumacher with Dying Young--and that was just because Julia Roberts was in it.

As the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece of Sofia Coppola, Palo Alto writer-director Gia Coppola has quite a bit to live up to. Palo Alto, based on James Franco's collection of short stories (a near vomit-inducing statement), seems to be trying its hardest to come across with the same level of profundity as something Sofia Coppola--or even Roman Coppola for that matter--would direct, yet doesn't quite hit the mark. Granted, Gia Coppola is 27 years old and this is her first film, and she has to deal with adapting some questionable source material. Promotional poster for Palo Alto

As usual, the basis for teenage life in California is drinking, driving and disaffection. Teddy (played by newcomer Jack Kilmer) is an outsider trying his best to fit in by hanging out with your typical "bad influence," Fred (Nat Wolff). Fred's main interests are destruction and smoking various substances. The sole source of light in Teddy's somewhat grim life is April (Emma Roberts), an equally as disillusioned high schooler who is better at masking her lost nature. To distract herself, she plays soccer after school on a team coached by the overtly creepy "Mr. B" (obviously played by James Franco). Although April has a mild attraction to Teddy, her insecurity is preyed on when she sees him go upstairs at a party with a blow job slut named Emily (Zoe Levin). Thus, she is drawn to Mr. B, and the two begin to have an affair that's as believable and passionate as Liza Minnelli and David Gest's.

Gross.

In the meantime, Teddy deals with the consequences of getting in a drunk driving accident and does his best to keep his head down while performing the requisite amount of community service. Out of all the characters in this frequently flimsy film (though the music is amazing--the Coppola family always has a knack for that), Teddy is the most three-dimensional. Though you would think it would be April, it's actually Teddy's arc that makes the story slightly worthwhile. His realization that time-wasting isn't as chic as teenage existence makes it out to be is one of the most interesting elements in Palo Alto.

Young and depressed.

The attempt at making Palo Alto--already filled with concepts and characters that come off like cheap imitations of Bret Easton Ellis' novels and film adaptations--appear to have any grand meaning is useless. There isn't one, and maybe that's supposed to be an intentional mirror of adolescence itself. All one can really say is that growing up California certainly doesn't help make the search for identity much easier. Just a lot more numbing with all the available drugs.

How does any bad bitch become that way? Having her heart broken, of course. In Disney's latest re-imagining of one of their own characters, screenwriter Linda Woolverton (no stranger to Disney after penning the screenplays for Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King) humanizes Maleficent as never before. Played by the drag queen who was always meant to lend her that humanity, Angelina Jolie, Robert Stromberg directs her in a way that blends just the right amount of charisma and bitchery. Hardened.

Contrary to popular belief, evil isn't born, it is created by trying circumstances (you know, like Hitler). Maleficent begins innocently enough as a fairy, separated from the rival kingdom next to hers. She knows nothing of the human world and has no interest in it until a thieving boy named Stefan steps into her territory. After talking to him--and both discovering that neither one has parents--the two bond almost instantly. Maleficent cautions him against coming back, and he shakes her hand, accidentally searing it with his iron ring. She then makes the mistake of revealing her Achilles' heel to him: iron fucks her up.

Elle Fanning as Aurora/Sleeping Beauty

As Stefan grows older, he becomes more concerned with worldly acquisitions and power, especially power. He has less time to spare for Maleficent, who focuses on ensuring the safety of her domain. After the dying king of the human world announces he'll give the throne to whoever can take down Maleficent, Stefan quickly forgets about any sentiment he ever had for the fairy queen (no gay man reference meant toward Jolie here), drugs her and clips off her wings. Maleficent awakens feeling expectedly violated. After she collects her bearings, however, she is able to concentrate wholly on hate and vengeance. She transmutes into the "Queen of All Evil."

Stoic.

Collecting a crow friend, Diaval (Sam Riley), that she turns into a human in order to save from being beaten, Maleficent is able to gather intelligence from her little spy. She gleans that Stefan stripped her of her wings to become king and is soon about to have a child. She quells her rage long enough to get it together to crash the baby's, Aurora (Fanning), coming out party. The three nitwit fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are also given an upgrade as slightly more attractive pixies named Flittle, Knotgrass and Thistlewit. Their attendance at the fete is interrupted by Maleficent's cursing of Aurora. A nod to Rumpelstiltskin is given when she stipulates that Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and resultantly be sent into a death-like sleep for all of eternity. Maleficent coldly adds that only "true love's kiss" can break the spell, a clause she adds deliberately to get at Stefan, who once told her that her sixteenth birthday present was his own true love's kiss.

Illuminati vibes

Panicked, Stefan takes measures to protect his daughter by sending her away with the pixies. Maleficent watches over Aurora carefully, eventually growing attached to the girl, much to her annoyance. It is ultimately their platonic love that breaks the spell Maleficent had wrongly cast over Aurora. Not only does Woolverton show us that we've become so cynical as an audience that we can't find traditional representations of true love to be palatable, but she also reveals that maybe romantic love isn't as important or fulfilling as it used to be. And in this way, Maleficent is something truly unique in the Disney canon.

Imagine the feeling you get when repeatedly trying to make money and having your hard work barely support your need just to survive (which is probably easy to do if you live in New York City). This plight is magnified tenfold in James Gray's The Immigrant. Following the plight of fresh-off-the-boater, Ewa Cybulski (Marion Cotillard), a Polish immigrant accused of being "a woman of low morals," The Immigrant shows us that the problems of 1921 immigrants aren't really all that different from the lateral struggles of today. Promotional poster for The Immigrant

Initially entering Ellis Island with her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan), Ewa is horrified when the immigration officials quarantine Magda upon diagnosing her with lung cancer. Distraught and confused by the events, things get worse for Ewa after she's plucked from the exit line and told she's being deported for 1) her low morals and 2) not having a "valid" address to stay at. This turn of events leads her into the clutches of a "businessman" (pimp) named Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix).

A forced rapport

With no other options but to stay with Bruno, Ewa finds herself working as a seamstress in the theater he helps run. Her fear and quietness is irksome to the other girls in the show, who see her not only as a threat to their favor with Bruno, but also as a snob. Bruno quickly tries to change the direction Ewa is taking by offering her a part as "Lady Liberty" in the show. Ewa's sense of demeanment while standing onstage in an ill-fitting costume and at least a pound of makeup is worsened when one of the patrons of the show asks if he can pay Bruno to let his virgin son have sex with Ewa. By this point, the other girls have given Ewa enough absinthe to make her incoherent and amenable.

Every good trick deserves a good costume

Once Ewa has surrendered her body for a price, she grows to loathe Bruno even more. Eventually, she escapes and flees to Greenpoint where her aunt and uncle live. Her aunt seems far more pleased to see her than her uncle, and the next morning Ewa finds herself being arrested by immigration officers who have informed her aunt and uncle of her lewd behavior on the ship (it is later revealed that the men on the ship actually forced themselves on Ewa, through no fault of her own).

Not interested.

Sent back to Ellis Island, Ewa is at least happy to be closer to her sister, who has continued to be taken care of and treated for tuberculosis. The night before she's supposed to be sent back, she watches a magic show performance from Orlando (Jeremy Renner), who notices her face in the crowd and takes an immediate shine to her. It is once again, however, Bruno who saves her from deportation. Resigned to being stuck with him until she can pay to get her sister out and move on, Ewa starts turning even more tricks, becoming Bruno's most popular girl. This is both a delight and a burden to Bruno, who loves getting her cut of the money, but also loves her.

http://youtu.be/eeXtjrHLbTc

Desired by many and interested in no one, Ewa receives a bleak look at what achieving the so-called American dream really entails: Ruthlessness, lies and utter callousness. With these, she arms herself to break free from Bruno and a life of prostitution. So the next time you fear for your livelihood, I recommend watching The Immigrant as a source of solace.

 

 

Hany Abu-Assad is no stranger to creating provocative political films centered around the West Bank. One of his best known movies, 2006's Paradise Now, also brought up tense issues focused on Palestinian-Israeli relations. In his latest feature, Omar, Abu-Assad returns to the difficult, essentially unsolvable problems of those living in the Occupied Territories. Following the complex web of deceit in the life of a baker named Omar (Adam Bakri), Abu-Assad shows us a world where trust is an illusion and love is still the only thing worth fighting for. Promotional poster for Omar

Baking by day and plotting the overthrow of the occupation by night, Omar strategizes with his two best friends, Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). "Strategizing," of course, almost always means target practice. Tarek's sister, Nadia (Leem Lubany), does her best to remain oblivious to the trio's plotting, instead more preoccupied by her clandestine romance with Omar, who must climb the barrier between his side of the territory and hers in order to meet with her in secret.

The frequently stoic countenance of Omar

Afraid of Tarek's reaction, Omar continues to hold off on telling him about his desire to marry Nadia. The night that Tarek, Amjad and Omar finally decide to go through with their plan to kill an Israeli soldier, Omar is the one who spurs them on to do it in the wake of being harassed and physically abused by some soldiers after coming back from seeing Nadia. Although Amjad is the sole shooter, it ultimately comes back to all three of them when military and government intelligence intervenes to find them. Right at the moment Omar is at last ready to confess his love for Nadia to Tarek, a group of soldiers bursts through the restaurant they're at to capture them. Omar is the only one to be imprisoned.

Clandestine is key

While in prison, Omar is tricked into admitting his involvement in the shooting. The lead agent on the case, Agent Rami (Waleed Zualter), strikes a deal with Omar: In exchange for his freedom, he must lead the officials to Tarek, seen as the leader of a powerful terrorist organization. When he goes to find Nadia, he stumbles upon her talking to Amjad, who he's always suspected her of having a dalliance with. Upon seeing Omar again, Nadia is elated. Tarek, however, is suspicious of his friend's easily gotten freedom from jail. Rather than obey Rami's requests to lead them to Tarek, Omar tries to evade them, only to be caught and arrested yet again.

Beat down by life in the West Bank

Somehow, Omar coerces Agent Rami into freeing him one last time. However, once out for the second go-around, no one among his inner circle is willing to trust him, not even Nadia. It is at this point that Omar begins to veer in the direction of a sordid love triangle, plagued with murder, heartache and a questioning of paternity. Omar as a character ultimately proves himself to be a fundamentally good person forced into engaging in morally questionable actions by the misfortune of his country's circumstance. In the end, the film illuminates the value of self-sacrifice, both for love and for country--even when said self-sacrifice has the likely chance of backfiring (no gun pun intended).

 

Even when we have an identity we can't stand, it's still irksome when someone else tries to adopt it as his own. In many ways, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), the protagonist in Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Double, is a foil to the character Ayoade played in The IT Crowd, Maurice Moss: Mutable, amenable and largely unnoticeable. Everything about The Double is deliberate--from the consistent mirror images to the nondescript cinematography. And it is in this meticulousness that Ayoade continues to show his growth as a writer-director (2010's Submarine, also an adaptation, was his directorial debut for feature film). Differentiation.

Like most of Ayoade's previous projects (The Mighty Boosh included), he tends to create a visual landscape that seems outside of any specific time period, though if one were to guess, the 1960s seems like the most likely decade. Following the lonely, isolated life of Simon, who works in an office and performs the sort of unclassifiable work that office drones perform, Ayoade paints a grim portrait of life as a "non-person," interchangeable with just about everyone else. The only being who truly acknowledges Simon's existence is his aged mother, who lives in a nursing home and expects Simon to be available at her beck and call, which he usually is.

Promotional poster for The Double

Simon's sole source of light in a dark, dismal world is a girl named Hannah (Mia Wasikowska, who has already appeared in another great film this year), who lives in the building across from his and also works in his office. Afraid to approach her, the two are finally brought together by the suicide of a man that jumps from her side of the building. As the man free-falls, he makes eye contact with Simon and waves to him. Once the body has been taken away, Hannah and Simon go out to the local diner Simon frequents. Hannah confesses that she yelled at the man the previous night for essentially stalking her. Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call from Simon's mother, prompting Hannah to leave. The next day, Simon, who has constant issues with getting into his own office building, is kicked out of a mandatory event. It is at this moment, that his doppelganger, James Simon, enters the picture.

The object of Simon's affection

At first, Simon and James strike up a cordial enough friendship. Watching James interact with others and his confidence in everything he does is fascinating for Simon. On the way back from a night out, Simon feels comfortable enough to tell James, "It's like I'm permanently outside myself. Like you could push your hand straight through me if you wanted to." When he looks over to see James' reaction, Simon balks when he notices that James has fallen asleep on the train.

Voyeuristic tendencies

James has his own woman to pursue, the boss' (played by Wallace Shawn of Clueless fame) daughter, a surly sort who treats Simon like shit, asking questions like "Why won't you die?", but then, whenever James poses as Simon, ends up having sex with him. If nothing else, The Double proves that women have an undeniable predilection for assholes. As James starts to become more demanding of Simon--asking him for the keys to his apartment to bring back women, taking credit for his work, etc.--Simon can see that he's let things get too out of hand.

Shadows and silhouettes play heavily into the cinematography of The Double

To make matters worse, Hannah has developed an attraction to James, much to Simon's complete and total vexation. Gradually, he begins to realize that he can regain the upper hand, if he's willing to sacrifice himself in the process. His self-effacing persona begins to pay off once he discovers that his pain is just as much James' pain. Concluding with a somewhat different ending from Dostoyevsky's version, Simon's beautiful and ironic final line is: "I'd like to think I'm pretty unique."

The vampire genre has at last been played out enough for Jim Jarmusch to finally dabble in it. In his gothic, melancholy film, Only Lovers Left Alive, we're left with the sense that even vampires feel obligated to go through the motions of survival. Morose vampire/musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives and writes music in Detroit, relying on an errand boy/roadie type named Ian (Anton Yelchin) to get him instruments and other provisions for survival so that he can remain a recluse. Promotional poster for Only Lovers Left Alive

Although Adam has spent centuries collaborating with some of the world's best musicians, he has grown weary and jaded in the modern epoch. Contemplating suicide to escape a world he deems full of "zombies" (this is his word for addressing humans), he asks Ian to bring him a wooden bullet for an "art project" (because what's more artistic than suicide?). His sadness is given a brief reprieve when he gets a phone call from his wife, Eve (Tilda Swinton), who has been living in Tangier. Adam's visible state of misery alarms her enough to prompt her to grab a night flight immediately--even though it means leaving her dear friend and blood source Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) behind for awhile.

Reunited.

Upon seeing Eve in the flesh again, Adam's faith in existence is briefly renewed. Enjoying one another's company together, the two talk about the great men Adam has known, the state of civilization, eat blood popsicles, play chess and occasionally dance while listening to Motown music. Their quiet, contented existence is interrupted by the unwanted appearance of Eve's sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a freeloading sort who's been living in Los Angeles, which Adam refers to as "zombie central."

Eve's sister, Ava, who loves stealing from their blood supply

Adam doesn't even attempt to mask his hatred for Ava as she acts the free-spirited vacuous type by bouncing around and blaring his music loudly. Eve tries her best to appease Adam in order to get him to let Ava stay in his house. Adam is reluctant to trust her with their scarce supply of blood--vials of Type O Negative he pays a doctor off to obtain. Because the human blood source is so contaminated in the twenty-first century, Eve and Adam are hesitant to trust conventional means of blood-draining. Ava, on the other hand, has no problem sucking the life force out of people. In fact, she ends up biting Ian one night after forcing Eve and Adam to go out to a bar to see some live music.

Before the bite.

After kicking Ava out, much to her chagrin, Eve and Adam know that they have to get rid of Ian's body and then flee the scene so as not to be linked to the crime. Once Ava calls them judgmental and condescending for criticizing her for deigning to consume blood in the old school way, the two get down to the business of tossing Ian's body into the back of their trunk and throwing his body into some skin-eating acid water (of which Eve notes, "That was very...visual.").

Barely making it back to Tangier alive.

Because they have to depart in such a hurry, Eve insists that they leave behind Adam's beloved instruments and the Type O Negative blood. Certain that Marlowe will be able to supply them with more high-quality blood, Eve is troubled to find that his health has deteriorated after drinking some bad blood from the Tangier clinic. When he sees Adam again, he cautions from his deathbed, "Humility will get you nowhere." To that point, Only Lovers Left Alive is very much a comment not only on love and the decline of the modern man, but also the nature of art and its purpose to the creator. When they leave Marlowe to his inevitable death, Adam is consoled by the sight of a woman singing. Eve remarks to Adam, "I think she's going to be famous." Adam responds, "God, I hope not. She's too good for that."

Alternate promotional poster for Only Lovers Left Alive

In the end, Eve and Adam are forced to perform the very act that they chastised Ava for in order to go on surviving. There is beauty in their hypocrisy, and their desire to go on living as lovers devoted to one another.  And as compared with Jarmusch's last film, 2009's The Limits of Control (also starring Tilda Swinton), Only Lovers Left Alive is a more succinct, self-restrained work from a writer-director who consistently improves upon his canon.

Irvine Welsh's work is no stranger to the silver screen. His modern classic novel, Trainspotting, was also a success in its 1996 film incarnation. With Filth, a novel that came out in 1998, Welsh gets a similar psychedelic slant from writer-director Jon S. Baird. Following the debauched existence of police official Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), Filth shows us the depths of depravity as only this Scottish scribe can.

Promotional poster for Filth
Promotional poster for Filth

Robertson's main obsessions in life are his wife, Carole (Shauna Macdonald), getting a promotion at work, and playing what he refers to as "the games," which basically just means fucking with his co-workers and only friend, Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan). His latest attempts at psychological warfare involve undermining those within the constabulary who he views as a potential threat to his promotion and prank calling Clifford's wife, Bunty (Shirley Henderson, who isn't given nearly enough starring roles).

Not giving a fuck
Not giving a fuck

Amid this drama, the racially motivated murder of a Japanese student has taken precedence at the constabulary, leading Robertson to aggressively pursue potential leads while still finding time to make his co-worker, Peter Inglis (Emun Elliott), appear homosexual to the other members of the force (which he probably is). Incidentally, only from an Irvine Welsh character would you hear the phrase "Pussy's for faggots."

Vaginal animal hallucinations
Vaginal animal hallucinations

Robertson's drug-addled mindset continues to intensify as the film progresses. Hallucinating all manner of hybrid animals and therapy sessions with a cartoonish analyist (the always disturbing Jim Broadbent), we soon come to realize just how unstable Robertson is (cross-dressing is a factor). We come to question if his account of events was ever even real, or an utter delusion. And, speaking of delusions, Robertson also finds it necessary to give Clifford a little dash of ecstasy in his drink while they're in Amsterdam together. Not really sure what the Scottish obsession with "Sandstorm" by Darude is (if you've seen Under the Skin and have an ear for background music, you'll understand), but apparently doing drugs is the perfect excuse to play it.

Hashtag filth

Naturally, in the literary version, things end up slightly more macabre--with Robertson turning out to be the one who murdered the Japanese student. But perhaps casting James McAvoy made Baird feel like Robertson was too pretty to perform such ugliness on others, finding it necessary for him to perform it, instead, on himself.

In the current cinematic landscape, there seems little room for thrillers of a "low-budget" nature. Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin has managed to prove the value in movies with a more psychological slant. As the writer, director and cinematographer of the film, Saulnier puts his prior experience in film to the test. With most of his film resume packed with cinematography credits, Saulnier shows us time and time again through his visual palettes why he has chosen the title Blue Ruin. Dwight Evans (Macon), out for blood.

Funded through the occasional miracle of Kickstarter, the tone and premise of Blue Ruin is allowed to flourish under Saulnier's complete creative control. A classic tale of revenge, we're introduced to Dwight Evans (Macon Blair), a former shell of himself in the wake of his parents' murder. Living out of his car in Delaware, Dwight bathes in other people's homes when they're away and relies on the occasional discarded snack for survival. He is awakened from his existence by a local police officer who gently informs him that the man responsible for killing his mother and father, Wade Cleland, has been released after ten years in prison.

Promo for Blue Ruin

While the tale of two warring families is nothing new (see: Romeo and Juliet), there is something so captivating and earnest about Saulnier's main character that you can't help but remain invested in his journey for the entirety of the narrative. With saturated tones of blue pervading almost every frame (particularly during a scene involving a fly-attracting blue light), Saulnier mirrors the morose, washed out nature of Dwight himself.

Ready to kill

Blinded by the rage of memory and a perpetual wound that can only be healed by retaliative murder, Dwight finds Wade and kills him in the bathroom of a dive bar. He steals the limo that Wade and his brother, Teddy (Kevin Kolack), were driving after realizing he's left the keys to his own stolen car at the crime scene. The only problem is, he's already slit one of the tires to the limo. Plus, there's also another one of the Cleland brothers in the backseat. Nonetheless, Dwight manages to escape and seek out his sister, Sam (Amy Hargreaves).

Post-murder

When Sam learns of what he's done, she knows she must hide herself and her two kids in order to protect them from any reprisal from the Cleland family. At this point unemotional from all the trauma that has befallen her, Sam coldly states to Dwight, "I could forgive you if you were crazy. But you're not. You're weak." But so be it. At this point, revenge is Dwight's only fuel for getting through his days, much like Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill.

Target practice

By the time he's been cut and stabbed a few times (which includes a trip to the drugstore to buy all the necessaries to mend himself--yielding catastrophic results), Dwight has finally learned the true motive and identity of the person behind his parents' murder. The ultimate message of Blue Ruin is that, while an eye for an eye can make all parties involved blind, it's extremely vindicating when it's happening--especially when it's the only thing that you've clung to for so many years.

Argentine writer/director Sebastián Lelio's fourth feature film, Gloria, shows us the woes of romantic dalliances during female middle age. Whimsical, confident Gloria Cumplido (Paulina García) is a divorcee who still loves to have fun and refuses to settle down again with just anyone. Her penchant for dancing in nightclubs leads her to encounter a seemingly like-minded spirit named Rodolfo Fernández (Sergio Hernández), who eventually proves himself to be an utter disappointment. The unshakeable confidence of Gloria

Although Gloria tries her hardest to stave off loneliness--an attempt compounded by the constant bitter rantings of her upstairs neighbor--it is a lingering sensation that creeps in when she wants it to least. With her children out on their own, Gloria does her best to stamp out the void. Moreover, in this particular film, little emphasis is placed on the what Chilean people actually do for a living, and Gloria's nondescript office job is only occasionally mentioned or shown. Thus, it appears she has nothing in the way of fulfillment through a career either.

Gloria with her ex-husband.

Spanish/South American culture is also strongly present in terms of how comfortable Lelio is with showing copious amounts of old people nudity/sex. The very first night Gloria encounters Rodolfo, she's all about pouncing, and the result is the sight of several minutes of flaccid flesh, which continues to be a running visual motif throughout the film. Like Gloria, Rodolfo also has a family: two daughters and an ex-wife. The difference between the two of them, however, is that Rodolfo allows his children to control his life far more than Gloria. His lack of total focus on her leads him to abruptly leave a birthday party for Gloria's son, an action that enrages Gloria and causes her to break up with him.

Promotional poster for Gloria

Almost a foreshadowing of their broken relationship is Gloria listening to the radio and hearing someone request Jeanette's "Why Are You Leaving?". In spite of her contempt for Rodolfo, she lets him worm his way back into her semi-broken heart. This time, he takes her on a romantic getaway, leading her to believe that he's finally taken into account her feelings about his over involvement with his children. However, she is duped once again after she throws his cell phone into a bowl of soup and tries to laugh it off as a joke. This prompts Rodolfo to excuse himself to go to the bathroom, though of course he simply vanishes to tend to an emergency with his ex-wife.

http://youtu.be/h9PrVESAYeA

Feeling shamed and jilted by Rodolfo's desertion, she goes on a bender involving gambling, makeout sessions with inappropriate men and waking up with a hangover alone on the beach. It becomes clear at this point that Gloria is dealing with some very real shit. Not to mention the fact that her eye doctor has recently informed her that she's showing early signs of glaucoma. To make matters worse, Gloria's beloved daughter, Ana (Fabiola Zamora), is moving to Sweden to be with her boyfriend. Enveloped by isolation, Gloria triumphs over her own forlornness--mainly through the film's incredible soundtrack--and shows that it's possible to enjoy oneself even during the bleakest of circumstances.

The intense, beautiful visual style of Jonathan Glazer is not prolific. The British director has helmed a number of quintessentially cinematic/innovative videos, including Blur's "The Universal" and Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity." His only two previous feature films, Sexy Beast and Birth, showcase an innate ability for nuance--making Under the Skin no exception. The collaboration of Glazer and Nick Wechsler, known for supporting the slightly sinister as evidenced with previous films he's produced, including Requiem For A Dream and Magic Mike, makes for an incredible visual experience. Based on Scottish author Michel Faber's 2000 novel (also called Under the Skin), the film opens our eyes to the strangeness of being, as seen from an alien femme fatale perspective. Promotional poster for Under the Skin

Being that no one in the movie has a name, Scarlett Johansson shall be referred to as simply "The Alien." The process by which aliens inhabit female bodies seems to rather simple: As soon as one human body expires, another one is inhabited. A mysterious alien watcher (think: Giles in Buffy but creepier and less communicative) follows each incarnation of The Alien on his motorcycle (he's very biker chic), ensuring that she carries out her responsibility of luring men into a black abyss. And, speaking of black abyss, that's exactly what the symbolism for sex seems to be in this film. For those who are misguided enough to be tempted by the promise of intercourse are ultimately sucked into a black hole--and obviously not the kind they were hoping for.

Heroin chic

Once the male body is beneath the surface of the ground he's been sucked into, his body is housed for a period and the skin is harvested. Side note: Aliens really seem to dig our skin, in spite of all its potential blemishes and deformities. In fact, in one instance The Alien picks up someone in her car with neurofibromatosis, which means his face appears mangled. This, of course, does not stop The Alien on her quest to destroy every man in her driving path through Scotland. The only stipulation with regard to how she chooses her men is that they must be "all alone"--no family, no friends, no ties to mainstream society. Apparently, this is a decidedly easy type of man to find in Scotland.

Acting the part of temptress

Taking pity on the man with the deformed visage, The Alien begins to get more in touch with her human side. This angers her motorcycle watcher to no end as he rampages through the countryside in search of the man she let go. Meanwhile, The Alien starts living with a kindly Scotsman who seems to dig her seeming tortured victim persona, when really, she just doesn't have shit to say. Pretty soon, she's even starting to notice her body, checking her naked figure out in the mirror and thinking, "Not bad, not bad." After a failed attempt at sex (we're not really sure if it's because she can't get aroused, but that seems a likely reason) and her flashing a lightbulb on her vag, The Alien flees the scene. The Alien delves further into the human psyche when she's escorted into a nightclub that still thinks it's chic to play "Sandstorm" by Darude. As if that's not overwhelming enough, she has to be harassed by a gross guy she ends up putting on ice.

http://youtu.be/NoSWbyvdhHw

Exhausted from trying to act human--aren't we all? (this includes eating a bite of cake that she finds foul and then spits out)--The Alien retires to the woods, where she encounters a disgusting Scotsman who serves as something of a park ranger. The Alien tolerates his weird conversation and then finds an isolated cabin to take a nap in. She is awakened by the park ranger type trying to rape her. This is when it gets somewhat annoying. Because what kind of lame alien can't kick the shit out of a human with his or her alien power? In any case, The Alien runs away from her tormentor, only to be doused in gas and lit on fire by him after he rips some of her skin off and realizes she's not human. What does this mean, you ask? That no one can accept it when you're too different.