The history of Brian Wilson's mental state is no secret. And if you're looking to unearth any via Bill Pohlad's biopic, Love & Mercy, you're not likely to. Hailed as an innovative approach to the genre due to its bifurcated style, the film, co-written by Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman (who also wrote the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There), relies heavily on the switching back and forth between two eras in Wilson's in life.

The Brian Wilsons

The Brian Wilsons

Opening with a black screen and a barrage of Beach Boys' sounds, we're given an immediate glimpse into the importance of the auditory that will remain a constant throughout the film. Indeed, it was in large part because of Wilson's aural hallucinations that he stopped touring with the band at the height of their own version of Beatlemania. 

Instead promising his brothers and bandmates a barrage of sounds to record to when they returned, Wilson took to the studio to come up with masterpieces like "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" that would appear on 1966's Pet Sounds. Working with the best studio musicians of the time, Wilson awed his fellow musicphiles, yet alienated his fellow band members--not to mention the constant invocation of disapproval from his father, Murry Wilson, who was very much a precursor to the Michael Jackson-type father, hating his son for his succes and talent, yet needing him desperately for money and to prove his own self-worth.

Falling in love again

Falling in love again

As Pohlad devotes equal amounts of screen time to both epochs in Brian's life, the audience is left hoping that perhaps there will be a moment when the early and later periods meet in the middle--at the height of Wilson's despair and drug addiction. But alas, Pohlad never gives in to teetering too far on the dark side, only deviating truly from the conventional biopic structure when all of Wilson's selves encounter one another in the same bed they've each shared misery in their whole lives.

Promo poster for Love & Mercy

Promo poster for Love & Mercy

As for Elizabeth Banks' angelic rescuing role of Melinda Ledbetter, the car saleswoman who hesitantly falls for Wilson in spite of the constant team of bodyguards he has put in place by Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti)--his caretaker and Svengali-like therapist--well, it proves Banks is very capable of taking on a serious film and holding her own. Melinda also plays into the unique ending of Love & Mercy, which is faintly reminiscent of Garden State in that the couple at risk of being apart decides to say "Fuck it" regardless of knowing only one thing: they don't know what's going to happen. It is also perhaps the first ending in which we don't get to hear what they're saying to each other--again appealing to the power of sound and silence that has been so all-consuming and significant in Wilson's life. 

Everyone has fantasized about what they would do if they managed to win the lottery and become untouchably rich. Buy a yacht, live in a villa, go wild on a shopping spree are some of the cliches that spring to mind. But for Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), a woman who has just played Russian roulette with her borderline personality disorder by going off her meds, the best way to use her wealth is to host a talk show called Welcome to Me (hence the eponymous title of the film).

Promo poster for Welcome to Me

Promo poster for Welcome to Me

As Shira Piven's (yes, Jeremy Piven's sister) debut directorial effort, Welcome To Me explores an all too resonant theme among the Hollywood community: blinders when it comes to other people's emotions and complete and utter selfishness. At the relative mercy of her shrink, Dr. Moffat (Tim Robbins), Alice continues to go to his sessions for fear that he might institutionalize her otherwise, especially considering she's quit Abilify cold turkey. This decision only seems to compound her hyper self-awareness and intense need for self-exploration via the vengeance-taking provided by her talk show.

Alice Klieg, hoarder of VHS tapes with Oprah episodes

Alice Klieg, hoarder of VHS tapes with Oprah episodes

In addition to being essentially themeless, save for discussing whatever topic of Alice's life is of interest to her that day, the main pursuit of the show is to reenact moments in her life during which she felt she was wronged, going as far back as her childhood and highlighting such traumatic incidents as "Someone's been tampering with my makeup bag!" As Alice goes progressively off the deep end, her show gains more and more interest, with one fan/grad student named Rainer (Thomas Mann) going so far as to write a paper about Alice for one of his classes. Because of her histrionic nature, she seduces him in spite of being in a relationship with one of the network's owners, Gabe (Wes Bentley).

With Gabe, whose informercial slot she ends up taking over

With Gabe, whose informercial slot she ends up taking over

Her alienation of others close to her persists after she does a reenactment involving her best and only friend, Gina (Linda Cardellini). In it, she gets a fat woman to portray Gina trying on a one-piece bathing suit and spins the incident to make it look as though Gina is self-conscious about her body, but in actuality, it is simply because Gina doesn't like the aesthetic of two-pieces. The ire she receives from Gabe's brother and co-network owner, Rich (James Marsden), also takes its toll on Alice's emotions, prompting her to end one of her two-hour long shows forty minutes early.

Appropriately, the introduction to the film begins with the Michel de Montaigne quote: "I study myself more than any other subject. That is my physics. That is my metaphysics." Alice's application of this philosophy to her own life is what ultimately becomes her undoing, causing her to have a breakdown in the hotel casino she's been living in. But from the ashes of her detrimental self-exploration rises a newer, more "self-actualized" Alice.

One has to admire Jennifer Aniston for not being afraid to break out of her "sweetheart" Rachel Green mode rather often for someone of her level of fame. With 2002's The Good Girl, we caught a first glimpse of Aniston's gritty, disaffected acting capabilities. As Justine Last, she was a miserable married woman working discount retail. In Cake, she is a miserable separated woman with pill-popping and alcoholic tendencies.

Promo poster for Cake

Promo poster for Cake

Taking Justine Last one step further in her role as Claire Bennett by opting for no makeup to cover up her glaring scars, we're introduced to her vitriol right away as she makes everyone in her chronic pain support group feel extremely uncomfortable by commenting on the suicide of one of their fellow members, Nina Collins (Anna Kendrick). After being kicked out for he behavior, Claire develops something of a weird obsession with Nina's suicide, even visiting the site she decided to end it, at a high jumping point where the 105 and the 110 intersect. Daniel Barnz' (who has received many a criticism in the past for directing Beastly and Won't Back Down) tightly crafted narrative effortlessly details Claire's mental spiral.

Claire with her housekeeper and only friend, Silvana

Claire with her housekeeper and only friend, Silvana

As she gets closer with Nina's widower, Roy (Sam Worthington), she begins to feel semi-hopeful again, knowing that there is someone else who can fathom the pain she feels (we learn as the story unfolds that her son died in a car accident while she was driving). Part of the reason for her prescription drug addiction stems not only from the physical pain of her accident, which occurred about six months prior, but also the emotional damage she can't bear. The more she takes, the more she seems to hallucinate visions of and conversations with Nina.

Her seething nature manages to off put everyone around her, except those men she has casual sex with and her housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza). Rather than accept help, least of all from her husband, Jason (Chris Messina), Claire prefers to wallow in her misery--yet it's somehow darkly comical and engaging to watch via Aniston's interpretation of the character.

Although, once again, a Barnz film has received a lackluster response, Cake is arguably his best work to date, and Aniston's no frills performance is a large part of that.





With an opening scene that looks as though it could have been plucked right out of The Kroll Show, Jake (Nick Kroll) does a commercial for an upcoming product that looks like a knockoff of Google glass that he's poured all of his (and many other people's) money into. Ross Katz' first feature film not made for TV, Adult Beginners, then segues into a lavish New York launch party that also looks like a scene from The Kroll Show, specifically "Rich Dicks."

Promo poster for Adult Beginners

Promo poster for Adult Beginners

After an appropriately glossed over hiccup involving the failure of a Chinese factory to manufacture a key part for the product, Jake's empire crumbles before it can begin once news of this reaches all the tech websites. Reeking of shame and defeat, Jake retreats to New Rochelle in Westchester, where his sister, Justine (Rose Byrne, best known for her type A role in Bridesmaids), has taken over their parents' house with her own husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale, best known for getting a blow job from Samantha Jones on Sex and the City), and their three-year-old son, Teddy (Caleb and Matthew Paddock, pulling an Olsen twins in one role). 

Family dinner

Family dinner

Surprised to see Jake, so accustomed has she been to his absence and lack of interest in her life, Justine is more reluctant to let him stay with them than Danny, who suggests taking advantage of getting some child care out of the situation. Jake, though a child himself, agrees to the terms of staying with them, especially since Justine has another baby on the way and can't afford to miss any more work (she's a guidance counselor at the local high school). 

Handling a child

Handling a child

Although we're supposed to infer that the premise of Jake taking responsibility for a child is naturally going to force his character to arc and imbue him with a level of maturity previously unknown, there is something decidedly hollow about his so-called transformation. The title of the film itself stems from the fact that Justine and Jake never learned how to swim as children (surely, you can see the symbolic nature of this), yet must accompany Teddy to a swim class where the teacher, Miss Jenn (Jane Krakowski, in a wasted role), suggests that the two of them take her Adult Beginners class.

At swim class

At swim class

After three months spent in seeming atrophy, Jake is offered a job by one of the dads of the kids he helps babysit for (he's gotten a reputation for superb nannying skills throughout New Rochelle). While Justine has assumed he's made an emotional connection to her family too lasting to leave, she chides herself for thinking that he has changed in any way--he's just as selfish as when he couldn't even be bothered to show up to the hospital when their mother was dying of cancer. But, of course, it wouldn't be a feel-good movie if this were really the case. All in all, Duplass Brothers Productions would have been better off producing a The Kroll Show Movie instead.





There's no question that Blake Lively was born to play the role of Serena Van Der Woodsen. And so, once Gossip Girl ended, her place in the pop culture world seemed somewhat perilous. True, she had appeared in films like The Town and Savages while Gossip Girl was still on the air, but these were never starring roles that required her to carry an entire film by herself. Thus, The Age of Adaline marks a noticeable sea change in Lively's career.

Promo poster for The Age of Adaline

Promo poster for The Age of Adaline

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, of The Vicious Kind and Celeste and Jesse Forever fame, the hokey plot of The Age of Adaline manages to stay afloat because of Blake Lively's keen ability to bring Serena Van Der Woodsen to every character she portrays. She's that girl with a certain je ne sais quoi and unattainability that men go crazy for. As Adaline Bowman, a less trashy, more grown up version of Van Der Woodsen, Lively appropriates her etherealness for the benefit of the fantastical storyline. 

Adaline's first marriage

Adaline's first marriage

To explain away some of the heavier issues/difficulties with suspending disbelief, the narrator (voiced by Hugh Ross) overly intervenes at times to convince us that Adaline's plight is completely possible. After getting into a car accident while snow fell in Sonoma County for the first time maybe ever, Adaline lands in freezing cold water, whereupon her temperature drops to 87 degrees, she technically dies and then gets struck by a bolt of lightning that resuscitates her and prevents her from enduring the aging process.

Adaline has had more dogs than she has lovers

Adaline has had more dogs than she has lovers

A little slow on the uptake, Adaline starts to catch on that something is off when people grow suspicious of the fact that her own daughter, Flemming (Ellen Burstyn), looks older than her. Considering she's supposed to be 45 years old right around the time of the Communist witch hunts in the 50s (specifically 1953, the year of the Rosenberg execution), the mistrust and skepticism she encounters from authorities is eerily substantial. 

The man who captures her heart

The man who captures her heart

After being cornered by the Feds, Adaline escapes and begins her process of reinvention, changing identities every decade to avoid questions or controversy. Before changing her name, however, she meets a young American G.I. named William Jones in London, falls in love and goes back to San Francisco with him. On the way to meet him one day, however, she sees an engagement ring box in his hand and immediately has the epiphany that, no, of course she can't be with him--or anyone else. Until 2014, that is, when she swoons over, creepily enough, the son of the aforementioned G.I. (Harrison Ford). 

William Jones (Ford), seeing a ghost

William Jones (Ford), seeing a ghost

Granted, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman, who bears a resemblance to Eric Bana) is the one who pursues her, even going so far as to find out her address (a move that vexes Adaline to no end). Wanting to resist his persistence, but unable to--especially after Flemming encourages the relationship--Adaline gives in against her better judgement. Subsequently, she has the awkward realization that William is Ellis' father after accompanying him to their home to celebrate his parents' fortieth wedding anniversary. 

Style of the times

Style of the times

The disturbing implications of Adaline having boned both father and son alike do not seem to bother William as much as the fact that Adaline is going to disappear from Ellis' life the same way she did from his all those years ago. In the end, the overt message seems to be, if you wait long enough you're bound to find the love that was destined for you. That, or if you wait long enough you're bound to get struck by lightning twice.

Usually, it is those who are blind that seem to be able to see the most. However, in high school student Leonardo's (Ghilherme Lobo) case, this simply isn't true. Persecuted by bullies for his blindness, Leo's only real friend is Giovanna (Tess Amorim), who has known him since they were infants. 

Leo, constantly tormented

Leo, constantly tormented

It isn't until a new student at school, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), comes along that Leo starts to feel like he's truly being seen for himself and not just as "the blind kid." As one of the only people willing to hang out with him apart from Giovanna, Leo immediately starts to show signs of preferring him to his decades-old friend. This treatment enrages Giovanna to no end, who seems to have feelings for both Gabriel and Leo.

Portuguese promo poster for The Way He Looks

Portuguese promo poster for The Way He Looks

To make matters worse for Giovanna, Leo and Gabriel are assigned to a group project together that leads them to further neglect her. Soon, Gabriel is, for lack of a better term, "making the moves" on Leo by playing him Belle and Sebastian, which we can all agree is the ultimate in intimacy and romanticism. 

Bizarre love triangle

Bizarre love triangle

Unaware of his own feelings for Gabriel, Leo does his best to suppress them by channeling all of his frustration into the desire to go on an exchange program abroad. When his parents refuse to let him, Leo is extremely disappointed--a sentiment compounded by attending a birthday party for a popular student where his most ardent bully tricks him into thinking he's going to kiss another girl after a round of spin the bottle, but really it's just a dog being held up in front of him.

Adolescent love

Adolescent love

This isn't the only drama to take place at the party. Between Giovanna trying to kiss Gabriel and Gabriel drunkenly kissing Leo, emotions are running high after the event. Ultimately, of course, the strength of Leo and Gabriel's attraction wins out over any judgments wielded against them.

Stolen glances

Stolen glances

As Daniel Ribeiro's first feature-length film (based off a short called I Don't Want to Go Back Alone that utilizes the same characters), we're given a remarkable amount of subtlety throughout The Way He Looks. From the attenuated glances to the uncertain approaches and displays of misplaced anger as a result of jealousy, Ribeiro has the teenager's plight visually and emotionally mastered. And it's wonderful to watch unfold. 

 

 

Noah Baumbach, who has never been afraid of exploring topics that are liable to make one extremely squeamish with regard to exploring the spectrum of human psychological trauma, has done the unthinkable with his latest film: toe the delicate line between representing both sides of the "old"/"young" panorama. 

Dealing with aging

Dealing with aging

In While We're Young, his eleventh film in the role of "just" screenwriter, Baumbach explores the extremes of twenties adulthood versus forties adulthood. The former involves a free-spirited, rose-colored glasses outlook on life, whereas the latter is all about reconciling with the fact that you're not young anymore and that you haven't been for quite some time. To portray this contrast, Baumbach wields the couple foils of Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Jamie (the always vexatious Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried, a long way from Karen in Mean Girls). Josh, a 44-year-old documentarian who has been working on the same documentary for nearly ten years, finds renewed interest in work and his life upon meeting Jamie and Darby in a continuing education class he teaches. Soon, he finds himself at dinner with them and Cornelia, riveted by everything they have to say--the wide-eyedness with which they still seem to view the world.

Imitation goes both ways in While We're Young

Imitation goes both ways in While We're Young

As an aspiring documentarian, Jamie seeks to absorb all the knowledge (and, ultimately, contacts) he can from Josh, who is just happy to have someone who looks up to and appreciates him. Cornelia, too, takes a liking to Darby in the wake of her best friend, Marina (Maria Dizzia), having a baby girl named Willow (telling of the Brooklyn location they all inhabit) and becoming consumed with what Cornelia calls the "baby cult." With Darby, she can simply go to hip hop classes and be (something of) herself. 

So intense does the connection between the four of them become that they even attend an Ayahuasca ceremony together. Upon telling Marina this, she asks Cornelia what exactly that is, to which Cornelia explains it involves taking drugs and cleansing your demons by throwing them up--all while dressed in white. At the ceremony, Darby takes the annoying hipster factor up an even higher notch by saying, "I was falling asleep on the L train and forgot what the shape of a pineapple looked like." Indeed, it seems that both Darby and Jamie are intended as a hyper-parody of hipster youth culture. They live in Bushwick, after all, and watch VHS tapes and make artisanal ice cream and go to the junkyard to find wood to build tables. This contrast is paired quite well against a montage of Cornelia and Josh trying desperately to remain current with their use of phones, computers and Apple TV. The irony is rather obvious: the young seek a return to the past, clinging to some nostalgia they never actually experienced, while the old wish desperately to fit in with the present. 

Aspirational youth

Aspirational youth

The expectations of how the plot will play out gets somewhat turned on its ear by the end of Act Two, with Jamie revealing himself to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, of which Darby notes, "You know how when you see a couple on the side of the road hitchhiking, you're more likely to pick them up than if it was just one guy? Well, that's what I am for Jamie." The paradox of Jamie being this hungry-for-success, ruthless sort of fame-seeker is that it vaguely echoes another character Ben Stiller himself once played in Reality Bites: that of Michael Grates, a young TV executive in charge of reality programming for an MTV-like network. Granted, he was far more well-intentioned, perhaps a sign of the times (or is that just nostalgia talking?).

Trapped in a sea of babies

Trapped in a sea of babies

Although Baumbach wavers a bit on the message he's ultimately trying to convey (which seems to be that both youngs and olds are flawed and must grapple with equally shitty circumstances at particular crossroads in their life), While We're Young fosters a belief in accepting oneself--age bracket be damned. It also promotes the notion that it is possible for millennials and Gen Xers to be friends--so long as Gen Xers watch their back at all times. It's like Josh says at the end of the film: "He's not evil. Just young."

Brandy Burre is not exactly an actress with an IMDB page that screams "powerhouse." Her best known role was as Theresa D'Agostino on The Wire, during which time she appeared on fifteen episodes. This was from 2004 to 2006, after which she seemed to disappear into the abyss--better known as embracing domesticity, motherhood and moving to suburbia (Beacon, New York).

A to the point promo

A to the point promo

So what can you do when you've given up your dream for the nightmare? Document it. "I'm not working, so this is my outlet," says Burre at one point in the film. The "this" in question is the documentary by Robert Greene (known for the pro-wrestling exposé, of sorts, Fake It So Real), entitled simply Actress

Trapped in a prison of her own making

Trapped in a prison of her own making

In spite of proclaiming the usual guilty mother statement about loving her children (she has two) but no longer having any time for herself, Burre takes relief when they depart with her husband for a long weekend. It is during this time that she seizes her opportunity for freedom by cheating on her everyman sort of husband, Tim. Naturally (and conveniently for the drama of the story), Tim finds out about her indiscretion after discovering something incriminating on her computer.

Burre takes the unraveling of her marriage as a sign to continue to pursue her true passion: acting.The fortuitousness of being neighbors with Robert Greene perhaps further proved that the screen was not ready to lose her--the film of Burre's life ultimately being what needed to come out of her time spent in housewifery .

Promo poster for Actress

Promo poster for Actress

"I'm clumsy...not very graceful." So concludes Robert Greene's documentary, with Burre appearing before the camera with a black eye after having auditioned in New York. The damage to her face is, obviously, not going to help her land any roles anytime soon. Though she did have one recently in 2014's Listen Up Philip starring Jason Schwartzman. So will she keep going after this, subjecting herself to the cruel scrutiny directed at actresses of a certain age (a subject she addresses with vitriol)? Presumably. Because the call to do something you want never really dies until your soul does.

No matter how many times Cinderella is reinvented, it will always be repackaged and repurposed time and time again. In its latest incarnation, the interpretation comes from beloved Brit Kenneth Branagh and possesses a decidedly rose-colored glasses viewpoint--counterbalanced by the extreme bitchery of Cate Blanchett, who plays the wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine.

Promotional poster for Cinderella

Promotional poster for Cinderella

Written by Chris Weitz, who has worked on diverse projects ranging from Antz to American Pie to About A Boy, the story is told from a classicist's perspective. Ella (Lily James, in her first major role) is born to two loving parents who treat her like a princess--and, in her own way, she is, reigning over their country home that her father provides for through his profession as a merchant. Of course, Ella's picturesque state of existence comes to a grinding halt when her mother takes ill and dies. Before her demise, however, she instructs Ella, "Have courage and be kind." (a phrase that is indoctrinated fully into its audience by the film's end).

The modernized glass slippers

The modernized glass slippers

Taking her mother's advice to heart, Ella always does her best to see everything in a positive light--finding magic in even the simplest of pleasures (e.g. hanging out with a crew of mice, which comes off as a lot more disgusting when they're not animated). This task becomes a bit of an undertaking when her father announces his plans to remarry Lady Tremaine (Blanchett) and bring her daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), to live with them in their house. At first pleased for her father, Ella is given a rude awakening at the overt cruelty of her step-family, which quickly intensifies after her father leaves for another months-long business trip.

Control

Control

Lady Tremaine "politely" suggests that Ella stay in the attic in order to give her stepsisters the bigger room to share. Hurt, but willing, Ella agrees, her father's return the one thing keeping her going. But alas, he never does make it back from the trip. His death gives Lady Tremaine all the license she needs to treat Ella (soon dubbed Cinderella after she gets ash all over herself from sleeping by the fire) like total shit.

Wild but imprisoned

Wild but imprisoned

Nonetheless, she stays to endure the pain for the sake of her parents, who made her promise to always love and cherish their home. But her wherewithal can only last so long in the face of her step-family's extreme sadism. From verbal abuse to imposed servitude, Cinderella can only find comfort in her animals, taking refuge in the forest on one of her horses where she encounters Kit a.k.a. Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Invigorated by this fortuitous meeting, Cinderella finds new hope in life after Kit announces to the entire kingdom that he will be holding a ball, which all ladies--common or not--are invited.

It is at this point that Cate Blanchett puts her acting skills as an icy cunt to the test, ripping Cinderella's mother's dress to pieces when she attempts to attend the ball. But it's all for the best, as this allows Cinderella's fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, who also narrates the story) to make a cameo and save the day. By now, you shouldn't need any guidance on how the rest of story plays out, suffice it to say that the realest piece of wisdom comes at the end, with the fairy godmother noting of Cinderella revealing her true identity to the prince, "The greatest risk one can take is to show who they truly are to another person." Indeed, this is why so many people prefer to remain single in the current non-fairy tale era. 

The genres of horror and romance go hand in hand naturally in real life (see: Lorena Bobbitt). On screen, however, this blend has never really been attempted in a serious or successful way. Enter filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who collaborated previously on horror movie V/H/S: Viral, to achieve the impossible mélange with their feature, Spring.

Promotional poster

Promotional poster

 Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci, formerly Lou Pucci--of Thumbsucker fame), an L.A. denizen who has just lost his mother to cancer--which means both of his parents are now deceased--finds himself in an emotional tailspin that is further compounded by losing his job as a bartender. His best friend, Tommy (Jeremy Gardner), urges him to get away so that he can change his environment and possibly forget about some of his pain. Taking this advice to heart after he can't even get pity sex from a friend, Evan books a flight to Italy as an homage to his father, who was planning to go there with him after Evan graduated from college, but then ended up having a heart attack.

Finding strange romance in Italy

Finding strange romance in Italy

Upon arriving in Rome, Evan encounters two fellow travelers from England, who guide him further south toward Naples. While there, he has an encounter with a beautiful and very mysterious girl named Louise (Nadia Hilker). When the two have another run-in at a bar, Evan asks her to go out on a date. Louise, preferring spontaneity over plans tells him that she has to go with him now or not at all. Evan declines, but seems to have the sense that he'll see her again. Left to his own devices by the Brits, who move on to Amsterdam without him, Evan decides to reply to a flier he sees advertising free room and board in exchange for work. This leads him to an isolated farm run by an old man who agrees to teach him the ropes.

The horror element

The horror element

With his job situation secure, Evan now finds the time to focus more fully on alluring Louise with his charms. This leads him to follow her into a museum, where she points out a painting of a woman with two different colored eyes to him. The two begin to start seeing each other more regularly, though Evan is blissfully unaware of her bizarre and inexplicable physical transformations that happen without warning, and which she quells with injections.

As the truth is wont to do, it eventually comes out. Evan sees Louise in a violent and embryonic version of herself after going to her apartment to beg her to reconsider breaking up with him. But seeing this makes him nearly change his mind about making such a request. The fiendish Romeo and Juliet-like love that comes with Evan's eventual acceptance of Louise's flaw (she must shift out of her body every twenty years, this year being the twentieth in her current husk) is further intensified by the advent of the spring equinox, which will force her to depart from him physically.

Electric connections

Electric connections

In coalescing aspects of horror with all-consuming passion and love, Benson and Moorhead create an impactful and arresting film that isn't likely to be forgotten anytime soon--particularly if you yourself have had to overcome astounding obstacles in a relationship.

Hits is a momentous film for a number of reasons, two of which being the fact that it is David Cross' (of Tobias fame) directorial debut and that it is the first movie to attempt the pay-what-you-wish method via BitTorrent. This being said, the theme and plot of Hits is all too fitting considering the aforementioned circumstances.

Promotional story

Promotional story

Beginning with the cautionary caption, "Based on a true story... that hasn't happened yet," Hits is very much a commentary on the evermore prevalent obsession with being famous by any means necessary--usually via the viral method. With this in mind, everyman Dave (Matt Walsh) of Liberty, New York is the last person one would expect to attract the attention of a Greenpoint-based think tank run by Donovan (James Adomian), who makes a clip highlighting Dave's struggle with city councilwoman Christina Casserta (Amy Carlson) with regard to getting potholes on his street fixed and snow plowed during the winter.

Helping Dave go viral

Helping Dave go viral

Dave's rapid YouTube fame angers his celebrity-seeking daughter, Katelyn (Meredith Hagner), who spends most of her free time having fake interviews with Ellen DeGeneres while driving around or parked in her car. Her ambition? To be a singer. The problem? She is 1) blissfully unaware that she can't sing and 2) short the $200 she needs to record a demo for The Voice. The second problem is easily remedied by giving a hand job that leads to a blow job that leads to an unwitting sex tape with the guy who has all the recording equipment.

Dave, not your average famous man

Dave, not your average famous man

In spite of Katelyn's best efforts to attract attention during the media frenzy surrounding her father, who, as it later becomes clear, is a little unhinged himself, no one will give her the time of day except a prototypical white boy posing as a rapper named Cory (Jake Cherry). This drives her to the brink, prompting her to storm her father's televised town hall meeting in order to sing Sara Bareilles' "Brave" for a TV and internet audience, embarrassing herself completely with not just the sound of her voice, but also by getting beat down by a security officer--though, of course, it all ultimately serves to fulfill her greatest wish: fame and being on Ellen.

While Hits (called such in reference to the number of hits a video gets on YouTube, in case you couldn't figure it out) has been largely panned for being perhaps too cynical and grim a take on humanity, David Cross very much "hits" the mark on American society at the moment, and the dark place it continues to head. For an abridged version of this message, see Charli XCX's "Famous" video.

Aubrey Plaza, the ideal typecast for playing a female zombie, is, surprisingly the worst part about Jeff Baena's second film in ten years since writing I Heart Huckabees, Life After Beth. And yet, there is a slight glimpse of thematic brilliance regarding the subjects of regret and how it is affected by second chances and the notion that one was better off getting it right on their first chance.

Promotional poster for Life After Beth

Promotional poster for Life After Beth

As our momentarily alive and well protagonist, Beth Slocum (Plaza), is introduced in the first few moments of the film, she seems peaceful and calm while doing what we later learn is one of her favorite suburban pastimes: going on a hike. We then cut to an immediate mourning scene, barely getting a chance to know what the undead version of Beth was like. All we know now is that her boyfriend, Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan), and her parents, Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon), are in extreme pain over losing her--though the loss is very temporary.

Alternate promotional poster

Alternate promotional poster

After spending almost every waking moment with Beth's parents in order to feel mildly consoled not only by her death, but also by confessing to Maury that Beth said she wanted to see other people before she died, he is caught off guard when his contact with them is abruptly cut off. Investigating the situation, he goes over to their house only to catch an unexpected glimpse of Beth. Before he can do anything about it, however, he is caught by his brother, Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler), a security officer who patrols the neighborhood. It isn't long before Zach manages to sneak back over there and confirm that Beth is, indeed, alive.

Beth is a lot angrier in her post-alive state

Beth is a lot angrier in her post-alive state

Relieved at being able to get another chance with her, Zach is just a little bit more perplexed than Beth's parents about why she's back from the dead. Her parents, on the other hand, prefer to not acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary has happened, least of all to Beth herself. In spite of Zach's hesitancy about not questioning why Beth is back, he ends up going along with her family's alternate reality in order to be with the version of her that seems blissfully unaware of all that's happened between them. And at first, this turn of events goes swimmingly--until Beth begins acting far crankier, quelled only by the sound of smooth jazz.

Her temper is further aggravated when she catches Zach in the parking lot of a restaurant where he was having lunch with a childhood friend named Erica (Anna Kendrick). Nearly ripping Erica's arm off in response to her presence, Zach leads her away to finally confess what's really been going on this whole time by taking her back to her gravestone. The revelation of her death further infuriates Beth, who, to add insult to injury, is then broken up with by Zach. This sets off an entire chain reaction of zombie emergences throughout the town. 

Full-fledged zombie bitch

Full-fledged zombie bitch

It is at this juncture in the film that things start to jump the shark a bit and Jeff Baena seems to lose sight of what his original message really was. Unlike other recent zombie movies, such as Warm Bodies or Jennifer's Body, Life After Beth lacks the same camp cachet that tends to bolster this genre. Instead, it comes off as flaccid and missing the mark on what it wanted to say, which seems to be, as one of the tag lines clichely puts it: be careful what you wish for.  

When one hears a title like A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, the automatic assumption is that the story is going to somehow end in rape. Conversely, this movie, described as an Iranian vampire spaghetti Western by director Ana Lily Amirpour, lends a sense of female empowerment to its audience. 

The girl

The girl

Centered around the lives of a handful of lonely souls inhabiting a town called Bad City, Amirpour first introduces us to Arash (Arash Marandi), an attractive James Dean type who drives an expensive car and has to deal with the harassment of a drug dealer named Saeed (Dominic Rains), who takes possession of Arash's car as collateral for the debt owed by his father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), as a result of his heroin addiction.

Meanwhile, an ominous hijab-garbed woman known only as "The Girl" is stalking the streets of Bad City, following the likes of Saeed in order to protect others from his harmful ways. After watching his behavior for a time, she decides to kill him one evening when he spots her walking home and asks her back to his house. What he sees as her coy seduction suddenly transmutes into the baring of her fangs and her final death bite. It is at this point that Arash, who has stolen a pair of expensive earrings from his employer in order to bargain with to get his car back, decides to visit Saeed. He sees The Girl leaving the house and immediately goes inside to find Saeed, along with his father's debt, is finished.

He steals Saeed's suitcase full of drugs and money, and fulfills his new role as a replacement local dealer. One night, while doling out X at a costume party dressed as Dracula, Arash is offered a drug by his now ex-employer and ultimately finds himself serenely wandering the streets of Bad City, whereupon he encounters The Girl. Their connection to one another is instant, and she takes him back to her Madonna memorabilia decorated apartment (perhaps some sort of subconscious symbolism about vampiric immortality) where they listen to music and engage in one of the most drawn out buildups to a kiss in cinema history. 

Reinvigorated by finding one another, it seems as though both of them might change their ways, or at least merge their habits into one formless collective of neuroses. The Girl's latest kill, however, threatens the balance of their newfound relationship. The noirish feel (which in part stems from the fact that it was filmed in Southern California in spite of being in Persian), combined with the vampire genre--which has been twisted and turned a lot lately--is enough to make this film, surprisingly made by VICE, an instant classic.

Considering that movie musicals have had zero audience since the 1960s, it's always incredible that the film industry remains so whole-heartedly committed to honoring this genre. While it is one thing to bring a movie to the Broadway stage, it is quite another to bring a Broadway musical to the screen. And yet, this is exactly what Richard LaGravenese (best known for writing such films as A Little Princess, The Mirror Has Two Faces and Living Out Loud) decided to do with beloved playwright Jason Robert Brown's 2001 musical, The Last Five Years.

Promo poster for The Last Five Years

Promo poster for The Last Five Years

In the role of Cathy Hiatt, Anna Kendrick, no stranger to the Broadway musical scene, is even more annoying than she was in Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2. Her voice, while technically "good," is like, yes, nails on a chalkboard after having to listen to it endlessly. And she is, of course, the one doing most of the so-called talking. 

The early stages of l'amour

The early stages of l'amour

Her appeal to Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan), an author who is about to sell his first manuscript, is her shiksa goddess status to him. Unlike anyone else Jamie has ever dated, Cathy is plucky, energetic and determined. Her ambition to become a theater actress, however, is ultimately part of what "rents" their relationship (get it, Rent?).  

With Jamie's meteoric success as a bestselling writer, Cathy suddenly finds herself on the outer corners of the spotlight, "the little wife" who, at best, is given some credit for being Jamie's muse. In spite of this intense source of contention, Cathy still wants to make her marriage work. Alas, the attempt at trying is, inevitably, one-sided. In this regard, The Last Five Years redeems itself for being a musical because of the powerfully emotional way in which it addresses the complications of modern monogamy. 

The collaborations of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have never been flawed, Flight of the Conchords being the most shining example. However, their newest masterpiece together, What We Do In The Shadows, may be the best of their career--no matter what else they put out after this. Taking the concept of the mockumentary to the next level with a spoof on the world of vampires, the brilliant humor of their script leads us on a, to borrow a 90s film critic phrase, "laugh-a-minute" journey through the supernatural underbelly of Wellington, New Zealand.

Promo poster for What We Do In The Shadows

Promo poster for What We Do In The Shadows

From the moment of our introduction, the tone of satire is set by lead vampire Viago (Taika Waititi), age 317, turning his alarm clock off with his outstretched arm from within the bowels of his coffin. He then slowly and coyly elevates himself out of the coffin and welcomes us into his apartment, which he shares with three other flatmates/vampires. From oldest to youngest, they are: Petyr (Ben Fransham), age 8,000, Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), age 862, and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), age 183. Being that Deacon is the younger, and therefore more rebellious vampire, he is less enthusiastic about performing house chores like washing "bloody" dishes.

Swag

Swag

As we're given an all-access glimpse into their lives by documentarians wearing crucifixes and promised immunity from their necks being sucked on, it's clear that their carefree existence is about to be changed forever by a victim named Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), brought to them by Deacon's familiar, Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), who has been his slave for the past four years in the hopes that he will bite her and give her immortality.

Family portrait

Family portrait

Instead of simply killing Deacon after performing the spaghetti/worms Lost Boys trick on him, they actually end up turning him. Nick's naivete about how to act in his new role within the household leads him to copy Deacon's style, declare to everyone in the Wellington club scene that he is a vampire (which backfires when he tells this to a vampire hunter) and subsequently get Petyr killed thanks to a "fatal sunlight accident," thus he is banished indefinitely from the flat--though his best human friend, Stu (Stu Rutherford), is given no hard feelings.

With all these events leading up to the annual Unholy Masquerade Ball, where zombies, vampires and other such creatures gather to celebrate themselves, tensions are running high among the flatmates, compounded by their frequent run-ins with a pack of werewolves helmed by alpha male Anton (Rhys Darby, another Flight of the Conchords staple). Vladislav further adds to the drama with his anger and sadness over "the beast" (his ex-girlfriend) being the guest of honor at the party. Meanwhile, Viago has been dealing with his own romantic longings, and finally decides to do something about it. What it all leads up to is a film that will forever change the way you view vampires and their day to day lives.

Writer-director Marc Lawrence has collaborated with Hugh Grant many times in the past, including Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics and, unfortunately, Did You Hear About the Morgans? Their fourth project together, however, is their best. The Rewrite is the answer to a genre that must be fulfilled at least every five years: the washed up Hollywood persona.

Promo poster for The Rewrite

Promo poster for The Rewrite

In this case, that Hollywood persona is Academy Award-winning screenwriter Keith Michaels (Grant), whose only successful film, Paradise Misplaced, is all he has left to coast on. This is, in fact, the very credential that gets him the only offer he's had in years, a job teaching at a screenwriting course at Binghamton. 

The students of Keith Michaels' class

The students of Keith Michaels' class

Before Keith even makes it to his class, however, he ends up offending one of the most influential professors at the school, Mary Weldon, a foremost scholar in the field of Jane Austen. So obviously Keith is fucked in terms of winning her over. The president at Binghamton, Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons), is, luckily, on Keith's side. And yet, this doesn't prevent Keith from engaging in a cliche affair with one of his students, Karen (Bella Heathcote), before the class starts to make matters much worse for himself. To add to his pile of distractions, Keith is hounded by an older female student (you know the types who decide to go back to school later on in life) named Holly (Marisa Tomei, who has made a vengeful comeback after an absence in film from 2008-2010). Eventually, she convinces him to actually read her screenplay and admit her into the class--his previous method of selection was by looking at the female applicants' online profile pictures. 

Karen, the female student Keith is boning

Karen, the female student Keith is boning

As Keith is pushed to the limits of teaching thanks to Weldon's vigilance and judgmental nature, he finds himself actually enjoying his students' screenplays, even going so far as to recommend one of them to his agent. Keith, on the other hand, seems to have no luck at finding a job in Hollywood again, especially after being embarrassingly ousted from writing the sequel to Paradise Misplaced

The real apple of Keith's eye

The real apple of Keith's eye

Nonetheless, his unexpected attachment to Binghamton leads him to have surprising revelations about his own issues with respect to both his career and his personal life. While all of the expected developments and perfectly timed plot points are there (what else would one expect from a movie about screenwriting?), it's still just jadedly heartwarming enough to redeem Hugh Grant after his last two films, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists and Cloud Atlas.

What would a Kat Dennings movie be without a soundtrack that acts as an additional character (see: Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist)? With a drug-heavy theme, music is key to bringing the story of To Write Love on Her Arms to life. The pop punk/dance-heavy soundtrack, featuring songs you can't get out of your head, like "Billy the Kid" by Flint Eastwood and "Lose Your Soul" by Dead Man's Bones, is part of what allows you into the mind of Renee Yohe (Dennings).

The soundtrack is part of what makes To Write Love on Her Arms so real

The soundtrack is part of what makes To Write Love on Her Arms so real

Based on the real life organization of the same name, the film was inspired by Yohe's struggle to enter rehab after dealing with non-stop addiction and depression for two years before seeking help from the friends she had left behind for her drug habit. One of those friends, Jamie Tworkowski (Chad Michael Murray), who she meets after coming out of the woodwork, is the person who felt compelled to start the website, twloha.com (then in MySpace form), detailing the travails of Yohe as she fought the temptation to relapse before getting clean enough to enter rehab (which sounds ironical, yes).

Yohe's first experience with drugs came one Halloween night at a rave, where she was allured by a boy (a wolf in sheep's clothing) to stay longer and let her friends leave without her. We later learn that her once ironclad belief in fairy tales, which she quickly lost as a little girl, is further shattered by being taken advantage of when the boy takes her home. 

By the time Yohe hits nineteen years old, her penchant for self-mutilation and predilection for manic depression has reached a crescendo--all as a result of this night that crushed her psyche and emotional wherewithal into oblivion. Her love of cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and everything in between, however, isn't enough to block out the lack of any real love in her life.

Promo poster for To Write Love on Her Arms

Promo poster for To Write Love on Her Arms

David McKenna (Rupert Friend), the musician/producer who ends up becoming her sponsor, is part of Yohe's first step in the direction toward recovery. Because McKenna himself suffered through addiction, Yohe is able to look to him as a source of comfort and inspiration. She keeps track of the days she's remained sober by writing "Day 1" and so forth in lipstick on the mirror of her bedroom. Incidentally, the film was originally titled Day One until it was changed for re-release after premiering in 2012, and now, is once again being distributed in theaters and online under the To Write Love On Her Arms moniker. 

Music brings happiness

Music brings happiness

While teetering ever so slightly on cheesiness at the end of the second act, To Write Love On Her Arms accomplishes that rare feat: not making a movie about addiction come across as overly maudlin. And so, there is a new contender for film most likely to be shown in health class or D.A.R.E.

David Cronenberg isn't typically one to disappoint (see: A History of Violence and A Dangerous Method for recent examples), and yet, Maps to the Stars, is, to be honest, Cronenberg at his worst. While attempting to combine what he's best at--psychological examination--with an overload of "subtlety," the film comes across as a hot tranny mess.

Screaming for sanity

Screaming for sanity

Centered around Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) and her journey to Los Angeles from Jupiter (Florida), we soon realize that everything is connected to her, including washed up actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) and child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), who we learn is her brother. Their parents, Cristina (Olivia Williams) and Stafford (John Cusack), add to the incest motif of the film in that they're brother and sister (though apparently they didn't know this before they were married). 

Agatha's quick attachment to the limo driver she hires, Jerome (Robert Pattinson, in a typically frivolous role), is one of the early indications of her mental state--that, and her burn scars, which require her to wear elbow-length gloves at all times. Apparently on friendly terms with Carrie Fisher after conversing with her via the internet, Fisher recommends Agatha to Havana as an assistant. Havana, whose own sexually abusive actress of a mother died in a fire, is allured by Agatha for her "defects" and hires her on the spot.

Hiring her precious

Hiring her precious

The web of figurative incestuousness continues with Havana going to Stafford for psychological help with coming to terms with the visions she's been having of her mother. Visions are, indeed, a large aspect of Maps to the Stars--perhaps all relating back to the fact that you either have to be crazy to live in Los Angeles or you will become crazy as a result of living there. Benjie and Agatha, too, have visions of others, though, in Agatha's case, it's because she's a full-fledged schizophrenic.

You know you're desperate when you let a limo driver rail you

You know you're desperate when you let a limo driver rail you

As the plot goes on, the derangement of each character intensifies, with Agatha setting off the inner freak within everyone--even Havana, who was already slightly over the edge, yet somehow comes off as the most normal person in the film. Her tragic demise, in fact, is one of the most disappointing (though poetical) moments of the movie, as her fate was more interesting than anyone else's.

French promo poster for Maps to the Stars

French promo poster for Maps to the Stars

While Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner offer certain kernels of wisdom and philosophy regarding the surreality of Hollywood, the story is ultimately a glorified Lifetime movie--and Cronenberg's talents deserve better than that. Julianne Moore on the other hand, well, let's not forget that she was in Body of Evidence before she won an Oscar.