Nutty Stuff in cinemas and streaming

One week before the traditional Memorial Day Blockbuster Mayhem (TM) weekend! So Hollywood has in store for you a fairly low-key weekend full of lighthearted elegance, daring provocation, slyly relevant updates to old tropes and more. What do you want to watch? Here are our thoughts.

Men

In theaters

by Hope Madden

Alex Garland beats 1,000 with his third feature film, Mena terrifying look at the complicated sequelae of trauma.

Jessie Buckley (flawless, as always) plays Harper, a woman who needs some alone time. She rents a beautiful English mansion from Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), a country gentleman, and plans to recoup a lot.

Garland gradually unveils Harper’s backstory, each time slightly altering our perception of the film. The more we learn about Harper, the more villagers we meet: vicar, surly teenager, pub owner, policeman and a naked man in the woods. Each is played by Kinnear — or by actors sporting Kinnear’s CGI face — though Harper never mentions it, or even seems to notice.

Does she see what we see?

Everything is left to interpretation. An easy read, given Kinnear’s multiple roles, is simply that all men are the same. And while each of Kinnear’s characters represent a specific, common type of male threat, as the bizarre reality begins to tilt more toward outright fantasy, it seems more likely that we’ll see more of Harper than men in general. She puts a face – the same face – on a lifetime of trauma, big and small.

Garland’s bold visuals, so precise in Ex-Machinaso surreal in Annihilation— create a sumptuous environment bordering on over-maturity. Verdant greens and bold reds cast a spell perfectly suited to the biblical and primitive symbolism that litters the image.

Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s score fits in with Garland’s lush imagery, unleashing a mix of music, ambient sound and, at its most eerily beautiful moments, Buckley’s vocals. The result is powerful and enervating.

Men is more of a puzzle than either of Garland’s previous films. Yes, even Annihilation. It’s much more of a horror movie, for one thing, and much less of a clearly articulated narrative. Rather than clarifying or summarizing, the film’s ending offers more questions than answers. But if you can make peace with the ambiguity, Men is a film that you will probably not forget.

Rating: A-

Downton Abbey: A New Era

In theaters

by Hope Madden

The Crawleys leave the Roaring Twenties a bit short of cash (can’t fix the roof but can vacation en masse, butlers in tow). Fans of the long-running series, which is now launching its second feature, can rest easy. With their heads held high, the family is ready to face a new decade with new leadership and the same chic spirit.

Elegant escape from the windiest order, Downton Abbey: A New Era follows the idle rich through the hardships of trying to stay both idle and wealthy. Now about that attic.

It looks like a movie producer is hoping to shoot a movie at Downton. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) doesn’t want to be part of it, but Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is now running the show. She hates to look mundane, but the fee will fix those leaks.

Of course, the servants are thrilled to have real movie stars in the building. Everyone except Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), who can’t stand to see the family stoop so low. Well, the Queen of England was sitting at this table!

Meanwhile, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith, scene-stealer, as is her way) is surprised to have inherited a French villa from a man she knew many years ago. Mysterious? Or is it outrageous?!

So half the family goes to investigate, leaving Lady Mary and the servants to face off against the handsome director (Hugh Dancy), the charming actor (Dominic West) and the austere actress (Laura Haddock).

The former gang are having fun stretching their familiar characters a bit for the big screen, though director Simon Curtis (My week with Marilyn) struggles to stage inner conversations as anything other than expensive television plays.

Still, the sprawling grounds are gorgeous and Nice is gorgeous, and it can be restful to spend a full two hours where the stakes are no higher than whether or not the world will remember Granny as a tramp.

Downton Abbey is a very well-dressed, well-acted, well-produced and tense soap opera. Funny dialogue, stunning locations, and exquisite costumes elevate each scene to something more than a guilty pleasure, but the film’s sights never stray from its intended audience.

Category B-

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Emergency

In theaters

by George Wolf

Take two longtime friends who are about to part ways and throw an epic party night before they graduate. There will be diversions, conflicts, feelings expressed and resolution.

We know this formula, don’t we?

Not so fast. Develop their Emergency 2018 short film, director Carey Williams and writer KD Dávila present these familiar tropes through a tense, instantaneous lens that upends convention while providing a constant layer of laughter.

Sean (RJ Cyler of Power Rangers and The more they fall) and Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins, Black Box and The Underground Railroad) have two months until they graduate from Buchanan University. Their plan is to make history by becoming the first black men to complete Buchanan’s Legendary Party Tour. They managed to score the necessary seven invitations, but a complication arises.

There’s an underage white girl passed out in their living room.

Kunle’s instinct is to call 911, but Sean quickly reminds him that black people have been shot for far less than it might seem like.

And so the two friends decide to handle the situation themselves, adding their buddy Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) to the plan while the unconscious girl’s sister (Sabrina Carpenter) and two of her friends remain in hot pursuit via a follow-up phone.

Williams does a masterful job of juggling the tones. At first, terrific performances from Cyler and Watkins got us invested in the friendship before Williams upped the pressure. He’s able to blend a terrifying dread into the ludicrous nature of the situation with a quiet confidence that delves into real-world stakes.

Dávila, who just wrote the Oscar-nominated short Please wait, again undermines law enforcement concerns with deft precision. Its transition to a feature-length script is seamless, honing the narrative with smart, organic storylines and the characters with authentically grounded humor.

From ignorant white allies to the distance between ‘black excellence’ and ‘thug’, Emergency covers a lot of socially conscious ground. And while a beat or two might feel less than subtle, the film never bends.

So we prepare the two friends to explore the future, in search of their place in the world. But this crazy night of partying holds more sobering lessons than we’re used to seeing.

For these young men, it’s about how quickly their perception of the world can change forever, and the relentless weight of navigating the way the world sees them.

Rating: A-

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Lux Aeterna

At the Gateway Film Center

by George Wolf

For those who are still wary of the sensory assault of Gaspar Noé in a feature filmLux Aeterna offers a slight variation.

Oh, it still beats us in the face and neck with psychedelic imagery, pulsating beats and immersive color, it’s just limited to under an hour this time. And, even bringing a touch I dare say light to this meta mashup of cinema and sorcery.

Almost everyone here plays their own game, starting at the very top with Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg talking shop. They swap stories, laugh heartily at their “shitty movies” and eventually set to work making “God’s Work,” a post-modern witch tale.

Dalle is directing, Gainsbourg is starring, and once on set, the laughter gives way to a cascade of madness and hysteria, made even more disorienting by Noé’s constant use of split-screen formats. . Not only is it often difficult to keep up with both sides, anyone sensitive to flashing lights might just be overwhelmed.

The producer of “God’s Work” hatches a plan to get Dalle fired from the project. Gainsbourg juggles between troubles at home and unsolicited pitches from a budding director (Karl Glusman of Noah’s Love), while his female co-stars (including Abbey Lee and Clara Deshayes) face a series of indignities.

Noah interweaves it all with clips and quotes from films and filmmakers he admires, and when a lighting mistake becomes a flashpoint for utter production chaos, Noah’s adherence to breakdown is clear.

This is where his art flourishes, and Lux Aeterna finds Noah almost winking at his own reputation. Long-time aficionados may feel a little belittled, but all newbies will have a healthy appetizer to help decide if you’re ready for bigger portions.

Grade: B+

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Torn Hearts

On VOD

by Hope Madden

Heartbreak, difficulties, hard life and shattered dreams – it sounds like a country song.

How does that work for a horror movie? Director Brea Grant (12 hour shift) discovers, with the help of effortless badass Katey Sagal in thriller Music City Torn Hearts.

Sagal plays country music legend Harper Dutchess and what remains of the Dutchess sisters, a duo that made it big in the 90s, before tragedy struck. Now reclusive in her Nashville mansion, Harper isn’t too happy to see upstarts Jordan (Abby Quinn) and Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) show up on her doorstep hoping to record a song with her that will set them on the way to stardom.

Screenwriter Rachel Koller Croft stumbled upon something new with the country music angle. Horror is no stranger to rock, disco, techno, metal, punk, but country music? It’s new.

Unfortunately, it repackages many familiar ideas within this Western fringe. But Grant finds ways to keep things interesting.

An authentic soundtrack of music written by Brittany Allen Grounds Torn Hearts in authenticity, while Yaron Levy’s cinematography works Dutchess’ spooky mansion for all its garish, gothic Nashville weirdness.

Lemire and Quinn fit their roles well. As Harper tackles the young duo’s insecurities, each performer gets a chance to show some range, both physically and emotionally.

Sagal steals the show, however. Like the hard life, Harper manipulates young musicians with a sometimes sadistic ease. Sagal relishes the contempt, creating a formidable central figure and ensuring sustained attention, regardless of the film’s failings.

Torn Hearts overlays its somewhat rote plot points with the backdrop of country music’s harsh misogyny, Sagal’s performance underscores.

Category B-

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