Dayummm…That’s a Lot of Movies
Busy week! With more than a dozen new films hitting streaming services this weekend, you honestly have to be able to find something you’ll enjoy. The weird thing is that most of them are good—but there are one or two to look out for. We are here to help you figure it out.
I Used To Go Here
by George Wolf
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever wandered past their old college apartment and thought about knocking, right? And then you realize how little the kids inside will care about your nostalgia (or worse, how adorable they’ll think your old ass is), and you just keep on wandering.
But what if you were invited in? And what if you stayed awhile? With I Used To Go Here, writer/director Kris Rey has a full semester of fun exploring that very idea.
Thirty-something Kate (Community‘s Gillian Jacobs, fantastic) is bumming over a breakup and the cancellation of the promo tour for her very first book. A phone call from her old professor David (Jemaine Clement) perks Kate right up.
Would she come back to Illinois U. as a “Distinguished Alumni” and do a reading from her novel? She would.
Once on campus, Kate pauses to take a selfie outside her old place, and one of the students inside takes notice. Oh, you’re a writer? We’re writers, too. Hey, we’re having a party tonight, you should come.
Yes, some sit-com worthy situations ensue, but the point quickly becomes how well Rey wields them all to unleash a series of hilarious punctures into the illusion of aging while hip.
And while the big picture is endlessly charming, the little details aren’t forgotten. From the obligatory Che Guevara poster to Kate donning an orientation t-shirt, from the painful college prose to the serious battle brewing between Kate and her b-n-b host, Rey displays a keen sense for weaving humanity into hijinks.
She has a wonderful vessel in Jacobs, who channels many of Rey’s usual sensibilities with an endearing and warmly funny performance. Kate’s life may be an intermittent mess, but she’s always easy to root for, and Jacobs – with help from a stellar ensemble – confidently navigates the uneven ground between Kate’s ambition, her reality, and her attempt to find out if one of her new young college friend’s girlfriend is cheating on him!
Even at its nuttiest, I Used To Go Here is a deceptively smart look at the complexities of accepting adulthood. It’s Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young with a lighter touch, a film that might make the “your future starts now” message on the back on Kate’s t-shirt ring true for both filmmaker and star.
Made in Italy
by George Wolf
Made in Italy is a romantic comedy that follows a veteran artist and his estranged adult son still struggling over the devastating loss of their wife and mother. The chance to restore an old house in Tuscany brings with it the chance for some relationship mending.
With the casting of Liam Neeson and his real life son Micheál Richardson in the leads, writer/director James D’Arcy isn’t shy about introducing life to art.
Richardson adopted his maternal surname two years ago to honor the memory of his mother Miranda Richardson, who passed away in 2009 after a tragic ski accident. Even during the film’s most familiar beats, this family history adds a constant, beneficial layer of feeling.
Son Jack Foster manages a British art gallery owned by the family of his soon-to-be ex wife. They’re selling and he’s desperate to buy, enough to call up his estranged dad Robert with a plan to raise the cash by selling their old Italian villa.
As you probably guessed by the words “Italian” and “villa,” the place is surrounded by incredibly picturesque beauty. A visit by a blunt real estate agent (Lindsay Duncan, always a pleasure) assures them she could find a buyer, but only after a major facelift.
Dad isn’t happy, but agrees to help, setting up construction montages and meals in town where Jack meets lovely restauranteur Natalia (Valeria Bilello).
D’Arcy, a veteran actor at the helm of his first feature, isn’t breaking any new ground here, just making the surroundings feel plenty comfortable. The comedy is rarely more than droll and amusing, but aside from the cartoonishly misplaced rich couple sizing up the place, it carries a simple charm.
The surroundings are gorgeous, the tidy ending is never in doubt, and the real life family ties provide unspoken warmth. It will no doubt remind you of places you’ve already been, but the soft edges and lived-in appeal of Made In Italy feel like a weathered welcome mat.
Senior Love Triangle
by Hope Madden
Co-writer/director Kelly Blatz announces his presence with authority, creating a minor cinematic miracle with his feature debut, Senior Love Triangle.
Inspired by co-writer Isadora Kosofsky’s remarkable longterm photo essay of the same name, the film delivers a candid look into the intimate relationship among three elderly characters: William (Tom Bower), Adina (Anne Gee Byrd) and Jeanie (Marlyn Mason).
The film is equal parts charming, frustrating and heartbreaking. More importantly, it takes its characters seriously. In an era where veteran actors entertain us via “those crazy old people!” vehicles (watching Diane Keaton become a cheerleader in Poms sapped my will to live), Senior Love Triangle feels gloriously anarchic. The magic of Blatz’s film is that it offers a character study of the sort we simply never see.
Thanks to thoughtful writing and breathtaking performances—neither of which rely for a moment on shorthand—we get to know three unique individuals. William is an irascible, arrogant, 84-year-old charmer. His sophisticated lady love Adina indulges his ego, but when her son has him kicked out of Adina’s posh retirement high rise, William finds himself in a lower-quality establishment.
Not to worry! He’s just finishing a lucrative deal that will set him up so he can buy a mansion and get Adele away from those Nazis in her building. (That is to say, he’s being routinely scammed.) In the meantime, over at his new digs he meets exuberant flirt Jeanie. (Mason’s performance is a particular triumph.)
Blatz, with an incredible assist from Kosofsky’s work, sees the characters’ humanity, their sexuality, their courage and weakness. He sees their loneliness, their vulnerability to outside forces and to each other, their need. These are complicated characters, vibrant and alive.
Senior Love Triangle offers an underseen perspective on aging (the perspective of the aged themselves) without romanticizing. Dangerous misconceptions about masculinity weigh as heavily on their safety and happiness as their own physical deterioration.
The film is a heartbreaker that just does what it wants to do. Just like William.
The Tax Collector
by George Wolf
You may have heard Shia LaBeouf recently got his entire chest tattooed for his role as “Creeper” in The Tax Collector. Uncommon intensity from the gifted LaBeouf is nothing new, but why he would be motivated to do this is one of the many questions plaguing the latest from writer/director David Ayers.
Creeper is the supporting player here, the nattily clad and tightly wound muscle for organized crime boss David (Bobby Soto). Working for the mysterious Wizard (Jimmy Smits), David and Creeper collect “taxes” from each and every gang in L.A.
43 gangs at 30% each means David is living well. That is, until old rival Conejo (veteran rapper Jose Conejo Martin) returns with an aim to take over and kill anyone who thinks that’s a problem. He does voodoo, too, so there’s a wrinkle.
Much of the film’s early going recalls Ayers’s scripts for both Training Day and End of Watch, as we follow David and Creeper on a loosely-connected series of stops, from violent tax collections to family business with David’s wife (Cinthya Carmona) and Uncle (George Lopez).
David’s expressed devotion to his home life sets up the chance of a Michael Corleone-type thread exploring the difficulty of balancing two worlds, but Ayers leaves it dangling for some stylish but empty brutality in a gang war.
Soto (from 2011’s wonderful A Better Life) and LaBeouf form an impressive duo, but they are continually let down by the script’s generic macho posturing (“We killing anybody today, homie?” “Shit’s getting real”) and over-the-top ambitions to “wash away our sins” by killing a boatload of people.
And as you might guess, LaBeouf playing a Latino gangster is troublesome. Though Ayers has pushed back by saying the character is one who has absorbed the world around him (a claim somewhat bolstered by Ayers’s own background), Creeper never gets the development needed to make LaBeouf’s committed performance land as much more than – at best – intense appropriation.
By the film’s final showdown, the biggest question here concerns the point of it all. It had to be more than that tattoo, or just standard revenge fare as deeply felt as a video game commercial.
But despite the slick camerawork from cinematographer Salvatore Totino, here we are. There are possibilities strewn about The Tax Collector that might have gelled into a robbers bookend for the compelling cops in Ayers’s End of Watch.
But like pesky overdue notices, ignore those possibilities too long and there’s a great big mess on your hands. Or on your screen.
Waiting for the Barbarians
by George Wolf
In the 40 years since J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians was first published, world events have continued to re-frame its thematic relevance.
Now, the novel finally has a big screen adaptation, amid a tumultuous political climate that again makes Coetzee’s tale feel especially prescient.
In a vaguely historical era within an unnamed “Empire,” the Magistrate (Mark Rylance) governs his desert outpost population through moral conviction and a delicate harmony with the land’s indigenous peoples.
Conversely, Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) – the soft spoken and sadistic head of state security – believes “pain is truth.” Joll arrives at the outpost to carry out random interrogations of the nomadic “barbarians” and learn the truth about an attack that he feels is imminent.
The Magistrate protests this view of the natives and the Empire’s directives, drawing the ire of Joll and later, his more overtly cruel lieutenant, officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson).
Coetzee’s debut screenplay adapts his own novel with delicate grace and an understated foreboding. But as relevant as the theme of creeping fascism remains, its bite is dulled by ambiguity and broadly-drawn metaphors.
The urge to speak more universally via an unspecified name, time and place is understandable, but it hampers the intimacy required to feel this warning in your gut.
The Oscar-winning Rylance (Bridge of Spies) almost makes up for this by himself, with a tremendous performance of quiet soul-searching. The film’s summer-to-the-following-autumn chapter headings paint the Magistrate as an obvious man for all seasons, and Rylance makes the Magistrate’s journey of fortitude and redemption feel almost biblical.
Depp and Pattinson provide worthy adversarial bookends. As Joll, Depp’s only eccentricity is a pair of sunglasses, but again he requires minimal screen time to carve an indelible figure.
Mandel is an even smaller role, but Pattinson makes him the eager realization of the ugliness Joll keeps bottled up. It’s another interesting choice for the gifted Pattinson, and another film that’s better for it.
Director Ciro Guerra utilizes exquisite cinematography from Chris Menges for a wonderful array of visuals, from beautifully expansive landscapes to artfully orchestrated interior stills. Though the film’s first act feels particularly forced, Guerra (Birds of Passage, Embrace of the Serpent) gives the remaining narrative – especially the Magistrate’s attempts at penance with the tortured Girl (Gana Bayarsaikhan) – the room to effectively breathe.
Waiting for the Barbarians is not a film that will leave you guessing. But the decades-old message remains painfully vital, and in its quietest moments of subtlety, the film gives that message sufficient power.
You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski
Available to stream from Gateway Film Center.
by Hope Madden
Who’s the greatest American poet? Maya Angelou? Sherman Alexie? Walt Whitman? I will argue that it’s Charles Bukowski.
He really only wrote for about 24 years, but he has nearly 70 books in print: novels, collections of short fiction, and poems. My God, the poems.
If you are also a fan, documentarian Matteo Borgardt has a film for you.
You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski shares a rediscovered interview from 1981. Italian reporter Silvia Bizio visits the writer in his San Pedro home and they talk for about an hour. It’s very low key, and honestly, not a great deal is covered or discovered in terms of the interview itself.
If you’ve ever just wanted to sit in Bukowski’s living room as wine bottle after wine bottle empties, as ash trays fill, as Max the cat finds a good position on Linda Lee’s lap—friends, this is indispensable viewing.
’81 was a big year for him. Bukowski’s about halfway through his seminal novel Ham on Rye, he’s recently returned from the European trip documented in his nonfiction text Shakespeare Never Did This, and that trip/book’s photographer Michael Montfort makes himself at home on the floor near the ash tray on the end table.
It’s all very low key as people drink and smoke and Bukowski talks. He doesn’t wax philosophical, doesn’t argue too much, doesn’t make proclamations or yell or curse. He doesn’t really even tell any stories, but he does read a few poems (good ones!).
This is hardly the first documentary on Charles Bukowski. (In fact, Taylor Hackford directed the first, 1973’s Bukowski.) But as a general (and quite lovely) rule, previous docs focused on his raucous readings. If you want to hear Bukowski read, there are at least five full length docs that will let you do that.
It’s far rarer to spend some time with the writer at home.
Perhaps because she is drinking herself or perhaps because the writer is in a cagey mood, Bizio never really finds a good footing for questions and answers, although humanity and Bukowski’s low opinion of it offers the slightest hint of a theme for the proceedings. The tour of the house goes badly, and back-and-forth about sex in his writing uncovers little.
If that sounds negative, it shouldn’t. The whole scene is like a page from one of his books: things not going as well as he’d hoped, the fault likely his own, but at least there’s wine. The more wine, the worse it will go, but there you have it.
You Never Had It will not entertain everyone equally, but it will thrill a handful of people and you know who you are.
Out Stealing Horses
by Hope Madden
So much for going Hollywood.
Prolific Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland follows up his first foray into blockbuster territory—a Liam Neeson-fronted English language remake of his own vengeance thriller Cold Pursuit—with the decidedly non-blockbuster, specifically Norwegian drama Out Stealing Horses.
This pensive and utterly gorgeous film sifts through time to land on the moment that irreversibly alters the course of a life.
In this case, it’s Trond’s life. It’s winter of ‘99—almost the millennium—and the aging Trond (Stellan Skarsgård) is just settling into hermithood. Though he’s been in Sweden for years, the death of his wife in a car accident (he was at the wheel) convinced him to cross the river back to his childhood home of Norway to sit quietly and think.
And then he meets his neighbor, who inadvertently stirs up memories and gives Trond’s meditation new direction.
Moland adapts Petterson’s beloved novel, streamlining until what’s left is an extremely intimate tale only mildly hampered by the tiresome flashback structure. Moland only hints at the novel’s historical context, instead developing a sense of fearful awe in the face of life, the small moments that determine an individual’s trajectory, and the insistent longing to imagine what could have been.
The technical mastery at work in this film—from sound design to lighting, from Rasmus Videbæk’s gorgeous cinematography to Kaspar Kaee’s unerring score—adds power to Moland’s every meditative moment. In perfect harmony with the team, Moland effortlessly evokes the senses throughout this sometimes Malick-esque photo album of the summer that everything changed.
Moland and team create the glimmering, lush and gorgeous memories Trond relives—too gorgeous to be exact, but exactly as gorgeous as needed to be memory.
Out Stealing Horses can’t quite make the current-day footage ache or resonate quite so clearly. The events adult Trond deals with feel artificial, a forced structure. But that doesn’t rob the film of its magic.
by Brandon Thomas
It’s been 35 years since Ivan Drago tried to break Rocky Balboa. While the fictional Italian Stallion may have prevailed against his Russian foe, the Americans at the heart of Red Penguins weren’t so lucky in their experience with our former Cold War nemesis.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the famous Red Army hockey team found itself struggling to find funding. Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Howard Baldwin thought it would be interesting to invest in the team as a way to funnel great Russian players to his own NHL club. With marketing guru Steve Warsaw acting as the man on the ground in Russia, the new American investors sought to navigate their way through an unfamiliar culture that was tasting the free market for the first time.
Director Gabe Polsky dives right into the absurdity of these Americans thinking they could immediately saunter into the former USSR. Baldwin and Warsaw’s eccentricities certainly caught their Russian partners off-guard, but also led the two to be unequivocally naive about many things Russian. The film’s early playfulness is fun and entertaining but also feels like a warning to the audience: a warning that the American investors never fully saw.
At times, Red Penguins feels like a documentary version of a Coen Brothers film. It’s hard not to laugh at the darkly comic situations Warsaw finds himself dealing with. Whether it be a beer- guzzling bear biting off the finger of a drunk employee, or a spy for the Russian mob that took up residence in Warsaw’s office. Anton Chigurh would feel right at home.
More than anything, Red Penguins is a cautionary tale about American overreach. Howard Baldwin wasn’t the first American businessman to foolishly believe that he could march into Russia and woo the former communists with his business savvy. Even the backing of the Disney empire couldn’t solidify a positive outcome.
While not coming together as a definitive hockey documentary, Red Penguins offers a unique look at a transitional time in the former Soviet Union. The beer-guzzling bears are just icing on the cake.
She Dies Tomorrow
by Hope Madden
I smell an intriguing trend in indie horror: embracing the apocalypse.
She Dies Tomorrow is a horror film that’s one part Coherence, one part The Beach House, one part The Signal (2007, not 2014) and yet somehow entirely its own. It helps that so few people have seen any of those other movies, but the truth is that writer/director Amy Seimetz (creator of The Girlfriend Experience) is simply braiding together themes that have quietly influenced SciFi horror hybrids of late. What she does with these themes is pretty remarkable.
Her film weaves in and out of the current moment, delivering a dreamlike structure that suits its trippy premise. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) believes she is going to die tomorrow. She knows it. She’s sure.
She calls her friend Jane (the always amazing Jane Adams), who senses that Amy is not OK but has this obligation to go to her sister-in-law’s party…whatever, she’ll stop over on her way.
By the time Jane gets to the party, she’s also quite certain she will die tomorrow. It isn’t long before the partygoers sense their own imminent deaths; meanwhile, Amy is spreading her perception contagion elsewhere.
Seimetz’s horror is really only existential, although like The Signal (and The Crazies before it), She Dies Tomorrow is more than slightly interested in what individuals do with this disheartening information. What a superb way to cut directly to character development.
This gives the film an episodic quality, allowing even characters in minor roles to express their individuality. Adams is characteristically wonderful, both logical and a bit batty, lonely and strangely optimistic. Chris Messina and Katie Aselton impress with a lived-in couplehood, and both Josh Lucas and Adam Wingard are used deftly to bring an almost melancholy comic relief to a couple scenes.
Sheil anchors the film. With the most time to get comfortable with her lot, Amy drifts through the stages of grief and fear, ending on a resigned kind of anticipation that feels comfortable with the tone Seimetz creates.
From beginning to end, the film transmits a quiet, creeping dread. Seimetz can’t entirely capitalize on the intoxicating world she’s created, but hers is a unique voice and beguiling vision.
by Hope Madden
Director Andrea Dorfman and her frequent collaborator, writer Jennifer Deyell, are quietly establishing a pattern. They are preoccupied by the fact that people are preoccupied with a woman’s relationship status.
They’ve certainly put a fine point on that with their latest, Spinster.
A sort of anti-romantic comedy, the film opens as a voiceover gushes through the most romantic, fairy tale meeting ever. Pan to Gaby (Chelsea Peretti, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), the caterer listening to the bride-to-be with overt cynicism, possibly a little contempt, definitely mockery.
Gaby is 39 today and before the day is over, her boyfriend will break up with her, her married friend’s buddies will demean her childlessness, her dad will disappoint her (and she him), and her brother will forget it’s her birthday but rope her into babysitting.
That is to say, the stage is set for Gaby to actually take stock of her life and address what’s really causing her existential grief. (Hint: it’s not a boyfriend.)
Peretti is so comfortable in this character that she creates believability even when situations and the ensemble around her lack authenticity. Dorfman’s film has an episodic, even sit-com feel to it. She pieces together moments of Gaby’s life with a more “and then this happened, and then this happened” approach than with an outright narrative.
On occasion, this works. Peretti’s one-on-one chemistry is often enough to elevate individual scenes. Her deadpan delivery is ideal for Deyell’s slyly clever script, which refuses to preach, preferring to resignedly point out certain frustrating realities.
Though the execution lacks polish, Spinster makes up for most of that with Peretti’s cynical charm and its own quiet determination to subvert its chosen genre.
River City Drumbeat
by Cat McAlpine
Directors Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté explore both struggle and success in their documentary following the River City Drum Corps of Louisville, KY. River City Drumbeat captures how art and culture are both necessary for the survival of a community. The film itself has natural rhythm, moving from raucous drum performances to reflections on the darker side of life as a Black American.
In an opening shot, an instructor stands in front of a gymnasium full of young children. Asking them to place their hands on their hearts, he says, “If you get really quiet and get really still and listen very quietly you can feel something beating in your chest…we are born into the world with this sound.”
The belief that we are all born with music inside us is a driving principal of RCDC, which creates an artistic outlet and cultural touchstone for children who might not otherwise be exposed to their African roots. Executive Director and Founder of River City Drum Corps Edward “Nardie” White emphasizes how important the program is to his community, especially young black men. When White was young, he was discouraged from participating in the arts and instead pushed to play basketball and football. Now, he can trace the dozens of lives he has changed with art over the last three decades.
Johnson and Flatté juxtapose vibrant shots of family and laughter with gray rolling footage of the west end of Louisville’s boarded windows and abandoned homes. White gives a tour of his old neighborhood, reminiscing about how the Black community in Louisville has grown and changed. “Our culture is going to be our savior,” he says.
Their greatest challenges? Redlining, poverty, poor education, and violence.
A huge inspiration for both White and the RCDC was White’s late wife, Zambia. Many of the Drum Corps students, current and former, reflect on the immense impact she had on them. One young man shows her photo in his bedroom, next to stickers from prospective colleges, reflecting on how good it feels good to have her watching over him. It is in small moments like these that Johnson and Flatté are able to show just how widely and deeply RCDC has impacted the community.
Zambia is finally shown in some older footage as she accepts an award. Addressing the crowd, she says, “We must give to our young people something we all wake up with…time.”
That’s the central theme of River City Drumbeat, that youth deserve the time, attention, and love their community has to offer, and that it can make a difference. As White says to the Drum Corps before a performance, “Black arts matter.”
River City Drumbeat is a hopeful and loving portrait of a community that has found power in coming together and making music. It is joyful, and sometimes sad, but always looking forward. And it may be just what you needed to watch today.
by Hope Madden
There’s a real thread of forgiveness, consequences and redemption in current horror. It fuels Romola Garai’s Amulet, Jayo Bustamante’s La Llorona, and now, Limbo, the cheeky neo noir from writer/director/producer Mark H. Young.
Jimmy (Lew Temple) looks like a pretty cut-and-dried case to Balthazar (Lucian Charles Collier). He shot a grandmother (Veronica Cartwright) in the head robbing a pawn shop, caught a bullet in the back and now he’s here, facing judgment. But why has the man upstairs deemed Jimmy worthy of his own defense angel (Scottie Thompson)?
Must be something big. Even the other guy’s getting in on the deal. Both sides are weirdly interested in the outcome of this one case.
Young (Feral) has a knack for efficient, low-budget horror. His work is not inspired, but it definitely makes the most of its budget. And in this case, you also have to hand it to him for casting.
Besides the always-welcome Temple and the great-to-see Cartwright, Limbo brings in familiar faces Richard Riehel (jump! to conclusions guy from Office Space), and James Purefoy as Lucifer.
Lauryn Canny (Darlin’) delivers the strongest performance as a prostitute back in real life that may or may not prove Jimmy’s worthiness of forgiveness, but everyone’s fun. Purefoy, who relishes these campy roles, chooses a hillbilly accent for Satan. Odd.
Odder still is whatever accent Collier is attempting, but that hardly sinks the film. It’s a goofy fantasy and just about anything flies.
The circular logic isn’t as tight as Young may think it is, but again, Limbo provides serviceable fun. No scares and not a ton of laughs—indeed, where Young is hoping to land on the horror-comedy spectrum is a bit muddy—but thanks mainly to a game cast, Limbo is still a pretty good time.
Streaming on Shudder.
by Hope Madden
Another timely Shudder original plays upon the madness that can creep into a period of lockdown. The righteous anger of a population, the chanting and signs, corruption in the government—that all seems pretty of-the-moment, too, but this isn’t Portland. This is Guatemala, and if you think the context seems familiar, you should hear the title: La Llorona.
But co-writer/director Jayro Bustamante’s indigenous horror bears little resemblance to Michael Chaves’s middling 2019 effort (which was partly salvaged by a solid-as-always turn from Linda Cardellini). Instead, Bustamante retools the Latin American ghost story of the weeping woman to spin a yarn of righteous vengeance.
La Llorona takes us inside the home of a war criminal (Julio Diaz). El General’s home is on lockdown since his conviction was overturned. Angry Guatemalan citizens, and especially members of the Kaqchikel people most terrorized by his bloodlust, protest outside the door all hours of the day and night.
Inside, the General, his bitter wife (Margarita Kenéfic), their doctor daughter (Sabrina De La Hoz), her daughter (Ayla-Elea Hurtado), and two female servants (María Mercedes Coroy and María Telón) begin to crumble under the tensions.
Bustamante’s film is a slow boil as interested in those who’ve tacitly accepted evil as it is in those who’ve committed it. What goes unsaid weighs as heavily as what happens in front of us. Impressively, this is also the first horror film in decades to make truly effective use of a dream sequence.
The fact that justice, however slowly, comes in the form of generations of women is understated perfection.
Justice springs from compassion, which requires empathy—which sometimes depends upon courage and selflessness. No tears necessary.