Good news: Your weekend moviegoing needs have been simplified. Every Thursday morning, our What To See guide will highlight the new releases opening in New York City and NYC repertory screenings that are most worth your time.
Here's your guide for the weekend of June 5 - June 7.
Because it's not like you need to sleep ever again, anyway…
The Nightmare (2015)
Director: Rodney Ascher
Anyone who’s suffered from sleep paralysis will tell you—it’s scarier than any horror movie. You’re lying in bed, unable to react or speak, trapped in the netherworld between snoozing and consciously moving, and there’s an indiscernible yet clearly malevolent figure approaching you from across the room. You see it, hear it and can’t do anything about it.
If that’s never happened to you, count your blessings for being able to count sheep without quaking in fear. For everyone else, experimental documentary filmmaker Rodney Ascher has made The Nightmare, an unconventional examination of eight sleep paralysis victims’ personal accounts.
It’s Ascher’s follow-up to Room 237, his madcap dissection of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining via its most obsessive fans' theories, and it’s equally rooted in the desperate analysis of the unknown. Most intriguing of all is the idea that, per one of The Nightmare's interviewees, people who claim they've been abducted by aliens most likely share these mid-sleep terrors. Taking cues from old TV shows like Unsolved Mysteries and Sightings, he stages woozily off-kilter reenactments of his subjects’ memories, including fanged “Shadow Men,” doomsayers on rollerblades and a few black-eyed ghouls covered in television static and looking like they’re straight out of Fire in the Sky’s central casting.
One thing’s for sure: they’re freakier than anything seen in that recent Poltergeist remake. Although it’s non-fiction, The Nightmare is the summer’s best haunted house— or bedroom, rather—movie.
Where to see it: Francesca Beale Theater, at Lincoln Center, Friday at 3:15 p.m., 7:15 p.m. (w/ Rodney Ascher in person for a Q&A), 9:40 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 3:15 p.m., 7: 15 p.m., 9: 15 p.m.
IFC Center, Friday and Saturday at 10:45 a.m., 5:05 p.m., 8:15 p.m., 10:10 p.m., 12: 20 a.m.; Sunday at 10:45 a.m., 5:05 p.m., 8:15 p.m., 10:10 p.m.
At this point, "a comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne" is about as good as it gets…
Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz
Melissa McCarthy is Hollywood’s most bankable comedic actress, no doubt, but she’s also been one of the game’s least diversified. Since dominating the 2011 smash Bridesmaids as the film’s shrewdly boorish and vulgar supplier of raunch, McCarthy’s repeated that role’s magic over and over again, playing one-note characters over and over again. She’s needed a drastic change of pace in order to officially reach that next plateau.
And this is it. Written and directed by her Bridesmaids/The Heat collaborator Paul Feig, Spy is McCarthy’s best project yet as a headliner, a smart and tirelessly hilarious spoof on 007’s universe that’s more than just a to-the-point satire. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a debonair spy Bradley Fine’s (Jude Law) officebound CIA analyst confidante who bravely, albeit seemingly stupidly, enters the field to infiltrate an evil villainess’ (Rose Byrne, as golden as ever) operation when Bradley suddenly gets taken off the job. Susan starts as off as an insecure pushover, batting puppy-dog eyes at Bradley and taking peers’ insults without striking back, and it’s in Spy’s early scenes where McCarthy pushes against that post-Bridesmaids repetition and shows her range.
But it’s in the film’s latter half where she really upgrades her funniness. As Susan begins firing off F-bombs and kicking ass, Spy subtly upends Hollywood’s conventions. It’s as much of a laugh riot as it is a destructive bullet piercing through gender politics—the woman who’s usually marginalized in these kinds of high-concept action movies becomes the main attraction. And McCarthy, owning Spy from beginning to end, rewrites what it means to be a leading woman in a summer blockbuster.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
For cinephiles who can name more than one Lucio Fulci movie without using Wikipedia…
We Are Still Here (2015)
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Stars: Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, Monte Markham, Susan Gibney, Michael Patrick Nicholson, Susan Gibney, Elissa Dowling
NYC weekend midnights are typically reserved for old-school scares and other repertory oddities, best watched while under the influence and ready for weirdness. This weekend, though, the city’s best midnight movie option is something new, although it’s rooted in nostalgia for the kinds of midnighters that’d play inside seedy Times Square theaters back in the 1970s and ’80s.
A spirited and suitably nutso homage to Italian horror master Lucio Fulci’s movies, particularly 1981’s The House by the Cemetery, We Are Still Here is the best kind of nostalgic genre film: one that’s less cover band than knowledgeable, fan-driven modernization. Horror icon Barbara Crampton (she of Re-Animator infamy) anchors first-time director Ted Geoghegan’s supernatural creepshow about a couple who, while mourning the death of their son, move into an isolated house in the New England countryside. As they soon learn, their new pad was once the scene of a multiple homicide, and the deceased have yet to relocate to the afterlife since they’re too busy haunting the basement, claiming souls and ramming objects through people’s skulls.
Geoghegan cleverly nails Fulci’s overheated melodrama and inherent laugh-generation before violently exploding his film into a gooey pile of blood and corpses. Trust, it’ll all look quite nice around 1:30 a.m.
Where to see it: Cinema Village, Friday and Saturday at 12:00 a.m.
A reminder that Woody Allen did once make incomparably great romantic comedies…
Annie Hall (1977)
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Shelley Duvall, Jeff Goldblum, Paul Simon, Christopher Walken
Say you’re not up on Woody Allen’s movies but have always wanted to join the in-crowd—this is the best place to start. And if you’re simply just looking to have your knickers charmed off this weekend, ditto.
Definitely Allen’s best movie, Annie Hall is also one of the greatest New York City films of all time, a hilarious and intimate relationship saga about a neurotic TV writer (played by the ever-neurotic Woody Allen himself), his singer/actress girlfriend (Diane Keaton) and everything that leaves their rocky but always endearing union destined to never quite work.
These days, Allen’s one-movie-per-year consistency has diluted his voice considerably, but there’s no diminishing Annie Hall’s greatness. A rom-com touchstone, it’s the cinematic love story that current filmmakers like Judd Apatow and Noah Baumbach would kill to make—which is why they’ve continually emulated it.
Where to see it: Nitehawk Cinema, Saturday and Sunday at 12:00 p.m.
Because, frankly, you've never seen anything like…
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Oba, Ai Matubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka
Name one other movie where schoolgirls are devoured by animated ghosts and giggle the whole time as if they’re watching Spongebob Squarepants, not dying horribly. You can’t, because there’s no other film like Japanese ad-man/madman Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, a true horror-comedy original that begs to be seen on the IFC Center’s big screen.
The plot is bare-bones yet consistently baffling: seven young girls with names like Gorgeous, Melody and Sweet travel to one’s sickly aunt’s large, spooky house and encounter all varieties of supernatural entities. There's a severed head with a taste for human buttocks, a piano that eats little children and an evil cat that makes Stephen King’s Cujo seem as soft-batch as Marmaduke.
All questions about the film's logic are nullified by this fun fact: Obayashi based the film on his 11-year-old daughter’s concepts and story pitches. So, yes, it’s literally the work of an imaginative 11-year-old. Once you know that, it’s impossible not to love House.
Where to see it: IFC Center, Friday and Saturday at 12:00 a.m.
Proof that some 80-year-old movies are even more fun than most of what's in your local multiplex today…
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Directors: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Stars: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains
Remember 2010’s Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe? Of course not, because it was basically Gladiator 2.0, lacking anything to set it apart from other modern Hollywood swashbucklers and blockbuster-minded action movies, most of which are as disposable as bathroom tissue.
Today’s filmmakers would be wise to rewatch 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, a cherished gem that hasn’t lost any of its entertainment value after nearly 80 years. The great Errol Flynn, a.k.a. the best Sir Robin of Locksley ever, energizes Casablanca director Michael Curtiz’s lively Robin Hood depiction with his signature disarming smile and feel-good demeanor. He’s a hero battling against cynicism, an old Hollywood answer to new Hollywood’s perennially brooding tough guys like Russell Crowe.
Where to see it: Museum of Modern Art, Sunday at 6:00 p.m.