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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 September 11 – September 13.
Because it's finally time to start welcoming M. Night Shyamalan back to the "Directors We Love" club…
The Visit (2015)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Olivia De Jonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Benjamin Kanes
With The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t take the figurative gloves off so much as he drunkenly shadow-boxes while wearing brass knuckles. A glorious career resuscitation for the once-reliable genre filmmaker, this perversely odd and unexpectedly hilarious psycho-thriller is good enough to nearly forgive Shyamalan for The Last Airbender and After Earth—emphasis on the "almost."
The writer-director funded The Visit himself, using money he’d earned for directing the awful Will Smith/Jaden Smith vanity project After Earth, in an effort to reclaim some of that early The Sixth Sense/Signs magic, and did he ever. The bizarre film’s narrative is lean and giddily mean: two kids, the older Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and the younger wannabe rapper Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), head to their grandparents cottage for a week to give their mom (Kathryn Hahn) some alone time with her new boyfriend. A budding moviemaker, Becca records the experience as a documentary for mommy. The catch, though, is that neither she nor Tyler has ever met grandma and grandpa before, due to their mother’s heavily strained relationship with them. Before Tyler can bust his second freestyle rap (the kid, who’s as vanilla as can be, humorously fancies himself as the next Tyler, the Creator), the elders start acting weird: sneaking off to the secluded old woodshed, clawing the house’s walls at night, crawling on the carpet like insects.
Since it's an M. Night Shyamalan film, The Visit builds towards a whopper of a twist, unleashing a wildly bonkers grand finale that feels like John Waters making a Paranormal Activity sequel. Shyamalan's biggest victory here is how effectively he handles the story’s unruly tonal shifts. Every jump scare and creepily strange bit of imagery is immediately followed by a perfectly timed piece of reactive dialogue, mostly delivered by newcomer Oxenbould, who’s dynamite as The Visit's key comic relief vessel. There’s an overarching sense of anything-goes insanity to Shyamalan's triumphant comeback movie. Its zaniness is the direct byproduct of its do-it-yourself nature, facilitated by super-horror-producer Jason Blum and empowering Shyamalan in ways for which his recent misfired blockbusters could never allow.
It’s a magically devilish concoction made up of adorable white rap, Katy Perry name-drops, murder via broken glass shards, feces-stained diapers (yup, seriously), and Hansel and Gretel inspiration. All of which soothes After Earth's still-potent sting like an elixir.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
If all romantic comedies starred Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, the genre would be in a much better place…
Sleeping With Other People (2015)
Director: Leslye Headland
Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrea Savage, Amanda Peet, Marc Blucas
Sleeping With Other People is a romantic comedy for people who make fun of their friends for voluntarily watching Hollywood’s romantic comedies. It’s the kind of no-holds-barred yet also touchingly honest movie where a guy teaches his best lady friend how to masturbate by performing something called the "Dirty DJ" on an empty juice bottle, and somehow the scene is more heartwarmingly sweet and romantic than anything one could see in whichever crappy Nicholas Sparks book adaptation is in vogue.
Written and directed by emerging talent Leslye Headland (whose 2012 debut, Bachelorette, is another comedic gem), this raunchy When Harry Met Sally… riff pairs Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis, two comedy favorites who’ve never been better than they are together here. Brie plays Lainey, a kindergarten teacher whose obsessive love for a philandering dentist (played with atypical unpleasantness by Adam Scott) is emotionally disabling her every move; Sudeikis plays her best friend, Jake, a playboy who’s unable to commit to any one woman and who’s harboring a strong love for Lainey. Inevitably, yes, you know they’ll end up in each other’s arms, but Headland takes unconventional routes to get the story’s easily foreseen conclusion. She also benefits greatly by having cast Brie and Sudeikis, who form the most believably loving chemistry the rom-com genre has seen in a long time.
Watching Sleeping With Other People, it's easy to reevaluate a film like, say, Amy Schumer's Trainwreck and realize that Headland’s sophomore flick is leagues above Schumer's far more standardized effort. It makes you wish that Headland and Brie would remake Trainwreck into the movie that Schumer most likely intended it to be.
Where to see it: Regal Union Square, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:45 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:15 p.m., 8:00 p.m., 10:30 p.m.
Because films about female friendship don't always have to be heartwarming...
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Stars: Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Claire Keim, Isabelle Carré, Roxanne Duran, Fanny Sidney
Breathe, the coolly confident sophomore outing from French actress-writer-director-It Girl Mélanie Laurent, is a thrillingly taut and psychologically terrifying re-positioning of an all too rare genre that’s become increasingly littered with wispy, self-conscious quirkiness and microwaved mawkishness across mainstream and indie lines: the all-female friendship movie.
Based on Anne-Sophie Brasme’s widely-read French novel of the same name, Breathe's basic premise doesn’t necessarily promise anything revelatory: Charlie (Joséphine Japy), an introverted, soft-spoken teenager, befriends Sarah (Lou de Laâge), the outgoing and sophisticated new girl at her suburban France high school. Charlie zones out every other friend in her life as Sarah is welcomed by Charlie's abandoned mother Vanessa (Isabelle Carré) as the unofficial third member of their fractious family. The two girls become more and more inseparable—chain-smoking, getting wasted at house parties, and trading private bedroom confessionals. Everything seems fine, until Sarah accompanies Charlie, Vanessa, and their extended friends and family to a seaside vacation spot over the course of a holiday weekend, where an innocently off-handed comment from Charlie rubs Sarah the wrong way, changing the scope of their friendship for good.
I'm hesitant about disclosing anything else. What makes Breathe so compelling is that its unpredictable and genuinely disturbing revelations are actually outmatched by the eerie precision of Laurent’s focused filmmaking, as well as the engrossing efforts of her collaborators, both onscreen and off. Japy and de Laâge are both aces, embracing each character’s exterior identities of, respectively, timid mouse and grinning piranha, while tapping into the internal and specifically teenaged discomfort that keeps gnawing away at their friendship—and sanity. Japy, in particular, maintains her transfixing non-transparency and rebukes audience identification in order to elevate this sinister drama into something verging on heart-in-throat horror, a goal that’s also met by nifty lensman Arnaud Potier and the film's truly inspired sound designers. (In one scene, the sonically-heightened slamming of a locker room door literally made me shiver.)
Laurent’s second behind-the-camera endeavor offers a more acidly insightful study of the malicious and mysterious bonds built between troubled women than Alex Ross Perry’s overhyped Queen of Earth, while also existing, unmistakably, in the real world. Laurent is telling more truths about friendship, family, high school, sex, and adolescent girlhood than much showier films with similar emphases even attempt and with a casual, everyday finesse that feels wholly her own and which guides the film through some rather blunt passages. (Charlie's slimy shitheel of a father never feels like anything more than a slight parallel to Sarah's manipulations and the titular trope is never the film's most subtle.) Still, this is juicy, absorbing, and economical filmmaking that proudly announces Laurent as a directorial talent fully worthy of wide attention and deep consideration. You're likely to leave Breathe wondering whether its characters' undeniably bruising behavior is unsettling because they’re "crazy" or because they’re more recognizable than you care to admit. —Matthew Eng
Where to see it: IFC Center, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:15 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., 10:05 p.m. (Melanie Laurent will be in attendance on opening night.)
There's already a Straight Outta Compton spoof movie—and it's 22 years old…
Director: Tamra Davis
Stars: Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Phil Hartman, Chris Elliott, Khandi Alexander, Theresa Randle, Charlie Murphy, Art Evans
The timing couldn't be any better for a CB4 revival. Released back when Chris Rock was merely an on-the-bubble potential movie star, the hip-hop spoof aimed to be rap's very own This is Spinal Tap!, and it mostly succeeded, becoming a decent box office hit while skewering the hell out of the early '90s "gangsta rap" scene. Which is hugely back in vogue thanks to the 2015 pop culture juggernaut that is Straight Outta Compton.
Rock's film and F. Gary Gray's N.W.A. biopic would make for an excellently bizarre double feature. While the latter earnestly tries to capture what it was like to be Dr. Dre, Eazy E and Ice Cube as the group ascended to ubiquity, CB4 lampoons everything about N.W.A.’s rise, image, and music—lovingly, of course. Co-written by Rock and revered hip-hop journalist Nelson George, it's as authentic as it is intelligent; directed by Tamra Davis, a one-time music video shooter who worked with N.W.A.’s protégé The D.O.C., it's made by a woman who saw their world firsthand and kept the integrity intact.
And with faux rap anthems like "Straight Outta Locash" and "Sweat From My Balls," its soundtrack is catchy enough to finally rid your brain of that insufferable "Cheerleader" song.
Where to see it: Nitehawk Cinema, Saturday and Sunday at 11:45 a.m.
Experience cinema through the eyes of one of history's greatest authors...
The Devil Finds Work: James Baldwin on Film
For many, this will be their introduction to James Baldwin's seminal and incomparable writings about cinema and its racial underpinnings. For that, it's undeniably essential programming.
The wizards at Lincoln Center's Film Society have teamed up with Columbia University’s School of the Arts Office of Community Outreach and Education to present "The Devil Finds Work: James Baldwin on Film," a weekend-long series that examines the late, great author's views on movies through the flicks he concentrated on with his pen. Now that Hollywood is finally starting to slowly but surely embrace diversity, thanks to trailblazers like Ava DuVernay, the black experience on the silver screen is as relevant as it’s ever been. Yet Baldwin was there decades ago, analyzing how his people were portrayed and handled by filmmakers through books and essays, the most indispensable one being his 1976 tome The Devil Finds Work.
Where to see it: Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater and Francesca Beale Theater:
Native Son, 3:30 p.m., Walter Reade
The Defiant Ones + My Childhood Part 2: James Baldwin's Harlem My Childhood Part 2: James Baldwin's Harlem, 6:00 p.m. Walter Reade
I Heard It Through the Grapevine + James Baldwin from Another Place, 9:00 p.m., Walter Reade
The Devil Finds Work Program, 12:30 p.m., Francesca Beale
The Naked Night a.k.a. Sawdust and Tinsel, 2:30 p.m., Francesca Beale
James Baldwin Speaks Program, 4:45 p.m., Francesca Beale
Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris + Baldwin's Nigger, 7:15 p.m., Francesca Beale
Take This Hammer + The Negro and the American Promise, 9:15 p.m., Francesca Beale