Toward the end of “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag,” Kai (Evan Peters) confesses to Winter (Billie Lourd) that while he's gotten far on charisma and fear, his cult can't go any further without a deeper philosophy. The emptiness of Kai's accomplishments, the need for something more, serves to self-define American Horror Story: Cult itself. The show's greatest successes have come from its performances and the real-world traumas from which it's blatantly taken inspiration. But the strength of the standalone flashback that occupies much of this episode—the rise and fall of Valerie Solanas (Lena Dunham)—speaks to the weakness of the overall season.
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In the season-seven finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld pick apart the phrase “having said that.” “You say what you really want to say,” notes Larry, “and then you negate it.” To which Jerry adds, “You win either way.” The exchange may seem like a simple semantic criticism, but it's a fitting turn of phrase for the inhabitants of the Curb universe, for whom bluntness and approval-seeking are coincident, often contradictory traits.
The first five episodes of The Deuce foresaw the drastic transformation of New York City's sex trade, and in “Why Me?” a new framework finally materializes. The brothels are open. Porn is here. And keeping with the show's devotion to historical accuracy, the revolution is far from explosive.
BFI London Film Festival
For anyone who's read Edouard Louis's 2014 novel The End of Eddy, a gut-wrenching account of growing up poor and gay in rural France, Reinventing Marvin will feel like a botched job. That's mostly because the book is so delicately diaristic, having been written by Louis when he was just 19, and before he shot into literary superstardom. Writer-director Anne Fontaine bypasses any attempt at faithfulness to her source material, cutting it into a million pieces and re-assembling the work like a postmodern collage.
As much as Fontaine's cinematic histrionics are beautiful to watch, like a Frankesteinian feast for the eyes, it's as if the soul of Louis's work has been diluted by the filmmaker's need to reinvent not Marvin, but the literary lineage that makes the project so striking in the first place. Because of the film's playing with temporality and style, the simplicity and linearity of Louis's prose is lost. We're certainly not allowed to spend enough time with the film's Marvin, played by the eerily melancholic Jules Porier, and ache with him—the kind of identification that The End of Eddy made possible.
Sony Pictures Classics
We tend to think of the family as a space for love and the child as representative of the new. Loveless exposes families to be, instead, havens of hatred and the child as nothing but a fresh container for an ancient history of gloom. Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), soon to be divorced but still living under the same roof, repeat the same emotional indifference that was passed on to them by their parents. But their son, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), stages an intervention in their genealogical tree of horrors by fleeing their home. No one seems to have ever wanted him—and it's only when he goes missing that he seems to merit parental attention. Not that he ceases to be a nuisance ready to be shipped to a boarding school followed by a military career, which is what Zhenya desires, but because now the adults have to respond to societal demands of his whereabouts.
BFI London Film Festival
For anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, society exchanges three fundamental things: words, women, and goods. Writer-director Annemarie Jacir explores those very objects of exchange in the most delicate of ways throughout Wajib. Although Amal (Maria Zreik) is getting married, neither her wedding nor the film itself is really about her. Both are about the men—her father, Shadi (Saleh Bakri), and her brother, Abu Shadi (Mohammad Bakri)—in charge of making the delivery of the goods: that is, the woman, her gown, and the invitations for the ceremony. Abu Shadi has returned home to Nazareth from Italy specially for the occasion, and the expatriate's homecoming serves as an opportunity for all sorts of words to be exchanged between father and son—namely those that have been bottled up for so long, or at least since Shadi and Amal's mother left them to pursue a love story in America.
Almost everything in “Mid-Western Assassin,” including the scenes from the mass shooting that bookend the latest episode of American Horror Story: Cult, plays a bit too much like a thesis presentation. Todd Kubrak's screenplay carefully explains every motivation, and Bradley Buecker's direction dutifully offers up the visual corroboration. Worse, that thesis is fraudulent, the result of cherry-picking data—that is, careful editing—so as to mislead viewers.
“You're doing too much,” Leon (J.B. Smoove) says in “The Pickle Gambit,” tonight's episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. He's speaking to Kenny Funkhouser (Niall Cunningham), nephew of Marty (Bob Einstein), straight-A student, all-American pitcher, and “jewel of the Funkhouser family tree.” If his SAT performance goes well, Marty gloats, he'll be off to Stanford with a full scholarship. Kenny may have a lot on his plate, but his hard work seems to be serving him well—even if he hasn't, Leon presumes, “ever seen a titty.”
Tonight's episode of The Deuce, “What Kind of Bad?,” opens with Darlene (Dominique Fishback) in North Carolina, after a well-intentioned Abby (Margarita Levieva) bought her a ticket out of New York last week. Instead of reuniting with family, though, Darlene lures her friends to the Big Apple with a series of lies about her lucrative “modeling” career. The scene upends our perception of Darlene, the sweet bookworm and budding cinephile; here, she's a calculating predator, duping anyone naïve enough to return with her and work for Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe)—ostensibly because it would boost her seniority, or at least shift Larry's attention away from her for a while.
Though written and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete belongs to young actor Charlie Plummer from start to finish. Plummer plays Charley, a poverty-stricken, motherless 15-year-old who moves to Portland, Oregon with his father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), and takes a summer job working with a horse trainer, Del (Steve Buscemi). The boy's life is built around abandonment and tragedy but also a relentless hunger for affection—human or equine. He's immediately taken with the most passive of Del's horses, Lean on Pete, who's described by his grizzled trainer as “a pussy.” From then on, a child-animal bond is formed where child-adult ones have been consistently broken, the horse's increasing incompetence to race working as a kind of guarantee against abandoning the boy, because that which can't run can't run away.