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Ari Aster’s Hereditary, Sundance Horror Sensation, Gets First Trailer from A24

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Ari Aster’s Hereditary, Sundance Horror Sensation, Gets First Trailer from A24

A24

Ari Aster’s Hereditary, Sundance Horror Sensation, Gets First Trailer from A24

By most accounts, this year’s Sundance was a particularly low-key affair. Perhaps the fate of Patti Cake$, which Fox Searchlight Pictures bought out of the festival last year for $9.5 million and made $1.5 at the box office, served as a kind of cautionary tale. For one, both Amazon and Netflix, who led the pack last year in terms of purchases, walked away from this year’s festival without buying a single film. This probably came as a relief to many a competitor, but maybe it was also a sign that, at least on paper, there weren’t very many films at the festival whose box-office potential seemed promising.

One thing that almost everyone at Sundance could agree on was that Hereditary is a sensation. A24 purchased the film, which stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne, ahead of the festival, and judging by its first trailer, a conscious effort is being made to position Ari Aster’s feature-length directorial debut as less miminalist in the horror department than both The Witch and It Comes at Night.

The Leftovers Recap Season 1, Episode 10, "The Prodigal Son Returns"

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 10, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

HBO

The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 10, “The Prodigal Son Returns”

Trying to develop a unified theory of The Leftovers is probably foolhardy, not least because its defining episodes (“Two Boats and a Helicopter,” “Guest,” and “The Garveys at Their Best”) so thoroughly shatter any effort to reduce the series to a description of its supernatural premise. But if you were to ask me what The Leftovers is about, its rendering of the tumultuous relationship between head and heart is where I’d begin: Half of the series is built from bibilical parables, scraps of verse, philosophical investigations, holy ghosts, while the rest is composed of blood, burns, human embraces, and feral animals. The Sudden Departure, the void at the center of The Leftovers, surpasses understanding, but the show’s true subject—loss itself—is one we can all identify with. “The Prodigal Son Returns,” like The Leftovers as a whole, is a primer for all the physical and psychic weaponry we deploy to fill the gulf that opens when what we held dear is gone.

The Leftovers Recap Season 1, Episode 9, "The Garveys at Their Best"

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 9, “The Garveys at Their Best”

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 9, “The Garveys at Their Best”

The return of the deer. The crack in the wall. The proverb on the calendar. “The Garveys at Their Best” is one long presentiment of disaster—the “tremors,” as Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) remarks, before “the big one.” Circling back to the day before the Sudden Departure, this striking interlude in the season’s narrative arc satisfies our desire to know what life was like in Mapleton before October 14th, and to understand the intensity of the grief that followed. But the episode rejects our craving for an explanation as to why, littered with premonitions that add up to nothing more than the knowledge that the course of human events is beyond our command. “A man said to the universe, ’Sir, I exist,’” Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) reads, toasting his father (Scott Glenn), Mapleton’s Man of the Year. “’However,’ the universe replied, ’that fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.’”

The Leftovers Recap Season 1, Episode 8, "Cairo"

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Cairo”

HBO

The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Cairo”

“Cairo” begins with a song, climaxes with a poem, and concludes with a whisper, but it’s what each of these leaves unspoken that captures the testy relationship between faith and doubt at the heart of The Leftovers. As the opening montage augurs the coming collision between Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) and Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), suturing her arrangements for the Guilty Remnant’s next radical act to his preparations for dinner, the music we hear is excerpted from “I’ve Been ’Buked and I’ve Been Scorned,” an African-American spiritual. Left out when Patti closes the church door, however, are the lyrics that traditionally come next: “Ain’t goin’ to lay my ’ligion down,” the hymn resolves, “no, Lord.” “Cairo” is a dark night of the soul, but the power of conviction is omnipresent at its margins.

The Leftovers Recap Season 1, Episode 5, "Gladys"

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 5, “Gladys”

HBO

The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 5, “Gladys”

Three minutes into “Gladys,” the titular member of Guilty Remnant is dead. The episode’s central event, her brutal murder, is already in the past. And in the long unwinding that follows, as the emotional, social, and political consequences of that terrible act reverberate through Mapleton and beyond, the gulf between those who need to remember the Sudden Departure and those who wish to forget it grows ever larger. “Grace period is over,” Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph) warned in the show’s pilot, and though he meant to suggest the transformative power of his own charismatic presence, tonight’s episode demonstrates the broader implications of his foreboding words. The chronological conceit of the series, picking up the thread of October 14th three years later, suddenly appears canny indeed. With “Gladys,” an enthralling portrait of what happens when the urge to move on collides with the persistence of grief, The Leftovers joins the ranks of television’s must-see dramas.

The Leftovers Recap Season 1, Episode 4, "B.J. and the A.C."

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 4, “B.J. and the A.C.”

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 4, “B.J. and the A.C.”

If you, like me, were cautiously optimistic that “B.J. and the A.C.” would replicate the focused structure and rich characterization of last week’s “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” a celebration of sorts is in order. “B.J.,” eccentric and tersely expressive, may not yet signal a trend, but for the first time since The Leftovers premiered, I’m not simply enamored of its potential, I’m excited by its proficiency with an unorthodox brand of suburban drama, part Left Behind and part Leave It to Beaver.

The Leftovers Recap Season 1, Episode 1, "Pilot"

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The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

HBO

The Leftovers Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”

In the beginning, at least, The Leftovers sounds familiar. The clamorous white noise of modern living hangs in the air, keeping time for the passage of an ordinary autumn day: a crying infant, telephone conversations, the tumbling dryers of a suburban Laundromat. Indeed, what will eventually mark October 14th as the dividing line between “before” and “after” is a brief and surprising silence, the pause that precedes the uproar of alarms, screams, and collisions accompanying the “Sudden Departure.” Created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta from the latter’s eponymous novel, the series imagines a world in which two percent of humankind has vanished, but the premiere evinces admirably little interest in an explanation. The questions The Leftovers poses are rather more prosaic. What does it mean to be awakened not by sound, but by its absence? Why do we wait until what we hold dear is gone to acknowledge what it meant to us in the first place? Where do our regrets go when “before” becomes “after”?

Poster Lab: Starlet and Compliance

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Poster Lab: <em>Starlet</em> and <em>Compliance</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Starlet</em> and <em>Compliance</em>

Two of the year’s most striking posters are beautifully simple, their designs made up of little more than mysterious ingenues and coolly apt text. Apart from their humble origins, Sundance standout Compliance and SXSW favorite Starlet don’t appear to have much in common, yet their ads announce the same artful drama encircling a captivating blonde. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, Dree Hemingway just about stares through you in her one-sheet, an ethereal head-turner and easy contender for one of 2012’s best. Tiny details like rhinestone-studded fingernails subtly support the identity of Jane (Hemingway) as a socialite-esque Valley girl, whose rudderless life with her roommates gets upended by an elderly woman and a moral dilemma. According to the film’s synopsis, Starlet is in fact the name of Jane’s pocketbook-ready Chihuahua, but naturally, it doubles as our introduction to a bombshell, whose pedigree is as laced with enticing prestige as this poster is infused with California heat. Hemingway is the daughter of Mariel and great-granddaughter of Ernest, and Starlet marks her leap from model to leading lady. Her arrival is as much a draw as anything else the poster is selling, and the mix of seediness and class lends a certain forbidden air to the viewer’s curiosity. Who’s the girl behind the smoke? It’s like an invitation to a party where half the thrill is the promise of morning-after guilt.

SXSW 2012: Compliance

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SXSW 2012: <em>Compliance</em>
SXSW 2012: <em>Compliance</em>

Compliance, the sophomore feature from Great World of Sound filmmaker Craig Zobel, is a kind of intellectual torture chamber that uses the notorious Stanley Milgram behavioral experiments in the 1960s as a jumping-off point for its own nearly unendurable cinematic exercise in the cruel exercise of power.

Milgram, for those who aren’t aware, conducted a series of controversial experiments during the ’60s in which volunteer “teachers” essentially tricked participant “learners” into engaging in (simulated) morally reprehensible behavior by pretending they were authority figures. The implication of the experiments was certainly provocative: The Milgram experiments suggested that even innocent people could be pushed to commit atrocious acts if pressured to do so by those they considered above them.

Blood from a Stone at Theatre Row

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<em>Blood from a Stone</em> at Theatre Row
<em>Blood from a Stone</em> at Theatre Row

You can’t swing a cat in this town without hitting a theater with a dysfunctional family drama, and this one even has the kitty to prove it. Blood from a Stone, the writing debut of sometime-actor Tommy Nohilly (who I’ll confess up front was the sensitive, appropriately badass security guard in my college dorm), is the kind of maximum opus that former latchkey kids anxiously hope to write someday. And this one has it all: full-frontal female nudity, broken windows, broken limbs, profane verbal digs, even a toppling Christmas tree. Thankfully, it also has the New Group to shape it, and under Scott Elliott’s typically understated direction, with an accent on hushed exchanges (you’d better pray there’s no emphysemic coughers at your performance), the long haul (the break for intermission doesn’t arrive until almost the two-hour mark) is worth your while.

Travis (Ethan Hawke, in his most soulful slacker role to date) returns home for the holidays with designs on hightailing it to Cali and leaving behind his family’s stunted Connecticut roots. Margaret (Ann Dowd), his hard-bitten mother, has a bad hip and even badder mouth and despises the sight of husband Bill (Gordon Clapp), an anger-fueled bundle of nerves with an odd penchant for doing the right thing when called for. He also has a sister, Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), a practical health-care worker with a baby on the way, and a brother Matt (Thomas Guiry), a gambling addict who’s become the family black sheep due to his incessant lies. And then there’s the Latina MILF next door (Daphne Rubin-Vega, in full va-va-va voom mode) whom Travis has carried on an affair with for years, and continues to right in his parents’ house, as if he were a teenager again.