As a society, we've come to rely on rules to protect us and rights to give us a sense of power. If there's a disturbance coming from the home next to our own, we know that there are authorities who we can alert. And if our government takes an action that we find undesirable, we can petition against it. Perhaps the biggest psychic trauma, then, experienced by many people in this country after Trump's election to the presidency—a trauma that's the focus of American Horror Story: Cult—is the realization that those rules and rights don't feel as sacrosanct as we thought they were.
Officer Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) issues the titular ultimatum of “Show and Prove,” the second episode of The Deuce, to hookers during a farcical street raid: Show a property voucher proving your residence or spend the night in a holding tank. Alston is nonchalant as he demands paperwork allowing him to plausibly overlook the block's rampant prostitution, and arrest only hookers who don't pretend to be merely half-nude loiterers. Like paper bags concealing liquor bottles, the vouchers provide a shroud of willful ignorance for the cops who tolerate squalor but not brazenness.
Louis C.K. loves a mess, and I Love You, Daddy, his first feature film as a director since 2001's Pootie Tang, is exactly that. That's not to say that each and every scene lacks purpose, but that chaos, mostly of the emotional sort, is C.K.'s preferred m.o. He's certainly treading into hot-button territory throughout this often funny yet ultimately flimsy dark comedy about a flavor-of-the-month sitcom writer, Glen Topher (C.K.), whose spoiled 17-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), takes up with 68-year-old Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a film director who Glen worships, and also a known lech who's equal parts Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.
Sony Pictures Classics
Not all Oscar bait is created equal. Glenn Close trolling the Academy with 2011’s shameless Albert Nobbs isn’t in the same wheelhouse as her fellow always-a-bridesmaid Annette Bening, who actually seems, whatever the performance, like there are plenty of other motivators for her work beyond gold-plated statuettes. Make no mistake, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in which Bening plays aging Hollywood icon Gloria Grahame, is a tailor-made awards showcase, but the actress doesn’t settle for mere look-at-me mimicry.
Bening nails Grahame’s hyperventilator’s voice and flighty demeanor, as well as the seemingly out-of-nowhere sultriness that, for example, Nicholas Ray (Grahame’s second husband) used to striking effect in the 1949 noir A Woman’s Secret. Yet Bening also gives you a full sense of Grahame’s often-tortured depths, be it the obsession with her looks (her upper lip being the prime offender) or the scandal she courted. A prime plot point here is her marriage to Ray’s stepson, Anthony, in 1960, which led to the waning of a film career that included such highlights as 1950’s In a Lonely Place and 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, for which she won a supporting actress Oscar.
“The Gate,” the first single from Björk’s follow-up to 2015’s Vulnicura, was scheduled to premiere next week, but according to a post on the Icelandic artist’s Facebook page today, she was “too excited to wait” and took to Twitter to announce a “midnight treat.” (The bump might have been a preemptive move, as the track leaked online just a few hours later.)
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Guillermo del Toro is an ingenious crafter of dioramas, of which The Shape of Water, a Cold War-era drama tinged with elements of the paranormal, is no exception. Yet where Crimson Peak’s clutter of dilapidated, rotting luxury felt like the jumping-off point for the Mexican filmmaker’s imagination to run amok, here del Toro appears restrained by the concrete and steel of an underground research facility. The setting yields an inherent coldness that the film must work to overcome, and for the first time in his career, del Toro visibly struggles to reconcile his premise with its execution.
The film’s protagonist, Eliza (Sally Hawkins), is a mute woman who works as a cleaner in a classified government laboratory. Del Toro establishes her loneliness via montages of her daily routine that show her boiling eggs, swabbing floors, and, in the most obvious giveaway of her emotional state, vigorously masturbating each morning inside a bathtub. Limited in communication to signing with her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), Eliza largely keeps to herself, rarely making eye contact with superiors and expressing herself only in private.
For better and worse, the horror on American Horror Story: Cult is all text and no subtext. Take the title of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which isn’t some abstract nod to our needing to face the fears lurking in the darkness of our lives, but a reference to the blackout that leaves Ally (Sarah Paulson) in a panic. The show isn’t content to simply talk about the red-meat hate speech of the right; it literally hangs it out in the open after Roger (Zack Ward), a bigoted sous-chef, is found affixed to a hook in the Butchery’s kitchen freezer.
Everything Paul Schrader has done throughout his career has led him to First Reformed, potentially the finest entry in what my friend and former Slant contributor Jeremiah Kipp refers to as the writer-director’s “men in rooms” films. These include 1980’s American Gigolo, 1992’s Light Sleeper, and 2007’s The Walker, all woozy character studies of not-quite-alpha males drifting through impeccably maintained, utterly empty lives that are summarily upended. The spaces these men inhabit seem an extension of their preplanned existences. Look at the way, for example, Richard Gere’s high-end sex worker, Julian Kaye, in American Gigolo organizes his California apartment as if it were a sun-dappled monk’s cell, with Armani suits as his chaplain’s wardrobe and a luxury-linened bed as his altar.
Wim Wenders does not return to his former greatness with his latest, Submergence, a hollow romance that dares the audience to question just how much a meet-cute can change two people. The filmmaker’s cinema of displacement reaches new extremes of literalism in the relationship between water engineer James (James McAvoy) and biomathematician Danielle (Alicia Vikander), whose brief encounter reverberates throughout their lives.
James and Danielle make each other’s acquaintance at a hotel in France’s northern coast where each is resting before major work trips. They strike up a rapport through interminably detailed descriptions of their jobs; indeed, Danielle spends their first date listing the layers beneath the ocean surface with a curiously seductive air, using phrases like “mesopelagic zone” as if they might cause arousal. Wenders shoots James and Danielle’s cavorting along the coastline—an extended montage of laughing and twirling around on cliffs and beaches that Terrence Malick would probably find too chaste—as if marking time. Their conversations, at once circuitously poetic and tediously scientific, lack any spark, and neither of the characters displays any sense of deeper connection to one another beyond mild attraction.
Written by Issa Rae and directed by Melina Matsoukas, “Hella Perspective” is Insecure’s most beautifully shot and structurally ambitious episode to date. The season-two finale is divided into three 30-day vignettes focusing on each of the show’s main characters: Lawrence (Jay Ellis), Molly (Yvonne Orji), and Issa (Issa Rae). The cyclical, nonlinear timeline of “Hella Perspective”—each section loops back to the marathon in which Lawrence and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) are participating—is central to the episode and strays from the usual format of the HBO series. In lieu of traditional establishing shots, visual and aural cues lead one scene into the next, whether it’s through specific objects, sounds, or even a character’s sightline. These transitions lend the episode a dreamy, albeit rushed, quality.