Review: Sasheer Zamata eases into ‘The Weekend,’ Larry Fessenden’s ‘Depraved’ and more
Writer-director Stella Meghie’s new indie comedy invokes a Woody Allen-ish vibe at times, from the camerawork by Kris Belchevski to its prickly self-deprecating protagonist. Of course, “The Weekend” isn’t a film that Allen could have made; there’s no evidence in his beloved but homogeneous filmography that it would ever occur to the director to set a love triangle in a world populated entirely by upper middle-class black people. But even beyond its characters’ race, there’s also a warmth that sets Meghie’s movie apart from most contemporary relationship comedies.
Three is definitely a crowd when bristly comedian Zadie (Sasheer Zamata) goes for a getaway at her parents’ bed and breakfast with her ex-boyfriend Bradford (Tone Bell) and his current girlfriend, Margo (DeWanda Wise). The addition of a new guest — handsome, single Aubrey (Y’lan Noel) — should balance the equation, but he merely complicates the situation.
“The Weekend” shines in its small, specific moments. Its humor is particular to its characters and its setting in today’s dating world; an autographed copy of W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” plays a supporting role, and there’s an extended, hilarious bit about the epidemic prevalence of HPV.
Gibes about STIs aside, “The Weekend” is as easygoing as its title implies, a loose, lovely complement to Meghie’s more polished studio film “Everything, Everything.” It drags a bit at times, especially as it winds down, but it remains a film you want to spend more time with.
Rated: R, for some language
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13; Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; also on VOD
Two centuries after its publication, “Frankenstein” gets a thoroughly modern, utterly disturbing update in “Depraved.” Mary Shelley herself would likely approve of writer-director Larry Fessenden’s fresh take on her classic story, which arrives with all the horrors and themes of the original intact, plus a few new ones for the 21st century.
Adam (Alex Breaux) awakens in a Brooklyn warehouse bearing Frankenstein’s monster’s trademark stitches and remembering nothing of his life before. Henry (David Call) used his skills as an Army surgeon — plus some experimental drugs provided by his friend Polidori (Joshua Leonard) — to bring Adam back to life, but he must teach the lumbering, scarred man how to be a human again. Adam (re)learns everything from speaking to playing pingpong, but he also starts to regain his memories, including the trauma that caused him to end up in Henry’s care.
Despite the familiarity of its narrative, “Depraved” manages to surprise. Fessenden brings a jittery, trippy style, emphasizing both the science and the surreal elements present in Adam’s awakening. Its climax goes off the rails, at times feeling like a different — and far lesser — movie than the 90 minutes that preceded it, but it regains its footing in its final moments.
“Depraved” is smart in its commentary on everything from the evils of the pharmaceuticals industry to the terrors of PTSD, but there’s real heart and empathy here too. Skeptics might question whether Adam has a soul or not, but Fessenden’s film clearly possesses one.
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13, Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood; also on VOD
Parallel stories of illegal teacher-student affairs drive this spare British drama adapted from Fiona Evans’ play. At the same seaside hotel in “Scarborough,” two couples spend a weekend away from their regular lives and prying eyes.
Beth (Jessica Barden) is a student so young that she packs a teddy bear backpack for her trip with her art teacher, Aiden (Edward Hogg). Similarly, 30-something Liz (Jodhi May) has sneaked away with teenage Daz (Jordan Bolger). As the weekend progresses, they each discover that it isn’t just the rules of the outside world that could end their relationships.
“Scarborough” refuses to judge its characters, but writer-director Barnaby Southcombe makes his stance clear with the overt sensuality of the sex scenes. This is an otherwise well directed film, but it will be tough viewing given its subject material. “Scaborough” doesn’t try to shock audiences, but its attempt at a surprise is sadly predictable.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Start Sept. 13, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD
“Seeds” might be classified as horror, but its most disturbing element isn’t what audiences expect from the genre. Instead, director Owen Long’s surreal film unsettles viewers with its story of a man fighting his internal demon: a desire for his teenage niece, which manifests as a tentacled monster.
After a violent sexual encounter, Marcus (Trevor Long) escapes to the isolation of his family’s seaside home. But his quiet soon ends when his brother drops off his niece, Lily (Andrea Chen). Temptation — and a mysterious creature — lurks in the old house, and Marcus can resist Lily’s advances for only so long.
“Seeds” has some stunning visuals, particularly in how it captures the Rhode Island coast and the creeping menace. Its central metaphor of a figurative monster turning into a real one is interesting, but it quickly sheds its power as it sexualizes Lily, making her complicit rather than the victim.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Starts Setp. 24, Laemmle Royal, West los Angeles; available on VOD, Sept. 24
‘Can You Keep a Secret?’
Chick lit — even the term itself — is a thing of the past, and this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella’s 2003 novel also feels like a remnant of a pre-#MeToo era. In “Can You Keep a Secret?” characters spend literally five seconds discussing if it’s OK if a female junior employee dates the male chief executive.
The romance between Emma (Alexandra Daddario) and Jack (Tyler Hoechlin) begins after she unknowingly bares her soul to him on a flight that seems briefly doomed. They land safely, and he shows up at her office the next morning, where she realizes he wasn’t a random stranger.
Director Elise Duran brings a background in reality TV to this sub-par rom-com, but there’s little of the real world here. Characters behave nonsensically in Peter Hutchings’ script, and each laugh they get feels like they stumbled into it.
‘Can You Keep a Secret?’
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13, Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; also on VOD
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