Review: Marilyn Monroe, ‘Turning Red’ and other movies to watch this weekend
If you’ve watched any of the documentaries about the NXIVM cult, you’ll recognize a lot of the details in the intense escape drama “The Aviary.” Malin Akerman plays Jillian, who as the movie begins is trudging through the desert with Blair (Lorena Izzo), a woman she recruited into Skylight: a wellness organization that manipulates its members through deprivation and abuse, NXIVM-style. As they flee the group’s charismatic leader, Seth (Chris Messina), the starving fugitives begin to hallucinate — and then to doubt each other’s motives.
The writer-director team of Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite (making a strong feature filmmaking debut) don’t disguise the connections between Skylight and NXIVM. If anything, the movie’s biggest weakness is that much of the running time consists of Jillian and Blair’s exhausted conversations out in the wilderness, in which they recall what they went through in the cult: being forced to lose weight, to share secrets and to brand each other’s skin. At times, it’s like they’re reciting tidbits from the NXIVM Wikipedia page.
But an excellent cast and some skillful direction goes a long way toward making “The Aviary” feel genuinely revealing. Culler and Raite and their leads capture the ways the heavy fog of psychological manipulation can linger even for people taking active steps to dispel it. This fascinating and at times, frightening film’s starkest moment of insight comes when Jillian and Blair realize the liberation they feel in trashing Seth is itself a trap. Even hating their abuser is a form of caring about him — and thus another kind of control.
Rated: R, for language and some violent content
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Available on VOD; starts April 29, Lumiere Music Hall, Beverly Hills
The “Fifty Shades of Grey”-inspired erotic drama “365 Days” drew both viewers and controversy when it hit Netflix in the summer of 2020. Detractors found Barbara Białowąs and Tomasz Mandes’ adaptation of Blanka Lipińska’s novel idiotic, and were outraged by its highly problematic story of a mafia boss named Massimo (Michele Morrone) abducting and detaining his crush-object Laura (Anna-Maria Sieklucka) to coerce her into falling in love. Defenders countered that the movie was too silly to take seriously, and that its copious sex scenes at least offered a refreshing alternative to chaste modern Hollywood blockbusters.
Both factions generally agreed that “365 Days” is — purely from a cinematic standpoint — pretty awful. The sequel “365 Days: This Day” (from the same creative team) is even worse. Absent even the thin, barbed hook of an imprisoned woman wielding her sexual power, the new film doesn’t have much reason to exist. Now married, Massimo and Laura spend nearly the first third of “This Day” having acrobatic sex in different locations, scored to bland pop music. Belatedly, a hint of a plot emerges, involving the arrival of multiple disruptive figures from Massimo’s past, who stoke Laura’s lingering dissatisfaction with being a mobster’s trophy wife. This story, though, doesn’t class the movie up so much as weigh it down. Frankly, this is the kind of soft-core smut where it’s the character development and dialogue that feel gratuitous.
'365 Days: This Day'
In Polish with English subtitles
Rated: TV-MA for language, violence, sex, nudity, smoking
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Playing: Available now on Netflix
The teenage romance “Crush” has the colorful look and zippy pace of a movie adapted from a YA novel, even though it’s actually an original — and even though, unlike most modern youth-oriented movies, “Crush” unashamedly recalls the raunchiness of ‘80s comedies. Rowan Blanchard plays Paige, a gay high schooler who grew up in a supportive, sex-positive household, but has never had a girlfriend. When our artsy, decidedly unathletic heroine joins the track team to get closer to her longtime crush Gabby (Isabella Ferreira), she’s surprised to discover she’s actually more into Gabby’s down-to-earth sister AJ (Auliʻi Cravalho).
There’s nothing especially fresh about the plot here. What’s different is the milieu. Director Sammi Cohen and screenwriters Kirsten King and Casey Rackham ground the film in a contemporary teenage culture more accepting of LGBTQ students and progressive ideals. The movie’s aggressive hipness can be a turnoff at times. But once it settles down into a more typical coming-of-age story, “Crush” becomes disarmingly sweet and relatable. There’s a moving underlying message here about how the kids of today, with their cutting-edge gender fluidity, still stumble through the same baby steps of first love that have tripped up teens for generations.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Available on Hulu
Though it’s described as “inspired by the true story of an exorcism,” the German psychodrama “Luzifer” doesn’t have much in common with any pulpy supernatural thrillers about demons and possession. Writer-director Peter Brunner is aiming for something more like an unflinching, Werner Herzog-style portrait of people living on society’s fringes. Franz Rogowski gives a riveting performance as Johannes, a man-child who has spent nearly his whole life in the mountains with his deeply religious mother, Maria (Susanne Jensen). When real estate developers try to drive the family off their land, Johannes interprets their intrusion as more of a spiritual trial than as routine economic pressure. What happens next isn’t especially surprising from a plot perspective, though Brunner does a fine job of conveying how the harsh, forbidding landscape where Johannes and Maria live distorts the way they engage with the secular world.
In German with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Available now on Mubi
The shameless sensationalism hinted at by the title of the documentary “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” exemplifies what’s wrong with the picture. The film is based on Anthony Summers’ acclaimed 1985 biography “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe” — or, more accurately, it’s based on Summers’ research for the book, which the Irish journalist describes at length in interviews that are then backed up by audio from his files, lip-synched by actors. Director Emma Cooper’s cinematic style and her blend of fiction and nonfiction techniques are reminiscent of the documentarian Chris Smith (an executive producer on this movie); and those gimmicks do keep “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe” lively. But the material here is way too paltry. This movie is mostly just another brisk recounting of a much-scrutinized actor’s tragic life, coupled with some unconvincing and often confusing coverage of the conspiracy theories surrounding Monroe’s death. The results feel tawdry and shallow.
'The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes'
Rated: TV-14, for language, sexual violence references
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
Playing: Available on Netflix
Also on VOD
“Turning Red” (VOD) is another winner from Pixar: a funny and quirky coming-of-age story about a Chinese-Canadian teenager whose adolescent awkwardness is compounded by a family curse that causes her to turn into a giant red panda whenever she feels strong emotions. Based loosely on director Domee Shi’s memories of growing up in Toronto in the early 2000s — as one of many girls back then who loved boy bands and dealt with demanding parents — the movie is the rare children’s film that acknowledges kids’ complex inner lives.
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“For All Mankind” is one of the first and maybe the best of all the documentaries about NASA, compiled from footage shot by astronauts during the various Apollo missions. With its ambient musical score and its absorbing narration (drawn from astronaut interviews and vintage Mission Control audio recordings), the 1989 movie captures the awe-inspiring moments and the heart-stopping danger of real-life space exploration. (Criterion)
“Twisting the Knife: Four Films by Claude Chabrol” features a quartet of sophisticated thrillers that the French master directed toward the end of his career: “The Swindle,” “The Color of Lies,” “Merci pour le chocolat” and “The Flower of Evil.” The tone of these films varies from lightly comic to harrowing; but they’re all united by Chabrol’s lifelong fascination with the many creative ways humans find to deceive each other. (Arrow)
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