1. What if The Purge was real?

    The budding horror franchise holds a mirror up to society — but it doesn’t exactly stand up to scrutiny

     

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  5. Summer movie guide: All the films you should see in July

    Need some ideas for what to see this weekend (and this month)? We’ve got you covered.

     

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  7. Your weekly streaming recommendation: The War Room

    It’s June, which means we’re in the heart of summer blockbuster season — and you might already be tired of superheroes, giant monsters, and mind-numbing explosions. Fortunately, video-on-demand presents no shortage of alternatives. 2014 happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Criterion Collection, which aims to father “the greatest films from around the world.” All month, we’ll be counting down a few of their strong offerings currently available to stream on Hulu. This week: the fast-paced, Oscar-nominated political documentary The War Room.

    There are some people who argue that a piece of art gets better when you impose limitations on it. A poem, written in meter, forces the writer to be more creative with their word choice than they would need to be in free verse. An artist with a limited palate is forced to explore the complexity of a a few color.

    By that same logic: When a filmmaker has $165 million dollars and more than a month to shoot, you get a bloated behemoth like the latest Transformers movie. When a filmmaker has no money, two cameras and limited access to their subject, you get a tight, focused documentary like The War Room.

    In 1992, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus set out to follow Bill Clinton through the Democratic primaries to Election Day, which marked the end of his (ultimately successful) bid for the presidency. It’s a format Pennebaker had already explored with great success in 1960, when he followed the Kennedy and Humphrey campaigns in Primary

    The only problem: Pennebaker and Hegedus had minimal time with Bill Clinton, and no access whatsoever to his campaign manager. Under those constraints, Pennebaker and Hegedus turned their lenses to two unexpected but fascinating subjects: communications director George Stephanopoulos and chief strategist James Carville.

    Stephanopoulos and Carville turn out to be the perfect narrators for the documentary, offering an unprecedented and honest perspective on the nuts and bolts of a modern presidential campaigns. They’re the leaders of the ground troops of the Clinton campaign, processing and repackaging the daily news as they guide their candidate towards his victory. Regardless of your political affiliation, The War Room will make you consider the high-stakes gamesmanship of a high-profile election — what it takes to win, and whoreally deserves credit for the person who ends up in the White House.

    A final note: If you’re in the mood for a double feature, The War Room would make a fascinating counterpoint to Mitt, the documentary about the Romney campaign that premiered on Netflix earlier this year. The War Room chronicles a successful Democratic presidential campaign while spending almost no time with the actual candidate; Mitt chronicles a failed Republican presidential campaign while spending time almost exclusively with the actual candidate. Taken together, they paint a fascinating picture of the ways in which the campaign trail has changed over the past 20 years.

     

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  9. James Franco and Seth Rogen’s ongoing bromance has borne yet another piece of fruit: The Interview, an upcoming comedy in which the duo travel to North Korea to assassinate real-life dictator Kim Jong-un.

     


  10. It’s June, which means we’re in the heart of summer blockbuster season — and you might already be tired of superheroes, giant monsters, and mind-numbing explosions. Fortunately, video-on-demand presents no shortage of alternatives. 2014 happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Criterion Collection, which aims to father “the greatest films from around the world.” All month, we’ll be counting down a few of their strong offerings currently available to stream on Hulu. This week: the unsettling, dreamlike Picnic at Hanging Rock.

    For all the horror movies I’ve seen over my lifetime, few films have stuck with me or unsettled me as much as the 1975 drama Picnic at Hanging Rock.The film begins at a private all-girls school in Australia in the year 1900. In a rare departure from their extremely strict schedule, the girls are permitted to leave the grounds on Valentine’s Day to enjoy a hike and picnic at a nearby mountain. At first, the girls are content to kick back and enjoy the reprieve from their usual lives.

    But then things go too far. Three of the girls wander off, seeking to explore more of the mountain — and something strange eventually comes over them. All at once, they enter a trancelike daze, descend deeper and deeper into Hanging Rock — until they suddenly disappear altogether. 

    The girls’ disappearance is the inciting incident of Picnic at Hanging Rock — but the film is less concerned with explaining why they disappeared than it is in exploring what the incident means for everyone else. It’s immediately obvious that something truly inexplicable has happened. Despite the exhaustive efforts of a search party, it’s clear that the girls aren’t just lost. They’re gone. For a brief, strange moment, reality itself has broken down — but in the highly mannered, deeply repressed cultural norms of the era, no one is willing to openly acknowledge how terrifying that is.

    Picnic at Hanging Rock deliberately defies any easy explanations. The mystery at its center is a dark and ultimately unsolvable one, but the film keeps piling on more bizarre plot threads and asides — many of which never end up paying off. In a lesser movie, that would feel like poor writing or lazy filmmaking — but in Picnic at Hanging Rock, it merely contributes to the hazy, dreamlike tone set by director Peter Weir.

    Nearly 40 years after its initial release, Picnic at Hanging Rock remains a riveting and breathtakingly original film. Watch it this weekend, and prepare yourself for a heartbreaking, disturbing, ultimately feminist exploration of a time when the cultural expectations for women were so crushing that — given the right circumstances — they might literally disappear under the pressure. 

     

  11. Girls on Film: 10 lesbian filmmakers you should know about

    In honor of WorldPride, a look at some of filmdom’s most talented lesbian filmmakers

     

  12. Watch the intense final Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer

    We’re less than a month away from the highly anticipated sequel to 2011’s surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes

     


  13. It’s June, which means we’re in the heart of summer blockbuster season — and you might already be tired of superheroes, giant monsters, and mind-numbing explosions. Fortunately, video-on-demand presents no shortage of alternatives. 2014 happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Criterion Collection, which aims to father “the greatest films from around the world.” All month, we’ll be counting down a few of their strong offerings currently available to stream on Hulu. This week: Cure.

    After Silence of the Lambs swept the Oscars in 1992, studios across the globe pumped out a bunch of a serial killer thrillers designed to provide the same kind of thrills. Some, like Seven, were strong enough to stand on their own; others, like Kiss the Girls, offered grim, paint-by-numbers narratives that should never have made it into production.

    But I’m betting many ardent thriller fans haven’t seen — or even heard of — one of the best and strangest serial killer dramas to emerge from that wave in the ’90s: Cure, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s chilly, unsettling breakout thriller that arrived in Japan in 1997 (and earned a limited release stateside several years later).

    Cure follows Takabe, a police officer investigating a bizarre string of murders in which a large X has been cut into each victim’s throat. Each murder has been committed, seemingly independently, by a different killer — and when questioned, none of them can recall why they suddenly decided to kill someone, or what the carved X really means. As Takabe grows increasingly obsessed with solving the seemingly inexplicable string of crimes, his own sense of judgment — and reality — begins to come into question.

    With that premise alone, Cure could have been a creepy, enjoyably middlebrow ride — but it quickly becomes clear that this film has far more on its mind than your typical serial killer thriller. As Takabe digs deeper and deeper into the heart of the mystery, we meet the man he doesn’t yet know is at its center: Mamiya, a disheveled vagabond who expresses constant confusion about who and where he is (and often immediately after those things have been explained to him). When the two finally meet, after a slow, riveting build-up in which they’re drawn closer and closer together, Cure has amassed a tension that propels it to a staggering final act.

    In the two lead roles, both Koji Yakusho and Masato Hagiwara deserve ample credit for their magnetic performances. But much of Cure's power is due to the top-notch work of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who generally positions the camera at an uncomfortably chilly, almost voyeuristic distance — making the sudden, unpredictable explosions of violence all the more powerful. 

    Watch Cure this weekend, but don’t watch it alone — if only so you can spend the rest of the night debating the meaning of the brilliant, cryptic final scene.