3. The best online movies to watch this weekend

    God Help The GirlFort Bliss, and Borgman



  5. As the school season begins, we’ll be counting down a variety of back-to-school movies and TV shows.

    Going back to school isn’t just for kids. Every 10 years or so, adults are invited to revisit their high school days at a reunion. Lukewarm buffet food is served, cheap beer is sloshed, and everyone strives to make their life sound just a little more interesting than it actually is.

    Enter Grosse Pointe Blank, the rare romantic comedy to earn an R rating for “strong violence.” John Cusack stars as Martin Blank, a sad-sack hit man with a severe case of ennui. With no meaningful relationships apart from his assistant, and the blood of countless targets on his hands, his life needs a shakeup — and an invitation to his 10-year high school reunion offers the perfect chance to do a little soul-searching.

    On the advice of his therapist, Martin heads back to Grosse Pointe, Michigan, reconnecting with friends, family, and the justifiably bitter ex-girlfriend he abandoned on prom night. In one of the film’s sharpest gags, Martin repeatedly admits that he’s spent the past decade killing people, which people invariably take as a sarcastic joke.

    Of course, leaving the hit man life behind is easier said than done. Martin’s attempts to atone for his sins and figure out a new path in life are interrupted by everything from a jealous professional rival to a final hit he’s required to carry out.

    The offbeat blend of quippy dialogue and surprisingly visceral violence could easily have failed to cohere, but Grosse Pointe Blank succeeds on the strength of a clever, biting script and an expertly chosen cast that includes appearances by everyone from Dan Aykroyd to Hank Azaria to Jeremy Piven. In the lead roles, Cusack and Minnie Driver each turn in career-best performances, parrying back and forth in a perfect emulation of the whip-smart banter that defined screwball comedies.

    Grose Pointe Blank is also interwoven with one of the strongest soundtrack albums released in the 1990s — so popular and well-received that Polygram actually released a second volume later that year to capitalize on the success.

    All in all, Grosse Pointe Blank is a delight — a weird, funny, bloody little gem of a movie that straddles the lines of a half-dozen genres and makes it look easy.

    Your weekly streaming recommendation: Grosse Pointe Blank


  6. The best online movies to watch this weekend

    Starred UpFrank, and At The Devil’s Door


  7. Through sheer volume and reach, TIFF has become an ongoing reminder of the talent Hollywood is failing to capture — changing the question from ‘Where are the women?’ to ‘Why aren’t you hiring any of these women?’

    Why the Toronto International Film Festival is the best platform for female filmmakers

    This year’s festival offered 58 chances to see the latest in femme-centric filmmaking


  8. As the school season begins, we’ll be counting down a variety of back-to-school movies. This week: the delightfully ghoulish family film ParaNorman.

    When I was a kid, I always felt like most of the movies aimed at my age group were a little too tame. Sure, I adored Disney’s annual animated musicals — but where were the kid-friendly chills I could get out of older movies, like The Wizard of Oz or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?

    I would have been very happy if I’d had ParaNorman.

    ParaNorman's basic concept recalls The Sixth Sense, with one clever twist: the ghosts that Norman can see are a lot more harmless and likable than the regular people he encounters every day. But ParaNorman doesn’t stop at ghosts: as his sleepy Massachusetts town is invaded by zombies and witches, Norman steps up to protect the people who have always looked down on him.

    ParaNorman offers a cheeky, family-friendly riff on the horror genre, with loving winks to genre classics like Halloween and Friday the 13. The voice cast is packed with talented actors, including John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, and the late Elaine Stritch. And the entire film is rendered in stunning stop-motion animation.

    ParaNorman's gorgeous, painstakingly rendered animation is an accomplishment in itself, and the distinctive art design would probably be enough to recommend the film on its own. But the effect of the aesthetics is boosted by a sweet, soulful story that will make any kid who's felt like an outcast feel a little less alone.

    Your weekly streaming recommendation: ParaNorman


  9. Clouds of Sils Maria is, simply, a film about women working, thinking, and engaging — a simple concept, but one that finally gives Binoche and her costars the ‘deep and complex’ female roles they deserve.

    Clouds of Sils Maria is a beautiful look into fame and womanhood

    Oliver Assayas answered Juliette Binoche’s call for a “deep and complex female role” with this rumination on celebrity



  11. Fall movie guide: All the films you should see in September

    A roundup of everything new and noteworthy hitting theaters this month


  12. At its best, streaming video offers the potential for discovery — the chance to track down and reappraise a hidden gem which you’d never have seen otherwise. For the month of August, I’ll be counting down movies that were panned by critics when they were originally released, and arguing that they’re actually worth a second look.

    Hannah Fidell’s unsettling psychodramaA Teacher follows Diana — a young high school English teacher in suburban Texas — as she engages in a passionate and destructive affair with one of her students. It’s a premise designed to make viewers squeamish, but A Teacher is less concerned with the ethics of the affair than with its psychological impact on its fragile protagonist. 

    Lindsay Burdge turns in a fascinatingly icy performance as Diana — a woman who barely manages to cover up her deep, fundamental instability as she goes about her day-to-day life. Her affair with Eric, a charismatic student, is part of a larger obsession with remaining in a state of arrested development.  Diana is well aware of the danger he presents to her life and career, but she can’t resist indulging in the only part of her life that brings her any joy — even as the relationship begins to spin towards mutual destruction.

    At just 75 minutes, A Teacher is a spare, tightly focused character study. We never learn how Diana and Eric began their affair, and the movie wisely spends very little time on anyone apart from the two leads. (If anything, writer/director Hannah Fidell could have cut even more; the sole scene that explores Diana’s troubled relationship with her family is a misstep, over-explaining something that would be better left implied.) But in general, the film’s ambiguities are moody and effective. Fidell shoots in a series of murky, claustrophobic close-ups that emphasize how insular and dangerous Diana’s world has become. 

    A Teacher earned just 32 percent positive reviews at aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with critics dismissing it as “lifeless” and “ultimately hollow.” I understand why some would be frustrated that the film avoids digging into the depths and motivations of its characters, but I’d argue that’s one of A Teacher's secret strengths. Much of the film's nervy energy comes from being forced to guess at the true feelings of both Diana and Eric — and what those feelings might eventually lead them to do.

    Your weekly streaming recommendation: A Teacher


  13. Belle strives to understand what it would be like for this woman, torn between love and idealism. But despite the density of the subject matter, this is not a grim drama.

    Belle is one of the most groundbreaking, joyous movies of the summer

    The indie hit, which arrived on DVD this week, broke the status quo by bringing a little-known true story into the light