In the wake of exceptional television series like The Americans and Homeland, Shadow Dancer suffers because the territory is so familiar. It’s a thriller with the backdrop of a bitter war, and the conflict surrounds a woman who’s forced to spy on her countrymen. Director James Marsh, who won an Academy Award for the documentary Man on Wire, offers a slow-burn thriller where the tension comes from a set of eyes, not a loaded gun. Still, there are better examples of this genre out there, and fans of the aforementioned shows will wonder why this feature is worth their money when television already offers richer entertainment.
In the underrated coming-of-age comedy Angus, the main character’s grandfather says, “Superman is indestructible, and you can’t be brave if you’re indestructible.” For a while, I bought into his argument: compared to other superheroes, Superman was boring because he was powerful as his creators wanted him to be. It was only recently did I realize that this kind of logic misses the point of the classic comic character. He’s indestructible, sure, but it is difficult to fathom the expectations humanity has for him. A good Superman movie internalizes how difficult it is to choose goodness over the easy path, and Man of Steel is sincere enough to be the best Superman movie yet. It is also suspenseful, and even awe-inspiring.
After their breakout hit Superbad, This Is the End is the logical conclusion of the work by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg. The two met each other during Bar Mitzvah, and their common bond is oddly specific scatological humor. With its two characters named Seth and Evan, Superbad laid the foundation for a meta-examination of fraternal friendship. This Is the End takes the idea to its inevitable conclusion: all the actors play caricatures of themselves, and we’re led to believe there’s some degree of accuracy to the script. Rogen and Goldberg, who also shared directorial duties, compound the tension with their version of the apocalypse, one complete with demons and giant cocks.
I’ve written a couple pieces for the Washington City Paper that are worth checking out. Check out my awkward interview with Jesse Eisenberg, my boozy brunch with Imperial China, and my pan of the film Silver Circle.
Look a little closer, and The Kings of Summer is more ambitious than the typical coming-of-age film. The young protagonists are not vessels of profane dialogue, nor do they fit into any typical mold of friendship. Screenwriter Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts supply a standard conflict – three kids run away from home – and deepens it with flawed, thoughtful parents. These filmmakers understand how children can inherent bad habits, so unlike most films about teenagers, family bonds run deep. But The Kings of Summer is not just a drama about teenagers. It’s also a terrific comedy, one that shies away from the easy laugh for something more interesting and strange.
Most of you will see parts of yourself in Frances, the subject of director Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, or at least you’ll see parts of your friends. Co-written with Greta Gerwig, the film’s star, this is an observant, smart comedy that someone manages to preserve a light tone even as Frances’ life grows increasingly pathetic. Unlike Damsels in Distress and Lola Versus, Gerwig’s previous two films in which her character also experiences an identity crisis, Frances Ha never directly discusses her problems. Baumbach and Gerwig are too sharp for that, and since we can hear the quiet terror in her ongoing denial, it’s easy to care about her.