Movies in Theaters April 6th, 2012
This weekend brings us the return of the kids (now adults) who helped bring back the art of the R-rated comedy (American Reunion); Whit Stillman's first comedy of manners for the 21st century (Damsels in Distress), a rifle-touting Willem Dafoe tracking down a supposedly extinct animal (The Hunter) and an argument for just using your credit card for everything at all times (ATM).
Those who enjoy the rowdy, raunchy comedies of today would do well to remember that we have a movie called American Pie to thank from bringing the art of the R rating back to the genre way back in 1999 after laying dormant for much of that decade. You just didn't see too many movies featuring a kid sticking his cock into a warm apple pie to simulate what it's like to plunge one's manhood into a woman's vagina before young Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) did so in one of the film's many show-stopper moments; Jim and his cohorts (played by Seann William Scott, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Mena Suvari and Shannon Elizabeth) wrecked enough memorable sex-crazed havoc to warrant three sequels: American Pie 2 (2001), American Wedding (2003) and, now, American Reunion (2012). What are these kids like now that they're a bunch of thirtysomethings with grown-up responsibilities? They're pretty much the same -- and there's apparently a lot more adolescent-minded mischief to make, much of it spearheaded by the ever-grinning obnoxious dork-knob known as Stifler (Scott, probably effectively destroying any good will he may have harbored from his terrifically underplayed performance in last week's Goon). As tiresome as these shenanigans may now be, there's something endearing about seeing this gang back together -- while they're not exactly old friends you've been missing too terribly, they definitely qualify as the "Oh yeah, THOSE guys!" you occasionally come across in your yearbook who inspire a nostalgic smile.
Whit Stillman's third film (following Metropolitan and Barcelona), The Last Days of Disco, was released on May 29, 1998; that same weekend, the writer-director left his Soho loft for the last time and moved to Paris, the kind of sudden and extreme life change in which one of his fictional characters might indulge simply because he or she was "bored." Stillman wouldn't return to New York until 2009 -- and wouldn't make another film until 2011, when Damsels in Distress premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Suffice to say that more than ten years abroad didn't really change the auteur's distinct world view, as he's still the spoiled rich kid utterly fascinated by the neurotic intellectuals he calls his peers -- in this case, he follows around a quartet of young women at an East Coast university as they spend their days being witty and trying to diffuse the campus' "atmosphere of male barbarism." It takes all of 20 seconds for the trailer to feature a party scene where no one's really having any fun (a trademark Stillman scenario); most curious is the pull quote from the Cincinnati City Beat that describes the film as "Part Woody Allen, All Deadpan Hilarity." Um, yeah‚ you new to Stillman Town, Cincy?
In what looks like a somewhat more exciting variation on The American (the "thriller" made strictly to showcase George Clooney's face), Willem Dafoe (who's still got one of Hollywood's most interesting faces himself) stars as a mercenary sent by a biotech company to the Tasmanian wilderness on a hunt for what's supposedly the last Tasmanian tiger, a mission that ends up being filled with mystery and conspiracy as the line between reality and myth becomes blurred and distorted. Good thing he's got a sweet rifle! Truly, The Hunter looks terrific, with Dafoe in tip-top fighting shape and looking right at home in the woods and holding a gun; you also get Sam Neill, who really needs to be in more movies, as the hunter's colleague who may be harboring a secret or two. Based on the novel by Julia Leigh, who recently made her filmmaking debut as the writer and director of Sleeping Beauty, the movie where Emily Browning got naked a lot as she fulfilled the deviant sexual fantasies of dirty rich old men; how The Hunter comes from the creative mind of the same woman might be the film's biggest mystery.
A cautionary film for those who think it's a good idea to make a withdrawal after the sun's gone down, ATM follows the plight of three young co-workers who end up stuck in an isolated ATM kiosk as a hooded villain lurks around outside, hacking and slashing up late-night dogwalkers and security guards; waiting for morning (and other customers) doesn't seem to be an option, as the creep soon turns off the heat and later even tries to flood their glass-encased prison. Can't a guy just take his fistful of twenty-dollar bills and be on his merry way anymore? Anyway, call it Phone Booth but with three people trapped in tight spot instead of just one, terrorized by what appears to be a completely silent antagonist (no sign of a taunting Kiefer Sutherland here) -- though whether ATM is also something of an extremist morality play remains to be seen (did these young professionals do something to "deserve" the starring roles in their own personal chamber drama?). Anyway, one-location thrillers almost always qualify as at least curiosity pieces, so consider us definitely curious.