Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful ***
Dan Stevens, Sheila Vand and Jeremy Allen White in The Rental
Fashion photographer Helmut Newton steadfastly resisted the description of what he did as “art,” but Gero von Boehm’s documentary portrait grapples with some of the most complicated contemporary questions about artistic works: Does representation equal endorsement, and how do you separate the creation from the creator? Though Newton died in a 2004 car accident, von Boehm includes quite a bit of footage of the photographer at work on his provocative, often kinky images of frequently nude women, as well as interviews with former models for Newton including Grace Jones, Claudia Schiffer and Charlotte Rampling. And those models’ words force a confrontation with the assumptions about the man himself: Was he a sexist? Was his work exploitation, or critique of the sexualized societal roles for women? It’s a bit on-the-nose that von Boehm favors needle-drops like The Cure’s “Pictures of You” when showing Newton’s work, and the material about Newton’s professional collaboration with his wife June feels a bit too much like the “but I have a black friend” equivalent of trying to prove the opposite of misogyny. The film is more interesting navigating the tension between Susan Sontag’s accusation that “the master adores his slave” and Rampling’s suggestion that when looking at art, “Who cares about the man himself?” Available July 24 via SLFSatHome.org.
See feature review
. Available July 24 via Amazon Prime.
The Rental **
It can be immensely satisfying when a film abruptly pivots to become something completely different from what it first appeared to be. But that abrupt pivot needs to be a pivot to become … something. This feature directing debut from Dave Franco sends four people—startup business partners Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand), Charlie’s wife Michelle (Alison Brie) and Charlie’s brother/Mina’s boyfriend Josh (Jeremy Allen White)—on a weekend getaway to a remote oceanfront rental house. At first, it feels like the stuff of domestic parlor drama, as Charlie and Mina confront the sexual tension between them, and each couple faces unique strains. Then, almost exactly halfway through, suspense thriller elements kick in, taking advantage of the misty woods, cliffside location and Franco’s solid sense for scenes of mounting anxiety. The problem is that there’s virtually no connection between those two halves, no thematic resonance between the ideas developed at the outset and the carnage that eventually ensues. You could say it’s kind of a ballsy gambit to make 45 minutes of a movie, then say, “Fuck it, here’s 45 minutes of a completely different movie,” if it felt like anything more than a trick at the audience’s expense. Available July 24 via VOD and at Megaplex Theatres.
A bit of research indicates that SamSam
—a creation by French cartoonist Serge Bloch—is already immensely popular as an animated TV series in Europe, but then again there’s no telling what kids in any country will embrace. It’s certainly genial enough, set in a universe where kids jet to and from a variety of inhabited planets in private spacecraft, and where young SamSam (Tucker Chandler) is the only one of his peers awaiting the manifestation of some kind of super-power. This feature’s plot has SamSam meeting Mega (Lily Sanfelippo), who hides her identity as daughter of kid-hating King Marshal (Dino Andrady) so she can finally make a friend. The themes of feeling like an outsider are understandably appealing to grade-schoolers, even if the premise feels like a pre-adolescent version of Sky High
. There’s just no spark of personality to any of it, either in the English-dubbed voice performances or the low-budget CGI animation, leaving the story to rely on its simple platitudes and a few jokes about “stinky sock juice” and mini-monsters called “Wetabeds” who spray urine out of squirt guns. The little ones will watch it if you sit them down in front of it, but they can learn these “be yourself” lessons in so many better places. Available July 24 via SLFSatHome.org and Megaplex Theatres.
Yes, God, Yes ***
There’s a satisfying spin on the sexual coming-of-age story in writer/director Karen Maine’s study of how a religious upbringing can make that rocky road considerably rockier. Stranger Things
’ Natalia Dyer plays Alice, a well-behaved Catholic high school girl who is becoming the subject of “slut” rumors, even as she’s just barely discovering the world of sexuality and her faith’s prohibitions surrounding it. Dyer makes for an effectively confused protagonist, though it sometimes seems she can only muster the same furrowed-brow reaction to the many obstacles Alice faces. But while the expanded-from-a-short narrative is a bit thin, Maine perfectly captures the shame of dealing with sexual expression you’re being told is sinful, even as it becomes clear those who are lecturing you might not be practicing what they preach. Mostly, the film never wallows either in gratuitous raunchiness or smugness at religious hypocrisy. Instead, Maine provides a good-natured and clear-eyed look at figuring out feelings that are always messy, and realizing that we’re not alone at wondering how it’s possible to be both horny and holy. Available July 24 via SLFSatHome.org.