With upwards of 650 movies out in an average year, there's no way NPR's critics are gonna write full-on reviews of everything we see. But we thought we'd take a stab at doing short takes on some of the things that didn't quite make the cut.
Prom Night With 'Carrie,' And You Know How That Ends
"What is my body doing?" thought pretty much every teenager ever. And that's one reason Stephen King's adolescent-awakening thriller Carrie, as visualized in Brian De Palma's woozily creepy 1976 film, struck such a big chord with horror fans. Body shame, intense self-consciousness, the near-physical impact of the in-crowd's loud mockery — what oddball hasn't felt them and entertained a revenge fantasy or three?
And if Mom's going to pile on and tell you it's all your fault? Who's not going to be tempted to throw a little rage around?
The dawning appetite in Chloe Grace Moretz's eyes, there at the end of that clip — to say nothing of the relish she'll take in her burgeoning telekinetic powers as the story plays out — is one way director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) puts a more contemporary stamp on her serviceable but hardly necessary Carrie update. The screenplay, co-credited to original writer Lawrence D. Cohen and Glee scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, also adds such latter-day fillips as YouTube footage of its bullied antiheroine's school-shower humiliation.
This new Carrie casts a darker, more alienated pall over everything to do with its namesake's home life, too. Julianne Moore's dour, damaged, self-isolating Margaret White is the post-Branch Davidian version of the comparatively cheerful evangelical eccentric Piper Laurie played in the original; there's much more distance between this single parent and the rest of her daughter's world.
Some things are constant, though. Carrie's revenge on the bulk of her tormenters may get more protracted and even more rococo in Peirce's movie, but Mom's comeuppance? That remains — quite pointedly — the same. -- Trey Graham
Into The Asylum With A Compelling 'Camille Claudel'
In 1913, almost two decades after ending a 15-year apprenticeship-slash-affair with the sculptor Auguste Rodin — and following 10 years of solitude in her own studio — Camille Claudel, an artist in her own right, was placed in a mental hospital by her family.
That's as much back story as Camille Claudel 1915 provides before taking us into that institution with Camille. And it'll become clear that writer-director Bruno Dumont has been very purposeful in his restraint, wanting to keep us in the dark about Camille's character.
In the first few scenes, it's apparent that Camille (fantastic, ghost-visaged Juliette Binoche) is not nearly as incapacitated as her fellow patients. (They're played, disarmingly, by people with real-life disabilities.) In fact she acts as a sort of caretaker for them, at times.
This fact lends Camille's insistence that she's being persecuted by Rodin and wrongly held in the asylum a striking ambiguity: Because she comes off so relatively sane in the context of her environment, her claims seem plausible; but the intensity and anxiety with which Camille offers them strike an unmistakably paranoid tone.
That vacillation continues throughout the film. Watch below as Binoche finely portrays an exception in her treatment by the staff — Camille is allowed to prepare her own meals because she fears being poisoned — as an indication of her difference from the other patients but also a sign of her own particular frailty.
In its best moments, Camille Claudel 1915 plays off of this central uncertainty to offer an acute psychological profile of its protagonist. But the film is also marred by long, ponderous monologues, and derailed by a late-in-the-game shift to the story of Camille's brother, Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent), and his firmly held faith.
That's ultimately a less compelling angle than is Camille's cautious walk between submission and control, sanity and instability. These are themes Augustine, another recent French film about a woman wrongly locked up for psychiatric care, pursued quite brilliantly. Camille Claudel 1915 feels like it could have gone deeper. -- Tomas Hachard
Creature Features Revisited, Just For The Big Dumb Fun Of It
Big Ass Spider! tells you you're getting a big-ass spider (exclamation point!), and one skyscraper-dwarfing arachnid you shall have. It's a strategy that has served the cinema of Giant Things that Aren't Supposed to be Giant since its heyday in the '50s, when the B houses were home to titles like Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, Attack of the Giant Leeches and Them! (OK, that last one is a little vague about the giant ants the pronoun refers to, but it at least shares Big Ass Spider!'s exclamatory enthusiasm.)
In the '50s, those films were mostly meant to be legitimately scary, but as they've aged, their low budgets, hokey acting, and no-longer-cutting-edge effects make them easy targets for ridicule. It's hard even to make a modern mutant creepy-crawly movie without tongue firmly planted in cheek. This clip from BAS! is a pretty succinct representation of the movie's approach:
Which is to say, resolutely silly.
Here's the weird thing about Big Ass Spider!: When it's trying to be funny (that Spanglish joke, the dinner proposition, the scream as the two would-be spider slayers see the cavalry), it rarely is. But its attempts are so ludicrous and ill-conceived that it's hard not to laugh — at least after your palm is done connecting with your face. Here's a movie with the audacity to borrow liberally and audaciously from the likes of King Kong and Aliens, while in the same breath lampooning the already-over Antoine Dodson video and attempting a Hail Mary Tupac-is-alive gag.
It's perhaps a fitting homage to old monster movies after all: The movie winds up being entertaining for none of the reasons intended by those making it. -- Ian Buckwalter