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A Dark Coming-of-Age Story for Girls

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Tales of innocence lost and knowledge gained, the male bildungsroman in film runs the tonal gamut from American Graffiti to Stand By Me to Boyhood. It's an adventure story coupled with a rite of passage that signals a shift from childhood to manhood. Director Eliza Hittman's devastating Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a coming-of-age with a difference, an "adventure" defined by a quest, myriad obstacles and a fresh, painful reckoning with the world's injustices, for both protagonist and audience. The quest in this case is 17-year-old Autumn's (Sidney Flanigan) herculean effort to obtain an abortion following sex, the film insinuates, that may not have been her choice. The film's title comes from an interview in a New York City Planned Parenthood office in which Autumn is asked to, essentially, recount her sex life on a rating scale from good to horrific and we see from the camera fixed on her slowly crumpling expression, that her experience has trended t…

Girls Will Be Girls: Damsels in Distress Navel-Gazes at an Artificial College Experience

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Whit Stillman's flowery, absurd Damsels in Distress substitutes Animal House's crude frat boys for priss-pot coeds in this too-cute-for-school, obnoxious evocation of a make-believe college life. The damsels in question are all named for flowers, because girls are so, well, flowery. Block-of-wood indie queen Greta Gerwig is all square shoulders and flatline delivery as the bossypants Violet, the queen bee in a hive of girliness dedicated to rooting out bad smells and suicidal depression from their private Seven Oaks College. The slightly dim brunette Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and the elegant African-American girl Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), who has come back from a London trip with an affected British accent and a conviction that all men are "playboys and operators," round out this coterie of Lanz nightgowns and proper enunciation. The girls live in a cozy dorm room where they curl their hair and apply mascara like 1950s coeds working toward their MRS …

Freaks and Geeks: Comic Con Episode IV Offers a Heartwarming Look at a Nerd's Paradise

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With so much of American life centered on celebrity worship and aspirational window shopping, it is nice to be reminded of the merits of the not-beautiful, the marginal, and, frankly, the geeky. Morgan Spurlock's new documentary Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is a salute to the underdogs in life's lotto, the kids who didn't get all the lucky breaks and the good looks. But, based on this documentary, they at least wring their fair share of fun from it nevertheless. Their nirvana is the annual comic book convention in San Diego, Comic-Con. Inaugurated in 1970, the event has since grown into an enormous, celebrity-packed merchandise-shilling geek fest of 120,000 fanboys and girls that nerds across the country pine to attend all year long. In a tongue-in-cheek opening bit mimicking an old-school filmstrip, Spurlock shows the crude beginnings of Comic-Con in black-and-white stills of fuzzy-haired post-hippies sorting through cardboard boxes of comics. Cut…

Bully Is a Real-Life Horror Story With Many Monsters

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Bully has every element of a modern horror story. Sympathetic, persecuted victims, sadistic monsters, and even a deceptively banal setting, the sterile cinderblock hallways and asphalt playgrounds are where its tales of terror unfold.

The worst thing about this horror movie, however, is that it is all real.

This is one of the scariest, clammiest, most skin-crawling films in recent memory, a tale of victims stuck in small, isolated towns where no one hears their cries for help, and their persecutors — both bullies and clueless administrators and figures of authority — are pitiless. Whether you experienced some form of bullying in school or not, the way director Lee Hirsch (in a manner reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's Elephant) captures the architecture of classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias and the loneliness, fear, and dread they can induce is powerfully universal. But the children aren't the only bullies in this deeply disturbing film; the way adults close ranks and…

Teenage Dream: In Young Adult, Charlize Theron Doesn't Want to Grow Up

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With the double-whammy combination of Bridesmaids and Young Adult, 2011 is officially the year of the stunted, frustrated girl-misfit. A toxic spin on all of those cutesy chick flicks where career girls yearn for marriage, the latter film is the convention-busting story of semi-slovenly, semi-slatternly 37-year-old Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), who is hellbent on busting up a marriage. Mavis is a woman old enough — the social code goes — to be married and the proud owner of a child (or two). But instead she's floundering in a sea of insecurity when it comes to both love and career. It is an outrageously refreshing change of pace from the priss-pots and put-a-ring-on-it obsessives who constitute the majority of romantic comedies. In a deliciously terse opening sequence, Mavis is introduced waking up in her cluttered Minneapolis high-rise apartment — more dorm room than grown-up pad — in a hungover funk that you sense she's been riding for a long time. A post-divorce bacheloret…

The L-Word: Anna and Jacob Love Each Pther Like Crazy, despite visa issues

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If fly-on-the-wall British director Mike Leigh decided to make a mumblecore film, it might look very much like Like Crazy, an ebb-and-flow love story where the blockages to romance are not Shakespearean feuding families but visa issues. Not since Green Card has so much romance been yoked to the ox cart of bureaucracy. British journalism major Anna (Felicity Jones) has a visa to study in Los Angeles, where she meets a boy who in many ways feels like her male equivalent: artistic, creative Jacob (Anton Yelchin). An aspiring furniture designer, Jacob's first gesture of true devotion is to engrave one of his chairs with the words "Like Crazy" and present it to Anna for her seating pleasure. A surprisingly sensitive male character in a Gen-Y cinema awash with duuuudes, Jacob is a candy-coated dreamboat from girl-bait central casting. He clutches a bouquet of flowers for airport rendezvous, treats women with Old World tenderness, and can make goo-goo eyes like nobody's bu…

Helter-Skelter: Martha Marcy May Marlene Is Creepy, Sexy and Very Stylized

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A semi-sinister little film with the eerie, sunlit ambiance of headspace thrillers like Rosemary's Baby or the original The Stepford Wives, Martha Marcy May Marlene presents a young woman trapped between two worlds. Having escaped an insular cult in the Catskills presided over by guitar-strumming head-hippie Patrick (John Hawkes), Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has sought refuge at her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and husband Ted's (Hugh Dancy) vacation home in Connecticut. But even hours away, Martha is haunted by her memories of the cult — and a feeling that its members are watching her. How much is her imagination and how much is real is left unsaid by newbie director Sean Durkin, who won the director award at the Sundance Film Festival for his debut feature. Renamed Marcy May by Patrick, the film's title indicates a young woman straddling two worlds, trying to decide, in many ways, between the lesser of two evils. Though Martha never tells Lucy the exact na…