After the dark and dismal days of ‘The Canyons’ and ‘The Dying of the Light,’ writer-director Paul Schrader is back in a big way. “Return to form” may be the biggest cliché in film criticism, but I’m hard pressed to find a more apt description for ‘First Reformed.’ The religious drama, starring a superb Ethan Hawke as a small town chaplain living a solitary life following the death of his son, takes everything that makes ‘Taxi Driver’ and Schrader’s other work so fantastic—the psychological complexity, calculated risk-taking, and darkly humorous tension—and catapults it into a 21st century narrative with immediate, real-world consequence.
High school summer breaks are a lot like Lana del Rey albums: romantic and bittersweet when you wistfully look back on them, but tedious when you’re in the middle of one.
With a title that recalls lyrics from del Rey’s Great Gatsby ballad “Young and Beautiful,” Hot Summer Nights is interested in the former interpretation, offering a rearview mirror perspective on a life-changing summer of 1991 full of sex, drugs, crime and betrayal. Although its an undeniably bold and stylish debut from writer-director Elijah Bynum, Hot Summer Nights, like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and everything Lana del Rey has ever written, struggles to break through the confusion of its own excess. It’s a fun vehicle for strong performances by Timothée Chalamet and Maika Monroe, but what, exactly, is it trying to say?
Midway through Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, our 13-year-old heroine Kayla (Elsie Fischer) is invited to a birthday pool party by the mother of classmate Kennedy, despite the too-cool girl’s protestations. Of all the stress-inducing phrases in the English language, “pool party” may be the most casually cruel. Kayla, kind and bright but self-conscious and friendless, is visibly terrified by the idea of having to don a swimsuit and play games with people who don’t even register that she exists. On the day of the party, Kayla paces around Kennedy’s bathroom, breathing heavily and barely suppressing a panic attack.