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This weekend, horror fans can go check out The Curse of La Llorona, a modern take on the ancient Mexican legend, starring Linda Cardellini, while Fast Color is a supernatural sci-fi pic that follows a young woman on an unknowing road to self-discovery after discovering she has supernatural powers.
Other titles include Grass, a Korean dramedy directed by acclaimed filmmaker Hong Sang-soo about a woman who sits in a cafe and listens to the dramatic conversations around her; Rafiki, an African tale of two girls from rival families who have to hide their forbidden love from their conservative society; and Red Joan, starring Judi Dench, the true story of a spy who fought to save her country from peril.
Read below to see what The Hollywood Reporter's critics wrote about this Friday's releases.
'The Curse of La Llorona'
In The Curse of La Llorona, the ancient legend is being visited in the setting of 1970s Los Angeles. When the evil spirit of La Llorona haunts a social worker (Linda Cardellini) and stalks her kids, she desperately tries to find a way out. Her best shot at liberation is the mysterious priest (Raymond Cruz) that practices keeping evil right where he wants it.
"Cruz (Tuco Salamanca on Breaking Bad and its superior sequel Better Call Saul) has a dry appeal as the pic's Latino Exorcist; though Rafael's preparations for spiritual warfare are just slight variations on what we've seen in a dozen better genre films, they briefly enliven the action and make us hope for something more exciting than we're going to get," writes John DeFore. "What actually arrives is a specter who obeys physical laws when it's convenient for the story … and doesn't when it's not — and who fights off all the exotic substances Rafael has in his tool kit except the hackiest weapon in monster-movie lore."
Little Woods follows Ollie (Tessa Thompson), a woman who is getting through her last few days of probation after smuggling illegal drugs over the Canadian border. When her mother dies, she is forced to communicate again with her estranged sister (Lily James), who is going through her own problems with an unwanted pregnancy and absent ex. The sisters find out they have a limited time to settle the mortgage of their mother's home before it goes into foreclosure. Ollie is faced with the choice to return to her old life, or to leave it behind and be there for her family.
John DeFore comments on the film: "A young woman scraping out a living in a North Dakota oil boomtown must make hard choices in Nia DaCosta's Little Woods, risking prison in order to keep her sister and nephew with a roof over their heads. Less relentlessly bleak than Winter's Bone, which along with Frozen River is an obvious inspiration here, the life-on-the-margins drama makes a fine, tense vehicle for Tessa Thompson, who in the last few years has stood out in a variety of genres. She and co-star Lily James (as the sister) will attract needed attention on the fest circuit to this winner of Tribeca's juried Nora Ephron award."
Inspired by a true story, Red Joan is the incredible story of Joan Stanley (Judi Dench), one of the most influential spies in history. Living in retirement, her peace is disturbed when she is arrested by MI5. The film largely takes place in the 1930s, when Stanley was studying physics and falling hopelessly in love with a Russian saboteur. Through their relationship, Joan comes to realize the fate of the world if the race for military supremacy does not stop. Working at a top-secret nuclear research facility post-war, Joan is faced with difficult questions and must discern if betraying her loved ones is worth it in order to save them.
"Certainly, this isn’t the kind of adrenaline-pumping spy film laden with exploding buildings and the protagonist leaping out of skyscrapers. But it isn’t a sedate film either, and stakes couldn’t be higher: the balance of power between the West and the communist bloc at the end of WWII. Based on Jennie Rooney’s best-selling novel, Lindsay Shapero’s screenplay cleverly plays with the ostensible staidness of ordinary pensioner Joan Stanley (Dench), a woman in her 80s living a quiet suburban life who is abruptly arrested as a Soviet spy in the opening scene, set in 2000," writes Deborah Young.
Fast Color follows a young woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with supernatural abilities who is hunted by a mysterious entity. After she discovers her powers, she is sent on the run. When she realizes she has nowhere else to go, she finds her way back to her family, whom she abandoned. While still being pursued by the sheriff (David Strathairn), she begins to mend the stifled relationships with her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and daughter (Saniyya Sidney). Through reconciliation, she realizes the power she desperately needed was inside her all along.
Sheri Linden comments on the film: "Distilling big-picture matters — ecological devastation and femme-forward superheroics — into a human-scale story, the premise of director Julia Hart's new film offers plenty to appreciate. Fast Color is stripped down to basics, with just a handful of characters, as it melds various genre tropes into a quiet dystopian tale with touches of sci-fi magic. Writing with her producer husband, Jordan Horowitz (La La Land), Hart has fashioned a tale of matriarchal inheritance, but one whose fierce message is undercut rather than deepened by its child's-book clarity. The intriguing setup receives underpowered execution, the intended jolts landing all too softly."
Rafiki tells the story of Kena and Ziki, two friends in Nairobi, Kenya who long for deep connection. Despite the tense rivalry between their families, their friendship remains. As a romantic connection starts to form between them, the girls must learn to navigate their conservative society in secrecy, while also making a decision being safe, or being happy.
"Its simplistic observation of romantic love in its purest form colliding with political, religious, familial and societal intolerance seems designed to speak clearly to teenage audiences experiencing similar struggles between identity and oppression," writes David Rooney of Rafiki. "Those well-meaning intentions only take the film so far, however, and mature audiences will be left wishing for greater narrative complexity."
Hong Sang-soo's 22nd feature film, Grass, takes place in a small corner cafe. A young woman, Areum (Kim Minhee), sits idly in the corner with her laptop listening to the other cafe customers around her. A young couple charges each other with crimes, an older man tries to capture the heart of a younger girl and a filmmaker tries to put together his next project. Areum pays close attention to their stories and makes them her own. Meanwhile, the plants outside the cafe grow taller.
"Nameless couples in a timeless coffee shop vent their emotions in Grass, the latest installment in the whimsical oeuvre of writer-director Hong Sang-soo. There’s something in his characters and their boozy, neurotic, often humorous discussions about love and death that irresistibly recall a Korean version of Woody Allen; the same modern, light touch in search of psychological depth and big themes is evident even in a slight film like the one-location, 66-minute Grass," says Deborah Young. "The choice to shoot in unspectacular black and white and in uninterrupted long takes (par for Hong’s course) brands it as mainly for the fan club, whose ranks seem to grow with every new addition."
In Lukas Feigelfeld's directorial debut, Hagazussa, Albrun is an orphan in a remote Alpine village in the 15th century. When she grows up and becomes a witch, she has to fight against the brutal misogyny and ancient superstitions placed on her from the European Dark Ages.
"Amazingly, Hagazussa is also Feigelfeld’s film school graduation project, and was partly financed with crowdfunding donations. But it looks and feels far more substantial than most indie debuts, confidently bending genre rules with its minimalist dialogue and hallucinatory plot, which owes more to David Lynch or Lars von Trier than to more orthodox horror maestros," writes Stephen Dalton. "While its abstract, dreamlike tone will clearly make it a niche item, this classy art house chiller should appeal to more discerning genre fans and cult movie buffs generally."
'Under the Silver Lake'
Under the Silver Lake follows Sam (Andrew Garfield), a 33-year-old man who becomes intrigued by Sarah (Riley Keough), a mysterious woman he meets at his apartment's community pool. When she disappears, Sam is determined to find her. He embarks on a quest through Los Angeles, uncovering scandalous conspiracies along the way.
"The movie is so awash in Hollywood references, from sly to obvious, that it borders on pastiche, which might provide some cinephile diversion. But it's Garfield, gamely straddling the bridge between seedy slacker and driven truth-seeker, who anchors every scene and will represent A24's best shot at drawing an audience with the early summer release," writes David Rooney.
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