More stories

  • in

    Reflections on Star Quality From a Golden Age of ‘Junk TV’

    In a new memoir, a longtime casting director revels in memories of a bygone Hollywood, matching actors with the roles that made them stars.Stop to consider the movie and TV characters that are most permanently seared into the American psyche, and their impact is rarely a function of screen time. Usually, the effect on audiences is immediate: Think Tim Curry’s first appearance in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” or Stockard Channing breezing into Rydell High alongside her fellow Pink Ladies.Whether they were memorable because of their abrasiveness (Danny DeVito in “Taxi”), their rebellious streak (Ms. Channing in “Grease”) or their ability to solve a crisis with a slice of cheesecake (the titular golden girls of “The Golden Girls”), every actor who eventually went on to make Hollywood history first had to clear the hurdle of a casting department. And for many of the biggest movies and TV shows of the last half century, Joel Thurm was a central part of those teams, handpicking the actors whose performances would resonate for decades to come.In his newly released memoir, “Sex, Drugs & Pilot Season: Confessions of a Casting Director,” Mr. Thurm, 80, details what he saw in stars like John Travolta, whom he cast in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”“I knew he wasn’t Vinnie Barbarino,” Mr. Thurm said of managing to look past the actor’s biggest role to date, on the ABC sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter.”Being able to spot the je ne sais quoi that many refer to as star quality is a skill, one that Mr. Thurm has capitalized on throughout his 35-year career.“The best example I have is when someone walks into a room and has something special that you haven’t seen in other people,” Mr. Thurm said in an interview this week. “Are they astoundingly beautiful? Are they so incredibly good-looking? They could be bad-looking! It’s individual; you can’t really explain it.”Mr. Thurm had a hand in casting some of the biggest hits of film and TV, including “The Love Boat,” “The Golden Girls,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Airplane!”Charles Sykes/Getty ImagesThat “it” factor is the common denominator among all the stars who go on to become household names, according to Mr. Thurm, who said he had seen it immediately in Farrah Fawcett when she auditioned for the role of a stewardess on “The Bob Newhart Show.” She didn’t get the part, but Mr. Thurm said he had known “there was something special about her.” He also instantly saw it in a 17-year-old John Travolta when he met him in New York.“He had a presence, and you can feel it,” Mr. Thurm said. “They had that little extra something.”At the time, Mr. Travolta was most popular for his role on “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and producers would not move ahead with “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” a TV movie, unless a big star signed on to the project, Mr. Thurm said. He spent a lot of time with Mr. Travolta’s manager sitting on his “back deck getting melanoma and reading scripts,” Mr. Thurm said. When the script came up, they both lobbied Mr. Travolta, who agreed to sign on. Mr. Thurm later cast Mr. Travolta in “Grease,” and the rest is Hollywood history.Mr. Thurm, who retired from a full-time casting position with NBC in 1990, hasn’t kept especially close tabs on the stars of today, but he does know enough to recognize that they tend to skew young.“They’re all 12-year-olds,” he said. “I have only seen them once they are already stars. Ariana Grande, she’s already a star.”Whether or not star quality has changed since Mr. Thurm started his career, Hollywood itself certainly has. In addition to snippets of back-room scenes detailing how some of TV’s most beloved characters came to appear on some of America’s favorite sitcoms, “Sex, Drugs & Pilot Season” is also filled with personal anecdotes that would — at minimum — raise eyebrows in a world reshaped by the #MeToo movement.It’s difficult — painful, even — to imagine a world in which Tim Curry never put on the chunky pearl necklace of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. In that sense, the most essential duty of a casting director is to save us all from what might not have been.United Archives/Getty ImagesAs a gay man living in Hollywood in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Mr. Thurm often found himself in situations that almost certainly wouldn’t fly today — like massaging the actor Robert Reed’s back after he had to undergo several hair treatments for his role “The Boy in The Plastic Bubble.”“I started to rub his back, then I rubbed, you know, started rubbing a little lower,” Mr. Thurm said of Mr. Reed, best known for playing Mike Brady in “The Brady Bunch.” “He was just miserable on the set because he was not used to not being the center of attention.”In his memoir, Mr. Thurm also details an encounter with his teenage idol, Rock Hudson. At a party with other gay men in Hollywood, Mr. Hudson motioned to Mr. Thurm to follow him to a room upstairs.“I was so anxious and nervous that my body below the waist could not cooperate,” Mr. Thurm wrote.It was a moment he has never forgotten.“I saw every single movie that he ever did and so even to find myself at that party, I thought was amazing,” Mr. Thurm said. “This is my introduction to Hollywood.”Besides detailing his sexcapades, Mr. Thurm also takes full accountability for “the damage you may have suffered while watching David Hasselhoff,” he wrote. He initially cast Mr. Hasselhoff as Snapper Foster on “The Young and the Restless” in 1975. He later cast him in “Knight Rider” — a high-water mark in what he described as an era of “junk TV” — after a contentious standoff with producers, who originally wanted Laurence Olivier. (“Yes, David Hasselhoff and Laurence Olivier on the same list,” he wrote.)The memoir is not just about Mr. Thurm’s dealings in Hollywood but his upbringing: growing up on a kosher milk farm in East New York. Attending Hunter College in Manhattan when it was nearly an all-girls school. Hanging out in Greenwich Village in its bohemian heyday. Flunking out of college and traveling through Italy in his early 20s.“To me, it was just my experiences — you know, growth going through life and growing up,” Mr. Thurm said. “I have no regrets. Nobody died.” More

  • in

    Claudia Cardinale Gets MoMA Tribute for Film Career

    Ahead of a MoMA retrospective, the actress reflected on her career, which includes over 100 films and many classics of Italian cinema.On a recent afternoon in Rome, Claudia Cardinale recalled the many heartthrobs she worked with during her more than six-decade movie career, and let out a full-throated laugh.“And they also wanted to make love with me,” she said, “but I always refused.”Over the years, the fresh-faced beauty — who David Niven, her co-star in an early “Pink Panther” movie, once described as Italy’s best invention besides spaghetti — had given the cold shoulder to more than one famous screen Casanova, Cardinale said in an interview. “They tried,” she added. “I turned down seducers.”Then she laughed her mischievous laugh again.Cardinale, 84, was in Rome last month for the Italian presentation of a newly restored version of Luigi Comencini’s 1963 film “La ragazza di Bube” (“Bebo’s Girl”), about a small-town girl who stands by her man, even after he is convicted of a crime and goes to jail.“Bebo’s Girl,” which earned Cardinale her first prestigious acting award, Italy’s Nastro d’Argento for best actress, will be shown on Friday at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the first in a 23-film retrospective honoring the Tunisian-born Italian actress that runs through Feb. 21. It is one of a handful of times that the museum has presented a tribute to a living actor in its more than 90-year history.“Beautiful actresses come and go,” Joshua Siegel, a MoMA curator, said in video message shown at the Rome screening. “But they usually don’t endure over a period of some 60, 65 years.”Cardinale with Fabio Rinaudo at the opening night of “8 ½,” in Rome, in 1963. Archivio Luce CinecittàCardinale said she would not be in New York for the retrospective; she no longer travels like she used to. It tires her — she now uses a cane to get around — and she prefers to stay out of the limelight.Cardinale was in the public eye long enough, starring in more than 100 films since 1956. For many film buffs, she is best remembered for her roles in Italian cinema classics: as the young wife Ginetta in Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and His Brothers”; as Angelica, a commoner whose vitality and beauty seduces Sicilian aristocracy in Visconti’s “The Leopard”; as the enigmatic Claudia in Federico Fellini’s “8 ½,”; or as the feisty Jill, the widow with a ranch to protect in Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.”She also has boasting rights from her star turn in Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo,” a legendarily difficult movie that was shot in the Peruvian jungle and described in The New York Times as a favorite of “connoisseurs of production disasters,” and the movie and its making as “fables of daft aspiration.”Cardinale has said that “Fitzcarraldo” was the adventure of her life, but during an interview last month, she said she had no particular favorites. “My God, I’ve done some many, I don’t know which one I prefer,” she said, and laughed again. “Maybe ‘Once Upon a Time in the West,’” she said, “and then so many others.”Cardinale in “Once Upon a Time in The West.”Paramount Pictures, via Everett CollectionThe MoMA tribute, organized with Cinecittà, Italy’s national film company, includes some of Cardinale’s better known performances. But for the occasion, Cinecittà also restored three works less likely to be known to American audiences: “Bebo’s Girl,” but also Marco Ferreri’s 1972 “The Audience,” about a man’s obsession with meeting with the pope, and Pasquale Squitieri’s 1990 “Atto di Dolore,” about a widow whose son is a drug addict.Though Cardinale’s name will forever be associated with classics of Italian cinema, she spoke little Italian when she first set foot there in 1957.Cardinale was born in Tunisia in 1938, into a family of Sicilian immigrants that had settled there decades before. “I still feel a little bit Tunisian,” Cardinale told the news agency ANSA in May at a ceremony to name a street in her honor in the port town La Goulette, near Tunis.In 1957, she won the Most Beautiful Italian in Tunisia contest, which came with what turned out to be her ticket to stardom: a trip to the Venice Film Festival.Cardinale on the set of the film “Austerlitz” by Abel Gance (1960).Archivio Luce CinecittàIn “Claudia Cardinale: The Indomitable,” a book published by Cinecittà and Electa to coincide with the MoMA tribute, the author and critic Masolino D’Amico recalls being at that festival and seeing Cardinale for the first time, “splendid in all her youthfulness,” wearing an emerald green bikini and posing for the paparazzi.“She seemed to think that small shower of camera clicks was like a game,” Masolino writes. “She was not — I understand this clearly now — trying to be sexy, and maybe not even attractive. She was simply happy to be there.”In Venice, she caught the eye of Franco Cristaldi, at the time one of Italy’s most important producers, who, in Pygmalion fashion, transformed the young ingénue into an in-demand movie star. He also became her life partner, adopting her son, Patrick Cristaldi. Now 64, he was initially passed off as her brother so as not to crack her “virginal feel and glow,” or to scandalize society, Cardinale’s daughter, Claudia Squitieri said.Stardom had a price. Cristaldi demanded hard work and discipline, and in 1962 drafted a contract that oversaw every aspect of the actress’s life, professional and private. She accepted, if reluctantly: Her family depended on her, and she had a child to raise.That life ended when she met the director Pasquale Squitieri in 1973 on the set of “I guappi,” (“Blood Brothers”) and the two fell madly in love. Their careers took a hit: Cristaldi was a powerful producer in Italy whom industry people feared crossing.“Claudia Cardinale: The Indomitable,” a book published by Cinecittà and Electa to coincide with the MoMA tribute. via Puntoe VirgolaCardinale would make nine films with Squitieri, even after she moved to Paris and he remained in Rome. Never married, they eventually split, but remained close.Claudia Squitieri and Patrick Cristaldi now live with their mother in a house near Fontainebleau, France, where Cardinale has created a foundation to support two causes close to her heart: women’s rights and the environment. Cardinale has been a UNESCO good will ambassador since 2000, for campaigning work to improve the status of women and girls, and she is the honorary president of Green Cross Italy, an environment advocacy group that sponsors an award for sustainable films at the Venice Film Festival. The foundation is “something to continue her shine,” said Squitieri, who runs the organization for her mother.Cardinale said she was very close to Squitieri. “I am lucky to have this daughter, who I adore,” she said. “She looks after me; she looks after everything.”Because Cardinale won’t be in New York this week, Squitieri will do the honors. On Friday, the “Bebo’s Girl” screening will be followed by “Un Cardinale donna” (“A Woman Cardinal”), a whimsical short featuring the actress, produced for the retrospective by Manuel Maria Perrone.Speaking at the film’s Rome premiere, Perrone said that “dealing with an idol, with such a strong icon, is something extremely difficult, even fragile.”“She’s been doing this her whole life,” he said. “Being an icon is her job.”Claudia CardinaleFeb. 3 through Feb. 21, at the Museum of Modern Art; moma.org. More

  • in

    ‘Godland’ Review: Another of God’s Lonely Men Goes Amok (Spiritually)

    In this striking drama set in the late 19th century, a Danish priest travels to Iceland and is gradually undone by a world he can’t understand.Soon after the Danish priest at the center of “Godland” staggers onto Iceland for the first time, he falls to his knees. For the rest of this sly, brutal movie he will keep on staggering and falling, overcome by the harsh weather, the unforgiving land, his difficult venture and, most crucially, his vainglorious ego. He’s been selected to establish a new church in a small Icelandic community, but somewhere along his travels he has forgotten that crucial lesson about pride, destruction and haughty spirits.A story of faith and struggle set in the late 19th century, “Godland” tracks the priest, Lucas (an effective Elliott Crosset Hove), as he sails to Iceland, which he trudges across by horse, foot and finally stretcher. Outwardly, his mission is familiar. The church will promote the faith and provide services to the coastal flock, a commission that he undertakes with confidence, a stack of heavy books and a large, cumbersome still camera that he straps to his back (his cross to bear). He hopes to photograph the people that he meets during his expedition, a ludicrous, paradoxical idea for a man who proves wholly incapable of seeing the world around him.The rough beauty of that world is crucial to the movie’s appeal and its ideas. The writer-director Hlynur Palmason was born in Iceland and he makes quick, shrewd use of the country’s natural attractions from the moment Lucas lurches on a moodily gray beach, the wind lashing his thin, black-clad body. “You must adapt to the circumstances of the country and its people,” an older priest had warned Lucas, whose overweening confidence remains unshaken even when he hears that a volcano has recently erupted on the island. Like innumerable travelers, he has set out to conquer a land that won’t easily submit.It’s summer when Lucas arrives in Iceland and sets off on horseback with a half-dozen others, including a translator (Hilmar Gudjonsson) and a watchful local guide, Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson). Across a wild, geographically diverse expanse of lowlands, plateaus and jagged mountains, the party pushes relentlessly forward. It’s a hard and perilous excursion, one made increasingly more difficult by Lucas, whose self-confidence — inborn or instilled — rapidly hardens into dangerous willfulness. As Palmason steadily paints a portrait of the country with one panoramic image after another, Lucas’s mind and physical health crumble. He makes reckless decisions, endangers others and prays for deliverance.Built on visual and thematic contrasts, spirit and flesh included, the bulk of the story is roughly divided between Lucas’s journey to the coast and what happens after he arrives. The journey is the strongest, most revelatory section, and the land’s extremes — its beauties and perils, its mossy-green stretches and outcroppings of black lava, its depthless gorges and sweeping plains — set the tone and mood while revealing Lucas’s character facet by facet. Working with a boxy aspect ratio and making expressive use of long shots that can turn travelers into specks, Palmason underscores the grandeur of this place and the puniness of those traversing it.“Godland” gestures at several intersecting themes — belief, the struggle to hold onto faith, the impermanence of being — with greater suggestiveness than depth. It’s a sharp, dryly funny, at times cruel exploration of human arrogance and frailty. And while it can be read as a critical commentary on organized religion (by all means, do), Palmason’s primary focus throughout remains on Lucas’s individual failings, his sour disposition, reckless impatience and stubbornness. He’s a funny-strange, sometimes ridiculous, off-putting character, and Palmason and his actor’s boldest touch is that they never try to make you like Lucas, which leaves you wondering where you should park your sympathies.That uncertainty builds as the journey continues, nicely complicating the story and imbuing it with an unsettling thrum of tension. Is Lucas a fool or simply foolish, a villain or victim? Palmason continues teasing these questions after the priest and the other travelers arrive. There, in an overextended final stretch, Lucas oversees the church construction and enters into a progressively tricky relationship with a family that has a restless daughter of marriageable age (Vic Carmen Sonne) and a sharp-eyed patriarch (the quietly charismatic Jacob Hauberg Lohmann).The final section of “Godland” is engaging and has a persuasively rooted sense of a people and a place as well as some self-conscious filmmaking flourishes (including hardworking time-lapse images of a dead horse decaying over the seasons). Even so, this later stretch doesn’t productively expand on everything that has come earlier during Lucas’s journey — that defining interlude when he encountered the natural world and its splendors, and catastrophically turned the Earth’s divinity into self-aggrandizing tribulation.GodlandNot rated. In Danish and Icelandic, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 23 minutes. In theaters. More

  • in

    ‘Una Vita Difficile’ Review: Life Comes at You Fast

    Alberto Sordi stars as an idealistic Italian Everyman caught up in a changing postwar world in this rediscovered comedy from the ’60s.“Una Vita Difficile” (“A Difficult Life”) slides and skitters over nearly two decades of Italian history, from the partisan battles with German occupiers after the fall of Mussolini to the economic boom of the 1960s. It’s a movie — released in Italy in 1961 and only now making its way to North American screens — about a great many wonderful and vexing things, including love, honor, money, cinema, politics and Alberto Sordi’s remarkable chin.Most obviously and poignantly, it’s about the experience of time: how the months fly and the hours drag; how life changes all at once and not at all; how hope mutates into regret. Consider just two small, memorable moments, which can also stand as evidence of the wisdom and ingenuity of Dino Risi, the director.At the end of an early scene in an old mill near Lake Como, the camera’s gaze comes to rest on an intact prosciutto suspended from a rafter over an unused bed. The image fades out, and in the next shot a picked-over bone — all that’s left of the ham — hangs over the bed, which is now occupied by Elena (Lea Massari), an innkeeper’s daughter, and Silvio (Sordi, his chin temporarily bearded), an antifascist fighter. A whole love story has unfolded in the slicing of the meat and the splicing of the film, a courtship and consummation in the blink of an eye.A few years later, the war is over, Elena is pregnant and she and Silvio are scraping by in Rome, where he writes for a left-wing newspaper. They run into an aristocratic so-and-so from Elena’s hometown up North, and find themselves invited to a formal dinner hosted by stalwarts of the old royalist order. It happens to be the day of the referendum that would abolish the monarchy and establish Italy as a republic. As news of the voting result comes in over the radio, the assorted members of the hereditary elite lose their appetites and shuffle away from the table, leaving Silvio and Elena, the only anti-monarchists at the party, their plates heaped with pasta and meatballs. They toast a bright, democratic future.Sometimes history breaks in their favor: love, valor and salumi in the mountains; democracy and pappardelle in the capital city. But the movie, a stellar specimen of commedia all’italiana by a true maestro of the form, is called “A Difficult Life” for a reason. Nothing goes quite as planned, and Silvio’s irrepressible jollity is no match for the tides and crosscurrents of postwar Italy. (The newly restored version opening at Film Forum this week comes with a helpful introductory note identifying important dates and events). The early years of the Republic bring hardship, disappointment and humiliation.Silvio, like Sordi a native Roman with a big heart and a booming voice, does not exactly cut a tragic figure. This is a comedy, after all, and even at his bravest he isn’t hewed from heroic stock. Elena, a person of lofty dignity and weary tenderness, demonstrates finer courage when she brains a German soldier with an iron, and perhaps greater fortitude as she weathers the misfortunes of their life together.Some of these are Silvio’s fault. Some can be blamed on Elena and her starchy mother (Lina Valonghi), who push Silvio away from journalism and politics toward a respectable career as an architect for which he is utterly unsuited. But the deeper source of his difficulty, and of the pathos that haunts the comedy, lies in a society seemingly determined to betray its own traditions and values. Political repression, mindless consumerism and the hardening of class divisions conspire to threaten Silvio’s happiness and rob him of Elena’s love.Sordi was one of Italy’s biggest movie stars of the boom years — he starred in “Il Boom” (1963), Vittorio De Sica’s definitive satire of the era’s skewed values — though not as internationally celebrated as some of his compatriots. He was a marvelous paradox: an alienated Everyman, a dignified buffoon, an avatar of ordinary Italianness menaced on one side by modern materialism and on the other by the encrusted legacies of feudalism and fascism.It’s a lot for one man — or one movie — to handle, and a smoother, sharper version of the same story could have been told with a different actor at the center, a more inward-turned, psychologically refined performer. But the disproportion that Sordi brings to the part is essential to Risi’s argument, which is precisely that Silvio doesn’t fit the scale of his times. He is at once too big and too modest, too simple in his needs and too unruly in the way he expresses them.Right after “Una Vita Difficile,” Risi made “Il Sorpasso,” a road comedy starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Vittorio Gassman that has long been regarded as a classic. The original English title of that film was “The Easy Life.” Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” (“The Sweet Life”) dates from the same period. So much life! All of these movies pulsate with the breathlessness and disorientation of a country simultaneously grappling with the past and speeding toward a confusing future. “Una Vita Difficile” belongs in their company. It also stands by itself as an exuberant bad time, a pity party that has no business being so much fun.Una Vita DifficileNot rated. In Italian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. In theaters. More

  • in

    ‘The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic’ Review: Just Like the Movies

    In this wry Finnish drama, a disabled man embarks on a journey to visit his girlfriend, encountering inaccessible infrastructure and evil goons along the way.The opening scenes of Teemu Nikki’s film tell us two things about its protagonist, Jaakko (Petri Poikolainen): first, that he’s a cinephile who can’t get through a single conversation without referencing John Carpenter; second, that he is blind and uses a wheelchair.“The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic” is a darkly comic drama about how Jaakko navigates life as a disabled man in Finland, yet his disability isn’t his defining characteristic. His wry judgments on movies are probably what you’ll remember most vividly about him, including his description of James Cameron’s “Titanic” as “the most expensive and calculated turd ever.”Jaakko may pretend he’s above sap, but he’s a romantic at heart. His daily phone conversations with his long-distance girlfriend, Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala), are as tender as they are witty, and when Sirpa’s cancer worsens, Jaakko embarks on a journey befitting a Hollywood caper: He sets off to visit her on his own, fumbling his way from taxi to train through a dispiritingly inaccessible urban landscape.Like his character, Poikolainen has multiple sclerosis, which has caused vision loss and partial paralysis. Nikki places us squarely within his perspective: The camera stays close to Jaakko, always at his eye level, blurring everything around him. But the script struggles to channel the character’s wonderfully playful, acerbic spirit.The obstacles Jaakko encounters range from banally outrageous (malfunctioning elevators at train stations) to cinematically outrageous (evil, goofy muggers wielding knives). Jaakko can’t help referencing “Fargo” even as he’s being threatened, but rather than follow that cue and dial up the whimsy, the plot eventually thins out into dissatisfying contrivances. Jaakko deserves better — and the charming, arresting Poikolainen does, too.The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See TitanicNot rated. In Finnish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. In theaters. More

  • in

    ‘Let It Be Morning’ Review: After the Wedding, the Siege

    A Palestinian citizen of Israel returns to his hometown and encounters problems in this film from Eran Kolirin.Opening titles situate “Let It Be Morning” “in a place not far from here a short while before peace breaks out.” The outlook for that tongue-in-cheek prediction only seems bleaker after the movie, set in an Arab village in Israel at the doorstep of — but not in — the West Bank.Sami (Alex Bakri), a Palestinian citizen of Israel, has returned to the village, his hometown, for his brother’s wedding. The evening is an annoyance for Sami, who works in software development in Jerusalem and looks down on family and friends who have stayed. But when he and his wife (Juna Suleiman) and son (Maruan Hamdan) try to leave that night, they encounter a blockade. The Israeli military has cut off the village, for reasons that officials never clarify.Adapting a Hebrew-language novel by the Palestinian author Sayed Kashua, the screenwriter-director Eran Kolirin uses the escalating absurdity and anger to illuminate social divisions. With the cellphone signal down in the village, Sami tries to make pals with an Israeli soldier whose brother he turns out to have known in school. Some villagers think they can end the siege by handing over workers who have come from the West Bank — a move Sami’s father sees as a betrayal. A cabdriver (Ehab Elias Salami) wants to organize a protest, but in Sami’s words, the locals can’t even pull together two people for backgammon.Despite flashes of droll humor, the film builds up an undercurrent of suspense, with the prospect of violence always near. Kolirin (the movie version of “The Band’s Visit”) orchestrates the proceedings with confidence and significant subtlety, never letting political diagnoses overwhelm character.Let It Be MorningNot rated. In Arabic and Hebrew, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. In theaters. More

  • in

    ‘Baby Ruby’ Review: Enfant Terrible

    This psychological horror movie stars Noémie Merlant as a new mother experiencing delusions and paranoia.As moody and messy as its eponym, “Baby Ruby” aspires to demonstrate how postpartum psychosis can feel like a horror movie. It just fails to make the condition feel like a particularly convincing or cohesive horror movie.The film begins with Jo (Noémie Merlant), a successful blogger, throwing her own baby shower at the chic upstate cabin she shares with her husband, Spencer (Kit Harington). Jo makes it plain that she intends to be a modern mommy who has it all: the affectionate marriage, the elegant home, the prosperous career and the angelic baby.In the weeks after she delivers Ruby, however, Jo experiences an onset of delusions and paranoia. Ruby is a colicky baby, and as Jo strives to summon up soothing techniques, she seesaws between the compulsive urge to safeguard the infant and the uncomfortable sensation of begrudging her existence.It was once considered taboo to even suggest that new motherhood was not all sunshine onesies and rainbow mobiles, and “Baby Ruby” arrives on a welcome wave of contemporary movies exploring how the joys of child rearing can commingle with misery.Yet the film, directed by Bess Wohl, often defaults to telling us about these emotional states rather than showing them. We learn that Jo is a control freak only through quarrels with Spencer’s overbearing mother (Jayne Atkinson) and chit chats with her new pal (Meredith Hagner, a riot offering respite from the gloom). Retro visual flair, such as repeat cuts and mirror effects, add some aesthetic interest to Jo’s spiraling. But “Baby Ruby” hardly whimpers, let alone screams.Baby RubyNot rated. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Amazon, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. More

  • in

    ‘Full Time’ Review: No Rest for the Working Girl

    A breathlessly tense portrait of modern labor, this French drama stars Laure Calamy as a single mother who hits her breaking point during a nationwide strike.“Full Time,” the second feature by Éric Gravel, begins with a womblike moment of rest before pushing the pedal to the floor and launching us into the chaotic workweek of Julie (Laure Calamy), a single mother and the lead chambermaid of a 5-star hotel in Paris.Julie’s routine is demanding yet commonplace: She drops the kids at the nanny’s house, rushes to make the train, endures a lengthy shoulder-to-shoulder commute and settles into her shift tending to the whims of the hyper-wealthy. Then it’s back to the exurbs and the restless little ones, while the slivers of time she manages to carve out for herself are consumed by applying for a new job. Then repeat.The film is a portrait of modern labor that moves with the breathless tension of a Safdie brothers’ joint. But instead of gangsters and cocaine, it finds a flurried momentum in one ordinary woman’s everyday obligations, which threaten to break her when a nationwide strike throws her tenuous act off balance.Unpredictable public transport delays and cancellations get the worker bee in trouble with her snooty boss and septuagenarian nanny, while taxi rides that cost triple the rate of a regular ride drain her bank account. Her ex-husband hasn’t paid his alimony and hasn’t been answering his phone, and it’s their eldest child’s birthday this weekend. Improvisation is necessary, from hitchhiking to nudging the doorman for favors, but Julie — given anxious verve by the always-magnetic Calamy — isn’t a shameless hustler so much as she is acting sheepishly out of necessity.Julie isn’t in a position to throw off her uniform and hit the streets in protest, but the movement (and the inconveniences it causes) isn’t the problem — it’s a symptom. Worked to the bone because of her inability to find decent employment and child care, because her supervisor only values her insofar as she obeys like a robot, Julie is a veritable Everywoman, in thrall to a system that demands productivity at every turn. Such a life makes one brittle, but there are no breaks.Full TimeNot rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. In theaters. More