Reviews: A Nobel winner, ‘Adult Swim Yule Log’ and more

By | December 23, 2022

‘The Super 8 Years’

French author Annie Ernaux won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this year, for nearly 50 years of novels and memoirs that have described a life lived in a kind of netherworld, between social classes and social movements. As a cosmopolitan academic who was born and raised in a working-class small town — and as a political progressive often surrounded by family members with no use for feminism or socialism — Ernaux has written thoughtfully and compassionately about the contradictions inherent to being European in the second half of the 20th century.

The documentary “The Super 8 Years” is like an illustrated Ernaux essay, filled with rich detail and painfully honest reflection. The film’s images are drawn from silent home-movie footage shot by Ernaux and her then-husband Philippe in the 1970s and ’80s, when they were raising two young sons, experiencing success in their respective careers, and gradually realizing their marriage was doomed. They didn’t film that decline, of course. Instead, Annie and Philippe brought out their camera for special occasions, like Christmas, family visits and vacations. Ernaux’s narration fills in the gaps, explaining what was really going on in and around all those grainy moving pictures of a smiling mom and her happy-looking kids.

Directed by Ernaux and her son David Ernaux-Briot, “The Super 8 Years” isn’t just about fading passion. It’s about kids growing up, nations in transition, the author’s lingering ambivalence about being well-off enough to hop to London, Moscow, Albania or elsewhere — sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for work, sometimes for reasons half-remembered. This moving, probing, beautifully written film doesn’t completely eschew nostalgia, but like Ernaux’s books, it treats the past as a prism, casting varying light depending on how, when and where it’s held.

‘The Great 8 Years.’ In French with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 5 minutes. Available on Cinema Now; also playing theatrically, Jan 23 only, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica; Lamble Glendale; Lammle Claremont 5

‘Adult Swim Yule Log’

The Cartoon Network late-night programming bloc known as “Adult Swim” often features wild TV experiments — like the viral one-off special “Too Many Cooks” a few years back, which turned the opening credits of a family sitcom into an unending nightmare . Now “Too Many Cooks” writer-director Casper Kelly has produced something even odder and more ambitious with “Adult Swim Yule Log,” which starts as an image of a crackling fire before shifting unexpectedly after a few minutes into a feature-length horror film .

The movie begins with a just-out-of-frame murder at a cabin in a tourist-friendly southern town. When the current renters (played by Justin Miles and Andrea Laing) arrive at the property, the depraved killers quickly hide, as the camera pulls back to reveal the whole living room in a static shot, with the fireplace still at the center. Kelly holds on this framing for roughly the next half-hour, as the couple’s plans for a romantic weekend get spoiled by obnoxious true-crime podcasters, space aliens, cultists, extradimensional meddlers and a deadly flying log.

By the time the flaming hunk of wood starts zooming around the cabin, Kelly has abandoned his unmoving, unblinking camera gimmick and is shooting the picture more like a conventional low-budget genre piece — albeit one where ghostly visions of the cabin’s past residents occasionally float across the screen. There’s a lot going on here, including an homage to David Lynch, some thoughts about the Butterfly Effect and passing reflections on the damaging legacies of slavery and colonialism. Kelly tries a bit too much, favoring shock and absurdity over consistency and coherence. But the attempt alone is exciting; and it offers a refreshing alternative for those who prefer their holiday entertainment to be spooky, not sentimental.

‘Adult Swim Yule Log.’ TV-MA, for language and violence. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on HBO Max

‘Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge’

The horror-comedy anthology “Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge” picks up where its predecessor left off, beginning at a funeral for “Rad” Chad Buckley (Jeremy King), a specialty video store owner who was impaled at the end of the first movie. Via a taped message, Chad invites the mourners to enjoy a terrifying immersive experience, forcing them to endure a series of “Saw”-like torture traps, which they can escape by paying attention to four short films. The mini-movies are all knowing riffs on various thriller subgenres: a slasher terrorizing a sorority, another slasher in the woods, a haunted piece of media, and a collection of Stephen King-esque characters reviving a corpse.

As with most omnibus films, the individual segments here feature vaguely amusing concepts that never quite develop into satisfying stories. The real meat of “Scare Package II” is in its framing narrative, which takes up more of the running time than is normal for these kinds of movies — to the point where it starts to feel excessive. Throughout, though, the project’s organizers Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns show a disarming affection for the material they’re parodying, coupled with a fannish glee as they fill their film with nifty practical gore effects. Horror hounds should appreciate all the inside jokes and references — while also wishing the movie itself were as consistently good as its influences.

‘Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 38 minutes. Available on Shudder

‘Code of Silence’

British crime drama “Code of Silence” is the latest to tackle the criminal reign of the notorious twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray in 1950s and ’60s London. In this version, director Ben Mole and screenwriter Luke Bailey take a somewhat different angle, focusing less on the Krays than on the special investigative unit that brought their organization down, led by Detective Superintendent Nipper Read (Stephen Moyer). The police make headway in the case when they shift their attention to the brothers’ associates and accomplices, pressing the lackeys for testimony by taking them to a remote, run-down building and grilling them for hours.

The actual cops and robbers action is sparse in the film, limited mostly to short flashbacks during the long interrogation and debriefing scenes. That’s a choice likely dictated by budgetary constraints rather than creative inspiration, but it mostly works, thanks to a cast talented enough to bring dramatic intensity to page after page of expository dialogue. It takes time to adjust to the movie’s style; and some may still find the “more talk less violence” approach too inert. But many of the conversational standoffs between Read and the Krays’ gang (including a few tussles with the brothers themselves, played by Ronan Summers in a dual role) are as brutal as any shootout.

‘Code of Silence.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 37 minutes. Available on VOD

A scene from the short film “Le Pupille.”

(Disney+)

‘Le Pupille’

Film buffs who’ve seen and loved Italian writer-director Alice Rohrwacher’s movies “The Wonders” and “Happy as Lazzaro” should hustle over to Disney+ to watch her “Le Pupille,” a Christmas-themed short film based on an Elsa Morante story . Set at a Catholic orphanage during World War II, the film stars Alice’s sister and frequent collaborator Alba Rohrwacher as a severe mother superior, who constantly reminds her group of little girls to be grateful for what they have and not give in to their selfish or worldly desires. The nun’s philosophy of austerity is tested when a parishioner shows up at the church’s annual Nativity display with a decadent cake for the kids. It’d be a sin to spoil what happens next, but suffice to say this charming and surprisingly suspenseful film shares with Rohrwacher’s other work, a puckish sense of humor and a deep understanding of how sometimes, in the name of righteousness, people can be awfully wicked

‘Le pupil.’ In Italian with subtitles. PG, for thematic elements. 37 mins. Available on Disney+

So streaming

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is the second in writer-director Rian Johnson’s wonderful series of twisty, witty, star-studded tales of murder among the rich and spoiled, starring Daniel Craig as the dapper detective Benoit Blanc. This film is set at the lavish island home of a tech billionaire (played by Edward Norton), who gathers a group of old friends and social media influencers for a game that quickly goes awry, leaving everyone’s weaknesses and secrets exposed. Available on Netflix

So on VOD

A child embraces a young man.

Frankie Corio, left, and Paul Mescal in a scene from “Aftersun.”

(A24)

“After Sun” is the debut feature film from writer-director Charlotte Wells, who turns her memories of her father into a sweet, sad story, about a preteen girl named Sophie (played by the phenomenally gifted young actress Frankie Corio) spending a summer vacation with her emotionally unstable dad (Paul Mescal) at a Turkish resort in the 1980s. Wells makes daring, artistically fruitful choices with the movie’s structure, subtly framing the picture as the adult Sophie looking back on her childhood, remembering the good moments while also trying to notice what she missed when she was a kid. Available on VOD

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is one of the most entertaining 1970s New York crime movies, tracking a citywide effort by the Transit Police (led by a grumpy lieutenant played by Walter Matthau) to defuse a hostage situation aboard a hijacked subway train. The new 4K Blu-ray edition includes multiple scholarly commentary tracks and fascinating featurettes that focus on the editing, the music and the state of the NYC transit system circa 1974. KL Studio Classics

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