The Walking Dead returns, Better Call Saul rings again and more pop culture must-sees
There’s enough distance now from 2009’s Adventureland to see it for what it truly is: the kind of movie Cameron Crowe used to make. In this charming, funny movie, Jesse Eisenberg falls hard for Kristen Stewart while working at a decrepit amusement park in 1987. Few coming-of-age stories so effortlessly capture the weightlessness of impending adulthood, and supporting turns from Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig now seem right in line with their later, more mature work. For a midwinter summer vacation, stream it on Netflix or Amazon.
Son of Saul is the heavy favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. A Holocaust drama that follows one Jewish survivor looking for redemption, it’s a profoundly moving film, and it opens today at Tivoli Cinemas. Also out today: Michael Moore’s new doc, Where to Invade Next (at the Alamo Drafthouse), finds the agitprop provocateur traveling abroad to ask questions in countries that lead the world in low crime rates, good education and free healthcare. He knows all the answers, of course, but its still brisk, idea-rich entertainment.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution premieres on PBS Tuesday, but the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library is hosting a free public screening this morning at 11. Members of the confrontational African-American nationalist group will be on hand for a post-movie discussion touching on the parallels between what the Panthers were fighting for 50 years ago and where the current Black Lives Matter movement finds itself.
Happy Valentine’s Day — The Walking Dead is back on AMC, Last Week With John Oliver returns to HBO, and the Martin Scorsese-produced Vinyl bows on HBO. But this holiday is for lovers, and there’s Leo in the air, so you can remember DiCaprio’s rise to leading-man status with Alamo Drafthouse’s Titanic Feast. That means a five-course meal and 195 minutes of tragic, romantic inevitability, to be shared with your better half or even by yourself.
Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spinoff that had no right to be as good as it is, starts its second season tonight on AMC. What could have been a gimmicky, one-dimensional retread proved last year that creator Vince Gilligan is maturing as a showrunner. He kept the core of Bob Odenkirk’s odorous ambulance-chaser intact while rounding out his character — and that of fan favorite Jonathan Banks — with surprising depth.
Every now and then I see a movie that’s so perceptive; so clear-eyed in its criticism of modern culture, that it floors me. Death by Hanging is one such movie, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was released in 1968. New on Blu-ray from Criterion and streaming via Hulu today, this absurdist satire from Nagisa Oshima shows a man executed by the government whose body refuses to die. Challenging from a formal standpoint, this black comedy also compels us to examine class, race and morality in a way that still shocks in 2016.
Marielle Heller’s directorial debut, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, explores a 16-year-old’s burgeoning sexuality with such honesty that it’s a wonder it even got made. It’s set in 1976 — a year when audiences were exploring porn as mainstream entertainment — and it reflects those values. Bel Powley anchors this powerful first-person journey through dangerous waters, while Kristen Wiig plays her mother, and Alexander Skarsgard is mom’s boyfriend — and the object of her daughter’s desire. New on Blu-ray, or rent from iTunes or Amazon.
Eric Melin is editor of Scene-Stealers.com and president of the KC Film Critics Circle.