King Cobra. If the events of this week weren’t already proof enough, we’re definitely living in a new millennium. We’re through the looking glass, people — where Oscar nominated actor James Franco can be bent over a pool table yelling “Give me that big dick!” and not worry about his movie-star cred. Where ’80s heartthrob Christian Slater can command Disney kid Garrett Clayton to “show me that cock.” I can’t say I know quite what to make of it all. There’s a feeling in King Cobra, pictured, of a lurid tell-all — not about the main character, famed porn star Brent Corrigan (Clayton), but about a subculture of gay life (do we really want straight folks knowing what a “twink” is? Isn’t that our thing?) Writer-director Justin Kelly tells the story with authenticity but not a wink of irony: The porn recreations are cheesy, but not mockingly so, as Boogie Nights did. He creates a sense of verisimilitude that lends the whiff of credibility — the stakes are real. Does it veer toward cliche, especially in the “cross me and I’ll show you” way? Yes, of course. But Clayton’s dewy-eyed innocence and Slater’s rabid desperation somehow normalize the sleaze — young men gay become middle aged men, and the world turns upside down. How can you not relate? Now playing at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars.
Loving. There’s a scene early in Loving where Richard (Joel Edgerton), a white man, and his wife Mildred (Ruth Negga), a black woman, are sleeping when the cops — without warning or warrant — storm in and rip them from their bed, tossing them into jail for the crime of who they love. Watching it, I couldn’t help but imagine a similar scenario decades later in Houston, where the couple wasn’t interracial but same-sex. Both invasions led to seminal Supreme Court decisions about the nature of sex in an enlightened age. It’s a horrifying moment, but also a necessary one — the scene that reminds of that justice doesn’t just happen, but has to be taken. For the remainder of Loving, the couple quietly struggle to get on with their lives after being banished from their home state of Virginia, where their marriage is a crime, until their cause becomes a case for the ACLU. The best thing about the movie might be that this is not a “hail the heroic lawyers” courtroom drama; writer-director Jeff Nichols keeps the focus on the people and what this means to them as individuals, not avatars. He doesn’t gussy it up with fake drama … which also means he doesn’t dress it up with much drama, either. This is a quiet character study that focuses on the actors (especially Edgerton, whose steely stare under hooded eyes belies a confusion about the depths people go in their prejudices), sometimes at the expense of a stronger story arc. Despite its shortcomings, Loving reminds us how fragile our rights are, and that things we take for granted came at a high cost. Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.
Arrival. I didn’t screen Arrival until after the election — a time when I was desperately looking for some hope to grab onto. I found it, though it is perhaps ironic that it came in the form of a sci-fi film about communicating with other worldly creatures to prevent the destruction of humanity. Trailers seem to paint this film as a militarized alien-invasion movie, but it’s much more a thinking man’s thriller, closer to Contact or 2001 than Independence Day. A linguist (Amy Adams) is enlisted by the army to figure out the language of a race of heptapods who have set up shop in 12 locations around the world. Unable to decipher their grunts and clicks, she instead learns their complex, highly symbolic written language, and discovers the true meaning of their visit, and the life altering technology about to befall us. Despite its fantastical setting, this is a somber character study — there are basically only six characters, not counting the aliens — and that introduces time travel in one of the few satisfying ways movies have ever done. It’s dour and darkly beautiful, but surprisingly hopeful. The director, Denis Villeneuve, has shown his adeptness at complicated plots containing powerful subtexts in Prisoners and Sicario, but this may be his best yet, a movie about the future that also teaches us much about the present. Now playing in wide release.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2016.