By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! January 24, 2014 at 1:34PM
As Sundance starts to wrap up and Oscar voters continue filling out their ballots, it's a relatively light weekend in mainstream theaters, with Lionsgate's horribly reviewed "I, Frankenstein" opening Friday. But three must-see festival hits finally land at arthouses this weekend: France's "Stranger by the Lake," Chile's "Gloria" and US experimental doc "Visitors." Also hitting theaters is Vanessa Hudgens-starrer "Gimme Shelter." Trailers below.
Though Sebastian Lelio's refreshing midlife crisis dramedy "Gloria" got snubbed for the foreign language Oscar, star Pauline Garcia picked up the Silver Bear for Best Actress in Berlin for her remarkable performance as the title character. She plays a lonely yet loving divorcee in her mid-50s navigating late adulthood and finding love with another single man who awakens her senses to the thrumming joy of life and all its warts.
Steadily picking up raves since premiering in Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar last May, Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger by the Lake" takes an unnerving look at the politics of gay male cruising in a secluded lakeside oasis. The moody, slow-boiling thriller centers on Franck, a lonely, handsome man looking for love -- or something like it -- in all the wrong places. When an alluring, impeccably mustached stranger named Michel shows up, mysterious circumstances mount, quiet hysteria ensues and the film unspools into an explicit nightmare whose sex scenes top "Blue Is the Warmest Color" for sheer audacity and realism.
From "Koyaanisqatsi" director Godfrey Reggio, "Visitors" is yet another wordless, experimental doc that conjures a wildly cinematic dance between technology and the earthbound, set to the propulsive rhythms of modern day life. Made up of only 74 breathless shots, the film dazzles in black-and-white 4K presentation as a disorienting montage of people, places and faces.
Despite a strong cast featuring Vanessa Hudgens, James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson and Ann Dowd, "Gimme Shelter" currently faces some of the year's worst reviews so far. This shaggy true story centers on a pregnant 16-year-old girl's (Hudgens, in yet another serious attempt to break from Disney fame a la "Spring Breakers") hustle on the streets as she flees her ramshackle home life. Critics say it's grungy, maudlin and pointlessly bleak.
Meanwhile, in wide release, Stuart Beattie's "Underworld" knockoff "I, Frankenstein," starring Aaron Eckhart, is also getting the skewer, with a whopping 0% on the Tomatometer. Critics say this monstrosity isn't even so-bad-it's-good. So it's best to skip this late January horror, which sets the Mary Shelley horror tale in a "dystopic present where vigilant gargoyles and ferocious demons rage in a battle for ultimate power." Okay then.
Stranger by the Lake Dir. Alain Guiraudie, France | Strand Releasing | Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumcao, Jerome Chappatte | 100% Fresh | Variety: "An absorbing and intelligent exploration of queer desire spiced up with thriller elements after one of the studly nudists goes missing." | Our review
Gloria Dir. Sebastian Lelio, Chile | Roadside Attractions | Cast: Pauline Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fontecilla | 98% Fresh | The Hollywood Reporter: "Funny, melancholy and ultimately uplifting, Sebastian Lelio's enormously satisfying spell inside the head and heart of a middle-aged woman never puts a foot wrong." | Our review and roundup
Visitors Dir. Godfrey Reggio, USA | Cinedigm | 64% Fresh | The New Yorker: "A calculated philosophical emptiness pervades the solemnly contemplative, minutely gliding, powdery-matte images of this visual symphony by the director Godfrey Reggio." | Our review
Gimme Shelter Dir. Ron Krauss, USA | Roadside Attractions | Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, Ann Dowd | 17% Fresh | Village Voice: "Though the arc of the film is as saccharine as a Precious Moments figurine, Hudgens is too honest to believe in simple, happy endings."
A grievously ill-advised motion picture on every level."