Directed by Anne Fontaine
Now streaming on Netflix
"Adore" is about lifelong best friends, Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright), who fall in love with each other's teenage sons. The sexual undertones are there from the beginning, so it is less a shocker when this happens than brash foreshadowing: The women comment on the physical appearance of their sons as they're surfing ("They’re beautiful. They’re like young gods."); they joke with the boys about their breasts; and in another scene, they both sip drinks while watching the boys shower on the beach. There are even sexual comments made about Roz and Lil's relationship when they question whether or not they're romantically interested in each other, and recall a time when they practiced kissing.
Soon enough, all of the sexual tension comes to a head and sparks a relationship between Roz and Lil’s son Ian (Xavier Samuel). When Roz's son Tom (James Frecheville) finds out, he begins an affair with Lil. Cleverly, Fontaine does not play this unusual arrangement for dramatic fireworks. I mean, someone's going to be genuinely upset about this, right? The boys basically grew up with both of these women as mother figures and when the affairs start it all seems very, very Oedipal, but after a very brief rift, everyone just kind of gets over it because they're happy. Perhaps because the women don't have to grow up if they're dating the younger male versions of themselves and the teenage boys are teenage boys, so this works for them, or maybe because this unlikely arrangement is sincere and infused with real feelings.
The film doesn't actually provide much insight into their relationships; instead it focuses on the comparison of each boy's commitment to their relationship and how one is much stronger than the other. This comparison legitimizes the relationships to the viewer, so they aren't perceived as a screwed-up fantasy. It's odd how normal it seems and the decision to downplay shock value is this movie's boldest provocation. Conflict finally arises when the movie flashes forward two years. The boys are now both 20, and the women decide they should try to put an end to their relationships. Hell is unleashed, outside factors threaten everyone's bonds with each other, and you'll actually find yourself rooting for these relationships to work. (Ashley Stephenson)
Directed by Ravi Dahr
Now streaming via Netflix
Hulking stuntman Nick Principe, who looks like Clive Owen as drawn by Tom of Finland, plays John Falcon, just out of jail after serving 10 years for robbery and immediately ready to take revenge on his brother Sam (Todd Farmer), who left him for dead and also got Darling (Robin Sydney), Falcon's wife, hooked on drugs. Yeppers, pure uncut pulp right here, though director Ravi Dahr shoots the thing as if it's an art film, all through a greasy lens with a documentarian's shaky hand, and there are a number of unexpected references to grimy sensitive douche cinema like "Buffalo 66" and "Bellflower." The movie's pretty much just the third act of "Drive" for all three of its acts, mixed with "Sons of Anarchy" ridiculousness and a little bit of the glib cynicism of "Breaking Bad."
Indeed, if Jesse Pinkman, Badger, and Skinny Pete made a movie, it would probably be a lot like "American Muscle": Every woman gets naked and has sex with Falcon and every man grunts and snorts and looks like they're from an episode of "Pawn Stars," so it's sexist goofy garbage that moves into the mean-spirited quite a bit (too much, really), but I'll take it because rarely do you watch a movie these days that has you wondering what kind of sleazeballs actually made the thing, you know? Really, it should just be a narrative porn in the throwback '70s fuck-flick mode, but alas, it is not, but what can you do.
The punch-drunk dialogue sounds like it was written by 14-year-old boys ("My dick hits harder than that," someone say when they're punched) and is often funny as hell, like this quotable from brother Sam: "If you see a '73 coward yellow Duster it's my brother. I need you to do me a favor . . . I need you to kill him for me." Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: Falcon drives a brightly colored Plymouth Duster, hence the title, which is so clearly not the way to stealthily travel if you're going to sneak up on your old friends and family members and murder them, but it looks great (we can only wish the movie were actually porn but it is certainly car porn) and the other option would be to not have a muscle car in this movie and then where would we be? Style matters here and "American Muscle" is unexpectedly rakish. All of the blood is CGI, which was presumably a logistical way to do this movie on the cheap though it adds another surreal level to the thing. And there are nice little characterizations, like Falcon's addicted wife Darling, living in a tent indoors, in an otherwise empty room in Sam's meth mansion. It's a strangely affecting Wes Anderson-ian touch that totally doesn't need to be there in a movie made by guys that probably would've called Wes a fawkin' pussy back in high school, but there it is. What stellar trash. (Brandon Soderberg)