FALSE POSITIVE. To dispense with it at the outset: Yes, Rosemary's Baby (1968) is part of the conversation. It has been for more than half a century. It arguably invented — or at least created a lasting identity for — mainstream American horror movies and, in so doing, created its own ripple-effect of sub-genres within sub-genres that is still being repeated. As always, there is an argument to be made by scholars with better educations than I about predecessors, pretenders, etc., but, in its way, Rosemary's Baby was Jaws before Jaws.
As innovative as it was (and continues to be), that movie is very much a product of its time, one of the earmarks of which being its apparent relative silence on the politics (geopolitical, gender and otherwise) of the day. One of the subversive successes of the movie, of course, is the implicit discussion of women's lack of agency in American culture, much less dominion over their own bodies. (It gets a little dicey when we bring director and convicted child rapist Roman Polanski into the discussion.) Because that theme is cloaked in Gothic horror, with ominous overtones of good and evil, God and the Devil, and all of that, the movie would seem to have been a popular success almost in spite of itself. It scared people in a way they hadn't been scared and, arguably, got away with the trick of satire largely unnoticed. I didn't see it in 1968 and decades later did not watch it as cultural commentary on its era; I was too immersed in the story.
All of which is an unfair but unavoidable preamble to some thoughts about False Positive, feature debut from director John Lee, starring Ilana Glazer and co-written by Lee, Glazer and Alissa Nutting.
Lucy (Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) are, by all appearances, a definitively happy, successful couple, except for their seeming inability to conceive. After two years of attempts, Adrian calls in a favor from his apparent mentor and colleague Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). Hindle has pioneered an artificial insemination method, an innovative and staggeringly successful technique that very quickly produces the desired result for the couple.
As the pregnancy progresses, though, biological complications rapidly give way to psychological and sociological ones, and Lucy finds herself struggling to maintain some understanding of reality as it is happening to her.
The skeleton of this story, needless to say, calls back clearly to Rosemary's Baby; while it probably could not hope to have the impact and resonance of that movie, False Positive does a more intentional, more inventive job of using the archetypes of something canonical to comment on contemporary culture than most. Occasionally it overindulges its own sense of whimsy, with "dream sequences" or manipulated perspectives on reality, causing the narrative to sag. In spite of such moments, though, the movie overall is concise, compelling and an appropriate, timely comment on patriarchy and birth politics in 21st century America. With more than a little body horror, some knowing glances and a truly memorable final shot. R. 92M. HULU.
NO SUDDEN MOVE. Steven Soderbergh gets as much play here as any Big Name director. Were Quentin Tarantino (or a handful of others) to make a movie every year, he would certainly contend for the title, but that's the point. Tarantino — like him/his work or not — has a very specific plan for his career:
He has had the admitted good fortune of working as an auteur in an industry that barely knows what that means, and so he works in with old-fashioned methods at a deliberate pace. I've referred to him, not without affection, as a dinosaur. Soderbergh is, to overuse a weak metaphor, a shark: can't stop won't stop. He threatened retirement almost a decade ago, when he felt his frustration with the industry was simply insurmountable. But then he found the space within himself to transcend and transgress; technology caught up with his ultra-economical ethos and now, in his late period, he has been more prolific and arguably more consistent than ever before. Which, by extension, means more than anybody else.
In his continuing, laser-like reading of the landscape, Soderbergh made a deal with HBO/Warner Bros. (after working with Netflix). Last year that arrangement yielded Let Them All Talk, which of course was unsurprisingly surprising and well worth seeking out. Now we have No Sudden Move, a 1954 Detroit-set caper/industrial espionage thriller starring Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, among many others. Written by Ed Solomon, the script plays ingeniously with Angus MacPhail and Alfred Hitchcock's notion of the MacGuffin, while also elliptically describing a power struggle among the organized crime and more organized crime figures (read: titans of industry) controlling the cash and cultural currency of Detroit. The city stands in, of course, for the American experience at large.
Soderbergh ramps up the visuals here, with wiiiiiide angle lenses creating a sometimes discomfiting, distorted sense of events. It's an elegant way to present the material, though, which is all about betrayal and appearance versus reality. R. 115M. HBOMAX.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
BLACK WIDOW. Zip up your jumpsuit for prequel action with Marvel's spy heroine. Starring Scarlet Johansson. PG13. 133M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR, DISNEY PLUS.
BOSS BABY 2: FAMILY BUSINESS. Animated sequel in which adult brothers turn into babies and a villain weaponizes tantrums. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR, PEACOCK.
CRUELLA. Disney nails the live-action origin story with style, from the stellar cast to mind-blowing costuming and sets. Starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. PG13. 134M. BROADWAY, DISNEY PLUS.
F9. The franchise and its sprawling cast motor on with a long-lost brother and long-lost Han. Starring Vin Diesel and so, so many cars. PG13. 145M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE FOREVER PURGE. Who's left at this point? R. 103M. BROADWAY.
A QUIET PLACE II. Emily Blunt returns to shush for her life and freak me out even more about leaving the house in a sequel that may have outdone its predecessor. PG13. 97M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SUMMER OF SOUL. Documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 directed by Questlove. PG13. 117M. BROADWAY, HULU.
ZOLA. A Detroit server joins a new friend for weekend trip to make quick money dancing but things spiral out of control. R. 90M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.