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Arts in Review

Horny, Foul-Mouthed Young Nuns Run Amok in The Little Hours

DANCING NAKED IN THE WOODS with witches is not behavior expected from nuns, but after one of them screams "Don't fucking talk to us!" at a friendly gardener outside her convent in 14th century Italy, we know something's amiss with the sisters of The Little Hours, writer/director's Jeff Baena's comedy that opened July 14 in Chicago.

Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation) is the profanity-spewing young nun who, along with Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie, Mad Men) and Sister Generva (Kate Micucci, The Big Bang Theory) physically attacks the gardener the next time he smiles at her. The gardener has had enough and leaves, despite pleas to stay from Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), a kindly drunk who is having a secret affair with Sister Marea (Molly Shannon of Saturday Night Live ). Intoxicated, the father crashes his donkey cart in a woodland creek, losing embroideries made by the nuns, which he was supposed to sell.

Along comes Massetto (Dave Franco, James Franco's younger brother) a young servant who has fled the castle of Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman, also of Parks and Recreation) after being caught having sex with the baron's wife. Massetto helps Father Tommasso repair the broken donkey cart, and the father repays the favor by sheltering the young man at the convent, where in a mutually agreed-upon scheme he pretends to be a deaf-mute to avoid antagonizing the surly young sisters.

But before long the lusty nuns are forcing themselves on Massetto sexually—in one case at knife-point, in what amounts to a rape scene, after the sisters have ingested a home-brewed psychedelic drug. Looking for her turn with the stud, the big-eyed and awkward Sister Generva bursts—with blood-smeared cheeks (cut from her hand; the nuns' version of rouge) and half-mad from the potion—into his room at night, only to find Sister Fernanda and her friend Marta (Jemima Kirk of Girls) already there.

Tied, blindfolded and taken to the woods, Massetto is laid out next to a bonfire while a coven of naked witches dances in a circle around him, preparing to mount and then murder him. The uninvited Sister Generva can't help but join the party, stripping off her clothes and twirling about, but the distraction she creates leads to Massetto being spared.

A visiting bishop played by Fred Armisen arrives at the convent and is awakened in the middle of the night by the crazed Sister Generva, and soon he is scolding the entire order for their scandalous sins.

The Little Hours is a somewhat ridiculous movie that derives much of its humor and shock value from the device of having medieval nuns swear and talk like modern-day millennials. At the same time, the movie is gorgeously shot (by cinematographer Quyen Tran) and particularly when viewed on the big screen it has some stunning images, such as one in which the nuns in their white habits sit on a sunny hillside covered in wildflowers.

And despite their unsympathetic characters, Brie, Micucci and especially Plaza are irresistible to watch.

William Friedkin Revisits Exorcist, Documentary Roots in The Devil and Father Amorth

NEARLY 44 YEARS AFTER THE EXORCIST scared the hell out of audiences when it was first released in 1973, director William Friedkin is returning to the subject of demonic possession with a new feature-length documentary called The Devil and Father Amorth. Friedkin has long maintained that the original film was based on an actual case, but the new documentary follows a real priest, Father Gabriel Amorth, as he performs an exorcism on a young woman in Italy in 2016. The documentary will also compare the actual exorcism to the fictionalized one in the horror classic.

On the Fourth of July, Friedkin told Moresby Press that he had just finished the documentary.

The director was granted access to witness and film the real-life exorcism on a video camera. “I’ve never stopped being fascinated by the nature of good and evil, and the possibility of demonic possession,” he said in a May statement. 

Unlike in the 1973 movie, where the possessed child is strapped to a bed like a chained monster, the woman in the documentary visits the exorcist as if seeing a psychiatrist for therapy sessions. Still, Friedkin was terrified by what he witnessed, he wrote in Vanity Fair magazine.

The new film, Friedkin's first since Killer Joe in 2012, marks not only a return to the subject matter of demonic possession and exorcism, but to his documentary roots. The director got his start in live television for WGN in Chicago—where he was born and raised—and launched his filmmaking career with the TV documentaries The People vs. Paul Crump (1962), about a man on death row for murder who was set free because of the film; and The Thin Blue Line (1966), about the moral ambiguities of police work. Friedkin won the Academy Award for Best Director for his 1971 film The French Connection, in which he used what he called "an induced documentary" style of filmmaking that lent the true-crime thriller its powerful realism.

LD Entertainment has acquired worldwide rights to The Devil and Father Amorth. A release date for the film has not yet been announced.

Outcasts Hunted by Cannibals Find Love in The Bad Batch

A YOUNG WOMAN BRANDED and tossed into a fenced-off wasteland for society's undesirables soon finds herself captured by bodybuilding cannibals who saw off her right arm and leg and roast the limbs for dinner in The Bad Batch, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour's bizarre film released June 23.

Suki Waterhouse plays the main character Arlen, who manages to escape the cannibal camp by rolling herself supine on a skateboard across the Texas desert flats before meeting a mute hermit (a barely recognizable Jim Carrey), who conveys her in a shopping cart to "Comfort," a fortified compound of fellow castoffs protected from the flesh-eaters by a messianic drug lord (a mustached Keanu Reeves, looking like Pablo Escobar), who lives in a palace surrounded by a harem of pregnant women toting machine guns.

Arlen acquires a prosthetic leg and a revolver and ventures back into the desert seeking revenge. At a toxic garbage dump she finds and kills the wife of the head cannibal, as the woman's young daughter watches. Arlen takes the child back to Comfort, but loses her during a communal acid trip rave. Wandering back into the predawn wasteland to watch hallucinated shooting stars, Arlen doesn't realize that the child's father has snuck up on her. "Miami Man," a musclebound ruthless killer and cannibal but devoted dad and talented sketch artist (played by Jason Momoa), spares Arlen's life only because he wants her help in finding the little girl.

The drug lord and his harem have taken the child, and Arlen goes back to free her, knowing that Miami Man will kill her if she doesn't. Arlen develops a Stockholm-Syndrome-style affection for the tattooed brute who nourished himself on her flesh, and they settle into a new twist on the nuclear family.

Aside from a couple of scenes that drag and some  synthesizer rock on the soundtrack that doesn't fit the scenes of desert desolation, The Bad Batch is disturbingly gripping throughout, and one of this year's more original indie pictures. The movie was supported by the Sundance Institute, and Vice Media is named among its production companies.

A short by Amirpour shown before the feature sets the tone: An angelic young girl captures a frog in a creek—cutting her foot on broken glass in the process—before bringing the little creature to a smashing conclusion.

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