Movie Review: Beatriz at Dinner

With a timely script by frequent collaborator Mike White, Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner (A-) is billed as a dark comedy but is actually one of the most arresting dramas of the year, anchored by a title performance by Salma Hayek that will become an indelible part of the cinema canon and the actress’s defining role. Hayek plays a Mexican immigrant holistic healer who ends up as an unexpected guest at a ritzy celebratory house party hosted by Connie Britton’s character where a business real estate tycoon played by John Lithgow becomes a singular foil and object of obsession. Hayek fully inhabits nearly every frame of the film and is a stunning observer for what it means to be an American living in Trump’s 2017. She is as focused and feral as Lithgow is pompous and proud. This is one of those films sure to be referenced by academics who will note how fully it captures the mood and zeitgeist of a nation grappling with the specific politics of the here and now. Supporting actress Chloë Sevigny is always a delight, as is Jay Duplass as her increasingly drunk husband. The film captures the syncopation of conversation well, especially the ability of groups to change the subject. Given the gourmet feast of acting and reflection that abounds, the final ten minutes were a bit “dine and dash.” It’s otherwise a blissfully enjoyable if surprisingly melancholy trip to the thinking person’s table.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: All Eyez on Me

Benny Boom’s by the numbers Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez On Me (B-) is buoyed by Demetrius Shipp Jr. who is electric in the lead role and Danai Gurira who is effective in a supporting role as his political activist mother. Shakur the man spent his short 25 years as an entertainer, provocateur and man of contradictions, so it’s disappointing the film doesn’t get deeper under the surface at some critical junctures. The film starts as a bit of a superhero origin story, becomes a “behind the music” string of montages for a while and ultimately settles into a gangster epic as our hero joins Death Row Records. Shipp wears it all very well, even when his motivations aren’t always crystal clear. It’s still extraordinarily watchable, absorbing even, if fairly predictable and a bit overlong. Tinged with highlights of the rapper’s music and of period detail, the movie will take lots of folks back to the ’90’s and remind people about a magnificent talent taken away too soon.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: It Comes at Night (2017)

Written and directed by Terrence Malick protégé Trey Edward Shults, It Comes at Night (B+) is a superb psychological horror film that wrings generous art house thrills out of a straightforward apocalyptic premise. A couple and their son (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) have secluded themselves in a country home as a contagious disease plagues the outside world, and they are faced with a cat and mouse dilemma when visited by another couple and their son (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner) who may or may not be safe or worth harboring. Edgerton and Abbott are fabulous foils, one the rule-abiding master of an elaborate isolated house and the other the scallywag with a backstory. The casting is creative and unexpected: Abbott is wonderful, and the acting is great all around. Shults makes the most of a fairly low-budget bare-bones production space to stage his wicked one-upmanship. He is imaginative in what he doesn’t show the audience and teases with darkness as an effective canvas for scares in the first act before introducing a more conventional narrative. Hardcore horror fans may be let down by the lack of gore and by the calculated pace, but this summer film-goer was delighted at the effective storytelling on display.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot lasso a true kickstart to the summer movie season with grit and girlpower, spunk and splendor in the satisfying superhero movie Wonder Woman (B+). After an origin story prologue on Amazon island where warrior Diana grows up with a peacekeeping destiny and mentorship from Robin Wright, the narrative thrusts to Europe, where our heroine marshals a team of ragtag ruffians to infiltrate WWI enemies and attempt to thwart a bunch of baddies and their chemical weapons plot. Jenkins proves masterful in taking us to tentpole territory with a reverent tone, pulpy production values and motivated action. Gadot is a delight as a woman with singular purpose and a refreshing lack of irony. Chris Pine is superb as her foil, an American spy who answers her questions about the nuances of men’s modern warcraft and anatomy. Mostly, it’s old-fashioned adventure building on the spirit of the original Captain America or The Rocketeer, with moments of comedy in London a most enjoyable surprise. For thrills and good-natured fun, this is a high point for the otherwise murky D.C. comics cinematic universe and the antidote for and female-driven counterpoint to Michael Bay style phone-’em-in summer blockbuster machinations.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Baywatch (2017)

It’s sink or swim time at the multiplex, and Seth Gordon’s feeble film adaptation of guilty pleasure lifeguards on the loose TV series Baywatch (C-), complete with beach-side booty and treasured chests but not much else, fails to deliver enough compelling content to stay afloat. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are fine in stock roles as mismatched ocean-side officers, trading tired barbs and partaking in minor action sequences. Priyanka Chopra adds some sinister and Kelly Rohrbach some sweetness to a reed-thin plot line about a ritzy resort with a drug-dealing underground. The movie keeps its surf-ready bodies front and center but rarely scratches the surface in terms of consistent tone, wit or sentiment. It never quite settles on whether it’s a full-fledged parody, a hard-R comedy or just an action lark set in a familiar retro milieu. This is another comedic knockoff of the 21 Jump Street formula that just can’t capture magic in a bottle. Folks shouldn’t plan an adult swim or a breezy getaway expecting much out of this movie.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Told in multicolor hues that would make a frappuccino unicorn whinny and packed to the gills with gee-whiz gadgetry, action and laughter, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (B+) is most successful when it examines the unconventional family dynamics of Marvel’s outer space superheroes. With baby on board (Groot, that is, and his highjinks are precious), the Guardians’ shipmates encounter Peter’s father and Gamora’s sister, among assorted new characters, and must reflect on their place in the universe. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista display natural chemistry and charm. It’s like a Corleone saga with blasters and dick jokes. The new planets and plot lines are full of intrigue, and the dialogue is witty and wise. It’s an early summer movie that delivers the goods.

 

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: The Circle (2017)

Despite being imminently topical as a meditation on privacy in the age of social media, James Ponsoldt’s The Circle (C-) manages to misfire in its major story arch, acting choices, thematic intensity and ultimate resolution. Emma Watson bears the burden of an underwritten role as the protagonist who joins an all-encompassing social networking company that takes an increasing interest in her personal life regardless of moral implications. Tom Hanks phones in a role as the is-he-smug-or-isn’t-he? company visionary. None of the actors in the ensemble is immune to the film’s deadly direction and trite dialogue. The film’s far-fetched plot points are made even more preposterous by their gaping holes. At least two incidents of miscasting lead to less than satisfying dramatic results and at utter lack of suspense. This movie is a major missed opportunity to connect and contemplate with the world of the here and now.

Book blogger Ashley Williams reviews the novel and the film, and we do a joint Q&A here on The Book Fetish blog.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

F. Gary Gray’s The Fate of the Furious (B-), the eighth film in the adrenaline-soaked automobiles and action series (and the reported first part of a three-film story arch of international espionage involving a cyberterrorism ring), logs a lot of miles to deliver its promised blockbuster goods. Heroes in hacking and hot-roding such as Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges are in fine form as Vin Diesel’s character is co-opted into a diabolical plan versus his mates by a criminal mastermind played by Charlize Theron. As Cipher, the film’s most interesting character, Theron singlehandedly ups the game. Her dialogue delivery is cunning, and it’s a hoot to watch her weaponize driverless cars on the streets of New York as easily as she mobilizes Russian submarines to torpedo our heroes. There’s a funny bit involving Jason Statham and a baby and a lovely cameo with Dame Helen Mirren (yup). Part of the fun of these films is the wanderlust, but Gray guides this entry all over the place. The pre-title sequence in Havana, featuring a fiery photo finish of a road race, may be the most simple and satisfying auto stunt in the whole movie. Later as we slog from Berlin to Russia with every type of pile-up possible, it occasionally feels like 13 year olds are going wild with their matchbox cars. Still, there’s an undeniable alchemy at work here, with machismo humor, high caliber stunts and those spoilers polished like a thing of beauty that keep folks clamoring for more.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Colossal (2017)

If you’ve ever felt like the late-night denizens on a bender in your neighborhood bar or Uber pool could be as destructive to urban life as Godzilla, Mothra or a Giant Robot, you’ll find comfort in Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal (B-), a hit or miss sci-fi fantasy with grander repercussions than are actually explored on screen. Anne Hathaway plays against type as a flighty NYC writer perpetually experiencing alcohol induced blackouts. Coinciding with her rural reboot to her childhood hometown, a worldwide panic breaks out with a gigantic monster appearing in Korea, and our protagonist and the creature just may be connected. Hathaway solidly anchors a far fetched and somewhat plot hole laden experiment with a tinge of a theme about the ripple effects of domestic squabbles and their unintended consequences. It’s a good thing the film’s undercurrents lean a bit on the feminist since the men in the ensemble including Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens and Tim Blake Nelson are fairly dreadful. The effects are impressive for what seems like a cult indie. Ultimately, it wasn’t quite an OMG when I was hoping it would at least be a BFG.

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Posted in 2017

Early Movie Review: Gifted (2017)

The actor Chris Evans superbly inhabits the role of his young lifetime as a caretaker uncle of a child prodigy in Mark Webb’s moving melodrama Gifted (B+). It’s easy to dismiss the film as Good Will Hunting: Junior Edition, Kramer vs. Kramer: Special Girl Genius Unit or even what happens next if Manchester by the Sea were just a wee bit less melancholy; but under Webb’s assured direction, the drama about whether Evans is the right person to rear a precocious first grader (solid child actor Mckenna Grace) plays out with freshness and even some third act surprises. Evans’ character, the beach bum brother of a deceased math genius, shines in his role opposite Grace, and the bond they create is indelible. The cast is roundly excellent, from Jenny Slate as a quirky teacher to Octavia Spencer as a supportive neighbor and maternal figure. But it is great stage actress Lindsay Duncan (last seen as the acerbic critic in Birdman) who steals her scenes as the controlling grandmother whose dreams of solving the great mathematical challenges of our era fall on her pint-sized progeny. You can see much of the conflict coming from a mile away, and yet the characters are real, the dialogue crisp and the tearjerking earned. It’s ultimately an uplifting tale of the sacrifices one makes for family. It’s a smart film about smart people and should enrich those who discover it.

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Posted in 2017

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