Beatriz at Dinner


Wine, women and song.

(2017) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, John Early, Sean O’Bryan, David Warshofsky, Enrique Castillo, Natalia Abelleyra, Soledad St. Hilaire, Amelia Borella, Debbie Kindred, Pamela Drake Wilson. Directed by Miguel Arteta

 

In 2017 the distance between the haves and the have-nots has grown wider and the moral gulf between the two has widened similarly. In many ways, it’s hard to reconcile the two; they might as well be two completely different species.

Beatriz (Hayek) is definitely one of the have-nots. She lives in a ramshackle house in Altadena, a primarily Hispanic suburb in Los Angeles along with her menagerie of dogs, cats and goats. She’s a little troubled; her beloved goat was recently killed by an angry neighbor, a goat she’d brought up to America del Norte from her small village in Mexico.

She works at an alternative cancer treatment center, supplementing her income by doing massage therapy. One of her clients is Cathy (Britton), a wealthy housewife in Laguna. Beatriz was instrumental in her daughter surviving cancer and Cathy sings the immigrant’s praises to all and sundry. When Beatriz’ car won’t start and nobody can come get her until the next day, Cathy impulsively invites her to stay overnight and attend a small dinner party her husband Evan (Early) is throwing to celebrate the successful conclusion of a business deal.

Attending is Alex (Duplass), the lawyer who helped arrange it and his wife Shannon (Sevigny) and the guest of honor, billionaire investor Doug Strutt (Lithgow) and his wife Jenna (Landecker). Strutt is one of those one percenters who gives the upper crust a bad name. He’s boorish, arrogant and a bit of a blowhard and maybe a symbol for everything that’s wrong with Trump’s America.

Beatriz recognizes Strutt but is assured that it is because he is famous; she thinks he may have been responsible for a development that decimated her home village and destroyed the way of life there that she loved, forcing her family to separate and flee. She’s not sure so she holds her suspicions to herself.

Although she is constantly mistaken for a servant, Beatriz nevertheless acts with grace and courtesy even when Doug is saying spiteful snarky things to her. She holds her temper even though at times he seems to be goading her perhaps unwittingly, pissing on every precept close to her heart. The only time the two warm up to each other is when she gives him a neck rub and sings a song for the party. But the longer the dinner party goes on, the harder it is for Beatriz to hold her tongue; eventually it becomes obvious that when the confrontation comes it is going to be spectacular.

There are certain allegorical aspects to the movie, particularly with class warfare which seems to be a favored theme in 2017. Arteta and screenwriter Mike White are careful not to turn the characters into caricatures, with each of the party attendees given depth and much room to work with. The result is an array of impressive performances but none more so than Hayek.

She has always been an underrated actress, although those who saw her in Frida know what she’s capable of and she delivers a performance here that is at least on par with that one. Deliberately going unglamorous, wearing no make-up and putting her hair in a pony tail while dressed in the somewhat frumpy uniform she wears for the cancer center, Hayek looks mousy here although even this unflattering look fails to disguise the fact that she’s one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. She puts vanity aside in favor of creating a complete character and filling that empty shell with personality and life. Beatriz may be quiet and a bit on the new age-y side but she has a heart of gold.

The same can’t be said for anyone else at the party, even Cathy who proves herself to be just as material-oriented as the others there. All are busy licking Doug’s boots and heaping praise upon him as he jovially trots out potential titles for his autobiography, each one more pretentious and bombastic than the last. I’m not sure if Strutt is meant to be a stand-in for Trump but the similarities are there; the narcissism, the obsession with winning and of course the fact that he is, like Trump, a property developer. You can draw your own conclusions but the comparison isn’t a wrong one.

Lithgow who has been an amazing character actor for decades excels here. He’s made a career of playing some of the best and most despicable villains in movie history. He makes a perfect foil for Beatriz and Hayek and the two complement each other well as polar opposites. They are definitely the yin and yang of the movie and when you have two powerful performances in that position, you can’t help but have a terrific movie.

That is, until the final five minutes when an ending is delivered that stops the movie dead in its tracks. I won’t reveal specifics, only that Beatriz – a character who cherishes life – acts completely out of character not just once but twice. All the hard work that Hayek has given is sabotaged because her character is revealed to be either completely false to what we have seen, or the filmmakers decided to pull a fast one on their audience. Either way, it is disrespectful to the viewer and I sorely wish they had come up with a different way to end the film.

It’s a shame too, because this could have been one of the highlight films of the summer. As it is it’s a hidden gem that will likely pass unnoticed to the vast majority of the movie-going public who tend to get their prompts from heavy marketing campaigns and big summer blockbusters. If you’re looking for something that’s flying under the radar a bit, this is certainly one to consider. It’s just a shame that the ending makes me hesitate to recommend it wholeheartedly but I can at least count it worthy because of the performances and concepts up to that point.

REASONS TO GO: Hayek gives a remarkable performance and is supported superbly by Lithgow.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is horrible enough to nearly ruin a good movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some instances of profanity, a brief scene of drug use and a scene of unexpected and shocking violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third collaboration between Arteta and screenwriter Mike White.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Dinner
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story

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The Intouchables


The Intouchables

There’s no business like snow business…

(2011) True Life Drama (Weinstein) Omar Sy, Francois Cluzet, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Gregoire Oestermann, Josephine de Meaux, Dominique Daguier, Francois Caron, Thomas Soliveres. Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

 

This is a movie that did big time box office in France last year, winding up the second most successful film in French history in just nine weeks. It is a heartwarming, uplifting kind of film and I can see why the French have taken to it.

American critics haven’t been quite as smitten, excoriating the film for what the high and mighty consider racist views. Now let me be clear on this; you have to be hyper-sensitive to see any sort of racism here at all. Most of the offense that huffy critics are taking are in the fact that the premise of the film is that a wealthy quadriplegic French industrialist (white) hires an upbeat ex-con (black) to be his attendant and take care of his needs; the relationship between them is as an employer-employee to begin with.

Folks, I know it might be hard to believe in this day and age, but there are white employers out there who have (*gasp*) non-white employees. There are even white rich guys who have personal assistants that are of African descent. Strangely, that doesn’t make it a master-slave relationship.

Notice how we are four paragraphs in and I have yet to actually discuss the movie except in the most general terms. That’s because I’m so furious at the lambasting this film is taking from politically correct, self-righteous morons who claim to be offended by this depiction of a relationship between a white employer and a black employee in which the white man is transformed by the spirit of the black man, who has the temerity to introduce the white man to pop music (in the person of Earth Wind and Fire) while introducing him to classical. The horror of it all.

Now this is based on a true story, although the attendant was in reality from Algeria and not Senegal as in the movie (which some critics thundered was further proof of the racial insensitivity of the filmmakers – can you imagine how these same critics would have howled with the Arab in the “subservient’ position?) so there is that. However, the rest of the movie is a tribute to humanity and its ability to find hope and inspiration in seemingly unlikely places.

Philippe (Cluzet) was injured in a paragliding accident and left a quadriplegic. His wife had since passed on, leaving him with an adopted daughter Elisa (Bellugi) and nobody to take care of his daily needs, which are many. He is looking for an attendant and interviewing a lot of different men of varying degrees of suitability. Driss (Sy) is recently released from prison. He quite frankly doesn’t expect to get the job; he is merely applying to satisfy his parole, which requires Philippe’s personal assistant Magalie (Fleurot) to fill out a form for him.

Instead, Philippe, tired of all the earnest and humorless men who want to be in charge of his very existence (including bathing him, pushing his wheelchair and making sure his breathing remains regular at night), is intrigued by Driss’ sunny attitude and flirtation with Magalie. He decides to hire the man, even though he’s an ex-con (for armed robbery) and perhaps not the most reliable of men.

Forced into a situation where they have to trust one another, a gradual mutual respect grows that turns into a deep friendship. Each man helps the other grow; Philippe introduces Driss to culture and inspires him to make something more of himself than, as Philippe puts it, a wheelchair-pusher. In turn Philippe’s eyes are opened and world broadened. Driss’ sunny disposition becomes contagious; not only Philippe but also Magalie and Yvonne (Le Ny) – his dour housekeeper – are transformed by Driss, whose upbeat joy of life is infectious.

The role of Driss is much more difficult than it sounds. For the kind of liveliness to be authentic, it has to come from within which is why Sy’s performance is so special. The audience is just as swept up by Driss’ enthusiasm as Philippe is. It’s the kind of performance that makes careers happen and considering the overwhelming success of the film in France, Sy has a brilliant future ahead of him; I’m personally hoping he comes to the States and does a few films here as well because I’m positive he will captivate audiences here just as thoroughly.

This is a movie that will leave you feeling good as you leave the theater, even if your mood was bad when you entered. In these rough times, that’s worth its weight in platinum. What angers me about these charges of racial insensitivity is that it might dissuade people from seeing the movie and that would be criminal. Don’t let a critic make up your mind for you; see the movie for yourself and make up your own mind. Personally, I’m willing to bet most of you will wind up agreeing with me – any insensitivity lies within the imagination of some overly-sensitive critics.

REASONS TO GO: Deeply uplifting. Sy turns in a career-making performance and Cluzet is awfully good as well.

REASONS TO STAY: Loses its way about 2/3 of the way through the movie and the ending is a bit too Hollywood.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language as well as some depictions of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Omar Sy beat out Jean Dujardin of The Artist for the Best Actor award at the Cesar awards last year, the first actor of African descent to win it.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100. The reviews are largely positive..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Driving Miss Daisy

MASERATI LOVERS: Philippe’s car is a Maserati Quattroporte and Driss gets to put it through it’s paces.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: Happythankyoumoreplease

Dark Shadows


Dark Shadows

You’d be grinning too if you had a sex scene with Johnny Depp that ended up trashing a set.

(2012) Gothic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter, Bella Heathcote, Christopher Lee, Gulliver McGrath, Ray Shirley, Alice Cooper. Directed by Tim Burton

 

Sometimes without meaning to we cause harm to people. We never know exactly who we’ve created an enemy of, or what they’re capable of doing though even if we’re innocent of any real wrongdoing.

Barnabas Collins (Depp) was living the high life, 18th century style. His family owns a wildly successful fishing fleet in Maine; the town built around their enterprise, Collinsport, is thriving; they’ve built an extravagant mansion overlooking the town and the Atlantic that would be the equivalent of a castle. And Barnabas is deeply in love with Josette duPres (Heathcote).

This is bad news to Angelique Bouchard (Green). She and the handsome Barnabas had a fling which meant much more to her than it did to him. She was a maid, he the master of the house; a relationship between them would not be appropriate if it were even possible. Scorned, Angelique resolves to get even and since she happens to be a rather powerful witch, that’s even worse news for Josette. Angelique casts a spell on her, causing her to throw herself off a cliff into the sea despite Barnabas’ desperate attempts to save her. Heartbroken, he throws himself off the same cliff but fails to die. You see, he’s been cursed as well – to become a vampire, a hideous creature of the night.

The implacable Angelique lets the good citizens of Collinsport know they have a monster in their midst and Barnabas is dragged out into a remote field where he is chained up and buried alive. There he remains, deep in the ground in the woods far outside of town.

That is, until he is dug up some 200 years later by contractor. It is now 1972 and two centuries without a meal can make one…peckish as the workers find out to their dismay. He longs to find his estate and get his bearings. When he gets there, he is overjoyed to find that the family still survives (although it’s never explained quite how, since he apparently was the only son – perhaps some other Collins’ emigrated from England to take over the family business). However, they are definitely down at heel. Their fishing business is a shadow of its former self. The mansion is crumbling and what was once a vast army of servants is down to two – the elderly Mrs. Johnson (Shirley) and the booze-addled Willie Loomis (Haley) who does most of the heavy lifting.

The family is down to four members – matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer), widowed mother of rebellious teen Carolyn (Moretz). Her brother Roger Collins (Miller) who is also a widower and a womanizer, not to mention somewhat useless. The last is his son David (McGrath) who talks to and sees his dead mother. This tendency to dwell on his late mother has alarmed Elizabeth who has opened her penurious pursestrings and hired Julia Hoffman (Carter), a psychiatrist who seems more interested in drinking and smoking than therapy and Victoria Winters (Heathcote), a governess who bears a remarkable resemblance to Josette.

They welcome Barnabas with mostly open arms although Elizabeth alone is aware that Barnabas is that Barnabas rather than a distant English relation (the cover story they use for Barnabas’ unusual and sudden appearance). Elizabeth wants to regain the family name and glory and she knows that his keen business acumen can only help (it doesn’t hurt that as a vampire he can use his mind to control others to do his will). However, they have a long ways to go to catch up with Angel Bay, the corporate entity that has taken over the fishing business in Collinsport. However, Barnabas is dismayed to find out that at the head of Angel Bay is an old nemesis (emphasis on the old) – Angelique (going by Angie these days) who hasn’t aged a day. Like as not, their old quarrel is going to resurface and there’s going to be fall-out and only one of them will be left standing.

On the surface this seems like a perfect fit – Burton, one of the quirkiest directors in Hollywood but one who knows how to tell a good story and the iconic gothic soap opera from the 60s and 70s. He has chosen to go the cheeseball route, not just by setting the movie (mostly) in the 70s but by changing its original dark, gothic tone to one that is more comedic. In all honesty it doesn’t work as well as I would have hoped.

It’s not Depp’s fault. He takes the late Jonathan Frid’s (who played Barnabas in the series) mannered, courtly vampire and takes that to the extreme, playing up the fish out of water angle a great deal more. In the original, Barnabas seemed to adjust much more quickly and readily to his new time. Frid was a sex symbol in his time albeit not to the same degree Depp is now. Depp’s Barnabas seems sexier more by accident than by artifice; indeed, the original Barnabas was far more evil and dangerous than Depp who is almost apologetic when he feeds. In fact, Frid seems to revel in his undead status more than Depp who would just as soon be rid of his curse.

The supporting roles vary wildly. Pfeiffer is always magnificent and although she seems a bit young to play the matron, she pulls it off here well. Green is the most impressive; with her carefree grin, she sees to be having the most fun of everybody (she does get to have a hot and somewhat violent sex scene with Depp so I suppose she comes by her smile honestly) and it translates into making her character more attractive to audiences. She may be vindictive and cruel but she’s a woman scorned – they’re supposed to be vindictive and cruel.

Personally I think the filmmakers missed an opportunity there. She was supposed to be desperately in love with Barnabas despite his rejection, but as he noted she saw him as more of a possession than a partner. I think if she had shown real love towards Barnabas it would have been much more poignant, but then it might have ruined the comic tone which I also think may have been a misstep – the film rarely achieves more than being amusing which is not what you want in a summer comedy.

The movie looks impressive with Collinswood being an amazing set, full of nautical touches that are gratifying in their detail and fully understandable given the family’s source of income. However, as lavish as the film looks and as well as Green and Depp do, it doesn’t hide the fact that there isn’t really a whole lot of passion displayed by the filmmakers; at least, I never feel inspired by the movie to do much more than smile occasionally. The movie felt to me almost workmanlike which is a shame because I had high hopes for it. Despite a lot of nice little touches it doesn’t add up to a satisfying film overall; but those touches are enough for me to recommend it with the caveat that it isn’t going to remain in your memory as long as the original series did.

REASONS TO GO: Depp inhabits his role well. Green has fun with her part. Nicely Gothic sets.

REASONS TO STAY: Most of the funniest bits are in the trailer. Purists will bemoan the comedic tone.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some comic violence, a fairly bizarre sex scene, some drug use and smoking and a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: To prepare for his role as Barnabas, Depp subsisted on a diet of green tea and low-sugar fruits in order to slim down to 140 pounds.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100. The reviews have been mixed although leaning more towards the negative side.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Vampires Suck

DARK SHADOWS LOVERS: Original series cast members Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, David Selby and Jonathan Frid (in his last onscreen role before his death earlier this year) have cameos as guests at a party at Collinswood.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT:The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Did You Hear About the Morgans?


Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Sarah Jessica Parker takes aim at the screenwriter while Hugh Grant nervously checks for witnesses.

(Columbia) Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Jesse Liebman, Michael Kelly, Wilford Brimley, Gracie Bea Lawrence, Kim Shaw, David Call, Seth Gilliam, Sandor Tecsy, Steven Boyer, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Marc Lawrence

A relationship depends on trust in order to work. However, once the trust is gone, can a relationship still exist or is it doomed to fail?

The relationship between Manhattan lawyer Paul Morgan (Grant) and his wife, successful boutique realtor Meryl Morgan (Parker) is in crisis. They have been trying to have a baby without any success and now Paul’s infidelity has caused the couple to separate. Paul really wants to get back together again with his wife, but she can’t get past her own feeling of betrayal. Hey, it speaks volumes that in order for the couple to even plan dinner together, they have to resort to having their personal assistants – overbearing Jackie (Moss) and cojones-challenged Adam (Liebman) rework their schedules just so they can align their schedules.

The dinner goes surprisingly well and Meryl allows Paul to walk her around the corner to a late showing for a new client. However, in a bit of a buzzkill, the new client is murdered before their eyes. As luck would happen, it turns out the client was co-operating with the FBI in a case against an international arms dealer who had hired a professional hitman to do the job. Now the assassin knows who the Morgans are, so U.S. Marshall Lasky (Gilliam) puts the quarreling couple in a witness relocation program.

Meryl is aghast. Not only is she leaving behind her beloved New York and her booming business but they are being sent to Ray, Wyoming, a flyspeck of a town in the middle of the Rockies. They will be cared for by the town sheriff, Clay Wheeler (Elliott) and his gun-totin’ wife Emma (Steenburgen) who are also employed by the U.S. Marshall service for the purpose of witness relocation because their location is so remote.

Paul is a bit upset because he has a thing about bears, which virtually guarantees he is going to encounter one in a movie like this. Meryl is a bit upset because she has no cell phone, blackberry or internet, which means she is going to find a phone which will lead the killer right to them. Both are bemused by the big rodeo celebration complete with (and this we are told emphatically) bull riding, which means that the two of them will wind up in the ring with the bull. And, sure as shootin’, the two city slickers are going to be inspired by them kindly western sorts into getting back together. Ain’t love grand?

Director Marc Lawrence has written, directed and occasionally produced some nifty romantic comedies, such as Music and Lyrics but this won’t be remembered as one of his better movies. The script is a bit light on the laughs, which is not good news for a comedy. It is also incredibly predictable and you sit in the darkness of the theater, praying to whatever being you worship for some kind of swerve, anything. Sorry chum; your prayers won’t be answered.

I normally like Hugh Grant a lot, which is why I wanted to see this in the first place (Da Queen, who reacts to Sarah Jessica Parker much in the same way a dog reacts to a police siren, was much less eager). However, he has little to do but furrow his brow (which he does to the point you think his nose is going to pop right off his face), look dreadfully uncomfortable and generally apologize repeatedly to the point where you want Liz Hurley to walk onscreen and slam him over the head with a cast iron skillet and say with a smirk “apology accepted – now shut up!” Come to think of it, Hurley would have been a much better casting choice here.

The sad thing is that some great actors are wasted. Sam Elliott, the quintessence of the American western tough guy, is placed in the awkward position of acting as a marriage counselor to the Morgans. I really felt for the guy; he’s due a really good role right about now and quite frankly, he hasn’t gotten one. Steenburgen is one of my favorite actresses from the 80s and 90s and is still gorgeous to my eye; she’s also warm and charming. Here, she channels Sarah Palin quite nicely (as the script leadenly points out in a line that might have been funny if uttered at a better moment) and gamely gives her all in a poorly written role.

While this is a good looking movie (the rugged western vistas of the Wyoming mountain country and the star-filled night sky contrast with the lights and concrete canyons of Manhattan), I found little that grabbed my attention. At the public screening I attended, there was almost no laughing and little more than the occasional sounds of popcorn being munched and soda being slurped. I have rarely heard an audience so quiet in my entire career.

The filmmakers try to make this funny but they only succeed in making it awkward, with terrible silences filling the movie. The effect is similar to having invited guests get into a shouting match while staying over. I really wanted to like this movie but unfortunately for everyone involved, I simply cannot recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, you’d do much better with It’s Complicated or having seen that, waiting for When in Rome, Leap Year and Valentine’s Day, all of which are coming down the pike in the next few months.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty views of the Wyoming mountain country.

REASONS TO STAY: The script is decidedly unfunny, and so very predictable. The actors all look uncomfortable, confused and undirected. Adds nothing to contrived fish-out-of-water premise.

FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and sexual situations and a scene of smoking but otherwise harmless.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gracie Bea Lawrence, who plays “American Idol”-wannabe Lucy, is director Marc Lawrence’s daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: You could be forgiven for waiting until it comes out on free cable, although some of the vistas in Big Sky country are worth seeing on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: It’s Complicated