BEATRIZ AT DINNER (2017)

June 16, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. The movie industry frequently sources societal worries, concerns, issues and hot topics. It’s been less than 6 months, but here come the anti-Trump movies. Of course some will have clever disguises for their message, while others will slap us across the face. This re-teaming of The Good Girl director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White actually uses both approaches.

Salma Hayek stars as Beatriz, a masseuse and holistic healer, who comes awfully close to being an angel on earth … unless she’s guzzled a bit too much white wine at your dinner party. Beatriz fights southern California traffic in her clunky VW as she rushes from her gig at the cancer center to Cathy’s (Connie Britton) Orange County cliffside mansion. See, Cathy is hosting a dinner party for her husband’s (David Warshofsky) business associates and she simply must have her massage prior to such a stressful event – after all, she did plan the menu. When Beatriz’s car stalls in Cathy’s driveway, she is invited to stay for the dinner party.

Things get awkward once the actual guests arrive. Alex (Jay Duplass) and his wife Shannon (Chloe Sevigny) are the young, entitled types so enticed by the fancy house and global traveling lifestyles on which they are on the brink. It should be noted that Mr. Duplass cleans up nicely and Ms. Sevigny spends much of the movie smiling – a look for which she’s not normally associated. The real squirming occurs once Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) and his shallow third wife Jenna (Amy Landecker, “Transparent”) arrive.

Beatriz and Strutt are polar opposites with contrasting lifestyles and character. She is a mystical presence with a deep connection to Mother Earth and all living beings. He is the Trump-like figure – charismatic, manipulating and laser-focused on the brass ring. She coddles her pet goat in her bedroom to protect it from a crazy neighbor, while he ignores the rare birds nesting on the valuable land he wants scraped for his newest development.

It’s by no means a superhero movie, but Beatriz is presented as a Mexican-born working class (minimal make-up, functional clothing and shoes) Wonder Woman, while Strutt is the ultra villain out to destroy the planet, one rhinoceros at a time. She views him as “The Source” of Earth’s pain, while he tries to laugh her off as a novelty act. It’s Cathy and her husband who are most taken aback by the direct words of Beatriz, as they have considered her a “family friend” since she helped their daughter through a health scare. How dare she spoil their dinner party!

There is a beautiful aerial shot of the Orange County mega-mansions, but most of the uncomfortable moments are derived through the ongoing duel of angelic Beatriz vs. the poisonous topics of politics and profit. There is no subtlety in the message, but having two talented actors go head to head, does make it more palatable.

watch the trailer:

 

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ADULT BEGINNERS (2015)

May 21, 2015

adult beginners Greetings again from the darkness. It’s certainly understandable that the Duplass Brothers (“The League”) are working relentlessly to take advantage of their window of creative opportunity. In the vein of their HBO show “Togetherness”, this is another com-dram with the theme of thirty-somethings coming to terms with adulthood and responsibility.

In their role as Producers for this latest project, Team Duplass has assembled a strong group: director Ross Katz (himself best known as a Producer of In the Bedroom and Lost in Translation), and funny folks Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Joel McHale, Jane Krakowski, Bobby Moynihan, Paula Garces, and Celia Weston. Unfortunately, the script does not rise to the level of the on screen talent, leaving us with a mostly benign story with few laughs and little message.

Things kick off with Kroll’s character in full crash-and-burn mode when his entrepreneurial offering “Mind’s I” implodes just before it is scheduled for rollout. He loses his money, his investors’ money, and most any semblance of the fair weather friends one accumulates while living the high life in NYC. Packing up what little dignity he retains, Kroll heads to the suburbs to live with his pregnant sister (Rose Byrne), her husband (Bobby Cannavale) and their 3 year old son Teddy.

It’s not that the path is obvious, but rather than it’s executed so blandly. The zingers and physical humor are mostly lacking, and the film can’t seem to decide if it wants us to laugh, or if it would rather prove how tough parenthood and adulthood and responsibility can be. Bobby Moynihan spikes the comedy in a short scene, and Paula Garces may be the most interesting character despite only appearing in a few scenes. The swimming lessons sequences led by Jane Krakowski are mostly vacuous, and are used instead to focus on the insecurities of Kroll and Byrne. As in “Togetherness”, the kids seem to be an afterthought … like a lamp … but less than a sconce.

The scenes are well paced and the story clicks right along, but overall it plays more like a TV show … albeit one with an abundance of cursing, too few laughs, and no new insight into the tough world that awaits as we step out of childhood (evidently in our mid-30’s).

watch the trailer:

 


JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME (2012)

March 18, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Jay and Mark Duplass (The Duplass brothers) were responsible for a terrific, creepy little comedy called Cyrus. It dealt with a dark, strange relationship between a mother and her grown, stay at home and do nothing son. The Duplass mumblecore beginnings often used familial relationships to find those moments of discomfort and comedy. Their latest movie brings all of that together as they examine multiple relationships within a family, and the possible role destiny plays.

Jeff (Jason Segel) is an unemployed, 30 year old, childlike pot-head who lives in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement and watches the M Night Shyamalan movie Signs so often that he is convinced there are no “wrong numbers” in life … everything is a sign leading us towards our destiny. After the latest “sign” (phone call for an unknown Kevin), Jeff heads out to complete a simple task for his disenchanted mother. He gets sidetracked by his quest for Kevin, and stumbles into his brother Pat (Ed Helms).

 By this time, we have seen Pat interact over breakfast with his wife Linda (Judy Greer). Note to guys: serving breakfast to your wife will not neutralize your surprise purchase of a Porsche. These two people have clearly lost whatever bond they once shared. One thing leads to another and we are soon watching Jeff and Pat stalk Linda and her male lunch friend … or is he more? While this amateur detective work is playing out, Sharon (their mother) discovers she has a secret admirer at work. Her spirits are immediately lifted as she has pretty much given up on a personal life since the death of her husband years ago. Her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) helps her be receptive to the idea, and this story line provides a nice Duplass twist.

 Despite the fact that none of the characters are extremely likable: Jeff is borderline goofy, Pat is kind of an ass, Sharon and Linda just seem frustrated … the story moves along so that each of them grows a bit and their relationships evolve. The ending is a perfect cap and provides meaning, though initially quite a shock to the system after first three-quarters of the movie.

The Duplass directing style utilizes micro-bursts of quick zoom in many scenes, giving this a quasi home-movie feel at times. As for the acting, I can’t imagine another actor than Jason Segel could have pulled off the role of Jeff. In lesser hands, he would have come off as mentally unstable or just a total loser. Segel’s sweetness pays off. It’s always great to see Rae Dawn Chong back on screen, and I didn’t even hate Susan Sarandon! Judy Greer’s scene in the hotel room is so well played, it’s a reminder of what a terrific and under-utilized actress she is. Don’t expect a laugh outloud comedy, as this is more drama than comedy, though the smiles and chuckles occur in the moment.

* note: the name Kevin plays a part in this story, and it’s also the name of a new documentary short from the Duplass brothers on Austin musician Kevin Gant

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see Jason Segel and Ed Helms inch towards dramatic roles OR you have missed seeing Rae Dawn Chong on screen as much as I.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have a deep affection towards Porsches

watch the trailer:


CYRUS (2010)

July 4, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Trying to come up with the best way to describe this one. It seems to be billed and marketed as a comedy, but it’s very dark and only funny in a few places. The drama is pretty weak at times and uncomfortable all of the time. The comedy really stems from the mano y mano of John C Reilly and Jonah Hill. Marisa Tomei is a not so innocent bystander.  The film just doesn’t lend itself to a particular label.

If you have seen the preview, you know the basic story. John C Reilly is a socially inept oaf who gets dragged to a party and makes a fool of himself. Marisa Tomei views him as something of a lost puppy and takes him under her wing. The big reveal occurs when Tomei’s grown son (Hill) shows up at an inopportune time. Yes, he lives with her and they have a very unique and close relationship.

Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (writer and director) are known as part of the mumblecore movement – they subscribe to the less rehearsal and minimal script school of film-making. Luckily for them, Hill and Reilly take to this beautifully. Their scenes together are very good at creating an inner turmoil and utter frustration. Luckily for the audience, Reilly’s character has two scenes where he can unleash the lines that the viewers are all thinking! It makes for a nice release of tension.

Hill creates Cyrus as the epitome of a “sneaky little devil”. OK, he’s not so little, but the rest fits. His acts of subversion are well thought out and pure acts of passive aggressiveness. These three characters make for quite the odd little group, but there is surely some insight into single parenthood, loneliness and over-protective parenting. Don’t expect a slapstick comedy in the Judd Apatow mold … this one is a bit creepy and dark.  John Malkovich played the role in Con Air, but Jonah Hill is the real Cyrus the Virus.