Beatriz at Dinner

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★★★

It happens overnight and during a private, formal dinner. A dialogue that is gradually absorbing. It contains insight and gains sympathy towards the central character, one with deep rooted issues that are applicable to society.

Directed by Miguel Arteta(director of The Good Girl), the movie is called Beatriz at Dinner. It stars Salma Hayek in the title role as a masseuse who gets stranded in a customer’s home because her car won’t start. Before that, a few flashbacks reveal her as spiritual, loving, and a recently depressed bachelorette. There is a reason behind her sadness regarding a specific incident at her driveway, but Beatriz tries to contain it in the presence of others. Her customers, Kathy and  Grant, are a wealthy couple living the high life in a mansion that overlooks the sea. A few elite guests (John Lithgow, Jay Duplass, Chloë Sevigny) arrive that evening and it doesn’t take long to have an impression of them.  They converse and laugh about being financially successful. Beatriz observes this, but is too good and open minded to reject the homeowner’s  invitation to join them for dinner.

Grief and revenge are not among Beatriz’s natural qualities but she gets tested. Hayek is engaged in the role. When conversations grow sensitive, Beatriz is unable to hold her toungue and often comes across as offbeat, drawing mixed reactions from the guests. It’s unclear whether she recognizes herself in these moments but the personal troubles begin to evoke itself. Even against Kathy(Connie Britton), the homeowner whom Beatriz likes at the start of the movie, she begins to provoke. The discussions are driven by a specific past incident but during the course of the dinner, there are moral disputes covering a surprising range of real world issues. One opinion that can be made on their conversations is about how greed rules over human compassion. I found this film is a bit unsettling and sad, but nevertheless engrossing.

 

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It Comes at Night

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★★★

It Comes at Night is an illustration of technique over substance. It relies effectively on suspense using material, although sparse, that is implicit rather than eventful. At its best, this is a film about how it portrays human nature.

The characters are in a story of survival against an outbreak that is revealed, but never underlined. Deep in a forest, and in a house with boarded windows are Paul(Joel Edgerton) , Sarah(Carmen Ejogo), and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). The opening scene demonstrates what Paul is capable of doing or perhaps what their situation has compelled him to do. He is an educated man with a firm mindset. But after meeting a group of survivors from the outbreak, he softens a little bit, allowing them to stay in his home with his family, and it is in their alliance that begins to complicate matters.

The movie is absorbing with suspense, moving slowly, allowing the atmosphere to discomfort us. Directed by Trey Edward Shults, the camera stares blankly into darkness or at a forest and lets us decide on whether there is something out there or maybe nothing. And with regards to the characters, consider Will(Christopher Abbott) whom Paul welcomes into his home and who expresses sincerity that can also be interpreted as suspicious.

Paranoia is strong in the films aura and overflows into the movies viewing experience. Edgerton, Ejogo, Harrison Jr., and Abbott all project realism in their style of acting. Fear drives their characters in their goal for survival. They rarely have any disagreements and all seem to share a good nature. It however contrasts with the unfolding outcome of the story which gives a bleak and hopeless view of the human condition. I was engaged by the film although wished that there were more developments to the narrative.

The Big Sick

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★★★1/2

The narrative of a romantic comedy is very anticipated. It’s about two people who meet, fall in love, fall apart, and then unite for a happy, warm ending.  The Big Sick is not much different in this regard and yet it is still recommendable. It is a humorous, moving, and very likable film. It is also intelligent in demonstrating a deep understanding for its characters and situations.

The story is about Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily(Zoe Kazan). The former is a Pakistani chauffer who also works as a standup comedian. And Emily is an American, who sees him at one of his shows and decides to heckle him a little bit. This is how they begin their relationship which seems to work quite well. But just when they have a first misunderstanding, Emily gets hospitalized for a serious illness and Kumail meets her parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) for the first time.

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, the film is engrossing in nearly every scene. That’s partially because of Kumail’s character who later faces some tough challenges.  Due to Emily’s ill condition, he’s in a state of grief and mixed feelings. But observe his position as he tries to win her parents kindness, which is not so easy given the rocky state of their relationship. Then there’s the other challenge which is within his own family as it becomes a question of whether Kumail must respect the marital traditions of his Muslim culture even if he lives in America. This complexity keeps us interested for the outcome.

As a love story, the film is not too eager about saccharin moments and instead focuses on how characters resolve their differences. Kumail and Emily are fearful of the consequences in being together as a Muslim and Non-Muslim; How Kumar could disappoint his family and how Emily would carry the guilt of being responsible for that. And although she has more hope about their relationship, it is him who must challenge his long standing family traditions. The best scenes are when Kumail’s Mother tries to pair him up by frequently inviting single Muslim women to their home for dinner. He sits there in silence while their guest tries to court him. The performances are great all around by the entire cast. There’s a clear message here about how cultural differences should not get in the way of true love but the film also shows the importance of honesty in dealing with those differences.

Wonder Woman

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★★★

Wonder Woman was invented in the early 1940’s and has since been in a live action TV series and the Justice League cartoons. There was never a big-budget movie about the superhero.  There can be several reasons behind this but if i can assume, it’s probably because she would be considered a light box office draw compared to the heavyweights of Superman and Batman. However now with the growth of the DC Extended Universe franchise, the need for more Superheroes is presented, and Wonder Woman is given her shot. And the movie is better than i expected.

The narrative, told in a flashback, introduces Wonder Woman’s desire at a very young age to become a warrior (her real name is Diana Prince). Her home is an island kingdom of Amazonian women who carry bows and ride horses. They have no men and knowledge about earthly matters. But when a British spy lands on her shores, a grown up Diana learns about the War and can’t help but go and assist the allies in fighting the Germans.

The film, directed by Patty Jenkins and from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, is a bit of a surprise in how great the action and entertainment is. One reason is motivation. Typically, popular superheroes carry emotional wounds to drive them into saving humanity from evil. This hero seems to be driven by love alone, and the movie is all the more unique because it benefits from that. As for the villains, which are crucial in this film genre, there are three sinister forces at play in the form of a general (Danny Huston), a chemist (Elena Anaya), and a Greek God. A twist is also there.

The charismatic Gal Gadot plays the lead role and fills Diana with hope and a genuine concern for the helpless. She shows those emotions on her face and that’s another reason why the movie works as well as it does. As for those involved in Diana’s life, there is her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) who fears for Diana’s transition into a warrior. Her faithful trainer Antiope (Robin Wright). And there’s the pilot Steve (Chris Pine) who is personally grateful to Diana for saving his life and who leads her towards the front lines of the war. If there are any drawback to the movie, then there are two: One is that the climax looks too ordinary  with lots of flashing lights, noise, and computer imagery. Another is that the film runs too long, over two hours and with a couple of humdrum moments. Nevertheless by the ending, the movie has already earned enough points and I had already been pleased with the result. With that said, Wonder Woman is officially back in the spotlight. 

 

 

Anti Matter

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★★★

Anti Matter is a low profile, low budget-looking science fiction film that is able to hook viewers with some of the qualities that count- intrigue and mystery.

It centers on three scientists, Ana (Yaiza Figueroa), Liv (Philippa Carson), and Nate (Tom Barber-Duffy) whose deep research leads them to an incredible possibility – the creation of a wormhole. They begin testing with animals and are able to successfully teleport an earth worm from one side of the room to another. However they are pressured into using human test-subjects, and Ana volunteers to be the first specimen. The results are a success and Ana passes through the wormhole (disappearing and then appearing in the same laboratory) but not without strange results. For one, Liv and Nate are behaving differently towards her. And then later, a masked stranger breaks into her home looking for something. And why is it when Ana speaks to the police, do they seem familiar with her despite her not remembering them.

This is plain science fiction, with no fancy visuals, set in contemporary settings and relying on mystery and dialogue to create tension. There’s a curiosity for the outcome. These are characters of high hopes and ambition. But notice how after experimenting with Ana, they seem less interested in their ambitions, becoming fearful and sensing betrayal instead. They have conflicts with one another. The actors are not known to me but their performances are convincing. It’s also a movie that conveys the importance of memories.  Directed by Keir Burrows, in his debut film, it’s worth a look and there’s a big twist in the end.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

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★★★

The title of this movie can be discouraging in some ways, but it draws curiosity. Maybe it’s trying to be ironic. Perhaps the film isn’t as juvenile as one might think. But after viewing,  i found it to be a safe children’s movie with underlying themes for all ages to find value in.

From the studio of DreamWorks Animation, and based on a series of children’s novels by Dave Pilky, the film provides the humor and an unexpected message about friendship. The two protagonists are George and Harold (voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch), grade school classmates who share the same passion for inventing and drawing their own comic books. Then one day, the uptight principal Mr. Krupp who despises all things fun and happy, places each of them in separate classes because of an incident involving their alleged tomfoolery. The boys are unable to tolerate being away from each other and so it becomes their mission to convert the principal’s mindset and have him return them to the same class.

Directed by David Soren and from a screenplay by Nicholas Stoller, the movie is a speedy animated comedy aimed for a child’s attention span. Apart from dealing with the principal, the boys are faced with a difficult science teacher named Professor Pee-Pee (Nick Kroll) and must eventually encounter the attack of a large toilet. The teacher is the villain and the toilet is his creation. In this progression of the narrative, the film is predictable.

But who is Captain Underpants? He is an imagined superhero invented by the two boys who sketch him into their comics. He also turns into one of the characters at school- as to which one, I will leave that for a worthy surprise. One clue, for what it’s worth, is that he is voiced by Ed Helms. As for the central theme, it is clearly about the value of companionship although there are other messages that can be drawn from the fast-paced character interactions. I was entertained by the film but i didn’t expect the uplifting messages that ring true.

The Mummy (2017)

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★★1/2

The Mummy is the opener for a series of films about mythological monsters that will share the same universe and therefore meet one another at some point. They are planned to include Dracula and Frankenstein. Since there have already been good films about these legendary creatures, perhaps these new movies are simply aimed for the younger audience who are more attuned to special effects.

The Mummy has got the action and entertainment but not a clear narrative. Through all the commotion, the outline can be divided into two parts : 1)Man accidentally raises mummy from the dead 2) Mummy chases man to use his body in a ritual (involving a dagger and ruby) that will turn them into Gods who will love each other forever. The film is in constant momentum with a lot of events that helped distract my thoughts from the uninspired set designs, gloomy atmospheres, and some of the questionable casting choices. There is also a lack of explanation about the zombies, rats, crows, and spiders that seem to be under the command of the Mummy.

Tom Cruise is in the lead role as an army soldier named Nick who sidelines as an determined artifact thief. In the opening scene, he forces his partner(Jake Johnson) into suicidal action where they locate a spot for treasure and incredibly survive an attack by insurgents. Later he is captured by secret agents who take him to Dr. Jeckyl, played by Russell Crowe in a quirky performance that could have been stranger for the films benefit. Special effects help change his facial expressions to the alter ego, Mr. Hyde. Cruise also gains an archeologist- female partner Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) who dislikes him at first and then sees the good in him. And finally there is the Mummy (Sofia Boutella), attractive despite being covered with tattoo’s and dust and driven to capture Cruise and convert him into the undead so she can fall in love with him. Her cost lies in making an evil bargain with the God of death, which happens with diabolical effectiveness in the early scenes. I thought the film, directed by Alex Kurtzman and written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman, could have been better with just a few adjustments. Maybe a brighter color palette would have been the start.