Playing Catch-Up: Beatriz at Dinner (dir by Miguel Arteta)


Beatriz at Dinner is very much a film of the moment, which is a polite way of saying that it’s not very good but it does accurately reflect the way that a lot of people are feeling right now.  I imagine that’s the main reason why it’s received a good deal of critical acclaim.  It was even cited, by the National Board of Review, as one of the top ten independent films of the year.  By 2019, I doubt anyone will even remember that this film exists.

Salma Hayek plays the title character.  Beatriz is a massage therapist in Los Angeles.  She’s not having a good day.  Not only has her neighbor killed one of her goats but, while she’s at the house of one of her wealthy clients, her car suddenly won’t start.  Beatriz says that she can call a friend to come pick her up but that he won’t be able to show up until after he gets off work.  Beatriz’s client, Kathy (Connie Britton), invites Beatriz to stay for dinner.

Kathy is a familiar type.  She’s the rich, privileged white woman who probably brags about how nice she is to her maid.  Kathy’s husband (David Warshofsky) may not want Beatriz to stay but Kathy feels that they owe a debt to Beatriz because Beatriz helped their daughter recover after she was treated for cancer.  Kathy not only insists that Beatriz stay for dinner but she also asks Beatriz to not only stay the night but also to sing everyone a song after they’ve eaten.  As Kathy’s rich friends start to arrive for dinner, Kathy treats Beatriz like a prop, blithely unaware of how awkward Beatriz feels around her guests.

The main dinner guest is an arrogantly vulgar businessman named Doug Strutt (John Lithgow).  Doug is best known for building hotels, forcing poor people off of their land, and constantly bragging about how rich and famous he is.  He is even working on a memoir.  (In perhaps Beatriz at Dinner‘s only show of restraint, the film does not make him a reality show host.)  The first time that Doug sees Beatriz, he assumes that she must be a maid and asks her to get him a drink.  When Beatriz later launches into a monologue about her childhood in Mexico and how she first came to the United States, Doug interrupts to boorishly ask if she came legally.  Whenever anyone admonishes Doug for being rude, he merely laughs it off and says that he doesn’t mean to be offensive.  He’s just telling it like it is.

Hmmmm … I wonder who Doug is supposed to be a stand-in for?

Anyway, this all sounds promising enough but Beatriz at Dinner doesn’t really do much with this material.  Just as with his previous overrated film, Cedar Rapids, director Miguel Arteta fails to generate any sort of narrative momentum.  Basically, the entire film is Doug saying something offensive and Beatriz glaring at him.  We keep waiting for Beatriz to blow up but when she finally does start to talk back to Doug, it’s anti-climatic.  The dialogue suddenly starts to feel forced and unnatural.  Doug goes from being a disturbingly credible vulgarian to just being another comic book villain and, as a result, Beatriz’s speech feels almost as empty as an angry thread of tweets.  When Beatriz does take more concrete action towards Doug, the film ruins it all with an obvious twist that is nowhere close to being as profound as the filmmakers seem to think it is.  If Beatriz at Dinner was truly as revolutionary as it seems to think it is, that twist wouldn’t be there.

(Buñuel and Godard, who are both obvious influences on Beatriz at Dinner, would dismiss the twist as bourgeois bullshit.)

In the lead role, Salma Hayek is good but not great.  There’s really not much depth to Beatriz as a character.  She functions more as a symbol than as a human being.  (In many ways, the filmmakers treats Beatriz much in the same way that Kathy treats Beatriz, as a prop.)  John Lithgow steals the entire movie, giving the only performance that actually shows a hint of real and dangerous charisma.  As hateful a person as Doug may be, he is truthful about one thing.  He is the only character in the movie who always says exactly what is on his mind.  Lithgow plays Doug as not just a vulgarian but also as someone who is proud of being vulgar and who specifically goes out of his way to see how offensive he can be.  At times, Lithgow is the only member of the cast actually bringing any life to this stifling bore of a film.  Unfortunately, Lithgow is so good that he overpowers the rest of the cast.  When Beatriz rebukes him, Hayek delivers her lines with a heartfelt fury that briefly threatens to rescue the movie from Doug but all Lithgow has to do is smirk and just like that, he’s taken the movie back from her.

For a lot of people, the appeal of Beatriz at Dinner is that Doug is obviously meant to be Trump and Beatriz says everything that they wish they could say.  They see Beatriz’s frustration and anger and they immediately recognize it as being their frustration and anger.  That’s a perfectly legitimate and understandable reaction but that doesn’t necessarily make Beatriz at Dinner a good film.  It just makes it a film of the moment.

A Movie A Day #323: Ted & Venus (1991, directed by Bud Cort)


Strange movie, Ted & Venus.

Actor Bud Cort (you remember him from Harold and Maude) both directs and stars as Ted.  Ted is a homeless poet who lives on the beach and only has one friend, a mellow beach bum named Max (Josh Brolin).  Kim Adams plays Linda, who is the Venus of the title, a social worker who has a bodybuilder jerk for a boyfriend (Brian Thompson, who you might remember as the main villain in Cobra).  When Ted sees Linda, it is love at first sight and at first, the movie seems like it is going to be a quirky romantic comedy where Ted eventually wins Linda over.  When Linda turns down Ted’s advances, Ted does not give up.  Instead, Ted starts following her everywhere and making harassing phone calls.  Ted starts out as a nuisance and goes on to become a full-out stalker.  Everyone, even Max, tells Ted to stop bothering Linda but he is convinced that he can make her fall in love him.  He’s wrong.

Because of the presence of Cort both in front of and behind the camera, Ted & Venus sometimes seems like Harold and Maude: The Later Years.  Harold, the iconoclast that everyone loved, has grown up and become Ted, the unemployable stalker.  It’s an interesting idea and Cort pulls it off as an actor but not as a director.  You have to admire Cort’s devotion to his vision but it’s impossible to be certain what that vision was because the film’s tone is all over the place.  Cort gets a far better performance from himself than he does from the rest of the cast.

Speaking of the cast, the movie is full of familiar faces.  In fact, there are almost too many familiar faces.  It’s hard not to get distracted by all of the cameos.  If you somehow see this obscure movie, keep an eye out for: Woody Harrelson (who gets two lines and five seconds of screen time), Rhea Pearlman, Carol Kane, Martin Mull, Gena Rowlands, Pat McCormick, Vincent Schiavelli, Cassandra Peterson, and Andrea Martin.  When Ted is hauled into court, charged with stalking, the judge is played by LSD guru Timothy Leary.  I am not sure what Ted & Venus was trying to say but Bud Cort assembled an impressive cast to say it.

The National Board of Review Honors Greta Gerwig, The Disaster Artist, Get Out, and Wonder Woman!


The National Board of Review has spoken and the Oscar season has truly begun!

Here’s what won:

Best Picture: The Post

Best Director: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird

Best Actor: Tom Hanks in The Post

Best Actress: Meryl Streep in The Post

Best Supporting Actor: Willem DaFoe in The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread

Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber for The Disaster Artist

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Best Documentary Feature: Jane

Best Foreign Language Film: Foxtrot

Best Ensemble: Get Out

Breakthrough Performer: Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Best Directorial Debut: Jordan Peele for Get Out

NBR Spotlight Award: Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins for their collaboration on Wonder Woman

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: First They Killed My Father and Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992

Top 10 Films of 2017 (in alphabetical Order):

  1. Baby Driver
  2. Call Me By Your Name
  3. The Disaster Artist
  4. Downsizing
  5. Dunkirk
  6. The Florida Project
  7. Get Out
  8. Lady Bird
  9. Logan
  10. Phantom Thread

Top 10 Independent Films of 2017:

  1. Beatriz at Dinner
  2. Brigsby Bear
  3. A Ghost Story
  4. Lady MacBeth
  5. Logan Lucky
  6. Loving Vincent
  7. Menashae
  8. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
  9. Patti Cake$
  10. Wind River

Top 5 Documentaries:

  1. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
  2. Brimstone & Glory
  3. Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars
  4. Faces Places
  5. Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis

Top 5 Foreign Language Films:

  1. A Fantastic Woman
  2. Franzt
  3. Loveless
  4. Summer 1993
  5. The Square

James Franco Wins At The Gothams!


Hi, everyone!

Well, as I sit here typing this, I am eagerly awaiting the announcement of the National Board of Review’s picks for the best of 2017!  I keep thinking about how, in 2015, nobody took Mad Max: Fury Road seriously as an Oscar contender until it was named best picture by the NBR.  What the NBR does today will go a long way to determining whether this is an exciting Oscar season or a boring Oscar season.

However, the National Board of Review are not the only people who have been tabulating votes over the past few days.  Last night, the Gotham Awards were handed out in New York City.  The Gothams, which honor independent films, have lately been a pretty good indicator of what will, at the very least, receive a nomination in January.  Based on last night’s results, it looks like it could be a good year for Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, Saoirse Ronan, and James Franco!

You can check out the nominees here.  And you can see the winners below!

Best Feature — Call Me By Your Name

Best Documentary Feature — Strong Island

Audience Award — Get Out

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Actor: James Franco, The Disaster Artist

Best Actress: Saorise Ronan, Lady Bird

Special Jury Award for Ensemble Performance: “Mudbound,” presented to Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks

Made in NY Honoree: Michael K. Williams

Breakthrough Actor: Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”

Breakthrough Series — Long Form: Atlanta

Breakthrough Series — Short Form: The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes

 

TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.6 “The King, The Widow, and Rick” (dir by John Polson)


Oh, the world of The Walking Dead.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This season started with everyone finally standing up to the Saviors.  For once, Rick and his allies had Negan on the run and, regardless of what you think about season 8 overall, it was certainly satisfying to see the Saviors starting to get a little desperate.  Personally, I don’t think it was necessary to devote five episodes to just one battle but the Saviors are such a loathsome group of people that it’s definitely enjoyable to watch them get their asses kicked.

However, even with Rick and his allies declaring full out war, I knew that the action would eventually have to be interrupted by an episode of mourning.  Every season of The Walking Dead has at least one episode where everyone looks depressed and either thinks about a lost loved one or obsesses on whether or not there’s room for kindness and compassion in a post-apocalyptic world.  When the series started, the mourning episodes were a part of what set The Walking Dead apart from other shows.  (Remember when kindly old Dale Horvath was gruesomely attacked by a zombie?)  But, eight seasons in, it’s become a bit predictable.  Any episode where something big happens is going to be followed by an episode where not much happens at all.

“The King, The Widow, and Rick” is a mourning episode.  Everyone has returned from attacking the Saviors and now, with no bullets flying and several minor characters dead (and SHIVA!  I’m still sad about that…), it’s time to sit around and reflect.  This time, a bit more happened during the reflecting than has happened in previous mourning episodes.  Even if this episode still felt like it stretched things out a bit too much, it wasn’t quite as slow as some of the episodes that aired during season 7.

This episode opened like a Ken Burns documentary, with everyone reading letters about the war against the Saviors.  It ended with Rick naked and locked up in a shipping container and I was definitely okay with that.  Don’t get me wrong about this.  I do like Rick but occasionally, there is an arrogance to him that just strikes me the wrong way.  He’s a lot like Lost‘s Jack Shepherd.  He gives a good speech.  He is trying to do the right thing, even if he sometimes resents having to be the leader.  But Rick is always so sure of his ability to sway everyone over to his side that it was somewhat satisfying to see the Trash People respond to his latest speech by shrugging their shoulders and then locking him up.  I’m not sure why Rick felt the need to, once again, go over to the garbage dump.  The attack on the Saviors was a success without the help of the Trash People.  My theory is that Rick just can’t accept that not everyone wants to be a part of his alliance.

Meanwhile, at Hilltop, we had another one of those patented Walking Dead debates about whether or not people can survive the end of the world without losing their humanity.  Jesus was going out of his way to treat the Savior prisoners humanely.  Gregory said the prisoners should be executed.  Maggie responded by tossing Gregory in with the prisoners and then saying she would keep them alive so that they could be used for prisoner exchanges in the future.  Jesus said he was happy with her decision and … you know what?  I like Tom Payne’s performance as the character but I feel like an idiot whenever I call that guy Jesus.  Yes, he has a beard.  Yes, he’s kind.  BUT HIS NAME IS PAUL!  The whole “They call you Jesus” thing is so heavy-handed and kinda stupid.  Last night, one of the saviors said, “Well, Jesus, I’m no angel,” and I’m glad I didn’t have anything nearby to throw at the TV when he said it.

Anyway, I could have done without all the debate about how to treat the prisoners.  We all know that they’re going to end up dead, regardless.  The only prisoner that Negan might exchange would be Father Gabriel and, honestly, is getting Gabriel back worth the trouble?  Maggie should have just listened to Gregory.

Ezekiel was depressed, as well he should be.  SHIVA’S DEAD, DAMMIT!  Carol told him to stop feeling sorry for himself and to lead his people.  The best part of Ezekiel’s subplot was that Jerry was still standing guard, even though Ezekiel told him to go home.

Carl is apparently not dead.  Or, at least, he’s not dead, yet.  Instead, he ran off and spent some time hanging out with Siddiq, the man who Rick previously chased away.  They killed some walkers and bonded over shared pain.

And, of course, Rosita used a rocket launcher to blow up a savior.  That made me cheer.  Maybe Maggie should step down and let Rosita lead the Hilltop Colony.  There certainly wouldn’t be any debate about what to do with prisoners then!  However, for now, Rosita, Michonne, Daryl, and Tara are just doing their own thing.  Rick probably wouldn’t approve but Rick’s in a shipping container right now.

Anyway, this wasn’t a bad episode.  It may have been a mourning episode but at least it wasn’t just Rick sitting around in a catatonic state while Negan circled around him, giving a speech.  That’s the important thing.

Music Video of the Day: ACES — Stranger (2017, dir by ????)


Hi, everyone!  Lisa here, with today’s music video of the day!

This video was released yesterday.  As I sit here typing this, it currently has 68 views on YouTube and only one comment has been left.  That comment: “How are you not famous yet?”

I have to agree.  This artist definitely deserves to be famous so I’m going to do my part by sharing this video.  I love both this hauntingly beautiful song and the simple but atmospheric video that goes along with it.  Sad to say, I don’t have any technical credits for this video but I will say that I love the moody black-and-white cinematography.  This is one of those videos that invites you to watch and draw your own conclusions.

Enjoy!