Saturday, August 26, 2017

Lady Macbeth

Last night I saw Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh and Cosmo Jarvis.

Katherine (Pugh) is sold into a loveless marriage with an abusive, sexually challenged husband. His father who lives with them is also horrible, and coupled with the unhappy help, this all makes for a pretty miserable home.

Based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which was inspired by the famous Shakespeare work, this re-telling softens nothing. The audience feels every lashing that Katherine's dark-skinned lover Sebastian (Jarvis) gets and absorbs the emanating hatred Katherine has for the family she married into. In fact, the only one seemingly immune from all this brutality is a thin, sherbet-colored cat that pops up almost humorously, scene after scene, observing the chaos with typical curiosity.

But don't be fooled; there's not much comedy here. After her father-in-law allegedly sends her husband away, Katherine becomes obsessed with Sebastian, who works on the property. They don't do much to conceal their lovemaking and word travels fast. When her father-in-law confronts her with this news, the results are tragic—but Katherine is the one with the upper hand.

She's a force to be reckoned with, and anyone or anything that gets in her way from that point forward is put in clear and imminent danger.

The transformation of this character is a credit to the genius work of newcomer Pugh. Her ability to show the audience what simmers beneath the surface, yet behave as she's expected for the other characters is fascinating to watch. She's the star, after all, but I have a feeling I wouldn't have taken my eyes off of her even if she wasn't.

Lady Macbeth is a sexy, frightening, vivid interpretation of a life lived out of desperation. If you don't mind frequent violence (and a lot of nudity), give it a shot.


Thursday, August 17, 2017


Last night I saw Detroit, starring John Boyega and Will Poulter.

The 1967 Detroit Rebellion was a reaction to a police raid of an after-hours unlicensed black bar, where a celebration was being held to welcome back soldiers. Over 40 lives were lost and nearly 2,000 people were injured during the five days of riots.

One incident that erupted during that unsettling time happened at the Algiers Motel, where a group of young black men and two white women were held hostage by white police and tortured because of a gunshot the cops thought they heard coming from the property. By the end of the incident, three unarmed black men were dead. No weapon was ever found.

In Kathryn Bigelow's fictionalized version of that event, she retells what happened with minor poetic license. Though most are represented accurately (according to survivors and witnesses), dialog of course has to be imagined with the exception of phrases/insults that were recounted in court transcripts at the murder trials.

The film is long, but so was that night for the innocent victims who suffered at the hands of brutal racists. Watching their agony and seeing the merciless actions of the white men continue is just a painful reminder that we haven't come so far since then. Police brutality is alive and well in America, as is racism, so we must force ourselves to sit through art such as this to see why we can't let these injustices continue.

The performance Will Poulter gives as Krauss, the ringleader of the whole operation, is Oscar-worthy, as you can barely look at him by the time the film concludes. Also stellar is John Boyega as Dismukes, a black guard who witnessed the incident, but remained unharmed because he "befriended" the cops. The struggle to stay silent is reflected in his eyes as the horrors play out.

Though it was unpleasant and uncomfortable to watch, I truly hope that high schools around the country will show this film as part of their Civil Rights lessons and show how a dark period in America's past played out. If we don't convince the youth to be color-blind, we'll find ourselves right back in that horrible place in no time.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Beatriz at Dinner

Tonight I saw Beatriz at Dinner, starring Salma Hayek and Connie Britton.

Beatriz (Hayek) is a Mexican healer who gives her affluent client Cathy (Britton) a massage after a losing a beloved pet. She can't hide her grief, but Cathy is compassionate and listens to her as she tells the story of an angry neighbor who killed her goat. As she's leaving the mansion, her car breaks down so she calls a friend to come and fix it. It will be a few hours until he can get there, so Cathy invites her to stay for dinner.

At the meal are Cathy and her husband, plus two couples. Both of the men work with her husband in the real estate development business. All of them are white.

Beatriz awkwardly greets the dinner party visitors with warm hugs instead of the cold handshakes they're used to and the night is off to a weird start. The more wine Beatriz drinks, the more honest she becomes and soon the polite conversation turns contentious.

John Lithgow is condescending and cool as the mogul Doug, who everyone seems to be kissing up to. Immediately he stereotypes Beatriz, asking her first to get him a drink (mistaking her for the help), then joking that maybe she once danced in Vegas when she mentions he looks familiar. 

During the meal, Beatriz has a small meltdown when she mistakes Doug for a corporate animal who ruined her home town in Mexico. She leaves the group to rest and uncovers something more. The story continues with her return to the party.

The film is very light on actual action, but the dialog here crackles so easily that's it's hard to notice. Every note of every word is carefully chosen either by the two who are sparring or those aiming to diffuse them.

It's hard to take your eyes of off Hayek, as her performance has so many dimensions. She emotes from deep within her eyes and carries herself as a confident holistic healer offended by soulless people would.

Alternately, Lithgow makes small sparks of his character redeeming, yet we can't help but shake our heads in disgust at his behavior.

A quiet—but no less powerful—commentary on our culturally volatile times.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Beguiled

Yesterday I saw The Beguiled, starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.

Corporal John McBurney (Farrell) fell into the Union army by way of desperation—he'd just arrived from Ireland without a penny to speak of, so while he was up for the job, he didn't have a specific affinity to either American side. When he is wounded in battle, a young girl finds him bleeding and helpless in the woods. She does the "Christian" thing (as they often mention), although he is from the opposite side, and brings him to safety at the girls' seminary where she lives.

The seminary is run by strict headmistress Martha (Kidman) who immediately mends his wound, cleans him up and transforms the music area into a makeshift bedroom for him. Soon all the young girls, and their teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), are smitten with their guest, bending over backwards to see to his comfort.

He is grateful and gracious—gentle with the young girls and flirtatious with the women. His wound heals nicely and it is determined that it's not appropriate for him to remain, so (sexual) tensions rise as the group knows their time with him will end soon.

There is rivalry, violence, betrayal and heartbreak as the truth unfolds. To say any more would be to spoil, so I'll just mention that the soft, pearly light that Sofia Coppola always casts over her movies with works well here. Instead of being a raw, dusty war-time drama, it feels more like an occasional thriller with some splashes of romance that hang in the air like a misty Southern fog.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

On Friday, I saw the documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

Anyone who watched the Oscar-winning first installment, An Inconvenient Truth, could tell that former Vice President Al Gore would make saving the environment his life's mission. This film confirms that.

Although there are flashbacks to his time in office, and scenes of him lamenting the results of the election that could have made him president, he has moved on with a Jimmy Carter-like spirit for making the most of his post-political career.

The crew follows him to Paris when the original Paris Agreement was made in the shadow of the horrific terrorist attacks of 2015. He was in the heart of the city when those incidents occurred, and his remarks afterward will make even the toughest among us shed some tears.

The triumph of that global victory was unfortunately short-lived due to our current Commander-in-Chief pulling out of said Agreement just two months ago. Mr. Gore shows us why that was such a devastating blow to the progress that had been made and what we must do as citizens to continue the fight.

He can't resist bringing along his beloved PowerPoint presentations again to share some shocking bar graphs. He advances the slides that prove his point with blatant satisfaction—trouble is, we wish he weren't so right.

This is a crises of epic proportions. Future generations (if we haven't killed the human race by then) will shake their heads in disbelief at America's stupidity if we don't turn things around and make this right.

My favorite part of the film shows Gore meeting with a conservative Texan mayor who is on the right side of history, making his town an environmentally friendly model for the rest of the nation. Though he may disagree with liberal politics, he says that taking care of our earth is just "common sense," and has found a fiscally responsible way of doing it.

Unfortunately, the people who need to see this film probably won't. But if it gets just a few people to change their votes, to write some letters, to make some noise, it won't all have been for nothing.


Thursday, August 03, 2017

Annabelle: Creation

Last night I screened Annabelle: Creation, starring Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson.

A couple who suffered a tragedy years ago opens their home with good intentions to a girls' orphanage, but soon things go awry. Though the Mullins ask the girls to respect their privacy and stay away from their deceased daughter's old room, the toys inside prove too tempting for Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson), so all hell breaks loose.

To top it off, as if being an orphan shunned by the "cool" girls isn't enough, Janice is disabled, wearing a brace on her leg and using a cane. She has to reach her bedroom upstairs by a chair lift, reminiscent of the one in Gremlins.

After a horrific encounter seemingly sparked by a doll (the famous "Annabelle" one from the prior film), Janice ends up paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Because this is the 1950s and we're at a faraway farmhouse, the chair looks like something from the 1800s.

Anyway, much ensues—mysteries surrounding the bed-confined Mrs. Mullins are revealed, Linda proves to be a loyal friend to a fault and I spent the better portion of the movie trying to place the accent of the resident nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). Post-film research reveals in real-life she is from Mexico, but I'm not sure her character was supposed to be?

So, here's what you need to know: the film does have scary, jumpy moments; the acting (especially by the two child leads) is excellent and the ending ... well, leads us exactly to where we began with the film Annabelle, since this was a prequel.

I enjoyed it, but missing were our trusted anchors—Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, for whom this franchise centers. Their absence was palpable and I hope the team doesn't complete another film without them.

This installment wasn't as good as the others, but it wasn't bad. Go see it for the "gotcha" moments or rent it on a dark night, holding a doll for good measure.