Thursday, June 29, 2017


Voices of:  Steve Carell   Kristen Wiig   Trey Parker  
Miranda Cosgrove   Dana Gaier   Nev Scharrel   Russell Brand   Steve Coogan   Julie Andrews

     The special effects, humor, and sheer imagination of the Despicable Me series continue to be refreshing and delightful for children.  There were many chuckles from children (and adults, by the way) in the screening I attended, as well as sighs during the tender moments.  Like its predecessors, 3 is mostly entertaining (as it’s meant to be) with colorful animation and special effects, some adventure, and fanciful transports (e.g., a golden car/boat/plane, and a Minion-devised airbus outfitted mostly with bathroom fixtures). 
     This rendition follows Gru (Carell), his wife Lucy (Wiig), and their three daughters, Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier), and Agnes (Sharrel), as they go to visit the heretofore unknown twin of Gru, Dru (Carell).  It turns out that the twins’ parents got a divorce when they were just babes, with the mother (Andrews) keeping Gru and the father taking Dru to another city.  After the father dies, the now grown up Dru invites Gru to visit him in Freedonia, where he has a prosperous pig and cheese farm, Gru is beside himself with expectations.  This constitutes one of the main themes of the story—anticipating something that may be different from what you expect, requiring some kind of adaptation on your part.  This happens not only to Gru in getting to know his twin, but also to Agnes (Scharrel) when she goes into the forest in search of a unicorn.
     The new character in 3 is Balthazar Bratt, a former child star who, in retaliation for Hollywood’s rejection of him has become a bad boy.  He revels in boasting nowadays, “I’ve been a bad boy!” as he is out for his revenge on Hollywood for cancelling his show, as well as for Gru and Lucy, AVL (Anti-Villain League) agents who have come close to capturing him for stealing the largest diamond in the world.  His escape from them results in their dismissal from the League, leaving Gru in an existential crisis. 
     It’s at just this time that Dru invites the Gru family to visit him.  What Gru encounters is a brother who felt he could never please their father.  It turns out that the father’s nickname was “The Bold Terror”, a kind of villain that Gru used to be.  But now Gru has a wife and family, he has been trying to disengage from that side of his past.  (It should be said here for those who know the previous Despicables, the Minions are none too happy about this.  However, in this rendition they manage to get incarcerated, escape, and, with their ingenuity, be in a position to aid their hero Gru.)
     Dru’s wanting Gru to teach him villainous skills puts Gru in a bind.  But he’s now in such a funk from being fired that he succumbs to Dru’s pleas.  He’s still crafty, though, and the way he hopes to satisfy both Dru’s desires and his own need for recognition by the AVL is to get back the diamond from Balthazar.
     The well-illustrated theme of Gru adapting to changing circumstances is reinforced with his newly acquired conscientiousness in doing what is right and feeling compassion for others less strong.  He is developing a more flexible way of thinking (i.e., seeing that Agnes’ discovery of a goat is just as exciting for her as finding a unicorn) and seems more grounded in living a life of honor.
     I found this update to be entertaining in its story, animation, and special effects, and the music (Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams) enjoyable.  It doesn’t have really strong messages for children, but sometimes, pure entertainment is all that’s wanted.  It’s not much different from its predecessors, but that is not likely to bother those who love these films.

Despicable Me 3 should do well at the box office; it was applauded by the audience at last evening’s screening.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Nicole Kidman   Elle Fanning   Kirsten Dunst   Colin Farrell   Oona Laurence   Angourie Rice   Addison Riecke

     Beguile:  To deceive with charm.  By the end of the film, which ends up being something of a thriller, exactly to whom the title refers is ambiguous.  The wounded Union soldier found in the woods by a young girl, Amy (Laurence) on a southern plantation during the Civil War is charming, polite, and gracious to his rescuers/hosts.  Tenderhearted Amy has helped him limp to the girls boarding school where she lives, counting on the head mistress, Martha Farnsworth (Kidman) knowing what to do with him.  Miss Martha is a Christian who is committed to its principles, so thinks it moral and proper to treat him before sending him on his way or notifying Confederate soldiers.  Her ambivalence is increased when she talks to some passing soldiers with prisoners and find they are taking them to prison to die.
     Col. John McBurney’s (Farrell) charm has an oily feel to it from the start, prompting the viewer to wonder what he wants to get out of it; he is clearly not without guile.  He is lavish with his compliments anytime one of the residents does something for him, and he flirts shamelessly but knowledgeably—that is, he has a sense of what approach will be pleasing to each individual.  And he has a dark side, which will be revealed as the stress level rises. 
Quite the opposite, Miss Martha is crisp and direct with John, purposefully stifling any hope he might have of piercing her armor and being of help to him.  She makes it clear that she is only doing her duty and will send him on his way as soon as he is physically able.  Nevertheless, he persists, knowing from past experience that he is able to wheedle his way past feminine defenses. 
     But John has likely never been in a situation where he is surrounded by six females, all being drawn to him simply because he’s a male because it’s been so long since any of them have been around men.  They’re staying holed up in the school because for various reasons there is no other place for them to go.  Everyone else has gone home for Christmas.  He seems almost giddy about being the object of their competition with one another, particularly the three adult women, Martha, Edwina (Dunst), and Alicia (Fanning).  He has a special bond with Amy in their mutual fascination with plants and animals.  When he is better, he will work in the garden.  Jane (Rice) plays piano, which draws her to him, and Marie (Riecke) simply lets him know she cares about him.
     There are tense moments when soldiers come by the house (with John hidden), and as jealousies arise and John’s leg begins to heal, allowing him to be more mobile, the situation comes to a resounding crisis.  Feeling desperate and emasculated, John’s dark side surfaces, and the women must defend themselves.  This is where their guile sheds more light on the title, The Beguiled.
     The film is well conceived (based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan) and directed by Sofia Coppola, who well deserves the director’s prize she received for her work at this year’s film festival in Cannes.  Although I’m not always a fan of her work, this production moves along at a good pace, and facts about the characters are revealed gradually, heightening suspense.  In addition, the astute psychological observations about women, women and men, and how they behave in specific situations rings so true.
     Nicole Kidman won a special price at Cannes for being in four different films screened there, one of them being The Beguiled.  As Martha Farnsworth, an upper-class southerner, she carries the role with precision, with just the right degree of softness, authority, compassion, and intelligence.  Although keeping her emotions in check, she clearly shows affection for her charges, and listens to them respectfully like a wise leader.  Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning lend fine support in their veneers of compliance masking rebellious leanings.  I was really taken with Oona Laurence’s character Amy and her performance.  One of the delights of the film were the scenes when the females were together making decisions in a spirit of unity. 
     Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography contributed greatly to the mood and look of The Beguiled, with varying brightness, darkness, and chiaroscuro effects.  Once, an exquisite close-up of a spider web clarified the visual and symbolic meaning of the scene and the film as a whole. 

An intriguing picture of women sparring with/over a man.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Tilda Swinton   Paul Dano   An Seo Hyun   Lily Collins   Shirley Henderson   Jake Gyllenhaal   Giancarlo Esposito

     A live pig sold for a golden replica serves as the metaphor for this film about a young girl in South Korea and her soul mate, a huge pig she’s named Okja.  Mija (Hyun) is devoted to her pet and is unaware of the contractural agreement her grandfather signed 10 years earlier.  Thinking he is doing the right thing, the grandfather is ready to return Okja to the American company who gave it to him for 10 years, in exchange for the gold piece.   But he is mistaken in thinking Mija is going to value the gold more than the pig.  His bargain illustrates how capitalist schemes can appear so appealing to na├»ve peoples.  When Grandfather proudly gives Mija the golden relic and she realizes what he has done, she races after the truck carrying Okja away.  In this, the film likewise illustrates the betrayal of the younger generation by the older.
     The background story is about a wealthy American family with a multi-national food tech corporation that is unmindful of its responsibility to humankind and is single-minded in its profit motive, as lived out by the Mirando twin sisters (Swinton).  Lucy, who has always seemed to be in a one-down position, has dreamed up a contest that she is sure will win over her sister and bring her respect and love from the general public.  This is done by giving poor people around the world a genetically altered pig to raise for 10 years, with the ultimate aim of having a contest as to which one could feed the most people in the world (example of genetic experimentation and conflict of interest perhaps?).  Mija’s grandfather was one of those given an animal.  In the meantime, Okja is Mija’s only companion, and has even saved her life once.
     What follows is a rather fantastical madcap story involving international travel, daring car/truck races on the highways, the involvement of animal rights advocates (Dano, et al.), the pig competition, and, ultimately, the slaughterhouse; but Mija has her head about her and extraordinary smarts, and is out to bring Okja home.
     Writer/director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, Mother) is a master at depicting dramas that pose ethical and socio-political situations for the audience to ponder, and here he makes it clear that we all have some responsibility for the state of affairs, either knowingly or by default.  That is, the grandfather is myopic as to his granddaughter’s wishes and ultimate welfare, the animal rights advocates are well intentioned but rather narrow-minded and inept, and the Mirando corporation has dual purposes topped off with petty rivalry among the owners. 

     Swinton is virtually unsurpassed in her ability to portray any character she’s presented with, and has a particular knack for odd, quirky personalities who have just enough plausibility to intrigue us.  Playing her character here and her chiding twin is entertaining in itself.  Young An Seo Hyun is captivating as a purposeful, devoted adherent to her principles.  Dano is gifted in his portrayal of appealing, sincere proponents of a cause, and he comes through here.  I was disappointed to see one of my idols, Jake Gyllenhaal, play such a buffoon role that seemed to have no purpose in this drama.  He executed it well, but I can’t see the reason for having such a character, who is shown as a self-inflated blowhard.

The purpose of this well executed film seems to be in having us contemplate where our food comes from, something we usually don’t want to do.

Grade:  A-                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, June 26, 2017


Andy Serkis   Woody Harrelson   Steve Zahn   Karin Konoval  
Terry Notary   Amiah Miller   Ty Olsson   Aleks Paunovic   Devyn Dalton

     In the 2014 rendition of the Planet of the Apes series, Caesar as the beloved leader of the ape colony, tries to protect it from the encroachment of humans on their territory.  Because he and some reasonable humans are able to negotiate terms, the humans are allowed to work on a dam that will provide for desperately needed electrical power.  The truce is disrupted by distrustful parties on both sides—Dreyfus, one of the leaders of the military, and Kobo, the ape who retains resentment toward humans for the years he was held as a research subject.  Terrible betrayals and battles ensue, with the result that even though peace was attained, Caesar has been warned that the military is planning another attack on the ape community.
     This rendition is a battle of wills between the Colonel (Harrelson) and Caesar (Serkis).  The army led by the Colonel has attacked the ape colony, leaving devastation in its wake.  Caesar tries repeatedly to negotiate and reason with the Colonel, but the Colonel has gone slightly off his rocker, with a God complex and the firm belief that if he doesn’t wipe out the apes, they will wipe out the human race.  Caesar even tries to communicate with him simply by staring at him (hoping to shame him), but to no avail.  The Colonel is impervious.
     Caesar wants to go after the Colonel on his own, advising the colony to stay put, and leaving his young son Cornelius with Lake, but Maurice and a couple others insist they go with him.  Along the way, they come upon a girl and a dying solder who are mute and they have to figure that out, but Maurice is adamant about not leaving the girl behind by herself, so she becomes part of their small band.   This character seems extraneous to me, and I wonder about the purpose of its inclusion.
     What they eventually discover is that most of the ape colony has been captured and enslaved by the Colonel, who has one of the traitorous apes around to manage the enslaved, Rex (Olsson), a Kobo follower.  They hope to get inside and rescue everyone, and once again, Caesar insists on going in alone while the others wait a distance behind.  Unfortunately, Caesar gets captured, and it looks like all hope is lost.  But with a little luck and the reconnaissance of Maurice et al., dramatic things are about to happen.
     Director Matt Reeves and his writing partner Mark Bomback are a winning team in bringing fresh ideas to the franchise to keep it exciting and filled with tension.  They highlight the ethical dilemmas and flaws of leaders who may or may not understand the implications of their actions.  They underscore the importance of strategy in a conflict and the elements that go into eliciting the loyalty of one’s team.  They also seem to be keenly aware of the combination of luck and skill that go into military victories.
     Technological wonders in the series continue with the action capture of Serkis’ Caesar and the visual effects by Weta Digital most striking.  The extended battle scenes do become tedious in places, and I suspect they are primarily to show off the technology. 
     Humor is lavishly inserted in this version by the character “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn), who is a different species from the apes and one who escaped an American zoo, avoiding Simian flu.  Softness is provided by the lovely mute girl with the luminous eyes and expressive face played by Amiah Miller.  She shows much needed tenderness toward the apes and lends meaningful aid, although I do not think this important enough to have included the character..

Despite this being the third in the reboot series, the filmmakers keep the story of the apes interesting and fresh.

Grade:  B                        By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Mark Wahlberg   Anthony Hopkins   Josh Duhamel   Laura Haddock   Isabela Moner   Stanley Tucci   John Turturro   Peter Cullen
Reno Wilson   Gemma Chan   Jim Carter

     We start out with a bit of history of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table—with the addition of “knightly” autobots who stand behind each knight and who will help the English save their country from the Dark Age invaders.  They’re at a standoff with the invaders and are calling for Merlin the Magician, for aid.  He is on his way to engage a dragon—ancestor of the autobots—to align with the English to renew their partnership and save England.
     Fast forward to modern times.  The hero-bot Optimus Prime is missing, and autobots—which have been outlawed on earth—keep falling mysteriously from the sky.  Some land in a Bot junkyard overseen by Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), who regards the autobots as friends.  He is trying to repair their injuries by restoring lost parts.  Unbeknownst to him, a young girl Izabella (Moner) has lost her family and is now living in the junkyard, having made friends with the bots, especially Squeeks, trying to restore them just like Cade is.  But when he discovers she’s there, he tries to get rid of her, saying she is just a kid.  Little does he know, she is his persistent heir apparent, and will turn up intermittently throughout the film.  Needless to say, in this testosterone-filled fantasy, it takes him a long time to realize her value.
     Earth is in a state of panic now as it has realized that the autobots are attacking earth, and doesn’t really know why.  We the audience do; it has something to do with intrigue among the Bots.  Optimus Prime is devastated to find his beloved planet Cerberon—his home—has been destroyed.  Quintessa (Chan) the sorceress tells him that to save his planet he must go to earth, where a valuable artifact is buried.  If he brings it back to her, Cerberon will be restored.  He is bewitched, so although his reclaiming the artifact will destroy the earth, his ally, he proceeds to recapture it.
     Back on earth, Cade gets a message that he is to meet with Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins) in London, and is transported to his estate by his trusted Bot Cogman (Carter).  The earl Burton explains his historical connection to a family descended from Merlin, one of whose ancestors has passed down the power of the artifact sought by the Autobots.  She is Vivian Wembley (Haddock).  She and Cade, who has a significant medal picked up from the junkyard wrapped around his arm signifying that he is the last knight, must recover the artifact, thereby saving earth.
     Just as in all action movies these days, multiple intrigues and battles ensue between the autobots and earth, the central struggle being the recovery of the artifact to the rightful heir. 
Michael Bay has directed all five of the Transformers renditions, and his experience is evident in this production, in that the film perpetuates the theme of humans vs. robots, has impressive special effects, and recruits fine actors to play the roles.  Where it lapses is its repetition of well-worn themes and too many battles in which the protagonists are not well defined.  This rendition could have been reduced from its 148 minutes by eliminating extraneous elements, such as the Izabella character trailing after Cade and the spoof of a bad scientist.  Why discount science in this day and age??!!  Humor bits could also have been eliminated:  Vivian’s mother and aunts trying to marry her off and wise cracks made by many characters are tired jokes that fall flat.
     Parents, please don’t bring your children to this movie unless they’ve shown a particular interest in robots and have loved previous Transformer movies.  A measure of interest for children is the 20+ exits/entrances during the movie by people from my row, mostly by children. 

This is a continuation of the theme of humans vs. robots in the Transformers series.

Grade:  C                   By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Zoe Lister-Jones   Adam Pally   Fred Armisen

    This is how a comedy should be:  Laugh out loud funny with substance and truth underneath.  Zoe Lister-Jones is the current wonder woman who has written, directed, produced, and starred in a groundbreaking (to me) film about a couple who fights constantly, and playfully come up with the solution to their problems.  I say “groundbreaking” because Lister-Jones gets so much of the psychology right.  It won’t be anything new to therapists who have understood this for a long time, but artistic expression to address real feelings and manage conflict is therapeutic.
      Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Pally) argue constantly about all kinds of things—dishes in the sink, complaining, laziness—and it seems hopeless for their marriage.  Then one day when they are attending a godchild’s party (to which they came simply as an obligation), out of boredom they sit in the sandbox, pick up toy instruments, and start playfully setting their fights to music.  It’s fun for them for the first time in months.  They gingerly try it again when they’re at the beach getting stoned.  They discover that “fighting” in song actually helps.  Later on, when they find their old guitars while cleaning out the garage they decide to be a band. 
     A neighbor drops by to chat and sees that they have guitars and have just formed a band.  He lets them know he plays drums, and waits expectantly for them to invite him to join them.  Awkward silence, so he leaves.  It’s not long, though, until the couple realizes they need a drummer, so they knock on his door.  All the scenes with Dave (Armisen) and his two roommates are so surprising and fun, despite a few believable rough spots, they put the film over the top in my opinion.
     Cleverness, dialogue, and comedic timing make this film a winner.  Lister-Jones is truly gifted in all aspects of her creation, and I will always make sure I see her future work.  I assume she must have been primarily responsible for recruiting the cast (since I don’t see a “casting by” category on IMDB), because they are so in sync with her character, especially Adam Pally.  Like Lister-Jones, he has had considerable experience in writing, directing, and producing, as well as acting.  Fred Armisen is well known as a kind of odd-character comedian, and does some of his best work in this film. 
     The musical group Lucius scored the catchy tunes in Band Aid, but in collaboration with Lister-Jones.  She wrote the lyrics into the script, then worked with Kyle Forrester of Lucius on putting them to music.  She said in a Washington Times interview that she and Pally thoroughly rehearsed them, but “Fred needed no rehearsals because he’s like a legitimate drummer” (
     There is one more important discovery (with the help of Ben’s mother) the couple makes, which is the value of finding out what is really bothering them, talking about it, and grieving together.

An Indie film about marriage that includes a novel way to work through conflicts.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Naomi Watts   Jaeden Lieberher   Jacob Tremblay   Sarah Silverman   Dean Norris   Maddie Ziegler   Lee Pace

      This is a very different version of the single mother bringing up two boys on her own than we usually see—either in real life or in the movies.  Susan (Watts) is unconventional in her being consistently late in picking up her boys from school, whistling to them from the car, playing videogames, and so on; but she is quite conventional in her “good mother” role of warmth and nurturance and being able to play and have fun with her kids—the more important things, really.
     Henry (Lieberher, previously in Midnight Special) is a very (unbelievably, maybe?) precocious child who not only knows more facts than most adults, but reasons at an adult level.  In addition, he has a keen sense of fairness and ethical principles.  He’s not obnoxious, though, because he’s so sincere and thoughtful of others.  His younger brother Peter (Tremblay, previously in Room) is a great counterpart in his sweetness, but it’s nice to see his spunk and competitiveness with his older brother. 
      So this family is tumbling through life, mostly enjoying it, and trying to be helpful to others.  Susan has a co-worker at a coffee shop (Silverman), who clearly needs her support.  Henry has to rescue his brother from bullies at school.  But what puts the intrigue of the story in motion is Henry’s observation of his schoolmate Christina (Ziegler) next door with her stepfather, Mr. Sickleman (Norris), the city’s police commissioner.  From what Henry can glean from his online searches and books, Christina is suffering from abuse.  There has already been an incident in the grocery store observed by Henry and his mother, where a man was being abusive to a woman, and Susan advises Henry not to try to intervene by telling him, “It’s not our business”; it could provoke more violence.  But Henry is not convinced, saying that apathy, not violence, is the worst thing in the world.  He then proceeds to devise a plan whereby Christina can be rescued.
      Something happens, and Henry cannot enact his plan, but he has given Susan the most detailed instructions as to how she can see to it that Christina gets the help she needs.  This is the action of the story, filled with suspense, and keeping the audience on edge.
Director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed) knows very well how to direct movies with drama that have some thrill to them.  His team of Michael Giacchino (music) and John Schwartzman (cinematographer), along with others, add measurably to the production. 
      Although the script is very good in terms of entertainment and capturing the imagination, I think Gregg Hurwitz made a mistake in putting adult words and concepts into a child’s role, and making him, in psychology parlance, a “parent child.”  This doesn’t usually work out so well in real life as it does in this film.  The script is also weakened by the gaps in Henry’s story.  I can’t say more, but that was jarring to me.  On the other hand, the insertion of precursors like Susan’s whistle, her penchant for videogames, and Henry’s class report on legacy are clever in their prescience.
      Naomi Watts is a solid performer who consistently gets good reviews, and she deserves it as well for her work here.  She’s such a natural in relating to children, and her tremulous standing up to Mr. Sickleman is outstanding.  To be commended are the two boys playing her sons, Jaeden Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay.  They seem to understand intuitively what is called for, and they produce it naturally.  Dean Norris knows very well how to play the villain (“Under the Dome” and other TV series), and his portrayal of the bully and reactions of surprise and concern ripple through his face so tellingly.  I’m not sure why the Silverman character was included; although she played her part very well, the character seemed extraneous to me.
     Although I liked The Book of Henry in many ways (directing, music, cinematography, actors, entertainment), there are parts of it that seem over the top.  For instance, I mentioned the portrayal of children.  The most galling was catapulting poor Henry (basically, a wonderful boy) back in the traditional role of a dominant husband over a submissive wife.  “I must tell you exactly what to do and you must follow my instructions implicitly.”  “Pay attention to our finances!  You don’t even know what we are worth.  I’ve made all this money so you don’t have to work any more.”
      This movie will be applauded by those taken in by the romantic story that children can be as wise as adults, but don’t you believe it.  Even the writer of this script hedged on that.

An entertaining—even exciting—movie, if you don’t think too hard.

Grade:  C+                          By Donna R. Copeland


Sam Elliott   Laura Prepon   Nick Offerman   Krysten Ritter   Katharine Ross

      In this movie, the term ‘hero’ has layered connotations:  It refers to a movie that made Lee Hayden (Elliott) famous, it refers to the father in a film script he is auditioning for, it refers to Lee’s attempts to salvage his relationship with his daughter, and finally it refers to dealing with a life-threatening illness and facing with dignity the possibility of death.  Lee is different from the usual hero we encounter in movies; he is taciturn but sensitive; he shuns the spotlight, generously ceding his lifetime achievement award to a stranger; and is loathe to divulge to others the burden he is carrying.  Instead he copes in a low-key kind of way with alcohol and drugs he gets from a best friend Jeremy (Offerman), who’s also supportive.
     It’s at Jeremy’s that Lee meets a client named Charlotte (Prepon), a much younger woman who is cheeky and outspoken.  Lee is attracted to her, partly because she challenges him, but also they are very different from one another, which appeals to him.  Whereas he is cautious and thoughtful, she is gregarious and impulsive and a little careless.  Although their first encounters are a bit awkward, they form a tenuous relationship that later gets threatened by something she does. 
      Director Brett Haley, co-wrote this script and I’ll See You in My Dreams with Marc Basch, and both films have the quality of being subdued, but still engaging enough to capture our interest and wonder how the story lines will turn out.  It’s a film provoking thoughtful consideration of the issues Lee is dealing with, issues that are likely to strike a touching chord in most viewers.  Hero continues the themes from Dreams about the complexities of emotional attachment, age differences in people’s perspectives, and living in the moment versus working toward goals.
      Consistent with many roles he has taken in his acting career, Sam Elliott here portrays a character who is good looking with a distinctive resonant voice, and one who prefers a low-key life.   Most of the actor’s work has been in both television and movies, but although he is the lead in this film, he typically eschews leading man roles, and accolades he has received are for supporting character portrayals.  He prefers to keep his usual distinctive white hair and handlebar moustache in his movies, consistent with his preference for roles that are similar to him in real life.  He loves westerns because they have “something to do with integrity and a man’s word and honor and all that kind of stuff—values, morality…”  The part was written for him, and fits him hand-to-glove.
     Early in her career Katherine Ross (Lee’s ex-wife in The Hero, but his actual wife in reality) won an Oscar, two Golden Globes and a BAFTA, but for some reason, she stayed away from feature films for ten years.  She still has a captivating presence on film without necessarily speaking very much, and as Val, she sets just the right tone when she encounters Lee.  Laura Prepon overacts a bit in her role as Charlotte, although it may be at Director Haley’s behest.  Krysten Ritter is just right as Lee’s daughter, with tones of longing, anger, and tenderness toward her father.  Offerman and Elliott have an easy camaraderie with one another, and their scenes represent strong, affectionate male bonding.
     What appealed to me most about this film was the quiet drama unfolding in the lives of plausibly constructed characters and the playfulness of conveying many different meanings to the word ‘hero.’  I do object to what is now so prevalent in films—the over-use of alcohol and drugs.  I presume it’s related to filmmakers’ need for funding and the manufacturers’ benefitting from the coverage, but it’s not a good model at a time when we’re all urged to be more moderate in our consumption.

A quiet, contemplative film with a bit of comedy and romance to spice it up.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Salma Hayek     Chloe Sevigny     John Lithgow     Connie Britton     Amy Landecker     Jay Duplass     Dave Warshofsky

     Still waters run deep, and Beatriz (Hayek) is a fascinating combination of a diffident but fearless woman whose passions burst out in full force when she is outraged.  After a turbulent childhood in Mexico and losing her family, she has devoted her life to the healing arts, working in a cancer center.  She is revered by the mother of one of her teenage patients who is alive and well, and Cathy (Britton) continues to have her come to her elegant home for massages after her daughter has gone to college.  Cathy is very gracious, and when Beatriz can’t start her car one day after an appointment, she urges the therapist to stay for dinner.  Her husband, Grant (Warshofsky), thinks this is not a good idea for a business dinner, but accedes to her wishes.
     What no one realizes is that the evening will be a huge, head-on clash of values and cultures.  When the evening starts, it’s a little awkward, with the society women showing their squeamishness about a medical condition and treating it as a gossip item (off-putting for someone working at a cancer center), and incredulous about Beatriz having a pet goat (“Did she say ‘goat’?), but all are trying very hard to be understanding and politically correct. 
Unfortunately for the evening, one of the guests, Doug (Lithgow), pushes every button in Beatriz’ psyche.  He is dominating, condescending (asks Beatriz to bring him another drink after mistaking her for one of the help, probes her status as an immigrant), boastful about his riches, and openly advocates going for whatever is best for oneself.  He is a businessman to the core, and to h--- with anyone (protesters, regulators, environmentalists) standing in his way.  He has and will handle them all.  This doesn’t sit well with someone who lost her family and her whole town in Mexico when American developers came with empty promises of jobs and wrecked the village and its environment. 
   One of the things I loved about this story is a humble person being fearless in circumstances where she is among very wealthy people.  The art of the creative team of writer (Mike White) and director (Miguel Arteta) here is in taking a neutral stance between two deeply divided sides.  We don’t just have empathy for the immigrant health care worker filled with compassion, whose life has been so difficult, we also come away with some understanding and identification with the privileged guests and hosts as well.  They’re clearly shown to be trying to do the politically correct thing, and trying to understand what Beatriz stands for and is advocating.  [This excludes Doug, whom I saw as a big blow-hard with little capacity for appreciation of anything beyond his self-interest.  The most he can do is shake his head in reaction to Beatriz.  Despite her confrontation and a tender touch (massaging his tense shoulders, did impress him), nothing she says ever really gets through to him.]
     In all this seriousness, there is great comedy.  It is the best of comedy, that which has substance underlying it.  We chuckle at the words of both Beatriz and Doug; they have a ring of truthfulness in their absurdity.  And the ending of the film is truly creative in its loyalty to the gist of the story, its grounding in reality, and its surprise.
   Salma Hayek does a bravura performance, with her intense focusing eyes, her engagement with the other characters with different emotional valences, and her range of states of being—at home, meditating, doing therapy, friendliness, encountering strangeness, and experiencing outrage.  Supporting actors add to the colorful mix of personalities, and the experienced, talented Lithgow is especially good in counterpoint to Hayek.
     Cinematographer Wyatt Garfield follows the story visually to enhance every scene, then he goes into wonderful artistry when he shows a flock of white birds suddenly flying out over a waterway enclosed with greenery and when he gives us an image onscreen of what Beatriz is visualizing when she is fantasizing/meditating toward the end.

An artful film about a clash of cultures and values, but with much appreciated humor.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland