Review of reviews: Film, Music & Stage
Beatriz at Dinner
Directed by Miguel Arteta (R)
An immigrant and a tycoon face off over canapés.
Never underestimate Salma Hayek, said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. In this suspenseful and “queasily funny” dark comedy, the star plays a Mexican-American massage therapist who at first looks out of her depth when she winds up face-to-face with a boastful real-estate billionaire at a dinner party in tony Newport Beach, Calif. But after the two get off to an awkward start, and as director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White “raise the emotional temperature by deliciously incremental degrees,” a “never-better” Hayek makes us believe that this mellow woman is choosing to rise to the fight as its importance to her grows. Her foe is not a typical dinner-table despot, said Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in AVClub.com. John Lithgow plays the triumphant capitalist “with an air of relaxed, self-deprecating smugness,” allowing the movie to make the sycophants at the table look worse than he does. The movie’s ambiguous ending “will be infuriating for some,” said Emily Yoshida in NYMag.com. But though Beatriz at Dinner deserves a better finish, its central clash “maintains its choke hold long after the credits have rolled.” When Beatriz realizes that people she had considered friends are destructive narcissists, her reaction is “quietly shattering.”
It Comes at Night
Directed by Trey Edward Shults (R)
Fear grips six survivors of an epidemic.
“This is turning out to be quite a year for horror movies,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. It Comes at Night, an end-times thriller from a “spookily self-assured” young director, joins a handful of smart recent films that have reminded us that the things humans do can be more frightening than any zombies or ghouls. Here, a small family living in seclusion after a plague has swept the land welcomes in three more survivors. No false scares jolt the film as it ratchets up suspense “with ruthless efficiency.” Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the teenage son of the couple who set the house rules, and his subtle performance hints at the young man’s frustration “without overtly signaling it,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time.com. In fact, “just about everything in It Comes at Night is subtle.” As a rivalry grows between the fathers and sexual tension develops between Harrison’s Travis and Riley Keough’s Kim, director Trey Edward Shults proves “more focused on building mood than delivering meaning,” said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. Still, he’s delivered “a master class” in anxiety and dread. “I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
The album Chuck Berry promised shortly before his recent death at age 90 “very much sounds like a career capstone,” said Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune. For his first new batch of studio recordings in 38 years, the rock ’n’ roll pioneer reworked many of his hits into nominally new songs that often give thanks to the people who stood by him. But while none of the tracks are as good as the oldies that they’re cribbed from, Berry does enough with the lyrics to remind us why he was rock’s first poet, and he again delivers the “terse fills and endless swing” that made him rock’s first great guitarist. And it doesn’t hurt that younger guitar talents Gary Clarke Jr. and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello are on hand to beef up the sound. “Your mind says, ‘Heard that before!’ and your body cannot possibly care,” said Tom Moon in NPR.org. Sure, “Lady B. Goode” resembles “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Big Boys” is a gloss of “Roll Over Beethoven.” As soon as the needle drops, “all that matters is Chuck Berry playing guitar like he’s ringing a bell.”
The singer-songwriter known as Sza “has grown into her quirks, and beautifully,” said Micah Peters in TheRinger.com. The 26-year-old’s first album arrives after she’s already made an impact with early mixtapes and an EP and established herself as “something of a bedroom, chillwave R&B artist” who attracts collaborators like Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar. Ctrl is “more pointed and confident” than her early work, though. She still often sings about sexual desire and ambivalent relationships, but she now leaps confidently from the “out and out pop” of “Prom” to the “sexy-flexy body-roll R&B” of “The Weekend.” Clearly she’s been listening “well beyond the borders of hip-hop and R&B,” said Jon Pareles in The New York Times. On the final track, with her grainy voice backed only by guitar, she sings, “God bless the 20-somethings.” In Sza’s chosen sonic realm, “a hazy place of echoes and hollows, of unreal tones and disembodied voices,” she can, it seems, “capture all their contradictions.”
Lacey Terrell, Eric McNatt, AP ■