Tag Archives: Salma Hayak

Pixel Wars

Eternals

by Brandon Thomas

The Marvel formula continues to chug along 13 years after the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born in 2008’s Iron Man. The popular studio has had some major highs with The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, and some major lows with Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, and Black Widow

How does Marvel’s latest, Eternals, stack up with the rest of their catalog? 

Well, it might be time for Kevin Fiege and company to go back to the drawing board when it comes to their origin stories. 

Eternals is a sweeping, millennia crossing story that follows a group of immortal beings sent to Earth to protect it from the Deviants. After spending thousands of years fighting the Deviants – and finally destroying them – the group goes their own way until the time comes for their return home. As present-day arrives, an old enemy begins stalking the group one by one, and they must reunite for a final battle. 

Eternals is Marvel going full cosmic. The story is big – one that stretches over space and time – and seeks to be the most grandiose MCU movie to date. However, the film stumbles over itself time and time again with a story that never really knows where it wants to go. Eternals spends too much time reuniting characters we barely know. It’s difficult to become invested in the overall struggle when our heroes haven’t even made an impression. 

Director Chloe Zhao was an interesting choice for Eternals. Her films have always felt especially grounded and personal. Characters have always been her focus with the story a distant second. And those quieter moments in Eternals are the ones that work best. The large cast is more than game to bounce off one another with the ridiculous dialogue, and those become the moments where Zhao’s work feels most prominent, along with the gorgeous cinematography that has become a staple of her films. 

Speaking of the cast – wow, there’s plenty to speak of, including Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani and Richard Madden. At 2 hours and 37 minutes, most of them get time to shine even if those moments feel like they came out of half a dozen previous Marvel movies. There’s no real breakout star the way Downey, Pratt, Hemsworth or Bosman were. 

Even the spectacle ends up disappointing. Marvel has a bumpy track record with the action in their film ranging from great (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) to downright boring (Thor: The Dark World). The action sequences here feel emotionless and lack even an ounce of excitement. It’s hard to get invested in what feels like a bunch of pixels bouncing off one another. 

I remember when it was exciting to see lauded filmmakers like Sam Raimi or James Gunn get a shot at one of these giant franchise movies. Now, when a respected filmmaker like Chloe Zhao gets thrown into the comic book movie mix, I can’t help but wince at what the final product might be. 

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

The Hummingbird Project

by Christie Robb

Director Kim Nguyen’s contributes a meditation into the nature of success in the modern world.

Wall Street traders and cousins Vincent and Anton Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard) resign from their jobs as high-frequency traders and embark on a quest to build a ramrod-straight fiber-optic cable joining the servers of the Kansas and New York stock exchanges. The objective: to make stock trades a millisecond faster than their competitors and make millions in the time it takes for a hummingbird to flap its wings.

Obstacles block their path—mountains, swamps, health issues, reluctant property owners, and a vengeful ex-boss played by Salma Hayek.

The technobabble in the film feels like it is based-on-a-true story. But, it isn’t. Eisenberg plays Vincent as a monomaniac. He’s almost as focused on his line as Ahab is consumed by destroying Moby-Dick. Skarsgard disappears into the role of Anton, contorting his height into an excruciating stoop and delivering a genius-on-the-spectrum performance that is nuanced, funny, sad, and kind of inspiring.

The Hummingbird Project is often beautifully shot, with frequent use of slow motion footage. However, it struggles in focus. It could easily have been tweaked into several different movies. One can imagine editing it into a comedy like Office Space. It could have been Hitchcockian corporate thriller by expanding Hayek’s role. Or it could have shone more of a spotlight on the relationship between characters to flesh out what seems to be the movie’s purpose: questioning whether racing for wealth is really a better use of time than downshifting to spend time with the people around you.

As it is, the movie tries to be too many things and ends up being an ok entry rather than a good one.

 





I Don’t Want to Go Out: Week of September 11

The biggest turd of the summer is finally stinking up homes this week, but there are two truly outstanding indies releasing this week that you should watch instead. Because The Mummy‘s not even “this is so bad I’ll just watch it at home and enjoy it ironically” bad. It’s the bad kind of bad.

Click the film title for the full review.

It Comes at Night

Beatriz at Dinner

The Mummy





Just Desserts

Beatriz at Dinner

by George Wolf

Have you ever owned the worst car in the parking lot of some fancy event?

Then you’ll immediately identify with Beatriz.

Beatriz is a holistic therapist finishing up a massage at the elegant home of her friend Cathy, when her car won’t start. Cathy (Connie Britton), over the mild objections of her husband Grant (David Warshofsky), invites Beatriz to stay for the dinner party that evening. Alex (Jay Duplass) and Doug (John Lithgow), two of Grant’s business associates, roll up with their wives (Amy Landecker, Chloe Sevigny), and it isn’t long before Beatriz is mistaken for the hired help.

Writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, after teaming for Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl, reunite for the first time in fifteen years with a clearly defined purpose.

As the dinner gets increasingly awkward, Doug is revealed as a narcissistic billionaire mogul reveling in the obnoxious ass-kissing of his company. Beatriz, egged on by multiple glasses of wine, confronts him, and suddenly it’s Trump and the resistance taking dessert in the living room.

The comedy is dark and biting, the performances sharp and well-defined. Stumbling only when it trades sly observations for broader speechifying, Beatriz at Dinner is plenty satisfying.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Once Upon a Time…

Tale of Tales

by Hope Madden

The concept of the fairy tale has been sterilized over the centuries, evolving mainly into capitalistic cautionary tales with overt morals meant to guide our youth toward a socially accepted line of thinking. But that’s not what they were always about. Fairy tales began as oral entertainment benefitting adults, their lurid magic often aimed at critiquing the powerful and finding absurd amusement in the helplessness of the majority.

Director Matteo Garrone returns to these early principles with his moody, atmospheric film based on the work of 16th Century Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basil. The yarns he spins are about narcissistic royals, unwise subjects, dark magic, and human brutality.

His braid of stories possesses a particularly dark and dreamy nature: Salma Hayak wants to have a baby; Vincent Cassel wants to bed a mysterious woman; Toby Jones wants to spend some alone-time with a giant flea.

OK!

Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, David Cronenberg’s regular collaborator, brings that elegant chill to certain frames, rarely but effectively punctuated with scenes boasting an especially flamboyant and lush look. The imagery meshes with another brilliant Alexandre Desplat score, aurally and visually supporting Garrone’s absurdist rethinking of the classic fairy tale structure.

Garrone’s cast is uniformly solid. Hayek embraces the haughty nature of her queen, but she allows just enough sympathy to creep into the characterization to create the necessary heartache as her story climaxes. John C. Reilly’s touching tenderness in a small role as a supportive spouse and king is especially wonderful.

Christian and Jonah Lees beguile as magical siblings, Franco Pistoni cuts a wondrously dark image as the film’s necromancer, and Cassel is characteristically excellent.

The real surprises in the film lie in Jones’s tale, though, which begins as something especially weird, then unravels into the darkest and most savage of the stories.

Certain moments lumber along, making the film feel longer than it is. Tale of Tales also comes up mildly lacking when compared to Garrone’s blisteringly brilliant Gomorrah. But the filmmaker deserves credit for bringing a delightful bit of madness, in character and filmmaking, back to the fairy tale.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9ETi804w-E





Liam Neeson, You Can Read Me Poetry Anytime

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

by Christie Robb

Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 classic volume The Prophet has been turned into a tranquil animated feature by writer/director Roger Allers (The Lion King) and producer Salma Hayek. Suggested viewing for those who require a respite from the routine and petty frustrations of life.

The movie frames Gibran’s poems with the story of a little girl, Almitra (Quvenzhane Wallis), mute since the death of her father. Her mother (Salma Hayek) works as a housekeeper for the imprisoned artist/poet Mustafa (Liam Neeson) and takes her to work one day.

It happens to be the day that Mustafa is released from his confinement and promised safe passage to a ship that will take him back to his homeland. But all is not what it seems. Almitra discovers that authorities have ulterior plans for Mustafa and his supposedly treasonous writing.

As Mustafa is marched from the house where he has been confined for seven years, his jailors (Alfred Molina and John Krasinski) allow him the occasional break to visit with the community he loves. Each communion becomes the occasion for a poem meditating on a theme: freedom, children, marriage, work, nature, love, compassion, the nature of good and evil, life and death.

Each of these meditations is illustrated by a different animator: Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells), Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues), Bill Plympton (Guide Dog), and others. In their work you can see the echoes of Escher, Indian shadow puppetry, van Gogh, Klimt, Matisse, and Chagall.

Although the frame story of Mustafa and Almitra is a bit weak, the poems—featuring music from Glen Hansard (Once), Damien Rice, and Yo-Yo Ma; and the buttery, lilting voice of Neeson—make the majority of the film a serene delight for the eyes, ears, mind, and heart.

Verdict-4-0-Stars