Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: THE BUTTERFLY TREE

Teenage boy Fin spends his days deep in nature, stealing to the forest surrounding his town, collecting butterflies and imagining himself being lifted to the clean rustic light by hordes of them. He also daydreams lying with his inert mother on a picnic blanket as pixelated leaves cover their bodies. Today his departed mother would have been a year older and Fin creates a shrine of candles and pictures at an altar carved from a tree. Back home, his father Al beds one of his students.

One day Fin stops on his ride home from school at the sight of a display case left for the taking outside a house. He makes a mental note to come back for it but is cut short when he looks up at the window of the house to see a beautiful woman swathed in a stylised butterfly costume. We've already seen her in the opening credits, an ageless Melissa George gliding through a burlesque routine in slow motion. Now she's here. Fin tears himself away and rides home. Cut to the upstairs room. The woman is performing for a camera. Reverse shot; it's an autoshutter. This is not the glamour of a photo shoot. It's a lone woman in a costume taking selfies.

The next day, having discovered that Al and Fin maintain an arm's-length worth of ice between them, we see Al stop at the same house and note the display case. Al's thinking of his son but is surprised by our butterfly dancer Evelyn. A lightly flirtatious conversation later, she helps him put the case in the boot of his car and they make a platonic-sounding date for cake the next morning (she has already refused his impulsive invitation for a ride in his convertible). So, guess who else is in love.

Fin meets her face to face, is shown a flame red rare blossom which resembles an idealised vulva which he is told to get close to (Evelyn had traded burlesque for a florist business). She empowers him with a film camera (as opposed to a digital one) and he delightedly uses it on her. He also swipes a few cartridges which he correctly guesses are from her topless self portraiture before. Al, struggles to wrest himself from his dodgy affair (his student racks him in class with an embarrassingly candid poem about "fifty plus lust"). He realises his mistake with the affair but has not counted on his student's ardour. He takes up the offer of a morning tea date. Fin goes to Evelyn's as well. Evelyn's violent ex pays a visit. Things are getting mixy.

Ok, that's far more plot than I'd usually put in a review but there's a reason for that. What have you imagined from those details? A quirky love triangle with a father and son rivalry? A poignant comedy about growing up? A fable about grief and healing? Well, it's all and less. This frequently sumptuous film piles its buffet plate so high that the lime jelly with cream is being crushed by a square of lasagna, itself flattened by some cucumber salad.

The nature boy thread works as long as Fin remains naive but his worldliness appears as smoothly as a lounge singer during a sequence which only barely makes it into fantasy territory. Also, we don't see him at school. Fine, he's solitary and in tune with the trees but a little, just a little of how he handles the difference between the severe judgement of fellow teenagers might give us more to support him with. The one exception is the girl at the chemist. She provides some real adolescent warmth which he is blind to (as he believes he's in with a chance with Evelyn).

Al is either aware of the dodginess of his affair or just wants to escape the threat of peer judgement. He is given scenes that might have lent him some explanatory pain but instead have him rejecting the student clumsily. If you don't find yourself wanting her to slap him senseless and storm off screen for a real life then you shouldn't be going to movies. This renders him into a precious moper that not even his soft edged son becomes. At a twisted point in the plot Fin performs a punishing act against his father which is given an energetic treatment and funny music but is followed up by a disproportionately grave retaliation (I wondered, as I watched, if what happened wasn't in some way cleverly staged and would earn a disclaimer in the credits). So, is it a comedy, a dark coming of age or ... or what?

We're left with Evelyn herself, a  role given the best performance of the film by a seasoned actor clearly enjoying a decent role in a local film. It is a treat to hear her flint-glass voice shaped by its native accent (kudos here, also, to some confident dialogue which sounds genuinely Australian with nary a cliche in a line). Her fall from the glamour of the stage to a point below her new life in a house blooming with life and colour is told with real emotive power. Yet we are being asked to care about a pair of increasingly narcissistic monsters more.

The reason that Harold and Maude works on everyone and Wes Andersons shallow copies of it don't is because Ashby put into his masterpiece a pedal note of mortality audible beneath the heartiest of the laughter. We never get too much of Maude's hippy pontification because we suspect she has escaped from darkness. Her refulgent affirmation of life collides with the decades younger man's churlish ennui and, always, under every line or move, the big black grind of death and concentration camps. Nothing is too sudden. If grief there be it shall be without needing to beg our indlugence.

The Butterfly Tree is more like Wes Anderson in that it doesn't commit to its own themes until it has to. We don't quite know why we are expected to offer Al any empathy. Fin seems to get treasures without working for them. In the midst of this is a woman who struggles against her own narrative's capsule to give us something to care about and when she confronts her worst we are swept away to the thing we should have been far more curious about from the first scenes. It's poignant but it's sudden. It's grave but it's not surprising. It has precedent but it feels like it's come from out of nowhere. The revelation is well staged but we know we won't be caring as much as we should about it when the next scene starts. And we don't. After a feature length running time we watch the construction of the harmonious end the way we might watch an origami master fold a sheet of A4 into a swan.

This is a shame as The Butterfly Tree is one of the most gloriously beautiful new films I've seen for a long time. But the most glowing magical realism must be balanced by mortality. Mortality is at the centre of these themes. The task of meeting grief on the field and surmounting its challenge is a universal one. Could we have seen, instead, the colour and the gleam in service of the colourless dark? Maybe next time.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review: HAPPY DEATH DAY

Time loop stories are redemption stories. The protagonists are forced to understand themselves through repetition, allowing them a luxurious self-reflection that no one gets in real life. In this one a female uni student is murdered at the end of the repeated day. She has to solve her own murder to stop it and get to the next day. This can't go on forever; each time she wakes some of the effects of the previous murder remain with her, giving her two clocks to beat.

This is told with the big colour palette of a teen movie and is led by the bright and electric Jessica Rothe who reveals her core bitchiness in the first scene of the film by doing no more than opening her eyes. She brings a speed, physicality and lightness to the role which does a lot to fend off the fatigue of the repetition, developing from bewilderment through opportunism, terror and some light but genuine poignancy. Tone her performance down a hair and it will plod, tone it up and it will exhaust; a Goldilocks performance.

There might be a laboured moment here or there from the supporting cast but the pace is sustained and the running time kept to a civilised ninety-six minutes. What else can be said? The director does comedy and suspense with equal confidence, blending the two and serving some fun twists using both. More than just the resemblance between Rothe and a young Sarah Michelle Gellar and the smartarse dialogue this has the same feel as a good Buffy episode before the series started getting weighty.

Earlier this year there was Before I Fall with a similar premise where an alpha chick rolled around the same day avoiding her own death and coming to understand the worst of what she was. The sombreness of that piece make it seem compared to this like a remake of Groundhog Day by Paul Thomas Anderson. Really, though, the tales are basically the same it's just that the treatment of it in the earlier film comes from sober experience (though its narrator is younger) and the latter has a bitchy energy that doesn't stop to trample the roses. Be an interesting double bill.

So why should you see something that implicates you in its Groundhog Day premise yet again? (That film and its star are namechecked with very funny results, btw.) No reason except that it keeps to its plan with enough style and vigour and lets you just sit back and take it. Sometimes a choctop is just a choctop and I looooove choctops.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review: INGRID GOES WEST


There is no like on Instagram. Facebook has long added the sophistication of grades or reasons for liking a status. You can be sad or angry or add flavour to your like with a big red heart. On instagram there's just the heart or nothing. The prologue of this satirical fable takes us on a whirlwind course a woman runs from a few hearts to a violent wedding invasion. Cut to a few months later, Ingrid, the invader, gets out of psychiatric care and finds that her mother, whom she nursed to the end before her meltdown, left her a small fortune. That's why it's a fable, big barrier out of the way. So, when she reads in a paper magazine about the newest Instagram star, Taylor, and her fixation engine revs like a top fuel car she does what it says in the title, renting an impressive apartment in L.A. and going on full stalk until she makes contact. This is on the strength of a couple of return hearts from Taylor.

If you know her work and I tell you that Ingrid is played by Aubrey Plaza you might get a good idea of how this will play out. Hold that thought. As fortune (really, sheer creepy guile) has it Ingrid finds a way to throw herself into Taylor's inner circle and gets enough of a chance to show her real life heartability that the pair are soon friends for real, Ingrid folding herself into Taylor's marriage and realm. Ingrid's nurture of the connection, a blend of invention and petty criminality, tells reassuringly that achieving this goal seems to be giving her shaky self-esteem a promising boost. Then comes the fly in the ointment: Taylor's brother, a kind of drug monster from the one percent, provides the kind of combustible threat that Ingrid feels all too keenly and from that point things start getting a tad noir.

Rather than the upward mobility aspired by a Mildred Pierce Ingrid easily prefers something more like outward mobility, a mini cosmos of smartphone applause, hearts and followers. This is why the theme of this one doesn't stop at identity hunger of something like Single White Female (namechecked for completeness in the dialogue) and shows us through the riches of what might as well be the approval of the population of the Milky Way, and what lies beneath such a claim when the flesh and blood behind the #nofilter beauty of the life on screen has to account for itself for real. The horror of this is played under the comedy but seethes beneath the air kissing, smiles and California cool.

Given the skills of the two leads, what might have struggled as satire gathers strength through confident character study. Plaza minus her deadly deadpan schtick and Olsen light years away from the traumatised or innocent she has played make this work and work the way it needs to. Social media is both young enough but worn enough to still be prey to a starker satire than this but the aspirations that motivate it are on display here. Plaza's Ingrid is constantly struggling to achieve a point where this is normal for her and finding the means to keep her persona and her real anxiety-ridden self at least fluid is a feat. Her near constant selfie taking is from both of these points and can be as pitiable as it can funny. Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor lets us see the fragility of Taylor's ascended self that seems a forced pealing laugh away from a course of Xanax. We will see something of her real face and the moment is quiet and dark.

The laughs keep coming and most of the them are recognition humour (Ingrid redrafting the closing of an Instagram post until forced to something remote but easy has a warm familiarity) but the performances of a smart and well directed screenplay allow for a lot of subtlety we might not expect from a film that plays the satire hand from the word go. There is a very funny take on Chekov's loaded gun rule, and some well turned parallels between fan fiction and social media fandom (and the perceived hierarchy in the difference) that attest to the ideas on show here but nowhere does this tale get more gutpunching than the second-thought demanding final shot. Is it a happy ending? Is it the first image of a nightmare? Turn your phone back on when you leave the cinema (you DID turn it off, didn't you?) and notice where you go first.

Friday, October 27, 2017

HALLOWEEN MOVIE NIGHT: CHOP SUI GENERIS

The cast of Raw share a joke on set.

This year my Halloween list is going special. Instead of imagining different scenarios from popcorn flinging giggle fests to rituals of the rare, or offering the best of different subgenres etc this time I'm suggesting you slyly insert something unlike any of the others in the lineup, something of its own tribe (that's what sui generis means) and see what happens. I can't imagine running all or even a few of these back to back but inserted between a James Wan cattle-prod fest and an '80s slasher would only enrich the evening. These are not all obscure (some are on VOD) but all are in significant ways their own films. These are the movies that go to parties to stand in the corner and watch everyone else all night.

KAIRO (PULSE) (2001)
An apocalypse of loneliness spreads quietly, bleeding out from dark web ghost rooms, rendering its victims into stains on walls or swirling clouds of ash. Kyoshi Kurosawa was to continue beyond generic bounds to using horror tropes for more philosophical ends. I miss the one of this film and its time; it's effective bleakness (and others like Cure or Seance) put him firmly in his own tribe (they weren't even generically J-horror). His going nice left a gap in Japanese cinema. Once available on local DVD.

DARK WATER (2002)

A mother fighting a messy divorce settlement struggles to normalise her life with her daughter and does ok until a terrifying ghost has other ideas. One of my favourite ghost stories of all time. Do not mistake this for the English language remake. This is a Japanese film. Once available on DVD locally but now, who knows? I've still got my old Hong Kong Region 3 DVD which is outstanding quality but trumped by the Arrow Blu-Ray which came out last year.

UNDER THE SHADOW (2016)
Set in Tehran in the years immediately following the Iranian revolution of 1979. Does to state religion what Dark Water did to gender oppression and, like that masterpiece, doesn't forget to be a horror movie. The shock scene is one of the best I've seen and it's worked for ... hard. Available on Netflix.





RINGU (1998)
Perhaps less obscure than some in this list due to its more famous U.S. remake. The remake adds about twenty minutes of time wasting exposition and clods the ending with a lot of cliched pop video editing and dated-before-it's-finished CGI. Still can't decide? Do you know how you can test the strength of a pop song by singing it with a single instrument and hearing if it still works? Consider that every single effect, including the unnerving finale, of Ringu could have been done in the silent era. Only on DVD anywhere. The local release is ok (assuming you can find a copy) but the best one is the Region 1.

FEBRUARY/THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER (2015)
The twist in this one is heralded early and obviously. That it courses toward that moment obscures what lies beyond that which is a yearning that should send serious chills. It dispenses with its own generic traits like stages of a Saturn rocket and, like all the best horror, grips a core of petrifying sadness. You'll have to do a little deduction or it really will look like a failed genre piece. On Stan.

THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI (1919)
Sideshow exhibit, the somnambulist Cesare, is let loose upon a village. Mayhem ensues but are we getting the full story? Can't hack silent movies? Well, not only does this clock out at only an hour and a quarter and was made with a visual style that still wows everyone who sees it (do an image search on the title) it would remind its native Germany of what she went through soon after. So many releases available locally and all pretty good. As this is an ancient silent feature it's almost better to watch it low quality but try and find the best available.



RESOLUTION (2012)
Debut feature of a team who are getting more confident and interesting about their peculiar path through the Lovecraftian shadow world. Here, meagre means are used sparely to allow a big idea to sprout, grow and bloom. You will not see the ending in advance even though it was in front of you for most of the screen time. Hail Benson and Moorehead. If you can't find this you might like the same team's Spring (SBS on Demand).

KILL BABY KILL/OPERAZIONE PAURA (1966)
Mario Bava could make hard left turns from his atmospheric crime thrillers (look up Giallo) and explore some strange places but never more strange than this oddity about a man investigating murder in a small village haunted by a luminous girl on a swing. Atmosphere you could serve as its own soup course and some moments so tastily weird they look like the red room sequences from Twin Peaks decades later. Was available on local DVD in the '00s. Now a region B Blu-ray.

RAW (2016)
A tale of corrupted purity that doesn't just delight in the virtuous vegan heroine becoming ravenously carnivorous but plunges into uncharted waters and keeps its nastiest trick to the final shot. Intense and compelling it clocks in at under ninety minutes and wastes nary a one. While never really explicitly gorey there are scenes that this ol' horror fan could only stare at. The eye popping is happening in front of the screen, here, not on it. Chuck this into a mainstream mix and see if anyone wants to giggle. Currently available on demand at SBS.

AMER (2009)
A very strange piece which begins as a kind of cover band for European horror or giallo but plays its own game as a girl grows from a childhood in a Suspiria like mansion, through some Jess Franco style interplay to an all out Fulci slice and dice finish. Near plotless but utterly compelling. Place it after a something popular and worn (but fun). Can be talked over but that won't last too long if anyone's paying any attention at all. Brief but bursting. On Stan.


ONIBABA (1964)
Always a little iffy including this in horror lists as it's much more of a folk tale with grim elements. However, the central story of predation and morbid jealousy in the low visibility world of the riverside rushes gives it an irresistible atmosphere. One of my favourite films ever. Not released locally. Find if you can.




MARTYRS (2008)
Different phases with their own styles make this one a tough recommendation but all of the shifts are warranted as we find out more and more of the central situation. Curiously, as the on screen violence decreases in the second half the sense of something far more horrible at work grows. The control is the fearsome thing and the very end is a gut punch. Mark Kermode called this film "a very rough ride". He wasn't kidding. Be warned. Local DVD and Blu-Ray.


LAKE MUNGO (2008)
Like a feature length Australian Story but with its initial chills questioned only to reveal worse things beneath them. The interviews feel natural (they were lightly controlled ad libs) and a great deal of creativity went into the stock of evidence presented. The eeriness builds as we feel we know less and less about the story the more we are presented with. A great Australian film. Local DVD and some streaming services (do a search)




COLIN (2008)
Colin is a zombie like all the other ones shuffling along the streets of London. His family want him back, back at home but also back the way he was. Well, they do their best. The rainy day video realism is the trump card here as we get a sense of what it really might look like if we started degrading into shuffling consumers of brains. Oh wait.... Loach does Romero and it works. Local DVD release but can't vouch for the availability.







THE BABADOOK (2014)
From survivor guilt to the sleep deprived world of the single parent with a child who worries other children and a book that turns from romper room gothic to living nightmare, The Babadook runs a gamut. Essie Davies carries centuries of care wear on her shoulders as her lines of communication with her son erode. Restlessly creative and durable. Don't go by the point-missing trailer, just watch the movie. Streaming on Netflix.

Review: SUBURBICON

A beautiful animated intro tells us that Suburbicon is a housing estate that offers the best of white '50s America, bringing young families with shining smiles from all over the map which, if the title didn't already, tells us that this is satire. The jolly postman of the opening scene stops dead at the spectre of a black family moving in and a town meeting turns Klannish. Meanwhile a young family led by Matt Damon as a solid white-collar and twin Julianne Moores is held under the thumb of two gangster types who have some sadistic fun before tying everyone up at the kitchen table and knocking them out with chloroform. Next thing, the mother's dead, there's a steadily mounting race riot brewing and Matt and the surviving Julianne are up to something that's starting to look bad.

The fifties shot to look like today, a noir with lawns, and a host of squeezy situations designed to stress the nicest people into crime: is anyone else thinking Coen brothers? You should as they wrote it with director George Clooney who shot it like one of their genre-bending zingers. Well, that's true only to a point as this film squanders each of its well-turned parts by failing to manage them beyond simple assembly. This makes it nothing like Clooney's earlier helmings like Goodnight and Good Luck or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind which, for their flaws, delivered on their claims.

The opening promises a pleasantly heavy handed ironic tone but this is abandoned. The boiling racial conflict promises a massive action setpiece tightly entwined with the central thriller but the two narrative forces might as well be in different movies. Some strongly telescoped devices (including one of Chekov's loaded guns) are anti-climactic to the point of deflating whole scenes. By the time we get to a neatly staged Hitchcockian irony we are beyond caring. And that's the problem.

We get to spend a lot of time with Damon and Moore, together and apart but never get close or warm to them. The hand played about their characters is spent too early and is afforded no development. Clooney has fun subverting this convention or that but, like the depressurised loaded-gun moments, too much feels like late night writing sessions. We should find the sight of Matt Damon fleeing a scene on his son's tiny bike funny. It's annoying, pleading so hard for its laugh that we easily refuse.

But it's not just tiresome it's tiring. When the Coens take a Billy Bob Thornton and keep us with him through some terrible deeds they do so by giving us an antihero we can project upon in a tightly fashioned frame. The timing here is loose but in a studied self-conscious way. And Noah Jupe as the wide eyed Nicky who is forced to work some tough things out for himself, the sole consistent source of empathy we have, cannot save this film by himself and as we find ourselves looking to him to do just that we are just given more letdowns from a film that snipes every last feature at its disposal.

So, we have an established actor/director giving us a flabby Coen cover version that feels both overthought and underdeveloped. Is the apparent refusal to link the racial conflict with the noir plot meant to tell us something? White folks drowning in their own pools while black lives matter? No idea. I do know how very difficult it is to recover from poisoning your central characters with unlovable features but if you can't let us in on what formed those features then a stocky man on a kid's bike is just not going to cut it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: BLADERUNNER 2049

You shouldn't want the same thing again. I know you do. I do. But we shouldn't. So when a film that did so much to determine what grownup sci-fi should look and feel like and (beyond its original commercial failure) engenders such devotion as Bladerunner gets a sequel the under-commentariat explodes with anticipation. So should it give us more of what we already had or go somewhere else with a concept rich enough to take a completely new path? If you've been as disappointed as I have with the series Electric Dreams which attempts a closer reading of Phillip K Dick (who wrote Bladerunner's source novel) then you might sigh a little to see trailers that just seem to soup up the now cliched sci-noir ambience but feel some pleasant curiosity to see what looks like bright new realms. Director Denis Villeneuve whose Sicario and Enemy I love but whose Prisoners and The Arrival I don't care about. Even odds. So, I went.

After a title that restates what replicants are, their legal status and action is found back on Earth (retired = executed). We a daytime shot of a snowbound California in the year of the title. Massive circular structures of indeterminate purpose roll below us as in the (Peugeot!) hovercar driven by LAPD bladerunning replicant K (Ryan Gosling). He lands at a farm and does his job but detects a strange box concealed under the soil near a tree.

The contents of this will drive the plot so that's all the detail you get beyond saying that it is human remains. K is ordered to pursue the case and retire with extreme prejudice those who live at its heart. Meanwhile we are introduced to the Wallace Corporation and its attempts at improving on the replicant manufacture inherited from the failed Tyrell originators (the big business of the first film). Hearing of the find that K has made they are on the case themselves. Intrigue ensues and when it gets too chatty action replaces it.

Villeneuve has realised some superb moments here with imagined technology. The baseline test in which K's responses are examined is a combination of fine acting and the simplest of sets. It has the elegance of something from 2001 or THX-1138. The hi-cal improvements on the holographic ambient advertising are impressive (the giant girl from the trailer features in a poignant scene). K's virtual wife is handled with a solid understanding of uncanny valley. The best of these moments remind us that we never resent retread ideas when they are delivered with such strong style.

But the performances are uneven between players. Jared Leto is an underrated actor, often dismissed as pretty (regardless of how many Chapter 27's or Requiem for a Dream's he does) but here he villains it with stage whispers and Shakespeare in the Gardens moves. Ryan Gosling is best left subtle and does that throughout and so is easily followed. Robin Wright seems to have said "look, I'll just keep doing Claire from House of Cards. It's almost the same costume." Silvia Hoeks as the corporate baddie goes from administrative ice to comicbook supervillan without a lot between but brings such a strong physicality to her part that she must be mentioned in this dispatch. Surprisingly, it is Harrison Ford who brings the most to the table as the aged Deckard, giving us some refreshing naturalism to warm his decades of screen gravitas.

But my problem with the film came early. K is ordered to kill people who might well be human (forbidden to him as a replicant) and he says he has a problem with killing anything that was born rather than manufactured. Asked what the difference is he says it's because the natural born people have souls. There is a rejoinder form his boss but it didn't seal it for me. Why? Well, K's statement suggests that his programming includes religious concepts like that one. To better accommodate humans who do? Maybe, but why is it so important to him, couldn't he just say that respecting human life is primary to him or does that just make him too robotic for us? So, he believes it to be true. So, the suggestion is that religious thinking is programming rather than nature so having the soul as a barrier to his killing humans in the line of duty is malarky to begin with and he's just replaying his programming, never to be a real boy. His boss cracks wise about his notion and he seems taken aback by it. So, wait, did he think he had a soul or not? This distinct question is never returned to by name but feeds the rest of the plot. And what might have made a compelling theme if the assumption were taken to task never happens (not even that dark ages concepts should be important in a post-industrial wasteland).

That's my problem. Ridley Scott has been infusing the reboots of his two big genre movies with unquestioning pop theology. It has rendered what began as strong ideas  well executed into the bloaty piffle of Prometheus and Covenant. I'm not complaining about him being theistic nor even using his nominally science fiction tales as a platform (any fiction thinker can use anything they want) but I am complaining about it creating paradoxes that are left unresolved on the apparent assumption that the audience will not question them. In Bladerunner these notions of identity and what "human" means were played more honestly. I miss that.

(I know Scott didn't write Bladerunner 2049 but this stuff is being committed in his work's name for which he apparently has nothing but encouragement.)

While my problem with this film stems from that one it also bleeds into the problems that the later revisits have. While Villeneuve builds his world expertly from the one we recognise from the 1982 classic he gives us so little to fill it. This is three quarters of an hour longer than the original film but feels slighter with less at stake and only slight engagement with the characters. The excessive screen time only exacerbates this impression. I remembered, sitting in the 10.30 session at Hoyts and almost nodding off that three years ago I sat in the less than comfy Forum, hungover as hell from the MIFF closing night party, and sat through all three hours of the low narrative Hard to be a God. I wasn't hungover today I was just failing to care.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Review: BEATRIZ AT DINNER

A dreamy opening shot of a raw mangrove tangled river gives way to a closeup of Beatriz' (Salma Hayek's) sleeping face. She is woken by the goat who bleats from a pen a metre from her bed. Los Angeles, the present. She rises and goes to her job at a Cancer clinic, treating patients with massage but also a series of new age pursuits which look enough like occupational therapy to seem palliative at best. At lunch she looks over the room to a young man well advanced in chemo therapy, hairless and glacially imploding and understands that she can do nothing for him.

Her next appointment is a house call to a woman in the rich part of town. As she massages the Angelene matron Kathy (Connie Britton) we learn that her treatmentment and care of the daughter of the house has made her a household saint so that when her car won't start Kathy without a second thought invites her to the dinner party on at the house that evening. At first this works as she meets the first couple to arrive and slides through the initial awkwardness (Beatriz is very tactile and they aren't quite prepared) to pass agreeably. The next level is the monster capitalist Doug Strutt and spouse. Beatriz has the strangest feeling that she already knows him. Whether this is from a previous personal experience or something more psychic.

From this point what might legitimately progress to a kind of Abigail's Party with 1-percenters vs Mexicans or capitalists vs new agers takes a turn for the subtler. The OC Angelinos are comfortable with each other and seldom edge toward caricature, more typically betraying themselves unselfconsciously. This leaves a significant amount of screen time filled with Hayek's intense observation. Her face occupies the entire screen for long minutes on end as the heady blend of cynicism and privilege babbles around her. Things break not once but several times and what emerges is a lot darker than any lighter treatment would have allowed. If you sit down to this one expecting a sassy comedy in which a big daddy business mogul gets his come uppance you will be disappointed. As the stakes of the themes the characters introduce expand we get to some dark places.

The ensemble cast is superb with the mounting discomfort sustained throughout without having to break into cheaper comedy. If there is a sense of archetypes pushing the bounds of their characters it might well be a symptom of having to observe the highly digestible running time (short of ninety minutes) but given the quality of performances and some artful dialogue and a few unexpected but fitting eleventh hour surprises I can go along with it. Imagine an understated Get Out, perhaps.

A strange film but one worth your attention, especially if you want a cleanser between more generic fare. Generic this ain't and it and you will be the better for it. Oh, and the mangroves and goat come back into it.