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Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Good concept confusingly executed
Just having funny and tragic elements in a movie doesn't make it dark comedy; that takes a careful and very talented touch. Think Death to Smoochy, Harold and Maude, or Mel Brooks' To Be or Not To Be. But Beatriz at Dinner is just an admixture of the extremes that beats you upside the head. You can't be sure what you're getting hit with, and the elements don't make a greater whole. The premise is a class contrast. Hayek's healer/masseuse is befriended and employed by a couple whose child she helped through the post-chemo misery of Hodgkin's cancer treatment. Her car breaks down at their wealthy-enclave home, and they invite her to stay for an important dinner with their super-wealthy patron. Hilarity and tragedy ensue. Weird moment that may demonstrate my point: Beatriz is portrayed both as a deep, sensitive and capable healer, and as an airhead. Someone at the dinner table describes a painful kidney stone incident, and, trying to contribute from her field of expertise, she chimes in with a holistic-sounding remedy, a tea made from beets, rhubarb, and dandelion flower. Those are on the rogue's list for kidney stone sufferers: they're among the six things that generate kidney stones at a rate 10 times more intense than the second tier of danger. So it could be an obscure inside joke, horrible research, or a loop they intended to close later but left on the cutting room floor.
The Singing Detective (1986)
Sell it to me, cubpilot from Virginia!
I was the Hollywood equivalent of an army brat, fed and bred in the industry. My father brought a well-known TV show from radio to the new broadcast medium, and I appeared on it as an extra several times; my sister was once asked which she preferred, radio or TV, and thoughtfully replied that she found the pictures on radio prettier.
I've always devoted a great deal of my free time, not to mention a whole lot of my should-be-working time, to the distractions of TV, and I have a long list of favorites: Ernie Kovacs, Bilco, Rawhide, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Rockford Files, Hill Street Blues, Homicide, Simpsons, Dinosaurs, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Seinfeld, list far from complete. I got lots of enjoyment out of TV, but not much inspiration. I guess I always considered it entertainment for the masses, and I was a mass.
Forest for the trees. I never even thought that TV should or could be an art medium until Dennis Potter came around. We all so needed him to have a decently lengthy career. When a artist dies with so much work obviously ahead of him, the world ends up deformed, missing obvious parts we can't describe but acutely sense the absence of.
It's true, as the rough jmb3222 points out, that the industry was eager to put out anything with Potter's name on it after his death; it's true that the remaining, cobbled together oeuvre was by and large inferior to the Singing Detective. I'm grateful, nonetheless, to every hand and force that helped make them available to me, not the least of which, of course, was the raging drive of Potter's talent and his dedication to leaving as much behind for us as he could through the increasingly debilitating pain of terminal leukemia. What a guy!
Fight Club (1999)
Brings Freud out nicely
If you haven't read Civilization and Its Discontents, or if you read it and didn't feel you got it, try it again. It's about the tension between instinct and culture. And Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression, mostly derivative of Freud's little book, does some useful updating.
Dogs are aggressive, ready to fight at the slightest sense of threat. Pet dogs do a pretty good job of subsuming their aggressions. But they have one hell of a pack instinct to help them out. With presumably equally strong aggressive instincts but no pack instinct to speak of, what do humans do with their aggressions in order to stay out of jail and in social good graces?
Groundhog Day (1993)
the most thoroughly romantic movie of the baby boom generation
I think when the history of this era is written, the most interesting entry will be for Bill Murray. On SNL he carved out a sort of Andy Kaufman anti-comedy role, the entertainer with no talent who didn't care if you knew; he'd belt out the songs anyway. Which undoubtedly helped cement the rumor that he was the show's dope dealer doing a cameo.
Honing the persona year in and out, in Ground Hog Day he's a charmer with no apparent charm, a nihilist with too much success to notice he's depressed. When he gets the chance to reflect, he finds something he really wants, and discovers he has to develop all of his real qualities, hard as they may be to find, to get it. I gave this movie a ten not for its quality alone, but because I think when we ALL reflect we'll recognize it as the signature film of its time.
A Walk in the Park (1999)
sweet. entertaining. different.
Basically a comedy rap brought to screen. "I had this disabled girlfriend, see..."
Alan Berger plays an aspiring comic learning the ropes and pasting together a living, whose run-in with a recently-disabled astronomer leads to a chauffeur job, verbal sparring, and eventually sex. He's a cynic, she has real reason to hate the world, and it's, frankly, mostly proximity that drives their attraction.
But one thing i don't get: Erika Klein is a knockout; she could do better than Alan Berger if she were in a coma. Oh wait, Berger wrote the movie.
Forget Paris (1995)
Nat King Cole doesn't come immediately to mind.
Unforgettable it's not.
I kept thinking I was watching When Harry Met Sally. Of course, Crystal's presence had so much to do with the flavor of Harry/Sally that it's hard to tell if the resemblance is a product of his influence on H/S rather than Ephron's on him. But H/S broke lots of new ground, and Paris is formulaic, with a frame based on, as people here have noted, Allen's small but charming innovations in Broadway Danny Rose. I think the best that can be said is that Ephron let the personalities of Crystal and Ryan write her script, while Paris is purely Crystal. For evidence, I offer the amazing fact that in this movie, as opposed to every other movie she's made, Debra Winger isn't interesting.