A Simple Favor—It’s hard not to indulge in the annoying habit of movie-pitch conflation when discussing this comedy-mystery, based on Darcey Bell’s novel. It’s Gone Girl mixed with Bad Moms, or maybe with 1985’s CompromisingPositions. Gone Girl mixed with something, anyway—a mystery about upscale suburbanites, generously leavened with snarky comedy.
Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed “mommy vlogger” in Connecticut who over-aggressively volunteers at her good-natured little son’s grade school. She makes friends with a fellow mom, Emily (Blake Lively) a sexy, insouciant, martini-swilling publicist for a Manhattan fashion designer who seems to the lonely Stephanie like the height of glamour. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie not only takes it upon herself to investigate Emily’s almost Gothic background, she also bonds with her hunky husband (Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians). We further learn that Stephanie may have a dark secret or two of her own.
Director Paul Feig, working from a script by Jessica Sharzer, swings the tones from almost-serious to almost-farcical without ever really settling on one; the atmosphere goes from Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte to Mean Girls, and many points in between. What unifies it are the performances of Kendrick—adorable as always, though perhaps more self-consciously playing a square caricature here than in some of her previous roles—and Lively, once again demonstrating a truly formidable range, tossing off her bitchy lines with the ease and exactitude of a veteran drag queen.
The stars make their scenes together into impressive comedy duets that are far more entertaining than the plot’s convolutions. And the soundtrack full of vintage French pop is almost worth the ticket by itself.
The Predator—This one adds the definite article to 1987’s Predator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and some pals battled a tall, trophy-hunting extraterrestrial ogre, with dreadlock-like appendages at the
back of its head, in the Central American jungle. Several sequels have followed, including a couple of clashes between the Predators and the Aliens.
No Aliens here (of the Ridley Scott variety, that is); this time the Predators invade middle America to recover some of their technology that has fallen into human hands. A group of psychologically questionable military prisoners, along witha biologist (Olivia Munn) specializing in, as she puts it, “space animals,” end up escaping and frantically trying to intercept the Predators before they can reach the son (Jacob Tremblay) of the Special Forces hero (Boyd Holbrook). The boy, who is on the autism spectrum, is innocently playing with the Predator-tech, thinking that it’s a game (along with the underrated Kin, this is the second movie in a month about a boy finding a super-weapon; it must represent a common fantasy).
Directed and co-written by action veteran Shane Black, who played a small role in the 1987 original, The Predator is nearly non-stop shoots-outs, chases, dismemberments and disembowelings. This gory stuff is well enough done, if you like that sort of thing, but it isn’t what gives the film its energy. That comes, rather, from the vulgar bantering of the wound-up eccentric characters, played, along with Holbrook and Munn, by the likes of Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Augusto Aguilera and Alfie Allen.
If, like me, you’re a sucker for the “ragtag band of misfits” genre, there’s a good chance you’ll find this bunch a worthy, even somewhat lovable, addition. Sterling K. Brown and Jake Busey are also around as a couple of shady intelligence types, and they capably hold up the villainous side.
Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf–No Festival Required presents this idyllic yet intriguing documentary about the famed Dutch gardener who has created outdoor spaces across Europe and in the United States. Oudolf’s
artistic mission seems to be getting us to see beyond just flowers. His pathways wind through dense patches of often waist-high grasses and stalks which many of us might dismiss at a glance as weeds, and insists on their beauty, even intheir skeletal winter forms.
The film gets you to tune into Oudolf’s point of view. Directed by veteran architectural documentarian Thomas Piper (in 2008 he made a short film about Peter Eisenman’s cactus-inspired design of University of Phoenix Stadium), Five Seasons is structured from autumn to autumn. The film’s mood and music shifts subtly—very subtly—from one season to the next, as Oudolf, handsome and vigorous in his early seventies, trots the globe, inspecting his spaces like The High Line in Manhattan or a work-in-progress called Durslade Farm near Somerset, England.
We also see him exploring everywhere from Pennsylvania to Illinois to Texas, taking in the local plant life (and sometimes the local barbecue), or working at his own garden in the Netherlands. As he points out, he looks at plants not scientifically but aesthetically, as visual and textual elements. He’s modest in manner but confident about his visions, and his life seems enviable—It’s a pleasure to spend some time in his world.
Playing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at Third Street Theatre, Phoenix Center for the Arts.
Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Details at nofestivalrequired.wordpress.com.