Our “Streaming Surprises” series calls attention to good movies new and old that our board members are watching. Titles are available from various streaming services.
Dinner parties are usually a fun affair, a chance to catch up with old friends, reminisce about past events, and enjoy some lovingly made food. But sometimes these parties can be disastrous, and in “The Invitation”, this is exactly what happens. Director Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight” and “Jennifer’s Body”) gives us one of the worst dinner parties possible to imagine. A group of friends gather by invitation of hosts who have been mysteriously absent for more than two years. What Kusama’s film does well is build suspense – the audience will think they understand what is happening, but many, many twists will occur over this horror of a night. The audience is constantly put into uncomfortable moments and questioning what they are being shown. The lighting shadows scenes to add an additional layer of dread. There is quite a bit stacked against the evening: two of the guests have previously been married, a group game takes some seriously disturbing detours, guests want to leave, and there are two disturbing random strangers among the group. The tension in the room is suffocating at times. There are also many questions that are raised: Is the food safe to eat, is there an alternative motive for the evening, what exactly happened in the two year that the hosts were gone, and are the hosts trying to convert everyone? Also, the burning question of the night: where is Choi?
In 2000, the Nevada Department of Corrections launched a program through which inmates trained some of the thousands of wild horses that roam free in the West. For many of the prisoners and horses, a remarkable transformation occurs, allowing both to lead better lives. Writer/director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s debut film “The Mustang” follows Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has been incarcerated for 12 years for a violent crime. The program at his facility is run by Myles (Bruce Dern), a tough, wizened old man who sees qualities in Roman that convince him he should be placed in the training program. In the horse world, gentling refers to working with wild horses until they respond to the trainer’s commands. In order to control his horse, each man must first learn to control his anger. Roman is assigned a horse he names Marquis and is required to complete his training within five weeks so Marquis can be sold at auction. Roman forges a bond with Marquis, giving him the courage to reach out to his estranged daughter with the hope of rebuilding their shattered relationship. Schoenaerts gives a magnificent performance as a man redeemed by the horse he trains. Clermont-Tonnerre spent five years researching the U.S. prison system and animal therapy. Her attention to detail and her ability to create powerful emotion in the quietest moments in the film signal her as a talent to watch. Six states currently run wild horse programs as a method of rehabilitating prison inmates.
Wayne Wang (“Joy Luck Club”) directed and Paul Auster wrote the screenplay for this slow-unfolding, but masterful, movie. At the film’s center is Harvey Keitel as the proprietor of a cigar store in Brooklyn, imparting his wisdom (“You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down, my friend”) and his tobacco products to his appreciative customers. The film consists of five or so slice-of-life vignettes that make up the screenplay. For the most part, the vignettes are not filled with high drama or fast action. Rather, they are the stories of down-to-earth people living their lives. The strong performances of the actors (William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, Stockard Channing, Harold Perrineau and, of course, Keitel), coupled with the easy pace of the movie allows the audience to appreciate the stories as they unfold. The audience has time to contemplate the complexities of mostly simple lives, with the characters’ lives unfolding in the way life does. People are moving through life frequently in a daze and sometimes present; connecting with one another, each trying their best to make sense of it all, each doing the best they can.