Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 26, 2020

Dinner Party, Becky: Grindhouse masterpieces on virtual cinema

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:20 pm

Although the two films under consideration here are obviously not political, I am taking the trouble to review them out of solidarity with an industry that is on the ropes, just like restaurants, health clubs and beauty salons. Since the movie industry is so gargantuan, you might ask why I am bothering. It is because the two films are very smart, indie films that probably cost $5 million each to make. Originally intended for theatrical release, they are part of the “virtual cinema” offerings I am covering until the pandemic winds down.

Just by coincidence, “Dinner Party” and “Becky” share the same type of main character, a female seeking revenge. In “Dinner Party”, it is the wife of a playwright seeking funding for a Broadway production from super-wealthy people living in a mansion in the countryside. Little did the couple realize that they were going to be victims of a cannibalistic ritual performed by a devil-worshipping cult. After her husband’s head has been chopped off, she takes matters into her own hands. In “Becky”, it is a 13-year old girl who takes on a quartet of neo-Nazi escaped prisoners who have already killer her father. To put it succinctly, it is similar plot-wise to “Home Alone” but with gory attacks mounted by the heroine rather than childish pranks by Macaulay Culkin. Both films had my wife and I floating on air after they were done. We both love leftist politics and horror movies, so there.

Despite being a grindhouse special, “Dinner Party” incorporates some commentary on class distinctions. The five hosts are all terrible snobs, looking down on the couple they are planning to eat. Behind their backs, they make snide comments about the wine they brought as a dinner gift. They probably only spent $12 on it, one of them says sneeringly. That happens to be the ceiling on what I spend on wine so I was looking forward to see them get their comeuppance.

Although the playwright has his own character flaws, including a patriarchal attitude toward his wife, he was a lesser evil to the hosts. Even if they weren’t homicidal, cannibalistic devil-worshippers, they were the biggest snobs I’ve ever seen in a film. I couldn’t help but remembering back to a great French film called “Ridicule” whose hero was a modest landowner and farmer who goes to Versailles to get approval for draining a swamp. He is advised that the only way to get close to the king is to attend dinner parties where the invitees challenge each other vying for the best put-down. He is humiliated for weeks until he develops the verbal skills to triumph. The film ends in the midst of the French revolution with him pissing on one of the aristocrats who humiliated him. In “Dinner Party”, the revenge is served up hot rather than cold.

To give them some credit, the hosts are very cultured even if steeped in a decadent culture at that. At the dinner table, the two guests are lectured on opera by one of the hosts, a real expert who regales them with expositions of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” and Bela Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”. That’s something you don’t see very often in a grindhouse films but what might be expected from director Miles Doleac who holds a PhD in Ancient history from Tulane University. His dissertation was on Pope Gregory I’s role “in developing permanent ecclesiastical institutions under the authority of the Bishop of Rome to feed and serve the poor.” I bet Quentin Tarantino couldn’t have done that.

Doleac began making movies in 2014, most of them horror films like “Dinner Party” and often including him as an actor. In “Dinner Party”, he plays Vincent, a British snob that is the most obnoxious of all the hosts. Doleac has also acted in FX’s marvelous American Horror Stories, a series my wife and I dote on.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot except to say that the playwright’s wife is able to deal with the hosts effectively only after being given super-powers by one among them whose ancestry goes back to the snake in the Garden of Eden. If you are looking for mindful entertainment in these terrible times, the publicist advised that “The Dinner Party” will hit theaters June 5 (doubtful, IMHO) and as VOD” from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Fandango Now, Xbox, Dish Network, Direct TV and through local cable providers.

“Becky” was scheduled to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2020, but the festival was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It opens in theaters, drive-ins, on demand and digital starting June 5, 2020.

It stars the 14-year Lulu Wilson in the titular role, a veteran of 22 TV and movie appearances, her first as Louis CK’s daughter, a horror show in itself.

The film begins with her going with her recently widowed father to his country house, where the two will spend “together time”. Not long after she arrives, she is shocked to see that his new girlfriend and her young son will arrive soon in order to get her used to the idea that they are engaged.

When she hears the news at dinner, she denounces her father and his bride-to-be and storms off to a playhouse about a hundred feet away and out of view from their country home. Inside the playhouse, she throws a major tantrum, giving you a feel for the pent-up anger her character harbors.

In a little while, the house is invaded by four, merciless neo-Nazi escaped prisoners who have come to the house to retrieve a key hidden in the basement by their leader Dominick who has a very large swastika tattooed on the back of his bald head. He is played against type by Kevin James, who played a UPS-type driver in Queens in the situation comedy “The King of Queens”. He is great at reprising the kind of role Joe Pesci played in “Home Alone”, except not for laughs. His character is terrifying.

After he and one of his lieutenants torture and then kill Becky’s father, she is ordered to give them the key she had discovered in the basement in order to prevent his girlfriend and her son from being killed as well. By this point, her anger has not only reached a boiling point but spilt over like molten lava. As she approaches the heavily muscled neo-Nazi murderer who towers over her, she grabs the key out of her pocket and stabs him in the eye with it. Later, he and his henchman go back to the house where they use a kitchen shear to detach it from the socket. Like “Dinner Party”, the violent attacks are beautifully orchestrated.

Horrified by the world we are living in? Then immerse yourself in “Dinner Party” and “Becky”. They will take your mind off these miseries as they did for my wife and I.

IN THEATERS, DRIVE-INS, ON DEMAND AND DIGITAL – June 5, 2020

 

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