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Food, Music and Corruption 

She Said and The Menu

There is a theme at work here, whether by pure happenstance or more ominous cosmic coincidence, that seems unlikely at first blush. But, in this disparate collection — a quasi-verité examination of investigative journalism, a darkly comic satire of celebrity cookery and an impossibly precise character piece rendered as waking-life ghost story — there lurk shared motifs of power as catalyst to abuse, the bleeding of joy from art as a corollary of that abuse and of the possible impossibility of recompense, balance or justice in the aftermath of such transgressions.

One of the only good things to have emerged from the 2016 presidential election, which, in hindsight, effectively destroyed my pursuit of physical fitness and any pretense of moderation regarding the consumption of alcohol, not to mention threatening the fundament of American democracy and many of our notions of equanimity and representation — is a reinforced belief in and fight for transparency, in exposing to the light and air the necrotic monsters who have so long hidden their malfeasance in the moldering halls of influence. And from within that vital shift has come a minor renaissance of art — movies, for the purposes of this discussion — that strives to render some of the stories of that vast and varied conflict as immediate and personal; The Post (2017), Kitty Green's The Assistant (2019), Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) and Bombshell (2019) being a few of the more successful examples.

SHE SAID, directed by Maria Schrader, scripted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and based on the work of Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor and Rebecca Corbett, is an addition to the growing canon of anti-establishment, voice of the voiceless explorations of the systemic abuse and injustice that became normalized, particularly in the 20th century American capitalist corruption of government and popular art/entertainment. It focuses on the professional efforts and, to a lesser extent the personal lives of Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) as they undertook an investigation of Miramax impresario Harvey Weinstein's repugnant legacy of rape and coercion (a microcosm of greater endemic rot) for the New York Times in 2016. Faced with threats of anonymous violence, surveillance by Weinstein's hired agents (a detail strangely overlooked in the movie), the journalists persevered, eventually piercing the veil of non-disclosure agreements and intimidation that allowed a scumbag who produced movies to behave like a lumpy Caligula. While the leads here, as well as the supporting cast, do some astoundingly naturalistic work and Schrader creates a busy, lived-in world within which the narrative unfolds, I can't help but feel the movie is more important as a contribution to the cultural conversation than as a work of art. Despite the verisimilitude of the performances (including Ashley Judd as herself), there is something slightly distancing, almost antiseptic about the execution of the piece as a whole; it should still be considered essential viewing. R. 129M. BROADWAY.

THE MENU would not seem to belong on the same shelf, or even in a conversation, with She Said. The dark comedy about an impossibly pretentious restaurant — 12 seats, five-figure prix-fixe chef's menu, all ingredients micro-local; something like Noma with even less playfulness — is television veteran Mark Mylod's feature debut, from an original screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. It ventures gently into the realms of horror, social commentary and slapstick, settling somewhat uneasily into an almost-comfortable intersection of them all.

From the perspective of Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), the somewhat reticent dinner companion of repellent foodie-lout Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), The Menu uses the restaurant's isolated, intimate dining room as a forum for the redress of contemporary upper-crust social ills. Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) has curated the guest list almost as carefully as his menu, with a perhaps too pointed message in the offing. With occasional moments of laugh-out-loud parody, the doling out of delicious justice and a tremendous cast (Taylor-Joy continues to cement her status as a deeply sophisticated goer while Hoult proves again to be one of the current best at taking the piss out of his own celebrity), The Menu harkens back to the some of the last century's classics of social-climber takedowns while adding cogent commentary about our unique, often distasteful current moment. R. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

TÁR, writer/director Todd Field's first movie in 16 years, undoubtedly the best-made, most Important entry in this list, will continue to live in the memory as an almost-inscrutable, indelible, probably perfect cautionary tale. Something like a ghost story set amid the impenetrable world of Western classical music, it is, indeed, every bit as good as the rumors would have it. Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett, one the best living cinema performers, bar none) reigns coolly among the foremost conductors in the world, the Berlin Philharmoniker her long-desired and hard-won fief. But in a world of social media, diminished secrecy and justice-war, Tár is dogged by her own forcefulness, the ghosts of her past and her own irresistible urge to transgress. Like the real-life monster of She Said and Fiennes' chef-penitent in The Menu, she has conflated success with the pursuit of art and, in so doing, wrought destruction and death in service of her own overweening posturing. R. 158M. STREAMING.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Collin Farrel and Brendan Gleeson star as lifelong friends, one trying to cut off the relationship and the other trying to restore it at wild costs. R. 109M. MINOR.

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LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE. Live action/CG animation story of a croc living in New York City but definitely not lurking the sewers because that is an outdated stereotype. With Constance Wu and Javier Bardem. PG. 106M. MILL CREEK.

THE MENU. Comedy-horror where a couple (Anna Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult) travel to a remote restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) takes haute cuisine deadly serious.

ONE PIECE FILM: RED. The anime pirate adventure continues with a plot about a world-famous singer. With subtitles/dubbing. PG13. 115M.

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TICKET TO PARADISE. Anti-Parent Trap with Julia Robert and George Clooney as exes trying to stop their kid's marriage. PG. 104M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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John J. Bennett

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