Shot on a real cruise ship, during an actual three-week transatlantic voyage, the Spanish caper comedy “Yucatán” is — like most vacations — equal parts delightful and exhausting. The accomplished team of writer-director Daniel Monzón and his co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría make good use of a fun location, although their plotting and their jokes aren’t much better than on any given 1970s episode of “The Love Boat.”
Then again, there’s nothing especially wrong with “The Love Boat.” Even at its most overworked, “Yucatán” is plenty amiable.
Rodrigo de la Serna and Luis Tosar costar as slick rival con men, who stopped being partners when they both fell in love with the same woman (played by Stephanie Cayo). All three end up working on the same luxury cruise, circling the same kindly lottery winner. They reopen old wounds during a nothing-off-limits race to be the first to bilk the old man.
The movie is overlong, with a sense of humor that skews broad — and, in a scene involving one crook’s loose bowels, pretty gross. The story never really deepens or twists much. The swindlers just try to pull one elaborate scam after another, and keep getting in each other’s way.
But from the exotic ports of call to the occasional musical numbers, “Yucatán” is a mostly enjoyable ride. It’s meant to be a throwback to glamorous old Hollywood movies. Like a typical American pleasure cruise, it’s a serviceable facsimile of something fancy.
In Spanish with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes.
Playing: Available Friday on Netflix
Though it never rises above the level of “interesting experiment,” the dystopian thriller “The Bellwether” teems with so many ideas that even the bad ones don’t weigh it down too much. A powerful and wide-ranging lead performance from Alex Reid helps writer-director Christopher Morrison keep an overtly political genre exercise from devolving into a tedious polemic.
Reid plays Joanne, a bookstore owner who works with the resistance in a not-too-distant-future surveillance-state controlled by an anonymous volunteer organization known as “the Conspiracy.” Having pegged Joanne as a “bellwether” — a quietly charismatic influencer — the Conspiracy traps her inside a historically significant Brussels chapel, for a long reprogramming session.
“The Bellwether” plays out in close to real time, as Joanne roams the church, having a contentious conversation with video-screens, which are showing pictures from her life and accusing her of being a deviant. Though Reid’s the only actor on-screen — in just one location — the movie never feels too constrained, because Morrison uses the screens to flesh out this world.
“The Bellwether” suffers from intense self-importance; and too much of the film consists of the heroine defending her life and rebutting her torturer with familiar feminist/humanist talking-points.
But it’s exciting to see the way Reid’s Joanne goes through changes over the course of an hour, taking on different personalities. At its best, this film is a living illustration of Morrison’s ultimate point: that authoritarian, patriarchal societies compel women to suppress and fragment their true selves.
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD
‘Parkland: Inside Building 12’
News cycles churn so fast these days that it’s easy to forget the deadliest high school shooting in United States history happened just one year ago. The survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., have become such a cultural presence that it feels like they’ve been around much longer — serving as the fed-up voice of a generation.
The documentary “Parkland: Inside Building 12” is a useful reminder that everything that’s happened over the past year — from the nationwide protests to the gun-control rallies — started with a crime. Director Charlie Minn takes a clinical approach to what happened in Broward County on Feb. 14, 2018, combining testimonials, cell phone footage, public records, and graphs to detail exactly what happened and when, minute by minute.
Sometimes, Minn’s style shades into artlessness. A prolific producer of true-crime docs — with over 20 directorial credits in just the past five years — Minn doesn’t fuss around much with dramatic music and flashy effects. His focus is more on interviews, which he yokes together one after another, illustrating them with family photos of the victims.
But the simplicity of “Parkland” is often quite affecting. Minn doesn’t strain to make any political point, or try too hard to manipulate the viewer into an emotional response. He just asks the families of the dead, and the witnesses from the school, to talk at length about the terror of those six minutes on Valentine’s Day, and to describe the people we lost. That’s devastating enough.
‘Parkland: Inside Building 12’
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Glendale
‘The Tree of Blood’
Like writer-director Julio Medem’s earlier international hits “Lovers of the Arctic Circle” and “Sex and Lucía,” the veteran Spanish arthouse filmmaker’s new drama “The Tree of Blood” (a.k.a. “El Árbol de la Sangre”) is a mad mash-up of mind-bending meta-fiction, over-the-top romantic melodrama, and soft-core erotica.
But unlike Medem’s best films, “The Tree of Blood” feels way too haphazard. It hops freely between timelines and characters, such that it becomes more of a compilation of sensual, stimulating scenes than a movie with anything in particular to say.
The movie starts with two on-and-off lovers, Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) and Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó), meeting at a mountaintop farmhouse and — no joke — sharing a long hug with a big tree. Then, they settle down to co-write a book that compiles everything they can recall about their unusual, intersecting pasts.
What follows is an at-times confounding spin through decades of recent Spanish history, involving rock stars, Russian mobsters, and life-changing sexual encounters, set in and around scenic estates. A lot of what Marc and Rebeca reveal to each other, they’re shocked to learn.
Viewers, though, may wonder why they’re supposed to care whether or not these two solve all their family mysteries and end up together by the time the closing credits roll (at the end of a very long 135 minutes). “The Tree of Blood” is always lovely to look at, but, at times, it’s like wandering into somebody else’s family reunion, where strangers are arguing intensely about people you’ve never met.
‘The Tree of Blood’
In Spanish with English subtitles (dubbed version also available)
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Playing: Streaming on Netflix