Reviewed in brief: 'Life After Beth,' 'Finding Fela,' 'A Five Star Life'

  • Updated: August 21, 2014 - 2:18 PM
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Aubrey Plaza makes a cutie-pie zombie in “Life After Beth.”

Life After Beth
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, horror violence, sexual content, nudity, brief drug use.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.

 

Aubrey Plaza, resident pessimist of “Parks and Recreation,” makes one heck of a cutie-pie zombie. As Beth, she dies after being bitten by a snake on a hike. This leaves boyfriend Zach (rising young star Dane DeHaan, he of the adorably premature undereye bags) heartsick. After mysteriously coming back to life, Beth is harbored by her overjoyed parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), who let a horrified Zach in on the secret.

Beth seems normal at first, then starts to fly into rages, developing telltale tics and skin patches. Meanwhile, other folks in town begin acting the same way. Zach gives Beth the real lowdown, after which events quickly spiral out of control until he has to make the inevitable “Old Yeller” decision.

So many variations on the undead craze have lurched over the horizon in the past decade, you’ve got to give writer Jeff Baena (“I Heart Huckabees”) credit for finding a fresh, darkly comic approach to rotting flesh in his directorial debut. But he can only coast on the cleverness of the initial concept so long, and even Plaza’s abundant charms can’t keep the story from starting to decay about halfway through. Still, a quirky spirit pervasive throughout and great supporting cast, including Anna Kendrick, make it a semi-satisfying “zomb-edy.”
Kristin Tillotson

 

FINDING FELA
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Not rated but aimed at adults.
Theater: Edina.

 

An African answer to James Brown and Malcolm X, Fela Kuti led an overstuffed life. International rock star, political rabble-rouser, spiritual seeker, compulsive womanizer (he married 27 women in a single day), Fela was a one-man time capsule who commanded attention through a galvanic era, from the 1960s, when he forged a sizzling amalgam of American funk and Nigerian pop, until his death of AIDS in 1997.

He left no shortage of riveting performance and interview clips, either, and these are the undeniable highlight of “Finding Fela.” But director Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) has bigger ambitions, framing Kuti’s life through the creation of Bill T. Jones’ Broadway bio-musical “Fela!” The device often feels forced, but it’s fascinating to watch Jones struggle to create a sympathetic character from someone he calls a “sacred monster” — self-centered, misogynistic, possibly insane, yet inspiring.

There’s also candid commentary from members of Fela’s family and his closest collaborators, including bandleader Tony Allen (who, coincidentally, plays the Cabooze in Minneapolis Thursday; see page E4). At its best, the film manages the trick of constructing a modern myth while simultaneously deconstructing it — on one level, this is a story about how to tell a story. Plus, it’s got a great beat and you can dance to it.
TIM CAMPBELL

 

A Five Star Life
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Not rated but aimed at adults.
Theater: Landmark Edina 4.

 

Single, middle-aged and free-spirited, Irene (Margherita Buy) has a dream job — moving between luxury hotels as a “mystery guest” who rates their services. From Shanghai to Marrakech to Gstaad, she eats nothing but gourmet meals and lounges on 2,000-thread-count sheets as she checks off boxes on a list. But when her small number of loved ones — a former lover along with a sister and two nieces — experience life changes that threaten her already tenuous emotional safety network, and a chance meeting ends abruptly in tragedy, Irene wonders if she’s made the right choices after all.

At 85 minutes, this Italian film feels more like a drawn-out vignette than a full movie, perfect for its deftly contained ambitions, and should appeal most to a niche audience of middle-aged and older women who are either sophisticated and well-traveled or wish they were. Its refreshing conclusion is more suited to ambiguous European sensibilities than the all-American desire for happy endings or at least concrete resolutions, a truism underscored by the title change for the American market. It was released last year in Italy as “Viaggio sola” (“Solo Journey”).
kristin tillotson

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  • Fela Kuti left several performance and interview clips that make their way into “Finding Fela.”

  • Margherita Buy and Carolina Signore in “A Five Star Life.”

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