Movie Review ~ mother!


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I truly wanted to like mother!…I did.  In the weeks leading up to the screening I literally counted the days until it arrived, and if I’m honest it was more for the chance to see Michelle Pfeiffer up on the big screen again.  Still…maybe I set a bar so high that no final product that Darren Aronofsky (Noah) could have delivered would have made the grade.  Then again, the movie winds up being so vile, so grossly arrogant, and with its head so far up its own backside that it’s hard to believe anyone could leave a showing of mother! better off than when they arrived.

No sooner do the lights go down than the image of a woman bathed in flames appears.  A single tear rolls down her cheek and by the end we’ll want to cry too as Aronofsky lays everything on thick for Act 1 of this nightmare.  Not much can be revealed about mother! without leaking several key twists but if you’ve seen the trailer for the movie you’ll get a pretty good taste for what the first half of the movie has to offer.

A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence, Joy) is fixing up her older husband’s childhood home years after it was gutted by a fire.  Without asking her, the husband (Javier Bardem, Skyfall), a famous poet with writers block, welcomes a stranger (Ed Harris, The Abyss) and his wife (Pfeiffer, Dark Shadows) into their house and that opens the door for a bevy of visitors with their own inexplicable agendas.  Even before Harris arrives, the relationship between Lawrence and Bardem is so awkward you’re already curious what kind of power he has over her.  She allows him to make all the decisions, rarely challenges him, and barely raises an eyebrow when he doesn’t seem to notice that the visitors are odd with a capital O.

For a while, mother! hums along with a decent amount of atmosphere and head scratching developments that Aronofsky somehow manages to stay one step ahead of.  Lawrence plays the role with such wide-eyed growing dread that I half wonder if she was fed her scenes one at a time and didn’t know where it was all heading.  Bardem sure seems to know, though, and he starts to gnaw on the scenery in no time flat which puts him in a plum position as the film reaches its zenith about 75 minutes in.  From there it quickly descends into a delirious mess and while it gets advanced brownie points for its boldness it loses them in the same breath for going to such an abysmally rank place in its finale.  I was a bit appalled to tell you the truth, not so much for one seriously gory stomach churning curveball but for extended scenes of violence toward Lawrence that just felt so wrong.

Aronofksy and Lawrence are a well-publicized power couple in Hollywood and if this is the kind of movie Aronofsky writes and directs for someone he loves, I can’t even imagine what he’d do for someone he can’t stand.  A snuff film, maybe?  His previous works are just as divisive as mother! is sure to be but, save for Requiem for a Dream which even he couldn’t top for sheer Grand Guignol chutzpah, at the end of the day the final message he’s delivering doesn’t seem wholly original or meaningful.  In past movies, he’s tackled drug abuse, man’s inhumanity to man, and paralyzing ambition…here he’s trying to speak to everyone on the planet and the reach is too much.

Like Natalie Portman in Aronofksy’s brilliant Black Swan, Lawrence is in nearly every frame of the movie and she’s well cast in a terrible role.  Why she doesn’t just pack her bag and head out the door each time her husband does something looney tunes is maybe the biggest mystery of the entire film.  When she does decide to head for the hills, she’s pregnant and her house is being invaded by hordes of people (including Kristin Wiig, The Martian, who pops up in the briefest and strangest of cameos billed as ‘the herald’) who are there for her husband.

You’ll be surprised to find out just how little Harris and Pfeiffer are in the movie…and more’s the pity because what the final half of the movie needed is the spark Pfeiffer brings to each of her scenes that are front-loaded into the first hour of the film.  Always a favorite of mine, Pfeiffer is gleefully loosey-goosey as a gin-soaked annoyance who pushes Lawrence’s buttons with delight.  She’s rarely been this relaxed in the last decade of her career and while it isn’t the Oscar-winning performance the studio is gunning for, she’s the best thing about the movie by a longshot.

With dizzying camerawork by Iron Man’s Matthew Libatique (seriously, bring a barf bag) and a purposefully irritating sound design, the technical elements are sharp as a tack in true Aronofsky style.  The sound is so specific by making sure you hear each floorboard creak and droplet of water falling in a copper sink that there are times when I swear you can hear the actors blink.  A little of that goes a long way and by the finale when all hell is breaking loose (literally) it becomes an overwhelming cacophony of visuals and sound that you’ll be desperate to break free of.

While I just can’t bring myself in good faith to endorse this one, if anything, mother! will be a fun movie to dissect over drinks after…but take my advice and steer clear of food before, during, and after.  While there was potential for something interesting to take shape with the strong elements Aronofsky has assembled, at the end of it all I just wanted my mother…to give the director a good whack upside the head.

Movie Review ~ Home Again

The Facts:

Synopsis: Life for a single mom in Los Angeles takes an unexpected turn when she allows three young guys to move in with her.

Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Lake Bell

Director: Hallie Meyers-Shyer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Reese Witherspoon looks like ‘meh’ on the poster for Home Again and after seeing it you may understand why. Maybe it’s the fact that this A-lister is stuck in a B-movie with C-list stars. Perhaps it’s because the direction from first-timer Hallie Meyers-Shyer is as amateurish as her script. Or it could be that the movie is just pure white-washed piffle, meant to go down easy and float from your consciousness the moment you get to your car. Whatever the reason may be, this is one you can easily take a pass on.

At 97 minutes, Home Again has the look, feel, and structure of three episodes of a Netflix series that Witherspoon somehow wandered into. Filmed mostly on one set (Witherspoon’s homey California dwelling) under lights so bright you can often see make-up lines on the actors faces, it feels lo-fi and out of place on the big screen. Aside from Witherspoon and Candice Bergen as her movie-star mom, none of the supporting cast feels like they’re ready for this undertaking and that makes the entire production continually strain to prove its purpose for existing.

Separated from her music mogul husband who has remained on the East Coast, Alice (Witherspoon, Hot Pursuit) is a mom to two girls adjusting to life as a 40-year-old back at the Los Angeles manse of her late father. A famous film director, her pop must have left her quite a fortune because the house sports furnishings straight out of a Pottery Barn/Restoration Hardware catalog. Out to celebrate her birthday with friends she winds up taking young Harry (Pico Alexander, A Most Violent Year) home for a night cut short by his sour stomach. The next morning she finds that not only did Harry come home with her but so did his brother Teddy (Nat Wolff, Paper Towns) and their friend George (Jon Rudnitsky).

Surprisingly, Bergen comes up with the idea of her daughter providing lodging for the cash-strapped trio who are in CA to pitch a film to a famous producer. Soon the guys are bonding with Alice’s tykes while Harry and Alice awkwardly maneuver around their growing fondness for one another. When Alice’s estranged husband Austin (Michael Sheen, Passengers) shows up ready to re-join his family it throws the newly found harmony out of sych. There’s also a barely there B-story of Alice working for a high-strung socialite (Lake Bell, Million Dollar Arm, wearing an array of loony mumus) that provides Witherspoon the opportunity to flex her comedic muscles when she gets sloshed and tells off her nightmare boss.

That Meyers-Shyer wrote and directed a movie like this isn’t entirely unexpected, after all she’s the daughter of Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers who together and separately have given us films like Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, It’s Complicated, The Holiday, The Intern, and Something’s Gotta Give. It’s that the movie is such a pale imitation of what her parents have all but perfected (much to my chagrin)…the white-woman fantasy. I’ve said it about films from Nancy Meyers in the past and I’m going to say it here for Home Again…how this movie could be made with barely any minorities is kinda atrocious. There are scenes in set in Los Angeles clubs, restaurants, and offices yet aside from one horribly stereotypical Indian motel worker there are zero people of color who have speaking roles, let alone appear in the movie at all. Alice doesn’t have any black friends? Her kids don’t attend school with any observed minorities? The movie is soaked in white privilege at its most yuck-o and I find it a bit embarrassing Witherspoon didn’t notice it.

Speaking of Witherspoon, watching the movie you’ll wonder how this Oscar-winning actress who has shown a keen knack for choosing the right properties for herself in the past few years wound up in this backwards facing vehicle. She labors almost victoriously with some inane dialogue and nearly convinces us she’s falling for the charmless Alexander as her young beau. Alexander, for his part, is completely miscast here and watching him in scenes with Witherspoon or Bergen is like watching a car crash in slow motion. Rudnitsky has some appeal in a goofy way yet the movie explore his possible fondness for Alice and subsequent jealously of Harry while Wolff instigates the most audience pleasing moment of the film.

I don’t think I’m that off base feeling that Home Again would seem like a better fit as a streaming series. There are enough subplots to cover several episodes and the basic premise could have some legs had Meyers-Shyer sharpened her script, developed her characters, and surrounded Witherspoon with a better ensemble. As presented, Home Again is a movie free of consequence for everyone and absent a rounded conclusion.

Movie Review ~ IT (2017)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.

Stars: Jaeden Lieberher, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs, Nicholas Hamilton, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Andy Muschietti

Rated: R

Running Length: 135 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: IT, Stephen King’s 1986 novel was a popular book in my junior high library. At 1,138 pages and with only one copy though, the waitlist was long and I believe it took nearly the entire school year to obtain. I remember when I finally got my hands on it and marveling at its creepy cover, fretting over the length, and reading it by flashlight late into the night. Trouble was, by the time it was due back I was only halfway through and though as an adult I’ve carried (lugged would be a better word) a paperback version with me for the past six months, absorption by osmosis did not occur and to this day I’ve regretted never finishing it properly.

Most people, though, will have experienced IT for the first time via the 1990 made-for-TV movie that scared several generations of people over the two nights it aired. At the time I remember thinking the film quite entertaining but watching it again a year or so ago I found myself wincing more than cowering. The trappings of an era with more rigid television standards robbed it of being too scary or slick. While some of what goes on in King’s novel could (and should) never be depicted on film, today it feels toothless though it does find prime moments to gnaw your nerves. Then there’s the clown.

Mention IT to a crowd and you’re going to get a response. They either hate it or they love it and the reason why is almost always the same…that damn clown. It’s impossible to think of IT and not conjure up the vision of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. While the movie itself may have lost some bite over the years, Curry’s menacing monster in clown’s clothing has perhaps become more terrifying. So while many were welcoming of a new adaptation of IT on the big screen, one of the biggest question marks was how well Bill Skarsgård (Atomic Blonde) would fill Curry’s admired shoes. Patience, dear reader, patience.

IT arrives at the end of a disappointing summer at the box office and before the wave of award seeking films are released. The timing couldn’t be better. Kids are back in school and the weather here in the Midwest has taken a cold turn. Walking into the packed theater and taking my seat for the screening there was a palpable excitement for the lights to go down, a buzz of anticipation I hadn’t felt for a while. 135 minutes later the lights came up on an audience that had screamed, laughed, and applauded. In short, IT’s a winner.

In the late ‘80s, something bad is happening in Derry, Maine. Kids are disappearing without a trace and no one knows why. Is it related the town’s history of bad luck or is something more sinister taking place? One thing’s for sure, a frightening clown has been haunting and hunting and his appetite is insatiable. A team of young outcasts band together to uncover the secrets of their town while battling their own phobias brought to life by the monster on the loose.

Though it had a bumpy road to the silver screen thanks to budget cuts and the departure of its original director, the wait was worth it. Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) has delivered a quality film that not only provides delirious scares but has an ambitious emotional resonance extending far beyond its genre.  I admit I got a little misty eyed as the film was wrapping up…when was the last time you went into a film expecting terror but found a tear or two eeking out?  Equal parts Stand By Me, Stranger Things, and The Goonies, it’s retro-feel is unobtrusive and navigating prolonged sequences of horror while maintaining energy is no easy task but Muschietti makes it look simple.  Scaredy-cats will have their limits mightily tested while fright fans are going to be nicely satisfied with the pulse-raising shocks doled out by Muschietti and company.

None of the good directorial decisions or the solid script would amount to a hill of beans if the actors didn’t measure up but Muschietti has cast the film splendidly.  Though Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special) has top billing, this is an ensemble piece and the kids are definitely all right.  I especially liked Jeremy Ray Taylor’s roly poly new kid on the block and Sophia Lillis as the only girl holding her own in the boys club.  Not all the acting is consistently convincing but it’s a small-ish nitpick in the grand scheme of things.

In a cast made up primarily of unknowns, it’s an interesting decision for Muschietti to further conceal some of the adult actors under prosthetics and fat suits.  A few times the adults gave me the same type of goosebumps brought on by Pennywise, further isolating the children as they realize they are the only townsfolk they can truly trust.  Some of the more extreme side plots of King’s original novel have been softened or excised and more’s the better for it.  There’s enough peril for the youngsters to deal with whenever that clown makes an appearance.

Ah yes…the clown. While Curry may be seen as the definitive Pennywise, Skarsgård makes the role entirely his own, bringing a sharp physicality to his clown that amps up the danger of his visits. Though he has precious few lines this is a performance based almost entirely on presence and Skarsgård is pretty electric in the film. Balancing childlike clown mannerisms with a serial killer’s alacrity, when he opens his bloodthirsty maw to consume or frighten it will shake you to your core.

While the studio had originally intended to film the novel as one long movie, budget fears were such that IT covers roughly half of the book. The movie is so good and the early buzz so strong I can’t imagine we won’t get a sequel in short order…but it makes you wonder why they didn’t just stick to the original game plan to begin with. In any event, IT is awesome which should please fans of the novel (even those that only finished half of it) as well as devotees of the TV movie. Scare you it does and scare you it shall.