Have you ever been forced to be around an awkward conversation that has nothing to do with you. Like being on a bus next to a couple and one of them is about to get dumped, you can tell everything is slowly going south but you can’t remove yourself from the area so you just have to sit there and uncomfortably take it all in. If you’ve made it through something like that, then you can make it through Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!
Mother! Is a really, really, abstract film. This should come as no surprise coming from the man who also directed Black Swan and The Fountain. Jennifer Lawrence plays the wife of a writer (Javier Bardem) who is supporting her husband through a stint of writer’s block by helping refurbish his old home. Their tranquil life of solitude is interrupted when the writer allows a doctor (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) to stay in their home.
While it markets itself as something eerie and suspenseful, it’s actually more like an art film with dark undertones. The first two thirds play out like a melancholy stage play with the most tense moments coming from the sheer vagueness of the movie’s intensions. In its final act, however, the film undergoes a complete shift in tone that brings intense clarity.
But when I say ‘intense’ in reference to the movie’s final act, I mean overwhelming more than exciting. After seemingly wandering around without concrete purpose, the conclusion brings its intentions with the subtlety of Donald Trump with a bullhorn. There is a ton of metaphorical meaning to it all with different interpretations, some that could offend, some that could disgust, some that could inspire, and some that could just flat out depress. It’s hard to call Mother! a bad film, as artistically it deserves credit for its cinematography and metaphorical nuance. But it’s equally as difficult to call something so dreary enjoyable.
FINAL GRADE: C
2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was stylish, campy, action packed, outrageous fun. It was a refreshing call back to the James Bond films of old and it ended up being a surprise hit and one of my personal favorite films of that year. But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that following up a hit is not an easy task.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle once again follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the young agent of the Kingsman tailor shop in London that moonlights as an undercover intelligence agency. When a former rival (Edward Holcroft) resurfaces and compromises the agency, Eggsy and Kingsman tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to journey to Kentucky and team up with their American sister agency, the Statesman (Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal). With their resources combined, the Statesmen and Kingsmen will have to work together to stop Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a deranged Martha Stewart-esque leader of a drug cartel.
The new characters, mainly the Statesmen, all feel like caricatures. But in a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that isn’t a problem at all. As for the new villainess, Julianne Moore’s performance isn’t quite as charismatic as Sam Jackson’s in the previous film, but her actual motives are a bit more inspired and nuanced. Where The Golden Circle slips is in its narrative flow. There is a needless twist that the movie could do without and the story often creates loose threads that are tugged at but never fully explored. There’s also such a thing as overboard when it comes to quirky cameos (Elton John has entirely too much screen time).
But with Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) thankfully back in the director’s chair the tonal aspects of this film are almost identical to its predecessor. The action, humor, and style of this sequel all feel organic so there’s no real reason to dislike this film if you had any sort of appreciation for the first. Colin Firth (in an only moderately forced return) is a welcoming presence as Eggsy’s mentor Harry. Taron Egerton once again brings boyish charm and sincerity to the lead role and Mark Strong again feels like the cool, British uncle we all wish we had. With camaraderie and some brisk action choreography, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has enough of what audiences will ask for to offset any lingering side effects that inevitably come with being an unnecessary sequel.
FINAL GRADE: B
You can count on one hand the amount of horror films I’ve reviewed. That’s because, to me, the genre has become hellishly stale. Jump scares accompanied by long gaps of mediocre character building simply doesn’t interest me anymore, and rather than paste that opinion on every horror review I do, I simply just ignore them. But there’s something intriguing about scary movies where kids are the stars. Unlike the films with adults as the leads, these stories are more likely to be void of the asinine decision making that often plagues the genre. IT, a remake of the classic Stephen King novel and film, is a perfect example of how much more interesting a film can be when you’re actually latched on to the pieces involved.
IT begins with a boy and his brother. Stuttering teen, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) makes a toy boat for his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) that ends up floating into a gutter on a rainy day and bringing him into contact with creepy Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). One year later, Bill and his band of bullied friends known as the Losers Club (Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs) begin searching for Georgie and the other kids that have gone missing in their town which brings them face to face with the evil personification of fear itself.
Anyone who was captivated by the Netflix series Stranger Things will absolutely enjoy IT. The camaraderie of the teen protagonists is almost identical and the film does a sensational job of making each character necessary to the story. There’s an evident touch of heart to this film that makes its message of getting over loss and facing fears wholly relatable.
Aesthetically there is a lot to love about the film as well. The effects and scares are done without much hokey CGI and makes the movie feel more tangible like the 80’s horror flicks of old. Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the Clown is also magnetic. The entity itself probably won’t scare any full grown adults who aren’t afraid of clowns, but the portrayal moves and speaks with a subtle eeriness that would be undeniably terrifying if you switched places with any of the teenagers involved.
Our desensitization to the genre, thanks to the over saturation of horror films, may make the scares relatively weak for many. If I were in my early teens watching it, the film would probably give me nightmares for life, but even as an adult the movie garners appreciation for its tactics. Sometimes instead of scaring the audience, a horror film can be worthwhile because you can feel the fear in the characters and this remake of IT manages to be an emotionally grounded and smile inducing adventure. No matter how irrational it may be, fear is incredibly encompassing and running from it only makes it stronger and this concept comes across in full force making for an entertaining journey whether it scares you or not.
FINAL GRADE: A
September isn’t exactly a month that begets movie going. It’s pretty much the month where everyone focuses on the beginning of football season. But if you’re willing to search for a gem, there is always some lower budget film with a solid cast that can catch your eye and hold your attention. For September 2017, that movie is Ingrid Goes West.
Aubrey Plaza, who produced the film, stars as Ingrid, a neurotic millennial fresh out of a mental institution after pepper spraying a presumed friend who failed to invite her to her wedding. When she inherits thousands of dollars from her deceased mother, Ingrid decides to move to California for a fresh start. There she begins stalking an Instagram socialite named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) with a seemingly perfect life. But after entering Taylor’s circle, Taylor’s tool of a brother (Billy Magnussen) threatens to unearth Ingrid’s unhinged ways and ruin her newfound friendship.
Nearly all of the characters in this black comedy are hard to find favorable. Ingrid is despondent, creepy, and willing to go through anything to be likable no matter how self-destructive. Olsen’s Taylor and her Californian friends and family are all either insufferably shallow or grotesquely pretentious. But the performances are the driving force that help prove the film’s point. Plaza’s grounded portrayal as the mentally unstable Ingrid feels tragically real in today’s social media obsessed society that places influence on appearances.
The heart and soul of the film ends up being the surprising romance between Ingrid and her Batman obsessed land lord (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Jackson Jr., in his first major role since Straight Outta Compton, has organic chemistry in every scene with Plaza. The two characters unexpectedly coming to love and understand one another is what pushes this film to being enjoyable and not just an uncomfortable testament to our own society’s scary narcissism.
FINAL GRADE: B