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
Few summer blockbusters have ever been as much fun as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie had thrills, humor, and charming characters. But the more movies they attempted to squeeze out of Johnny Depp’s iconic Jack Sparrow, the more the franchise began to lose its luster. Dead Man’s Chest was good, not great. At World’s End was far too long and overstuffed to truly enjoy. And… and… there was a fourth one, right? Something about Blackbeard? Anywho… this newest installment hopes to bring the Disney magic back to the eerie waters of the Pirates franchise.
The aptly named Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds an undead sea captain searching for the bumbling, alcoholic, but keenly clever scoundrel known as Jack Sparrow. This time, said sea captain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard who once hunted pirates but was tricked into defeat by a young Jack. To escape Salazar, Jack must team with a female astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Jack’s old ally Will (Orlando Bloom returning in a cameo role), to find a legendary trident that will grant them power over the sea. Meanwhile, Jack’s old rival Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) seeks to save himself from Salazar and his henchmen of zombies who can’t step on land by helping in the hunt for Jack Sparrow.
Like most Pirates movies (even the good ones), the plot can get a bit caught up in itself as it lumbers on for over two hours. There are some characters, like a British Naval Captain (David Wenham), that take up too much screen time despite being both generic and unnecessary. The plot itself also carries its fair share of conveniences. But what is Pirates of the Caribbean if not an unbelievable tale hidden beneath massive set pieces and well crafted costumes?
For the most part, Dead Men Tell No Tales manages to recapture the swashbuckling fun that made the franchise so popular. Yes, the plot often seems filled with holes so big that previous films can even get sucked into them, but that doesn’t take away from the fun at all. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush effectively step back into their roles as if they never left. Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario provide wholesome focal points as a boy fighting to reunite with his father and a woman trying to forge her own path in a world where a woman is deemed a witch if she reads a book. Javier Bardem even manages to succeed in being a wholly threatening adversary even though he’s essentially no different from the villains in the other Pirates films.
The movie is filled with some scenes so over the top or cheesy that your eyes might fall out of your head. But those moments are eclipsed by all of the genuine laughs and charm brought to the story. With stunning CGI effects and likable new characters, this entry feels much more like what audiences fell in love with. By reconnecting with the original trilogy (something the fourth film almost completely failed to do), this new Pirates manages to give us an adventure both nostalgic and compelling.
FINAL GRADE: B
Have you ever watched a trailer for a movie with an ensemble cast and thought, “Oh… this’ll be a great movie”, even if you don’t know or understand the plot from said two minute snippet? That’s what I did when I saw the preview for The Counselor. On paper, what’s not to like? Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, 12 Years a Slave), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt… the list of acting talent goes on and on. Rosie Perez and John Leguizamo even make brief appearances. It accounts for arguably the best cast in any movie this month. Throw in Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, American Gangster) as director and the expectation is set for what should be a great film… right?
Almost. Somewhere along the road, something was missed. And it took several minutes after the movie’s conclusion for me to pinpoint the problem. It isn’t the grim finale. There have been several movies with such an ending that are great films (The Korean film Oldboy comes to mind). It certainly isn’t the actors themselves. Fassbender is solid as the lead character, a lawyer who gets mixed up in drug trafficking to give his beloved wife the sweet life. Brad Pitt is his usual charismatic self as a Cowboy hat wearing, middle man. And perhaps the most captivating is Cameron Diaz, who is as sexy and sinister as I’ve ever seen her.
The problem is the story itself… which is an issue that would make any moviegoer scratch their head, because it’s perhaps the most important element of any film. No matter how many talented actors you jam into a movie, if there isn’t an interesting enough plot to drive the film, then it will almost always fall flat. I found myself unsure of the plot and direction of the film nearly forty-five minutes in. That’s more than enough time to lose interest, especially in a film that trades action sequences for complex conversation.
There are some interesting anecdotes here and there, but several of the film’s themes seem a bit backwards and misguided. Many of the characters share “interesting” views on the opposite sex and I’m still not sure if the director was trying to make social commentary or create plot points with these and other exchanges. It all just seems to amount to a boring, un-relatable, lecture without a valid point. And no amount of casting can save that.
FINAL GRADE: C