Mother-Poster-Rosemarys_1200_1789_81_sThere’s a video that was doing the rounds on The Internets a few years ago that showed a guy riding a unicycle through a parking lot. While wearing a kilt. And a Darth Vader mask. Playing the bagpipes. With fire coming out of them. You’ve probably seen it. Like me, you may remember the first time you saw it. You may recall how your brain felt as it struggled to pull all the pieces out, recognize them individually, and then piece it all back together, all the while wondering just what the hell you were watching.

Darren Aronofski’s mother! is on a whole new level of weirdness. Even the title is weird, starting with a lower case letter and working towards a exclamation point at the end. What’s even weirder, is that this is a fairly accurate metaphor for the movie.

Our lower case start sees Mother, Jennifer Lawrence, wake one morning to find that her poet husband, Javier Bardem, isn’t in bed with her. When she finds Him — that’s how he’s credited and no characters really have names — we learn that he’s going through a bit of a creative slump since his last release and is blocked, making him a bit of a grump. Mother does her best to ignore it and continues the decoration of their new home, which we learn is in the middle of nowhere, had recently burned down and had been restored.

One day, a Man (Ed Harris) turns up unannounced, claiming to be a fan of Him. To Mother’s surprise, Him invites Man to stay the night. Later, Man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and the two of them act inappropriately together considering they’re strangers in someone else’s house. They have sex in a room without closing the door, they leave broken dishes and cigarette butts around the house. Woman asks Mother a series of personal questions. Mother becomes increasingly distressed by this but Him is perfectly happy with the arrangement, informing Mother that they have nowhere else to go. Then Man and Woman’s two sons arrive and things start to get really messed up. We spend the next hour or so hurtling towards that final !.

At some point, Kristen Wiig shows up because a rule has been in place for many years now that Kristen Wiig always has to show up.

It’s difficult to say more without giving the game away. All I knew about the movie was the summary I’ve just shared and, according to the director, it’s allegorical and that’s about all I needed to know. That said, for the first hour, I’m happy to admit that I didn’t have a clue what I was watching.

It should come as no surprise that Jennifer Lawrence, who must be in around 95% of the frames of the movie puts in an excellent performance and it’s easy to feel that the disbelieving Mother is seeing things as the audience in the cinema sees them. Bardem and Harris never put a foot wrong, but it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s striking performance that really stays in the memory from the supporting cast. The sound design, which I never think about remarking on in most movies, is incredible as the noises of the house circle Mother, leaving her even more exposed and isolated and without escape. Fans of a shaky camera will be over the moon and again, this added a surreal queasiness into the waking dream sensations on screen.

Is it any good, then? Well, it all comes down to the allegory and understanding it really saves the movie. If I accepted everything I saw on the screen today on face value, I’m pretty sure I’d have thought it was a shambolic mess. Nothing makes sense, particularly post-Wiig. It’s outrageous to the point of comedy. No one behaves the way these uninvited guests behave. Surely no one would stand for it. Clarity clicked for me about two-thirds of the way through and I scrambled to apply that lens to what I had already watched. While it’s clever and something to admire from a sheer audacity point of view, some four hours after seeing it, I’m still not exactly sure enough to answer my own question. Thinking about it makes me laugh and shake my head. It may be the best movie I’ve seen this year. It may well be the worst.

It’s exhausting. It’s grueling. It’s totally messed up. And I don’t doubt it’ll be too much hard work for some. Those people might want to find something easier to do. Like playing flaming bagpipes on a unicycle.

 

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It_(2017)_logoI’m just going to start this tentative toe back into the world of reviewing movies by saying up front that I enjoyed It. Parts of this review are probably going to leave you with the impression that the opposite was true, so I insist again, I enjoyed it. I might even go so far as saying I enjoyed it very much. But I didn’t enjoy it in the way I thought I was going to enjoy it.

The trailers are, perhaps, responsible for me going in with different expectations. They’ve been so perfectly constructed that I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this was going to be one of the scariest, most brutal movie experiences of the decade and I’d be spending two hours desperately trying to keep my heart in my chest and my poop out of my pants. Honestly, I needn’t have worried.

Based on one half of the 1986 Stephen King novel, we join a sickly, stammering, thirteen-year-old Bill Denbrough making a paper boat for his little brother, George, during a storm. Happy as the proverbial, George chases the boat along the curbside as it floats along on a river of rain water and ultimately down a storm drain and into the clutches of a clown who introduces himself as Pennywise and it isn’t long before George and his boat are reunited down the drain and into the hands and mouth of the monstrous It. Almost a year later, a mourning Bill and his rag-tag crew of misfit friends discover that their hometown of Derry, Maine has the highest level of missing people in the country and they work out why when Pennywise begins to introduce himself to all of them.

I found the book terrifying. I found the 1990 mini-series less so. I didn’t find this version terrifying at all. There are a few jump scares scattered through the piece, some more effective than others, and there’s a wonderfully nightmarish quality to the visuals, but there’s no real sense of dread. And the moments that do threaten to terrify are immediately followed by a joke, making me wonder if scaring me was even director Andy Muschietti’s primary goal.

As with most horror movies, common sense stretches out for a nap on the backseat, and the kids do things that would typically be filed under Things You Should Never Do. Like run towards the haunted house. Like investigate why your dead brother’s bedroom light has suddenly popped on. Like stick your face in the sink to see if you can see what’s talking down the plughole. All that’s just about forgivable.

Where the movie succeeds, though, is as a coming-of-age adventure story, and if you’re thinking you may have already seen a coming-of-age Stephen King movie, well, the comparisons to Stand By Me are pretty clear to see. But the characters are believable, their problems relatable, their relationships solid, their company is warm and it’s on this level that the movie really sucked me in. All of this is thanks to the fantastic young cast. Jaeden Lieberher sells Bill’s stutter perfectly. Sophia Lillis is channelling Molly Ringwald as Beverly and pretty much owns each scene she’s in. Jack Dylan Grazer is brilliantly funny as the hypochondriac Eddie.

Visually, Bill Skarsgard fills Tim Curry’s floppy clown shoes remarkably well and his Pennywise has a threatening presence that the 1990 version didn’t really have for me, mainly thanks to his cheeks. Where it fails a little, is when he starts to talk. It’s just a little too close to a poor impression of Scooby Doo for my liking. And while I’m talking about mis-steps, the soundtrack also goes off in a few weird directions. There’s a scene where we see what happens with all the people dragged down to float in the sewers, and rather than some suitably heavy, portentous music, we get a glorious swell similar to the moment they find the pirate ship in The Goonies. That said, Anthrax’s Antisocial during the (sadly short) Apocalyptic Rock Fight was perfect.

So, yeah. It was fun. It was funny. It was a thrilling adventure with some memorable set-pieces. I enjoyed it a lot. But it was nothing like the thrill-ride those two minute snippets from earlier in the year would have had me believe.

 

 

 

imagesConfession time. I only quite liked the original Trainspotting. It was okay. The acting was a little meh and it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the book. But it was good. I enjoyed it. I loved parts of it. I didn’t love it as a whole. But it was good. It was fine.

What I mostly loved about it was it was a Scottish movie aimed at me. It was a Scottish movie that had heart, and was challenging, and didn’t make me squirm slightly at the sheer Scottishness of it all. That doesn’t always happen with Scottish movies.

So I approached T2 with slight trepidation and excitement and given that it’s been released here in the US some months after it did the rounds in the UK, I’ve been reasonably careful to avoid details on The Facebook.

Twenty years on from the first outing, Renton is in Amsterdam, falling off a treadmill, and coming back to Scotland, Spud is still on the skag and contemplating suicide, Sick Boy is blackmailing sexual deviants, Begbie is in Saughton at Her Majesty’s pleasure (the jail). Once home, Rents discovers that not all his friends are all that happy to see him. Seemingly the theft of 16,000 pounds lasts long in the memory. Soon though, he gets back in Sick Boy’s good books and they invest their efforts in opening a “sauna” in Edinburgh. Meanwhile Franco has escaped from jail and it’s just a matter of time before he catches up with them all.

It’s an okay story. I’d have liked it to be stronger, but it’s okay. I’d have loved it to have more of a point. The sauna thing, for example, never really feels all that important.

And then there’s Diane, played by Kelly Macdonald. She was a bit player in the first movie but they bring her back here for one scene where she’s grown up to be a lawyer. Why? She’s a metaphor for growing up and old and RealLife™, I guess, but her involvement really serves little purpose other than make us say, hey, there’s Kelly Macdonald.

Director Danny Boyle infuses enough of his talent to make it visually interesting to watch and coaxes as much as humanly possible from the story, but before the credits roll, it’s not entirely clear what we achieve here. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of meeting a school friend for the first time in a decade or two and realizing, after fifteen minutes of awkward chit-chat, you have nothing in common with this person anymore, you go your separate ways, and you never speak of this again.

The best thing about this movie, though, is that it’s Spud’s movie. At its heart, it’s all about him and his journey is the spine of every other aspect of the story. The worst thing, maybe, is Sick Boy’s revelation of wanting to get his revenge on Renton, done in such pure Machiavellian manner I half expected him to start twirling the ends of his non-existent mustache.

But it was good. I enjoyed it. And in that regard, it feels like the best sequel it could be.

joyIn a tradition that spans the ages, and much like brussel sprouts and not enough beer, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a David O Russell movie featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. 2012 gave us the disappointing (for me, at least) Silver Linings Playbook. 2013 had the far more impressive American Hustle. 2014, if you remember, didn’t have a Christmas. And now this year, we have Joy.

If you saw the early trailer for Joy a few months ago, as I did, you may be forgiven for not having much of an idea as to what it was about. We had lots of Jennifer looking hopefully skyward, De Niro doing that shrug, family gatherings, some background sparklers. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, it turns out it’s a biopic of Joy Mangano, QVC queen and mop magnate. Maybe it’s no surprise that this wasn’t apparent in the previews. No matter. Mops it is.

At the start of the movie, we find Joy (Lawrence) divorced with a couple of kids, living in a small house with her mother, grandmother, her father and ex-husband, desperately trying to hold things together while her job and her family contrive to trip her up. Only her beloved grandmother truly believes in her and it’s this belief that helps turn the innocuous spilling of red wine on a yacht into the life-changing invention of Miracle Mop. Yay! After some difficulties in finding a market, she gets her break when her ex sets up a meeting with QVC’s main buying guy (Cooper). However, with family squabbles and legal wrangles about plastic molds, Joy’s successes are never long-lived.

In the hands of David O Russell, and performances from Lawrence, Cooper, De Niro and a surprisingly sinister Isabella Rossellini, we’re in assured hands but much like the customers of QVC, everything feels a little dialed-in.

Motivations, other than the steadfast belief of a grandparent, are never entirely clear so actions can be confusing and for a movie whose title is also an emotion, there are very few moments where any sort of reaction is generated. Stuff happens. Joy bounds from one setback to the next. Her family juggle crazy and jealousy while hurling spanners with astonishing accuracy at the works. More stuff happens. And then two hours later, stuff stops happening and everyone gets to go home.

I dare say there’s an interesting movie in here, maybe one that allows us to understand the family dynamics a bit more rather than focusing on patent law and mop absorbancy, one that lets us into Joy’s determined spirit. Sadly, this mediocre effort isn’t it.

Here’s hoping everyone concerned pulls up their socks in time for next Christmas. It’s the children I feel sorry for.

pointbreakI have memories of things that didn’t happen. For example, I remember as a five-year old taking my trike to the top of the stairs, climbing aboard, and launching myself Evel Knievil style from the upstairs to the downstairs. It’s a rich, vivid memory that I absolutely know didn’t happen, mainly because I have never owned a trike. Now, I’m aware I don’t get to choose which memories are real and which are false, but if at all possible, and really as soon as is convenient, I’d like to remember the two hours I spent watching the reboot of Point Break as time I spent doing something even vaguely more enjoyable. Like throwing myself down a flight of stairs.

Johnny Utah, played abysmally by Luke Bracey, feels responsible for his best friend (bro) Jeff dying in a ridiculous motorbike accident during the opening sequence. Jeff gets off lightly. Blaming himself (quite rightly) he turns his back on his old life and decides to join the FBI where he’s immediately on the hunt for a gang of other extreme sport guys who are inexplicably partnering their extreme sport shenanigans with daredevil heists and distributing their wealth to the poor, all because they’re chasing some mystical 8 Ordeals of the Bro that leads a bro to nirvana. Brovana, if you will.

“I believe that like me, the people behind these robberies are extreme athletes, using their skills to disrupt the international financial market,” says Johnny Utah and no one laughs.

For 113 minutes, which is a long time, these heavily tattooed, man-bunned extreme sports fans say similarly stupid things to each other in indecipherable accents, things that would be funny if the movie didn’t take itself so seriously, all in support of a plot that makes no sense. When not conversing with these idiots, the only black character Utah talks to is an angry FBI boss. The only female character he talks to is a ditzy new-age hippy type who, immediately after having a depressing conversation about dead parents and things worse than ideas, wants to sleep with him. Oh, how far we’ve come since 1991. It’s enough to make Bigelow blush.

Okay, so it’s not a movie that depends too much on narrative drive then. It’s all about the stunts, right? Well, yes and no. The problem when we start picking at that hopeful thread is that, with the exception of a rock climbing piece in Venezuela — a sequence that while exhilarating literally makes no sense in terms of the plot — the action is duller than everyone’s second game of bowling. It’s like someone’s drunk a six pack of Red Bull, taken an extreme version of SportsCenter and tried to stitch a movie out of it.

No amount of dramatic music can make these scenes dramatic. No amount of tie-fighter noises during the squirrel suit sequence (far too many, by the way) makes it interesting. No amount of bored Ray Winston makes you less bored.Seriously. Jeff got off lightly.

The only point of interest during the entire affair was trying to spot the moments where profanity was toned down in the post-production pursuit of a PG-13 rating. You guys are funny assholes, was my favourite even though the more believable intent was lost in the toned down version.

Okay, false memory. I’m ready. Even something with James Franco will do. Please. Do it now.

tbs_1-sht_teaserIf you remember anything about the financial crisis (or credit crunch, to give it its friendly, breakfast cereal type name) you’ll remember that it was all the fault of those nasty bankers. You’ll maybe not remember exactly why it was the fault of the nasty bankers and maybe, actually, it’s played out for so long that you’re a little bored with blaming the nasty bankers or it’s got to a point where they’ve achieved some kind of cartoon villainy about the whole affair and they were only doing their jobs so they weren’t all that nasty, and isn’t it all the fault of immigrants anyway?

The Big Short, the new film by Adam McKay, based on the Michael Lewis bestseller, is betting your memory has become a little fuzzy over the last seven or eight years, if you ever really knew anything about it in the first place. And it sets out to do something about that.

This is a really dull topic, full of unsympathetic characters, lots of maths, so perhaps the biggest highlight of the movie is how interesting and fun it is to watch. And it does it in a rather cute way by frequently breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge that what we’re watching isn’t interesting and then it drafts in the likes of Selina Gomez playing blackjack to explain how betting for or against someone else’s CDO works. It also explains what a CDO is.

The movie even has the good grace to let you know when its dramatic license differs from the truth. More tellingly, it points out the parts that happened exactly as it’s just laid out, no matter how unbelievable that is.

The performances across the board are great but particular mention has to go to Steve Carell and Brad Pitt who are certainly worthy of a few nominations in awards season. The real star of the show, however, is director Adam McKay (Anchorman) who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Randolph. This is a laugh out loud movie about the collapse of the global economy, for goodness sake. It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie about how we all got screwed over to a greater or lesser degree and how it’s taken years to recover. That in itself is a remarkable achievement.

But the movie also remembers at vital moments, that this is a true story and while it is partly about the corruption and downright idiocy within the banking system and how a select few became stinking rich as a consequence, on a more micro level it’s about people losing homes, losing jobs, losing everything they’ve ever worked for and while this is personified by a sole character living in his car with his kids, there’s a certain poignancy that makes the impact all the more effective.

Go see it. Go get angry. Try to remember where the blame really lies.

creedI, II, Rocky Balboa, IV, III, V. Or maybe I’d swap IV and III around. And maybe I’d swap I and II. I dunno. Either way, I love Rocky movies. Even when they’re bad, I still love them. So, Creed then. Or for all intents and purposes, Rocky VII. Where does this fit in to the mix?

Well, pretty high up, to be honest. The focus, as the title suggests, has shifted on to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of former world champion Apollo Creed who died way back at the start of IV, before Don was born. After a tough start in life, we find him in pretty good shape: successful in work, living very comfortably off his father’s wealth, harboring a peculiar habit and penchant for heading to Tijuana at the weekend to box Mexicans. To each their own, I guess.

Unfulfilled with this life for whatever reason, he packs in the job, bids his disapproving mother and Mexico a fond cheerio, and heads to Philadelphia to talk Rocky into training him for the big time.

Rocky, for his part, is happily seeing out his remaining years working in his restaurant. He hasn’t talked to Apollo’s widow since the funeral, he hasn’t been to Mickey’s gym in years. His wife and brother-in-law are dead. But it isn’t long before, with very little coaxing, he’s talked into coaching the kid. It wouldn’t be much of a movie if he’d said no.

Enter Bianca (Tessa Thompson) at this point; Don’s love interest, local singer who is gradually going deaf and who serves as a warbling metaphor for enjoying your talent while you have it, because no matter how great your love, you’re going to lose it sooner or later.

Meanwhile, in one of several nods to the original Rocky, the current world champion is desperately seeking a new contender for his final hoorah and the prospect of Creed’s son, coached by Balboa, proves too tasty to resist.

As you’ve perhaps gathered, there’s nothing particularly original about most of this, but writer and director Ryan Coogler obviously loves the series as much as I do, so it’s done with a certain flare, warmth, and charm. The fight scenes, surely the key to any boxing movie, are done brilliantly, particularly the middle one where the camera never seems more than a few feet away from the blood and sweat, dragging the audience into the ring, leaving everyone in need of a shower afterwards.

Sylvester Stallone is seldom better than he is when he’s playing the Italian Stallion and he’s great in this outing. All those amusing mumbling asides, like when he’s wondering if they’ve installed more steps at the Art Museum, are as endearing now as they were thirty-nine years ago when he once queried the location of Adrian’s hat.

My only real issue with the movie is that every time it had a chance to deliver a knockout punch, it flinched. Don’s motivation is one example. Rocky’s is another. Additionally, preparation never feels complete, montages are missing the final image, and montage music stops abruptly when, as we all know, it should always — always — fade out. In boxing parlance, what we have here is a potential KO in the third round, but it ended up being a split decision on points. But it’s still a win.

So to update, then. I, II, Creed, Rocky Balboa, IV, III, V. Or maybe I’d swap Creed and Rocky Balboa. Gimme a minute. I’ll get back to you.