Tuesday, October 17, 2017

mother! - Darren Aronofsky (2017)

Most of my friends, who know much about film anyway, are disciples of Darren Aronofsky. I did not care for his work. In fact, "Requiem for a Dream" remains one of my least favorite films ever.

Then a magical thing happened. He surprised the hell out of me with "Black Swan." It's nothing less than a work of elegant magic.

Since then, my interest in Aronofsky as artist was piqued. I watched his other films, I even gave "Requiem for a Dream" another shot. This has led to repeated disappointment.

So every time I see he has a film coming out, I'm wary, even about a film that looks as compelling as "mother!", I'm curious to see if he has made his second great film.

I'll try not to be heavy on the allegorical language, but that's easier said than done. I'll do my best.

"mother!" is a very old story. The oldest. In the beginning, was Him (Javier Bardem.) He discovers a beautiful crystal and He is in a beautiful home with a woman in his bed known to us as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence).

He and Mother live in an intimate dream. They are clearly so deeply in love that neither of them needs anyone else. The crystal He discovered seems to be the only thing they truly need. He keeps it in a special, somewhat restricted room.

He is a writer. The film is vague on what kind of writer or His status. We only know that His work is significant.

Mother's role in the dream is constructing the house that He had lost in a cataclysmic fire. She does a wonderful job, building the building's structure back and taking care of the decorations inside. Her attention to detail is impressive. There is even beauty in the way she blends earth tones. Such delicacy just with browns.

It's a paradise until Man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door. While Mother is wary, He welcomes Man as if he were a long lost friend. The term "mi casa, su casa" is more than just an expression to Him.

When Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up, she is accepted as well. After all, she is Man's wife. Despite Mother's objections, He insists they put the two up because they have nowhere else to go.

Things change when Man and Woman wander into His personal room to get a better look at His crystal. The two of them break it to shards, leaving Him beside Himself. He scoops up the pieces, clutching them so tight, blood runs out of his fists. He orders them out of the room, but does not make them leave the house because again, they have nowhere to go.

He closes off the segregated room, and life goes on. But the crystal is irrevocably gone. Of course that means unbearable wickedness awaits.

Man and Woman's sons show up, running for their parents, already in a shouting match about some kind of financial grudge. The Oldest Son and Younger Brother fight until Oldest Son beats Younger Brother to death.

Of course, friends and family of Man and Woman come to the house to comfort them. To Mother's horrified disbelief, He welcomes them all to celebrate, mourn and stay. Even His publisher (Kristen Wiig) contributes to the riot as a monstrous herald.

This leads to chaos and the rest of the film plays out the dangers of His love for people even as they destroy everything He and Mother have. The third act of "mother!" has haunted (I know, strong word, but apt) me more than practically anything I've seen in cinema, period.

And as gorgeous as this allegory is, there's something you should bear in mind before you watch it. "mother!" is a horror film. Be careful.

I saw the film twice and waited to write about it because I've been quite obsessed and I wanted to get some distance before I tried to make sense of it to put my thoughts and feelings into words.

The allegory is fairly obvious, but what isn't is how it's going to work into one's world view.

For me, "mother!" is a private film, as it meditates on my faith.

I don't know exactly what Aronofsky believes, but I found the movie both reverent and troubling. He's absolutely right about how human nature has been slowly destroying mother nature from the beginning. And we're not only talking about the ruins our physical world is in right now. Aronofsky also submits that humans are also responsible for every kind of evil. And he's right that we are responsible for original sin.

Here's where I can not agree with Aronofsky. He has characters to signify everyone and everything in our faith except for Satan. A lot of you may laugh at me when I say I believe in Satan, but I do.

How could anybody in their right mind look back on the last century and maintain that he doesn't exist?

The concept that Earth is a phoenix is an intriguing one that I still haven't formed an opinion about. There's a fascinating discussion to be had about that prospect.

I was deeply touched by His love for the adoring, riotous and destructive people. He loves them more than his creation. More than mother. Even more than his only Son.

Like I said, "mother!" is intensely personal, so you'll have to watch it and put it together yourself. But do go and see the film. It wasn't nearly as beautiful as "Black Swan", but how many movies are?

There are so many pretentious adjective words I could throw around to impress you, but I'll just say this. There are good movies and there are bad movies and we spend a lot of time criticizing and adoring them. "mother!" is so much more than that. The dialogues the film is sure to open up revisions of exactly what we believe about God.

You can't really say that about many films. But this one is that important.

I've heard this film referred to as heretical, but that's just not so. It's not only worth watching, it's worth reflection.

So go.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Happy Birthday to Pulp Fiction!

Isn't this a special week? In the first week in October 1994, my life changed twice. On Wednesday, my firstborn son was born.

Then my mother-in-law came to town to help my wife learn about taking care of an infant. On Friday, October 7,1994 she said she would watch the baby and that my wife should get some sleep. Then she told me I should go relax for a couple of hours and just go to the movies.

My choice was obvious. Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" had been released just two years before, and had quickly became one of my favorite movies. So I went to see "Pulp Fiction."

You all know what that means because you all have seen the movie. It changed everything. Not just how films are made, but how the public consciousness receives films.

So happy birthday, "Pulp Fiction" and thank you Quentin for your gift to the world.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017) - We Love You

Today, all cenophiles' hearts have broken.

We are so much poorer for losing him.

You may not have not known his name, but you sure as hell will recognize his face. Arguably the ultimate character-actor has been taken away.

"Wild at Heart"
"Alien"
"Twin Peaks"
"Escape From New York"
"Pretty in Pink"
"The Straight Story"
"She's so Lovely"
Countless parts in TV Westerns from "Gunsmoke" to "Rawhide" to "Bonanza."
He even played Saul of Tarsus in "The Last Temptation of Christ."
...and the list could continue.



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Split - M. Night Shyamalan (2017)


I approached M. Night Shyamalan's "Split" with mixed feelings. I had heard the film was the best work Shyamalan had done since his 2000 masterpiece, "Unbreakable."

But I had a problem with the film's concept. Until now, I had refused to watch the film because it looked like an excuse to exploit the mentally ill for plot twists, backstories and any other cheap tricks one could think of.

The story centers around three teenage girls (Anna Taylor-Jo, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) who have been kidnapped by Kevin, (James McAvoy) a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID.) DID is better known as the term for MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder.) Kevin has twenty-three personalities and they all wait for a twenty-fourth personality known as "The Beast." We're meant to think there is something Messianic transpiring in his head.

The personality in charge at the time when he snatched the girls was violent and deliberate in the act. He was not frightened. Every movement was bold.


Then, as the man continues to interact with the girls, other personalities, kinder ones, have taken over.

As an actor, McAvoy deftly takes all alters, benign and malicious, and balances them like a pro.

And so goes the movie. They try to get help from some of Kevin's alters while trying not to get caught by some of the others. Before the story is wrapped up tight there are twists and turns we do not see coming.


All of the events thus far, all that we see of the other personalities, Kevin does out of fear for the oncoming twenty-fourth personality, known as "The Beast."

I will concede that "Split" is Shyamalan's best work since "Unbreakable."

It is a perfect psychological horror film.

Also, "Split" is the single most offensive movie I have ever seen.

Why is the concept of DID so frightening? Is it just morbid fascination? I have to admit Shyamalan has crafted an incredibly tense film wrapped around the phenomenon.

I think the idea of multiple personalities opens up a world of possible scenarios, especially to those who have no concept of what mental illness is. We don't even know who the villain is here. He or she hides in plain sight. The situation could blow up anytime because the villain is right there and can jump out at any scene.

Shyamalan uses his own presumptions of people with DID and crafts them into an accomplished film.

Not only does Shyamalan reveal himself as somebody who knows nothing about mental illness, he exploits DID and other disorders for entertainment. It  villainizes those who struggle with mental illness.

Shyamalan sees patients of this type of illness as sources of potential violence. He uses them to frighten us, just as our world is trying to get rid of the stigma of mental illness.

People with mental illness are not killers nor are they "Beasts." The name he gave the villain, Beast, identifies all people with DID or mental illness as potential monsters of whom we all should be afraid.

Kevin talks of all his personalities siting in one place together in a room with chairs. Shyamalan would have us believe that one with DID can switch from one personality to another at will. Medically and psychologically this is incorrect, as it is not particularly typical for DID patients to have that much control over their alters. Not only that, but this mindset is dangerous and irresponsible.

And not for nothing, but Shyamalan does not limit his prejudices to the mentally ill. "Split" is also unbelievably misogynistic, homophobic and most of all, trans-phobic.

And just as an aside, I don't usually address matters like this, because of my love for hardcore material, but as a father, I have to tell you that "Split" should been rated 'R.' I would never take a thirteen-year-old to see it.

And despite how clever of a thriller "Split" is, I can not, in good conscience, recommend this movie.

But I must admit, I am damn excited about the prospect of revisiting the "Unbreakable" universe in the near future.

David Dunn is an unsung hero.




Monday, August 28, 2017

Quote of the Day: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

"I have been offered a lot for my work. But never everything."
- Yul Brynner as Chris Evans in "The Magnificent Seven"

"Once you begin, you'd better be prepared for killing and then more killing. And then still more killing until the reason for it has gone."
- Yul Brynner as Chris Evans in "The Magnificent Seven"

Just watching this makes me want to watch it for like the eighty-seventh time.

 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Quote of the Day: "Parks and Recreation"

"Don't you do it, Hitler. Don't you dare fall in love with me."
- Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer

Yes, I know I only exclusively film. I stay out of other mediums, but this has to be shared.





Quote of the Day: Fight Club - David Fincher (1999) Maybe More Like the Monologue of the Day

"I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need."
- Brad Pitt as Tyler Durdin


Friday, August 25, 2017

Quote of the Day: Dead Ringers - David Cronenberg (1988)

"And tomorrow, well take some Percodan...just because it's Saturday."
- Jeremy Irons as Elliot Mantle

"Dead Ringers" is one of David Cronenberg's finest and overlooked films. His imagination is grim and he focuses it all on his audience with the precision of a rifle's red dot. His dialogue goes with his nightmares because it's both innovative and natural.

Filth - Jon S. Baird (2013) Does "Filth" Stand Up To "Trainspotting's" innovation?

Along with films like "Pulp Fiction," "Trainspotting" revolutionized the way all of us watch movies today. "Trainspotting" naturally wove between true life and fantasy. Finally, we were starting to hear our heros' inner-monologue. These films, along with others, unlocked a fifth wall.

The films also created a new height for dark comedies.

When "Filth" opens, Bruce, (James McAvoy), a detective, is focused on the race in his department over who will get a much envied promotion. It may not sound like much power, but Bruce covets it. It's a jump from Detective Sergeant to Detective Inspector and Bruce's lust for power has no threshold.

Bruce goes to great lengths to undermine the others trying for the job. Bruce is so amoral, he outstrips Harvey Keitel's LT in Abel Ferrara's 1992's "Bad Lieutenant," one of the most hedonistic and vomitous roles of the '90's, and probably any other decade, I guess.

Meanwhile, Bruce's lonely wife, (Shauna McDonald), has an insatiable lust for sex exceeded only by her lust for power. Power is her aphrodisiac. She loves power above all, even more than sex. Though it's power for her husband she wants, not for herself. Her sexual fantasy is to have Bruce to come home from work and call out, "Honey, I'm home! I'm a Detective Inspector!"

It does not take long before filmmaker Jon S. Baird establishes that Bruce is a bastard. He is the worst kind of cop and he belongs in prison. He is also the nastiest kind of man and deserves to be abandoned by everybody who loves him.

As this is based on the works of Irvine Welsh, it's no surprise to find that much of the story is wrapped around Bruce's so-called medication. These drugs collude with his natural fiendish disposition. The only brights spots of what you might call hope in his life are his consultations with his brilliant but rambling psychiatrist, Dr. Rossi (Jim Broadbent.)

Bruce's manipulations are masterful. He systematically ruins each contender for this promotion, both personally or professionally, friend or not. This changes a murder investigation that just so happens to be going on, into a minor backdrop.

As "Filth" continues, it becomes clear that the real, actual Bruce is only a cool guy in his own mind. But in reality, he's not suave or in any way impressive.



Much of the visual imagery in "Filth" is not as much fun as intended. It's hard to tell if these cheap cinematic tricks are inspirations of Welsh's book or "Trainspotting."

A pathetic attempt at a shocking twist at the start of act three is not enough to save this mess.

Baird is clearly trying to revisit the style, tone and fashion of "Trainspotting" and he falls tragically short.

The first part of the film is quick, funny and hard to criticize. Unfortunately, it falls tragically short due to sloppy character structure and plot development.

Not only does the "twist" fall short, but the entire third act is a contrived wreck. The only part of the film that really works is the deconstruction of Bruce's brain by the mad Dr. Rossi.

And not for nothing, but "Filth" is overtly homophobic and trans-phobic.

"Trainspotting" was innovative in style and tone, but it didn't exist just for the sake of itself. It had so much more to give. It had life and hope and joy to offer. We intensely cared about those characters, even Begbie.

I'm afraid that we just don't give a damn for Bruce.


Quote of the Day: Muriel's Wedding - P.J. Hogan (1994)

"I tell the truth, too. Nicole's having an affair with Chuck. Muriel saw them fucking in the laundry
room on your wedding day. Stick your drink up your ass, Tania. I'd rather swallow razor blades than have a drink with you. Oh, by the way, I'm not alone. I'm with Muriel."
- Rachel Griffiths as Rhonda



Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard - Patrick Hughes (2017) This Guy Single-Handedly Ruined the Word!

What the hell happened to the buddy-cop movie anyway? I'm racking my brain way back to "Lethal Weapon" and I don't remember anything. Wait, I guess there were the "Bad Boy" movies. Also, "Stop or my Mother will Shoot." So, it's not just that they went away as much as they started to straight-up suck.

I know "The Hitman's Bodyguard" isn't technically a buddy-cop movie, it's a buddy-hitman movie. But it has the same style, plot construction and tone as the best of the sub-genre like "Lethal Weapon."

Michael (Ryan Reynolds) is one of the most competent bodyguards on the planet. But when a client of his is killed, he plummets down to the bottom of the bodyguard rankings. Now, he's still great at his job, but he's also a washed-up mess.

Meanwhile, the President of a war-torn nation is on trial for war-crimes, including genocide, and Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) is the one witness who can bring this monster down.   

"The Hitman's Bodyguard" doesn't exactly hit the ground running. It's slow at first. The film should have shed about ten minutes, but you just have to be patient.

When the first attempt to get Kincaid to the Hague goes tragically wrong, the only surviving Interpol agent, Amelia, (Elodie Yung) breaker of Michael's heart, contacts him because she just has no other choice.


Much to Amelia's surprise, Kincaid and Michael are mortal enemies. But she convinces the two of them to put their murderous differences aside long enough to get Kincaid to the stand.

The fact that each of these men want each other dead is really the hook in this film. And it is used beautifully. Not only are there plenty of laughs to lift from the situation, but it makes the action sequences deeper.  


These men have dozens of chances to kill each other, but they stand side by side, surviving the onslaught of bullets and bad guys together. I expected to see one of these guys just shoot the other. And that's what adds some tension to what would usually be standard action sequences.


I also expected Mike and Kincaid to start getting along, which doesn't happen until late in the film. The bonding that does happen is doled out in small, hilarious doses. The funniest damn scene in the whole movie is the backstory of Kincaid and his wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek.)

The bulk of the film is just a standard, racing the clock action film. Mike and Kincaid rush to the Hague, with lost of bodies left in their wake. And those people became corpses in many hilarious ways.

Director Patrick Hughes is certainly comfortable with killing lots of people, including innocent bystanders by the ton.

In the end, he ties it up nice and tightly with a bow.

"The Hitman's Bodyguard" is tight as an action movie and hysterical as a comedy.

No, it isn't the best action film of the year. That honor still belongs to "Atomic Blonde." But as an action film, it's tight, and as a comedy, it really is funny as hell.

So You-ou-ou will always love "The Hitman's Bodyguard."

Okay that was really forced and may not even make any sense.



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Quote of the Day: Dancer in the Dark - Lars von Trier (2000)

"This isn't the last song, there's no violin, the choir is quiet, and no one takes a spin, this is the next to last song, and that's all..."
- Bjork as Selma

How many actresses could have made a terrible scene like this and make it feel wonderful?

Quote of the Day: Death Proof - Quentin Tarantino (2007) Hate Stuntman Mike! Stand With the Girls!

"It was a fifty-fifty shot on whether you'd be going left or right. You see we're both going left. You could have just have as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case, it would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you're going the other way, I'm afraid you're gonna have to start getting scared - Immediately!"
- Kurt Russel as Stuntman Mike


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Quote of the Day: Support the Local Sheriff - Burt Kennedy (1969)

"He strikes me as bein' a lonely man."
"Lonely? Danby? Why he's a mean, no-good lowdown bushwhacker!"
"Well, there you see? No wonder he's lonely."

When I was a kid, sometimes we didn't have a TV, but that was okay. My dad was a pastor and he would take home the church's film-projector and a screen. Our library rented out films on reels. We would all shut off the lights and watch "Bye-Bye Birdie," "The Sound of Music," "Fiddler on the Roof," all the Laurel and Hardy you could watch, and best of all, "Support Your Local Sheriff."

Seeing as how this movie was one of my favorites growing up and seeing as how it's full of great quotes and nonsense, expect to see the film here again.

Jerry Lewis Dead at 91 Years

We've lost one of the great ones. Well, one of the good ones, at any rate.

Hey ladies buddy!...sniff... Hey ladies forever!

"Every man's dream is to be able to sink into the arms of a woman without also falling into her hands."
- Jerry Lewis

(I don't believe Lewis ever fell into the right girl's hands.)

Backcountry - Adam MacDonald (2015)

If you are willing to put yourself into the hands of a great storyteller, they can do wonderful and terrible things for you just with the backdrop of their story. If you rely on a mediocre storyteller, you are in for a tedious experience. So what advantages can a filmmaker take with the characters' surroundings? In the right hands, they can terrify you so deeply that you'll never, say, go into the water again ("Jaws") or never take another shower ("Psycho".)

So is Adam MacDonald up to the task? Does "Backcountry" do for the woods what "Jaws" did for the water?

Alex (Jeff Romp) has wonderful childhood memories about hiking and camping at a beautiful lake deep into the forest with his family. Now, he wants to share this place with his girlfriend, Jenn (Missy Peregyrn.)


So there's our background. We are in the woods where one can get turned around and lost or get into all sorts of trouble like meeting a threatening stranger or a bear. Our heroes deal with the fear of the uncivilized world.

First, they come across a stranger, Brad (Eric Balfour) who seems nice at first and has a campfire dinner with him: fresh fish. It's a sequence we have seen played out countless times. The stranger and our heroes laugh with each other, then the stranger turns rude, then aggressive. It's a trick used by suspense/thriller films as far back as any of use remember.

When they part ways, that specific threat is gone. Alex and Jenn only face the unknown of the wilderness.

Every time there is a small emergency, or the couple gets a fright, you expect them to turn around and go home like any of us would do. But of course, these guys are horror film protagonists and therefore, by definition, stupid. 

So they plow through the woods until they find their destination. But Alex doesn't seem to have the memory he used to. They can't find Alex' beloved lake. The're in the wrong place with no map, no cell phone, no food and no way out.

To put it simply, they're lost. At about the half-way point, the question of what is the most terrifying thing in the woods is answered: BEARS. Bears are the scariest things in the woods.

At the beginning of the "Backcountry," Alex teases Jenn about bringing bear spray with them. Turns out bear spray is no joke.

But if a bear is determined to drag you off somewhere into the woods, spray or no spray, he will most likely get his way.

It comes down to how fast can you run, how high can your crawl and how healthy is your will to live?

When "Backcountry" starts, you'll see some potential in the film.

Their interaction with Brad, the creepy stranger they came across in the first act, showed promise. That sequence was admittedly tight and menacing.

After that, all attempts at horror or suspense fall flat. We are left with a tedious exercise of a filmmaker trying in vain to build a successful suspense/thriller. But there is really no suspense here. We just sit there and to think to ourselves, "Could the bear just eat these two pricks so I can go make a sandwich?"

So skip the movie and you make that sandwich. You deserve.

I'm not sure why I took the energy to write about this, but I did, so the least you can do is skim it. Here you go.