“Mother!”

The brilliant Darren Aronofsky is obsessed with three topics: religion, obsession, and surrealism. Mother! is a psychotic depiction of the three.

An unnamed couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) live in a countryside rustic mansion. She’s obsessed with remodeling the home while he’s obsessed with overcoming writer’s block. When a series of uninvited guests including a dying man (Ed Harris), his alcoholic wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), their dysfunctional sons (real-life siblings Domhnall and Brian Gleeson), and an unhinged publicist (Kristen Wiig) disrupt their paradise, things escalate to pure insanity.

Mother! is already the year’s most controversial film due to its metaphorical screenplay and gruesome finale. Kudos to Aronofsky for not caring if we love or hate this polarizing film.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Mother! is a surreal commentary on religion and the environment; Lawrence is Mother Nature focused on her paradise while Bardem is God writing a biblical novel. When Bardem’s following disrupts and wrecks their home, Lawrence’s character grows increasingly unstable, symbolizing a disaster.

The film is full of allegories and and the final thirty minutes covers the fall of man and christening of Jesus. If you thought Aronofsky couldn’t top the amputation and “ass-to-ass” sequences in Requiem for a Dream or the transformation sequence in Black Swan, guess again! The climax features burglaries, an orgy, a rave, an armed raid, and the most disturbing cannibalism act put on film. It’s a visceral finale that left me exhausted and nauseous.

As ambitious and transgressive as Mother! is, I wasn’t completely blown away since it’s similar to Aronofsky’s previous works. Lawrence’s character is both insecure and obsessive like Natalie Portman’s Nina in Black Swan. Unlike Black Swan, our Mother! protagonist doesn’t have depth or growth. I felt tired of watching her trying to please everyone and yelling over the destruction of her home.

Bardem, Pfeiffer, and Wiig all have the best on-screen moments. Bardem is charismatic and devilish as our unnamed poet; he’s possibly the film’s most tragic character. Pfeiffer delivers a potential career-reviving performance as a guest that doesn’t understand boundaries. She’s funny, invasive, and slightly terrifying. Wiig only has a few minutes of on-screen time, but shows great range in such little time. She’s funny, quirky, deranged, and homicidal; I hope Wiig gets more horror roles.

I recommend Mother! to the arthouse film lovers and Aronofsky fans. Those expecting a traditional horror film will be disappointed since Mother! is not that at all. Those who are easily squeamish, you better stay away from this one.

Grade: B+

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The Classics – “The Cornetto Trilogy”

Welcome back to The Classics! Last time, I reviewed “John Wick” prior to “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Now I’m going to talk about Edgar Wright’s brilliant “Cornetto Trilogy,” leading up to “Baby Driver.”

The trilogy consists of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and “The World’s End.” All three are buddy comedies spliced with different genres, resulting in three hilarious, wonderful love letters to film.

HUGE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL THREE MOVIES!!!

“Shaun of the Dead”

Part zombie horror film and part romantic comedy, “Shaun of the Dead” stars Simon Pegg as the 29-year-old slacker Shaun. He’s pushed by his overbearing stepdad Philip (Bill Nighy) and his sweet girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) to take life more seriously, though he would rather play video games with his unemployed best friend Ed (Nick Frost). Things grow worse for Shaun when he finds zombies in his garden, forcing him, Ed, Liz, and their friends to hide in their favorite pub during the zombie breakout.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a brilliant tribute to the zombie genre. Billed as “a romantic comedy with zombies,” the film is exactly that. It’s more about Shaun and Liz trying to reconcile their differences following their breakup. Of course, you have the overbearing parents, an antagonistic romantic rival, and the best friend comic relief. Edgar Wright shows restraint with these characters and they’re depicted as people.

Wright also builds up the zombie scenes with genius subtlety. In the opening act, we see Shaun go through his daily routine. He picks up a soda from a local supermarket, rides the bus to work, heads home, then to the Winchester Pub. As his day progresses, we see some sick people on the bus and brief news reports on background TV’s, and finally a zombie attack outside the Winchester. Wright chooses to feature all of this in the background, forcing the viewers to pay close attention.

Shaun and Ed are unlikely heroes; they want to save everyone, but exacerbate the situation as the movie progresses (there’s even an ongoing joke with the word “exacerbate” and it suits them well). After rewatching the movie, I feel the darkest part was the ending because had Shaun and Ed remained home and waited for the military, everyone would have still been alive.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a terrific horror comedy because of the Easter eggs. Shaun and Ed’s roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) blames Ed for leaving the front door open; however, I recently noticed that Shaun was the one leaving the door open.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a horror comedy that appeals to most movie goers. I have family members and friends who hate both horror movies and violent movies, but they adore “Shaun of the Dead.” After rewatching this, I’m considering revising my top 10 favorite films list.

Grade: A+

“Hot Fuzz”

Highly decorated police officer Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg) constantly humiliates his department with his high arrest records, resulting in his transfer to the seemingly perfect village, Sanford. He’s bored with the small town life until a series of gory accidents occur; this leads to a bromantic partnership between Angel and fellow officer Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and an explosive shoot-em-up climax.

“Hot Fuzz” is more energetic and fast-paced than “Shaun of the Dead;” Blink and you’ll miss the sharpest joke and visual gags. “Hot Fuzz” is an effective satire on not only action films, but small town culture. Sanford has a “Twin Peaks” vibe in the sense it’s a seemingly peaceful and quiet town with something sinister.

The twist behind the neighborhood watch killing embarrassing residents is both funny and terrifying. It’s funny since they killed a writer for misspelling their name and disturbing since they’re gaslighting gullible Sanford residents.

Pegg and Frost once again have terrific chemistry as Angel and Danny. Frost is once again the goofy manchild, but he has more heart in “Hot Fuzz” than “Shaun of the Dead.” Pegg pulls off some surprisingly impressive stunt work and action star charisma; why in the hell isn’t he doing more action movies?

Wright shows versatility with his direction in “Hot Fuzz,” directing action scenes with great panache and energy. I was impressed by him using Michael Bay’s cinematographic trademarks and outclassing Bay (not that that’s hard to do). The climax is twenty minutes of firing dual pistols, high speed chases, knife throwing, missile kicking, and grisly uses of steeples and bear traps.

“Hot Fuzz” is another one that gets better every time I watch it. If I had one nit-pick, it’s that Wright’s use of violence is uneven. All gore effects are innovative and insane, but in the first half, it’s easy to mistaken “Hot Fuzz” as a slasher movie. “Hot Fuzz” doesn’t feel like an action movie until the climax. Nonetheless, “Hot Fuzz” is still a total blast.

Grade: A

“The World’s End”

In the most mature installment, alcoholic Gary King (Simon Pegg) lives in the past and manipulates his old high school friends Andrew Knightley (Nick Frost), Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) into joining him on an epic pub crawl in their hometown. They have to visit 12 bars and drink 12 pints until they reach The World’s End. Except they don’t remember a robot army inhabiting their hometown.

“The World’s End” is the trilogy’s most experimental installment and it polarized fans upon release. It’s experimental in Pegg and Frost switching roles with Pegg playing the hot mess and Frost the straight man. The film’s narrative structure is clever with an opening flashback that foreshadows the rest of the film. While “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz’s” humor were primarily visual and physical humor, “The World’s End” relies mostly on witty dialogue and fast-paced conversation.

The first act is a slow start, allowing us to get to know Gary and his friends. We see that Gary is the only one who hasn’t gotten his life together while his friends feel sorry for him and instantly regret joining him. That doesn’t mean there’s no shortage of humor (pay attention to a reoccurring joke about selective memory).

The second act is a wild blend of well-choreographed fight scenes, some eerie horror moments reminiscent of “Body Snatchers,” and hilarious drinking sequences that show both the fun and dark sides of drinking. Gary is an alcoholic and has a good time drinking and fighting robots while his friends resent him for it (Gary is the one who exacerbated the situation).

The final act escalates to a frenetic combination of humor, depression, and catastrophe. It’s not a physical climax like the previous films, but entirely verbal as Gary, Andy, and Steven challenge The Network (Bill Nighy) to an epic debate about human nature and free will. It’s an insightful, vulgar, and highly quotable scene (I’ve jokingly yelled, “Fuck off, you big lamp” at bright lights ever since).

Fans are divided on the closing scene, which depicts the world in a post-apocalyptic state and Gary is now a sword-wielding warrior repeating the Golden Mile. I loved this ending personally because even though the world is a living hell, Gary still has a good time. Plus he’s now sober and has come to terms with his demons, so he wins in the end.

I loved “The World’s End” for its darker tone and chances it took. I’m going to rank it as superior to “Hot Fuzz.”

Grade: A+

Thanks for taking the time to read the review of my favorite movie trilogy. Stay tuned for my review of “Baby Driver!”

“Unforgettable”

The stalker film is dead. After “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” “Unlawful Entry,” “The Gift,” “The Loft,” “Mother’s Boys,” “Fear,” “When the Bough Breaks,” “Fatal Attraction,” and now “Unforgettable,” can we agree it’s time to call it quits? Especially since “Unforgettable” rips off several of the titles mentioned above?

Successful blogger Julia (Rosario Dawson) gets engaged to the handsome David (Geoff Stults), but they both have baggage. Julia has an abusive ex she hasn’t told David about. David’s ex, Tessa (a surprisingly solid Katherine Heigl) isn’t over David and wants to ruin Julia’s life. If you’ve seen any of the movies I mentioned earlier, you can guess what happens next.

I don’t know what prompted Dawson and Heigl to star in “Unforgettable,” but they look as miserable as their characters throughout this unforgettable trash. The only times they seem to enjoy themselves are when they’re drinking (I’m almost positive that’s actual alcohol).

I’ll give props to Heigl. I’m not a fan, but she provides a few chilling moments. It’s not enough to make up for the film’s generic, unsubtle, unimaginative, illogical, and sexist screenplay.

The best psycho thrillers start subtle and slowly reveal the character’s sinister traits. I liked Gordo in “The Gift,” Pete in “Unlawful Entry,” Jude in “Mother’s Boys,” David in “Fear”, and Alex in “Fatal Attraction” upon introduction because they were restrained. There’s no subtlety in Tessa’s introduction and we know right away she’s nuts!

“Unforgettable” borrows heavily from the films mentioned earlier. Whether it’s a steamy public sex scene (“Fear”), Julia receiving an anonymous gift on the porch (“The Gift”), or Tessa kicking someone out of her car after having sex (“Unlawful Entry”), the writers seem content writing a serious of homages to superior thrillers.

As far as logic goes, “Unforgettable” has zilch. How can someone have a fancy house, but can’t afford to pay their lawyer? Why are people so casual about Tessa’s controlling, abusive behavior? Why do most conversations revolve around men and how good they are in bed?

We’re also treated to an unwanted cliffhanger that will set up a sequel. SPOILER ALERT – the sequel (if it gets made at all) will have Tessa’s overbearing mother (Cheryl Ladd) as the villain. But why?! “Unforgettable” would have passed as a character study of a broken, unstable anti-hero; not the millionth psycho stalker movie.

Grade: D-

“Ghost in the Shell”

Scarlett Johansson is best with quiet, expressive roles and action heroines. In “Ghost in the Shell,” she does both and carries the ultimately bland cyberpunk film.

Humans have cybernetic technology and use it to enhance their strength, intelligence, and other traits. Major Mira Killian (Johansson), a cybernetic soldier, hunts for a mysterious cyber-terrorist (Michael Pitt) against her superiors’ orders. After encountering him, Killian recalls her past and realizes that her creators are hiding something.

I haven’t watched the anime, but from what I understand, “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) is one of the greatest anime films of all time. The live-action adaptation is uncertain if it wants to be a slow, artistic sci-fi film in tradition of “Blade Runner” (1982) or more action-packed like “Equilibrium” (2002).

The over-reliance on slow-mo action sequences are distracting from the film’s superb visuals and expressive moments. I enjoy Johansson performing her own stunts, but I was more interested in her character-driven moments. Rupert Sanders’s occasionally mesmerizing direction is best utilized in Killian’s solo scenes. It’s unfortunate there aren’t enough of those moments.

Writing wise, I prefer science fiction that shows the audience its world rather than tell us about it. The writers don’t trust their audience well since most dialogue scenes are exposition-fueled. Furthermore, the characters are emotionless with their delivery, with the exception of Pitt.

Pitt’s performance is cartoonish and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to sound damaged or imitate the Apple Macintosh. The best supporting performance goes to the great Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki. Kitano only speaks Japanese in this role and delivers each line with sass, charisma, and confidence. Why hasn’t he gotten more American roles?!

“Ghost in the Shell” had potential to be a mind-bending sci-fi film due to its visuals, concepts, and Johansson’s compelling performance. Maybe the sequel will expand more on those attributes.

Grade: C+

“Power Rangers”

While watching “Power Rangers,” all I wanted was Krispy Kreme. Mmmmm…. Krispy Kreme….

In Angel Grove, a Breakfast Club ensemble of high school students befriend each other and find strange coins. The students are former football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery), ostracized mean girl Kimberly (Naomi Scott), the autistic Billy (RJ Cyler), new girl Trini (Becky G), and loner Zack (Ludi Lin).

The coins empower these kids and lead them to an ancient being named Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who trains them to be the next Power Rangers, protectors of the galaxy. Meanwhile, alien invader Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) searches for the Zeo Crystal in her plot for world domination.

“Power Rangers” isn’t an original film since it borrows heavily from “Man of Steel” and “Chronicle.” While those films were overly destructive, brooding, and cynical, “Power Rangers” depicts the optimistic side of one discovering powers. Sure, there’s some cheese, but that’s part of the fun.

“The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was always a cheesy show with mindless action, but it had heart and great messages about diversity and friendship. “Power Rangers” maintains these messages, even when it occasionally treads on the dark side.

The original series depicted the characters as these perfect, popular kids, but in “Power Rangers,” they’re far from that. Jason is an outcast for letting down Angel Grove’s football team, Kimberly is guilt-ridden over a prank, Zack ditches school to take care of his mom, Billy’s often bullied for his disability, and Trini is afraid of coming out to her parents.

Any writer could have written these sensitive arcs in a juvenile fashion, but writer John Gatins (“Kong: Skull Island”) handles them maturely and realistically. All the rangers feel like kids and not caricatures. The cast does well with their roles, especially RJ Cyler as Billy (I related to him the most).

Elizabeth Banks steals the show as Rita Rapulsa and is clearly having a blast on camera. Whether she steals gold, brag about her plan, or eats a Krispy Kreme doughnut, she rocks.

Speaking of Krispy Kreme, “Power Rangers” over kills Krispy Kreme product placement, but it weirdly suits the plot and tone of the movie. It’s more charming than annoying. I would say the only let down of “Power Rangers” was the action was lackluster (lots of slow-mo, fast-mo fight scenes). But good news is there’s an upcoming sequel, which means room for improvement.

Grade: B+

“Kong: Skull Island”

So, Warner Bros is now doing a Marvel-style universe with classic monsters? Okay, I’ll give it a shot since “Kong: Skull Island” was damn entertaining.

It’s the end of the Vietnam War and career soldier Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is called into action. Joining him are the badass tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), fearless photographer Mason (Brie Larson), and the shady expedition leader Randa (John Goodman). But when they drop bombs on the island they’re exploring, King Kong emerges and grounds them. They find that Kong isn’t the most dangerous creature on the island.

“Kong: Skull Island” is an homage to classic monster movies and Vietnam War movies. It’s shamelessly fun and that’s admirable. Even when Samuel L. Jackson says, “Hold onto your butts,” you can’t help but chuckle.

The filmmakers are more focused on the supporting cast members than Hiddleston, which is an unusual move. Hiddleston’s character has no back story or arc; he’s just the cool guy that swings machetes at mosquitoes in a sequence reminiscent of “300.” Larson’s development isn’t any better. It’s unfortunate since Hiddleston and Larson are versatile, talented actors.

Instead, we focus on Goodman’s Randa trying to prove he’s right, Jackson’s Packard wanting retribution for his men, and John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow trying to get home. These three compete for scene-stealing status with each other, and Reilly emerges victorious. Reilly brings an even balance of humanity and humor to “Kong: Skull Island.”

The visuals and action sequences vary between harrowing, gruesome, and plain ridiculous. Kong has enough footage and action to make up for Godzilla’s lack of screen time in the 2014 “Godzilla” movie. Thankfully, the action is consistent start-to-finish. Arachnophobes, beware of giant spiders!

I’m skeptical about the concept of turning the classic monsters into a movie universe, but if we get a “King Kong vs. Godzilla” remake, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Grade: B

“Logan”

Hearing a drunken Logan (Hugh Jackman) utter “Fuck” in the opening of “Logan” is a clear warning that this isn’t a kid-friendly “X-Men” film. “Logan” is a grim, bloody, and depressing character study.

Set years after Logan saved the future in “Days of Future Past,” the X-Men are no more and Logan is a has-been. He’s a limo driver and drug dealer caring for a senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart). When Logan is offered a large sum of money to drive a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota, he finds that she has a lot in common with him. For example, they both have a group of cyborg mercenaries led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) on their tale.

“Logan” is an unconventional superhero film. It has more in common with the Western and Apocalyptic Sci-Fi genre films like “Unforgiven” and “Children of Men” than it does with “X-Men.” Director James Mangold (who also directed “The Wolverine”) depicts the world of “Logan” as a sad, hopeless, and violent world that no one wishes to live in.

The journey of Logan throughout the films has been him surviving horror and war, hoping to find peace. Here, Logan’s accepted that peace is out of the question, and that he’s destined to live a never-ending life of carnage. Jackman plays the part perfectly, and it’s been an honor watching him for seventeen years.

Patrick Stewart deserves serious award recognition for his work as Charles. Whether he monologues about family or his guilt, or manically rambles about Taco Bell, Stewart is both heartbreaking and sincere, providing much-needed light to a bleak film.

The supporting cast is fine, with Boyd Holbrook playing Pierce as a fanboy who wants to be buddies with Logan, and Stephen Merchant as a mutant ally of Logan’s, but they’re mostly exposition tools. Their talent is no match for newcomer Dafne Keen, who’s the most badass on-screen kid since Eleven in “Stranger Things.”

Hugh Jackman has stated that “Logan” is his last run as Wolverine. Given it’s his ninth time playing the part, does he have to stop now? Because we can use more R-rated Wolverine movies.

Grade: A-

Ranking of the “X-Men” Films (excluding “Deadpool”):

  1. “X-Men: First Class”
  2. “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
  3. “Logan”
  4. “X2: X-Men United”
  5. “X-Men”
  6. “The Wolverine”
  7. “X-Men: Apocalypse”
  8. “X-Men: The Last Stand”
  9. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”