Quick Movie Review: mother! (2017)

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Before stepping foot into a theater to watch mother!–if you actually decide to–you must know that this film is entirely an allegory. It’s not meant to be real. It’s meant to be told from the perspective of Mother Nature. I tell you this because if you don’t know this ahead of time, most of you will not understand what’s happening and the film will alienate you before you’re able to read into it.

And there is a lot to read into. This isn’t a film to just decide to throw on. It’s a piece of work. It’s exhausting. Something that you must dedicate some time afterward reflecting upon. Otherwise the 2 hours you spend watching it will be in vain. Or you could just not watch it. Which is what I would suggest.

I don’t mind a metaphorical film. Life of Pi is one of my favorites. But with mother! there is no humanity to tether down the film. You can relate to the protagonist’s plight and suffering, maybe, but not to the protagonist herself. The characters are human in appearance, but hardly act as a human actually would. It’s void of all emotion, dragging on for way too long as you sit there, tired, waiting to find out what the point of it all is.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother, who’s married to Javier Bardem’s character, who’s a struggling author. They live alone in a house in the country while Bardem is amidst a creative drought. Things are disrupted when an older married couple intrude on their lives and move in. Before this couple shows up, Lawrence and Bardem’s life together is supposed to be peaceful, but director, Darren Aronofsky, doesn’t really depict it this way. In fact, there is tension and suspense even before the couple shows up.

From there, a series of wild and nauseating events occur that I can’t even fully explain. It basically goes through the story of mankind from Adam and Eve to the apocalypse. It’s 2 hours, but feels like 3. It’s pretentious and honestly, not a film that should be widely distributed. There are art houses for a reason.

Aronofsky is creating an exploitation as someone must actually believe. If he didn’t, he would have no film. Why would he try to satirize followers of a being he doesn’t believe in.

The film isn’t an attack on Christians as much as it is an attack on those who claim to be Christian without knowing why. If it were an attack on Christians, it wouldn’t make much sense because then the film fails to show us what happens to those Christians who do obey and love their Creator. In his vision, there are no good people whatsoever. It depicts followers as mindless, yet doesn’t show what their reward is once they die. It doesn’t show the counterargument.

The metaphor, here, is taken too literally that, at times, we end up laughing at the ridiculousness or becoming frustrated with Lawrence’s willingness to put up with all this for as long as she does.

With all of it so carefully crafted, Aronofsky makes one mistake. Mother Nature isn’t in the Bible. In fact, it seems that he’s made Mother Nature and Mary, the Blessed Mother, as one in the same. Which wouldn’t make much sense because Mary is depicted as patient and kind, constantly vouching for humans’ actions, while his Mother Nature is wrathful and protective of Earth rather than the people living on it.

With films like Life of Pi, the main character is an actual human. We go through the entire film thinking that these events could have actually happened, only to find out at the end that perhaps it was all a metaphor.

mother! is different. The events in this film are so bizarre that we know they’re impossible. Not in a sci-fi kind of way, because a good sci-fi makes you feel like the events could actually happen. The metaphor in mother! is taken way too literally that nothing feels realistic. We sit there waiting for a human reason for why everything is happening, but we slowly get less of one. Metaphors only work when you can relate on a human level. This has the opposite of that.

The film is interesting enough until the second half, when Aronofsky decides to plummet the viewer into his own opinion of religion and Christians, themselves. Bardem’s character writes a piece of work (the Gospels), which is terribly misunderstood by his fans, causing them to go crazy and turn his house into a living hell.

The problem is, Aronofsky is criticizing people for acting upon a misunderstanding, yet he gives us something that is so abstract that it almost begs for us to misunderstand it.

He gives us a, many would say, sacrilegious piece of work all while criticizing those who exploit God. So is he condemning people? Or is he trying to leave it open to interpretation, himself exploiting the Creator?

The worst part is, if a filmmaker wanted to prove these points, he could have done so without making it so head-scratching and convoluted. Maybe then, the audience could actually understand his point. Because this film, unlike the Bible, isn’t significant enough for people to spend their lives trying to figure it out.

Twizard Rating: 42

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Quick Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

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“Spy films are only as good as their villains.” This is pretty accurate. And the Kingsman series knows this. The first film had Samuel L. Jackson in one of his most unique roles ever. This one gets arguably even better with Julianne Moore as the twisted Poppy Adams.

Poppy heads the world’s largest drug cartel and operates from a remote location in the middle of the Cambodian jungle. It doesn’t look quite like a jungle though. She’s created her own little utopian village carved out of her own obsession with the 1950s. It’s awesome. The set, alone, would make this film memorable.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to. The Kingsman sequel is filled with fun action–albeit cheesy–and the same craftily written dark levity that’s become very unique to this series. Like a twisted Tarantino film where you don’t actually witness all the violence. It lets you see some of the sadistic scenarios, then letting your imagination figure out the rest. But the humor is never too off-the-wall to where the oft-sappy tone seems out of place.

Kingsman 2 is very close to the first one in how good it is, but I think this one holds a slight edge. It’s less disjointed in its story–though the occasional sloppiness is still present. The film is so finely tuned, but there is a sort of lack of attention to detail that’s still evident–with both the script and the director. Although it’s usually innocuous, certain things are lazily missed. Or just dubious. Like, saying American Graffiti takes place in the 1950s, instead of the ’60s. Or forcing John Denver’s “Country Roads” into the movie by referencing it in relation to Kentucky–not West Virginia. Luckily these things don’t ruin the movie in the slightest. Maybe I’m just nitpicking, but these are really easy things to prevent.

Kingsman has a slightly different feel for a spy movie. It’s a lot more comic-booky in style. Perhaps due to it’s very specific sets and character attributes.

The film is really silly but also very, very cool. But it’s obviously a fan of the unrealistic. It works well for the action sequences, but not as much in the human situations. At one point, the two main characters are off-puttingly cheery following the death of their best friends and close colleagues. It’s an odd tonal shift.

Much like the first film, depth doesn’t come from the characters themselves. And anytime it does, it feels contrived. Here, it comes from the issues on drugs and drug use in the world. Poppy has laced all of her products with a virus that slowly kills whoever has used it. She has an antidote, but will only give it out if the country agrees to legalize the drugs. The President of the US sees this as an opportunity to get rid of the degenerates who use drugs. It’s obviously messed up, but it’s still interesting–and luckily improbable–food for thought. Whether the intention is to be deep or use it merely as a humorous choice for a conflict, it makes you think.

It’s also interesting to note that this is the 2nd Channing Tatum movie of the last few months to not only have John Denver’s “Country Roads” play a major part of the story, but to have his character living in Kentucky. Weird.

Twizard Rating: 92

Quick Movie Review: The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille (2016)

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1923’s silent production of The Ten Commandments proved to be one of the most ground breaking films of its time. Produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, this was to be expected. The man essentially brought cinema to Hollywood and made the two synonymous with each other.

For The Ten Commandments, sets were huge and over-the-top, creating the blueprint for DeMille’s followup talkie version in 1956–perhaps the most ambitious films ever made. DeMille was a very ambitious guy.

Nearly 60 years later, writer, Peter Brosnan, set out on an ambitious project of his own. In 1982, after hearing that there may be an ancient Egyptian city buried in California, he becomes fixated with digging it up.

The story goes that after filming wrapped up in 1923, this massive set just disappeared. Well, DeMille was supposed to have completely destroyed his set, per a deal with the land owners in Guadalupe, California. But a brief quote from his autobiography hints that maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just buried it beneath the sand dunes in Guadalupe.

The documentary jumps back and forth between DeMille’s filming of the Ten Commandments and Brosnan’s excavation, keeping the context fresh in your mind. The film also serves as a sort of mini-biography on DeMille’s life. It’s a surprisingly spiritual project, drawing beautiful parallels between DeMille’s career and Brosnan’s 30 year endeavor, and how they both overcame seemingly impossible obstacles through faith and God-given strength and determination.

For 30 years Brosnan wasn’t just trying to dig up the lost city, but also researching the filmmaking itself, compiling tons of rare interviews with cast members and locals of Guadalupe–all of which could very well double as special features on The Ten Commandments DVD release.

Brosnan often uses a romanticized viewpoint of early Hollywood, but you can tell he has a solid grasp of the times. These types of projects are much better when the filmmaker has this kind of evident passion.

The only real pitfall in this documentary is the stiff narration by Brosnan, himself. But the facts are what’s important–even if they’re not always presented in the most invigorating ways.

But Brosnan showcases some truly impressive film editing here. There’s definitely a specific vision in mind. Since his documentary was made over the span of 30 years, it often has a retro feel to it. Old footage is much grainier, truly showing the longevity of this project. Details don’t go overlooked either. Even the small ones. Each time he shows a still photograph of the Hollywood sign, it’s chronologically accurate with the time being discussed in the film.

The parallels run deep. It took Cecil B. DeMille 30 years to realize his crowning achievement. He made The Ten Commandments in 1923, but with complete freedom got to make the film he actually wanted in 1956. Brosnan’s patience pays off as well, perhaps stumbling upon his own magnum opus.

Twizard Rating: 87

Quick Movie Review: Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

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Hitman’s Bodyguard helps prove that it doesn’t take comedians to make a funny comedy film. This isn’t the first time, but the success rate isn’t necessarily high either. However, actually claiming itself as a true comedy might, in fact, be the harder thing for this film to prove.

And it’s not Ryan Reynolds or Samuel L. Jackson’s fault. Pretty much each scene they’re in stays true to genre. But then throw in Gary Oldman as the dark and twisted evil-dictator in subsequent scenes and the film doesn’t get the chance to blend the two together. It feels like two completely different movies.

The first act is filled with convoluted details and rapid-fire exposition, opening up too many plot points all at once, way too early on. Oldman’s character is on trial at the International Court of Justice. The problem is, they can’t find any witnesses to testify against him because he’s hired an assassin to kill everyone eligible to do so. Except for Jackson’s character, Darius Kincaid–a notorious hit man who’s serving a prison sentence.

Interpol makes a deal with Kincaid in order for him to testify. The only problem is getting him all the way to Holland without him getting killed by Gary Oldman’s hired assassins (not really Gary Oldman, but using his character name just adds more details than necessary). That’s where Reynolds’ character steps in. He plays Michael Bryce, a professional bodyguard who used to work for Interpol before a job-gone-bad ruined his reputation.

The tone swings all over the place. It’s very very sinister one moment, and then off-the-wall comedy the next. Then it throws in a seemingly random love story in the middle of it all. The irreverent humor almost saves it, but you still sit there wondering why the love story is happening in the first place. Because if you have to disrupt the momentum of a film just to get a mediocre payoff at the end, it’s not really worth it, right? At least there are other payoffs as well. Bigger ones.

It turns out Kincaid and Bryce have some history and don’t care for each other, which just makes the film more enjoyable. Their chemistry is what makes the it entertaining despite all the cliches and the cheesy action sequences. The action’s not necessarily over-the-top–it’s just silly a lot of the time.

Blending 3 genres together isn’t easy. Which is why it’s usually met with harsh criticism. This is a case in point. But Jackson and Reynolds have enough going for them here to make you okay watching them in a sequel if it ever happens.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Rocky III (1982)

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We’re officially into the ’80s now. And it feels like it. Things are a lot more campy. Mr. T is involved and everything he says is asinine. The film starts off with Rocky fighting a professional wrestler played by Hulk Hogan. It’s ridiculous, but so is the movie at this point.

Rocky Balboa is now America’s sweetheart. He appears on TV shows, he lives in a mansion, and his friends and family seem to be getting fed up with it all. I can see why.

Rocky has become unrealistically complacent. He is challenged by a boxer on-the-rise, Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. Much to his trainer’s dismay, Rocky hosts a public training session filled with games, t-shirt booths, and an Italian band. And it’s all intercut with Mr. T’s serious workout regimen. I think the audience gets the point. He’s posing for pictures and kissing girls on the cheek while he’s working out. It’s silly. I get that his character is supposed to be more cocky now, but even this is obviously not okay. Over-the-top scenarios in order to drive home a point will always be too on-the-nose.

But then you realize that Rocky’s never really had it all that rough in the first place. Sure, he lived in a dump, but his career was essentially handed to him. So the spoiled and entitled mindset kinda makes sense.

Paulie has become obnoxious. Rocky flies to LA with Creed to train, and Paulie is unhappy being there. But I’m not even sure why he needs to be there in the first place. They decide that his character should be contrarian about it all, so every chance they get they make him say something negative. It’s annoying and he’s whiney. Stallone’s got this thing for stream-of-consciousness dialogue and characters saying what they feel in order to prove a point that the audience already knows, but sometimes it’s too much.

The first act or so takes awhile to get anywhere, but the second half is actually quite good. It gets comfortable in the formula it’s derived for itself. The formula that gives these movies such great finales.

I can see how this installment could be somewhat of a fan favorite. It’s got character and it’s fairly humorous in one of those you-don’t-notice-what’s-funny-until-you’ve-watched-it-twenty-times kind of way. It’s not as good as its predecessor, but I’d probably rather watch this comedy act than the first film’s self-aggrandizement any day.

Twizard Rating: 76

Quick Movie Review: Wind River (2017)

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People forget how great an actor Jeremy Renner is. He seemed to get recruited to blockbuster action movies way too early on in his budding career, and hadn’t established quite enough credible roles first. They forget about his phenomenal performance in The Town, or his humble role in Hurt Locker. He got a chance last year in Arrival, and now here in Wind River, Renner gets to flex his chops again.

In this film he plays Cory, a guy whose job it is to track down and kill intrusive wildlife on an Indian Reservation in Wyoming. In the dead of winter, Cory stumbles upon the dead body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson. It’s unclear how she died, and it resurfaces old wounds of the death of Cory’s own daughter a few years prior. His daughter and Natalie were best friends, and his daughter’s death, too, is a mystery.

We get a somewhat-inside look at the very elusive Native American culture. Even though the story is fronted by a white man, we grow to better understand their mindset and way of life–at least this particular tribe’s. The land is desolate and these people are tormented by the loneliness and isolation. In these circumstances, there is no luck, there is only will to live.

Without saying much, Renner lets us inside his plight every step of the way. It’s not so much about his life as a tracker–an unusual profession–but him dealing with his grief amidst a unique backdrop. One that already comes with sorrow and dismality.

It helps that the script and the direction by Taylor Sheridan are so accomplished as well. He has his grasp around the film as a whole. Not in an auteuristic way, but in a way that lets his performers have a certain type of freedom, molding the film around themselves also.

Renner’s supporting cast is pretty good. Elizabeth Olsen, who plays FBI agent, Jane Banner, transforms her character so well over the course of the film. And Graham Greene plays a modest, yet confident police chief. He seems so real that you would almost expect it to be one of those cases where an actual Native American police chief plays the part. But no, Greene’s credits range from Dances With Wolves to Die Hard 3.

I love films that get much of the tension and suspense from the musical score. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who also partnered with Sheridan for last years’ Hell or High Water have added another masterpiece to their résumé.

Wind River is not just a murder mystery, but a sort of Neo-Western. There’s a certain lawless sense you get in this modern town–made all the more clear by the dichotomy of the city girl FBI agent who is culture-shocked by everything that’s going on, and appalled at why there are only six policemen to patrol a land the size of Rhode Island with people who are unhinged.

It very adequately contrasts the mindsets of isolated peoples with worldly city folk. It’s not on the nose, but the themes are obvious if you’re looking. And since they’re not overplayed messages in cinema, they’re welcome with open arms. It helps, too, that they’re presented so beautifully.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

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I’m not a big fan of horror movies. In fact, I will almost never watch one unless it’s from before the year 2000. The effects these days are too lifelike. Plus, there’s something more fun about cheesy effects and makeup.

I had heard good things about Sleepaway Camp and that it’s not very scary. Which is true up until the very end–for me, at least. I get freaked out easily. And the way the flashbacks are lit is pretty great, making it even creepier.

The premise is intriguing to me since it takes place at summer camp–which I’m a sucker for. I grew up going to camp and it’s probably my favorite setting for movies.

We open with a traumatic boating accident that takes place on a lake at the camp. A man is with his son and daughter when some careless teenagers kill him and his son with a speedboat.

Eight years later, his daughter Angela is seen living with her aunt and her cousin. She and her cousin, Ricky, start their first day at camp. But throughout the summer, every kid or counselor who misbehaves gets murdered. The mystery of the movie is finding out who’s doing it all.

The story as a whole is fairly uneventful. The runtime is pretty short, but the narrative still seems to drag. We get a ton of filler scenes, which lack substance, but are entertaining nonetheless. You do feel like you’re at camp. Plus, the mystery of it all keeps you engaged.

And it pays off, despite the filmmakers intentionally trying to throw us off about the killer’s identity. But it’s more of the way they do it–which gets a little disingenuous at times. I can’t elaborate on it too much without giving anything away, but you’ll see what I mean.

The acting is below par, but it’s also a case of poor material and direction. It’s only distracting a few times, because the bad performances actually fit in perfectly with the movie’s campiness (pun kinda intended).

Even though it’s obvious that this film came to fruition due to the writer having a great idea for a twist ending, thus building the movie around it–it’s an enjoyable watch. And one that will probably stick with you for a long time.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Ingrid Goes West (2017)

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I’ve always felt Aubrey Plaza out of place in the movies she’s been in. Her awkward brand of comedy is so jarring in the mainstream projects she takes on. But she’s never been more perfect for a role as she is in Ingrid Goes West.

The film opens up with Plaza’s character, Ingrid, going through some girl, Charlotte’s Instagram account. Ingrid sees that it’s her wedding and is, apparently, not invited. She decides to crash Charlotte’s wedding and pepper spray her in the eyes. Now, she’s sent to a mental institute.

Once Ingrid is out she decides that it’s time to become obsessed with a new Instagram celebrity. She discovers Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), a girl living in Los Angeles, and is immediately drawn to her. She starts dressing like her, wearing all the same clothes, and even moves to LA to go to all the same restaurants as her. Eventually Ingrid forces herself into Taylor’s life, becoming one of her best friends.

Ingrid Goes West makes fun of things without ever having to make fun of it. It merely shows us our culture in its exact state–letting us see for ourselves how ridiculous the self-aggrandized internet celebrity has actually become, as well as the fans who fuel it. Begging the question, “Is one really worse than the other?”

The film proceeds to illustrate the blurry line between the celebrities online who make a living being fake posers and the fake posers in real life who live vicariously through them. The point is beautifully subtle and doesn’t even affirm itself, in order to make us question if it’s even true. The film glorifies Taylor’s fame, testing us to see if we agree. Seeing if we, too, think Ingrid is the only crazy one. Though it secretly hopes that a few of us will see through its disguise.

The acting is superb all around, with nods to Plaza, Olsen, as well as O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid’s landlord.

Another thing that shouldn’t go overlooked is the brilliant musical score by composers Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn, which is reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s score in any Tim Burton film. Yeah, this film is weird too, but it has to be. And Plaza is perhaps the best person for the job.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Jumanji (1995)

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As a kid, I watched Jumanji more than almost any other movie. Perhaps become numb to the adventure that lies underneath the grandeur effects and habit-forming experience. But it slowly came back to me upon watching it now, all these years later. It was like uncovering the mystery all over again.

Jumanji has become sort of a pop culture mainstay. It’s one of few films that adequately goes hand-and-hand with the ’90s. At least as far as kids movies go. There are very few that stand above it as representing the decade for children who grew up in it. Aladdin, Toy Story, Space Jam, Jurassic Park, maybe a couple others. So, watching it now, you wonder if it holds up well (like some), or feels dated (like most).

It starts off with a brief opening scene set in 1869 with two boys burying a chest, talking about how they hope no one ever finds it. One hundred years later in 1969, a boy, Alan discovers the box, opens it, and finds an old-looking board game called Jumanji.

We get some good character background in the few minutes we see Alan as a child. His relationship with his father is an important theme throughout the film.

Soon Alan realizes the game has a mind of its own. He takes his turn and the game gives him a command that traps him inside of it until the next player (his friend, Sarah) rolls a five or an eight. Sarah gets freaked out and leaves, trapping Alan indefinitely.

Then we get another time lapse to modern day 1995 where kids Judy and Peter get sent to live with their aunt after their parents die. They move to the same house Alan lived in 26 years prior when he “went missing”. They discover the game in an old abandoned room and start to play. Weird things start happening, including a roll of the dice that brings Alan back out of the game as an adult.

That’s just the first 20 minutes or so. The premise is really great, and just keeps building on itself from there.

For a kids movie it’s pretty mature. The gimmicks are even really funny, holding up very well to this day. Even the minute details are clever, like the cop (David Alan Grier) who keeps getting his car inadvertently messed up from the effects of the game, yet continues to drive it anyhow.

Jumanji is like a twisted Wizard of Oz–a fact that it even alludes to at one brief moment.

I love this film. Watching it now after a long drought, I was possibly even more entertained than I was as a kid. Even finding myself laughing out loud. Other than the special effects, Jumanji is anything but dated. It’s fresher than any kids movie coming out today, reminding us, yet again, how much live action family films are missed nowadays.

Twizard Rating: 96