Mother!

September 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”)
Written by: Darren Aronofsky (“The Fountain”)

If you’ve ever had someone approach you and utter the words, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” and your first instinct was not to automatically run in the other direction before the storyteller began to describe their incomprehensible nightmare in extreme detail, you might find filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s new thriller “Mother!” profound in a bat-shit crazy kind of way. Aronofsky has created the cinematic version of sleep paralysis. It’s vivid, uncomfortably terrifying and once you snap out of it, you’ll never want to experience it again. Ever.

Without attempting to plunge deep into the psychobabble metaphors Aronofsky amplifies to frustrating proportions (this coming from a critic who loves some good symbolism), “Mother!” follows an unnamed married couple, played by Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) and Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”), as they watch their quiet life get disrupted by the arrival of unexpected guests.

When a stranger (Ed Harris) shows up at their door and is invited to stay by Bardem’s famous writer character, the friendly gesture sets off a series of events that lead to the unraveling of Lawrence’s medicated character’s sanity as her mind and home fall apart piece by piece. Joining Harris’ character in overstaying his welcome is his boorish wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and later their two bickering sons, who turn the visit from discordant to destructive.

Is every insane thing happening around Lawrence simply a figment of her imagination or is Aronofsky making it a point to draw a faint line between reality and possible hallucinations. Like Natalie Portman’s ballerina character in “Black Swan,” the existence of Lawrence’s lucidness is left to the viewer to wrangle over, but what is obvious is that Aronofsky has embraced his sprawling, chaotic narrative without remorse.

Maybe that’s a sign of a groundbreaking director. Aronofsky has created a picture about obsession and, in turn, has become a manic of his own making. He’s much better telling human stories like in “The Wrestler” or even “Requiem for a Dream, which is still just as nerve-wracking as “Mother!” It’s a bold move and he should be commended for the original and ambitious albeit preposterous content. What we could use less of Aronofsky doing, however, is making a film that doesn’t add up to much more than two hours of navel-gazing and waxing philosophical. With “Mother!,” he can’t seem to check his ego at the front door.

The Family

September 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken”) and Michael Caleo (“The Last Time”)

When the critically acclaimed “Silver Linings Playbook” came out last year, many film fans were enthused about the performance and presence of Robert De Niro. It wasn’t just that De Niro turned in his best performance in years, but it was that he did such in a great project. For the better part of the past decade, De Niro has been a perpetual enemy of positive critical consensus, turning in performances in poorly received “Meet the Parents” sequels and various action films. Though De Niro has already had one of the most poorly received films of the year thus far with “The Big Wedding,” his next starring vehicle, “The Family,” is another test to see if his Oscar-nominated performance in “Playbook” was an aberration or a sign of things to come for an actor in desperate need of a career resurgence.

As part of the witness protection program, mafia boss Fred Manzoni (De Niro), his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their kids Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo) are forced to move to a quiet, low-key town in France. While there, the family can’t seem to avoid attracting attention and are eventually tracked down by a mob boss looking to settle a score.

As far as performances go, everyone in the cast does a fine job. De Niro slips back into a mobster role well enough, and the supporting cast like Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones (as a federal agent) and kids turn in effortful performances. The problem, however, lies in the way the characters are written and their complete lack of depth. De Niro’s character in particular seems to be going through an identity crisis with the adjustment of being out of the mob, but the idea of him writing his memoirs goes absolutely nowhere other than the serve as a narrative device for the film and to inform a bit on the past.

But the poor writing and lack of character depth is more complex than that. The children, who are now used to being bounced around from country to country, are shown at school doing various aggressive things, but without reason or explanation other than their ties of having a mafia leader as a father. There’s really no purpose Warren, for example, tries control the school through various forms of intimidation. An even bigger disservice is done to the character played by Agron. She is presented as a strong, tough, badass girl who in early scenes beats an aggressive fellow student with a tennis racquet. But later in the film, she is given a typical female storyline where her emotions are put in check when she falls head over heels in love with a guy. This of course completely undoes most of the strong and independent characteristics established at the beginning of the film.

For what it’s worth, the film sticks to a consistent tone balancing violence (mostly implied rather than graphic) with black comedy. The problem is that the comedy is not funny in the slightest. The jokes – mostly centered on De Niro’s aggressive imagination – never quite click. There’s also an abundance of typical Italian mobster stereotypes, which, while never offensive, are extremely obnoxious.

When all is said and done, “The Family” is a film that accomplishes none of its goals. The humor falls short, the violence is ineffective, and the characters are stripped of their memorability by a hackneyed script. For the time being, it appears that De Niro’s full-time career comeback is on hold.

New Year’s Eve

December 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher
Directed by: Gary Marshall (“Valentine’s Day”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“Valentine’s Day”)

Forget about eating healthier or going to the gym more often. Don’t worry about watching less TV or cutting back on coffee in the morning. If you really want to make a New Year’s resolution that will benefit your well-being, promise yourself not to feed the holiday cinematic beast called “New Year’s Eve,” the second purposeless celebrity mishmash rom-com brought to you by Hollywood nice-guy director Gary Marshall (“Pretty Woman”).

It’s been quite a while since Marshall has given audiences anything with substance. Unless you liked the torturously unfunny “Valentine’s Day” of last year, there’s no need to subject yourself to the same humdrum narrative pattern screenwriter Katherine Fugate has tried once again to pass off as something resembling a logical script. As if “Valentine’s Day” never happened, Fugate fails to realize that squeezing a sizeable series of storylines into one movie is like force feeding a full person. There is literally no room to expand on anything and – more than likely – things are bound to get messy.

Even more curious than the shameful script is the fact that so many high-profile stars decided to add their name to the swelling cast. Sure, money (and what was probably a short production schedule) talks, but actors like Robert De Niro, Halle Berry and Hilary Swank can’t be that hard up for work to take on a project as thinly-written as this. They should’ve known something was wrong when the New York City they inhabit in this movie is one where comedian Seth Meyers has a chance to make babies with Jessica Biel.

Chéri

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates
Directed by: Stephen Frears (‘The Queen”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)

If you thought the term “cougar” could only be used as a reference in pop culture to describe women like Demi Moore and Mariah Carey who pursue younger men, then the film “Chéri,” based on the novel by early 20th century French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, proves you’re a few decades late.

Set in 1920s Paris during the belle époque era, “Chéri” follows Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a well-to-do courtesan (a classy name for a swanky prostitute) who falls in love with an enchanting young man named Chéri (Rupert Friend, who looks like a gothic version of Orlando Bloom).

Chéri’s mother Madame Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), a retired courtesan and former rival of Lea, allows the rendezvous to happen since she knows her son will be in good hands and obtain the sexual experience he needs before settling down. The affair would also help Lea keep her status as one of the most desired escorts in Paris.

But what is supposed to be a casual relationship for both Lea and Chéri turns out to be a lot more. Six years later, the couple is still together in what is described as a “soothing routine of habit.” Their love dissolves, however, when Charlotte forces him into an arranged marriage with a woman his own age since the Madame desperately wants grandchildren. While Lea knew the day would come when Chéri would leave the nest, she is devastated but hides her emotions well. “It’s her turn now,” she says to her young lover before letting him go.

Chéri, too, finds it hard to let go of his past the longer he stays in his dreary marriage. All he can think about is his time with Lea and eventually returns to her like a lost little boy. It’s during these scenes of self-pity and overall misery that make “Cheri” hard to bear after a while. It’s not enough that Pfeiffer gives a fine performance as this woman of a “certain age,” and that Bates steals most of the show with a vivacious personality, the era piece doesn’t capture the same romanticism as the last time director Stephan Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton collaborated for 1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons,” which earned Pfeiffer her first of three Academy Award nominations.

Pfeiffer shouldn’t be returning to the big dance this year, although stranger things have happened. “Chéri” is cinematically beautiful with all the pomp and circumstance it delivers in costume and setting. The story, however, feels like a cheap one-night stand rather than a daring love story and is not as overly tragic as it makes itself out to be.