Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mother!



       As far as allegories go, writer/director Darren Aronofsky takes a risk with the  biggest there is, Creation to Apocalypse and back again as represented by a house in a meadow. The house is occupied by Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as an unnamed couple, who may or may not be God and Mother Earth (depending on your own interpretation).

       The entire story takes place inside the house, with a few outside POVs. What starts out seemingly as a domestic drama, soon explodes to biblical proportions. Mr Aronofsky drops plenty of clues throughout the film, some more subtle than others. Ed Harris, Michele Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson and Domhnall Gleeson co-star as unnamed characters that again, may or may not seem obviously familiar. Kristen Wiig also has a small cameo.

      The film is beautifully shot as Mr. Aronofsky makes wonderful use of light and space. He also infuses it with an interesting combination of humor and dread. It is not a simple entertainment. There is a complexity and intelligence here that has to be appreciated and as a viewer, you will find yourself constantly challenged.

       You may find yourself tempted to walk out early as the film may confound and anger you but there is something about it that is so compelling, it deserves your attention to go the distance. Love it or hate it, you will be talking about it.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Gook


Written and directed by and starring Justin Chon, this new Indie drama examines multiple themes in a racially charged setting.

Mr. Chon sets his story in 1992 during the Rodney King riots in South Central L.A. and aims for a similar tension filled atmosphere as "Detroit" albeit on a much more intimate scale. 

This is the story of two Korean brothers  trying to make ends meet with the shoe store they inherited from their father. One is a hustler named Eli, played by Mr. Chon, trying hard to keep the business going while his older brother, Daniel, (played by David So) secretly longs to be an R&B singer. They share an odd friendship with an eleven year old African-American girl named Kamilla who hangs around the store everyday. Kamilla is played by Simone Baker and she is a revelation.

The microcosm of a growing confrontation centers in this one racially mixed neighborhood between the local African-American and Asian population. Connections between many of the characters are slowly revealed as the story plays out against the riots. 

As a first feature, there are some minor continuity and camera issues but they can be easily overlooked by the raw honesty of the script. Mr. Chon is heavily influenced by early Spike Lee, especially "She's Gotta Have it" with some "Do The Right Thing" thrown in. The influence is not in plot but rather style, as he opts for shooting in black & white, while using an eclectic jazz soundtrack and occasional slow motion to help drive his narrative. It's a strong first feature from a promising young talent.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Patti Cake$

       An Indie underdog story of a young girl in New Jersey with big dreams. Patti is a plus size white girl who aspires to make it big in the world of Rap. She lives at home with an alcoholic mother, whose own dreams were crushed once she got pregnant, and her loving "Nana", who is in failing health.

       Patti is played by Danielle MacDonald and she is just sensational. She is a big girl with a big personality and plenty of talent. You can't help but root for her. Her mother, Barb, is played by Bridget Everett, a regular on the downtown NY performance scene. Ms. Everett is also terrific and gets to showcase her own singing. "Nana" is played by Cathy Moriarty and she is, as is said, a hoot. The film also co-stars Siddharth Dhananjay as Patti's best friend Jheri and Mamoudou Athie as "Basterd", a mysterious outcast Patti befriends.

       Written and directed by Geremy Jasper, the film recalls "8 Mile" with a little "Rocky" thrown in the mix. The underdog story is a cliche but the film has enough originality and winning performances to overlook any flaws. While Mr. Jasper could have shown a little more restraint in the editing room, the film is a winner, anchored by a star turn performance by Ms. MacDonald.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Logan Lucky

       Director Steven Soderbergh ends his "retirement"  with this fun mashup of "Ocean's Eleven" meets "The Dukes of Hazzard". This new comedy is a heist film wrapped around the biggest Nascar race of the year.
  
       The cast all look like they are having a great time despite leaning too heavily on the southern accents. Starring is Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, and for some odd reason, "introducing" Daniel Craig. Also co-starring is Hillary Swank as an FBI agent, Dwight Yoakam as a prison warden and as Mr. Tatum's adorable young daughter, Farrah MacKenzie. 

       When Mr. Tatum is fired from his construction job at the Speedway, he enlists his brother Clyde (played by Mr. Driver) to rob the vault under the track. Watching them assemble their crew including their sister, Ms. Keough, Mr. Craig and his two brothers (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) is half the fun and the actual heist and it's aftermath complete the picture. Mr. Driver and Mr. Craig are both standouts. Seth MacFarlane, playing a pompous British race car owner is a strange character that seems unnecessary but since all the characters are a bit "off" in their own way you just go with it.    
  
        The film has a quirky rhythm and humor that doesn't pretend to be anything more a sweet oddball comedy. Ultimately there is a method to its madness and getting there is quite a bit of fun.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Only Living Boy in New York

   Written by Allan Loeb and directed by Marc Webb, this new film has a New York Indie vibe that we've seen many times.  It is a domestic drama about an upper West Side family that stars Cynthia  Nixon and Pierce Brosnan as the parents of Thomas, a twenty something navigating his way in the world. Thomas is played by new comer, Callum Turner, a very engaging young actor.

    Thomas lives on the lower east side of Manhattan and one day meets his new neighbor, W.F. played by Jeff Bridges. The always dependable Mr. Bridges is in fine form as the mysterious neighbor who integrates himself into Thomas's life. He learns about Mimi, played by Kiersey Clemons, a young woman that Thomas would like as more than just a friend as well as everything else about Thomas.

               The film starts to become interesting once Thomas learns of his father's affair with Johanna, played by Kate Beckinsale. Any interest soon wanes, however, as the stereotypical characters go about their lovelorn business. A twist towards the end is too little too late but does justify everything that's come before.

                  Mr. Loeb script is obviously inspired by the Simon and Garfunkel song as well as Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna", both of which are included on the soundtrack. This is typical summer counterprogramming. An adult film in a sea of summer blockbusters and kids films. However, it's pseudo Woody Allen and easily forgettable.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Wind River

From acclaimed writer (and now director) Taylor Sheridan comes this new character driven crime drama.
Jeremy Renner stars as a tracker/hunter working for the US Wildlife Department who discovers a dead body on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Elizabeth Olsen co-stars as the FBI agent called to the case who is unprepared for the brutal weather of Wyoming.

 It's an absorbing drama as the two with the help of the tribal police chief (played by the always dependable, Graham Greene) try to solve the death of a teenage girl that echos the death of Mr. Renner's daughter three years earlier.

The story plays out on the reservation, that even in warmer months is covered in snow with freezing temperatures. Mr. Renner does his finest work since "The Hurt Locker", especially in quieter moments. Ms. Olsen plays the fish out of water role well and eventually finds her footing among the rest of the mostly male cast. The film also co-stars Gil Birmingham and in a small but important cameo, Jon Bernthal. It's an old fashioned murder mystery that lacks much action until a violent confrontation at the end. 

The cinematography of the vistas and mountains is gorgeous. Sweeping cameras convey the icy wind and cold that chill the audience as well as the characters. Wind River reservation is a hard life for the Indians who live there. Living conditions are harsh and it's in a remote part of Wyoming. The story brings this grim reality to the audience. It is a film inspired by real events that drives home its point.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Detroit

       I have sat stunned through Holocaust and slavery films and documentaries that have been emotionally draining and hard to watch and now comes the film experience of "Detroit".  Based on the true story of the Algiers Motel murders during the 1967 riots, this film is packed with scenes that will set your emotions on fire. It is gut wrenching and terribly difficult to sit through (many people left before the end, including my wife) but it is an important piece of history and a story that needs to be told. There is no doubt that the injustice of this film can and does still happen today in America.

      Director Kathryn Bigelow using archival footage and reenactments, stages the centerpiece of the film around the Algiers Motel and the horrific murders that took place there during the days of rioting, set off by a raid at an illegal after hours club. Racial tension in Amercia was already at an all time high in the '60's with riots in many cities. It didn't take much for a simple prank to turn into a bloodbath that Ms. Bigelow's cameras take you front and center into the fear and tension of black and white, civilians and police, and men and women on that fateful night.

      The acting is outstanding. The ensemble includes John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever and John Krasinski. The cast is so good, it feels like watching a documentary. Every moment feels real.  The violence and injustice is brutal. How Ms. Bigelow could keep her cast emotionally together during filming is a testament to her direction. 

      Writer Mark Boal did meticulous research to get the details right, as they were known. Obviously some liberties had to be taken to fill in gaps but this is as real as it gets and while a sucker punch to the gut, it's riveting and filmmaking at its finest.