mother! (Cinema Review)

18 – 121mins – 2017


 

MATRIACHAL METAPHORICAL MADNESS

From the controversial Requiem for a Dream to the crucified Noah, via underappreciated The Fountain to Oscar-winner Black Swan, acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky certainly cannot be accused of ever holding back on his confrontational and surrealist visions. In his latest audience-dividing vision, striking psychological thriller mother!, he may well have crafted his boldest, bloodiest and most bonkers audio/visual art-piece to date – for better or worse!

… Keep Scuttling!

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Passengers (Cinema Review)

Image result for passengers (2016 film)

12A – 116mins – 2016 – 3D


 

IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM MURDER

Three decades into the starship Avalon’s hibernation-assisted 120-year journey transporting colonists from Earth to the planet Homestead II, mechanic Jim Preston’s (Chris Jurassic World Pratt) hibernation pod malfunctions, ejecting him early.

… Keep Scuttling!

Joy (DVD Review)

12 – 124mins – 2016 


 

THROUGH THE WRINGER

“You can’t let the practical get you down…”

Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell reunites his hot-right-now headliners Jennifer Hunger Games Lawrence and Bradley Burnt Cooper for the third time in this enlightening biographical drama about a struggling single mother who overcomes the obstacles of her humdrum domestic existence to become a self-made millionaire in command of her own business empire.

I baulked at the horrendously slap-dash DVD cover when I first saw it on Amazon. For an Academy Award nominated film – for which J-Law won a Golden Globe for Best Actress – of this calibre to receive such a sloppy, lacklustre third-rate effort (it honestly looks like it was flung together in MS Paint in five minutes) scrambled my mind. However, such a cheap, no-nonsense aesthetic does in fact – whether coincidentally or not – perfectly reflect the humble homemade beginnings of Joy Mangano’s (Lawrence) Miracle Mop invention.

“I don’t want to end up like my family.”

But as inspirational as Joy’s determination to succeed in the face of constant upheaval, rejection and negativity is, Joy tries almost too hard to glamorise this very everyday industry success story. This is the “true story of a daring woman,” but Russell and fellow story-writer Annie Mumolo consistently inject Hollywood conventions into the narrative to spruce things up. So we have narration from Joy’s deceased grandmother (Diane Ladd), a non-linear plot structure (“Time moves forward, time moves backwards, time stands still”) and surreal soap-opera induced nightmare sequences.

While the road to commerce Queen is rocky, including back-stabbing, a personal meltdown and bankruptcy (“The world destroys your opportunity and breaks your heart”), the end result is a happy one. However the film delays its happily ever after until a brief epilogue reveal, instead choosing to focus on the negative, with the downtrodden mop-maker forced to reinvent herself like a phoenix from the flames following her lowest ebb.

“When you’re hiding you’re safe, because people can’t see you… But you’re also hiding from yourself.”

In outgrowing commerce giant QVC, Ms Mangano’s journey is certainly a motivational kick-up-the-arse for all those moaning layabouts who blame the world for their woes while sponging off of it. And yet, I still can’t completely scrub away the niggling smudge of doubt in my mind that maybe such a humble story isn’t powerful or dramatic enough to justify such sparkling, A-list treatment? It sounds harsh, I grant you, but then as Joy teaches us: so is business.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

X-Men: Apocalypse (Cinema Review)

12A – 144mins – 2016 – 3D


 

MU WORLD ORDER

While I don’t tend to pay too much heed to reviews before I’ve watched a new release, my lackadaisical approach to seeing this sixth Marvel/20th Century Fox X-stalment (NINTH if we are to include the 2 Wolverine spin-offs and Deadpool) has meant that before taking my seat in the cinema yesterday evening I was well aware of the glut of two star write-ups Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past follow-up has received.

Tying directly into the sting at the end of the previous film, X-Men: Apocalypse opens with a colourful-if-chaotic prologue set in Ancient Egypt, establishing the transferable abilities of premiere cyber-mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar “Poe Dameron” Isaac). Beneath my 3D glasses my eyes were struggling to keep up with the tumult of effects and exposition hastily edited together in a headache-induced blur of visual noise.

Not a good start, I thought, and if things stay like this for the following two-hours-and-twenty-minutes I can well understand the backlash… However, once the Stargate-esque opening title sequence concludes and we fast-forward to 1983 (this is the McAvoy rather than the Stewart continuity, in case Wade Wilson was asking), the action settles to a more measured pace, allowing you to appreciate the effort – and expense – put in to the shots.

That’s not to say that the locations settle, for his is still a large-scale, globe-encompassing blockbuster, with Berlin, Poland, Auschwitz, Cairo and New York all featuring in this prequel trilogy closer. Reawakened, Apocalypse – as Sahar Nur now prefers to be known – tours the planet to recruit the deadliest mutants to become his upgrade-enhanced “Four Horseman” and aid the invincible menace in ridding the modern world of the weak and returning Earth to the glory days when he was worshipped.

You could question why an immortal God-like monster with Apocalypse’s immense abilities requires assistants, but by roping in Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Steve Jobs Fassbender) to join his gang, the CG destruction is at least grounded in human drama. The man they used to call Magneto has been in hiding in Poland for the past decade, settling down with a loving wife and daughter in an attempt to put the White House calamity behind him. But when tragedy shatters his domestic bliss, Erik’s rage rises once more.

Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is also haunted by a ghost from his past, with his love for Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, returning from First Class) and his pain at having to wipe her memory still weighing him down. Time-stopper Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is also back in town on personal business, and Apocalypse really hits its stride when drama and spectacle collide. Speaking of spectacle, this film is at its most awe-inspiring when it lets loose with the violence, and I was surprised to see this still achieve a “12A” rating, as some of the bone-crushing and blood-letting is brutally intense.

Although you could argue that the stakes aren’t exactly as universe-definingly fateful as the film would like you to believe (after all, we know Apocalypse doesn’t succeed in wiping out mankind as we’ve seen 3 films set after these events), there is still much to enjoy and invest in here, with a stand out being a zipping set-piece soundtracked by Sweet Dreams Are Made of These perfectly encapsulating the period and timbre. A cameo from a certain adamantium-enabled man-imal (you know Hugh) is also claw-some, and as superfluous as it is, for continuity’s sake it’s nice to finally see how Professor X lost his locks.

Short of using Cerebro, I’m clueless as to why so many critics have given X-Men: Apocalypse such a rough time – while it is long and its bulging ensemble set-up is busy, it’s also fun, rounded and far from shallow. Yes, it takes an unnecessarily petty pot-shot at The Last Stand (“The third films are always the worst”), but Singer’s confident enough that his saga-stitching threequel is not equally as disappointing. Ignore the critics who want you to believe that it is (no doubt all for the sake of “ironically” utilizing the quote) and make this one X you do give another chance.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (Cinema Review)

MANDATORY VIEWING

On a bitterly cold November Saturday afternoon I squeezed myself into one of only three remaining seats in the biggest screen of my nearest multiplex to watch another Young Adult literary adaptation come to a close with a financially-motived two-part finale.

Sandwiched in the winter release schedule between two all-conquering, long-running franchise juggernauts (Bond in October and Star Wars in December), it is easy to forget how eagerly-anticipated Mockingjay – Part 2 was before Spectre and The Force Awakens stole all the column inches.

But being an underdog never stopped Katniss Everdeen (J-Law) before, and it seems audiences have stuck around to see her war against a brutal, dystopian system come to a head. Or should that be “point”?

With fellow victor of the 74th Hunger Games, Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), brainwashed against her cause, Katniss defies the wishes of District 13 leader Alma Coin (Moore; never severe enough) and leads a group of gun-toting revolutionaries – including best-friend-and-potential-lover Gale (Hemsworth), camera director Cressida (Dormer) and a volatile Peeta (for propaganda’s sake) – into Panem’s Capitol to capture the barbaric President Snow (Sutherland) and end his reign of terror.

Opening with a surprisingly low-key but satisfyingly metaphoric scene of a voiceless Katniss croaking through the pain of a strangling at Peeta’s Capitol-controlled hand, returning director Francis Lawrence perfectly bridges the short gap between Parts 1 and 2 without need for flashbacks or recaps, before things kick in to overdrive.

Under attack, Katniss’s “Star Squad” descends underground to avoid a multitude of Snow’s covertly-placed “pods”. These booby traps are the most overt attempt to shamelessly replicate the game template of the first novel (already lazily rehashed in #2, Catching Fire), but thankfully Finnick Odair (Claflin) acknowledges this similarity with an ironic quip before things move on.

The action is explosive, entertaining, varied, often scary and relentless, which is impressive given how screenplay writers Craig and Strong have expanded half a story into a 137min epic. The running time whizzes along despite the presence of political factors which threaten to grind the story to a halt. Unfortunately, the pace does slows to a crawl in the third act, before a low-key coda closes this grandiose spectacle with a personal-but-underwhelming whimper which never attempts to depict how Katniss’s actions have affected Panem’s future.

Crucially, however, this is not enough to detract too heavily from this fourth instalment’s strengths, and I was pleased with many of the stylistic choices. Thankfully the ever-expanding cast means that the uncomfortably bizarre feline-featured Tigris (Bondurant) is reduced to two fleeting scenes in what is a sombre and darkly-toned film which all but grey-scales the colourful palette which swamped the earlier films in gaudy excess.

While The Hunger Games is too bleak and dour to ever be my favourite literary or cinematic saga (the ridiculous spellings also add a level of disconnect which does not sit well with me), Mockingjay – Part 2 is confident and spectacular enough to do justice to Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy and keep the franchise ever in the fans’ favour.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars