Tag Archives: C-

mother!

Producer: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin and Ari Handel
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Stephen McHattie and Kristen Wiig
Studio: Paramount Pictures

C-

Darren Aronofsky is unquestionably a virtuoso filmmaker, as even his oddest projects demonstrate. (“Noah” might have been one of the wackiest biblical movies ever made, but it had plenty of style.) Now, like Stanley Kubrick in “The Shining,” he turns his attention to the horror genre, and “mother!,” the result, is certainly striking. But whether it will strike you as a profound example of self-reflection, or a pretentious rumination on the cost of artistic creativity, or an incoherent jumble of genre tropes—or a messy combination of them all—is another matter.

Like Kubrick’s film, “mother!” is set in an isolated locale—a labyrinthine wooden mansion located deep in a forest. Living there are an unnamed poet (Javier Bardem), a brooding fellow hobbled by writer’s block, and his much younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence), whom he calls “mother.” She’s a mousy type who’s refurbishing the creaky old place—which was apparently destroyed earlier in a fire in which the poet’s first wife died (or maybe not: like Aronofsky’s “The Fountain,” this movie tinkers with time)—by herself. (From this point, be aware that spoilers are coming, so cease reading if you want to avoid them.)

The couple’s privacy—sometimes loving, sometimes fraught—is invaded by a strange man (Ed Harris) claiming to be an orthopedic surgeon who was told–or so he says–the house was a B&B. To his wife’s surprise, the poet invites the fellow to stay the night, though he’s wracked with a terrible cough exacerbated by his smoking. Worse, the next day his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and moves in as well. She’s a nosy type who belittles poor “mother,” asking impertinent questions and making borderline rude observations. Why no kids, for example? (Presumably the weird yellow liquid that mother periodically drinks is intended to help along those lines.)

The situation deteriorates further when the woman breaks a weird glass crystal the poet found in the debris of the house fire that that he reveres as the source of his inspiration (though at the moment it doesn’t seem to be working). Even that accident—if it was an accident—is topped, as the couple’s two grown sons (Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) appear and get into a violent altercation in which one of them dies. Soon the house is filled with mourners at the poet’s invitation; he finds their presence somehow helpful to his work, though it’s difficult to see how. His wife, on the other hand, is horrified by their destructive behavior and orders everybody out.

That’s only the first half of the film. In the second, mother is pregnant and her husband is inspired by upcoming fatherhood. But when he publishes his poem, their beatific solitude is again shattered, first by a throng of press and then by an army of fans. The poet basks in all the attention and refuses to send the interlopers away, even as they invade the house. His bitchy publisher (Kristen Wiig) appears, referring to mother as her author’s muse even as mother’s delivery time comes. The baby is born as the crowd turns into a ravenous horde, dismantling the house in a search for souvenirs, and the poet insists on showing the child to them despite his wife’s insistence he not even touch the infant. The intruders have by this time morphed into a religious cult, led by a sinister minister (Stephen McHattie), worshiping the poet’s glorious verse (which, thankfully, we never get an example of), and their treatment of the baby becomes a grotesque parody of a Eucharistic celebration. Poor mother reacts with a fury, taking an ax to the place’s archaic heating system and setting the house ablaze. In the aftermath the poet finds her charred body and—not so surprisingly—that crystal he had prized, or maybe its replacement. The cycle has been completed, and perhaps repeats endlessly.

Obviously this is intended as some sort of parable about the pain and loss that are necessary components of the process of artistic creation, and the sacrifices that those close to an artist inevitably suffer. Aronofsky uses “The Shining” as his main inspiration, though one can easily see “Rosemary’s Baby” and even Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” as part of the mix as well. With a house that groans, burps and even drips blood, agitated yet claustrophobic camerawork (by Matthew Libatique) and frenzied crowd sequences, the picture creates an unsettling vibe, but it’s rarely frightening in any conventional sense. Lawrence acts against type, going soft and scared rather than strong and secure, while Bardem vacillates effectively enough between charming and boorish; of the intrusive couple, Harris is fine, but it’s Pfeiffer who dominates with her portrait of a poisonous shrew.

One has to hope that Aronofsky intends “mother!” as a satire of his own artistic pretensions and the adulation of him as an auteur from some members of the press and public. On the other hand, if it’s meant as any sort of serious commentary on how torturous the creative process is for him, or as an apology to those he might have bruised along the way, one will find it hard to muster any sympathy for his plight.

Nor is it easy to summon much enthusiasm for a movie that manages a few effective moments but winds up as less a genuinely creepy haunted house thriller than a silly, self-indulgent allegory about the torments that bedevil the artist as he strives to give birth to a masterpiece. Remember how, in the old Warner Brothers cartoons, when a character found himself in some apparently hopeless situation he was likely to emit one strangulated word: “Mother!”? You might find yourself moved to do the same as “mother!” careens down the home stretch.

GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS

Producer: Andre Rouleau, David Gross and Jay Baruchel
Director: Jay Baruchel
Writer: Jay Baruchel and Jesse Chabot
Stars: Seann William Scott, Alison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, Liev Schreiber, Wyatt Russell, Kim Coates, Elisha Cuthbert, Jay Baruchel, Callum Keith Rennie, Jonathan Mark Cherry, George Tchortov, Karl Graboshas, Trent Pardy, Richard Clarkin, Larry C. Woo, Jason Jones, Ellien David, Curt Keilbeck, T.J. Miller, James Duthie and David Paetkau
Studio:  Momentum Pictures

C-

The 2011 hockey comedy “Goon” was unexpectedly bright, with an ingratiating lead performance by Seann William Scott. Six years later, however, despite the return of virtually all the original cast—and the fact that Jay Baruchel’s Pat, the first film’s most irritating character, has much less screen time on this go-round (though the actor takes on directing duty to compensate)—this sequel fails to score the hoped-for goal. In fact, it doesn’t even come close to the net.

Williams is again Doug Glatt, now the long-time enforcer for the Halifax Highlanders, the guy who pummels any opposing player who hurts his teammates, and has just been appointed team captain. He seems even dimmer this time around—at one point even explaining what a hot dog is—though still an extraordinarily nice guy, even apologizing while he’s beating up some helpless victim.

Unfortunately he more than meets his match in Anders Cain (snarling Wyatt Russell), the enforcer for an opposing team, who clobbers him so badly during a rink altercation that his career is ended. He takes a job at an insurance agency where he’s welcomed effusively by a goofy boss (an almost gruesomely unfunny bit by Jason Jones).

Doug’s pregnant wife Eva (Allison Pill) is happy with the change, but Doug certainly isn’t, especially after the Highlanders’ sleazy owner Hyrum (Collum Keith Rennie) hires Cain, who happens to be his son, as Doug’s replacement—and forces the coach to name him team captain as well. So despite the fact that doctors have warned him that taking another swing with his injured right shoulder might permanently wreck his arm, Doug persuades veteran enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) to train him to fight with his left, and comes back to the team after Anders has been dismissed by his ruthless dad for failing to inspire his teammates—and overdoing the violence. You would have to be as dull-witted as Glatt not to know that a showdown between the two men is inevitable.

This scenario isn’t terribly promising to begin with, but Baruchel and his new co-writer Jesse Chabot (who replaces Evan Goldberg in that slot) have failed to leaven it with much humor beyond a raunch-for-raunch’s sake variety. One might think that the reduction in Pat’s screen time would help, but it doesn’t because to compensate George Tchortov and Karl Graboshas get more as the extra-crude Russian brothers on the team. Then there’s Jones, who seems to have improvised many of his scenes, with ghastly result.

To add to the flat feel, Barushel emphasizes the violence-on-the-ice quotient over the comic element. Not only does the balance of elements feel off, but the fights are so bloody and nasty that they invite cringing. Tonally, the ice proves so slippery that the movie never finds its footing, and the training sequences, backed by triumphant borrowed music, are especially trying intrusions. Needless to say, everything ends in a big final game on which the whole season depends

Nor does Scott redeem the movie. In the first picture, Glatt was a likable lug one could sympathize with. Here, he’s a stooge who’s lost his charm. The same downward trajectory is true of Pill, who’s reduced to stand-by-your-man status. Schreiber brings a world-weary exhaustion to Rhea and Marc-Andre Grondin is fine as Doug’s teammate LaFlamme, but though Russell’s anger seems genuine, it’s one-note, and he can’t pull off his final so-called reconciliation with Hyrum. The lowest of the low points, though, comes in the periodic “sport news” interjections, in which T.J. Miller truly embarrasses himself as a smarmy anchor. It’s a close call whether he or Jones is the worst addition to the cast. The technical credits are no more than adequate across the board.

Sequels fail all the time, of course, so “Last of the Enforcers” has a lot of company. But when Doug Glatt hangs up his skates again as it ends, one can only hope that this time it’s for good.