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4 Stars Movies

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” earns its exclamation point

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is an allegory so undisguised that it barely qualifies as one. It’s more like a cinematic smoothie: blend one (1) King James Bible, the Big Bang / Big Crunch Wikipedia article, a heavy splash of Lars Von Trier-esque literal-as-metaphorical torture of a beautiful woman, season to taste with climate change studies, and suffer through it.

A male filmmaker portraying a male artist as god, simultaneously elevating and exploiting the woman that supports him is, in a word, problematic. When I couldn’t willfully look past those misogynistic aspects, it brought to mind the risible Lady in the Water. At least the circumstances aren’t so grim that there’s room for a little comedy, as in portraying Adam and Eve (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) as the worst houseguests ever.

But… but… but. Wow. Just, wow. I fully respect and understand many of the negative reviews, but I have to admit I found its punk rock spirit flat-out astonishing. What audacity to make something so deliberately confrontational, rude even. I quite literally watched most of the film with my jaw hanging open. If nothing else, you can’t deny “mother!” earned its exclamation point.

Two other random thoughts:
1. I’ve previously been ambivalent about Jennifer Lawrence as an actor, but she is superb here.
2. Anyone else catch a whiff of Lindsay Anderson’s “if…”, another over-the-top allegorical phantasmagoria? But admittedly I am probably by distracted by the punctation.

four out of five stars

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4 Stars Movies

Death of a BLEEPing salesman: James Foley’s Glengarry Glen Ross

For better or for worse, Glengarry Glen Ross is very pointedly set in a world of men. I believe only one woman so much as appears in the background of one scene. It’s no accident, oversight, or deliberate act of Hollywood misogyny to banish women from this 24-hour slice of the lives of five bottom-rung salesmen.

Glengarry Glen Ross is full of grand, showboating performances from a dream cast of male master actors Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce. Baldwin very nearly steals the entire movie with a hilariously aggressive motivational monologue: “What’s my name? ‘Fuck you,’ that’s my name.” It’s all the more extraordinary that Pryce, sometimes guilty of outrageously affected accents and scenery-consumption, masterfully underplays his part as a shy, passive man who can barely speak, let alone assert himself against predator Ricky Roma (Pacino).

Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross
All together now: “What’s my name? …”

The screenplay by David Mamet, expanded from his own stage play, set a high standard for gloriously poetic profanity not to be surpassed until David Milch’s series Deadwood. Famous for his naturalistic dialog (every “um,” “uh,” and stutter is right there on the page; there is no improvisation), Mamet is also a meticulous craftsman of mystery and suspense. But there is one plot detail that trips me up on each viewing: the morning after the sales office is robbed, Shelley Levene (Lemmon) brags about having pulled off an impressive sale of eight units of sketchy property. Roma’s ears prick up at his mention of the signing having been just that morning, obviously sensing something fishy about Levene’s claim. But the time of closure is not inconsistent with Levene’s story, nor is there any reason to suspect that Levene, whatever else he may be guilty of, falsified this particular sale in any way. Roma may simply be surprised that the lately taciturn and ineffectual salesman Levene could not have pulled off such a feat at such an unlikely time unless his spirits were buoyed somehow. Still, Roma demonstrates perhaps the film’s only act of kindness by being the only one to give the old master one last chance to swap victorious war stories.

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4 Stars Movies

Ben Affleck’s pervasively grim Gone Baby Gone

Good ol’ Bahstuhn Cahtholick Ben Affleck is an all grown-up, big-boy director now, and lookit, he made himself a pretty decent movie. That said, Gone Baby Gone is a big plate of grim, with side order of depressing.

Affleck makes excellent use of location footage and local color. And not surprising for a movie directed by an actor (recently, Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris and George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck), Affleck privileges the characters and performances over the plot. We also see plenty of B-roll footage of the faces and voices of Bostoners on the streets, in the bars, and on local TV screens.

Ben Affleck directs Gone Baby Gone
How many times I gotta tell you, bro? I pahked the cahr down on the yahds

Gone Baby Gone is one of the first movies to poach some of the excellent acting talent premiered in HBO’s superb series The Wire. Doubtless by accident, Michael Kenneth Williams and Amy Ryan both play characters diametrically opposed to their TV counterparts; Williams is a sardonic po-lice resolved to the corruption around him (compare and contrast with The Wire’s Omar, a parasite that feeds on the drug trade), and Ryan plays a coked-out winner of bad-mother-of-the-year, the exact opposite in every way (including accent) of her salt-of-the-earth B’more Port Authority po-lice on The Wire.

Ed Harris and Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
Pay no attention to my rug

The few bad points to mention (other than the aforementioned pervasive grim tone), are Ed Harris’ inconsistent rug and a middle section papered over almost entirely by voiceover narration.