Aronofsky certainly excels at bringing drama to a maniacal pitch, and then heaping mania upon mania to reach ever-greater crescendos. But mania alone is not a substitute for story. That’s why a film like Ex Machina is so much better than Mother!
Still, mania is not boring. Bonus points for strong vision and not pulling punches raises Mother! to 7/10.
Comparison Notes: Crimson Peak, Rosemary’s Baby, other Aronofsky films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, Iñárritu’s Birdman and The Revenant.
P.S. You can consider Mother! to be Darren Aronofsky’s entry into the haunted house genre, in a season full of them. Stay tuned for more on this, i.e. more on It.
Get Out is thoroughly entertaining and just plain good — a nice surprise. I think it likely to hold up in the Top 10, even with the assumption that this year will fare much better than last. Is it on the level of another ‘get out’ story, Ex Machina from a couple years ago? Not quite. But it’s a fun, frightening feature for folks (quintuple-‘F’!!).
Now compare to that last effort by M. Night Shyamalan. No comparison, and M. Night’s been doing this for decades. It makes it all the more remarkable what Jordan Peele (yes, of Key & Peele) has accomplished. Let’s see, he wrote and starred in Keanu. The cat movie. Well-regarded, but a silly cat movie. Very next movie, Get Out. Whoa, what a turn. Much respect. Quite the way to break out of slapstick.
There are a few silly moments in Get Out, which serve nicely as comic relief. You might call them ‘audience pleasers.’ They weren’t bad at all, but hardly integrated into the larger story as deftly as the Coens or Vince Gilligan would pull off. So a little incongruity there. But no matter: I urge you to Get Out and see this movie. 8/10
Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Being John Malkovich, Invasion films, Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene
M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the film scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense; his results since then have been, to put it nicely, mixed. I did like last year’s The Visit, a campy minor romp. But it’s clear he’s no creative genius, no Quentin Tarantino or P.T. Anderson — nor anything close. As evidence we have Split, a movie more ambitious than Shyamalan’s ken. A lot of elements he grasps at sour into hackneyed nonsense.
On top of that, Split wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it had every right to be. Given the premise, there were a million more interesting ways it could have gone. But instead, it went the I-am-out-of-my-depth-with-storywriting way. There are obvious comparisons to 10 Cloverfield Lane. We weren’t dealing with multiple personalities there, but the psychosis was much more effective. Split delivered a little transient entertainment value — James McAvoy turns in a fun game with the lead. But the effort is squandered by Shyamalan, and I cannot recommend. 5/10
Comparison Notes (all recommended): Don’t Breathe, Saw, The Human Centipede, The Silence of the Lambs, Dead Calm, Riveting Rentals
My central issue with 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t popping up in a cursory review of reviews: the implausibility of a couple smallish but important plot points. And as good as it was, it could have done with a little added zest. But I quibble: this film is engaging, fun, tense: a success. A solid recommendation. 7/10
Comparison Notes: Recommended: The Mist, Misery, Room, Oldboy, Take Shelter, Breakdown (1997); Not recommended: Skyline
The Gift is the wicked little suspense movie of the summer, this year’s must-see Gone Girl. I was riveted the first half — the scenes of the happy trio were fascinating to watch. The plot ran into predictable (for me) territory in the second half, so this is no masterpiece. But still, very good and very entertaining. 8/10
Click for Trailer
Every once in a while we are blessed with a phenomenally great indie. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gripping, brilliant fresh take on one of the most compelling genres when done right: life in a cult. One cannot help but thinking of the Manson clan while watching. Peter Travers:
After you see Martha Marcy May Marlene, you’ll know [Elizabeth Olsen] as an actress of uncommon subtlety and feeling. It’s a sensational performance in a gripping psychological thriller, from gifted first-time writer-director Sean Durkin, that reveals its secrets in the silence between words.
…it’s Olsen, as a damaged soul clinging to shifting ground, who makes this spellbinder impossible to shake.
Highly recommended: put this on your short list. Rental available on iTunes.
Comparison Notes: Recommended: Sound of My Voice, Electrick Children, The East
From the ridiculous to the sublime. This 24-minute video is infinitely more satisfying and insightful than Room 237. I had the opportunity to view LACMA’s Kubrick exhibit, and it was utterly fascinating. Now I hope to see the traveling exhibit again, this time with Adam Savage’s hi-fi maze model. He stated that the exhibit would be in San Francisco in 2016… so there you go.
Credit to Daring Fireball.