Film Brief: Ma

Think of Ma as a cross between a very meek, held-back Cape Fear and Revenge of the Nerds.  It’s got a lot of problems, mainly the meek part.  It definitely does not go for the jugular.  All the more surprising given the Blumhouse stamp.  Titles MIA for no good reason don’t help, and makes one wonder if Blumhouse was so ashamed of this product that it kept its imprimatur hidden.

Despite overall meekness, there were some potent moments, and I was reasonably engaged and mildly entertained — so a marginal thumbs-up.  6/10

Now Due: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24 keeps up its winning streak (2, now, and counting) with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, sort of a (more) psychological thriller version of Cape Fear.  Kubrick-esque smooth panning and gliding shots combine with an off-kilter sense of impending weight à la vintage P.T. Anderson, e.g. Punch-Drunk Love.

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman’s second collaboration this year is an extraordinary film, masterfully done.  The only flaw is an over-reliance on the Theory of the Rope.  Without this flaw, we’d be talking best picture of the year.  It’s still up there, on par with Get Out.  David Sims, The Atlantic:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is humane and satirical, horrifying and hilarious, at once a work of realism and fantasy

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:

…the new film’s grim scenario of a family under dire threat will make it hard for some to watch. But the impressive rigor of its craft, the skillfully subdued intensity of the acting and the startling originality of the story will make the film unmissable for anyone who cares about bold filmmaking.

A note on Nicole Kidman vs. her friend Naomi Watts.  They are both highly accomplished actors — but Kidman sure takes a broad swath of very interesting, compelling, and daring roles.  Of late, Watts not so much.

8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Cape Fear, “It’s a Good Life” (The Twilight Zone), The GiftFear (Mark Whalberg)

What a Mother! [u]

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.

UPDATE: Now 8/10

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 the F– Out!

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 Shyam-A-Lam-A-Split-Bam

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.

split-text-blockOn 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

Film Brief: 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane - poster

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