mother!

15 Sep

‘Mother!’ Is A Provocative, Swirling Contemplation On Our Relationship With The Earth

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "mother!" (Courtesy Paramount Pictures via AP)closemore

Biblical allegories and weighty world matters abound in Darren Aronofsky’s latest tempest of anger and wonderment that takes mankind to task. Part horror story, part existential ponderance and ever doing cinematic backflips, “mother!” is a movie that certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But those who see it are certain to be held rapt from the very first frame to the film’s fiery crescendo.

Things begin serenely enough as we catch up with a young woman immersed in restoring a grand country manse, where there no cell service and nothing but trees and grass as far as the eye can see. The woman is never identified onscreen, but called “Mother” in the credits — and Jennifer Lawrence carries her heavy emotional burden well.

Her selection of earth tones to plaster the walls is of no coincidence. She tends quietly to these finishing aesthetics as her husband (Javier Bardem), identified in the credits simply as “Him,” broods about struggling to reboot his creative juices. He’s a beloved poet who’s been blocked since the death of his previous wife and is wildly possessive of the crystalline shrine he has erected in his study to memorialize her.

His aloof peculiarity strikes a chord early, but then again he’s a creator and, as with anyone whose artistic process breeds success, idiosyncratic methods often get overlooked. Then “Man” (Ed Harris) shows up, believing the stately octagon shaped estate is a B&B. The two men get bombed as if they’re old friends and later, Man wretches up an organ. Then there’s that troubling picture of Him that Mother finds in Man’s bag. Continue reading

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Ingrid Goes West

25 Aug

‘Ingrid Goes West’: That Internet stalker just showed up, and desperate to be loved

What happens if your online stalker happens to be just a sweet, lovable

What happens if your online stalker happens to be just a sweet, lovable mess? Hard to imagine, but that’s the oblique question at the heart of “Ingrid Goes West,” in which Aubrey Plaza plays the titular Ingrid, a sympathetic introvert with a need for attention from those at the top of the virtual trending list and an impulsive streak that often ends up going off the skids no matter the depth of her good intentions.

True to the title, Ingrid heads west after trading one unhealthy obsession for another. In the brief opener we witness her vengefully pepper-spraying a bride at a wedding she’s not invited to. What gives? It turns out the wedding crasher with an ax to grind showed up because of one online thread where she and the bride-to-be briefly connected and, in Ingrid’s delusional mind, believed the two were instant besties. In the wake of the humiliation and shame – and a stay in a psych ward – Ingrid’s next fixation becomes perky Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s living the fab life in Los Angeles “influencing” followers as to what to buy and where to nosh. Ingrid can’t get enough of Taylor, and with a $60,000 check from her mom’s estate decides to cross the continent to check out the healthy avocado toast at the new-agey cafe Taylor “just loves.”

Ingrid’s goofy attempts to “accidentally” ingratiate herself with Taylor come off awkwardly endearing at first – so much so you can almost forgive her for that mace incident – but then she kidnaps Taylor’s dog with the notion of being the hero that returns the Instagram-famous pup. It works for a moment as Taylor and her floundering artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell), who makes hashtag art (yes, you read that right), take a liking to their new friend. Ingrid revels in the union and postures that she has an actor boyfriend and a much more interesting life than that of a recently released inpatient.

It’s clear Ingrid’s a broken soul desperate for a human connection, virtually or otherwise, and just as the films looks as if there might be a happy ending, with all the principals realizing their vapid material dreams, Taylor’s gonzo, good-looking brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up. He’s the most vapid of the lot but has it in for Ingrid, digging with malice, trying to unmask and shake her at every turn. Needless to say, the unbridled vehemence subverts the film’s quirky buoyancy and matters turn dark.

Much of the film’s success can be attributed to Plaza, who makes her sociopathic wallflower remarkably nuanced and empathetic, beyond the trappings of the script. It’s a turn that’s tougher to pull off and more pivotal than Robert Pattinson’s conniving street urchin in “Good Time,”also opening in the area. The two films would make a heck of a double bill; moviegoers coming out of such a downer of a pairing might whip out their phones to move up their next therapy session.

Besides Plaza’s bravura take, the film gets a big lift from O’Shea Jackson Jr. (so good as his father, Ice Cube, in “Straight Outta Compton”), as Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord and stand-in boyfriend on a double date. His Dan Pinto’s able to roll with the punches and sees something in Ingrid – that the audience does too – but chances are if Ingrid rolled up on your Facebook page and began to insinuate herself as relentlessly as she does here you’d be torn between a virtual hug and the block button.

Good Time

25 Aug

It’s “Rain Man” meets “Eddie Coyle” in this up-in-your-chest New York City heist flick. The film, by Boston University grads Benny and Josh Safdie, is imbued with the type of on-the-street grit that made Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” so indelible, and the riveting electric score by Daniel Lopatin notches up the emotional disarray in every frame. If there’s one thing “Good Time” is not, is short on mood. The setup bookends the central narrative with scenes of a baby-faced young man by the name of Nick (played convincingly by Benny Safdie, doing double duty) under duress while in therapy sessions with a wild-haired psychiatrist (Peter Verby, whose face is a cinematic wonder in its own right). In the opener, Nick’s asked to give free association responses to random terms. His answers to “scissors and a cooking pan” (“You can hurt yourself with both”) and “salt and water” (“The beach”) are telling – not in the actual response, but how he responds. He clearly has some form of developmental handicap.

The scene smolders in tight closeups, but before the grim gravity of Nick’s prospects can take root fully – or the psychiatrist can dig any deeper – Nick’s brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts through the door and extracts his sibling. Has Nick been saved? For the moment, yes, but not in the bigger scheme of things. The two are incredibly tight (the Safdies are clearly drawing on their own sibling bond) but pretty much have only each other to draw on and limited financial resources; to keep the pack together, Connie cooks up a plan to rob a bank in the middle of the day, the execution and choreography of which is so hauntingly reminiscent of “Dog Day Afternoon” you half expect Al Pacino to pop out with chants of “Attica.” The lads do make off with the cash, but matters with ride sharing, dye packs and Nick’s emotional instability provide steep obstacles. It’s a riveting game of cat and mouse as the brothers dash down littered alleyways and into a mall atrium with the police a hot breath away. Just as they look to be in the clear, Nick crashes through a glass pane and is taken into custody. Where the story goes next is as unpredictable as its protagonist. Continue reading

Logan Lucky

22 Aug

It’s only been four years, but feels much longer, since director Steven Soderbergh last treated filmgoing audiences to one of his quirky, deconstructive gems. Granted, “Side Effects” (2013) was something of a disappointment, but the director’s HBO biopic of flamboyant performer Liberace that same year generated plenty of heat, as did his previous feature, “Magic Mike” (2012). Soderbergh, an against-the-grain filmmaker, has always been one to toss the dice, be it his casting of a martial arts expert or a porn star in character-driven lead roles (“Haywire” and “The Girlfriend Experience”) or being one of the first to deliver a film simultaneously into theaters and on-demand (“Bubble” in 2005). For his latest, the American auteur taps into the skin of some of his more commercial fare – “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Out of Sight” – while farming fresh territory.

So it’s no surprise “Logan Lucky” is a heist caper – though not nearly as hip as the “Ocean” films. It’s set at a massive Nascar speedway in North Carolina, with the bulk of its protagonists down-on-their-luck West Virginians. Glitz and glamour are scarce, but arrive in the form of Riley Keough (so wickedly good in “American Honey” and adding to her stock here) as one of the Logan clan in on a plot to drain the speedway’s vault, and Katie Holmes as the ex-wife who’s traded up in social class and occupies a sprawling McMansion. At the center looms lovable Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, who’s been in several of Soderbergh’s more recent projects, including the Mike in “Magic Mike”) a golden-armed QB who never made good his promise to play at the collegiate or professional level because of a bum knee; as a result he toils as a second-string laborer, and a prideful one at that, refusing financial help from the ex who’s constantly offering to buy him a cellphone so they can better coordinate handoffs of their beauty pageant-obsessed daughter. Continue reading

Staying local to protest the Free Speech rally

22 Aug
James Selvitella and Declan Haley run a peace-themed lemonade stand Saturday in front of the Cambridge Main Library. (Photos: Haley family)

As up to 40,000 Bay Staters made ready to descend Saturday on the Boston Common to protest a “Free Speech Rally” linked to white supremacists, many parents – fearful of the same type of fatal violence that broke out at a Charlottesville, Va., white supremacy march the previous weekend – struggled with whether to bring their children. Even though the organizers of the rally insisted they were not affiliated with Charlottesville rally organizers, the slate boasted some of the same speakers with ties to hate groups, and the City of Boston and Boston Police Department were on high alert.

Children make art at the lemonade stand Saturday – an alternative to marching in potential danger in Boston.

For one Cambridge family that wanted to spread the word of peace and inclusion – and be part of the movement without risking getting caught in the fray – the reasonable option took the form of a lemonade stand outside the Cambridge Main Library, with the proceeds going to Black Lives Matter Cambridge and the recently vandalized New England Holocaust Memorial.

Elizabeth Haley, a resident of Inman Square, didn’t feel comfortable taking her 8-year-old son to the rally, and sought other ways to engage the community and support the movement. “It was my son, Declan, who came up with the idea,” Haley said. The stand, prominent on Broadway with the banner “Lemonade for Peace,” wasn’t your typical impromptu corner stand; the Haleys had come wth a large folding table, colorful signs and art supplies to engage thirsty passers-by.

The art angle was the brainchild of Haley’s friend, Julie Selvitella, a Cambridge resident who teaches art in Andover, and her son James, who felt a communal art project would enrich the effort and bring unity. People getting drinks or just stopping by could write a message of acceptance and hope on a heart, with those hearts then hung on pinwheel structures hanging from the great willow tree sheltering the stand.

Hearts with messages left by lemonade buyers became decorations for the kids’ stand.

“The day worked out so well because it was so last-minute and we didn’t complicate things by overthinking it,” Haley said. “We met a lot of people who were on their way to the rally. Also,. there were many families with small children who felt the same way we did, so they were happy to make a donation and work on the art installation.”

The stand raised a few hundred dollars in just three hours, Haley said.

Wind River

14 Aug

Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter behind “Sicario” who garnered an Oscar nod for “Hell or High Water” last year, gets back in the director’s seat (he helmed a “Saw”-esque flick in 2011 called “Vile” that you might have missed) for “Wind River,” a crime thriller set high in the Wyoming wild. Much like “High Water,” the landscape and desolate character of the setting becomes a central player in the action – and there’s oil to be had as well.

Jeremy Renner stars as Fish and Wildlife officer Cory Lambert, who gets enlisted by FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to help solve the murder of a young Native American woman (Kelsey Asbille) on an Indian reservation. They’re assisted by the local sheriff (Graham Greene), who has ties to the native community. From Florida and unfamiliar with Native American traditions, Banner couldn’t be more of a fish out of water, and she’s also got that wet-behind-the-ears, can-do gene that made Clarice Starling so indelible in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

What drives “Wind River” isn’t so much the present action but the heavy backstories the characters carry, which burn with real, raw emotional palpability. Lambert, married to a Native American, lost a daughter due to negligence – he’s haunted by not knowing the full details – and saw his marriage dissolve because of it. The weight of that resonates in the tired creases of Renner’s face and becomes Lambert’s unenviable yet natural bond with the victim’s father (Gil Birmingham, whose rendering of parental despair is heartbreaking). Then there’s the plight of the native population ground down by alcoholism, drug addiction and broken dreams, an ensnaring downward cycle on sharp display.

Bodies pile up, and the narrative cuts back on itself smartly and seamlessly as Lambert and Banner get closer to the truth. The scenes of rape and murder are brutally graphic, yet serve to illustrate the depths of disregard when humans get blinded by rage, desire and pack mentality. The issue of racism gets explored as well as in the deep, snow-covered heart of the reservation and oil-drilling site, which is guarded by imported security forces; as the screw turns, the sense of law and order there become a wispy notion. “Wind River,” like “Hell or High Water,” ultimately becomes a Western in construct, with Renner’s reluctant Lambert something of a “Shane”-like last barrier. The combination of character, setting and weave makes well-known tropes fresh and new.

Atomic Blonde

2 Aug
Charlize Theron is a literal knockout in this fast-paced spy thriller

Action and intrigue abound in this hyper-stylized spy thriller that takes the former quite seriously, boasting some of the best fight choreography on screen in recent years and a car chase worthy of Baby Driver. It’s also violent as hell and makes no apologies as it punches its way through end-of-the-Cold War Berlin — on the eve of the Wall coming down — where a crucial “list” of British intel assets is up for grabs with the KGB, MI6, and other interested middlemen locked in a bloody game of chess to procure it.

The driving fear at British HQ is that if the list falls into Russian hands, it could extend the Cold War by decades, and while that might have factored mightily in Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel that the film’s based on, The Coldest City, it’s nothing more than a McGuffin here and a catalyst for Charlize Theron’s MI6 operative, Lorraine Broughton, to drop from one gonzo battle royale to the next — even a same-sex hookup in a night club bathroom ends at the barrel of a gun.

The film begins inauspiciously enough as a British agent with the list on his person is stalked through the streets of Berlin and taken out smash-bang style. We then catch up with Lorraine 10 days later in London rising naked out of a tub of ice and covered in bruises. The connection between the two events and the framework for the film becomes a jigsaw puzzle of slow reveals fed to us in flashback snippets as Lorraine’s debriefed by her MI6 higher up (Toby Jones, who seems made for the part) and a curmudgeonly CIA handler (John Goodman). Part of the fun here is drinking in Lorraine’s sultry resistance to their inquiry, which bears a certain familiarity to Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell — another can-do blonde under the thumb of authority — in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. Continue reading