Mother!

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The last Darren Aronofsky film I saw was Black Swan. I remember the movie being a jarring experience above anything else, but that was part of the allure. Aronofsky isn’t exactly known for his tame writing style. In fact, it has been said of this Mother! that he wrote the screenplay “angrily.”

When he introduced the film at the Deauville Film Festival, Aronofsky said, “I just want to apologize for what’s about to happen. Everyone’s laughing and really liking me right now, but you will not remember a word of this in two hours.”

In a beautiful, sort of work-in-progress home in a field somewhere lives a May/December relationship. She (Jennifer Lawrence) spends her days painting, cooking, and wandering around looking for him. He (Javier Bardem) likes to disappear for hours at a time with little to no explanation of what he’s been doing or where he’s been.

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One day, a man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door. He’s a Doctor — maybe a surgeon? — from a hospital not too far away. He’s new and evidently thought they were a Bed & Breakfast. She is wary of their guest, as he is a total stranger, but he takes no issue with housing a newcomer for the night.

After finding her man and the strange man in the bathroom, the strange man hacking up a lung everywhere, she decides to go to bed. I would too. She drinks a nice glass of what I can only assume is Opium and hits the hay.

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The next day, their drifter seems to be feeling much better and — surprise — his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) even shows up! She serves up a nice meal to the strange man, his wife, and Him. The boys decide to go for a walk, leaving the ladies alone to bond. The wife gets schnockered on some boozy lemonade — a family recipe — and begins prying.

It gets real uncomfortable, but not quite as uncomfortable as how rude and disrespectful the husband and wife are to her. They break a priceless heirloom and refuse to leave. If that’s not bad enough, their two sons to show up. Things get heated, accidents happen, and someone is rushed off to the hospital.

While Mother — as the character is billed on iMDB — waits for Him to return from carrying the injured party to get medical attention, she gets to clean up an unholy mess. She does this a few times. When He finally does return, she learns that the four person family who invaded their home is down to three. For whatever reason, he tells them that they can bring their extended kin to the home for a post-funeral feast.

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Now, I would’ve had to plan my husband’s funeral at this point because I would have murdered him for doing something like that without telling me. I’ve had nightmares where people I don’t know come into my home and just hang out. This movie blasted those nightmares right up on the big screen. Thanks, Darren. Get out of my HEAD, Darren.

Oh, I forgot. He’s a poet. Javier Bardem’s character. Not Darren Aronofsky.

Anyway, he writes this Earth-shatteringly brilliant poem and, within minutes of showing the poem to her, fans are knocking down their door to meet him. People are coming in droves.

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From there on out, everything that happens is simply too nonsensical to talk about. Here are some words I would use to describe what happens for the rest of the film:

– Ludicrous
– Insulting
– Unnecessary
– A-Waste-Of-$12
– Timesuck

When Mother! ended, I was angry at myself, I was angry at Darren Aronofsky, I was even angry at the protectionist who isn’t even a person. It’s just the machine that was told to roll that footage.

What’s worse, now, is that every time I tell anyone that I hated it, I get to listen to a diatribe about how I “just didn’t get it” or why I “shouldn’t disagree with it.” I understand the subtext and the context clues and everything in between, I just did not care for this film. Aggressively.

Worst of all, and perhaps most infuriating for me personally, was that they had composer Johann Johannsson on this project and wound up scrapping the score making him the “music and sound consultant”. That is a waste of his time and talent.

I won’t tell you not to see Mother!. I think if you have money to throw away on a ticket to a horrible film that will likely leave you feeling as though you’ve got a hair at the back of your throat that you can’t seem to extract, you should see it. It’s certainly an experience. Just not a good one.

 

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IT

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I’m not one of those coulrophobiacs, afraid of people wearing face paint and red noses. No, I’m not talking about the GOP when they pull and all-nighter and get a little weird. I most definitely am afraid of those guys. I, of course, am talking about clowns. Fear of clowns has been around for ages, dating back to the 1500s. Studies say that it stems from a fear of the unreal, as clowns have overdone, unrealistic features.

Recently, within the last decade or so, there have been reports every few years of jokesters — or, jesters, if you like — dressed as clowns just… standing roadside as cars pass by. Why, only a couple of years ago, a man dressed in clown garb was seen in one of the larger cemeteries by me — Rosehill — long after the grounds had closed for the day, waving at anyone whose headlights caught him.

With the lackadaisical gun control in this country, that, my friends, is a great way to see who’s packin’.

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Stephen King’s 1986 novel IT was to those who fear clowns what Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was to those who fear sharks. IT is widely regarding as one of King’s most popular works, leaving the reader frequently breathless while running up their electric bill with every light in the house on. Essentially, a killer clown by the name of Pennywise comes around every 27 years to terrorize y’alls’ neighborhoods.

In the newest adaptation to screen, we begin our story in Derry, Maine, 1988. Little 7-year-old Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is helping his big brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) finish up a paper boat that he can go play with in the rain-soaked streets. Iconically, Georgie places the S.S. Georgie into the gutter and it’s quickly washed into one of the sewers.

Peering into the darkness, out comes Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). He entices Georgie with a red balloon, but ultimately gets his prey using the S. S. Georgie as bait.

After his brother’s disappearance, Bill relies on his friends, Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Bev (Sophia Lillis) for both distraction and support. Together, they make up “The Losers”; a group of outcasts who band together to survive life in Derry. 

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It would seem that all of the kids in Derry have both had a run in with and can’t resist a good red balloon. Like a siren calling sailors ashore only to dismember them, the red balloon is impossibly enticing and most certainly will spell the end of one’s beautiful life if succumbed to.

Hiding behind every red balloon is a nefarious, monstrous, shape-shifting clown with a killer smile — Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. I’m fairly certain he’s hiding in my basement as well, and one of these times when I’m switching my laundry, he’ll present himself in the form of a gigantic centipede.

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In a town flanked by missing children flyers, there are bound to be occurrences of a strange nature, but Derry is the “hold my beer” of curious goings on. When Bill can’t get Georgie out of his mind, The Losers — while each struggling with their own demons — are determined to help him find closure. Ben — the resident Derry aficionado — has an extensive history of the town plastered on the walls of his bedroom. You might say, he’s got the right stuff.

Narrowing it down to the sewer system and one wholly sinister-looking house — the Neibolt house — The Losers know what they need to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve not going into that house. Once inside, Pennywise makes quick work of invading each one’s psyche to create the ultimate personalized haunted house experience that no one asked for.

It’s a harrowing ordeal, and — possibly most unfortunately — we do get to see Pennywise dance. I’ll leave the rest for you to see for yourself.

Having read the book, I enjoyed seeing a more contemporary spin on this reconstruction. Set in the late 80s gives the film liberties that being set in the 50s wouldn’t have. This is an exceptional illustration of a horror movie done right. While the original IT mini-series wasn’t as scary as everyone seems to remember it being, this movie absolutely gives us something to think about at 2a.

As much excitement as there was surrounding “that kid from Stranger Things” landing a role in the movie, it turns out that casting was superb all around. While Finn Wolfhard did an adorably crass Richie — sadly, minus the “beep beep, Richie,” a term used in place of “shut up” in the miniseries when he’d say something over-the-top — the rest of the kid cast was out of this world.

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All of the actors who make up the younger demographic are on-screen treasures; each with a promising future in film. Jack Dylan Grazer’s massively hypochondriacal “Eddie”, Sophia Lillis’ “Bev”, Jackson Robert Scott’s “Ben”, and Jackson Robert Scott’s “Georgie” need special mentions.

Additionally, it must be said that Bill Skarsgard — a man who typically maintains a rather stoic demeanor — was positively horrifying as Pennywise. But also kind of charming. Figure that one out.

Director Andy Muschietti must feel like he won the lottery. His previous feature, Mama, was a box office flop and a flop in my living room. However, he stuck the hell out of the landing on IT.

To round it all out, my favorite part of any movie — the score — was composed by the always lovely Benjamin Wallfisch. This music felt like he reached right into my brain, pulled out my anxiety, and set it to music.

The sequel, IT: Chapter Two is slated for 2019 and I can’t wait. For now, IT is playing in a theater near you and Pennywise is likely under my bed at home. It’s well written and acted. Funny, scary, and even heartfelt at times. Enjoy! And if anyone asks you to go somewhere and promises you’ll float too, take a hard pass.

 

Patti Cake$

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One of the cornerstones of great filmmaking is creating relatability. Nothing is quite as engaging as feeling like we may never achieve our ambitions. The crushing fear of failure that puts us on the brink of constant existential crisis is often the only thing that propels us as well.

As an aspiring comedian, I understand the struggle intimately. When I get on stage and make a joke about killing a spider in my bedroom with a string cheese wrapper because I don’t need no man and people don’t laugh, that fear doubles down. But that’s a story for another time. Or never. I digress.

Growing up in “dirty Jersey”, Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) is suspended between her reality — a crap bartending job where she serves her mother shots nightly — and her intended reality — spitting bars with rap royalty O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). 

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Her mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), is the kind of woman who dresses like she’s a teenager and behaves like she just scored a fake ID. Together, they care for Patti’s ailing Nana (Cathy Moriarty) who lives with them and spends most of her time chain-smoking in a  Lay-Z-Boy and bingeing daytime television.  

As dire as her day-to-day may seem, Patti finds solace in her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Together, they are Bitch Cassidy and the Lap Dance Kid. Just as motivated as his rhyming partner in crime, Patti AKA Killa P, Jheri wants to get the hell out of Jersey, too. Motivation only goes so far, especially when discouragement abounds.

Patti and Jheri find themselves at a show where they see an enigmatic and generously pierced gentleman by the name of Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) rapping over metal, much to the chagrin of the rest of the crowd. Patti takes a shine to him, but Basterd barely gives her the time of day.

Feeling stuck, Patti takes Nana out for a stroll in her wheelchair to visit her late grandfather at the cemetery. Spotting Basterd visiting someone as well, Patti rolls a dozing Nana his way, but he skitters off through a tunnel aptly named the Gates of Hell. She calls Jheri and tells him to meet her there and, against her better judgement, enters the drippy, dark underpass. Sleeping Nana and all.

Upon discovering Basterd’s pad — a dilapidated shack in the woods — Patti enters to find that he’s got an anomalous recording studio setup. It takes some coercing — with Basterd and a now awakened and alarmed Nana — but something magic happens in that shitty little shed and PBNJ is born.

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Barb learns that Patti is an aspiring rapper and immediately shuts it down, but Killa P knows she’s got something special going. Taking on odd jobs to make extra money — both for the PBNJ fund and for Nana’s medical bills — Patti works herself to the bone. Her fraught relationship with her mother will soon come to a head and leaving Jersey becomes an insurmountable feat.

Despite her best efforts, everything falls apart; Nana’s health declines further, she and Jheri have a falling out, and she manages to alienate Basterd. All in about 24 hours.

But, where there’s a will, there is a way, as they say. Look at that! I can spit a hot sixteen, too. (I’m sorry.)

Patti isn’t the kind to sit idly by and let things fall to pieces and, in the face of what seems like inevitable failure, she will pull off something totally remarkable. Because she’s a bo$$ bitch.

This is one of my favorite movies of the year, you guys. Writer/Director — who also wrote the music for the film — Geremy Jasper has something truly exceptional in Patti Cake$. It’s an underdog story without the saccharine, wrapped-up-in-a-neat-package finish. It is thoroughly uplifting and good to its audience from start to finish.

The story itself gives so much to the viewer and tests our emotions throughout. It allows the audience time to feel for these characters deeply and makes it easy to understand them in a profound way. Even Barb’s erratic and destructive behavior comes from a place that is easy to see in oneself and, therefore, allows us to love her even though we’re kind of mad at her.

Comedian Bridget Everett’s role as Patti’s mother is a considerable departure from anything she’s done previously and she rocks it flawlessly. Her on-screen daughter, played by Danielle Macdonald is — unbelievably —  an Australian native! I was lucky enough to participate in a Q&A after the screening I attended featuring Jasper, Everett, and Macdonald. Macdonald even rapped for us a little!

Evidently she’d never rapped once before this film and you wouldn’t know it. This young woman is a tremendous talent. The movie was expertly cast, pairing some relatively unknowns — Macdonald, Athie, and Dhananjay — with legends (yeah, I said legends) Everett and Moriarty.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re not going anywhere or you’re lost or it’s too late, see this movie. SEE THIS MOVIE. Even if you’ve never felt that way and you’re doing great and everybody hates you because everything always works out for you, just see this movie. All of you. Find the Patti Cake$ in you, get inspired, and get out there and be somebody!

 

Crown Heights

MV5BMjAwMjY2NTEwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDc3ODA5MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,676,1000_AL_Open Facebook on your phone, turn on the television to just about any channel, crack a newspaper;  it would seem that every morning, while we sip our preferred AM beverage, we hear about another incident of police brutality in the African American community. It is a pyroclastic flow that’s only picking up speed.

Remarkably — and sickeningly — our abysmal penal system hasn’t grown out of its racially charged temper tantrums through decades of progressive movements and promising developments.

Crown Heights is the story of an immigrant from Trinidad living in New York when he is wrongfully accused of and incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) was just 18-years-old when he was detained by police.

Incredulous and panic-stricken, Colin told everyone willing to listen — and even those who weren’t — that he was innocent. Meanwhile, in the maelstrom of his duress, his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), spent every waking hour tracking down potential witnesses and mostly unhelpful police and legal support — putting tremendous strain on his own personal life.

Everyone needs a friend like Carl. Not even fully aware of the abhorrent treatment Colin was receiving in prison, Carl poured his heart and soul into finding the justice that his friend deserved.

Unsure of where else to turn, Carl meets with Antoinette (Natalie Paul), a childhood friend who may have helpful information to assist in the case. Carl takes her to see Colin and — though he’s falling apart — sometimes we just need something or someone to come along at just the right time, brush us off, and tell us everything is going to be alright.

In the years after being locked up, Colin would face a maddening trial and what seemed to be nothing but dead ends disguised as sovereignty. Flanked by middle-aged white men who would stand before a judge and bully confessions out of kids — now adults — who may or may not have seen what actually happened, he was running out of options and — worst of all — hope.

It isn’t difficult — even for a moment — to believe that this film is based on true events. That said, it is quite trying to watch at times with that rolling around the back of your mind.

The film, written and directed by Matt Ruskin, and adapted from a This American Life podcast — while set in the 80s and 90s — is a startling revelation of what the legal proceedings were then, and what they are now; strikingly similar. The ensemble cast gives a transcendent performance while Ruskin captures the delicacy of human nature.

This film is necessary and pure of heart. The story is magnificently told and charactarizes violence not only between law enforcement and prisoners, but also, the malaise that breeds among the accused.

Colin Warner didn’t receive the fair treatment one is promised and owed in this country until Carl put previously ignored information into the right hands. It was taken from there to an even bigger platform — the media. It wasn’t until important men in suits were going to get in trouble for treating an innocent man like a convicted criminal that justice was served.

We’re staring down the barrel of lifetimes — Colin’s, ours, our children’s — subject to the same news reports, outrage, and lives lost, day in and day out, if we don’t do something. The state of our nation can’t improve until the people in charge do better. I realize I’m on the brink of a diatribe and I don’t want to take you down that rabbit hole.

Crown Heights is a testament to our unwavering and crooked legal system. It is a powerful and critical illustration of what was happening behind closed doors nearly 40 years ago, some of which still goes on today.

Baby Driver

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If you looked at his IMDb page, you’d see that Edgar Wright has been credited as a writer, director, producer, actor, and — perhaps most impressively — self. He’s cemented in Cult Classic history with his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy featuring Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.

He earned a diehard fan base with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and — a little more inside baseball — his satirical spaghetti western, A Fistful of Fingers. Wright’s work is inherently and empirically watchable.

Earlier this summer, Wright’s newest picture — Baby Driver — walked into the theater like it owned the place.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver working for a kingpin by the name of Doc (Kevin Spacey). Suffering from tinnitus, Baby’s got his earbuds in and music going at all times. The kid switches between a collection of iPods depending on his mood that day. I can only describe it like this: he functions to the music. Indebted to Doc for some previous indiscretions, Baby isn’t in the business for the long haul. As soon as he’s paid up, he’s out. Just like he promised his foster-father, Joseph (CJ Jones).

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The team includes but is not limited to Buddy (Jon Hamm), his wife Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx). The first time we see Baby behind the wheel, he’s playing chauffeur to Buddy, Darling, and Griff (Jon Bernthal). Their skeptisim of Baby’s abilities on the road wanes when he out runs the equivalent of about four stars in Grand Theft Auto without breaking a sweat.

Unfortunately, his next excursion — and his first time working with Bats — goes sideways. The silver lining? He and Doc are square. Feeling a weight lifted, Baby takes to the comforts of a local diner where an adorably silly waitress, Debora (Lily James), knocks his socks off with her rendition of B-A-B-Y by Carla Thomas. If love at first sight has ever been captured on-screen, it’s the exact moment when his eyes meet hers.

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Regrettably, Baby is about to learn that being “square” doesn’t mean being “done” when Doc comes calling again. Doling out thinly veiled threats, he doesn’t give the kid much of a choice and they meet the next morning to scope out their next heist location — the Post Office.

As if the band was back together, Buddy, Darling, and Bats swing by to get the rundown from Doc. Apprehensive about the gig and wary of a seemingly unhinged Bats, Baby goes through with the operation. The best word I can think of to describe what happens next is “cock-up”. Anything that can go wrong does and in the end, Baby is left struggling to protect Joseph and Debora.

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Earlier I mentioned that Baby requires music to move. What this movie does with that is totally remarkable. Every step, every action, every trigger pull — set to the likes of Dave Brubeck, The Beach Boys, Commodores, David McCallum, The Jon Spencer Blues Experience, and Barry White. It is a divine affair.

Not only is the soundtrack out-of-this-world, toe-tapping, head-bobbing fun, it is expertly and methodically utilized to enhance this already blissful experience. Nothing connects the brain to a moment in time like music does, and Baby Driver takes that up to eleven. It took me three screenings to pick up on precious details such as “yeah” spray painted on a pole that Baby just ran past at the same time it was said in the song that was playing.

The whole film — while being a high-octane action flick — is a well-choreographed dance; each transition as smooth and seamless as the last. I wanted to give a shout out to the stunt drivers who pulled off those sick maneuvers, but there’s about 87 of them.

The script itself felt almost entirely ad-libbed which speaks to the stellar execution of each role; all of them bringing something genuine and necessary to the endgame of the film. While the cast is comprised of what looks like effortless brilliance, Kevin Spacey needs a special mention. The guy is a treasure and a gift. Every movie he does feels like the director gives him the gist of what’s happening and he just… makes magic. I’m pretty sure he’s a wizard.

Another honorable mention, Bill Pope on cinematography, is no stranger to Wright’s movies, having worked on The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim. His fluidity and ingenuity bring to vividity the emotion being had on-screen.

It’s just a damn good time. Sitting still is not an option during Baby Driver. Suspenseful urgency feeds the audience an adrenaline shot frame-by-frame, which — I don’t know about you — is something that I crave in movies. Especially summer blockbusters.

Baby Driver has been out for a couple of months now, but if it’s still playing in a theater near you, get and out and see it quickly before it’s not showing in Dolby. I feel comfortable and justified in calling it the best movie of the summer. It is Neat, Neat, Neat.

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Wonder Woman

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In this — the age of the Hollywood Heroine — we are making effervescent strides on our journey to unanimous feminism. People are waking up to the idea that maybe, just maybe, women are of equal value and importance to men. What a concept! That is why we need female leads to ditch the damsel in distress role and charge headlong into the fray.

Now, more than ever, women have stopped taking “no” for an answer. Wonder Woman could not have come at a better time, but the ball has been catastrophically dropped. The subject matter of the comics reflects the era in which they were created. That should have been updated for the times, and it wasn’t. I’ll explain later.

Diana, AKA Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was sculpted from clay and given life from Zeus, the God of Sky and Thunder. As a little girl living on Themyscira — an island secreted away for the protection of its inhabitants — Diana spends her days admiring the combat skills of her fellow Amazons. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), has forbidden her to have any formal training, but aunts are around to spoil kids with things their mothers won’t let them have. General Antiope (Robin Wright) is not only a cool aunt, but she sees the necessity for Diana to learn how to defend not only herself, but their pristine paradisiacal home from the ever-present threat of Ares, the God of War.

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When a German plane plows through their force field and into the crystal clear water below carrying a dashing pilot by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana rushes to his aid. He only has moments to marvel at her perfect face before German soldiers burst their bubble and storm the beach.

Steve fights with the Amazons to ward off the onslaught only to be left the subject of an interrogation.

After a thorough Lasso-of-Truthing, he reveals the nature of his business and Diana learns of World War I and decides she’s going to end it. Together, the two venture to London where Steve will deliver highly sensitive information to the Supreme War Council that could save thousands of lives. With Supreme War Councilman Sir Patrick Morgan’s (David Thewlis) monetary blessing and his recruits — a spy named Sameer and a marksman named Charlie (Saïd Taghmaoui and Ewen Bremner, respectively) — Steve and Diana will work together to stop apocalyptic events from unfolding.

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I mentioned earlier that the source material that the movie is based on is wildly outdated. I’ve voiced my concerns to comic book traditionalists who’ve explained to me that movies rarely deviate from their origins. However, I feel this movie could have greatly benefited from doing so.

Starting with the gratuitous focus on how beautiful Diana is. Yes, she is breathtakingly lovely, but that should not be so ubiquitous. Everyone she meets is just taken with her. I hear that’s how it was in the comics, but it becomes pretty tedious. It mimics Barbie culture in that it projects a beauty standard that is nearly impossible to live up to.

One particularly wretch-worthy scene in which Steve is buying her an outfit to, and I quote, “make her less… distracting,” he searches the shop for an item that will help her appear more homely. He ultimately reaches for a pair of glasses.

Excuse me?

I understand that Clark Kent wore glasses as a disguise and it’s supposedly a nod to that. I vehemently disagree. She wears them for a total of about 2 minutes before they fly off and are smashed by her boot in combat. Utterly pointless and likely heartbreaking to any bespectacled kids.

I also didn’t need Chris Pine completely nude, cupping his junk. I wanted to take my 13-year-old niece to see this and I’m relieved that I didn’t. Call me prude, but these movies draw a younger audience. I certainly could have done without the love story as well. It felt wholly unnecessary. So much of this felt like filler in place of what could have been a more substantial plot.

The argument has been made to me over and over again, when I’ve expressed my disdain for Wonder Woman, that people were simply aghast at this movie because so many other DC movies, well, suck. So is all of the hype legitimate? Or are fans just happy because this movie was better than certain other DC films? Is Wonder Woman a great film… in comparison to crappier pictures?

As a cinephile, a woman, and a non-comic book reader, I am underwhelmed

Ultimately, the message of the movie is that love conquers all. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket and bum everybody out, but there are tragically missed opportunities here. This is new territory — a female superhero film — and the waters are choppy. Perhaps, given some time, the franchise will move in a more progressive direction. For now, I’ll just be over here wearin’ glasses and kickin’ ass.

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47 Meters Down

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It would seem that every year, Hollywood tries to instill in us the fear that the original Summer Blockbuster did. You know I’m talkin’ about Jaws. We get movies like Shark Night, The Shallows, Deep Blue Sea, Sharknadoes 1-4, and the classic Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, wherein, a huge Great White bites the Golden Gate Bridge. Apologies if that was a spoiler.

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See?

These films partake in the same time-honored tradition that still draws gore-hungry fans to the theater; they’re all about wildly aggressive sharks with the shared modus operandi of terrorizing beaches, boats, and, sometimes, even outer space.

I very rarely — if ever — include spoilers in any of my reviews. That said, there will be a light dusting of them here. I will not include anything that could possibly ruin the movie-going experience for you, because that’s simply not possible with this film.

Lisa (Mandy Moore) and her sister, Kate (Claire Holt), are on vacation in Mexico. Lisa was supposed to be there with her boyfriend, Stuart, but as it is swiftly unveiled, he split because she was “too boring.”

Now that you know literally everything you need to about the back story, let’s get right to the good stuff. There isn’t much, so bear with me.

After Lisa’s harrowing revelation about her breakup, Kate suggests the two go dance the pain away. They meet a couple of tall, dark, and handsome locals. The guapos invite them for a shark cage dive with their illegitimate outfit that includes but is not limited to:

  • a floating apparatus that one might call a boat
  • a rusted over cage that is a series of tetanus shots waiting to happen
  • crew that address the girls’ very valid concerns by calling them gringas while they very illegally chum the waters

Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) — a maybe bad guy — gives a quick lesson on SCUBA since nobody really checked to see if they were trained outside of someone asking, “You guys have been diving before, right?” to which the girls reply by side-eyeing one another before nodding and smiling.

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Lisa’s apprehension to enter the cage is quelled by her sister’s excitement, and the two venture into the waters below against her better judgement. Once submerged, Lisa is taken by the Deep Blue SEAnery, while Kate’s cheerful demeanor spirals downward into panic.

A rattly ruckus from atop the cage spooks the sisters, and Taylor’s voice comes over their headsets. He announces he’ll be bringing them back up with worry in his voice.

Are you sitting down? Because you are not going to believe what happens next.

The winch holding the cage up breaks and they fall. Now, I’m sure you’re probably wondering how far they fell. I was pretty curious myself. Seemed like a long way. Turns out, it was 47 Meters Down that they sank. Do you know how I know that? Because they say it. A lot. I’m daft, so I appreciate the repetition. I can’t be expected to watch for sharks and remember what movie I’m watching.

Once at the bottom, Lisa and Kate discover that the walkie-talkie system in their helmets is just out of reach from Taylor on the boat. Apparently 47 Meters Down is just enough Meters Down to have to leave the friendly confines of their rusty tomb to swim far enough toward the surface and communicate that they didn’t die yet.

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For the next hour or so, Lisa and Kate will both take turns leaving the cage for various reasons. Eventually, they’ll obtain a new winch, almost escape, and drop again due to some flimsy rope.

The second time they fell, the theater erupted in laughter.

A few highlights:

  • Lisa swimming somewhere to do something, very nearly becoming shark food, and uttering the phrase, “The shark almost got me”
  • Kate trying to lift Lisa’s spirits while they sit at the bottom of the ocean, running out of breathable air, by saying, “On the bright side, imagine if Stuart could see you now”
  • Lisa getting her leg stuck under the cage the second time they fall and eventually shooting herself in the hand with a spear gun

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Ladies and gentlemen, I won’t spoil the end of the movie for you. I’d never do that. That said, I’m pretty sure M. Night Shyamalan came in to direct the last 8 minutes of this because there is a twist. Oh, buddy, is there ever a twist.

All in all, my disdain for shark related films stems from their inability to showcase a shark in its natural habitat just doing shark stuff. They’ve always gotta be these monsters, and they’re not. Truth be told, sharks are the ones in danger, not us. But that’s another story for a different day.

The film had shoddy dialogue, a shaky plot, and too much tetanus for me. Not only did these dingbats get on a boat with strangers after lightly mulling over the possibility of being murdered, one of them drops the camera and the other can’t hold onto a flare to save her life. Literally. So, this movie should be call The Butterfinger Sisters and should be about dropping the ball in every conceivable way.

Lucky

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There is an anomaly that occurs just when it’s supposed to;  a perfect performance. Harry Dean Stanton, the star of John Carroll Lynch’s new gem, is no stranger to show business. He’s been acting since the dawn of time. Paris, Texas — which is widely regarded as Stanton’s finest work — was released less than a month after I was born.

He’s got the chops, but it isn’t just that. Lucky isn’t just a sublime film, but a showcase of what Stanton is all about. His manipulation of an audience to make them feel included in the picture is totally remarkable.

Lucky is the story of a grizzled and grey atheist living alone in his little desert town. He may be a bit long in the tooth, but Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is hardly “old”. He starts each day with lively music, a healthy regimen of calisthenics, and enough coffee to make even this java enthusiast wary.

He enjoys his whole milk, his crosswords, his game shows, and his pack-a-day smokes. Lucky lives a simple life that isn’t simple at all.

His quotidian ambling through the cacti takes him to a local diner, a convenience store, and a bar. Each visit is a window into his sometimes cantankerous demeanor; a peek behind the curtain.

Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) and Loretta (Yvonne Huff) at his breakfast spot keep a close eye on him, admonishing his nicotine intake and even checking up on him at home. Bibi (Bertila Damas), the clerk at his mini-mart, invites him to her son’s birthday party. The crew at the neighborhood watering hole — Howard, Elaine, Paulie, and Vincent (David LynchBeth GrantJames Darren, and Hugo Armstrong, respectively) — see to his Bloody Mary needs and lend an ear to his intermittent venting. 

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While alone but not lonely — a meaningful distinction — behind Lucky’s eyes is the dread of things to come. An atheist, he doesn’t have the catchall heaven or hell plan. Where do we go and what’s going to happen; harrowing queries, as no one knows for sure. After taking a fall one morning, Lucky visits his doctor. Dr. Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley Jr.) marvels at his good health despite all of his bad habits and the 90 years he’s got under his belt.

So what’s it all mean? What’s the significance behind a film about an old dude frittering away his afternoons wandering the desert? The subtext of the picture is something so enormously, profoundly identifiable in all of us. It is the lingering fret over the point of it all. Everyone works through it differently, but it is a hinderance to a happy life at times and can even spawn nihilism.

Lucky is a staggeringly thoughtful glance at a life, the lives it touches, and the doubtful, ubiquitous unease living behind courageous eyes. John Carroll Lynch’s first feature film is a sublime and wistful directing feat. It’s sentimental, sincere nature gives way for light-heartedness and whimsy in all the right places.

The cast of familiar faces brings it home in their earnest and loving portrayals of these characters that can’t possibly be too far removed from the actors themselves. The dynamic is organic and intimate and the viewer begins to feel part of it all; the ultimate theater-going experience. We even get to see Stanton and Tom Skerritt sharing the screen again for the first time since Alien (1979). Superb cinematography puts a bow on this masterpiece and leaves the audience awe-struck.

I was “Lucky” enough to screen this picture at the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago as part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Writers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks as well as Director John Carroll Lynch were in attendance and even participated in a Q&A. Everyone has such warm regard for this film and especially for Stanton. Sparks has been Stanton’s assistant for 15 years and shared a bit of his experience, telling us how this character, Lucky, is essentially who Stanton is.

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Never have I so closely related to a character in a film. That’s a transcendent feeling to have and a rarity in movies. 

Lucky comes out this Fall and I implore you to see it. I will see it with you. It is lovable and wise and works expertly on every level from start to finish. It stays with you.

re·al·ism
ˈrē(ə)ˌlizəm/
noun
  1. the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.