No explainer article can fully capture how truly crazy and demented Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is to just watch.

MotherPosterIt’s a creation myth! It’s about how men gaslight women! It’s about climate change! It’s a bizarre human comedy! It’s a crazed mix of Luis Bunuel, Rosemary’s Baby, Black Swan and a dash of La La Land! Whatever mother! is, don’t forget those exclamation points.

I’ve already read way too much about Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, and if you’ve seen the film, you know I’m right. It’s best to go in relatively cold. Because every explainer and analysis that tries to paint it as a divine Biblical allegory isn’t wrong, but it never fully captures how flat out, bat shit crazy this movie is. Continue reading “mother!”

Rapid Response: Dangerous Liaisons

“Dangerous Liaisons” knows just how ridiculously soapy, ridiculous and steamy it is, and Stephen Frears’ movie works better than the play.

What’s great about “Dangerous Liaisons” is that it knows just how soapy and ridiculous this all is. It’s set in stuffy, aristocratic France, but everything about this story is sex, love and revenge all the time. It’s absurd, but here, it works.

I saw an adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play of the same name (he’s also the screenwriter) and think it’s a lot better as a film. The play is all talk and gossip. It’s bogged down under names and archaic language. The elaborate web of steamy fucking becomes impossible to follow in that setting. Here however, Frears’s cross cutting does the story wonders. He jumps from bed to bed, drawing room to drawing room and keeps the many liaisons, dangerous or not, in check. Continue reading “Rapid Response: Dangerous Liaisons”

Dark Shadows

I didn’t know “Dark Shadows” was based on a soap opera until my friend amusingly explained this: “It was this kind of boring soap opera that no one watched until one season they introduced a vampire to the show and everyone’s minds just exploded.”

The problem then with Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” is its inability to just make my mind explode.
Burton has always been a unique director. It’s possible that none of his films can be strictly classified into one genre, and “Dark Shadows” is no different. This one begins on a note of period piece horror fantasy with scents of the original “Dracula” in the film’s gorgeous CGI iconography.

This opening takes place in 1772 with the Collins family establishing a thriving colony on the American coastline. The son Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is cursed by the witch Angelique (Eva Green) when he gives up her for his true love, Josette (Bella Heathcote). Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire and imprisons him for 200 years, only to wake up in the swinging 1970s. Now Barnabas returns to his surviving ancestors and fights to rebuild the family business, taking down Angelique, also now two centuries old and running strong, in the process.

The fish-out-of-water game is old-hat no matter what setting or mythical creature you put into the formula, and although Depp revels in manipulating everything with an elegantly antiquated misunderstanding of modern technology, slang and etiquette, Burton never knows how to own any of these jokes.

The film and its dialogue constantly teeter on understated comedy and a haunted house ghost movie without ever dipping into campy, absurd or soapy territory. Burton will instead play an Alice Cooper song or some other ‘70s rock staple to suggest the change of tone, and the film never has go for broke laughs or campy charm. Continue reading “Dark Shadows”

The Age of Innocence (1993)

Perhaps the movie furthest away from Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre is not “Hugo” but is the late 19th Century period romance “The Age of Innocence.”

The 1993 film is an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s famous novel, and yet Scorsese makes it his own by reaching out to a complex, passion filled protagonist struggling for identity in a vicious, rough world. “The Age of Innocence” may lack the violence or blood of some of his masterpieces (this one deserves to be up there with his best), but it’s a biting and bittersweet character drama in which people are trapped within a rigid society of rules and tradition beneath luxurious decorum.

First off, this is a drop dead gorgeous film. “The Age of Innocence” may be 20 years old and the setting may be over 100, but Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s production design haven’t aged a day. Every frame is lusciously picturesque, but the world Scorsese depicts is bleak, flat and two-dimensional. We see Newland Archer’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) wedding photo to May Welland (Winona Ryder) as it is being taken, and at that moment we realize how much this character’s world has been turned upside down. Constantly this dichotomy between the film’s look and its tone makes for a gripping experience.

Newland’s engagement to May is one dictated by society to be a good match, but Newland is in love with a woman who has just returned to New York from Europe, the Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s an outcast because of her crumbling marriage and her subtle defiance for other social norms. “Why should America be a copy of another country,” she asks as she and Newland bemoan New York’s stringent and too utterly polite traditionalism.

The powerful difference is that none of this is really what it seems. “Everything is labeled,” Newland says, “But everybody is not.” “The Age of Innocence” has a devilishly engaging twist near the end in which we learn how the entire society has politely turned on him and Ellen and composed one marriage necessity that here plays out like a death sentence. This is a movie that calmly obliterates you. Continue reading “The Age of Innocence (1993)”