REVIEW: “mother!”

mother poster

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” opens with Javier Bardem sifting through the ashes of a burnt out farmhouse and finding a large jewel. He places it on a mantle and within seconds the house is restored. The charred remains give way to a house of color and life. But what does it all mean? Suffice it to say it’s the first of many bits of imagery that makes this more than a routine thriller.

Seemingly divisive by design, “mother!” is unquestionably an Aronofsky movie. I usually find that to be a cause for hesitation, but “mother!” managed to get its hooks in me unlike any of his past films. And it may not be the smoothest ride from start to finish but it does offer plenty to sink your teeth into and ponder afterwards.

It doesn’t take long to notice that “mother!” places symbolism and allegory ahead of plot and character. It quickly becomes an exercise in interpreting Aronofsky’s code instead of following a particular story. For Aronofsky it was an idea birthed from personal rage and his movie allows him to explore it through biblical and environmental metaphors galore. When the pieces fit it makes for some clever yet not always effective messaging.


Bardem’s character, listed only as ‘Him’ in the credits, is a poet with a severe case of writer’s block while Jennifer Lawrence plays ‘Mother’, his wife and muse. From the moment Lawrence’s Mother gets out of bed in the opening moments the camera never leaves her side. It follows her around the house using close-ups, over-the-shoulder shots, or shooting her point of view. And other than a couple of brief stops on the front porch, the entire film takes place within their remote Victorian country house.

The film starts with an illusion of normalcy but it slowly unravels beginning with the appearance of Ed Harris. He plays a sickly orthopedic surgeon new to the area. His wife pops up shortly after. She’s played by a wonderfully toxic-tongued Michelle Pfeiffer. The once brooding poet who spent his days staring at a blank page is reinvigorated by their attention and invites the couple to stay. Mother is frustrated by the intrusion and equally upset at her husband’s apathy towards her wishes.

From there things go bananas as the movie gives itself completely to its allegories. It all culminates in a psychotic fever dream of a final act that sees Aronofsky unleashing every ounce of his tortuous fury on Lawrence and her character. In what plays like a relentless symbolic montage of worldly horror and human suffering, the camera still never leaves Mother’s side. It’s an intensely demanding performance and a heavy load Lawrence is asked to carry. And she received a Razzie nomination for it? Give me a break.


Production designer Phil Messina is tasked with visualizing another of the film’s key characters – the house. Like Lawrence, the large country farmhouse is represented in every shot and had to be designed with that in mind. The narratively essential home was constructed in Montreal, Canada, partially on a set in a field and the rest on a stage. It was meticulously crafted with mood and movement in mind and was shot by Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique.

You’ll find clever little touches with symbolic meaning everywhere in the movie. For instance there are several surreal moments where Mother places her hands on the walls checking the heartbeat of the home. Also, mysterious wounds begin to appear around the house. Not all of it makes sense (what is that urine colored Alka-Seltzer she drinks from time to time?) and the final 20 minutes dances dangerously close to unbearable. But that’s kind of the point.

Once movies leave their creators’ hands they often become their own thing. “mother!” benefits from that truth. While Aronofsky has a pointed personal meaning behind it, what you bring to the film will help define it for you. That is its coolest strength and it’s what kept me glued to the screen. Sure, it’s a bit self-indulgent and esoteric to a fault. But it’s also a rare slice of Aronofsky that I found surprisingly satisfying.



REVIEW: “Geostorm”


Let’s be honest, movie trailers aren’t always reliable. We’ve all seen trailers that excited us for movies which would eventually let us down. We’ve also watched trailers that didn’t impress only to find the movie to be a pleasant surprise. Neither is true for “Geostorm”. The trailer advertised something dreadful and the movie delivered it. At least they didn’t mislead us.

It’s the distant future of 2019 and the United States has developed an elaborate satellite system as a response to a series of devastating weather disasters. The climate-controlling space contraption is affectionately known as Dutch Boy. The mastermind behind it is none other than Gerard Butler. I guess it makes sense. I mean who else would you call to face hurricanes and typhoons head-on?


Butler plays Jake Lawson, the mastermind behind Dutch Boy until being dismissed due to his problems with authority (reminiscent of every Gerry Butler action movie character). Since then three years have passed and his estranged brother Max (Jim Sturgess) now oversees Dutch Boy. Under his watch a series of deadly weather anomalies occur including a frozen village in Afghanistan and tornadoes of flames in a sweltering Hong Kong. Fearing worst disasters, Max convinces Gerry, errr Jake, to come back and sort out why Dutch Boy didn’t catch the anomalies.

The government launches Jake into orbit where he boards the International Climate Space Station (yep, that’s what it’s called). There he meets his pointedly diverse team of techs to figure out what’s wrong with his baby. Both Jake and Max uncover clues which point to tampering, political corruption, environmental terrorism, blah, blah, blah. And if our brave brothers can’t root out the culprit and fix Dutch Boy in time, a global weather disaster known as a (you guessed it) Geostorm will decimate the planet. Good thing Gerry is on our side.

All of that silliness sets up Gerry’s race against-the-clock space station adventure. Director and co-writer Dean Devlin leans heavily into Butler’s stale action-movie persona not even daring to offer anything new. He’s a tough guy, an anti-authority type, with a good physique and plenty of teeth-grinding one-liners.


It’s not much better on earth. Max follows a trail of information that could implicate someone in the president’s cabinet whether it be the Secretary of State (a seemingly bored Ed Harris) or even the Commander-in-Chief himself (an equally disinterested Andy Garcia). Thankfully Max has the help of his Secret Service girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) and her ridiculously deep security access.

While “Geostorm” doesn’t offer an ounce of intrigue (not even accidently), it does give us plenty of big city CGI destruction, corny dialogue, bland stock characters and unintentionally hilarious plot turns. It plods along failing to muster even the slightest bit of energy. That’s usually the death knell for this type of movie. Turns out it’s one of many crippling flaws that contribute to this being a $120 million disaster. At least Gerry’s consistent.



REVIEW: “Snowpiercer”


Every revolution has a cost and the cost is high in Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi action flick “Snowpiercer”. This is the Korean filmmaker’s first feature since “Mother” from 2009. “Mother” was my first exposure to Bong Joon-ho and my christening of sorts into the art of Korean cinema. “Snowpiercer” is a much different film yet it doesn’t stray too far away from the style and approach which lies at the heart of this auteur.

Despite the efforts of blowhard extraordinaire Harvey Weinstein, “Snowpiercer” has finally made its way to the United States. Weinstein acquired the North American rights for the film with a wide release planned. But the pompous film mogul demanded that 20 minutes of footage be cut and when Joon-ho rightly refused, Weinstein sabotaged the movie by delaying it for almost a year and severely restricting its release. But word of mouth and positive reviews eventually earned it a broader release although nothing like what was originally planned.

The story is taken from a 1982 French graphic novel and as with any good science fiction, the premise is everything. To stonewall the effects of global warming mankind injects the atmosphere with an experimental agent that instead brings on a second ice age. Humanity’s last inhabitants live within the Snowpiercer, an enormous train in constant motion powered by the “eternal engine”. Onboard the train a social order has been created. The affluent upperclass live in the lavish head section while the poor and needy inhabit the tail. Now at first the movie appeared to be a climate change and class warfare lecture, but once we begin to meet the blend of interesting and eccentric characters, we realize there is more under the hood.


After several failed attempts the tail section puts together another revolt against the privileged and the armed soldiers who defend them. Curtis (Chris Evans) is quickly established as the strongest link and the man many look to for leadership. His mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) is grooming him to be the leader once they are able to take over the train. Curtis is a complex character. He often shows heart particularly in his dealings with his fellow tail-sectioners. Evans continues to grow as an actor. He’s mostly been known for playing goofballs or superheroes but I love seeing him open himself up as an actor. He once again flexes his action star muscle, but it’s nice to see him digging deeper into a character and doing it well.

Evans is helped out by an incredible supporting cast. Jamie Bell is good as a character who starts out as a standard sidekick but evolves into something more. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer plays a mother determined to get her son back after he is taken by the upperclass authority. A Joon-ho favorite Song Kang-ho plays the drug addicted designer of the train’s many doors separating the cars. The fabulously quirky Alison Pill is great as a character simply titled Teacher, and the always exceptional Ed Harris pops up in a significant role. But the true scene stealer has to be Tilda Swinton. She plays Minister Mason, an overseer of sorts who is really a glorified lacky. Swinton has a ball playing such a wacky and neurotic character. Everything from her appearance to her ways of expressing herself works to inject a bit of humor while never derailing the movie’s more prominent tone.


All of these characters work to energize Joon-ho’s engaging story. To be honest it’s hard to deny the absurdity of it all, and a surface reading would make this sound like a pretty standard action romp. But when the story is this well told and it moves at such a fluid and dynamic pace, it’s so easy to get completely caught up in it. I had a blast with its central conceit and the stylized storytelling. The careful mix of action and character development is well done and the setting is superb. It ranges from beautiful and colorful to dark and dirty while always maintaining a sense of claustrophobia. And as with almost every other sci-fi film, we get plenty of commentary here. Joon-ho paints a parallel portrait of the modern societal standard which is sometimes effective and other times ham-fisted. His climate change theme was the most compelling showing an awareness while also showing the dangers of overreacting. His class warfare approach is a little more uneven. But other themes such as drug abuse, political power, and revolutions are laced throughout the story in intriguing ways.

“Snowpiercer” also looks amazing from its wide assortment of environments within the train to its ice-ravaged world outside. The variety of action we get is also a treat. It may be intense close quarters shootouts or hand-to-hand combat in precarious situations. Some of it dances close to the edge of brutality, but so often Joon-ho pulls back his camera just as the violence is happening sparing the audience from the gore while keeping the sheer intensity of the scene. It’s a mark of the creative Korean style and it gives the movie a particular look that I absolutely loved. It’s a visual delight.

Thanks to Weinstein “Snowpiercer” hasn’t gotten the release it deserves but word of mouth is spreading. Let me happily add to its positive press. This is a fantastic science fiction picture that sounds similar to many other films yet feels completely unique and fresh. It’s a film with many strengths and as a lover of good sci-fi, I had an absolute blast with it!



Some movies can take a pretty preposterous concept and still make a fun and entertaining film out of it. There’s no denying that “Man on a Ledge” has a pretty preposterous concept. The question is, is “Man on a Ledge” a fun and entertaining movie? Well…kinda. Underneath the surface the movie has a fairly interesting premise. But it gets bogged down in it’s occasionally lame dialogue, it’s run-of-the-mill characters, and some truly head-scratching moments.

Sam Worthington plays Nick Cassady, an ex-New York City Policeman who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for stealing a $40 million diamond from a shrewd and unscrupulous businessman named Dave Englander (played by an alarmingly thin Ed Harris). After being notified of his father’s death, Nick is allowed to attend the funeral where he evades the guards and sets out to prove his innocence. His plan? To check into the Roosevelt Hotel, have a final meal, then climb out on the ledge of the building prepared to jump. It’s certainly not the normal approach one would take in trying to prove their innocence. Officer Marcus (Titus Welliver) arrives and takes charge of the scene and, at the request of Nick, calls in negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks).

Now it’s clear that there is more going on than just a man about to jump to his death. Nick has a bigger plan in motion that hinges on Lydia’s cooperation, the craftiness of his brother Joey (Jaimie Bell) and Joey’s girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez), and the rabid crowd that has gathered below. The story takes several different turns and throws a few twists at the audience, but it’s hard to fully invest in them. Things get a little outlandish and it’s pretty hard to believe at times. Now in the defense of director Asger Leth, he’s well aware that he’s working with some wild material. He keep things moving at a crisp pace and he doesn’t drag the movie out longer that it needs to be. Also, Leth really uses the camera well and I had read where they filmed several scenes with Worthington actually out on the ledge. Unfortunately the good looks of the film isn’t enough to save it from it’s glaring flaws.

There are numerous instances where the writing left me scratching my head. Some scenes will leave the audience asking themselves “Can the NYPD really be this inept?” and “Is the movie making fun of New Yorkers or are we really to believe that 99% of them are bloodthirsty animals?”. There are also several cheesy exchanges between characters that either feel out-of-place or are just plain goofy. The film also features some of the same character types that we’ve seen in so many other movies. We have the wicked, wealthy corporate businessman. We get the typical corrupt cop. We even have the self-serving reporter who is more interested in getting the story that public safety. We’ve seen them all before.

You have to be impressed just looking at the movie’s strong cast. I like Sam Worthington even though he’s yet to really show much range in his performances. He’s actually quite good here even though the role doesn’t require as much from him as you might think. His New York accent does give way to his natural Australian accent in some scenes but he still gives a solid performance. Banks is also pretty good as is Edward Burns as a fellow negotiator. But the biggest problem is none of these performers can truly rise above the material which lets them down on numerous occasions. The always strong Ed Harris and Anthony Mackie as Nick’s former partner are terribly underused and should have been given more to do.

If you can put aside the flaws and suspend disbelief, there is some enjoyment to be found in “Man on a Ledge”. It’s impossible to take seriously and I have no doubt you’ll be shaking your head more than once. But “Man on a Ledge” is a harmless film with some cool action and fun moments. And while it’s a decent little afternoon diversion, it’s an action thriller that’s ultimately forgettable. Check it out if you have some free time. Otherwise, you can probably find something better to watch.