Mirrors have been a tool in the horror genre since its inception. I think of the shattered mirror in Carrie as she gets ready for the prom, the REDRUM laden mirror in The Shining and more recently the sinister, inescapable reflections terrorizing Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Just like those movies, Jordan Peele’s US uses the mirror (literal and figurative) to send a message to his audience.
Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) just can’t catch a break. After waking up in a strange boy’s (The Blind Ring’s Israel Broussard) dorm room after a night of heavy drinking, Tree is fighting a killer headache and must do the walk of shame, in which she tries to unsuccessfully attempts to dodge a pesky student protestor, a guy she’s been ghosting, and her sorority sisters. Later, she will be confronted with the wife of the professor she’s been having an affair with, but now she’s late for her surprise party because there’s a masked murderer trying to kill her. Oh, did I mention it’s also her birthday?
If this sounds like life is playing some cruel joke on her, then just wait till you hear the punchline. When the masked killer does in fact kill Tree (and they do), she wakes up again on the morning of her birthday, doomed to live out the same excruciating day again and again, and again until she can solve the mystery of her murder.
Darren Aronofsky’s first film since 2014’s Noah is, to put it simply, a lot. That’s certainly saying something; this is the director of Requiem for A Dream and Black Swan after all. But mother! makes those films feel like an warm up in a much larger exercise in psychological terror. The marketing campaign for mother! has revolved around keeping direct details about the film’s plot shrouded in secrecy. As the film has played at various film festivals, Aronofsky has moderated Q&A’s and screenings, hyping up the movie’s disturbing and polarizing nature.
“Sorry for what I’m about to do,” he said on the stage at the Toronto Film Festival, going on to describe the film as “an assault” and “a cruise missile shooting into a wall.” “At the film’s premiere, he told reporters that, “You’re all really going to hate me in about an hour and a half.”
There’s something to be said about a director wearing the negative press about his film like a badge of honor (Cinemascore revealed yesterday that audience members gave the film a rare F grade). In the case of mother! and Aronofsky, it only adds to my frustrations about the film. As I said, mother! is certainly a lot, and I did find my mouth hanging wide open during some moments, including the ludicrous climax, but not for the reasons the director/writer may have been hoping.
A stylish, brutal action spy thriller starring Charlize Theron built around her beating up a bunch of incompetent men? SOLD!
It’s been several years since Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, a film that deserved more critical praise than it received upon arrival. Marketed as an attempt to lay the groundwork for what would ultimately become the prequel series to the wildly successful Alien and Aliens, Scott’s return to the series he created and then abandoned delivered a story that was not as concerned with its predecessors as some would have liked; rather than jump right into telling the story of how the xenomorphs came to be, he began laying the groundwork for something else entirely. Pivoting away from the horror and action themes that made the original films so popular, Prometheus instead delved into mythology and the origins of humanity, asking and raising many more questions than it answered by the time the credits began rolling. Some were swept away by the tense music, haunting visuals and attempt to breathe back life into an otherwise dead series. Others found themselves disappointed and angered by the gaps left unfilled and questions left unanswered.
Enter Alien: Covenant, a film that manages to find a happy medium between the grand themes of Prometheus and the outright horror of Alien. Where its predecessor made constant strides to distinguish itself from its source material, Covenant attempts to build a bridge to connect the two, laying the groundwork for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley to go head to head with the Queen Alien many years later.
If you’re anything like me, you might have been wondering “Where in the world has Anne Hathaway been?” for the last couple of years.
After the one two punch of her Oscar-winning work in Les Miserables and The Dark Knight Rises, Hathaway took a step into the background. That may have had something to do with the unfair, sexist press coverage she received during the 2012-2013 awards season. It may have also had something to do with her personal life; she got married shortly before she began the press junket for Les Miserables and had a baby a few years later. She was still acting of course; she had a cameo in Don Jon, reprised her voice-over role in Rio 2, starred alongside Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar, headlined The Intern alongside Robert DeNiro and even popped up in the ill-fated Alice Through The Looking Glass. But there was a stark contrast between Hathaway before she won an Oscar, and after.
Where Hathaway’s post-Oscar roles weren’t exactly the worst roles the actress could have taken, they did little to showcase the full range of her capabilities. But in director/writer Nacho Vigalondo’s black comedy Colossal, Hathaway has found a role that superbly showcases the best of her abilities as a performer.
I hope Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart plan on making a dozen more films together; I would easily watch 100 more if I could. Stewart, who has been extremely selective with her roles since leaving the world of sparkling vampires behind, has found a match made in heaven with the French auteur. He directed her to a César award in Clouds of Sils Maria, making Stewart the first American actress to ever win one, and has once again captured a truly exceptional performance in Personal Shopper, which finally expanded into my town’s independent theater this past weekend.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the film since I had the pleasure of watching it on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I walked in knowing close to nothing about the film besides the fact that much of my Twitter timeline has been filled with raves about it since its continued to open in theaters around the country, which is probably the best way to experience it. In a genre that is filled with clichés and story beats that have beaten to death, Personal Shopper is a chilling and thought-provoking piece of work.
It feels like Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated classics have all been leading to this moment. Though everyone is sure to have a different favorite, Beauty and the Beast is the most iconic of their catalog, next to The Little Mermaid (which is next to receive the remake treatment). The original was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture, and even managed nominations in Sound Mixing and three for Original Song. Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Jungle Book have all been remade with varying degrees of critical success and huge, record breaking returns at the box office. Beauty and the Beast is bound to be their biggest endeavor yet.
And yet, for all of the hype, star power and magic, Beauty and the Beast winds up being just a straight and very soft pitch down the middle, never slipping into train wreck territory but never achieving the moments of grandeur and greatness that it so clearly desires.
La La Land was one of my most anticipated films of the year. From the moment that excellent first trailer arrived, I was hooked. First of all, I’m a huge sucker for musicals. And while I wasn’t a huge fan of director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, he seemed to be aiming towards evoking the nostalgia of the great Hollywood musicals of the past, with a modern spin which I was totally down with. I’ve also been a huge fan of Emma Stone’s since her brilliant star making performance in Easy A, and this seemed like the perfect project for her talents. And she had such great chemistry with Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid Love so what could go wrong, right?
Since then, La La Land has gone on to become the Best Picture frontrunner. It’s racked up wins from the New York Film Critic’s Circle, the coveted People’s Choice Award from TIFF, a bunch of Critic’s Choice wins and a bunch of Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild nominations. It’s been written to death about how La La Land is the perfect antidote for our flaming garbage pile of a year, because after 2016, what we need is a breezy, delightful musical.
But La La Land simply doesn’t live up to the premise or hype bestowed upon it. And while it has some charming moments, they can’t hide the flawed and flimsy plot beneath all of the glitz and nostalgia.
For months I’ve been hearing nonstop talk about Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, which seemed to be the only film out of Sundance that could, at the time, find any coverage outside of Nate Parker’s Birth Of A Nation. As the year has gone on, Manchester has chugged along and slowly been building steam as one of the three Oscar heavyweights. It was named Best Picture by the National Board of Review, with lead actor Casey Affleck winning Best Actor honors from both the Gotham Independent Awards and New York Film Critic’s circle.