Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
“What is the definition of a ‘movie’?” I found myself wondering as I exited the theater after a press screening of mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s latest film. I contemplated this throughout the rest of the day, curious how I define an entertainment format that I’ve dedicated so much of my life to. I pondered this because mother! was a profoundly powerful experience but a totally mystifying one at the same time, a film that assaulted my senses and left me, quite literally, unable to think properly. Never before has a film left me so discombobulated and at a loss for words. But what I knew from the moment that the credits began to roll is that I loved this movie and everything it put me through.
The basic gist of the story is that Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are a husband/wife duo who live in a house in the middle of nowhere. He’s a poet who is in the midst of a writer’s block while she takes care of, quite literally, everything else around the house. She fixes the construction, she paints the rooms, she cooks and cleans, etc. What is difficult about this dynamic is that she doesn’t get any real appreciation for her work. Any notice of her efforts is cursory at best, resulting in her obvious dissatisfaction and sadness with how she is viewed.
Later, when Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer come to their home unannounced, Bardem invites them to stay, not even taking into consideration Lawrence’s thoughts on the matter, which she tries vocalizing. But he dismisses them much the same as he dismisses her work, leaving her clearly hurt and, in a strange and sad way, ashamed. But as events unravel and more and more interlopers of unknown origin descend upon their house, her timidity and subservience begins to crack; and her ability to stand for herself begins to shine. However, by the time that happens, could it be too late?
I don’t want to reveal any more events that take place during the film because some are so shocking while others are so poetically constructed that my attempt to describe them would be pale shades next to what they have to offer. Suffice it to say I sat through this film feeling relentless discomfort, was astounded by the visuals, and am still trying to figure out what it all means. The very presentation of the film and how it offers information is meant to disarm viewers and leave them in a state of unease.
For example, none of the characters have actual names. They are simply characters, much like in a play, who bear the titles of their roles. While at first this may not seem like such a strange move on Aronofsky’s part, it becomes all too troubling as we, the viewers, become much like the interlopers that force themselves upon Lawrence and Bardem’s home. We are unnamed voyeurs who bear witness to the unfolding events, powerless to stop any of it but eager to see where it all goes. We may feel horror and revulsion, but we stay in our seats, desperate to see this Wonderland-esque journey to its end.
Claustrophobically filmed, mother! insists on making the viewers remain in the thick of the insane chaos that unfolds. Furthermore, the lack of a traditional score only serves to make the movie all the more focused. Phenomenal use of sound design makes every scene creak and moan, as though there will be an explosion of catastrophic proportions at any moment. Razor-sharp tension starts from the very first moment and holds through until the credits roll.
Now, is this movie horror? I argue yes. In fact, I argue that it’s one of the most pure visions of horror I’ve seen in a while. At the same time, it’s a perverted tale of romance, albeit utterly one-sided and horribly awry. It’s pure art-house cinema that boggles the mind as to how it’s getting a wide release. In fact, everything about mother! is delightfully confounding, and I can’t help but revel in this madness.
mother! will no doubt be one of the most polarizing films of the year, but therein lie its beauty and its importance. Whether you love it or hate it, mother! will leave you shaken and inspired while forcing you to spend hours, if not days, reflecting on the phantasmagoria you were witness to.
The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross
Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu
Directed by Xavier Gens
Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.
A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.
From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.
I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?
My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.
The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.
Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films
Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle
Directed by Bob Clark
Distributed by 101 Films
There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.
The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.
The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.
The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.
With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.
Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.
Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.
Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.
Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.
“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.
“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.
“Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.
A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.
The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.
- Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
- Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
- Black Christmas Legacy
- Original TV and Radio spots
- 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.
Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror
Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White
Directed by James S. Brown
We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.
Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.
Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.
As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.
With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.
8 out of 10.
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