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Nicholas Hoult as author J.D. Salinger

“REBEL IN THE RYE” My rating: B- (Opens  Sept. 22 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

106 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Rebel in the Rye,” the new biopic about reclusive author J.D. Salinger, isn’t bad.

Nor is it particularly inspired.

As an overview of Salinger’s early life, his years of frustration and his emergence as a major American voice with Catcher in the Rye, it lays out the facts competently. Director Danny Strong, making his feature debut after a stint with TV’s “Empire,” puts on a decent show with a limited budget.

And former Brit child actor (“About a Boy”) Nicholas Hoult demonstrates  acting chops that could carry him into more leading man roles.

Strong’s screenplay begins with the PTSD-suffering author in a mental institution in the late 1940s, then flashes back a decade to his college years.

At Columbia Jerry Salinger falls under the influence of writing professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), who sees terrific potential in his student despite the kid’s self-indulgence and an unwillingness to take suggestions from anyone. At the same time  Jerry launches a romance with Oona O’Neill (Zoey Deutch), estranged daughter of acclaimed playwright Eugene O’Neill (and future wife of Charlie Chaplin).

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Colin Firth, Taron Egerton

“KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE” My rating: B- (Opens wide on Sept. 22)

141 minutes | MPAA rating: R

For a movie that isn’t actually about anything, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is ridiculously diverting.

Those who saw the original “Kingsman: The Secret Service” a few years back will be treated to more of the same, only on steroids.  This sequel is bigger, faster, noisier and funnier than the original.

Plus, this time around writer/director Matthew Vaughn shows a surer hand at balancing the movie’s over-the-top violence with a refined comic sensibility.

Things begin with our hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) trying to juggle his duties as a member of the super-secret Kingsman security apparatus against his romance with Tilde (Hanna Alström), an honest-to-God Swedish princess.  For a former car thief with a taste for a white rapper wardrobe (sweats, ball caps), Eggsy has come a long way in a brief time.

But it all comes crashing down when the entire Kingsman operation is destroyed in one fell swoop.  The only survivors are Eggsy (who was having dinner with the King of Sweden when it all happened) and the bald, tech-savvy Merlin (Mark Strong).

What happened? Well, an international drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore) and her Golden Circle gang are clearing the deck prior to a big push for world domination.  A nostalgia freak, Poppy lives in seclusion in the Cambodian jungle in her own private theme park…imagine Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. redone with a “Happy Days” theme.

She’s even kidnapped Elton John (playing himself) so that he can perform her favorite hits at will. (This year’s best bit of celebrity casting.)

Seeking allies, Eggsy and Merlin travel to Kentucky where they encounter the Statesmen, their Yank counterparts, a band of American free agents posing as a distilling concern.  These cowboys — literally…we’re talking Stetsons, boots and electric bullwhips capable of slicing steel — have names like Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry).

Oh yes…the Statesmen have been providing shelter to an amnesiac who has suffered a rather nasty bullet wound in the noggin.  He is, of course, Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor and a fatality (or so we thought) in the first film. (I’m not giving anything away here…Firth is all over the ads.)

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Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva, Fiona Gordon…atop the Eiffel Tower

“LOST IN PARIS” My rating: B+ (Opens Sept. 22 at the Tivoli)

83 minutes | No MPAA rating

Imagine “Amelie” made by Buster Keaton.

That’ll provide an idea of the disarming blend of charm and goofiness on display in “Lost in Paris.”

Made by the husband-and-wife team of Dominque Abel and Fiona Gordon (he’s from Belgium, she’s Australian), this wacky but thoroughly satisfying comedy is part vaudeville routine, part silent movie, and all pretty wonderful.

Fiona (Gordon) is a Canadian librarian who looks like a cartoon character. Her face is long, her neck even longer. She’s like a red-headed Olive Oyl who peers at the world through glasses so big they dwarf her face.

Early in “Lost in Paris” Fiona receives a message from her beloved Aunt Marta, who years earlier fled snowy Canada for the life of a dancer in Paris. Now, reports Marta (the late, great Emmanuelle Riva), the social workers want to relocate her from her apartment to a retirement home.  They say she’s losing it.

To rescue her auntie Fiona must get entirely out of her comfort zone, flying to France and negotiating the city  beneath a gigantic red backpack topped with a Canadian flag. She just misses Marta, who in an effort to keep her freedom has taken to living on the street.

Worse, Fiona is separated from her backpack, losing her money, passport, clothing and cell phone. Suddenly she’s homeless as well.

 

 

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Jake Gyllenhaal

“STRONGER” My rating: A- (Opens wide on Sept. 22)

116 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Stronger” is the story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. The subject matter alone is enough to give potential moviegoers pause.

Is this going to be a weepy? A jingoistic flag-waver? Is it gonna be, oh God, inspirational?

There are plenty of arguments for steering clear of “Stronger.”  Ignore them.

For in adapting Bauman’s memoir writer John Pollen and director David Gordon Green have given us what may be the year’s most potent drama, a masterful blend of personal narrative and social observation.

It’s a film about despair, resilience, family and romance.  Yes, it’s deeply emotional, but less in a crassly manipulative Hollywood way than in the sense that it nails so many truths about the human condition.

You’ll cry.  In fact, anyone who can sit through “Stronger” without tearing up at least three times had best stop wasting their money on movie tickets and start saving for a bass boat.

But it’s a cleansing cry, not an exploitative one.

In the film’s first 10 minutes we’re introduced to Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal, quite possibly Oscar bound), a “chicken roaster at Costco” and a classic example of blue-collar Boston. He’s a drinker and a sports idiot, traits he shares with his boisterous, brawling, low-credit-score uncles and cousins. He’s kind of unreliable, which is why his girl Erin (“Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany) has broken up with him yet again.

Jeff decides he can win back Erin by passing on  a Sox game to cheer her on as she runs the Boston Marathon. He’s at the finish line holding a hand-made congratulatory sign when the bomb goes off.

Almost immediately director Green demonstrates how to ease into an uncomfortable issue with grace and taste.  We don’t see the immediate bloody results of the blast.  But we’re with Erin in a bar when the TV news shows a photo of the seriously wounded Jeff being carried away by a man in a cowboy hat. (We won’t actually see a re-enactment of the event until flashbacks in the movie’s third act.)

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South African rhino breeder John Hume

“TROPHY” My rating:  B (Opens Sept. 22 at the Screenland Crossroads)

108 minutes | No MPAA rating

Big game hunting — a incendiary topic known to break up marriages and ruin Thanksgiving dinners — gets remarkably  non-judgmental treatment in “Trophy,”the new documentary by Saul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau.

By turns maddening, melancholy and thoughtful, “Trophy” will defy the expectations of those who instinctively damn big game hunting as a bloodthirsty vestige of our primitive reptilian brains.

But it doesn’t exactly give hunters a clean bill of health, either. In the film’s last scene an American who has spent many thousands of dollars and years of planning to bag an African lion weeps over the body of the animal he has just killed — not out of regret but, presumably, because his dream has been fulfilled and there’s no beast of comparable magnificence on his hit list.

Big game hunting and the worldwide industry that supports it is a monstrously large topic, and  “Trophy” is a sprawling and often unfocused affair. It often seems the filmmakers weren’t quite sure how to tell their story — or exactly what the story is — and ended up throwing lots of stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

This seemingly unstructured approach — no narration, and only a few graphics displaying the current populations and death rates among endangered species — forces audiences to remain alert and to put their prejudices more or less on hold. For whatever you think about the film’s subject, one discovers there’s always more to learn.

(Of course, there are always the tremendous visuals…the film is often as beautiful as one of those National Geographic specials.)

“Trophy” begins with Texas sheep breeder Phillip Glass accompanying his young son on the kid’s first deer kill. Appreciate it or not, this is a rite of passage experienced by hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The film then cuts to South Africa where hunters takes down a rhino with a tranquilizer dart, then saw off the animal’s precious horn. What looks like a barbarous act is anything but. By removing the horn they are ensuring that the rhino — one of a thousand maintained by real estate millioinaire John Hume on his sprawling breeding farm — will be of no value to poachers, who would happily kill the creature in order to sell its “magic” horn on the thriving Asian black market. (Because of its alleged medicinal properties, a rhino horn can go for $250,000.)

“Trophy” takes us to the world’s largest big-game convention in Las Vegas, where American hunters get motivated to tackle the Big Five (that’s when a hunter has bagged an elephant, a lion, a leopard, a rhino and a buffalo).

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Natalia Pavelkova

“ZOOLOGY”  My rating: B-  (Opens Sept. 22 at Screenland Crossroads )

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

By turns funny, grotesque and touching, “Zoology” is a modern-day fable about a woman whose life is transformed by, well, an unexpected growth spurt.

Natasha (a terrific Natalya Pavelkova) is a paper pusher at a local zoo in a Russian city so emotionally stifling that everything, from the leaden sea and sky to the graffiti-marred concrete walls, is the same blueish gray.

Natasha is gray, too.  She’s in her fifties but looks much older; her unkempt hair is turning white, and she wears drab, shapeless, colorless clothing.

The other women in the zoo’s administrative offices make fun of her (once a mean girl, apparently, always a mean girl) and play nasty tricks.  The one good thing about Natasha’s job is that it gives her a chance to commune with the animals; on the sly she slips sausages to the big cats and throws bread crumbs to the ducks.

Early on in Ivan I. Tveerdovsky’s film Natasha seeks medical help for lower back pain. It’s only when she’s on the X-ray table that her terrible secret is revealed.

She has grown a tail, a fleshy, hairless thing that hangs down behind her knees.

This appendage has a mind of its own, twitching and throbbing.  In the bath it surfaces through the suds like a submarine’s periscope. (All the “tail” effects appear to be practical, no computer animation. They’re utterly convincing.)

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Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Armstrong

“VICEROY’S HOUSE” My rating: B 

106 minutes | No MPAA rating

Gurinder Chadha’s “Viceroy’s House” is more history lesson than viable drama. But it’s compelling history, told with insight, cinematic savvy and a sense of scale that would make David Lean proud.

The screenplay (by Chadha,  Paul Mayeda Berges and Moira Buffini) concentrates on the last days of British rule in India in 1948, and the efforts of the last Viceroy of that country, the famous Lord Louis Mountbatten, to juggle dozens of competing interests to ensure that the new Indian republic gets off to a good start.

As it turns out, this is a fool’s errand, thanks to the perfidy of Mr. Churchill’s government (represented here by actors like Michael Gambon and Simon Callow). which is pulling strings behind the scenes.

But Mountbatten, a supremely decent man as played by “Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville, is a hopeful, sincere and largely selfless warrior doing what he thinks will be best for millions of Indians.

The film follows two trajectories.  First there’s the arrival of Mountbatten and his Lady Edwina (Gillian Anderson) and his installation as Viceroy amid all the pomp and ceremony of a royal coronation. Unlike virtually all of the Viceroys who served in India over three centuries,  Mountbatten and his wife are concerned mostly with the common good.

While Lord Mountbatten spars and cajoles with the leaders of various factions — historic figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah — his wife turns to humanitarian concerns. Both work to eliminate the Brit racism that seeped through previous administrations. Both seriously try to understand the culture and ethos of the great continent which they are charged with giving away. Continue Reading »

“BEACH RATS”  My rating: B

95 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Thirty years ago a film dealing with the subject matter of “Beach Rats” would have been labeled a “gay” film and aimed specifically at audiences looking for  a satisfying coming out story.

Well, that was then.

Eliza Hittman’s second feature (after “It Felt Like Love”) is about a young man who is probably gay, but it’s less obsessed with his sexuality than with his general cluelessness.

Frankie (Brit actor Harris Dickinson) lives in Brooklyn with his mother, younger sister and soon-to-be-dead cancer-riddled father. He’s out of school and jobless, and spends his summer hanging out on the beach with a few of his childhood friends, know-nothings whose world view is limited to vaping and the availability of pot and pussy.

Frankie has a secret. He’s been visiting online gay chatrooms, tentatively exploring the possibilities. Every now and then he’ll arrange for a tryst with one of these men, who are clearly smitten with Frankie’s body and all-American good looks.

Writer/director Hittman takes it for granted that Frankie’s gay.  But like a lot of young people he’s not sure what he is.

Early in the film he’s picked up by a local girl, Simone (Madeline Weinstein), who spots him at a Coney Island fireworks display and zooms in.  Frankie begs off that he’s too tired to have sex, but over several weeks he and Simone will get intimate.   It’s hard to say whether he enjoys the sex or simply views it as good camouflage, throwing off any friends or family members who suspect he swings another way.

If our protagonist were, say, a middle-class suburbanite, he’d probably find himself in an LGBT teen support group.  But Frankie’s living in a macho-drenched working-class corner of Brooklyn. About all he knows about being gay is that it’s majorly uncool with his vaguely criminal buds. Continue Reading »

“IT” My rating: B-

135 minutes | MPAA rating: R

First, let’s all take a slow, non-hyperbolic breath.

Rarely has a mere horror movie gotten the advance raves and widespread cultural attention being lavished on “It,” the new film based on Stephen King’s novel (it was filmed once before, for a 1990 TV miniseries).

Well, it’s a good movie. Not great. It’s way overlong and trips over a few narrative dead ends.

It’s not as interesting or satisfying as either “It Follows” or “Get Out,” two recent groundbreaking examples of the horror genre.

But “It” — written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Doberman and directed by Andy Muschietti (“Mama”) — does hit the sweep spot between jump-in-your-seat thrills and the sort of Spielberg-influenced 1980s adolescent adventure most recently championed by Netflix’s hit series “Stranger Things.”

Basically you’ve got a group of pre-pubescents taking on a supernatural evil that resurrects every three decades or so to snatch unwary children. This creature is a sinister circus clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) who lives in a small town’s sewers and marks his approach with red balloons.

There’s no explanation of Pennywise’s back story; the screenplay presents him as the pure embodiment of every child’s deepest fears (making him a clown was a brilliant stroke on King’s part) and pretty much leaves it at that.

Dramatically, “It” is a deft balancing act between growing creepiness, an often hilarious examination of youthful behavior, and a compassionate (but superficial) look at adolescent angst.

The leader of these young misfits is Bill (Jaden Lieberher, so terrific in “St. Vincent” and “Midnight Special”), whose little brother vanished a year earlier when he ventured too close to a street grating during a rainstorm. Motivated by sibling love, the stuttering Bill is determined to face his own fears to stop Pennywise’s quiet rampage. Continue Reading »

Danielle MacDonald, Siddharth Dahanajay

“PATTI CAKE$” My rating: B+ 

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Think of “Patti Cake$” as a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney teen musical for the new millennia.

As with those old M-G-M productions, the premise is hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show. But the details have changed.  Now the setting is America’s urban wasteland, the “show” is rap, and the language is, well, salty.

“My life is fucking awesome” announces Patricia Dumbrowski (Danielle MacDonald), a 250-pounder  who tends bar and is known around her backwater New Jersey neighborhood as “Dumbo.”

“I’m 23 and I ain’t done shit.”

About all Patricia has going for her is a way with words, spunk, and this vague idea that given half a chance she could be one of the great rappers.

Turns out that’s enough.  This is a movie, after all — probably the crowd-pleasingest movie of the fall.

“Patti Cake$” — that’s Patricia’s rapper moniker — is a winning combination of rude/lewd grit and warm good feelings. Over the course of Geremy Jasper’s feature debut audiences will fall in love not only with Patti but with her weird and weirdly innocent collaborators.

Like the Pakistani-American Jerhi (Siddhartha Dahanajay),  during the day a lab-coated pharmacist’s assistant but at night a high-energy parody of a rapper.  Or Bastard Antichrist (Mamoudzou Athie), a dreadlocked freak with one blue eye, a covert recording studio in a hovel in the woods, and an electric guitar that can etch glass.

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“HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY”  My rating: B+

94 minutes | No MPAA rating

If Harold and Lillian Michelson had been, say, an accountant and a waitress, the story of their long marriage would be compelling enough.

But as fate and luck would have it, these two East Coast natives found their calling in Hollywood. In a town filled with egos and eccentricities, they embodied the sort of rock-solid relationship that set a high bar on Tinseltown matrimony.

This unusual (yet amazingly down to earth) couple emerge as quiet heroes in Daniel Raim’s fascinating, informative and inspiring “Helen and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.”

Harold was a storyboard artist and later an art director and production designer. Lillian ran her own research library, amassing a vast collection of books on just about everything that could be used by filmmakers to research their projects.

As the years passed they raised three sons (one of them autistic) and became  touchstones of sorts for other movie folk. They were decent, kind, hard-working and unbelievably talented.

“You felt you were with the best of Hollywood as it can be as a lifestyle,” said one colleague. (That explains why the makers of the animated “Shrek” based the characters of the king and queen on the Michelsons.)

Harold went from advertising art to movie storyboarding with Cecille B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”  In filmed interviews (he died a decade ago) Harold says he never met DeMille. He just looked at the script, made pen and charcoal drawings of what each shot might look like on the screen, and sent them up the chain of command.

Nevertheless, when you compare the finished film with Harold’s drawings you realize that DeMille and Co. were pretty much copying what Harold had given them, right down to the type of camera lens required for a specific shot.

Remember the famous shot in “The Graduate” in which a nervous Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is framed by the triangle of Mrs. Robinson’s (Anne Bancroft) thigh and calf?  That was Harold Michelson’s idea.

“The Graduate”

Also the sequence in which Benjamin dives into a swimming pool and surfaces to throw himself on a floating air mattress…which instantly becomes Mrs. Robinson on a hotel bed.

There’s a reason most movie storyboards go missing, says one Hollywood insider. No director wants to admit the best visual ideas in his film came from the storyboard artist.

Mel Brooks, for whom Harold storyboarded “Spaceballs,” recalled that his ideas were the difference between just OK and terrific. Harold produced “little goodies that made you look like a great filmmaker.”

Danny DeVito, a longtime friend and collaborator (and a producer of this doc), says of the process: “You’re directing through sketches.”

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Jeremy Renner, Gil Birmingham

“WIND RIVER” My rating: B

*113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With his screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” Taylor Sheridan joined the ranks of our best storytellers of the contemporary American West.

He cements that reputation — though not without a couple of minor missteps — by writing and directing “Wind River.”

Set on the sprawling Wind River Indian Reservation in mountainous central Wyoming, this snowbound mystery is triggered by the death of an 18-year-old Arapaho girl. Apparently she ran for several miles barefoot through a blizzard before succumbing to sub-zero temperatures. But what — or who — was she running from?

Her body is discovered by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a hunter for the wildlife service whose job is to eliminate wolves, cougars and other predators dining on domestic livestock. Soon he’ll be tracking down two-legged predators.

On one level “Wind River” is a buddy movie pairing the woods-smart Cory with Florida-reared Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), an FBI agent dispatched to investigate what appears to be a murder on tribal land. He knows every snowfield and ravine within hundreds of square miles; she shows up without so much as a pair of long johns.

But as seems always to be the case with a Sheridan film, just as important as the mystery is the milieu in which it’s set.

In this case it’s a world of natural beauty and aching poverty, dying traditions and doped-up  youth. Here white assumptions collide with Native American realities. Resentments and prejudices can surface at any time.

Renner’s Cory is the perfect guide through these conflicting cultures. Born nearby and as comfortable in a cowboy hat as a fur-lined parka, he’s divorced from an Arapaho woman with whom he has a young son. In short, he’s a man with one foot planted in the white world and the other in Indian country.

Sheridan’s screenplay provides plenty of thumbnail portraits of colorful characters. Continue Reading »

“DUNKIRK”  My rating: B

105 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Largely jettisoning character development and conventional exposition in favor of a you-are-there immersion, Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is clearly a descendent of “The Longest Day,” producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s massive 1962 recreation of the D-Day invasion.

It moves swiftly and explains little, weaving together three story lines in a chronologically jumbled narrative that covers a week’s worth of history as the British nation rallies to rescue more than 300,000 troops trapped by Germans on the French coast in the early years of World War II.

Nolan’s unconventional storytelling is simultaneously confusing and compelling.  It’s disconcerting to jump back and forth between a daytime aerial dogfight and a nighttime sea illuminated by fires and explosions. Don’t expect an explanation of what’s going on.

But by eschewing a linear narrative Nolan is able to ramp up the tension, zigging and zagging between cliffhanger moments as various characters fight to survive.

The first of these tales is set among the soldiers crowded on the beach, sitting ducks for the German pilots who seem to control the sky.

A British naval commander (Kenneth Branagh) desperately coordinates an evacuation that relies on the Mole, the sole pier in water deep enough to accommodate a large ship.

Most of this sequence centers on a young soldier (Fionn Whitehead) who is desperate to save himself. He poses as a stretcher bearer, hoping to get aboard a medical ship being loaded with the wounded. He’s fortunate enough to take refuge in an evacuation ship, but it is torpedoed and he must return to shore. He eventually joins another unit taking refuge in the hold of a beached trawler…they’re hoping for high tide to take them to sea while the boat becomes a target for Nazi marksmen.

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Zoe Kazan, Kumail Nanjiani

“THE BIG SICK”  My rating: B 

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Romantic comedy is so ubiquitous — so familiar and overworked and recycled — that nobody expects originality from the genre.

Then along comes “The Big Sick” to take us by surprise.

Directed by Michael Showalter, produced by Judd Apatow and penned by stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, the film starts out in familiar boy-meets-girl territory only to take us to unexpected places.

Nanjiani, a regular on cable’s “Silicon Valley,” is a Pakistani who came to the U.S. for college. Here he plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself, also named Kumail.

The film’s first hour will seem more than a little familiar to fans of “Master of None,” the much-awarded Netflix comedy from Aziz Ansari, the son of Indian immigrants.

While working as an Uber driver, Kumail struggles to make it on the comedy circuit, determined not to rely too much on his ethnicity for laugh fodder. His deadpan persona is belied by the dry hilarity of his zingers.

His mother and father (Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher) expect him to be a good Muslim (when visiting them, Kumail dutifully retreats to the basement with his prayer rug but spends his time there digging through boxes of childhood belongings).

Moreover, our hero is subjected to a steady stream of available Pakistani woman (they exhibit everything from firm self-confidence to embarrassment and desperation) who just happen to be in the neighborhood when he’s having dinner with the folks.

Kumail hasn’t the heart to announce that he’s not interested in a traditional arranged marriage.

Romance intervenes with Emily (Zoe Kazan), who gently heckles Kumail during a show then sticks around for a little intense cross-cultural interaction.  In one of the film’s goofiest moments, she decides to end their night of passion by calling for a ride; since he’s the closest Uber driver, his cellphone goes off. Continue Reading »

“MOTHER!”: WTF?

Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem

“MOTHER!” My rating: C 

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Darren Aronofsky is a master filmmaker whose grasp of movie technology and cinema’s esthetic possibilities has few equals.

But  you’ve got to wonder about his choice of subject matter.

There are moments of pure genius on display in “mother!”,  along with a sustained depiction of madness to equal anything ever seen on the screen.

But they are in the service of an eschatological puzzle that will leave most audience members scratching their heads.  The movie is clever to a fault, but at the risk of emotionally alienating all but the most die-hard theological geeks.

You know we’re in the world of heavy-duty (if not pretentious) metaphor when all the characters are denied names and identified in the credits as Mother, Him, Man, Woman, Younger Brother, etc.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a remote, formerly splendid country home with her husband, the considerably older Him (Javier Bardem). Him is a novelist with a bad case of writer’s block; he can’t make the ideas flow and it’s making him pathetic and cranky.

Mother, meanwhile, busies herself with restoring the old mansion, a job she has taken on singlehandedly.

Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Harris

Their isolated lives are interrupted by Man (Ed Harris), who claims to be a physician doing research nearby. He’s been misinformed that Mother and Him are running a b&b.  When Him learns that Man is a big fan of his writing, he invites the visitor to move into a guest room.

Mother isn’t thrilled, and is even more upset when Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), shows up as well.  They are the guests from hell:  smoking, drinking, acting like they own the joint and making out like horny teens. This part of “mother!”, at least, is wickedly funny.

Woman is a nosy meddler who wants to know the nature of her hosts’ sex lives and presses Mother for an explanation of their childless state.

Mother pleads with her husband to evict the interlopers, but his ego is desperate for their fawning praise. Moreover, Man appears to be dying of lung cancer. What kind of person would toss him out?

The first half of the film climaxes with a murder.

In its wake Him finds inspiration, writes a new novel and impregnates Mother.

All seems copacetic until the night thousands of Him’s fans descend upon the house and begin a riot, holding orgiastic ceremonies, stripping the house for souvenirs and, eventually, turning their attention to the infant  Mother delivers in the midst of these cabalistic reveries. (Shades of “Rosemary’s Baby”!) Continue Reading »