Posts Tagged ‘Niki Caro’

Jennifer Lopoez, Lucy Paez

“THE MOTHER” My rating: C- (Netflix)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Mother,” the latest example of gals-with-guns cinema, starts out preposterous and in no time at all has worked its way into full-bore absurdist “Roadrunner” mode…the big difference being that a “Roadrunner” cartoon has a sense of humor. 

Here’s a film about international criminals, a former army sniper and the FBI written by three scribes (Misha Green, Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig) who offer no indication that any of them has ever met an international criminal, an army sniper or a federal agent.  

Basically “The Mother” is a mess of plot points and attitude copied from other movies (Schwarzenegger’s “Commando” appears to have been a major influence) and held together — barely — by Jennifer Lopez’ seriously strained charisma.  

Lopez plays the title character, whose name we never do get.  She’s an Afghan vet with three dozen sniper kills, and as the film begins she’s being debriefed in a safe house by a couple of FBI agents. Seems our girl has spent several years as the consort/muscle of a couple of international arms dealers (Joseph Fiennes, Gael Garcia Bernal), and now she’s decided to turn them in.

Oh, yeah, there’s a catch…she’s preggers, presumably by one of her criminal cohorts. But the bad guys are on to her and she barely survives a massacre at the safe house, undergoes an emergency caesarean, turns her newborn daughter over to an FBI agent (Omari Hardwick) for placement in a good home, and moves to an isolated  cabin in Alaska where she can kill a variety of critters and stay off her criminal colleagues’ radar.

Short story long, she’s called back into the fray when her daughter, now 12 years old, is kidnapped by the evil ones.  She’s able to rescue the girl in a bloody shootout, but now the two are on the run.  She can’t take the girl, Zoe (Lucy Paez), back to her Midwestern home (Ohio, we’re told, though in this alternate universe Ohio has mountains); their  only hope is to hide out in the snowy north until the danger passes.

Zoe suspects that her nameless protector is her birth mother, which doesn’t stop her from behaving like your typical suburban tween, throwing temper tantrums and pouting. 

Before the dust settles The Mother will have wiped out a small army of mercenaries. 

Despite the obviously wretched dialogue, the production was able to attract some serious talent, not just Fiennes and Bernal but also Oscar nominee (for “Sound of Metal”) Paul Raci and multiple Emmy winner Edie Falco.

But what’s really depressing is the name behind the camera. “The Mother” was directed by Niki Caro, whose earliest efforts (“Whale Rider,” “North Country”) suggested a major talent in humanist cinema. “The Mother” is technically polished, but hasn’t a shred of the emotional truth of those early landmarks.

| Robert W. Butler

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Liu Yifei

“MULAN” My rating: B

115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Disney’s new live-action “Mulan” occupies a precarious sweet spot that is hard to establish and perhaps harder to keep.

The film is simple enough (and inoffensive enough) for children, yet possesses ample thematic depth and technical imagination to engage adults.

Well, most adults, anyway. Certainly those adults who will end up watching it with their offspring.

The story is already familiar to many of us, thanks to several centuries of Chinese folklore and numerous film adaptations, especially the 1998 animated Disney version.  The premise finds a young woman, Mulan, disguising herself as a man and taking her aged/injured father’s place in the Emperor’s army in a fight to repel ruthless invaders.

It hardly needs pointing out that the yarn’s feminist credentials remain timely. Moreover, director Niki Caro has made a career of female empowerment with titles like the sublime “Whale Rider” and the gut-punching “North Country.” She knows her way around the subject.

But she also brings to this incarnation martial arts action reminiscent of Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and a David Lean-worthy sense of place and space (although with Lean you knew  those spectacular sunsets and sand dunes were the real deal; here they may have sprung from a computer program).

And in young Chinese star Liu Yifei the film has a heroine able to suggest her character’s inner drive and thoughts while presenting a manly — i.e., emotion-smothering — face to the outside world. (Has there ever been a lead female role with so little smiling?)

This “Mulan” forgoes the musical numbers of the animated version, not to mention the goofy dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy. Instead it emphasizes visual beauty and battle (albeit PG-13 battle…these soldiers die bloodlessly).

The villain here is Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), the scarred, long-haired barbarian leader seeking revenge for the death of his father years before. With an army of gravity-defying ninjas, Bori Khan is relentlessly marching into China, intent on personally slaying the aging Emperor (Jet Li).


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