Posts Tagged ‘Darren Aronofsky’

LOOKING BACK AT 2017: RICHARD PICKS FOR THE WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR.

THE BAD (in alphabetical order)

CHIPs: It’s a remake, a comedy and an action film and yet it doesn’t quite measure up to any of those descriptors. It’s a remake in the sense that writer-director-star Dax Shepard has lifted the title, character names and general situation from the classic TV show but they are simply pegs to hang his crude jokes on.

The Circle: While it is a pleasure to see Bill Paxton in his last big screen performance, “The Circle” often feels like an Exposition-A-Thon, a message in search of a story.

The Fate of the Furious: Preposterous is not a word most filmmakers would like to have applied to their work but in the case of the “Fast and Furious” franchise I think it is what they are going for. Somewhere along the way the down-‘n’-dirty car chase flicks veered from sublimely silly to simply silly. “The Fate of the Furious” is fast, furious but it’s not much fun. It’s an unholy mash-up of James Bond and the Marvel Universe, a movie bogged down by outrageous stunts and too many characters. Someone really should tell Vin Diesel and Company that more is not always more.

Fifty Shades Darker: Depending on your point of view “Fifty Shades of Grey” either made you want to gag or want to wear a gag. It’s a softcore look at hardcore BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) that spanked the competition on its opening weekend in 2015. Question is, will audiences still care about Grey’s proclivities and Ana’s misgivings or is it time to use our collective safeword? “Fifty Shades Darker” is a cold shower of a movie. “It’s all wrong,” Ana says at one point. “All of this is wrong.” Truer words have never been spoken. 

The Mountain Between Us: Mountain survival movies usually end up with someone eating someone else to stay alive. “The Mountain Between Us” features the usual mountain survival tropes—there’s a plane crash, a showdown with a cougar and broken bones—but luckily for fans of stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet cannibalism is not on the menu. Days pass and then weeks pass and soon they begin their trek to safety. “Where are we going?” she asks. “We’re alive,” he says. “That’s where were going.” There will be no spoilers here but I will say the crash and story of survival changes them in ways that couldn’t imagine… but ways the audience will see coming 100 miles away. It’s all a bit silly—three weeks in and unwashed they still are a fetching couple—but at least there’s no cannibalism and no, they don’t eat the dog.

The Mummy: As a horror film it’s a meh action film. As an action film it’s little more than a formulaic excuse to trot out some brand names in the kind of film Hollywood mistakenly thinks is a crowd pleaser.

The Shack: Bad things in life may be God’s will but I lay the blame for this bad movie directly on the shoulders of director Stuart Hazeldine who infuses this story with all the depth and insight of a “Davey and Goliath” cartoon.

The Snowman: We’ve seen this Nordic Noir before and better. Mix a curious lack of Oslo accents—the real mystery here is why these Norwegians speak as though they just graduated RADA—Val Kilmer in a Razzie worthy performance and you’re left with a movie that left me as cold as the snowman‘s grin.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Movies like the high gloss crime thriller “La Femme Nikita,” the assassin mentor flick “Léon: The Professional” and outré sci fi opera “The Fifth Element” have come to define director Luc Besson’s outrageous style. Kinetic blasts of energy, his films are turbo charged fantasies that make eyeballs dance even if they don’t always engage the brain. His latest, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” not only has one of the longest titles of the year but is also one of the most over-the-top, retina-frying movies of the year. Your eyes will beg for mercy.

Wonder Wheel: At the beginning of the film Mickey (Justin Timberlake) warns us that what we are about to see will be filtered through his playwright’s point of view. Keeping that promise, writer, director Woody Allen uses every amount of artifice at his disposal—including cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s admittedly sumptuous photography—to create a film that is not only unreal but also unpleasant. “Oh God,” Ginny (Kate Winslet) cries out at one point. “Spare me the bad drama.” Amen to that.

THE UGLY

Song to Song: I think it’s time Terrence Malick and I called it quits. I used to look forward to his infrequent visits. Sure, sometimes he was a little obtuse and over stayed his welcome, but more often than not he was alluringly enigmatic. Then he started coming around more often and, well, maybe the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt is true. In “Song to Song” there’s a quick shot of a tattoo that sums up my feelings toward my relationship with Malick. Written in flowery script, the words “Empty Promises” fill the screen, reminding us of the promise of the director’s early work and amplifying the disappointment we feel today. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the Terrence Malick movie that put me off Terrence Malick movies. I’ll be nice though and say, it’s not him, it’s me.

EXTRA! EXTRRA! MOST COUNFOUNDING

mother!: Your interest in seeing “mother!,” the psychological thriller from “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky, may be judged on your keenness to watch American sweetheart Jenifer Lawrence flush a beating heart down a toilet. Aronofsky’s story of uninvited guests disrupting the serene lives of a poet and his wife refuses to cater to audience expectations. “mother!” is an uncomfortable watch, an off-kilter experience that revels in its own madness. As the weight of the weirdness and religious symbolism begins to feel crushing, you may wonder what the hell is going on. Are these people guilty of being the worst houseguests ever or is there something bigger, something biblical going on?

Aronofsky is generous with the biblical allusions—the house is a paradise, the stranger’s sons are clearly echoes of Cain and Abel, and there is a long sequence that can only be described as the Home-style Revelation—and builds toward a crescendo of wild action that has to be seen to be believed, but his characters are ciphers. Charismatic and appealing to a member, they feel like puppets in the director’s apocalyptic roadshow rather than characters we care about. Visually and thematically he doesn’t push button so much as he pokes the audience daring them to take the trip with him, it’s just too bad we didn’t have better company for the journey.

“mother!” is a deliberately opaque movie. Like looking into a self-reflective mirror you will take away whatever you put into it. The only thing sure about it is that it is most confounding studio movie of the year.

CTVNEWS.CA: “THE CROUSE REVIEW LOOKS AT “MOTHER!” & “AMERICAN ASSASSIN”!

A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at the mind bending Jennifer Lawrence movie “mother!” and the Michael Keaton thriller “American Assassin.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!

RICHARD’S CTV NEWSCHANNEL WEEKEND MOVIE REVIEWS & MORE FOR SEPTEMBER 15.

Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Jenifer Burke to have a look at the Jenifer Lawrence freak-out “mother!,’ the most confounding studio movie to hit theatres in years and the generic thrills of “American Assassin.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!

Metro IN Focus: “American Assassin” – Hitman 101 is in session.

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

There are many types of movies about people who deal in death to make a living. There’s the cold-blooded killer story, the revenge drama and even comedic takes on killing for fun and profit. Assassins can be men, women, children and even robots.

In this weekend’s American Assassin Michael Keaton is the teacher, a Cold War veteran who trains undercover executioners. He teaches counter-terrorism operative Mitch Rapp, played by Dylan O’Brien, the ropes of the killing game.

A quick look back at decades of death merchant movies reveals a set of rules and philosophies assassins will always follow.

When we first met John Wick he resembles the Sad Keanu meme. He’s a broken hearted man whose wife has recently passed away. He’s a loner until a package arrives at his door. It’s a puppy, sent by his wife just before she died, in the hopes that the dog’s love will help ease his pain. For a time it works, but when some very bad men break into his house to steal his Mustang, the dog winds up as collateral damage. With the last living touchstone to his late wife gone, Wick reverts back to his old ways as a mad, bad and dangerous to know assassin bent on revenge. We learn that you can quit, but you’ll always get pulled back in.

“People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer,” says Wick. “But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!“

Charles Bronson, as the skilled slayer in The Mechanic teaches his young protégé, played by Jan-Michael Vincent, some basic hitman lessons. “Murder is only killing without a license,” he says, adding that when you shoot someone do it right. “You always have to be dead sure. Dead sure or dead.”

That’s key killer advice, but slow down, there is a progression to becoming a hitman.

In The Professional Leon (Jean Reno) details the system. “The rifle is the first weapon you learn how to use,” he says, “because it lets you keep your distance from the client. The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn.”

Along the way movie assassins also learn that relationships are verboten.

Remember what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie)? “Your aim’s as bad as your cooking sweetheart,” taunts John to Jane, “and that’s saying something!”

Day of the Jackal’s would-be Charles de Gaulle assassin (Edward Fox) adds, “In this work you simply can’t afford to be emotional,” although sometimes feelings inevitably get in the way. Just ask Prizzi’s Honor’s Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) who memorably said, “Do I ice her? Do I marry her?”

Once they’ve learned the ropes, one question remains: Why do movie assassins kill?

Max Von Sydow plays one of the great movie killers in Three Days of the Condor, Sydney Lumet’s classic story of conspiracies and murder. His reasoning for doing what he does is chillingly simple. “The fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation,” he says. “Someone is always willing to pay.” The Matador’s Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) agrees, “My business is my pleasure,” he said.

 

MOTHER!: 3 ½ STARS. “this is the most confounding studio movie of the year.”

Your interest in seeing “mother!,” the new psychological thriller from “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky, may be judged on your keenness to watch American sweetheart Jenifer Lawrence flush a beating heart down a toilet. Doesn’t appeal? Perhaps get your pulse racing with “It” instead. If it does, read on.

Lawrence and Javier Bardem are “mother” and “him,” a May-December married couple living in a remote and rambling countryside Victorian mansion. It’s a house with a history. Partially destroyed by a fire—which also claimed him’s first wife—the place has memories. Him, a poet, has been blocked ever since the fire, but finds solace in one of the few things to survive the blaze, a crystal that he now displays in his home office. Despite mother’s efforts to make the house a home—“I want to make a paradise,” she says.—a pall hangs over her wannabe Eden.

The weird factor amps up when a man (Ed Harris) shows and is invited by him to stay the night. He’s oddly antagonistic and inappropriate—“Your wife? I thought it was your daughter!”—but him treats him well, like a long lost friend. She feels like a third wheel in her own home.

The next day the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, making herself at home. She asks unusual, probing questions—“Why don’t you want to have kids? I have kids. That is what’s gonna keep your marriage is growing.”—and likes to booze it up during the day. Mother, unable to understand the new guests or her husband’s behaviour toward them, is further alienated when their aggressive, argumentative sons (real life siblings Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) show up. It begins to feel like a home invasion rather than a visit.

Paranoia grows as Mother becomes pregnant and a celebratory dinner turns to violence and murder. That’s not a spoiler. ‘mother!” is so bonkers mere words on a page can barely do it justice. Is that my failing or the film’s?

Aronofsky makes movies that refuse to cater to audience expectations. “mother!” is an uncomfortable watch, an off-kilter experience that revels in its own madness. As the weight of the weirdness and religious symbolism begins to feel crushing, you may wonder what the hell is going on. Are these people guilty of being the worst houseguests ever or is there something bigger, something biblical going on?

Aronofsky is generous with the biblical allusions—the house is a paradise, the sons are clearly echoes of Cain and Abel, and there is a long sequence that can only be described as the Home-style Revelation—and builds toward a crescendo of wild action that has to be seen to be believed, but his characters are ciphers. Charismatic and appealing to a member, they feel like puppets in the director’s apocalyptic roadshow rather than characters we care about. Visually and thematically he doesn’t push button so much as he pokes the audience daring them to take the trip with him, it’s just too bad we didn’t have better company for the journey.

“mother!” is a deliberately opaque movie. Like looking into a self-reflective mirror you will take away whatever you put into it. The only thing sure about it is that it is most confounding studio movie of the year.

Metro Reel Guys: Noah review: Not your father’s biblical epic

noah1By Richard Crouse & Mark Breslin – Metro Reel Guys

Synopsis: After a quick recap of Old Testament highlights we meet Noah, the last descendant of Adam and Eve’s son Seth. The world he lives in is a dangerous place, ruled by Cain’s bloodthirsty bloodline, but Noah (Russell Crowe) and family (Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Leo McHugh Carroll) live as nature-loving, proto-hippies. That is, until Noah has an— apocalyptic dream. Consulting with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), he determines The Creator wants him to build an ark and laden it with two of every creature in advance of a great flood that will destroy mankind and the violence they perpetrate. But Noah will have to make some troubling decisions to fulfill God’s will.

• Richard: 3/5
• Mark: 4/5

Richard: Mark, the best way I can describe Noah is emotionally ambitious. It takes a familiar story and shines a new light on it by highlighting Noah’s spiritual quandary. In the film — which takes liberties with the biblical story — he’s a vegan prophet who grapples with doing God’s will while balancing the needs of all of humanity, particularly his family. The meaning of faith and the consequences of adhering to that faith are the film’s main thrust, but as interesting as that is, the movie feels like one thing when it is addressing the spiritual and quite another — possibly a Lord of the Rings movie — when it is in action movie mode.

Mark: Richard, I queasily bought the transition from religious allegory to action pic because I admired the tone and quality of the movie. I shuddered when I first heard about the picture, but then got interested when I found out Aronofsky was directing. Unlike most biblical epics, the dialogue isn’t embarrassing and the lead actor isn’t over the top.

RC: It’s not your father’s biblical epic, that’s for sure. This is an art-house epic that filters the story through Aronofsky’s impressionistic style. Some may criticize the movie for not being reverent enough, but I thought he treated the story as a living, breathing thing and not an artifact from another time. But having said that, Aronofsky moves in mysterious ways. He shot the epic almost entirely in close-up, and the flood scene could have used a bit more Cecil B. DeMille.

MB: He also indulged in some sci-fi flourishes I don’t remember from the Bible! But I accepted them as part of the world of wonder when the Earth was a pre-prehistoric place. The movie has a strong environmental message and also feels critical of doctrinaire religious fundamentalism. Noah, at the end, almost makes a choice that only a deranged religious kook would make. Speaking of which, what did you think of Russell Crowe?

RC: Crowe’s been in a bit of a slump in recent years. The dangerous, complex actor of movies like Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind seemed to have taken a backseat to the performer who thought making The Man with the Iron Fists was a good idea. Noah is a nice reminder of Crowe’s delicate mix of fearsome masculinity and subtle sensitivity.

MB: I thought he was wonderfully restrained in the part even when he was deranged with fervour. My only complaint is that the movie peaks too soon. I guess there’s a bit of a problem with the story… arc.

BLACK SWAN: 4 ½ STARS

movies-natalie-portman-black-swan“Black Swan” is the sort of psychological thriller that doesn’t get made anymore. In a time when most filmmakers are playing it safe, pumping out movies that try to appeal to every single member of the ticket buying audience, Darren Aronofsky has followed up the Oscar nominated success of “The Wrestler” with the kind of emotional noir film that Brian DePalma and Roman Polanski excelled in 30 years ago.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a “beautiful, fearful and fragile” ballerina who dreams of dancing the lead in “Swan Lake.” When she gets the chance the duality of that role — she’ll play both the pure Swan Queen and the sensual Black Swan — begins to bleed into her real life. Consequently it pushes her already brittle psyche to the limit.

As the pressure on Nina builds, so does the paranoia and Aronofsky subtly (and not-so-subtly) drops clues that Nina’s world is two parts perception and only one part reality. Slowly the psychological and body horror builds toward an operatic climax that redefines over-the-top.

I’ve kept the synopsis purposely thin. This is a thriller and as such much of the pleasure of the film will come from learning the details of the story when Aronofsky wants you to. I can tell you Nina is pushed and pulled by an overprotective stage mother (Barbara Hershey), a faded prima donna (Wynona Ryder), a demanding director (Vincent Cassel) and a neophyte dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis). Beyond that, you’ll get no spoilers here.

“Black Swan” benefits greatly from frenetic but beautiful camerawork that is as wonderfully choreographed as any of the dance sequences and the performance of Natalie Portman.

Aronofsky has pulled good performances from everyone — Kunis’s earthiness is a nice counterbalance to Portman’s otherworldliness — but he has pushed Portman to places we’ve never seen her in before. She’s in virtually every scene of the film, and even during the dance scenes, just when you think she isn’t doing her own pirouettes — when the camera cuts from her face to her feet, or when we see her dancing out-of-focus in a mirror — Aronofsky then pans up, or snaps into focus, showing us the dancing is not a cheat.

Neither is the performance. She has physically transformed herself into a twirling 95-pound bun head. But beyond the waifish appearance she throws herself into the emotionally complex role. Echoing Catherine Deneuve in “Repulsion” her grip on reality slowly disintegrates until there is nothing left to hold on to. It is riveting and brave work that sets a new benchmark in her career.

It’s easier to end by summing up what “Black Swan” isn’t. It isn’t understated, it isn’t strictly a horror film, nor is it just a ballet film. It is a wild, primal melodrama that resonates because of the fearless and unapologetically strange work of its star and director.