Jan 31, 2013


A promising, well made, if uneven movie by Andrés Muschietti, Mama has a lot of great ideas, but it's muddled by too much reliance on fantasy and contrived plot points. The good news is that, as scary movies go, this one at least has a very interesting subtext: it's not just about two yahoos in a house with a ghost and a video camera. It's about the dark side of mothering, a very scary subject.
Two feral girls are found and adopted by their uncle and it turns out that they have survived five years in an abandoned cabin (with fabulous mid-century furniture, somehow) by eating cherries, because "someone" has been taking care of them. The kids are fantastic, in particular, the younger creepy one (Isabelle Nélisse). They move like strange animals and are utterly terrifying, although they are not evil in themselves. The uncle is married to a rocker (Jessica Chastain, trying hard to look punkish), who doesn't have a maternal bone in her body. As they move to a new house, they realize that "Mama" has followed them and wants them back. Some of the movie is truly creepy. Muschietti relies too much in jolts of sound effects to make you jump in your seat, but there are a couple of truly spine tingling moments. In the best scene of the movie, the little one, Lily, is cheerfully playing tug of war with someone unseen, while Jessica Chastain is oblivious to the presence of a very heavy spirit in the kids' room. It is loving, innocent play, yet it is terrifying. Also moving is the fact that the older sister, Victoria, realizes that she is not so attached to Mama anymore, that she rather have the consolation of a flesh and blood mother, and the warmth of a normal home on Earth, and this causes her real, devastating pain, as well as fear. Lily, meanwhile, is completely transfixed by and attached to Mama, as she seems to also be more comfortable in the world of shadows than in life. This division between people who have life affirming tendencies and those who seek comfort in darkness is beautifully rendered. It is very poignant, and rings true that it is the youngest one who can't detach from the ghost's love. Her loss at a very early age has stunted her, and in many ways she is still a baby. The visceral feelings that maternal love evokes are a great subject for a scary story. Yet Mama misses many opportunities to further explore these attachments, or the way the girls react to their new lives. Instead it relies on facile plot turns and wasted characters. An embittered aunt who wants custody of the girls makes a third maternal character and I was hoping she would be yet another source of pain, the greedy wanna be mother, but she only serves as a plot device for a rather contrived ending. As for Mama herself, her story is harrowing enough to make her haunt parentless children forever. If only her ghost would remain a suggested shadow, a rustle, instead of an increasingly garish special effects creature, with an uncanny resemblance to Julie Taymor, were she stretched on a rack. But having Guillermo Del Toro as a producer usually means that some cheesy creature (as well as deeply overwrought music) will make an appearance, despite the fact that the suggested, the ominous, and the unseen are always a million times creepier and scarier.
I must confess, I don't care for fantasy. I avoid Hobbits, Harry Potters and Middle Earths like the plague. In a similar vein to Del Toro's Pan's LabyrinthMama aims at fantastic horror, but the more fantastic it is, the less horrifying.

Jan 30, 2013


Dear readers: I am thrilled to announce that in addition to this blog, I am also currently writing reviews for Out.com, where my review of this entertaining page of New York City history is currently appearing. Enjoy!

Jan 15, 2013

Les Miserables

This is what happened to my soul in the two hours and thirty eight minutes that I endured, like a  prisoner in Guantanamo, sitting in a theater with nothing but darkness coming from the screen. My soul ran for its life and hid in a remote, safe place where the asphyxiating ugliness of this movie could not strangle it.
I sat there trying to shield myself from the ineptitude, the dreariness, the forced bathos, the insincerity, the repetitiveness; from the costly futility of the entire doomed enterprise. Some doomed enterprises, like Cloud Atlas, have a shred of vitality fanned by their own belief in their ridiculous convictions. You can tell everybody involved knows it's a major dud, but they soldier on. This movie doesn't even have that. It is exhausted and exhausting and it has the energy of a funeral procession for someone deeply unloved. People in it behave like they are going to the gallows, everything is a last gasp. Hence all that crying, I assume. There is no joy, no fun and no life in it.
I could feel nothing but dread (and lethal boredom). Dread at the thought of Hugh Jackman opening his mouth to sing in a register that threatened to break his vocal chords, and my ears. Ordinarily, Jackman is a charming, talented performer, but this movie has the dubious distinction of making you loathe him. It also has the distinction of making you never want to read Victor Hugo's original novel. It is unfathomable to see this film and infer that the source material is any good. This is how criminally bad this movie is. The writers-composers took what is known to be a good story, and turned it into dreck. Tom Hooper's bizarre clumsiness as a director delivers the coup de grace. It murders the story.
I felt dread and pity at the sight of Russell Crowe, looking like he'd rather be waterboarded with piss, than stand once more in that stupid parapet with his tiny little nothing of a voice, and have to sing those dreadful songs. Russell Crowe singing is like "Garbo Talks!"; not a good idea. Whatever macho mystique the man had has been vanquished by his participation in this movie. If I were him, I'd be throwing phones at the producers.
I felt dread at the effluvia of snot and tears coming of Anne Hathaway's face as she sang, or rather as she heaved, with an unseemly, vulgar, and totally unprofessional lack of control, through that fucking song from hell (they are all the same, and they are all infernal).
When the miraculous face of Eddie Redmayne appeared, I almost fainted with relief. Soon he was crying rivers too, though he can sing. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, the official Victorian wench of filmdom, were charged with bringing enforced jollity, and they tried, but even their efforts seemed leaden.
Les Miserables is a horror movie from which there is no escape. It is like the cult hit The Room, but with money and stars. That is, it is the un-cinema; everything that a movie should not be. It seems to have been made by someone who doesn't know how to frame a shot, how to light a scene, how to make people move in space; let alone choose people who can sing. For some amateurish reason, Tom Hooper, a man who apparently is deaf and blind, decided to frame all the characters in extreme close up. This is a movie with no backdrops. You can't see anything beyond anyone's nostrils. Paris looks like a mound of gray turds.
The music is like an interminable barn dance but in a heroic key. Yet it has the gall to treat itself like an opera, so instead of talking between "songs", there is recitative. This is the one instance in which I was praying for the action scenes to happen, for bayonets to pierce bodies and cannons to explode, so that people would stop singing, and put us, Les Miserables in the audience, out of our misery.

Jan 14, 2013

Golden Globes 2013 Post Mortem

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler ruled. They were funny and charming and we love them. They were totally awesome and better than any male host in a loooooong time. Seth McFarlane may be toast.
The best gag of the night was the channeling of show biz cluelessness by Kirsten Wiig and Will Ferrell when reading the supporting actress category. That was hysterical.
Jessica Chastain wore the bed sheets of the Beverly Hilton. She almost did a Sally Field there with her speech about how hard she has worked. Spare me. Then she talked about defying convention when what she did in that movie is the most conventional stuff: I'm the relentless hero who will stop at nothing to get Osama Bin Laden. Get over yourself. There was nothing original about your character nor the way you played her.
Which reminds me, very few actors (these ceremonies just go to show the kind of narcissistic nutjobs most of them are) know how to be gracious when giving a speech. Hence, best acceptance speech of the night, Daniel Day Lewis, using metaphors about bringing mice to his wife, being faux humble (but believable) towards his fellow nominees, smartly avoiding politics and generally campaigning to get the Oscar by dint of sheer classiness. What he said about Tony Kushner's words was so eloquent....
Ben Affleck too, sweet, smart, mentioning the troops. He should run for office.
Adele was the best. Natural, funny, sincere and delightful.
Everybody else reeked. I'm talkin' to you, Anne Hathaway, trying to pull off a Meryl Streep, in adoration of your fellow female thespians, but I ain't buying it. Like I do not buy that poor Zooey Deschanel was an inspiration in any way, shape or form to Lena Dunham ever. It was gracious, if totally fake of Dunham to include her. Dunham, who looked like a giant Hershey's kiss, should wear comfy shoes next time. I like that she has not yet hired a personal trainer.
At this moment I must interject that I do not give a rat's ass about any of the TV shows. I know it is gauche, and considered totally unhip for me not to be obsessing about television with the rest of you, and I still don't give a fuck. I'll let you gasp, to paraphrase Christoph Waltz: I don't have cable. I only like 30 Rock.
Now, Anne Hathaway at least gets props for articulation, for rehearsing her little speech, committing it to memory and nailing it, something that Jodie Foster, WHO KNEW MONTHS IN ADVANCE she was going to have to stand there and not be cut off by music, could not muster.
What the hell was that? This is my biggest beef with her "coming out/not coming out in front of y'all" extravaganza. She is an actress. She is used to learning lines. She knew she was getting this trophy. It would have had more impact (in the right way), would have been much more dignified and meaningful, if she had decided not to wing it. I have always thought of Foster as an intelligent actress, but she was inordinately aggressive, full of herself and gynormously obnoxious. Obviously, she is still very conflicted about this topic, which she has every right to be. But she had an opportunity to impart some classy words of wisdom and instead she sounded like someone's batty aunt on coke. With all due respect, it was a little bit like Clint Eastwood talking to the chair. And Mel Gibson's bewildered punim... the face that launched a thousand gifs.
As I have said before, anybody who gives any sort of prize to the catastrophe that is Les Miserables, must be deaf and blind. Someone is drinking some very potent kool-aid with this attempt at alternate reality. This movie is absolutely dreadful. I want to understand why it is being celebrated. It's based on an old, dreary musical, based on an even older novel about a revolution that no one cared about. What is going on?
Argo as best film was an interesting upset. I think Lincoln is still going to sweep the Oscars. Which made me wonder about the mysterious, inscrutable ways of the HFPA. Maybe Lincoln is too "hurray for the USA" for the aliens that run that racket. Maybe they just love George Clooney (producer) too much. Who knows. But that was interesting. And in defense of this show: it is more fun than the Oscars, but less involuntarily hilarious. And it sometimes recognizes the work of people that the Oscars don't. Like Jack Black or Ewan McGregor or Marion Cotillard, or other people who were ignored by the Academy. There are no musical numbers and no songs, thank God, and it feels less bloated and self-important. Plus everyone in it is, at the very least, tipsy.

Jan 4, 2013

Cloud Atlas

If a reviewer falls asleep and then wakes up and can’t take it anymore and leaves half way through the movie, can they still write about it? Hells, yeah!  
This is what happened to me while attempting to wrap my head around Cloud Atlas, possibly the most expensive, unnecessary B-movie ever made. No matter in what era of humanity we were supposed to be, no matter what egregious make up the characters were wearing, every single word they uttered was gibberish. It was like listening to kids when they pretend to speak a language.
“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, is right. William Shakespeare, film reviewer. 

My recollections are as disjointed as the movie, hence I will render them here as such:

What does it matter if the characters are in San Francisco in the seventies, or Seoul in the future or Flinstoneland in some weird age, if we have no idea of who they are nor do we care? We never spend enough time in each of their storylines to give a rat’s ass about them, past or present.

I loathe stories of interconnection, be it through continents or ages. If a yurt falls in Mongolia and a gaucho sneezes in Patagonia, I could care less.

This is the worst piece of casting in the history, not of movies, but of mankind. Every single actor, except perhaps for Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw, is spectacularly wrong for the parts. This may be because all the parts are wrong for all actors, unless they were played by Martin Short, or Mel Brooks. Then this movie might have been a hoot. It did, at times, remind me of Spaceballs and not in a good way. It's Spaceballs with money. 

Let’s start with Tom Hanks. Always a trooper, he shows up with his customary bonhomie, despite wearing calamitous wigs and preposterous make up. He is, as always, working hard to be likable. But Tom Hanks is not the man for a period piece, let alone many periods. He is not the man for costumes or disguises. Giving him protheses of any kind will only make him look ridiculous. He is Everyman USA and he should stay this way. At least he tries to have fun. Everybody else seems to be walking on burning coals.
Halle Berry may be gorgeous, but she is as interesting as a plastic bag. When they give her a yellow wig and a reverse nose job and claim she is a Jew, we are on Mystery Science Theater 3000 territory. In fact, I propose that a full episode of that splendid series be devoted to this film. It’s the only way to endure it.
I could watch Susan Sarandon pad away in her pajamas all day long, but this wonderful actress is a thoroughly modern dame. She is no good as a cavewoman witch in the pastfuture. She seems to be crying out for a martini.
And don’t get me started about Hugh Grant, who should never, ever, for any reason, leave Notting Hill. He fares worst of all, at some point looking like Gene Simmons from Kiss. 

By insisting on having the same actors play myriad characters and plastering them with varying degrees of bad make up, the directors (the Wachovski siblings and Tom Twyker) actually undermine the thesis of their unwieldy contraption, which is that humans reincarnate or live through the centuries or some such crap. So when they try to turn sweet Jim Sturgess into a Korean man, a Japanese actress into a blond, blue eyed cave dweller, or Hugo Weaving into a busty woman, even though in their bleeding hearts they think that we are all humans and we are all equal, they actually undermine this by making all the characters into grotesque freaks. All they are doing is taking away from their humanity and spiraling into kitsch. Kitsch is the opposite of culture. Just sayin'.

Nice production design, for sure. It is everything that the make up is not. 

When I said to my movie companions that this is the kind of movie that could impress a 13 year-old with zits and a metaphysical bent, they told me that even such a creature would be bored out of their wits. As always, the cardinal sin in movies is boredom. One could withstand such an assault on common sense if it were nimble and had a sense of humor. It's supposed to be some big philosophical new agey mumbo jumbo, which translates into a cheesy, obvious, inane, bloated film, too full of itself to have a funny bone. 

My friend Orlando Leal has a term for creative enterprises that everybody knows are doomed from inception, but people nevertheless drink the kool-aid and soldier on, uselessly trying to whip them into a coherent shape. He calls the sad result an inventicide: a suicidal invention. Cloud Atlas is this.