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New Releases for Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Genre: Thriller

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Run time: 121 minutes

Rating: R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: It’s safe to say, you’ve never seen anything quite like mother!

The latest mind-screw feature from visionary director Darren Aronofsky explodes like a fever and spreads like a rash. It’s intoxicating, confounding and, ultimately, exhilarating. It challenges viewers at every turn, getting up in your face and invading your personal space, until you squirm with discomfort. In short, it’s Aronofsky’s best work since Requiem for a Dream, and easily one of the best movies released this year.

There are no easy answers in mother! – everything from the choice of punctuation in the title to the true identities of Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), Him (Javier Bardem), Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) is open to interpretation and dissection.

Here’s what I think I know: Bardem and Lawrence are married. He’s a poet struggling with writer’s block. She’s either an architect or extremely resourceful. They move back to his childhood home, which she meticulously restores from the ashes of a past fire while he stays locked in his office.

As the film opens, Bardem is fawning over a beautiful crystal, which he keeps safely displayed but fiercely protected, until a mysterious visitor (Harris) arrives. Bardem invites Harris to stay in his home, much to Lawrence’s confusion and objection. The next day, Pfeiffer arrives, like a luminous vision of sophistication and sex appeal, and she too takes up residence. She's Harris' wife, whom he failed to mention upon his arrival. Not long after, their two sons appear, played by sibling actors Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson. A terrible tragedy ensues.

And then, mother! just hits the gas, and you’d best be prepared to hold on tight because the final act is a relentless roller coaster straight out of hell.

I could theorize that Lawrence is actually Mother Earth, and Bardem, Harris and Pfeiffer represent the most selfish and naïve impulses of humanity, which must be punished.

I also could theorize that Lawrence is nothing short of Life itself, with Bardem as God, Harris and Pfeiffer as Adam and Eve and their sons as Cain and Abel.

There’s really no right answer. The entire film is one long allegory, but it’s up to us, as viewers, to decide the meaning of the story being told.

This much is true: Over the course of two hours, Aronofsky essentially distills the entire human experience into a harrowing and visually spectacular Bataan Death March that encompasses death, birth, creative output and adoration, before culminating in war, pestilence, cannibalism, wanton carnality and annihilation – all of which is all contained and displayed through a series of jaw-dropping sequences that never stray from the confines of the central house.

It’s incredibly rare that I immediately want to rewatch a movie as soon as the credits roll, but Aronofsky packs so many visuals, so many cues and so many high-brow concepts into every moment that mother! demands multiple viewings just to fully absorb everything that unfolds and advances from every corner of every frame right up until the final, searing image.

mother! divided critics and offended viewers upon its theatrical release, and it’s easy to understand why. This is not a film that allows for easy classification. It’s a horror movie, a message movie, a human drama and a fantasy mashed together so tight as to forge a diamond.

mother! is nothing short of breathtaking, both as a cinematic achievement and as a terrifying vision of the slippery fast slope our dying planet is hurtling down.

Do yourself a favor, and just ignore the reviews. Just give it a chance. I think you will be you did because it’s unlikely there will ever be another movie quite like mother!

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – Yes. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – Yes.

Bad Guys/Killers – That’s for you to decide.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

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Not to be Overlooked:

True Love Ways (MVD Entertainment, 100 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Appearances sure can be deceiving, and with True Love Ways, a black and white German revenge thriller by writer-director Mathieu Seiler, nothing is as it seems.

Séverine is a young German woman seeking meaning in her life. Disaffected, but model pretty, she captivates every man she encounters, yet seems to care little for their attention and affection, especially when it comes to her boyfriend, Tom.

One night, while sitting in a pub, Tom meets an enigmatic stranger named Chef who tells him a story about how he won back the heart of his true love by hiring a man to threaten her so Chef could swoop in, save the day and be her hero. Chef assures Tom that no harm at all will come to Séverine, and the two strike a Faustian bargain.

What Tom doesn’t know, and why his plan is doomed, is that Séverine is about to fall in love, but not with him.

You see, True Love Ways is not your ordinary meet-cute love story. No, not at all.

Seiler’s film deftly explores what it means for someone to discover their true passion, regardless of how dark and potentially dangerous that interest might be, as well as the impact that such freedom brings.

Seiler teases his Hitchcockian twist early with subtle nods, such as a horror movie on TV that captivates Séverine’s attention, and slight shifts in her body language that many viewers might miss.

It’s only later, in the film’s violent and bloody third act, that Seiler allows himself to fully exploit his true intentions, and the result is nothing short of spectacular.

True Love Ways is top-notch genre fare, but I don’t know if the film would still work as well without its incredible leading lady, 27-year-old Anna Hausburg, who commands the screen as Séverine.

Every detail, from the tiny lightning bolt scar under her right eye to the way Hausburg effortlessly shifts from damsel in distress to formidable femme fatale, works in bringing this fascinating, terrifying and, ultimately, entirely human character to life.

Brackenmore (MVD Entertainment, 72 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Sometimes, it’s really nice to be surprised by a movie.

When Brackenmore arrived, I didn’t know what to make of Chris Kemble and J.P. Davidson’s debut collaboration, and for once, that was good.

Brackenmore focuses on Kate, a young woman from London dealing with a separation from her husband, who travels to the South of Ireland to collect an inheritance from an uncle she never knew.

The community of Brackenmore immediately calls to mind other, creepy, close-knit communities from past films, like The Wicker Man, An American Werewolf in London and Dagon. The residents all know each other, and are immediately distrustful of strangers. But, once Kate gets the keys to her uncle’s estate, she discovers a trove of old photographs depicting strange outdoor rituals, as well as one photo of a little girl who seems eerily familiar.

I’ll be honest, despite barely being longer than an hour in length, Brackenmore moves at the speed of molasses for its first 45 minutes or so. But then something miraculous happens – Brackenmore transforms into a thrilling exploration of old gods, pagan rituals, human sacrifices and the summoning of an ancient deity meant to bring prosperity and renewal to the seaside hamlet.

Kemble and Davidson expertly milk the last 30 minutes for all its worth, ratcheting the tension until all hell, literally, bubbles forth. Everything that happens helps pull the earlier drama into tighter focus, and the movie suddenly makes a lot more sense.

Fans of slow-boil thrillers and films that deal with centuries-old practices should be delighted.

Now on Video-on-Demand:

Hangman (Saban Films/Lionsgate, 98 minutes, R, VOD): How hard is it to make a good serial killer thriller?

Apparently, it’s incredibly difficult.

In the 22 years since David Fincher unleashed Se7en on an unsuspecting movie-going public, there have been countless films that tried mightily yet failed to match the originality and ingenuity of John Doe, the Seven Deadly Sins killer.

Hangman is the latest movie to stab in the right direction, but it too sadly misses its mark by a mile. It’s not that first-time feature film writers Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger are lacking in good ideas; they just can’t avoid writing themselves into a corner. And once they get stuck, Hangman falls apart.

Part of the problem is the killer, who brutally slays a string of people in an elaborate, high-stakes version of the popular children’s wordplay game. At each crime scene, detectives discover clues along with drawings taunting them. Each subsequent drawing includes a new letter and a new part of a stick figure hanging from a noose.

That’s all cool, but the thing that made John Doe in Se7en so memorable is people actually believed Kevin Spacey was a brilliant serial killer capable of outsmarting everyone.

The killer in Hangman isn’t memorable at all, but that might be by design, given the movie ends with a silly and unnecessary twist that suggests there’s still more game left to play and the actual madman might not have been caught.

A bigger issue is the cast assembled by director Johnny Martin, a longtime stuntman actor and producer. It’s not that Martin is lacking in star power – the two lead detectives are played by Al Pacino and Karl Urban, but both men are woefully miscast.

Martin does little to reign in Pacino’s signature flair, and he inexplicably allows Pacino to use an off-putting accent that lends nothing to his character. And Urban, who has played better cops in lesser films, gets stuck playing a second-fiddle Joe Friday in a stiff buttoned shirt and dowdy haircut, while Pacino basically Hoo-Ah’s all over the screen. None of this makes sense given that the film eventually reveals itself to have a very personal connection to Urban’s Detective Ruiney.

But the biggest problem with Hangman is the decision by Caissie and Huttinger to squeeze in a third lead, Brittany Snow, who plays a female journalist shadowing Ruiney for a story.

Snow approaches the character as if she’s never actually met a journalist, much less read a newspaper, and her presence – much like Pacino’s weird accent – only serves to distract viewers from fully investing in the core mystery.

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