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Wonder Wheel (2017)
1/10
Wheel of Woe
4 January 2020
'Wonder Wheel' resembles a hokey 1950s B-movie plot dredged from a dumpster behind the office of a backstreet film producer. The story tells how an ex-actress waitress cheats on her fairground carousel operator husband with a much younger Coney Island lifeguard. Their dismal affair has more desperation than delight, and it quickly spirals into a fiasco. The fallout eventually engulfs the woman's stepdaughter who has fled from a gangster spouse with his goons on her tail.

This tawdry melodrama has numerous references to Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams, but Woody Allen's screenplay seems more like an unintentional parody. The fine cast struggles mightily with his dire screenwriting, which offers only narrative cliches and stilted histrionic exchanges between the characters. In the end, they can only deliver an over-acting showcase. After this catastrophe, Amazon must have been delighted to wriggle out of their multi-film contract with Allen, thanks to his imbecilic self-serving comments about the Weinstein scandal.
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High Life (2018)
1/10
Dead-end Life
27 December 2019
Claire Denis must enjoy portraying dead-end communities. Just as her 2009 film 'White Material' depicted the final spasms of European colonialism in Africa, the space travelers of 'High Life' have nowhere to go. On a micro budget spaceship set which resembles abandoned municipal offices, a crew of former death row prisoners have been dispatched on a mission to a black hole beyond the solar system. As their purposeless journey unfolds, a female medical researcher carries out perverse experiments on her shipmates until trouble breaks out among these human laboratory rats.

None of the proceedings have any rationality, even though Denis spends inordinate amounts of time telling her dismal tale in a fragmented narrative. To call her pacing slow would be deceptive - it's congealed slow motion. To portray the script as disjointed would be equally misleading - it's turgid gobbledygook. To describe the concept as cerebral would be outright dishonesty - it's merely vacuous pretension. No doubt Denis thinks she's concealed some profound metaphor in this fiasco - but as usual with her films, it's just a turkey stuffed with tripe.
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7/10
Katie Hangs Tough
27 December 2019
Katie waitresses at a remote Arizona roadside diner and lives in a mobile home with her depressed deadbeat mom, who spends the rent money on booze. Instead of being overwhelmed by these difficult circumstances, Katie has set her sights on moving to San Francisco to become a beautician. In order to realize this dream, she supplements her meager wages and tips by prostituting herself to local citizens and passing truckers - and keeps her savings from these encounters in a shoe-box under her bed.

Katie is resilient and buoyant to a degree which stretches credulity, but Olivia Cooke does extraordinary work to keep her believable and sympathetic. Meanwhile director Wayne Roberts extracts fine performances from the rest of his cast. Despite her upbeat personality, Katie has made both friends and enemies in town - and when she falls in love with a taciturn ex-jailbird mechanic and quits selling her body, they show their true colors. The script piles troubles onto Katie's shoulders as her altered lifestyle becomes the catalyst for serious trouble. The subsequent events are a tough watching experience - but the excellent acting, direction and cinematography make it well worthwhile.
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The Irishman (2019)
1/10
Fantasies of a Wannabe Hit-man
2 December 2019
Based on the rest home recollections of a geriatric former gangster, 'The Irishman' adds another long-winded chapter to Scorcese's collection of mob potboilers. As far as authenticity is concerned, Frank Sheeran was renowned for being a liar and drunk - and neither his former associates nor FBI investigators believed his boasts of being a mob hit-man. Instead they remember him as a minor thug who would never have been entrusted with serious matters like the claimed killing of his pal Jimmy Hoffa. In the film's far-fetched version of this notorious crime, Hoffa's son observed Sheeran as the last person in his father's company, but somehow this goon never appeared on the FBI's radar as a suspect.

An elderly De Niro is unconvincingly rendered into youthful middle age by CGI, as Scorcese trudges through Sheeran's catalogue of imaginary murders with the energy of an accountant filling out a tax return. The actor pastes a stone-faced 'tough guy' expression on his face as his crime boss (Joe Pesci) instructs him to eliminate rats and rivals in obscure code phrases such as "painting houses". This jargon was also invented by Sheeran in order to make him look like an insider, although the Gotti tapes revealed genuine mobsters use simpler terminology like: "Whack the bum".

The film's final act depicts Sheeran in an elder care facility, revealing the retired hoodlum as an empty husk, devoid of empathy or insight. 'The Irishman' is just as formulaic as the superhero schlock Scorcese has recently criticized, but the Oscar babble is already deafening. The only question raised by this tired movie is why a veteran film-maker remains fascinated by the violence, cowardice and greed of these dismal lowlifes.
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Midsommar (I) (2019)
1/10
A Mild Case of Midsommar Madness
9 November 2019
Cinema audiences' admiring response to 'Midsommar' is the most mysterious aspect of this ho-hum 'horror' film which shamelessly copycats "The Wicker Man". The story begins with the murder-suicide of a female college student's parents and sister - and this tragedy supposedly motivates her to accept an invitation to visit the religious community where a fellow student from Sweden had been raised.

Accompanied by her semi-estranged boyfriend and a couple of disposable pals, the visitors arrive at their destination and the narrative immediately goes downhill. Instead of growing tension and menace at the remote hamlet, the creepy cultists offer long-winded rituals, tedious chanting and absurd occult beliefs. The story never develops the witless students into sympathetic characters, nor the peasant-costumed pagans into truly sinister villains. As a result, when bad things start happening, it's impossible to care about any of the rustic weirdness or the ultimate fate of the fall-guys.
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Ad Astra (2019)
1/10
3 Billion Miles to an Anti-Climax
20 September 2019
'Ad Astra' has been marketed and reviewed as if it were highbrow Sci-Fi with a Freudian subtext. Unfortunately both science and psychology are paper thin - and worse yet, the story also has minimal substance. The film's set-up is that a mission to Neptune has gone missing - and a couple of decades later, power surges originating from the distant planet cause explosions and mass casualties on Earth. The authorities suspect the commander of the doomed mission, a legendary space veteran called McBride, may still be alive and responsible. As a result, another Neptune mission is hastily organized to prevent further mayhem - and McBride's astronaut son is drafted as a crew member.

Junior is dispatched from Earth to Moon, and onward to a remote launch pad on Mars before setting off for Neptune. On the way he endures various trials as the story settles down to being a gloomy potboiler. The narrative arc has echoes of Bowman's quest in '2001' and Willard's journey to confront Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now', but it lacks the imagination, intensity and credibility of these earlier films. Despite several dramatic episodes, Junior's odyssey feels plodding and monotonous as he trudges on toward his goal, periodically droning on about his fatherless youth in a voice-over.

As the story arrives at its final act, the screenwriters appear to have exhausted their creative repertoire, and are clueless how to wrap it up. They fabricate a feeble climax, then add some inane space-suited antics, similar to those which sabotaged Sandra Bullock's adventures in 'Gravity'. None of it makes much sense - unless of course, it's all supposed to be a dream following the film's opening sequence. Even though 'Ad Astra' looks good, it's really just a bloated pretender with nothing to say.
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1/10
Bernadette Sinks like a Stone
23 August 2019
Richard Linklater has made several movies notable for their originality and excellence - with 'Dazed and Confused', 'Tape', 'Boyhood' and the 'Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight' trilogy being the cream of the crop. He has also made a couple of clunkers, but Bernadette is almost certainly his career low. The acting, script and direction are so abysmal, it's hard to know whether the film was intended to be a drama, comedy or farce.

The plot tells how a housewife, married to a successful software geek, is having a mid-life crisis over abandoning her brilliant early career as an architect and designer. After estranging herself from family and neighbors with chronic grouchiness and bizarre behavior, she absconds. The mystery of her disappearance lasts approximately three minutes before Bernadette's husband and daughter figure out her destination and set off in pursuit. Already dire, from that point onward the film descends to the level of ineptitude and sentimentality usually found in provincial amateur dramatics. Overall, it would be gross deception to describe it as anything better than an embarrassing mess.
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1/10
Ho-hum Hollywood Hokum
2 August 2019
'Once Upon a Time . . .' continues Tarantino's decline as a writer and director, although the principal weakness of his latest film is a rambling screenplay which develops neither story nor characters. Set in LA at the time of the notorious Manson Family killings, the relationship between fading alcoholic TV star Rick, and his long-time stunt double Cliff takes center stage. Unfortunately neither man has much personality, the pair share a tired connection and their exchanges never hint at the electricity between Vincent and Jules in 'Pulp Fiction', or Louis and Ordell in 'Jackie Brown'.

The movie looks decent enough, but oodles of time is wasted venerating the trashy films and TV shows of that era. There's an endless passage where Rick delivers some routine over-acting as a cowboy villain in a formulaic TV pilot, inter-cut with Sharon Tate visiting a cinema to watch a spoof spy movie in which she had a minor role. Voice-overs laboriously explain the narrative gaps as more than a hundred minutes are spent on a procession of scenes which do little more than provide background. Eventually, the ghostly apparition of an actual story emerges after Cliff gives one of Manson's hippie runaways a ride to the derelict movie ranch where the 'Family' were residing. The ensuing confrontation shows the potential of Tarantino's idea - but he loses the plot again in order to pay homage to spaghetti westerns.

The 'action' finally arrives at an overblown climax which gives Tarantino yet another opportunity to show off his chops as a director of theatrical violence. He gives reality a fairy tale tweak in this last act, but it's hard to think of the film as anything more than self-indulgent fluff.
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7/10
Nobody Knows Anything
12 June 2019
The films of Asghar Farhadi are renowned for being suspenseful dramas, but it would be an exaggeration to describe them as thrillers. 'Everybody Knows' plunges into this genre as 40-something Laura returns to her native Spain for a younger sister's wedding, accompanied by her teenage daughter Irene. During the festivities, Irene is drugged and abducted, with the abductors leaving evidence they were behind a previous kidnapping where the victim had been killed.

Messages soon arrive demanding a ransom and warning Laura against informing the police. Laura's family decide to handle matters themselves, but they respond with confused disarray as old secrets, suspicions, jealousies and resentments are exposed. The first secret to emerge is that the reputed wealth of Laura's husband is a mirage, so the panicked clan must search for an alternative source to satisfy the kidnappers' requirements. An outsider wavers over supplying the necessary cash, but strangely none of Laura's extended family volunteers to make any contribution to ensure Irene's safe return.

Farhadi's direction of the complex interactions between the family members is up to his usual high standard. At the end, rather than neatly wrapping things up, he makes the sophisticated choice to leave his audience speculating how the fallout will affect his characters' future lives. Unfortunately he also makes a glaring omission which undermines the film's credibility - the police remain conspicuous by their absence even after the crisis has reached its conclusion, despite a serious crime having occurred.
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2/10
Imagine a Co-dependent Ego-trip
11 May 2019
Reaction to this routine documentary probably depends on how much a viewer admires this famous couple. The film relates how an art gallery encounter between a tormented pop idol and an obscure conceptual artist subsequently resulted in a celebrity romance and music album. Various witnesses and participants are filmed delivering their recollections of this epic moment in popular culture, with most of their contributions expressing breathless admiration of John's song 'Imagine', as if this were the first time a songwriter had lamented mankind's divisions and the folly of war.

There's also plenty of archival footage depicting the pair's early relationship, with Yoko's creepy gazes at her paramour remaining the most vivid impression. To the detached eye it looks more like compulsive co-dependency than immortal love affair, but others might disagree. Yoko is described as an important artist, although cynics might raise an eyebrow over her haste to sideline this vocation in order to piggyback onto John's rock career. The interviewees speak of the couple's songs, sleep-ins, demos and press conference proclamations as world-changing events, but nobody took their antics very seriously - much as the art world has ignored Yoko's lightweight artistic conceits.
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Shoplifters (2018)
5/10
The Delusions of Shoplifters
19 March 2019
Although 'Shoplifters' has the look of social realism, it's actually far closer to a fairy tale. The movie depicts a collective of social outcasts living in cramped quarters on the fringes of Tokyo, who survive by engaging in casual labor, petty crime and sex work. One cold night they take in the abused child of a neighboring couple and subsequently adopt her into their merry band.

After this addition, the gang starts to consider itself a real family. Held together by an elderly matriarch, they continue their outsider lifestyle, but the action moves slowly and there isn't much character development to compensate for the gelatinous flow of the narrative. The clan lives in unrealistic harmony and survives a major upset, but when a shoplifting caper goes wrong, the house of cards comes tumbling down. Secrets from previous lives are revealed, and the group's connecting threads become fragile as loyalties are stretched by altered circumstances. 'Shoplifters' has won some prestigious awards and got nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, but it doesn't live up to its big reputation. At the end of the day it's clear why the Academy voters preferred 'Roma'.
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5/10
On the Edge of Merit
19 February 2019
'The Edge of Seventeen' throws high school misfit Nadine into emotional turmoil when her popular older brother Darian begins dating BFF Krista. Nadine's customary smouldering resentment is fanned into a white-hot blaze of jealousy which propels her into greater isolation, as she makes a difficult situation worse through needless conflicts and unwise choices. The film has an original slant, but dilutes much of its potential by repeatedly going in search of easy laughs and tear-jerking.

The acting is above average for this kind of project, but Nadine's relationships with both Krista and Darian are given perfunctory treatment, and the script's main narrative arc and various sub-plots are utterly predictable. The direction could have exercised more self-restraint at dramaric moments, while it could have used more flair when depicting Nadine's everyday life. At the end of the day, the final product seems like a lost opportunity for a decent idea.
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Puzzle (II) (2018)
7/10
Puzzling out the Game of Life
20 October 2018
Living in provincial Connecticut, married to an auto mechanic with two grown sons, Agnes resembles a church mouse, suppressing her own aspirations in order to maintain an ordered household. On the surface, she appears to be a devoted wife and mother, but timidity and low self-esteem have disconnected her from family, friends and herself. A jigsaw puzzle birthday gift leads to Agnes learning she possesses a hidden talent for piecing together these games of fragmented images - and this discovery opens the door to new experiences which force her to question how she's living her life.

Agnes' journey doesn't follow a smooth or conventional path as she struggles to liberate herself from self-inflicted shackles as well as those imposed by others. Kelly McDonald shows her usual excellence, range and subtlety in the lead role, with the script and direction complementing her talents nicely. Although the story's action takes place on a small stage, the characters' are confronted with major issues and upheavals before Agnes is able to figure out what she really wants, and begin the process of realizing it.
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7/10
Nurturing a Kindergarten Wunderkind
16 October 2018
Due to the excellence of its acting, direction and screenplay, 'The Kindergarten Teacher' is frequently uncomfortable to watch. It tells the story of Lisa, who has become constrained by the routine of her job, frustrated with her grouchy teenage kids and bored by an overweight husband. In response, she has enrolled in an adult education poetry writing program to broaden her experience of life. Unfortunately Lisa has little talent herself - and when she overhears one of her young pupils Jimmy composing a short poem, she presents it to her class teacher as her own work. When he expresses admiration for its strong imagery, she decides it's her duty to foster Jimmy's gift, which leads her into dangerous territory after she runs into parental opposition.

It's easy to see the film as a metaphor how yearning for truth and beauty can turn an ordinary person into an outcast, as Lisa's encouragement of Jimmy swiftly bypasses appropriate behavior and becomes obsessive. One of the film's crucial exchanges occurs when Lisa's poetry teacher reprimands her for being a dillettante, failing to see how she's willing to sacrifice everything for the art she loves, while he uses poetry as a means to seduce his students. At its conclusion, poetry has certainly broadened Lisa's experience of life, but not in a way she might have wished or anticipated.
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1/10
A Simple-minded Farce
14 October 2018
The trailer for this mish-mash of a movie promises a sophisticated black comedy, but within 15 minutes all hope for that kind of experience is extinguished by the sit-com level antics of the two main characters. This opening act presents a nerdy suburban single mom befriended by a condescending femme fatale, who promptly disappears in suspicious circumstances. The unraveling of the mystery becomes increasingly ludicrous and unbelievable, with director Feig relying more and more on his comedy background rather than attempting to create tension. Unfortunately, as the dramatic potential dissolves into camp farce, all the comedic gambits also fall flat. After some formulaic twists and turns, both plot and characters have been revealed as soap opera material long before the story arrives at its slapstick climax.
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1/10
Dumb Boy Rick
9 October 2018
The interminable morality tale of 'White Boy Rick' grinds on for almost two miserable hours describing how the teenage son of a fly-by-night gun dealer becomes a bad boy in Detroit's criminal underworld. In common with almost every 'based-on-true-story' movie, fuzziness around crucial plot elements creates the strong suspicion inconvenient facts have been omitted to create a more sympathetic narrative. The script doesn't provide much background to explain Rick's acceptance into a gang of black drug dealers, nor does it reveal much detail about his role as an informant for some dubious FBI detectives. Even after Rick starts his own dealing operation, the story consistently portrays him as an innocent adrift in an ocean of sharks.

The dysfunctional relationship between Rick and his father occupies center stage, but is given similarly shallow treatment. The rest of the characters come and go like bit players, scarcely more important than extras, making it impossible to care about any of these lowlifes as they eke out their dismal existence in perpetually freezing Motor City. The film's best moment comes with the arrival of the end titles.
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Annihilation (2018)
1/10
Annihilation of a Decent Idea
5 March 2018
A meteorite strikes a lighthouse on the southeastern US coast and a mysterious 'Shimmer Zone' begins expanding from the impact point. The government keeps the event a secret and sends military units into the area, but none of these personnel ever return. After about a year, the special forces husband of an ex-Army biologist called Lena suddenly shows up at their home, remembering little of the previous twelve months and immediately falling seriously ill.

After this 15 minute prologue, Lena joins the next all-female expedition. The five women enter the zone, witness disturbing events and discover their communications devices no longer work. Rather than return to base and report these discoveries, they push on, arguing among themselves and making more foolish decisions until they resemble dim-witted teenagers in a slasher pic. The military and scientific background becomes increasingly unbelievable as routine action sequences and some uninspired CGI overwhelm the film's grown-up possibilities.

Many sci-fi fans will recall JG Ballard conceived the original idea of an expanding zone where the laws of nature are transformed. By comparison to Ballard's 1966 novel 'The Crystal World', Garland's movie version of Jeff VanderMeer's copycat concept is a conventional adventure yarn spiced up with some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. 'Annihilation' ends up as inconsequential as Garland's 2007 'Sunshine' screenplay - and after 'Ex Machina', it's a major disappointment.
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8/10
Seduction and Disappointment
6 December 2017
The excellent Season 1 (7/10*) of 'The Girlfriend Experience' related how a law student ventured into high-end prostitution while interning at a big-city legal firm in order to pay the bills. Riley Keogh's portrayal of the main character Christine won a Golden Globe nomination, as her understated performance depicted the psychological cost of pretending affection to entitled executives while selling them her body. The scripts for each episode remained focused on the escort work throughout, with Keogh's micro-expressions betraying inner conflicts and guarded emotions as Christine subtly adjusted her persona to please various clients, lovers and employers. The series revealed how prostitution affected her personal life and law career, and ultimately derailed both.

By contrast, Season 2 (1/10*) lost almost all meaningful connection with the call-girl theme as it followed three different protagonists in two separate narratives. In the first, an escort named Anna embarked on an obsessive lesbian love affair with a corrupt campaign finance operator called Erika. In the second, former escort Bria got marooned in witness protection limbo as she awaited the trial of her gangster husband. The characters failed to generate any sympathy, the plots were neither believable nor interesting, and subtlety was entirely absent.
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3/10
Impressionist Noir
6 November 2017
The final days of Vincent Van Gogh could have been the subject of an intriguing movie. The screenplay of 'Loving Vincent' invents the clever device of sending a young man called Armand to deliver a mislaid letter from the deceased artist to his brother Theo. When Armand discovers Theo has also died, his attempts at postal delivery mutate into a private eye investigation focused on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Vincent's death from a gunshot wound.

Armand's inquiries reveal a sympathetic side to the troubled and obsessive artist, and they begin moving into mildly suspenseful territory as Vincent's former associates contradict each other over details of his last hours. Unfortunately, the film throws away most of this potential by using a gimmicky pseudo-Impressionist animation technique. The distracting mimicry of Van Gogh's painting style undermines the narrative's serious turn, since the images can't convey a character's nuanced expressions to the same extent as an actor. In the end Armand's fishing expedition doesn't net any big catches - and eventually it becomes tiresome watching a conveyor belt of third-rate Van Gogh copies being produced at 12 frames per second.
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6/10
A Pedestrian Labyrinth
15 October 2017
There's no disputing 'Blade Runner 2049' looks good - the vast decaying LA megalopolis, its futuristic interiors and surrounding desert wasteland are all portrayed with beautiful cinematography - but unfortunately the narrative arc doesn't match up to the scenery.

This sequel starts off in familiar territory - just like detective Rick Deckard in the original movie, a replicant police officer called 'K' is tasked with terminating unreliable earlier models. In the film's opening sequence he's hunting down one of his targets, and during this operation K comes across evidence of the birth of a replicant child. He's soon reassigned to find this offspring, and K's new mission obliges him to do a lot of zigzagging around the dystopian landscape in his flying police cruiser. He asks awkward questions of important people, and delves into the archives of secretive institutions. This detective work seems unnecessarily opaque and long-winded, even though it's punctuated by some sporadic violence. Occasionally K stops by his cramped apartment where he carries on an unsatisfying love affair with his hologram girlfriend. The clues eventually lead to the standard overwrought cliffhanger climax, but the lasting impression - despite the film's visual impact, blockbuster budget and continuing references to the Theseus myth - is that it's all a bit underwhelming.
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American Made (2017)
1/10
American Mess
6 October 2017
It's naive to expect anything close to the truth from 'based-on-true-story' projects, but it shouldn't be unreasonable to hope for content and coherence. 'American Made' plays like a movie trailer throughout its two-hour length, stirring together the standard ingredients of 1980s cocaine smuggling sagas like 'Blow'. The story boils down to a procession of mustachioed Colombian cartel bosses, DEA agents and drug-courier aviators hauling cocaine, firearms and bags of cash around jungle landing strips, hotel lobbies and small town banks in the ugly fashions of the day.

Tom Cruise portrays pilot protagonist Barry Seal as an easygoing coke-smuggling, gun-running, Caddy-driving adventurer. His self-deprecating charm and aerial dare-devilry are supposed to hold the film together, but both charisma and exploits seem stale. After the CIA persuade Seal to aid their anti-communist follies in Central America, this sophomoric operator fends off the various suspicions and demands of his dumb blonde wife, crooked associates and two-faced CIA handlers. The script never bothers to develop any of these stock characters as the story unfolds with the depth of a music video. At the conclusion, there's little reason to believe a word of it, or care what happens to any of the participants.
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Mother! (2017)
1/10
From Eden to Armageddon in 2 Hours
1 October 2017
Darren Aronofsky invariably churns out simple-minded hogwash when he attempts to impress audiences with his intellectual virility. From the opening scene of 'Mother', he cranks the Pomposity dial up to 11 as a young woman wakes alone in the bedroom of an isolated country house. Her husband is absent, so she wanders about in an agitated state searching for him. Once he's been found, their wooden conversation reveals he's a poet with writer's block. Later that day, a stranger knocks at the door, and the poet invites him to stay after learning he's a fan of his work. The next morning, the man's wife arrives - soon followed by a pair of bickering sons.

These six characters proceed to act out a fatuous re-telling of the Genesis myth depicting the antics of God, Nature, Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. With acting, direction and screen-writing at the level of amateur dramatics, Aronofsky presents God as a vain, manipulative, impotent older man, Nature as his whiny trophy wife, the Creation as their residence and the rest of human history as an out-of-control house party. After Noah's flood is symbolized by some drunken vandalism, burst pipes and a soggy kitchen, mankind's sorry tale grinds on into the 20th century. Eventually it arrives at Aronofsky's puerile imagining of Armageddon, which comes not a moment too soon.
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Tulip Fever (2017)
1/10
Tulip Flu
11 September 2017
'Tulip Fever' transforms a promising idea into Dutch farce as its script heaps unnecessary complications onto a tale of marital infidelity in 17th century Amsterdam. The film opens with beautiful penniless Sophia being married off to a wealthy middle-aged merchant who desires a male heir. After three years have passed and no child has appeared, the merchant commissions a double portrait of himself and his young wife for posterity.

When Sophia unwisely falls for the debt-laden artist, everything seems nicely set up for some intense domestic double-dealing, but director Chadwick drowns the narrative in a torrent of subplots. While Sophia cavorts with the artist in his garret, her maid has been dallying with a fishmonger in the scullery. Before too long, the lovers of both mistress and servant are speculating in Holland's tulip-mania bubble to improve their fortunes and romantic prospects. Meanwhile, the two women hatch an implausible plan to deal with their own problems. As the scheming becomes increasingly absurd, the story falls apart and the actors lose faith in their characters. Long before the end, most of the audience will have joined them, as the resolution to all the financial intrigues and amorous chicanery turns the final act into slapstick melodrama.
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The Big Sick (2017)
4/10
A Big Placebo
14 August 2017
Like most comedies, 'The Big Sick' is powder-puff drama spiced up with some humorous moments. Its plot tells how a Pakistani-American stand-up comedian falls in love with a blonde psychology student after she heckles him during one of his stage shows. They live together contentedly for a while, until she discovers his family are pressing him to choose a Muslim bride for a traditional arranged marriage. She breaks up with him, but soon afterward falls seriously ill. While keeping vigil at her hospital bedside, he meets her parents, and the majority of the film depicts how the three of them confront their cultural differences.

The characters and story possess some authenticity, but the film never escapes the clutches of light comedy. The actors deliver respectable performances, but their efforts can't lift the material above the level of a routine sit-com. Ken Loach's 'A Fond Kiss' explored similar territory in a far more memorable manner.
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5/10
Dinner Party from Hell
1 July 2017
In 'Beatriz at Dinner', Mike White sets up his favorite predicament where an outsider is thrust into an encounter with mismatched companions. His heroine Beatriz is a cash-strapped, alternative health practitioner whose car breaks down at the luxurious residence of a wealthy client, stranding her in a gated ghetto of privilege. Beatriz' employer offers her a bed for the night, and invites her to join a dinner party being held to celebrate a successful business deal with a rapacious property developer.

Having assembled his antagonistic ingredients, White seems short of ideas how to cook them up into a tasty feast. Beneath her know-it-all, holistic healer facade, Beatriz is depressed, isolated and unstable - and may also be a total fraud. Her exchanges with the condescending capitalists dismantle her mask of serenity and amplify her alienation - but black comedy spiced up with excruciating awkwardness and a disturbing undercurrent doesn't really provide full satisfaction. The actors do what they can, but ultimately they're let down by the film's shallow arc. As the evening nears its conclusion, despite having several other options on the table, White serves up a dessert course which is histrionic, unbelievable and out of character.
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