JLaw’s Maternal Instinct Onscreen This Weekend
Darren Aronofsky returns to cinemas to remind us all that, before he produced measured, impeccable dramas like The Wrestler and Black Swan, he made bat shit insane art—The Fountain, anyone? His mother! (love that exclamation point!) delivers the nuttiest bit of cinema so far this year.
Darren Aronofsky is grappling with some things.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as the very young wife of a middle-aged poet with writer’s block (Javier Bardem). While he stares at a blank piece of paper, she quietly busies herself restoring every room and detail in his remote, fire-damaged home—now their home.
Their peace is disturbed by a man (Ed Harris) knocking at the door, soon followed by a woman (Michelle Pfieffer—look for her name come Oscar time). The poet is only too happy to offer the strangers a place to stay, and this is bad news for the poet’s wife.
Between Aronofsky’s disorienting camera and his cast’s impeccable performances, he ratchets up tension in a way that is beyond uncomfortable. This is all clearly leading somewhere very wrong and the film develops the atmosphere of a nightmare quickly, descending further and further with each scene.
Aronofsky picks up many of the themes that have run through his work, from Requiem for a Dream to The Fountain through Black Swan and Noah.
God as creator, god as creation. Gender politics and the nature of man.
Or is it all just one man’s frustration at not being able to give birth?
Hard to say, really. It’s a big stew, and it’s equal parts self-indulgent and self-pitying. Aronofsky is a daring filmmaker and an artist that feels no compulsion to hide his preoccupations.
Like most of the filmmaker’s work, mother! will not be for everyone. But if you’re up for an allegorical descent into hell, meticulously crafted and deftly told, and if you like your metaphors heavy and your climaxes absurd, this mother! is for you.
Done well, universal themes can resonate from even the most intimate of characterizations.
Menashe is the most intimate of characterizations, and it is done well.
Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is a struggling single father within a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. Since the death of his wife nearly a year ago, Menashe has been resisting all matchmaking efforts, even though that means his “broken home” is not fit for his teenaged son.
According to church teachings, broken homes equal broken societies, and the boy will continue living with his uncle’s family until Menashe agrees to take a new wife.
Director/co-writer Joshua Z Weinstein, a veteran of documentary shorts making his narrative feature debut, immerses Menashe in a measured authenticity that never ventures very far from a documentary feel. Though Weinstein doesn’t speak Yiddish, his film speaks it almost entirely, drawing us deeply into a strict society through a lens that is highly detailed but never judgmental.
What sits at the core of Menashe is a conflict that transcends denominations. With uncompromising intimacy, Weinstein tenderly probes faith, family, and the sacrifices necessary to hold on to what’s most important to you.
Two Trains Runnin’
Why would two different sets of white college boys head into the deep South in the summer of 1964 and go searching for long lost bluesmen?
“We were either brave, stupid, or uninformed.”
Two Trains Runnin’, director Samuel D. Pollard’s engrossing documentary on the convergence of separate journeys, shows them to be all three.
The kids were drawn to performers Skip James and Eddie “Son” House, whose music offered a powerful expression of both the “source and cure” of a torment light years away from the boys’ postwar suburbia. Outside the comforts of home, they found the raging racial torment of beatings, bombings, and murder and the opinion that they were just more outsiders coming to “give the vote to the blacks.” It is on this point that Pollard makes his subtle pivot, and the film strengthens the current of shared humanity running through it.
Featuring graceful narration from Common and contemporary Delta blues performances by Valerie June, Gary Clark, Jr., Lucinda Williams and others, Pollard has crafted a rousing bookend to Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s 2009 documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution. The music is the message and the message is the music, and Two Trains Runnin’ becomes both a sober reminder that the fight continues, and an uplifting inspiration to fight on.
A holiday celebration of bad taste, Aussie writer/director Craig Anderson’s Red Christmas is a yuletide grab bag of solid performances, provocative subject matter, lazy scripting and gore.
Horror icon and E.T. mom Dee Wallace (who also produces) stars as Diane, who’s joined for the big holdiday by a set of squabbling adult children and their spouses, a pot-head uncle, and a stranger bedecked in dirty bandages, black robes and the reek of urine.
That last guest will be trouble.
Anderson has a lot on his mind about family, birth, death, murder, choice and basically every other noun you can associate with abortion. He is neither subtle nor judgmental, honestly, with carnage and questions piling up on both sides of the issue.
His film weaves between the splatter comedy stylings of a young Peter Jackson and the nonsensical decision making of any 80s slasher.
A great deal about Red Christmas is grotesque yet intriguing. At least as much of it is tedious and hair-brained, offering a peculiar, sloppy bit of macabre that manages to be more memorable than it is enjoyable.
Also opening in Columbus:
American Assassin (R)
Beach Rats (R)
Marjorie Prime (NR)
Napping Princess (NR)
True to the Game (R)
Viceroy’s House (NR)
Reviews with help from George Wolf.