It clicks once It embraces the weirdness

Once It starts having fun with the concept and lets loose, it becomes an absolute joy.

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Kids get scared of the most irrational things. Creepy basements, ugly paintings, black-and-white photographs, clowns. We form fewer irrational fears as adults, but when we re-encounter something that scared us as a kid, we often can’t help but get a little nervous (for what its worth, I still get anxious around aquariums and in the fish aisle of the supermarket). But the key to most of these fears is that they’re imaginary, that our mind outsizes them into terrifying monstrosities. Stephen King’s novel It may be about four hundred pages too long, but it taps into the reader’s imagination just enough to let it take some hints of fear and grow them into pure terror. The reliance on imagination presents a challenge for the film adaptations, where everything must be made literal, and the new It doesn’t always rise to the challenge. But it spins up some macabre fun along the way.

The first act of It mostly lives up to the worst expectations of a horror remake. The opening scene, where little Georgie meets a clown by a sewer grating, is shockingly brutal but inelegant, and that the goriness involves a small child is a bit much (indeed, a few people walked out immediately). Afterwards, as Our Gang of summer-lovin’ kids individually encounter all-to-real manifestation of their fears, It devolves into jump scares with little originality in terms of design (outside of a fantastically creepy painting come to life). However, once the gang comes together, starting by investigating a very clearly haunted house, It really finds its groove and becomes something like a Sam Raimi version of The Goonies.

Anchored by Bill Skarsgard’s performance as a Pennywise the Dancing Clown who indeed dances (and some mostly good CGI), the middle act presents a series of innovative grotesqueries that occasionally scare but consistently amuse. Not coincidentally, this point is also where class clown Richie Tozier (played by Stanger Thing’s Finn Wolfhard) suddenly clicks. Tozier is an annoyance in both the novel and the first movie, a character who is funny because the writer said so rather than actually being funny, but here Richie really works, in a natural, juvenile way. Once It starts having fun with the concept and lets loose, it becomes an absolute joy. And even though It makes no bones about it being the first chapter of a planned two-parter, the first film tells a complete tale and stands on its own as a bloody, R-rated version of Stand By Me.

B

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IT (2017)
Directed by Andy Muschietti
Starring Jaden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, and Bill Skarsgard
Rotten Tomatoes (85%)

mother! is a truly unique gonzo journey

mother! is a thrillingly grand experiment, an unforgettable wackadoo journey through human nature

One of the chief thrills of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is in rooting for the film itself. mother! is wild and wildly ambitious, and veers dangerously close to self-parody many times. With a less sure hand behind it, mother! could be the most mocked movie of the year. Hell, it still might be. But its consistency and intensity amongst the chaos wipe away any complaints about such relative trivialities as logic and narrative structure. mother! is a thrillingly grand experiment, a love-it-or-hate-it experience that I firmly come down on the “love” side of.

Aronofsky purposely withheld almost all information about mother! before its release, and perhaps it is best left that way, as a puzzle to slowly piece together. In that spirit, I won’t discuss the plot, but suffice to say that a literal interpretation of the events of mother! is simply ludicrous. mother! is a metaphor wrapped inside an analogy, and while the metaphor itself could be either tacky or pretentious, its blunt presentation of it pays dividends. While the first act plays out as a chamber drama with metaphysical portents, after a spat between brothers enters the storyline, there’s no mistaking mother! for a literal story. Over the course of two hours, Aronofsky lays out his thesis on human history and human ugliness in the space of a single farmhouse, starting from social rudeness and culminating in mass chaos. The historical and environmental allegories it lays out are obvious but thrilling, while its commentary on partnerships, artistry, and sexism could take multiple viewings to fully unpack.

mother! is assuredly not for everyone. Some will find its allegorical nature obtuse, confounding, or pretentious. Many will find that it goes too far in its last act, which contains a level of violence well beyond what normally makes its way to mainstream cinemas. But as a piece of gonzo filmmaking, mother! is an absolute masterpiece, an unforgettable wackadoo journey through human nature that left me shaken and exhilarated on the way out.

A

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mother! (2017)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer
Rotten Tomatoes (70%)

HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILERY COMMENT: So, the mother! in question is most likely Mother Nature/Gaia, as embodied by Jennifer Lawrence, with Javier Bardem’s “Him” being God. The link between the house and our planet is pretty clear, painting humanity as uninvited houseguests who destroy the planet (in probably my favourite small moment, a guest barges into the bathroom and apologizes to Lawrence, saying “Just exploring!”). But does the metaphor fold back unto itself? If God is a inattentive partner and poet laureate, are artists also God to a extent? Is mother! arguing that fan bases destroy the personal world of the artist, with the artist themself as a willing participant in the destruction?

Lethargic Logan Lucky lacks laughs

Logan Lucky is a weirdly muted, low-energy affair, a film in search of itself at every step

Logan Lucky, the newest from Steven Soderbergh of the Ocean’s trilogy, tries incredibly hard to not be Ocean’s 11. Instead of flashy suits and waxed hair, the heroes here wear camo pants and trucker hats. Instead of sending a world-class gymnast through a casino vault, they send a bag of gummy bears under a NASCAR speedway. Instead of light jazz constantly in the background, Logan Lucky mostly keeps the music quiet, occasionally injecting a little bit of blues rock. Ocean’s 11 reveled in the excesses of the 1%, while Logan Lucky spends its time in the “forgotten” America. But the most important difference is that the Ocean’s movies, as disposable as they may well be, moved, whereas Logan Lucky is a weirdly muted, low-energy affair. It certainly doesn’t pander to the audience, but given that it doesn’t really succeed as a drama either, a raceway heist movie should certainly be more entertaining than this.

For a movie that at one points gives a ten-year old a spray tan, Logan Lucky is rife with weird tonal mismatches. Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough all underplay as the titular cursed Logan family, seemingly to avoid rural simpleton stereotypes, but the film also introduces the ne’er do-well Bang brothers who lean heavily into the exact same tropes, including a pretty painful (and, at the end of the day, pointless) conversation about computer skills. The third Bang brother, played by Daniel Craig, certainly gets the best scenes in the movie, but most of those are on display in the trailer. Meanwhile, Hilary Swank shows up after a while with a tone that crosses well into self-parody, and Seth MacFarlane was shockingly allowed on set and even more shockingly allowed to put on a ridiculous British accent. In the astonishly oddly paced leadup to the speedway robbery, we spend some time with MacFarlane and a driver played by Sebastian Stan who calls food “software”, all of which adds up to precisely nothing and contributes precisely zero to the mood, comedy, or energy of the film.

This is a film in search of itself at every step, as it has all the ingredients in play to actually be a good bit of fun. As a comedy, it has a couple good scenes (the aforementioned gummy bears pay off well, and a Game of Thrones-related negotiation is a deadpan work of art), but swings and misses obviously far too often. As a heist, it leaves open too many plot holes by its end, which would be forgivable if it was more fun along the way. As an ode to rural America as told through heisting, Hell or High Water explored the same ground to much greater effect last year. As a portrait of a particular family at a particular time, it betrays its chance to make a point in its last five minutes in a really feeble attempt to give the audience something to cheer for. Logan Lucky just sits there, playing itself out without really caring if we’re with it or not.

Hell, at least Joe Bang is one hell of a character name.

D+

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Logan Lucky (2016)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, and Daniel Craig
Rotten Tomatoes (93%)