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Column Fri May 06 2011

Thor, The Beaver, Jumping the Broom, Something Borrowed, Nuremberg: The Lesson for Today & Mother's Day

Thor

I firmly believe that the key to any good movie based on popular source material — whether it be a comic book, a best-selling novel, a well-regarded play, etc. — is that the film adaptation appeals beyond those who are fans of the original material to begin with. I shouldn't have to be a fan of the Thor comic books, or even the Marvel Universe, to like the movie version of Thor. I may get more of a charge watching the characters from the Thor comics come to life if I were a fan going in, but I should get a pretty substantial jolt just seeing the imaginary realm of Asgard for the first time, or the incredible costumes, or The Destroyer, whether I've heard of these characters or not.

I'll admit, I'm kind of tired of positive reviews for Thor that incorporate the notion that "it's not a perfect film, but..." or "it's got problems, but..." Guess what, people? No movie is perfect and every movie has problems. Those are wasted words. The truth of the matter is that Thor is the best comic book movie since Iron Man, and in some ways, it even surpasses that movie. The primary reason for its excellence is two-fold. Kenneth Branagh's direction is exactly what Asgard needs. After decades of directing films based on Shakespeare's works, he knows how to direct pomposity and make it sound cool. More than half the movie is set in a realm where everyone is a god, or thinks they're a god, and Branagh is gifted at taking dialogue that is meant to be heard in the furthest reaches of any size room and unstuff its hot air.

The other reason Thor works is Chris Hemswoth's thoroughly enjoyable performance as the God of Thunder. I particularly liked the scenes of him on Earth, trying to blend in but still assuming that those around him are lesser beings (well, they are, right?). Thor is banished to Earth without the source of his power, the leather-strapped hammer called Mjolnir. He's still a strapping giant of a man, so even without the incalculable power of the hammer, he's still a pretty strong dude. The banishment comes at the hand of his father the ruler of the Nine Realms, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), after Thor disobeys his order not to seek reprisal after a team of Ice Giants manage to sneak into Odin's Vault and almost steal back the source of their icy powers. They are stopped, but Thor is riled up enough to sneak out of Asgard with his warrior pals and brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who may have had a hand in coaxing Thor to go on this mission. As a result, he loses his place as the new king, is sent to Earth, and his hammer is sent as well with explicit instructions only to be wielded again by someone worthy.

I do want to single out Hiddleston's performance as Loki as being one of the best in the film. He never crosses over into a stock villain territory. In fact, he's smarter and more subtly persuasive than anyone around him. And in many ways, you kind of feel sorry for the guy for not being as handsome or strong or well regarded as his hot-headed brother. He also looks good in a horned helmet. It's encouraging and refreshing to have an adversary who possesses power in a comic book movie use primarily his smarts to arrange the world exactly how he wants it. Hiddleston is an actor I've never seen before, and I'm thrilled to know he's a primary villain in The Avengers movie.

This would be a good time to admit, I was never much of a Thor comic book follower, although I did follow him through the pages of The Avengers. So I wasn't anticipating seeing Asgard, the Warriors Three, Heimdall, and everyone else in that realm on the big screen for the first time. Still, I was impressed by what I saw — a vast, fully-realized landscape of where both science and magic mesh as seamlessly as metal and cloth do in this plane of existence. I love the idea of the rainbow bridge (which looks nothing like a rainbow or a bridge) guarded by a giant Idris Elba as Heimdall.

With Asgard in peril, Odin going into a kind of regenerative hibernation, and Loki taking over the throne of his realm, Thor on Earth does what he can to retrieve his hammer and return to Asgard, which he doesn't know is in peril. I actually love the scenes of Thor on Earth. I've seen many reviewers call Hemsworth's Thor "charming," but that isn't really true. It's Jane Foster's (Natalie Portman) reaction to him that makes him charming. Foster is a scientist investigating atmospheric disturbances in the New Mexican desert with her partner Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), when they literally run into Thor during a sandstorm. Pretty soon (as you know from the tag at the end of Iron Man 2) SHIELD comes to take charge of things when Mjolnir is found. Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson (as much a linking thread in the Marvel films as Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury) is the man in command, who at first confiscates all of Dr. Foster's equipment and research, but then enlists her team to help SHIELD.

Getting too much more into the plot than this probably isn't a good idea, but let me mention two things. One, as much as I love Kat Dennings in just about anything, she's kind of wasted here as nothing more than a character on hand to provide a hipster vibe. Her character could have easily be excised, and you never would have missed him. Second, yes there is a fun post-credits scene linking Thor to The Avengers. However, an almost ridiculously intercut moment occurring in the middle of the movie is worth mentioning. You may know what I'm talking about, but if you don't I won't be specific. Another Avengers character is included in the sequence in which Thor is running to retrieve Mjolnir from SHIELD. But if you really watch his inclusion in this sequence, he doesn't interact with any of the other characters, except by radio, clearly indicating that his inclusion in this movie was shot after the rest of the film was. It seems so blatantly crowbarred into the movie that it's a huge distraction. And yet, I kind of like having this character included here. I'm torn, but again, it could have been taken out and I never would have missed it.

And if you have the chance to choose between seeing Thor in 3D or not, please don't. Despite having so much time to do a bang-up job post-converting to 3D, it really doesn't do anything to improve this movie. Other than this little sticking point, and a couple of distracting minor characters, Thor is a great fantasy-action work with a stellar cast, beautifully designed sets and CG-created landscapes, wonderfully conceived heroes and villains, and enough humor and lighter moments to keep things from collapsing under their own weight. And for the Marvel diehards, you get your moments too, from quick references to other heroes in this universe to previews of big things to come. I think you're going to dig it immensely.

The Beaver

It's not my job to predict how a film will do at the box office, for the plain and simple reason that a film's quality and its box office success are almost never connected. And anyone reading this who equates box office success with quality films should stop reading and strap on a dunce cap with an unbreakable lock. But if I were a betting man, I'd guess that the Jodie Foster-directed The Beaver was either going to absolutely kill at the box office due to morbid curiosity, or it will never catch on because of a combination of its pitch dark subject matter and the presence of Mel Gibson, whose eventual and inevitable comeback is due very soon (hopefully with a big push from this film).

But none of that really interests me, because if you choose not to see The Beaver, you'll be missing the first Oscar-worthy performance in 2011, one that I firmly believe will stick until awards season kicks in at the end of the year. And rather than attempt to erase from memory all of Gibson's antics and taped ravings in the past couple of years, feel free to embrace them and put them at the front of your mind as you watch him play Walter Black, a toy company executive who has fallen into a deep depression and is clearly headed toward suicide. There are things Walter says about himself, his self worth, his pain, and sanity that feel so much like a confession straight from Gibson that you have trouble remembering who is talking. And it's one of those rare moments when art and life collide like two bullet trains to make something bigger than the sum of its parts.

After a half-hearted, failed suicide attempt that takes place after his long-suffering wife Meredith (Foster) reluctantly kicks him out of their home because his near-comatose behavior is tearing them apart as a family, Walter finds a discarded beaver hand puppet. Although strangely enough, Foster never shows us the moment Walter puts the puppet on and gives it its cockney British voice, he decides that from that point forward all communications to and from Walter should go through the puppet, known simply as The Beaver. And what's even stranger is that The Beaver seems to have his shit together and makes better decisions (personally and at the office) than Walter has in months. And The Beaver is a real character, making jokes, giving advice, all the time with Walter standing in the background as much as he can looking very pensive about his new spokesperson.

The film's main subplot involves Walter's oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin of Charlie Bartlett, Terminator Salvation and Star Trek), who is wildly intelligent but not smart enough to stay out of trouble as he runs a successful paper-writing business at his high school. He can not only write quality papers, but he spends time with those for whom he's writing to mimic their voice in the paper. Porter falls for Norah (Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence), a beautiful cheerleader at the school, who also happens to be at the top of her class. She wants to hire him to write the graduation speech she must deliver but has no passion about doing so. Almost every group and club she's a part of is transcript filler, so she's gone through life with no real enthusiasm, much like Porter. Both have secrets, both have troubling traits (Porter bashes his head into his bedroom wall when he gets angry), so it only makes sense that they are drawn to one another.

But the difficult thing about watching The Beaver is that the subplot doesn't merge very well with the main story about Walter and The Beaver. Porter loathes his dad, while his younger brother, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), seems to grow closer and more attached to Walter/Beaver than he has in a while. I found both stories fascinating, but not equally so. How could they be? As a result, every time the film cuts away from Gibson, my interest decreased. Fortunately, that doesn't happen all that often, and what we're left with is a staggering, sometimes frightening look at mental illness and the ways all of us cope with our shortcomings as human beings and good people. For the film's brief (too brief in my estimation) 90-minute running time, we are given a fascinating profile of a type of treatment that could either result in a much better man once the puppet goes away, or one in which The Beaver totally devours the man.

The films isn't a complete downer. Especially in the film's first half, Foster peppers in a great deal of humor before hurling us into Walter's abyss. The former black-listed script by Kyle Killen isn't exactly trying to balance the funny and the pain, and, as a result, some critics have complained about the "tone" of The Beaver. But I believe that Killen's words and Foster's direction (she has previously helmed Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays) are appropriately schizophrenic and meant to reflect Walter's state of mind. The scenes with Porter and Norah have a different, more relaxed tone than the ones in which The Beaver is struggling to subjugate Walter's depressed state. Tone was never an issue for me because I believe to my core it was intentional.

The Beaver persona comes up with a new toy idea that sets the world on fire, and soon Walter/Beaver are doing the talk show circuit. As much as these sequences might sound gimmicky, I believe they actually convey how a person like Walter would be received and treated in today's pop-culture-fueled American society. He becomes an instant celebrity, naturally.

I haven't really mentioned Foster's performance because it's tough to judge. Hers is a reactive role, and with the exception of a great scene set at a romantic dinner on the couple's anniversary, she doesn't really get a shot at cutting lose as an actor the way Gibson does. Perhaps that is Foster the director making certain no one (including herself) overshadows the deep cuts that Gibson is putting into Walter. With this character, Gibson isn't just giving a performance; he's front-loading all of his exquisite self-doubt into the man, and the result is extraordinary, possibly the single best work he's ever done. Anxiety lives in his eyes, but then he pushes that damn puppet at the camera, and the world seems better. I don't mean to ignore Gibson's puppeteering, which is actually quite expressive and moving. It's the complete package, and even if you find fault with the movie, I doubt any of your issues will have to do with Gibson.

The Beaver is a profile of a man and his family in crisis. Foster wisely always keeps a thread of hope alive that all members of the family are striving for the same outcome, but leaves open the possibility that things may not end well for the Blacks. Although the son's subplot is equal parts distracting and compelling, I wouldn't have necessarily cut it, since both Yelchin and Lawrence elevate the material well beyond the page. The thing I missed most is Foster the actor, who we really haven't seen act in a proper movie since 2007's The Brave One. I know she's just wrapping Roman Polanski's Carnage right now, and I can't wait to see that, but her selfless work in The Beaver robs us of two great performances. I guess I'm greedy. I kind of can't wait for you to see this film and judge Gibson, the actor, on those terms alone, without all of the noise surrounding him now. There is no possible way you won't be impressed on some level with his work and the film.

To read my exclusive interview with The Beaver director and co-star Jodie Foster, go to Ain't It Cool News.

Jumping the Broom

When you clear away about a half the extraneous cast members who were put in this film primarily for comic relief, Jumping the Broom is actually quite a strong African-American melodrama, featuring some of the finest actors of a couple of generations and a beautiful setting in which they can rip each other apart before coming back together. The core of the film is a wedding on Martha's Vineyard between a handsome couple named Sabrina and Jason (Paula Patton and Laz Alonso). Although Jason has apparently met Sabrina's parents (Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell as Mrs. and Mr. Watson) prior to the wedding, somehow Jason has managed to hide his mother (Loretta Devine as Mrs. Taylor) from his bride to be. Already things are off to a bad start.

The story is simple. The Watsons are rich and own a compound on the Vineyard. Bassett is convinced Mitchell is cheating on her, although the family is loaded with secrets, all of which are revealed in this long weekend surrounding the wedding. Meanwhile, Mrs. Taylor and some of her close friends and family are less well off, but make the journey from their low-paying lives to attend the ceremony, allowing the culture and class war to begin. And that's really all you need to know. Things get silly, thanks in large part of the Taylor party, which includes Mike Epps, DeRay Davis and Tyler Perry favorite Tasha Smith.

The Watsons supply most of the film's dramatic moments, and I have to admit, seeing such great theater vets like Bassett, Mitchell and Valarie Pettiford (as Bassett's free-spirited sister) get a chance to unleash their dramatic fury on each other. Director Salim Akil (creator of such TV shows as "The Game," "Girlfriends" and "Soul Food") has a flare for letting the emotions take control of a scene; I'm not as impressed with his handling of comedy, which seems to consist of letting Epps do and say whatever he wants, whether it's funny or not. The exception to this is the weird presence of Julie Bowen ("Modern Family") as wedding planner Amy, who is as aware as anyone that she is the only white person at this event (or in this movie), and rather than cower, she cuts loose with a string of very funny observations about those around her.

Jumping the Broom doesn't break any new ground in black cinema, but there is a healthy discussion and consideration for culture and tradition. There aren't too many surprises to be had in the plot either. But sometimes it's enough to let great actors (and a few lesser ones) just do their thing, even if some of what they're saying and doing is contrived and predictable. I'm not making allowances or apologies for the film's shortcomings. But there's more than enough substance here to blow just about any Tyler Perry movie out of the water. I think that's saying something.

Go to Ain't It Cool News to read my exclusive interview with Jumping the Broom star Angela Bassett.

Something Borrowed

Yes, yes, crapping on a Kate Hudson romantic comedy is like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel, but that's not going to stop me from doing my job, nay, my duty to warn you off going within 100 yards of a theater playing it. I'll give Something Borrowed points (OK, a point) for trying something a little different, even if it fails. But like so many rom-coms of late, the problem lies in the characters. More specifically, every character in this film is aggressively unlikeable, albeit for very different reasons. Even the relationship at the center of Something Borrowed is troublesome, because I simply never bought that Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Darcy (Kate Hudson) would have every stayed friends since they were kids, as the film claims.

Rachel is a lawyer, which makes me laugh right off the bat, because nothing about this woman says "lawyer." She dresses like small-town librarian and the personality of tap water. But we know Rachel a lawyer because we see scenes of her in law school studying with Dex (Colin Egglesfield), a fellow law student she has a crush on. The two meet for drinks one night when Darcy shows up unannounced and challenges Dex to either ask Rachel out or ask her out. When Rachel balks at the proposal and saying they're just friends, Dex asks Darcy out and Rachel gets her wishy-washy heart broken.

Cut to a few years later, Darcy and Dex are weeks away from getting married, Rachel is the maid of honor, and on her 30th birthday, she gets drunk and, oops, trips and falls onto Dex's penis. If I had a nickel... Anyway, it's ultra-clear courtesy of the heavy-handed directing style of Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) that we're supposed to be rooting for Rachel and Dex to get together by the end of the film. And we know this because Darcy is such an appalling, controlling person that no one would be friends with her for decades except a walking doormat like Rachel. It's literally an abusive relationship, and those aren't any more fun to watch on screen than they are in person.

And then we move onto the men in Rachel's life. Pretty soon, Rachel and Dex start meeting regularly, beginning a full-on affair while the wedding is still being planned. Dex is an indecisive user, so once again, Rachel has found someone else to walk all over her. Oh, and then there's the bizarre friendship she has with Ethan (John Krasinski), who is, I guess, her male best friend. She meets him for coffee or lunch every so often and tells him everything about her life; they're the least convincing a pair of best friends I've ever seen on film. Let's take inventory here. He's straight, single, and always around. Hmm, let's start betting now on how far into this damn-near-two-hour film he professes his love for Rachel.

The machinations of this terrible script from Jennie Snyder, based on the Emily Griffin novel, are a mess. And while I'm sure a movie can be (and has been) made in which the adulterous couple are the heroes, it just comes across as scuzzy in Something Borrowed. The film isn't quite as actively ugly as Bride Wars, but it's not for lack of trying. I find Goodwin adorable and appealing as an actor most of the time. Hell, I even thought she elevated the proceedings in He's Just Not That Into You a couple years back. But she's going out of her way to look like an idiot in Something Borrowed, and I don't just mean her character.

And while every once in a great while, Hudson might pull off something worthy like last year's The Killer Inside Me or Almost Famous (and yes, I have to reach back that far to find something else she was good in), she seems to have settled into this god-awful groove (more like a trench) from which I fear she will never return. It's always just a little sadder when the pretty ones die. In all likelihood, if you're planning to see this movie, my review isn't going to change your mind; I can't believe you've even bothered to read this far. But if you're on the fence about going or contemplating dragging along your significant male other to this on a date, please have mercy. We'll put up with a lot for women, but don't make us hate you for doing so. Something Borrowed is that hate.

Nuremberg: The Lesson for Today

A film that should be seen by every World History class (does such a thing even exist anymore?) in high school and/or college, Nuremberg is a straight-forward retelling of World War II, from the rise of the Nazi Party to the 1946 Nuremberg trial of several of the top Nazi leaders who shaped and carried out destructive crimes against humanity in the name of world domination.

In many ways, this film, which uses restored footage from the original trial shot by director Stuart Schulberg (he was saddled with the unenviable task of only being allowed to shoot for 25 hours during the course of the 11-month trial), is the paper trail of WWII, showing us memos and announcements from Hitler and others detailing each public and secret policy that led to invasion after invasion of European countries, the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos, and the plundering of each conquered land and people. Director Pare Lorentz creates an excellent framed tapestry onto which this familiar story can be told in new and interesting ways. Coupled with a worthy narration by Liev Schreiber, Nuremberg does a remarkable job of detailing the trial and making these formerly pompous, glorified men seem like cowering, scared little boys.

I wouldn't say the film lives up to its subtitle (The Lesson for Today), beyond the fact that it makes it very clear that leaders who inflict this kind of warfare on the world will be made to account for it one way or another. But I wasn't expecting Nuremberg to provide modern-day lessons; I was far more curious and interested in what it told me about this moment in time. It's an excellent document of these events, and an informative piece of filmmaking. The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.

Mother's Day

First off, this is a one-time-only showing of this film at midnight on Saturday, May 7, and it is something for only the most devoted fans of hardcore horror. Director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, III & IV; Repo! The Genetic Opera) will be on hand to talk about the film with me. If you wish to attend, you must RSVP. If your name isn't on the list, you won't get in. That's right, you can spend the first two hours of Mother's Day watching a nasty little film called Mother's Day. Here's my review...

Director Darren Lynn Bousman knows the benefits and perils of formula horror filmmaking, having directed the second, third and fourth Saw movies. The benefit of such predictable movies is that once a franchise is firmly established, even the worst of the installments tend to make money (I'm not calling Bousman's Saw films the worst; in fact, I remember having a twisted fondness for Saw II, in particular). Escaping his shackles of making movies where character development and real emotion gave way to senselessly elaborate killings and victims we could not have cared two shits about, Bousman took a brave and unusual turn into a territory called Repo! The Genetic Opera, a bloody, gore-laden musical that remains as divisive today as it was risky to make in the first place. I happen to love Repo!, and audiences keep turning out for midnight screenings around the nation. I recently found out that the film is actually expanding into the most theaters it has ever played in during the next few months. The damn thing is actually getting more popular as a theatrical event, despite it having been released on DVD more than a year ago.

When I first heard that Bousman was tackling a loose remake of the early Troma work from director Charles Kaufman, Mother's Day, I thought for sure that the kitschy elements of Repo! (or from the original Mother's Day) would be the order of the day for this effort. I was waaaaay off base with that prediction. Thanks to a powerful script from Scott Milam, this Mother's Day is a relentless feat that forced me to reconsider what American horror is capable of, much in the same way some of the great recent scare films from Europe have impressed me a great deal. The film bears no resemblance (thankfully so) to the lame, disconnected horror of late, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or the last couple of Saw films. That way of handling horror is effectively dead to me; at best, it's a step back from more interesting works like the remake of Last House on the Left, The Crazies or Daybreakers, all of which actually spent two or three minutes getting to know its characters before putting them through hell. Here's a free piece of advice to all future horror filmmakers: if the audience actually cares about your characters, the impact when they die will be so much deeper. That's what you want and what you should aspire to.

Of course, one way to make us care more about characters is to hire solid actors to portray them, and it's refreshing to see a film that isn't as concerned about packing its cast with a bunch of pretty boys and girls, and instead gives us a selection of solid performers who actually have the chops to convey a range of emotion. I'm in no way implying that Bousman has loaded his film with freaks — there are actually quite a few attractive people in this movie — but their looks are downplayed quite a bit. This is a film I believe is supposed to take place in Nebraska, so it would be ridiculous for these folks to dress like CW stars or trendy party goers in New York or L.A. Since the film opens with a low-key party in the new home of Daniel and Beth Sohapi (Frank Grillo and Jaime King), we know right away these are ordinary people playing dress up for this particular gathering; they probably don't dress this well every day.

The film abruptly cuts to a truck racing through a corn field. Inside are the Koffin brothers, including youngest brother Johnny (Matt O'Leary, who played "The Brain" in Brick) who is shot and likely about to die from his injuries. Oldest brother Ike (a truly terrifying Patrick Flueger) and middle child and convicted rapist Addley (Warren Kole) round out the vehicle inhabitants, yelling at Johnny to "man up" and "stop being such a pussy." Lot of love in that truck. They manage to contact their sister Lydia ("True Blood's" Deborah Ann Woll) to grab their mother and meet them at their home. What the brothers don't realize is that dear mother lost the home in question in a foreclosure, and the Sohapi couple snatched it up before it went on the market (Beth is a real estate agent).

When the brothers arrive at the house, they break in and immediately realize everything is wrong. Just as they're about the leave, they hear noises from the party in the basement. Still not clear on what is happening, the brothers take everyone in the house prisoner until their mother arrives. A still incredibly gorgeous and engaging Rebecca De Mornay plays Mother, who at first seems to be a woman of reason and sense. But it doesn't take long for her warped sense of righteousness, strict rules, and punishment rise to the surface and turn this bad situation into absolute hell. In the background of Mother's Day is the impending threat of tornados, but for some reason they don't carry nearly the threat level that De Mornay musters. There are the tiniest hints of some campiness to her performance, but then she pulls back and grounds herself one of the most fully realized screen villains I've seen in ages.

Mother's Day splits into two films at one point as Beth and Ike leave the house with the guests' ATM cards and passwords to clean out bank accounts, leaving a basement full of terrified people to cope with the remaining Koffins. Just to be completely clear, Bousman doesn't exactly hold back on the blood, and he makes it clear early on that no one's life is sacred on either side of this struggle. The family has a sadistic streak that manifests itself in some gut-wrenching "punishments" for guests who get out of line by trying to escape. My toes are curling just remembering some of what Mother dreams up.

The separate sequences with Ike and Beth are also really strong as King maintains a look in her eye that is a combination of good old-fashioned fear and a cunning that lets us know she will make every and any move to escape Flueger's dumb but not stupid Ike. It's a great cat-and-mouse game that leads to some seriously nasty places, especially one involving two party girls that stumble across them at an ATM machine and pay an awful price. After a small but pivotal role in Brothers (what a coincidence), Flueger is a real find and his ability to project pent-up rage is almost too good. King borrows a bit from her own excellent work in My Bloody Valentine 3D, which went well beyond simply being a screaming victim. In Mother's Day, she's an aggressive force with many secrets hidden away in her head that could substantially throw the balance off between her and her captors. This is by far King's best work to date.

A particular favorite performance of mine comes from Shawn Ashmore as George, a doctor at the party who is charged by the family with keeping Johnny alive, which means he actually has some power over them. Pointing a gun at him doesn't have much of an impact since killing him means Johnny's death. His manipulating of Lydia provides some fascinating tension in a couple of key moments. Perhaps the most daring aspect to Mother's Day is that there are moments when Bousman allows us to feel a little sorry for the siblings for reasons I won't completely go into. They were home schooled (poorly, as you may have guessed) and meant to fear the outside world in an effort by Mother to keep them close and devoted to her. But the instability goes far deeper than that.

It turns out that the brothers, not knowing their mother had moved (into a mobile home, no less), had been sending envelopes of cash to her old address, which leads Mother to believe that Beth or Daniel or both have a healthy stash of cash hidden away somewhere. Both convincingly deny this, but that doesn't stop Mother from torturing Daniel just to be sure. Brutal. But Mother can also be compassionate, such as the scene where she offers her dying youngest son the chance to lose his virginity to one of the hostages before he croaks. Briana Evigan is the unfortunate lady chosen for this horrible task, and she plays the scene perfectly, but that doesn't stop it from being the film's one true off-putting moment.

But how rare is it that any horror offering gives us the chance to see things through the eyes and thought processes of the villains. Bausman makes it absolutely clear that these characters were not born evil. They were raised that way, and in their collective minds, what they are doing is absolutely justified. He's not trying to get us to see them as heroes or victims, but the idea of opening our minds to the possibility is something I rarely see in a movie like this. I'd even go so far as to say that Mother's Day isn't a horror film; it's an intense, horrific drama. And while popular home invasion films like Last House on the Left or The Strangers, which cover some of the same ground as this movie, are set deep in the isolated woods, Mother's Day happens in a nice, normal neighborhood. This house is surrounded by other homes, but because most of the action in the film takes place inside, the neighbors would have no way of knowing what's transpiring.

The only thing that Mother's Day and Nightmare on Elm Street have in common (and the only thing they should have in common) is that both are clearly directed by talented, skilled filmmakers with a clear vision in mind for their work. But what makes Mother's Day infinitely better as a complete, thought-provoking work is a clear sense of emotional resonance. When a character cries from pure anxiety overload, I'm right there with them. There are as many heated battles among the captives about whether they should stay put or attempt an escape rather than continue to be victims of brutal acts inflicted on them by the Koffins. Bousman wants us just as nervous about what these prisoners are going to do as he wants to make us quake at the possibilities that Mother and her kids can come up with. Mission: accomplished.

I don't know whether Mother's Day has a distributor yet or not, but I can only imagine that whoever might put this out would be tempted to simplify the emotions, to make the family more villain-y and the victims more sympathetic. That would be a colossal blunder. This film's power stems from its grey areas and moral complexity. I see more horror films in a given year than I can handle. But the turn-off in my head isn't from torture or gore or exploitation; the turn-off comes when it's disgustingly clear that movies have been sliced and diced to fit a formula (a proven one, yes, but one that is fading fast with audiences). Mother's Day is not cookie-cutter horror filmmaking. There is genuine thinking going on here. Even the ending is unusual and will leave you with a hollow, twisted feeling in your gut. I fucking love that sensation, and I fucking love this movie.

I believe this film is slated to open in October, so if you don't see it Saturday, keep it in the back of your mind for this later release. This is one of the good ones of this genre and shouldn't be missed. It should also be protected like an endangered species.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

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By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
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Editor: Nancy Bishop, nancy@gapersblock.com
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