Sep 29

Social Issues on Film: Three Mini-Reviews

Three movies I haven’t seen receive mini-reviews below—because others have done the work for us. Each film in some way takes on social issues.

I. ‘Mother!’ Is the Worst Movie of the Year, Maybe Century. Rex Reed, New York Observer

Although you can already tell from his title how Rex Reed feels about Mother!, here’s more to chew on:

…an exercise in torture and hysteria so over the top that I didn’t know whether to scream or laugh out loud. Stealing ideas from Polanski, Fellini and Kubrick, [director Darren Aronofsky has] jerrybuilt an absurd Freudian nightmare that is more wet dream than bad dream, with the subtlety of a chainsaw.
This delusional freak show is two hours of pretentious twaddle that tackles religion, paranoia, lust, rebellion, and a thirst for blood in a circus of grotesque debauchery to prove that being a woman requires emotional sacrifice and physical agony at the cost of everything else in life, including life itself. That may or may not be what Aronofsky had in mind, but it comes as close to a logical interpretation as any of the other lunk-headed ideas I’ve read or heard. The reviews, in which a group of equally pretentious critics frustratingly search for a deeper meaning, are even nuttier than the film itself. Using descriptions like ‘hermeneutic structure,’ ‘phantasmagoric fantasia,’ ‘cinematic Rorschach test’ and ‘extended scream of existential rage,’ they sure know how to leave you laughing.

There are enough counter-opinions from critics, though, to satisfy the “insanity”-seeking Aronofsky fans as well. One example is from Steve Pond, The Wrap: “For its combination of ambition and audacity, this is a glorious piece of cinematic insanity.” Another, Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “It’s worth seeing — if you don’t mind a little insanity in escapism that offers no escape, only the promise of a new fairy tale on another page.”

II. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ Review: Imagine Hillary and Trump Swinging Rackets. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone 

Or does the actual historical account provide more interest? A few reviews:

Linda Holmes, NPR:

The film focuses on [Billie Jean] King’s activism for prize money parity in professional tennis, meaning sexism was not, for her, only about pride. Bobby Riggs may have been a sideshow, but he — and the people he riled up with his antics — had the potential to slow down women’s tennis in its push for equality.
King’s ambivalence and reluctance, and her understanding that the position she found herself in as an advocate had the capacity to paint her into a corner, are the best parts…

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com: “The symbolic power of what happened there – one small step, one giant leap for womankind – is still the movie’s truest ace.”

However….Dana Stevens, Slate: “Forty-four years after that legendary game, with the No. 1 chauvinist pig in the White House, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’ is starting to feel like fake news.”

III. Tired of superheroes? ‘Wonder Woman’ is here to save the day. Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

States film critic Macdonald, “It’s nice to think that love — and strong women — can save the world; it’s invigorating to watch it happen, even if it’s just on a movie screen.”

Wonder Woman, now on DVD, was quite intriguing to Hillary Clinton, she professed before seeing it. And afterward she stated that it was “just as inspirational as I’d suspected a movie about a strong, powerful woman in a fight to save the world from international disaster would be.”

Male reviewers also generally appreciated this “superhero movie that runs on estrogen rather than testosterone” (Peter Howell, Toronto Star). Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “What lingers…is the feeling of hope that the movie brings, that it someday might be possible for female rationality to defeat male brutality.”

Oct 31

“Dolores Claiborne”: A Different Kind of Horror Film

This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride. Roger Ebert, reviewing Dolores Claiborne

Generally classified as either a psychological thriller or crime fiction or suspense or mystery, the 1995 film Dolores Claiborne, which was based on the bestselling book by Stephen King, is often considered underrated and undernoticed.

I saw it way back when, liked it, but now don’t have enough recall to be able to describe it adequately. Interestingly, a search for reviews/summaries found that almost all were of the male-written variety. Although many of the critiques were favorable, I have to wonder if this female-powered process-oriented movie with themes of mistreatment by men would have fared better had it gotten more press by women.

Oh well. At least Dolores lives on—not only can it still be seen in the comfort of your home but King’s book has recently been adapted for the opera stage in San Francisco.

Another interesting fact? King wrote the book with Misery maven Kathy Bates in mind as the lead character. And Bates did, in fact, wind up playing her in the movie. Brian Lowry, Variety, summarizes the plot and lead characters/actors:

Accused of murdering the old woman for whom she’s cared the past 22 years, Dolores is forced to confront her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the mysterious death two decades earlier of her abusive husband, deemed an accident at the time despite the suspicions of the detective involved (Christopher Plummer).

Leigh’s Selena is a high-strung magazine writer who still blames her mother for the death of her father (David Strathairn), who, through a series of flashbacks, is shown to be a truly despicable character.

James BerardinelliReel Views, recaps more of the film’s essence:

The main characters, mother and daughter, are well-written and effectively portrayed. Dolores is a sad, lonely survivor who has, perhaps unjustly, endured a lifetime of misery. Secrets can be an oppressive burden, and Dolores has been worn down by them. Selena, on the other hand, has become an alcoholic and drug-abuser as the result of what she has repressed. Bates and Leigh, two accomplished and versatile actors, are in peak form as they settle into the lonely isolation of their characters — two very different people whose individual pain is entwined.

You can watch the trailer here:

Another source, jtonzelli.com, addresses why Dolores Claiborne belongs in the realm of horror:

While Dolores Claiborne is not a traditional horror film per se, horrific themes are definitely at play here. There is an unrelenting darkness, along with several disturbing scenes that lend itself to our genre. While it may not be about horrific creatures that hide in the dark, it is very much about horrific human beings and what they are capable of doing to people they claim to love. It is about the horror of memory, time, betrayal, and so many other weaknesses that make humanity just as flawed as we are intriguing.

If you prefer your horror to be of the more realistic type, then, Dolores Claiborne just could be your cup of poison tea.