‘night, Mother — Review

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25Star

 

by Ken B.

“Where’s Daddy’s gun?”

When this line is off-handedly asked by Jessie Cates (SISSY SPACEK) to her mother Thelma (ANNE BANCROFT) around six in the evening, Thelma tells her, believing her initial explanation for protection from criminals, despite how unlikely Thelma thinks a robbery would be. Jessie is nearing middle age, and is a seemingly recovered epileptic. After her husband left her and her drug addicted son ran away, she moved in with her mother, and things have generally been fine until this night. Soon Thelma realizes (excruciatingly later than we realize) why Jessie wanted to find her late father’s gun, which is to lock herself in her room, and commit suicide before the end of the night. Thelma then attempts everything in her power to keep this from happening.

’night, Mother is based off the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Marsha Norman, and its theatrical origins are pretty obvious; the setting and script are restricted, with nearly all action taking place within a small house, and with the exception of about a minute in the beginning, this is a 96 minute two hander between Spacek and Bancroft.

There are a handful of problems with this movie, but the acting is certainly not one of them. Spacek is tragic and occasionally relatable as the depressed Jessie, and Bancroft is phenomenal as Thelma, grasping at any opportunity possible to keep her daughter alive through the night. No, the big problems are the screenplay by playwright Norman, who keeps our main characters bouncing around the house, draining any tension that is built up when the two women are standing or sitting still and speaking, and the cinematography by Stephen M. Katz which is far too jumpy to create an acceptable atmosphere, which is very important in a story intended to be claustrophobic and tense.

However, there are additional reasons to admire the film. The music is condensed to only a simple acoustic guitar based piece at the very beginning at the very end – this is good, as ’Night, Mother heavily depends on dialogue and body language, which an overbearing violin score would have killed and turned into a melodramatic mess. The movie itself doesn’t jump around in time, restrained to one singular period, keeping any tension surviving from the bad cinematography somewhat intact.

’night, Mother is a movie that deals with suicide, a heavy handed and controversial subject, in a way that had potential for interest and praise. However, thanks to an extremely slow pace at the start and a poor stage-to-screen translation, it falls short. The performances of Bancroft and Spacek are indeed commendable and worthwhile, but when you stand back from a distance, that’s about the only purely positive quality within.

Top Gun – Review

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25Star

by Ken B.

Top Gun. Because, you know, 1986.

In all seriousness, this isn’t a very good movie. Take away the mildly entertaining plot execution and the spectacular flying sequences and you see a somewhat coherent story with mediocre to moderate acting and a once enjoyable soundtrack repeated way too many times for its own good. However, similar to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it’s remembered fondly because in the end, it’s there to please us on an ephemeral level. If only the extra step had been taken to make it even more satisfying, I would have been much more likely to give a full recommendation.

Pete Mitchell (TOM CRUISE), better known by his call sign “Maverick”, is a hotshot (the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker parody of this was called Hot Shots) pilot who is called with his colleague “Goose” (ANTHONY EDWARDS) to attend the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School, an exclusive five-week program where the best Navy fighters are sent for more extensive training. The group of pilots fight for the top spot, with Maverick’s most frequent opponent in that respect being “Iceman” Kasansky (VAL KILMER).

Maverick’s a bit of an eccentric flyer – you wonder why a person like him would be a pilot in the heavily disciplined military. The answer is his father, also pilot whose plane was shot down during the Vietnam War, although Maverick never had accepted this story as truth. He never really knew his dad, and yet everything he does in the Navy as a fighter pilot is subtly underwritten by this preservation of respect. Supporting him through this competitive and dangerous environment is not only Goose, but a woman, Charlie (KELLY McGILLIS), whom Maverick meets at a bar one night. The next day he finds out she works as an instucter for the Fighter Weapons School (called Top Gun) with “top secret clearance” at the Pentagon.

The script by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. is concerned with only a few things – giving Tom Cruise one-liners and charismatic opportunities, big aerial shows and shots of maneuvers, and the occasional explosion. While it’s commendable that this 109 minute movie never really loses steam, there’s an unavoidable feeling that a more interesting film with emotional payoff and hides behind an exceedingly basic background.

When it comes to the question of whether it succeeds on those merits, the answer is yes. While some might argue that this should automatically require me to award Top Gun a higher rating, the star ratings are based on my overall recommendation of a movie, and I can’t with good conscience recommend a movie that has such a style over substance attitude. In a truly good movie, the latter should be primary to the former (I understand that co-producer Jerry Bruckheimer would disagree with me on this). As a movie that documents Tom Cruise’s rise to prominence, a highlight of the idyllic mid-1980s blockbuster, and a gung-ho American attitude of the time echoed in other idyllic mid-1980s blockbusters (i.e. Red Dawn, Rocky IV, although perhaps not as obvious on a direct level as the movies I’ve just mentioned), Top Gun also works. If you watch it, know that the moments of true feeling are not nonexistent, but few and far between.

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Review

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Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, and Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

25Star

by Ken B.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a somewhat enjoyable way to pass 102 minutes, with no strenuous thought on the viewer’s part. Matthew Broderick plays the title character, a high school student who has orchestrated a complex scheme to get out of school. It’s his ninth time of the semester, and thus rousing the suspicion of the dean of students, Ed Rooney (JEFFREY JONES), who decides to take matters into his own hands, while meanwhile, Ferris and two of his friends, Cameron and Sloane, played by Alan Ruck and Mia Sara, respectively, are spending the day bouncing all around the city of Chicago.

Hughes’ film uses a kind of meta technique, characterized in Ferris directly addressing the audience with little bursts of dialogue (asides) that less inventive filmmakers would use in a voice over. It would have been astoundingly easy to completely overdo it and make the film come off as entirely self-righteous and referential, but is done to an extent where annoyance is kept to as much minimum as possible. The script overall is well paced, and the characters have enough depth where we have at least minimal reason to care about them. But there is a significant and notable problem with the main character. If we think closely about the character and his motives, there really is nothing exceedingly likable about him – he goes to great lengths to involve people in a plan they are initially reluctant to become involved in (or at least Cameron’s case), and they only come around to his side with a salesman-like coaxing. To get Sloane out of class, Ferris and the now on board Cameron create an elaborate scheme that Sloane’s grandmother has died. The main character is only saved from coming off as punch-in-the-face-smug is Broderick’s performance, which through some twist of fate, works. Also in the movie there is Jennifer Grey as Ferris’ sister, who seeks to expose his endeavors to his oblivious parents, who are played by Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett. Also, Charlie Sheen has a brief appearance as a red-eyed guy in the police station. Very suspiciously foreshadow-y.

As a whole, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has no destructively bad qualities, but it certainly has flaws that are difficult to excuse. That’s not to say there aren’t certainly impressive sequences, such as Ed Rooney’s slapstick-esque trek around the Bueller residence, in a similar vein to a Hughes film that would come out three years later, Home Alone. It is an undeniably significant piece of 1980s cinema, especially in the teen oriented subgenre of comedy, and that concrete impact on culture and filmmaking is the reason why I still feel alright recommending this one.

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