Tag Archives: Michelle Pfeiffer

Exit Stage Gauche

French Exit

by George Wolf

So, it seems your quick, stealthy exit migrates from Irish to French when excess alcohol is not involved.

Good to know, I had to look it up.

Francis Price (Michelle Pfeiffer) certainly enjoys a good martini, but her exit plan is a bit more serious than just ducking out of the local bar unnoticed.

After years of living high as a Manhattan socialite, Francis’s inheritance is nearly gone. So after selling off what they can, Francis and her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) head to Paris to stay in her best friend’s empty apartment. When the last dollar is finally spent, Francis plans to kill herself.

It sounds pretty dramatic, but writer Patrick DeWitt (who also penned the source novel) and director Azazel Jacobs start peppering in the absurdity and black comedy as soon as mother and son are aboard a ship to France.

Malcolm leaves his fiancee Susan (Imogen Poots) behind, and hooks up with Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald) en route. Madeleine is a medium, and she soon becomes Francis’s conduit for summoning the late Mr. Price (Tracy Letts) when his soul returns in a cat.

Pfeiffer is cold, condescending perfection. Francis’s words for nearly everyone she encounters practically drip with contempt, and Pfeiffer is always able to keep the film’s tricky tonal balance from toppling toward either maudlin or silly.

She enjoys a wonderful chemistry with Hedges, who impresses yet again as a young man who is still coming to grips with the lack of affection in his upbringing, his mother’s icy worldview, and how they’ve both affected his ability to relate to other people.

And soon, there are plenty of other people to relate to in the Paris flat. There’s the neighbor who desperately wants to make friends (a scene-stealing Valerie Mahaffey), Madeleine the medium, a detective hunting for the runaway cat (Isaach De Bankole), ex-fiancee Susan and her new man (Daniel di Tomasso), and Joan, who actually owns the apartment (Susan Coyne)!

You’d be quick to label the entire affair a Wes Anderson knockoff if Jacobs (The Lovers, Mozart in the Jungle, Doll & Em) didn’t fill the center with such unabashed heart. The affection between mother and son is never in doubt, and Pfeiffer’s delicious turn makes sure Francis never becomes a villain, just a fascinating and darkly funny mess.

With its self-conscious quirks and surface-level satisfactions, this is a French Exit more obvious than most. But thanks to Pfeiffer and a sharply drawn ensemble, it’s never less than wicked fun.

Killer Queen

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

by Hope Madden

I’m not going to lie to you, I hated Maleficent. Not because it was a mediocre CGI mess, although it certainly was that. I hated that film because Disney turned one of its absolutely most magnificent villains—one of cinema’s most magnificent villains—into a heartbroken, misunderstood victim.

Screw that.

But five years after Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) maternal love saves Aurora (Elle Fanning) and several kingdoms in the process, humans are back to whispering evil stories about the guardian of the Moors. Meanwhile, Aurora and Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) have decided to marry.

That first family dinner doesn’t go super well.

Stuffed to the antlers with sidetracks and subplots, characters and ideas, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil shows you everything and articulates nothing.

Flashes of social commentary stand out. In the name of greed, evil leadership whips up fear amongst the population to justify racism, jingoism, colonialism and even genocide.

Despite Maleficent’s fangs, the fact that the film clearly leans toward giving the colonizers one more chance as opposed to siding with indigenous rebellion renders the film biteless.

But who could resist Chiwetel Ejiofor? He calls for peace and languishes in some kind of Disney side character purgatory as wizened and wearied Conall, one of the winged Fey who look to Maleficent to lead their kind.

Dear Hollywood: please give Chiwetel Ejiofor better parts in better movies.

Ejiofor is hardly the only talent wasted in this slog. Littered amid the carnage of so, so many side plots are Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple, again bothersome at best as three pixies. Sam Riley and Ed Skrein are allowed to smirk and grunt, respectively. Only Jenn Murray stands out, weirdly sadistic playing the queen’s very small enforcer.

Even Fanning once again comes up lame, asked only to beam and blush, though Dickinson has it worse. Be quietly noble, his direction seems to insist. Noble, but never rude.

The film should be Jolie’s show, but she does little more than pose. Robbed of her imposing wickedness by the end of the first movie, she now just seems bored and is more often than not upstaged by Michelle Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith.

Ingrith is written with no more depth than any of the other few dozen speaking characters to grace the screen in this overpopulated mess, but it’s always fun to see Pfeiffer chew scenery up and spit it out.

Director Joachim Ronning shows moments of visual inspiration, splashing color across the screen one moment, forbiddingly grim grey tones the next, but the little magical creatures rarely suggest the CGI budget was spent very wisely.

What was the point again?

Oh, right. Maleficent made $758 million.

Personal Space

Ant-Man and the Wasp

by George Wolf

Like the titular heroes who get small to do big things, Ant-Man and the Wasp gets a boost by making its stakes more personal, and its mojo a sweet, witty blast.

“Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?”

Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) asks that question for him and for us. The answer is yes, they do, but don’t sweat the science and the fun will win out.

Scott’s on the outs with just about everyone since his assist to Captain America (“We call him Cap!”) in Civil War, but he just might be what Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need to rescue their long lost wife/mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the “quantum realm” that’s held her for decades.

The team could be on to something huge, and their research has many interested and scary parties, including “Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen from Black Mirror and Ready Player One), a molecularly challenged young lady who thinks it could save her life.

Too serious? Anything but.

Thanks to Rudd’s comic timing and affable charm, Ant-Man becomes the family friendly cousin to Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool. Like Reynolds on his DP projects, Rudd again earns a writing credit, filling his character with plenty of snappy dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor that feels like a comfortable extension of Rudd’s own persona.

He’s a natural, but Lilly is the welcome surprise here. The Wasp’s intro in the first film often seemed like an awkward distraction, but she earns the equal marquee time with a script that allows Lilly the chance to make the character matter.

Director Peyton Reed is also back from part one, showing a confident grasp on Ant-Man’s role in the Marvel Universe. He keeps the pace quick, the gags (many featuring a scene-stealing Michael Pena) on a PG-13 speed dial, and the effects team busy, showcasing plenty of the amazing scale-altering set pieces that give this franchise its unique calling card.

The film knows its place in Marvel’s lineup, too, and that’s hardly an accident. Good as Infinity War was, the break from galaxy-hopping is welcome. Two of the writers from Spider-Man: Homecoming are on board this time, bringing some of the less-is-more sensibility which gave that film such an unexpected freshness.

Yes, it could stand to lose about fifteen minutes of excess, but AMATW has an unassuming vibe that is infectious fun, and the perfect palate cleanser before another bite of Thanos.

And don’t leave early, or you’ll miss a mid-credits bonus that might drop some jaws.

 





Woman on the Verge

Where is Kyra?

by George Wolf

Even if you hated last year’s polarizing mother! (let’s argue about that later), Michelle Pfeiffer’s bracing performance was a reality check for anyone who doubted her chops.

But that was a supporting role well-suited for scene stealing. Pfeiffer takes the titular lead in Where is Kyra?the latest from director Andrew Dosunmu, and not only carries, but elevates a film anchored in some grim realities of American life.

Her Kyra is an increasingly desperate woman struggling to keep her deceased mother’s apartment in Brooklyn. Though Kyra continues to look for work, nothing pans out except a dive-bar romance with Doug (Kiefer Sutherland – solid), a cabbie trying to turn his own life around.

Mom’s government checks keep coming after the funeral, and the job offers don’t, so Kyra begins a secret life with slim hopes for happy endings.

Dosunmu, in his first film since the heartfelt and wonderful Mother of George five years ago, re-ups with screenwriter Darci Picoult and again utilizes a stirring lead performance to study a woman faced with shrinking options and tough choices.

But in contrast to the culture clash that drove Danai Gurira in Mother of George, Pfeiffer’s Kyra personifies the perils of aging in America, and how quickly the slope to desperation can become quite slippery. Pfeiffer is masterful, giving Kyra’s tailspin an authentic center even as Dosunmu and Piccoult box her into a corner with questionable credibility.

Frequent partial shots through doorways, lingering close ups and selective slo-motion enable Dosunmu to move gracefully from monochromatic grit to dreamlike lenses and back again, each trip reinforcing the reality Kyra can’t wish away. The pace may seem achingly slow at times, the message a tad too manufactured at others, but Pfeiffer is always there to keep your attention from wandering.

She pays it small, with an intimately sorrowful center both sympathetic and fascinating, holding Where is Kyra? steady whenever its knees get shaky.

 

 





Terror Train

Murder on the Orient Express

by Hope Madden

Kenneth Branagh likes a big room.

The thespian and Shakespearean master often feels ill-suited to film, as if he cannot help but play to the back row. Whether Branagh is in front of or behind the camera, subtlety and subtext don’t appear to come easily.

How about Agatha Christie? Branagh gambles that a 20th-century crime novelist whose prose created the architecture for a genre of books, movies, stage and television will still thrill modern audience.

A stacked ensemble for Murder on the Orient Express makes the same wager.

Branagh plays Christie’s brusque genius, Belgian Inspector Hercule Poirot.

Branagh the director is so preoccupied with Branagh the actor that his talent-laden cast is offered little more to do than to quickly hash out one-dimension. The waste of talent is the real crime afoot.

Those underused? A wide array of A-listers, from immediate hot properties Daisy Ridley (The Last Jedi) and Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin) to cinematic icons (Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi) to true movie stars (Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp)—and that’s not even half the cast.

Josh Gad appears in his second period-piece of the season (after last month’s Marshall), here playing a shady, drunken lawyer-turned-secretary who just might have killed a man.

Leslie Odom Jr. (Broadway’s Hamilton) plays a problem-solving doctor and former sharpshooter who just might have killed a man.

Penelope Cruz is a missionary nurse who won’t touch a drink, but she just might have…

You get the point. It’s an Agatha Christie story. At its best, campy, stagey fun. At its worst, stale.

The movie is a bit of both.

In keeping with Branagh’s love of spectacle, Murder on the Orient Express is a gorgeous, larger-than-life adventure. He shot on 65mm, and whether 20th Century Fox decides to release a 70mm print or not, the result is a glorious display, particularly in Act 1.

By the second act, we’re trapped in the train with a murderer. At that point, Branagh’s film starts to smell musty, and no quirky fun performances (Pfeiffer is particularly memorable) or delicately framed dining car treats can freshen things up.

When not doting on his star, Branagh’s camera showcases dazzling locations before luxuriating in the sumptuous appointments of the elegant train cars. It’s big. Very big. Grandiose, you might even say.

Which makes no sense at all for Christie’s close-quarters sleuthing of clues, faces, motives and sleight of hand.





Many Mansions

mother!

by Hope Madden

Darren Aronofsky is grappling with some things.

For those of you who know the writer/director primarily for his streamlined, intimate films like The Wrestler, mother! may come as a bit of a surprise.

For the rest of us, mother! may come as a bit of a surprise.

How do you feel about metaphor?

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.

Many a horror film has been built around writer’s block, but Aronofsky has more on his mind than that. The larger concept of creation and all its complications: male versus female, celebrity, consumption, art and commerce. Also maybe the self-destructive nature of humanity as well as its tendency toward regeneration and rot. And being God.

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.





De Niro’s Not-So-Secret Admirer

The Family

by Hope Madden

Think of The Family as Luc Besson’s mash note to Robert De Niro.

The writer/director/Frenchman’s fondness for violence and organized crime in film is well documented. He’s written and/or directed dozens of films on the topic, including La Femme Nikita, The Professional, and Transporter. Rather than follow a single assassin or bag man, this time around Besson wades through more familiar cinematic waters with a full-fledged mafia picture.

De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, known to his new neighbors in Normandy, France as Fred Blake. He ratted out his wise guy connections back in Brooklyn, and now the Witness Protection Program shuffles his family around France trying to avoid a retaliatory hit. But the “Blakes” don’t make it easy.

Besson’s screenplay is based on a novel by Tonino Benacquista, who’s penned some great, gritty flicks (The Beat that My Heart Skipped, Read My Lips). The Family is a lighter affair, depicting good natured psychopaths who fail to fit in as another set of psychos descend on a sleepy French town.

The film lacks the action choreography Besson’s audience has come to expect. Instead, its charm lies in the director’s joyous fondness for American gangster flicks in general and De Niro’s work in particular. His odes grow evermore obvious, with callbacks to most of the actor’s greats: Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Godfather: Part II, even Cape Fear. Besson’s having some fun, and DeNiro seems to enjoy the affection.

De Niro’s chemistry with Michelle Pfeiffer, playing his wife, gives the film a little heart. It’s great to see these two seasoned veterans share the screen, and Pfeiffer’s displaced and disgruntled Italian American is fun to watch.

The storyline for the couple’s two teens is weaker, and Besson seems almost disinterested in the involvement of the WPP agents, including saggy faced sourpuss Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones).

It’s an action comedy that’s a little short on action. The comedy is pleasant and fun, but never truly funny. What keeps this light but violent romp entertaining is its own sense of joy and its love of Robert De Niro. Which may not be the best reason to make a film, but there are worse.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APfgBoaGdf4