Mother’s Day

A smorgasbord of star-studded schmaltzy smug-ish sentiment.

Having not seen ‘Valentine’s Day’ (2010) nor ‘New Year’s Eve’ (2011) I knew of the infamy of director Garry Marshall‘s ensemble romantic comedies but I don’t think I was truly prepared for ‘Mother’s Day’. It took me about 1/4 of the film, roughly 30 mins, to realise that the only way I could endure (the only verb choice that really captures how I felt) the remaining 3/4 would be by turning off my settings for common-sense, logic and cynicism. As a result I found only the first section truly excruciating, the remainder only vaguely unpleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so contrived or ridiculous. ‘Mother’s Day’ is essentially a feature film that is the personification of a money-free Hallmark card. Paper thin and totally empty.

Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widow with two daughters; his wife was a marine who dies in combat. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a divorcee with two sons. Her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) has just married a twenty-something called Tina (Shay Mitchell). Sandy’s best friend is Jesse (Kate Hudson). Jesse is married to Russell (Aasif Mandvi), an Indian doctor; they have a young son together. They live next door to Jesse’s sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) who is married to her lesbian partner Max (Cameron Esposito); Max has a son whom Gabi adopted. Jesse made a new friend at her mother & baby group, a young mum called  Kristin (Britt Robertson). Kristin is in a long-term relationship with Zach (Jack Whitehall) who is an amaterue comedian. Kristin won’t marry Zach until she meets the mother who gave her up for adoption, a legendary business-woman and workaholic called Miranda (Julia Roberts). 

That is genuinely the most contrived plot summary I have ever written in my 14 months of writing this blog. I intentionally included facts about race/sexuality/personality which often feel needless when I write about other films. The reasoning is simple – Mother’s Day makes such a big deal about being ‘inclusive’ and having a range of representation. But it doesn’t. Not really. Yes there is a lesbian couple, but we don’t actually get to know them. They merely serve as plot points for Jesse’s storyline about telling her seemingly racist mother that she married someone of another race. The majority of the film’s ‘jokes’ come from these exchanges, where her mother calls her new-found son-in-law a ‘towelhead’ amongst many others. It’s a huge misstep as the way it is treated and mined for laughs is in itself racist. The movie tries to be self-aware about racist and homophobic attitudes yet uses them in such a casually offensive manner.

Another recurring excruciating element of the film are Jack Whitehall’s stand-up sequences. They are painfully contrived, like most of ‘Mother’s Day’ in all fairness, but considering being a stand-up is Whitehall’s job it feels like an advanced skill that the film manages to get them so so wrong.

Then there’s Julia Roberts, rumoured to have been paid $4 million for three days worth of filming. The film uses an approach to show just how ‘big’ Miranda is by having her appear everywhere within the film, frequently using adverts and infomercials to showcase her omnipresence.  It’s a touch I quite like (sound the alarm!) if only the ads themselves had been infuriating. There are glimmers of Roberts’s talent here, certain looks she gives, that remind of just how talented she is. Unfortunately that is lost by her having to play a previously stereotyped ‘business-woman’. She has no personal life, only business. Therefore she is cold and treats practically everyone as if they are worthless. So glad to see we’ve progressed beyond that cliche!

It does hurt to say this, but I did quite like the performances and storylines involving both Aniston and Sudeikis. Whilst there was still a whole lot of ridiculousness, particularly with his female harem of friends which included seemingly the only black person in the whole of Atlanta (a larger lady who is loud and proud. Sigh.), it was during these storylines that showed the film had a tiny murmur of well-meaning intent.

Otherwise ‘Mother’s Day’ is devoid of charm and rather sickly. It’s an opportunity to see actors you have liked in other movies interact with each other in contrived scenes and only communicate with pseudo psycho-babble. It’s smug and begrudgingly acted. Avoid.

1 star

X-Men: Apocalypse

“At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”

The above line is uttered by Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) about halfway through the movie, when she and a few other character leave a cinema screening of Return of the Jedi. It’s one of numerous strange self-aware moments within the film. If this had come out a year after Deadpool it could easily be assumed to be a rip-off of the superior film’s meta sense of humour. Instead it comes across as strangely self-satisfied and almost arrogant. Considering her character is telepathic it almost feels like she was reading this viewer’s mind…

10 years after the stand-off with the Sentinel prototypes at White House the X-men have never been so far apart from each other yet have never been so strong individually. Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is full of mutants, with Professor Xavier himself (James McAvoy) and second is command Hank Mccoy (Nicholas Hoult)  keeping a close watch on telepathic protegee  Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and new recruit  Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) as both re struggling to control their powers. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a loner/nomad/mercenary helping other mutants.  Erik Lehnseer(Michael Fassbender) is now a married man with a young daughter. But when immortal physic mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rises from a millennia -long sleep  his awakening will have consequences for the world’s population of humans and mutants alike. 

How do you like your squash? I personally like it strong and full of flavour. I don’t like it weak – diluted and lacking in flavour.  That’s my problem with this film. To use this clunky analogy for all it’s worth the cordial (the good stuff) is diluted by too much water (i.e characters, plot and action). Although the ‘too-many-characters-may-spoil-the-broth’ did cause Civil War a bit of a stumble, in the case of this film it forces the film to fall flat on its face. Repeatedly.

Fatal Flaw Time: Characterization is almost completely abandoned in favour of action and set pieces. For fans of the franchise, or any of its other incarnations, we witness one dimensional versions of the characters we know and love. Lawrence as Raven/Mystique spends the majority of the film either wearing a pinched expression of exasperated  discontentment. McAvoy’s dialogue is reduced to  platitudes and mawkish ponderings. Sheridan does little to win favour for Cyclops in the versus Wolverine debate. Turner is okay as Jean Grey but her American accent quickly steals audience focus for all the wrong reasons. And, alhough it was great to see a cool AF version of Jubilee (Lana Condor) hanging around I’d rather her not even have been there as she is bitterly unused. Talk about how to (metaphorically) prick-tease a Fan-Girl!

Then there’s the villains. Fassbender has some incredibly emotionally and engaging sequences but is then too frequently forced to fade into the background. Isaac is criminally wasted, hidden under rubbery prosthetics with a character whose character and abilities are far from defined. The three new characters who join Magneto as the Four Horsemen are completely overwhelmed – Ben Hardy as Angel is ill-served, Olivia Munn as Psylocke weirdly reminded me of this sketch by Mitchell and Webb in terms of OTT villain-face and Alexandra Shipp as Storm seems more than interesting enough but underused. The villainous plot they hatch is of such a scale that is almost becomes bland (think the final 30 minutes of Man Of Steel) and completes overwhelms its characters.

Though, in fairness it’s so overstuffed with characters  it’s almost unsurprising, although not forgivable. The motivation of the characters is devoid of reason and the plan itself lacking real purpose. The plot is also so full of holes (talking Swiss cheese territory here) that it becomes incoherent. There’s nothing new or interesting with the plot, it takes some irritatingly familiar paths, that this film feels tired and bloated in comparison to its counterparts. It’s also so unbearably serious, akin to SvS:DoJ in terms of getting ‘dark’ confused with ‘murky’. 

In fact, upon reflection, the only franchise contribution I enjoyed and I am truly thankful for is that of Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler. He is given some of the film’s funniest, sweetest and most moving moments. He’s a real joy to watch and probably the only reason I would risk the (inevitable) follow-up. What I can’t forgive the film for is a sequence that occurs just after the Jean Grey’s line about trilogies. After a rather wonderful and emotional sequence that has been delicately woven the tension is completely destroyed, totally sledgehammered, by a shift in tone that is so jarring it is unbearably stupid.  It’s a sequence involving Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters – who totally stole the show in Days of Future Past  in the space of 10 minutes of screentime) that I would have undoubtedly loved at any other point in the film. But, straight after such a well-executed and pathos-filled sequence, it is utterly wasted and even made me resent his character. By the end of the film my faith in him was somewhat restored though my love for him has been somewhat tainted. Such an inconsistent moment reflects the very nature of the entire film.

As a teacher I’ve found the true power of saying the following phrase and it’s the only phrase I can find that fully articulates my feelings towards this film. It’s not that I’m angry X-Men:Apocalypse – I’m just disappointed.

2 stars