by Philip Price
Well, the time has come, but admittedly, it came a little quicker than I thought it might. “The LEGO Movie” brand has seemingly run out of gas in what is no doubt only its first act. Though it was just in February of this year that it seemed it was the LEGO brand, behind Marvel of course, that was having the most success in carving their own path out of a recognizable brand things have quickly changed with the rise of “Wonder Woman” and the misstep that is “The LEGO Ninjago Movie.” After blowing all expectations out of the water with “The LEGO Movie” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller set not only a precedent for any sequels and spin-offs that might come in the wake of their success, but they also set a very specific tone that has now served as the signature trait of that initial film, “The LEGO Batman Movie” from earlier this year, and now ‘Ninjago’ as it attempts to be just as irreverent as its predecessors. ‘Ninjago’ is different though in that, while the first film had the brand to market and ‘LEGO Batman’ obviously had Batman as a marketing tool, ‘Ninjago’ is a specific line of toys from the Lego brand that has made its way into a television show and now a feature film. The point being that, because it has narrowed the brand down into such a specific line of toys it has narrowed the appeal as well. That isn't to say that just because ‘Ninjago’ isn't as immediately recognizable or notable as the brand's previous outings that it immediately carries less weight, but rather that it has more to prove to more people. “The LEGO Movie” itself had a lot to prove, but surprised everyone when it could balance its great sense of humor with real heart while ‘Ninjago’ seems to be piggybacking off that style rather than coming up with a unique voice of its own through which to convey its movie. It was always going to be curious how Warner Bros. Animation went forward with the Lego universe in terms of each of the films sharing a similar tone or if they would divert according to the toy line and/or type of story they were telling, but with ‘Batman’ and now ‘Ninjago’ it is clear each "LEGO Movie" will follow suit in the self-aware and spoof-like nature of that original outing. While this isn't the worst thing in the world it already feels somewhat tired three films in and though the movie's trio of directors who have plenty of experience between them have done well to follow the precedent set by other Lego pictures they have done little to help ‘Ninjago’ stand enough apart from them for it to be memorable.
In “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” we step into this world first through what was the big reveal in the original ‘LEGO Movie’ as we are dropped into the real world and introduced to a child (Kaan Guldur) who wanders into an old relic shop that belongs to Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan). It is here that the kid brings with him a toy from the Lego Ninjago line who is named Lloyd and is described as an average kid, much the way our surrogate kid for the audience feels. Naturally, Mr. Liu holds a more ancient Lego character name Master Wu who he tells the child is connected to Lloyd and thus makes Lloyd not just an average kid, but an exception in that he must overcome much adversity for being the son of the biggest warlord the city of Ninjago had ever seen, Garmadon (a fantastic Justin Theroux). From here we are transported into the computer animated world of Ninjago where we meet Lloyd (Dave Franco) on what should be a highlight of a day among the rest of his days-his birthday. Lloyd isn't particularly looking forward to what this day will hold as his father, who barely knows him and doesn't acknowledge him, is sure to attack the city once more in hopes of ruling it forever. It doesn't seem Lloyd's mother, Koko (Olivia Munn) understands Lloyd's predicament either as she essentially dismisses every negative thing he must say and encourages him to the point of naiveté. When Lloyd gets to school that day, it becomes clear he doesn't have too many friends as most of the Lego kids blame him for the destruction and terror caused by his father. Thankfully, Lloyd does have a select group of friends made up of Cole (Fred Armisen) a DJ as well as the black Ninja of Earth, Jay (Kumail Nanjiani) the overly cautious blue Ninja of Lightening, Zane (Zach Woods) who might be a robot and not a teenage boy, but is also the white Ninja of Ice, and then there are brother and sister Nya (Abbi Jacobson) who is the strong silver Ninja of Water and Kai (Michael Peña) the hotheaded, red Ninja of Fire. Together these six friends form a top-secret Ninja Force that comes to save the day every time Garmadon and his goons attack. Led by Master Wu (also Jackie Chan), who also happens to be Garmadon's brother and Lloyd's uncle, the Ninja Force team is brought to a point of submission when Lloyd, letting his emotions get the best of him, pulls out Master Wu's ultimate weapon and attempts to use it on Garmadon inadvertently bringing down a greater threat on Ninjago in the form of the monster Meowthra (a genuinely funny bit). After capturing Garmadon, but placing the city in more danger the Ninja Force must partner with their sworn enemy, and Lloyd with his estranged father, to search out Master Wu's ultimate, ultimate weapon to save their home once and for all.
With animated movies, as they recycle morals and lessons that have been told time and time again, it is more about how you're saying what you're saying rather than what exactly you might be saying, but while “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” has a certain element of fun to it in that the cast is clearly game for whatever the directors and creative team wanted to throw at them what the movie seems to be getting at thematically is lost in the shuffle of all the plotting and silliness necessary to still be labeled a "children's movie". Much like “The LEGO Movie” before it “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” shares a theme that concerns parental figures and the relationships we have with our parents and the responsibilities involved in becoming a parent, but while the film shows us everything a bad parent can be and can create in a child it never really gets to a point where it's saying something about the relationship between Lloyd and Garmadon that would resonate past, "oh, isn't it funny how he doesn't even realize who his son is?!?" In fact, it's a little strange in terms of how the first Lego film went from creating a subversive way of delivering the children in the audience that old message about each one of them being special while not reducing the moral of the story to everyone being exceptional whereas ‘Ninjago’ essentially outs Lloyd for being extremely exceptional by way of coming out the other end of an estranged relationship with his father all the better for it. While it's not hard to see how that could mean a lot to children who lack a proper father figure in their life, the movie doesn't make itself so much about this as it does the comedy of the dissonance between father and son. Furthermore, the supporting characters that are intended to fill in as Lloyd's true family in terms of that other age-old lesson the movie strives to teach in that it's not always those that are blood that act most like family, but those who you can trust and depend on that are your true family barely render. I'm a fan of the “Silicon Valley” duo (though not because I've seen that show) and have always had an odd affinity for Armisen while always having found Peña to be comic gold and hearing nothing but good things about Jacobson in “Broad City,” but these obviously funny people are never given much to do outside of a single scene where it's abundantly clear they could improvise some and thus it contains what are the few genuine laughs the movie must offer. Outside of this scene that focuses on the number of arms Garmadon has this is largely the Justin Theroux show as he'll toss out one liners and throwaway lines that are as funny as any visual joke or spoof the script seems to have concocted.
Admittedly, I knew nothing about what Ninjago is, where it came from, or what it was about prior to walking into the film, but the movie did little to inspire any interest in how far the brand extended and even less interest in the characters themselves. The first half hour of the film is something of a repetitive drab in that it feels like television episodes have been boiled down into a routine, expository first act that then segues into the main objective of the film in an awkward fashion that doesn't feel organic at all, but more like the six credited screenwriters and total of nine individuals that have received a story credit on this thing somehow had no idea how to translate this particular line of Lego sets into a feature length movie. Sure, there are a few cool kung-fu action pieces that seem to be poking fun at a different time and a different genre of film while the satire element of this one doesn't go as bold as “The LEGO Movie” did with its social commentary, but rather ‘Ninjago’ simply sticks to lampooning action-blockbusters. There are some cool visual stylings here and there-especially when it comes to the mechs and machines that Lloyd's secret ninja force uses during the early action sequences, but there is no urgency to these scenes and nothing that compels the viewer outside these colorful and cool-looking visuals to entice them in what is happening. That may be enough for some of the younger kiddos in the crowd, at least temporarily, but eventually the film realizes it needs to be about something, throws in the whole family angle to a deeper degree, and yet-somehow the movie still doesn't develop its lead character past anything more than Lloyd being bound and determined to not end up like his father that we don't care about his plight enough to care whether he succeeds or not on this stale heroes journey. Rather, it might have worked better had both Lloyd and his friends were fleshed out to the point that that whole sub-theme about friends being closer than family was given some depth, but beyond the one-dimensional cookie cutter traits as mentioned above the supporting cast is a sea of sameness in slightly different shades of ninja outfits. Maybe the previous films simply set the bar too high and thus the expectations for a movie based on a line of blocks were more than what they should have been, but the fact of the matter is that both “The LEGO Movie” and “The LEGO Batman Movie” exist and that “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” is a pale imitation of those movies that forgets it is a Lego movie at all and drops the throughline of creativity and inventiveness in favor of desperate mimicry and a grating triteness that, if you weren't sure, isn't exactly a winning combination.
by Philip Price
There is a difficulty to pinning down what exactly it is about Matthew Vaughn's work that makes it stand out if not necessarily resonate, but to date it has been difficult to not at least enjoy, on a surface-level, every single film the director has released including the oft forgotten 2007 Neil Gaiman adaptation, “Stardust,” that is a genuinely great, very funny, and wickedly entertaining fantasy film told by someone who knows how to manage tone. Maybe this is it. Maybe it is the way in which Vaughn can deliver on a tone above everything else that makes his personality shine through so much more than other for-hire action directors tend to be able to do. It would be easy enough for studios to craft generic comic book adaptations, X-Men sequels, and James Bond spoofs-everyone is making some variation on one of those today-but to bring a unique perspective and distinct personality to such common proceedings is a gift and there is no denying Vaughn has that gift whether you appreciate where he's coming from or not. It is a tough thing, straddling what is to ultimately be an intangible aspect of one's final film, but Vaughn has always done well to imprint his films point of view throughout the film-thus making for the literal actions of the characters in the climactic scenes to feel more successful as they have not only accomplished the proper resolution the plot desired, but have simultaneously satisfied their moral compasses. Having listed many of Vaughn's previous projects it isn't difficult to note the guy has had ample opportunity to make sequels, but that he hasn't and that he did decide to take on the follow-up to his surprise 2014 hit says a lot about how much he is invested in this world and in this material. What then would Vaughn do in his first sequel? What is the direction he would choose to go? Those were the thoughts and questions stewing in my brain as the Kingsman logo on the front of the Kingsman tailor shop is revealed once more in the opening moments of Vaughn's latest, but while “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is a bigger sequel and dares to explore the extended universe that exists around this independent agency we were introduced to three years ago it isn't nearly as cheeky or outrageous as we've come to expect the Kingsman or for that matter, Vaughn himself, to be. And so, while the film is serviceable and generally a good time it doesn't touch the bonkers and bawdy tone of the original despite being bigger in every sense a sequel can be.
This is all to say that, if you enjoyed the first one you'll probably have a lot of fun with this one as well just not as much as you did with that first one. All the markings of a Vaughn film are still present in the opening scene of the film as it covers this insane and tightly choreographed fight sequence that is also a car chase that takes place on the streets of London. Vaughn moves his camera in such direct and quick ways that the single shot coverage of the action is not only thrilling, but refreshing as compared to the typical fashion of a million cuts that is often utilized in search of the same reactions Vaughn is able to naturally elicit. As Taron Egerton's Eggsy battles Edward Holcroft's rejected Kingsman, Charlie from the first film, in hand to hand combat to the tune of Prince's "Let's go Crazy," there is a sense that Vaughn is telling us to settle in because we've only been here for three minutes and already, this is a wild ride. And it's not that ‘The Golden Circle’ peaks early, but more that it doesn't know when to stop. Vaughn delivers a break-neck opening action scene that throws us back into the world of Kingsman while showing us how much Egerton's Eggsy has progressed in the time that has lapsed since we last saw him. From there we are introduced to the film's main antagonist in Julianne Moore's Poppy who runs the biggest drug trade in the world and has thus had to move off the map to Cambodia where she has set-up shop in this kind of Martha Stewart/Americana wonderland while running the place as if she's Pablo Escobar. In our introduction to Poppy and her methods for hiring henchmen we get a sense of how insane this woman is while at the same time being delivered that distinct flavor we have come to expect from a Vaughn and Jane Goldman script. Things get a little twisted. It is Poppy who, instead of pedaling sim cards that make you lose your mind, has laced her drugs with chemicals that induce four stages of declining health before you die while she conveniently is the only one holding a cure. To release the cure, she threatens Bruce Greenwood's President of the United States with an ultimatum to sign a bill legalizing the drugs she's selling so that she might find fame and respect as one of the best and most successful businesswomen on the planet, but before she does any of this she is out to stop anyone who might get in her way-including the Kingsman. This intent on the part of Poppy is the cause for the destruction of the Kingsman as seen in the trailers and the subsequent seeking out of the Kingsman's American brethren, the Statesman.
Bottom line, I enjoyed a lot of this movie and there is a lot of this movie to digest, but overall this is a fun ride with a few moments here and there that step up to the level of surprise and substance that audiences found so appealing about the first installment. What is strange or seemingly off about ‘The Golden Circle’ though, is that while certain shots and some sequences look pristine in their visual wizardry there are other times where the movie feels incredibly cheap or rushed despite the fact Vaughn seems to have had as much money and free reign as a director could hope for. Much of the transitional shots, in trying to be too clever, get lost in the amount of CGI it took to render them and in other areas, the film simply meanders in trying to catch up with where it wants to be to be the sequel it knows it must be. Much of the trouble with the story deals in integrating Colin Firth's Harry Hart back into the world in a credible manner. It works out, but kind of undoes the balls it felt as if the original film had. It is in the story itself that we find the most disappointing aspect of this sequel in that, with the addition of the Statesman, it seemed as if Vaughn and Goldman were really looking to expand on this world they'd built in the original and explore different avenues to discuss the same topic while not necessarily ending up in the same place. Instead, the introduction of Channing Tatum's Tequila, Halle Berry's Ginger Ale, Jeff Bridges' Champagne, and Pedro Pascal's Whiskey end up being pawns to play on memorable moments from the first film as Pascal's Agent Whiskey literally gets his own bar scene after a recovering Harry isn't up for the task he so effortlessly demonstrated in the first film. Couple this with the fact the film has both Bridges and Tatum on its roster yet only utilizes both for a total of about 15 minutes and you're bound to be disappointed if you bought a ticket hoping to see either of those actors be given the opportunity to play up what an American version of Kingsman might look like. Granted, Tatum's character does get a memorable introduction, but this only makes his absence for most of the film that much tougher to digest while the seeming set-up of the Statesman and their involvement in the inevitable third film feels funnily like it won't pan out. This all comes to a head when the story tries to replay one of the first films more shocking moments in a reversal of roles type scenario near the beginning of the third act, but rather than be genuinely surprised by what happens this action only feels like another small caveat in an otherwise much bigger, more complicated machine that required some serious streamlining before being introduced to the public.
That said, I must remind you that I enjoyed a lot of this movie and that there is a lot of this movie to digest. Though the Statesman aren't taken advantage of in the ways they seemingly could have that doesn't mean the large chunks of the film where they're not involved or serve more as back-up don't form a worthier predecessor. More interesting is what the film is trying to say in terms of satire. Not only is there a fair amount in the overarching scheme of Poppy's that involves a fantastic Bruce Greenwood performance as the arrogant and narrow-minded leader of the free world, but down to the character of Eggsy himself and the diversions they take to separate him even further from what we expect of super-secret British spy to be now. Not only does Eggsy not drink martinis, but Egerton brings a raw humanity to the role once again that is easy to dismiss out of nothing more than pure acceptance, but, could have been just as effortlessly done without. Rather, both Vaughn and Goldman's script as well as Egerton's performance give Eggsy this compassion that is generally prohibited in the field in which Eggsy is working-this is the way Mark Strong's Merlin would certainly have things which only makes it more impactful when Merlin pays off a through line that is set in motion from the beginning in one of the film's most rewarding moments and arguably the best scene in this entire thing. Eggsy has friends, he loves puppies, and he's genuinely in love with a girl that makes him smile, whose parents he wants to impress, and that he wants to spend the rest of his life with-can't say that about James Bond, could you? It is in these smaller moments between characters we've already seen fleshed out that ‘The Golden Circle’ succeeds the most and while I wish Vaughn had held true to Harry dying in the first film one can't deny the charisma Firth brings to the role and the effect it has on the movie overall-though there is still plenty of gaudy action that aims to please as well. Though the highly marketed mountain-based action sequence is something of a bust Vaughn doubles down in the film's climactic scenes as he enlisted a very famous, but equally unexpected pop star to serve as Poppy's personal entertainment who is given a chance to go all out and does with Vaughn taking full advantage. Setting the all-out demolition of Poppy's fortress to Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)" (wink wink) and the subsequent showdown of Eggsy and Harry with other opponents to a country version of Cameo's "Word Up" just...works. In hits that tone Vaughn is aiming for in the bull's eye. Vaughn has a penchant for crafting energetic action sequences that benefit from the director having a good song in his arsenal and while it's clear everyone involved had a blast making this movie it's too bad that fun couldn’t be as consistently channeled through to the screen as it seems it was on set.
by Philip Price
10. Molly's Game
This being screenwriting auteur Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut is enough to make me want to see the film. The fact Sorkin has based this experience on Molly Bloom's 2014 memoir and is led by the magnificent Jessica Chastain only it makes it that much more intriguing. Bloom, who was once an Olympic-class skier, ended up running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for more than a decade before being arrested by the FBI. Bloom's tell-all about her exploits clearly informed Sorkin's screenplay and his interest in the material, but I'm curious as to what about Bloom's story made the famed writer want to take this on as his debut directorial effort. (11/22)
9. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
“The Lobster” is one of those movies that completely puzzles me and thus is the reason I'm rather excited to see what filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has in store for audiences with his follow-up. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” follows Steven, a charismatic surgeon, who is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister. The director reunites with star Colin Farrell who plays the surgeon and while the first trailer for the film didn't offer much by way of plot it certainly set the tone for what to expect as it has Raffey Cassidy of “Tomorrowland” performing a haunting rendition of Ellie Goulding's "Burn." Sold! (11/17)
Knowing only that “Coco,” like 2014's “The Book of Life,” would in one way or another incorporate Día de Muertos or the Mexican holiday known as the Day of the Dead it might be easy to assume what ideas around death and remembrance Disney and Pixar might be aiming to utilize, but I'm still not sure what to expect from this film and I kind of like that considering the last Pixar film we got was a third ‘Cars’ movie. Hinting at ideas of legacy and influence and the amalgamation of what such words can lead to all conveyed through this specific cultural event that honors as much it seems “Coco” certainly has the potential to be one of those Pixar features that reaches for more and I can't wait to see the journey on which this film takes us. (11/22)
7. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, about the adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year, is one of those movies I was hoping to get in on the ground floor with. It is a pure independent movie at heart that likely won't be seen by many outside of the cinephile circles, but here's to hoping I'm wrong. I've had a strange relationship with Gerwig and her films over the years, ranging from thinking she was playing up her "type" too much to having something of a kindred affinity for her since “Frances Ha” in 2012. Couple with this “Maggie's Plan,” “20th Century Women” and the near masterpiece that is “Mistress America” and it feels as if one knows where “Lady Bird” is coming from. I'd like to go to that place. I can't wait to see if this movie succeeds in taking me there. Also, Saoirse Ronan. (11/10)
6. Thor: Ragnarok
I can't say that I've necessarily ever been excited for one of the ‘Thor’ movies. Curious, sure, but more than anything I've always been a bit concerned that Thor is where the Marvel universe would surely lose its vanilla footing and their time-tested formula would finally fail them. And to a certain extent this is true. Thor has seemingly always received the short end of the hammer when it comes to either scope or director, but ‘Ragnarok’ is making up for both as not only does the subtitle hint at the time in Norse mythology when the cosmos are destroyed, but Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige have brought in filmmaker Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”) who has brought what seems to be a fresh start to the doomed Asgardian world. It may seem a little contradictory that the film dealing in the end of our titular characters world is also the one with the brightest color scheme and best sense of humor, but that's the main takeaway here and I can't wait to see Waititi's version of a Marvel movie. (11/3)
5. The Disaster Artist
I've never seen Tommy Wiseau's 2003 film, “The Room,” which is famously hailed as one of the worst movies ever made, but I have seen enough clips online to know they aren't exaggerating and to know that I don't know if I could make it through the whole movie. That said, I still may need to watch the entirety of Wiseau's film to fully appreciate the latest from director and star of “The Disaster Artist,” James Franco. With his latest endeavor Franco has adapted Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell's book that documents the behind-the-scenes look at the making of, "the greatest bad movie ever made." This should really be something special. (12/8)
4. Brawl in Cell Block 99
I love Vince Vaughn. I think the guy can do a multitude of things, but was simply typecast for too long a time and, in turn, rode out that typecasting for far too long. Don't get me wrong, the guy is a comedy genius and I love seeing him in his element when he has the material to support it, but it's nice to see the actor's career trajectory taking on new and interesting territory as Vaughn has now teamed up with “Bone Tomahawk” writer/director S. Craig Zahler for a film about a former boxer-turned-drug runner who lands in a prison battleground after a deal gets deadly. While I didn't adore Zahler's previous film it does stand out as containing one of the most graphic scenes of disturbing violence I've ever witnessed and if that indicates anything about how the guy will orchestrate a prison movie consider my interest piqued. (9/23)
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
One could simply say there was a new Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”) coming out and I would be on board based on the guys previous work, but when a movie looks as good, as darkly comic, and as compelling as this one does-the fact McDonagh wrote and directed it only makes the prospects of such that much better. The film follows a grieving mother, played by the always wonderful Frances McDormand, who personally challenges the local authorities (including Woody Harrelson's sheriff and Sam Rockwell as a racist cop) to solve her daughter's murder, when they fail to catch the culprit. (11/10)
2. Justice League
What's interesting about “Justice League” is that we must keep in mind it was being planned and prepped for long before the backlash “Dawn of Justice” received and it is a film that has clearly had a new light shined on it due to those reactions. If you read any of the set visits from last summer you'll remember the fact Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder immediately went to work on building a more positive narrative around the DCEU and for the most part, that was demolished by “Suicide Squad.” Of course, “Wonder Woman” has done a lot to change this perception and I'm hoping “Justice League” can continue this upwards trend. Ultimately, the film might have a spunkier tone due to re-writes, but it will still look like and be an epic Snyder film which is what these heroes and gods deserve. I don't mind owning up to the fact I'm a Snyder fan and that I hope his vision for this cinematic universe is seen through to the end even with the recent events of his personal life and Joss Whedon coming in to steer the film to its opening day. Side note: really happy they still haven't shown us a glimpse of Henry Cavill's Superman despite the fact we know he will be back in some capacity. (11/17)
1. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
Was there even any question? Writer/director Rian Johnson's (“Looper”) middle chapter to this new trilogy of ‘Star Wars’ films have become something of an enigma in that we've hardly seen anything in the way of a traditional marketing campaign for what is sure to be the biggest movie of the year which in turn makes it more alluring and even more fascinating. Of course, Disney and Lucasfilm don't have to create any marketing campaign at all and this thing would still make a kajillion dollars, but inevitably they will and inevitably there will be another full-length trailer released (and probably soon) to remind people there is in fact another ‘Star Wars’ moving coming this winter and that they'll definitely want to see it. For now, though, let's just bask in the fact Mark Hamill returns as Luke Skywalker this December, that most of us have very clearly been wrong about where his intentions might lie, and that what we'll be getting from ‘The Last Jedi’ is likely not at all what we'll expect to be getting. As star Daisy Ridley has said, "Rian has written a story that's unexpected, but right." I can't get those words and the ideas they spawn out of my head. I can't wait. (12/15)
by Philip Price
“mother!” is one of those films where it is easy to appreciate the intent without being able to necessarily enjoy it at all. While there is much to discuss in the latest from auteur Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan”), there isn't much of it that is enjoyable. That isn't to say every movie-going experience must be enjoyable as “mother!” still offers an escape in one form or another, but while Aronofsky is very clearly trying to make a statement here it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly he is trying to say. For further proof, as to why “mother!” is simultaneously admirable and bewildering is the fact it is also one of those films where each scene is a puzzle piece the viewer is supposed to put in place to slowly realize the bigger picture. “mother!” is deliberately confusing in that it wants you to try and figure out what is going on and what the metaphor is that's at work, but while this coyness may at first seem to be both crafty and a product of Aronofsky's knack for crafting visuals to pair with what are otherwise ephemeral concepts it is by the time the film reaches its third act and things begin to fall into place that “mother!” is neither surprising nor unsettling enough given this buildup. It is also very easy to see how many people will disagree on this point and either find it wholly fascinating and become enamored with discussing the film or not understand what the writer/director was aiming for and thus dismiss it as a symptom of confusion. While I can't say I fall into either of those extreme categories it is almost more disappointing that I don't as what is most evident after walking out of “mother!” is that Aronofsky was looking to evoke a reaction from his audience-whether it be fascination or disdain. Rather, “mother!” is a film that gets points for being something different, for taking on the challenge of making this huge metaphor work for what it is, but that it never transcends the correlation between what is being presented and what they represent to bring something new and insightful to the table is disappointing. “mother!” is a film where nothing seems to quite make sense and everyone around the protagonist seems to know what it is going on while the main character and audience surrogate is left in the dark. Because of these kinds of set-ups where the audience is unsure of what is happening and why people are acting the way they are the movie becomes increasingly frustrating to the point the third act really needs to deliver on the purpose of having executed most of the film in this fashion, but while “mother!” could be interpreted as many things one thing it is not, but certainly seems to hope it will be, is groundbreaking.
It is difficult to even talk at a surface-level about “mother!” without spoiling certain aspects of the plot and so, if you're looking to go in cold to the film (which is the recommended way to see this) then I suggest you stop reading now though you probably shouldn't have read any of this at all. If you've seen any of the trailers or marketing materials for “mother!” you know that Paramount has largely been positioning the film as a horror movie and this makes sense. In many aspects, that is what Aronofsky is going for and that is seemingly the type of reaction he wants to elicit from his viewer-ones of horror. While his intent may not exactly be to horrify in the sense of scaring his audience he does intend for the viewer to recognize how horrific the picture is that he is painting. There are elements of the film designed to make you jump, others that are meant to provoke a queasy feeling of unease and tension-and having had a child and being a parent myself, there is one sequence that put me over the edge-but overall the film is more akin to that of a dark, you might say very bleak, thriller or mystery. The need to classify the film isn't important though, but brought up only in hopes of establishing better expectations for those that are on the fence about sitting through this. What can be said about “mother!” without spoiling too much is that Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman who is married to an older man (Javier Bardem) who is a writer that has seemingly lost any source of inspiration. These characters, who go unnamed throughout the entirety of the movie, live in what is an old family house of Bardem's character that sits in an isolated field and is surrounded by nothing but forest and open fields. While Bardem is constantly finding things to distract him from the fact he is unable to produce and create-unable to find a source of inspiration despite the fact it is only him and his young, beautiful wife in a historic home every hour of every day-Lawrence has taken to re-building their safe haven from the ground up after the house apparently burnt to the ground-taking many of Bardem's character's prized possessions with it. That is, until a strange, rather entitled couple show up in the forms of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer who are dealing with some health issues and drama concerning their sons (played by brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) that exists to demonstrate a certain theme that is first relayed by Pfieffer's character and then emphasized further and further in a climactic sequence. As more people begin to show up at this once serene setting Lawrence's Mother figure becomes more and more confused and suspicious and angry about what is happening until she becomes so exhausted that there is nothing more to feel. As an audience member, it is easy to feel this way too as Aranofksy hits both his main character and his viewers over the head with a heavy-handed finale.
That said, the finale is what matters the most in a movie like this, but with “mother!” Aranofksy's climax feels rushed in terms of both trying to catch the audience up with his intent and making sure we understand exactly what he is going for while simultaneously going to such extremes that it feels as if the metaphor is broken down too much. As in, Aronofsky goes so far to make sure we "get it" that all the mystery and eeriness of what he's been building to kind of dissipates because there aren't too many stones left unturned by the time the credits roll. It's a fine line to walk, admittedly, and for much of the movie we are fed just enough information to piece together what would no doubt be varying interpretations from each viewer, but in wanting to escalate the story in terms of action and raise the stakes for the sake of compelling storytelling it feels as if Aranofsky almost overcompensates which, at this point, why even bother? “mother!” is so inherently off the beaten path that the only guidelines it seems to follow are those of set-up, confrontation, and Aranofsky's version of a resolution. Otherwise, the film essentially chronicles the inner-emotions of Lawrence's character as she digests all that is taking place around her. Though “mother!” is something of a maligned attempt at crafting a metaphor it has style and atmosphere in spades. From the first frames of the film there is an unflinching quality to the truth in which Aranofsky hopes to depict everything he sets his camera on through to the introduction of Lawrence where cinematographer Matthew Libatique (“Black Swan”) captures the actress as if an ethereal being. There is an other-worldly beauty to every frame. There is no debating Aranofsky's technical prowess as he brings the house at the center of this universe to as pulsing a life as any of the flesh and blood characters-capturing the architecture as if it were a human body-much of the film suggesting the house and Lawrence's character are one in the same. Aranofsky isn't one to let a frame go by without packing as much substance into it as possible though, which often leads the director to hold so tightly on Lawrence's face and particularly, her eyes, that we have no choice but to draw an interpretation from what might be rushing through her mind though there is little dialogue to confirm as much. This only increases the unease one experiences while watching the film as the frame never pulls back far enough to divulge the whole picture, but rather it stays within such a confined space that not only is there confusion as to what is going on, but genuine uncertainty as to what could happen next. Aranofsky, along with composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (“Arrival”), have also chosen to go the non-traditional route in terms of score as they have taken away any musical elements and focused solely on the sound design. Much like the aesthetic does in general, the lack of any music and the intensified presence of the sound design allows no indicator of what might be coming or what the viewer should feel. Aranofsky understands the elements and they come together in “mother!” to form a rather breathtaking exploration of what Aranofsky was feeling at the time he wrote this, but while it is expertly pieced together it never resonated or knocked me off my feet in a way where the experience will stay with me, haunt me or horrify me.
Now the key question is how, despite Aranofsky's clear knack for exploring psychology and the cycles of life and the role love plays in the validation of our lives, does “mother!” end up feeling like a hollow shell? Considering it's almost impossible to talk about this film at all without spoiling something what is about to be thought through and written down will most certainly contain major spoilers so, again, you have been warned. “mother!” could be about many things-some have looked at it as being an allegory for fame with Lawrence as the perfect model for how our present culture has become obsessed with celebrity and in turn, their need for the attention. Some have linked Aranofsky's parable to that as something deceptively simple as an analysis for the life of an artist, a creator. The idea being that Aranofsky puts into play all the elements many would imagine the most ideal of romances would contain, but that even with everything working to their advantage this kind of love will never be enough for an artist, who will always long for more. Though I'm not a woman and thus likely the reason I didn't necessarily take away the interpretation of the film that reads as an argument for the fact the woman is always the one who gives everything of herself, whom is mined for all she can give, and yet it is still the man who receives the glory and goes down in history. Then, of course, there is the most widespread idea of Lawrence's character representing Mother Earth and in the same vein of the previous interpretation - Bardem's character and all the unwelcome guests representing that of humanity coming in and mining the planet for all she's worth. As a Christian male raised in the Bible belt of the south though, what spoke to me in “mother!” was that of Aranofsky's wrestling with how humans have indeed come to this place of Eden and made it all about themselves-the idea of what is present and real and sustaining our life has taken a backseat to the events we've created and in looking back on our history have attempted to evoke meaning from them-much as we have done with religious texts. Most of the film could be played to any one of these ideas, but in the climactic finale it seems evident Aranofsky was intent on taking his audience through the history of our world and all the pain we've brought about on it and for what? One can assign certain roles to certain people with Bardem being this deity, his poem being scripture, and Lawrence's virgin Mary giving all she has only for Bardem to take it and give it all away. “mother!” displays Lawrence in this role of caretaker and as someone who has crafted a safe haven for those she adores while the guests that continue to swarm the residence bring all we have come up with to occupy our time. The film seemingly reminds us of the superficiality of it all-that once we lose sight of what truly matters we willfully allow chaos to permeate. Lawrence and her incarnation of Mother serve as the inspiration for all that comes to be while ultimately serving as little more than the representation of an idea. All of this is admittedly fascinating to contemplate and discuss afterwards, but while the film certainly makes some interesting observations it doesn't seem to have anything equally fascinating to say about them.
by Philip Price
There is something inherently kind of trashy about horror films. If Oscar bait movies are mansions then horror flicks typically reside in the trailer parks. There is a class system to movies that is even less subjective than the constructs applied to actual society and there is almost no arguing that horror movies are always the ones that get relegated to the, "fun, but not actually good or worthwhile" category while time and time again movies with more grounded subject matter can be labeled as good without necessarily being exceptional. One could argue that horror would have to duke it out with comedy as to which genre gets the least amount of respect, but to that point one could argue that at least major studios still take more chances on broad comedies than they do mid-budget horror flicks and not to mention that, despite comedy stars largely being reduced to dancing clowns, there is genuine admiration for those who are able to pull off successful comedy as it has been admittedly more difficult to pull off than reliable drama. It's appreciated when horror is approached with clear skill, just look at what James Wan has done for the genre, but no matter how skillfully the job is done there is hardly ever any real merit awarded to what we might call a "scary movie." And so, when a studio or director decide to approach the horror genre with the objective of being more illustrious than usual there is reason to be excited for what the final product might deliver. Add to this the fact the movie this studio and director are setting out to make is a new adaptation of one of the horror maestro himself, Stephen King's, most talked about works and it is almost unavoidable: the anticipation and thus the expectations. This is where it seems society has landed on director Andy Muschietti's new take on King's magnum opus of a novel that is IT; there is a want for this kind of horrific escapism. This is not because there isn't enough horror in the real world (no, there's plenty of that these days), but because audiences seek a genuine escape back to a time when things seemed simpler while adding a dose of thrills to that nostalgia kick. This new version of IT has come at an opportune time with the implied legacy being that it will take on the mantle of being one of the most disturbing films in recent memory, finally doing justice to the source material, while hopefully living on as such for years to come. So, how does the actual film line up with everything that has come to be expected of it? Fairly well, considering. By no means is IT a transcendent work of horror fiction, but it provides an ample amount of legitimate scares while at the same time capturing this touching tale of friendship and unbreakable bonds that is so endearing it can't help but to make everything else about the movie that much more unnerving. As with all things, “IT” will inevitably be grouped into that set of hierarchical cinema categories, but I must imagine Muschietti's film, while not achieving that upper-class status it so ambitiously seemed to be chasing, works hard and well enough to escape the lows of thoughtless dismissal earning enough admiration without a solid balance of respect to settle into the most comfortable of middle classes.
With the hype that has seemingly surrounded this new film version since the first still of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise debuted over a year ago it would also seem that the marketing campaign for the film was inescapable. If, by some strange turn of events though, you haven't heard of the new movie or are unaware of King's original, 1986 novel or the 1990 TV miniseries that saw Tim Curry turn Pennywise into a horror icon, then you may not know that “IT” centers around the town of Derry and is about this kind of hell hole town that desires to suck people in, force them down into their meandering lives, and never let them go. We seem to all know a place such as this in one way or another. Derry is a town, especially in 1989, that is disconnected to the world at large-a hub of a community where good and bad things happen, but people rarely ever talk about them for fear of making it even more real. Muschietti emphasizes this notion by only introducing a handful of adults into the narrative. More, “IT” centers on a group of kids, teenagers really, who are on the cusp of that fine line that exists between innocence and experience where society and expectation have told them they're now too old to believe in such fantasies as Santa Clause, but are still of a mindset where monsters can be real. If not for the horrific things some of them have seen and had to deal with, but for the fact they are seeing literal incarnations of their biggest fears come to life-these kids know monsters exist. Led by Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) who is still dealing with the loss of his younger brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill is determined to find out what happened to Georgie as his body was never found and all evidence points to something dealing with the drainage system in town. Bill has best friends in Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) all of which have their own issues as far as parental figures go or lack thereof, but who have stood by Bill through what was no doubt a transformative year in his life and on his psyche. This gang of losers, as they're called by town bully and sheriff's kid Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), soon become friends with new kid in town Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) who is in turn immediately infatuated with Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) who is also drawn to the "Loser's Club" for reasons of circumstance that eventually evolve into a natural desire to be friends with these guys. Lastly, there is the kid who is home schooled in Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), a black boy who is being forced to grow up to fast in the absence of his parents and who also must deal with disgusting racial slurs from Bowers. When each of these kids come to realize they’re all seeing manifestations of their worst fears that culminate in the appearance of Pennywise and that children are disappearing at a strangely rapid rate in Derry they come together to investigate the source of the terror and ultimately take it on.
While the film, with a script from Gary Dauberman that was based on an earlier draft by Cary Fukunaga and Chase Palmer, doesn't allow for Pennywise to play as the “Freak Show” version of the clown it seemed his character design might make him out to be they ultimately don't allow him to do enough of what comes to be his creepiest of elements. When such elements are most vividly allowed to permeate is in that famous opening sequence where we are introduced to young Georgie as well as Lieberher's Bill who is under the weather, but still willing to make a paper boat for Georgie to sail in the rain waters that are falling heavily outside their suburban home. When Georgie goes outside to do just that he encounters Pennywise in one of the sewage drains setting up a conversation that shows Skarsgård's portrayal of Pennywise isn't all about the over-the-top antics typically associated with clowns, but rather with a kind of shyness and modest quality that is meant to be alluring and, to a certain extent, is. This physical presentation when paired with the friendly inflections Skarsgård utilizes combine to make this facade that is both terrifying to anyone who's mature enough to know anything about how the world works while at the same time helping the audience to understand why a boy of Georgie's age would be attracted to the character. It is when Pennywise reaches a point where he's toyed with his victims long enough to make them vulnerable that he pounces on them making the act of doing so even more startling and even more terrifying because it completely undoes the rather restrained pretense he's carried up until that point. Naturally, this technique can become somewhat exhausting if that's the only trick the director had up his sleeve, but thankfully Muschietti, while indeed utilizing this trick plenty more times, also has a penchant for tone and mood that is not only hard to nail down, but hard to keep consistent. This ability to keep in line such an uneasy tone throughout while building on the atmosphere of Derry with every revelation that comes to pass is arguably the biggest accomplishment of “IT.” That said, while Muschietti strives to make this kind of epic of the horror genre-a prestigious drama with a horror backdrop if you will-he seemingly takes one step forward just to take two steps back in many of these attempts. The cinematography is fantastic-the style of everything is lush and lived-in with just the right amount of grime to have us believe nothing good can come from Derry. Then there are the scary moments, whole scenes even, where Skarsgård is used sparingly and in random inserts to hold this edge of unease over all the other characters. This is effective, this is chilling, and had the director let Skarsgård's performance breathe a little more or even trusted it further we might not have what feels like an intrusion of CGI to seemingly up the ante of the fear Pennywise is meant to induce. Rather than amplify this fear though the addition of special effects simply distracts and cheapens the raw and tangible terror that makes Skarsgård's take on the character so exemplary.
What will ultimately stand to be the most interesting thing about this project is how "Chapter II" will develop and define the arcs that have been set-up in this first feature. Unlike both the book and ‘90s miniseries this adaptation of “IT” doesn't jump back and forth in time from the "Loser's Club" as teenagers to them as adults, but rather it strictly focuses on the perspective of the children. This is brought up not to draw comparisons, but to state that the adult cast and the second film have a lot to live up to as it is the relationships that are documented and developed between this group of kids that are the heart and soul of this film. While the ability to inflict an eerie tone into every frame is certainly an accomplishment such mood would mean nothing if the audience wasn't invested in the going-on's of the characters at the behest of that atmosphere. From the outset that displays the camaraderie between Bill, Richie, Eddie, and Stanley to that first, precious encounter that Ben has with Beverly there is a magic between these actors and their characters that can't be pinned down or captured outside of the luckiest of circumstances Muschietti has found himself in with these young performers. Wolfhard's Richie is a scene-stealer in that he is the comic relief and is funny in a way that any 13-year old boy thinks he's funny-making sex jokes he probably doesn't fully comprehend himself. Grazer's Eddie is in a constant state of neurosis thanks to his over-protective mother. Taylor's Ben may be the most adorable thing seen in a movie this year while his character's love of a certain ‘80s boy band might also provide one of the biggest laughs to be had at the movies this year - two things one likely wouldn't expect to say about a movie that could also be described as one of the more disturbing movie-going experiences in recent memory. There is also this natural development of feelings towards Beverly from a couple of the guys in the group, namely Ben and Bill. Lieberher's Bill is a genuine person and classic protagonist in the qualities he displays that is made humble by the presence of a stutter. He seems to like Beverly because he feels he should, because it feels inevitable whereas Taylor's Ben adores her and has the poetic chops to prove it. It's clear why though as, despite hints at an abusive past with her father (Stephen Bogaert), Beverly is the rock and the confidence that holds this group together and Lillis shines in this role throughout. Of course, what makes “IT” more than just a horror movie is the fact it can take the audience through these kids fears born out of each of their circumstances and how they come together, form these relationships with one another, how those relationships evolve, and how they evolve within themselves by coming face to face with these fears. The natural progression of such dynamics allows for the pacing to feel swift and involved while garnering a large amount of sympathy that is key to the level of fear that is felt when dread does indeed rear its head. Both Jacobs' Mike and Oleff's Stanley get the short end of the stick in terms of development especially based on each of their character's more than intriguing introductions, but this doesn't make their performances any less stellar regarding what role they play in the group at large. Moreover, “IT” is convincing in its play on fear if not devastating enough to stay with you; capturing lightning in a bottle with its young cast while being afraid to fully embrace the terror that lurks inside its grandly cinematic heart.
by Philip Price
At first, “Brigsby Bear” may seem like the definition of what has come to be expected from a Sundance movie meaning films that often break out at the Park City, Utah film festival are those that include quirky characters doing things only quirky people such as themselves have time for considering real-world tragedies and/or challenging times. Think “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” or “Napoleon Dynamite.” By such expectations “Brigsby Bear” would most definitely check every box necessary to qualify for Sundance's quirkiest of offerings, but like those films these movies still tend to succeed in their objectives because beneath the seeming pretense of being bound and determined to be as weird and peculiar as possible there is genuine heart that exists. These pictures ultimately come from a place of real emotion, of real life experiences, and have seemingly only been materialized into a full-on motion picture due to the fact the writer or writers were able to tap into a fun premise in which they could work through their feelings and thoughts. With “Brigsby Bear,” Kyle Mooney (“Saturday Night Live”) and co-writer Kevin Costello seem to be coping with the fact they've made it to the point they can make a living by utilizing their creativity. Coming from San Diego and attending the University of Southern California it likely always felt within the realm of possibility that Mooney might be able to reach such heights, but it also seems likely he was constantly surrounded by those also attempting to make it many of which no doubt failed to achieve such ambitions. It's a double-edged sword I'm sure whereas, for someone such as myself who lived in rural Arkansas for most of my life, achieving such success or even coming across such opportunities always felt like a pipe dream. For Mooney though, “Brigsby Bear” cements this feeling that he's finally being let it on the inside of the joke rather than being left out in the cold or rather, that others are finally beginning to get hip to the brand of humor and personality that Mooney has possessed for some time. Either way you slice it, Mooney and Costello along with director Dave McCary (an ‘SNL’ crew member) succeed in capturing the spirit of this abstract idea that is creativity and relaying not only what it means to the creator, but to those affected by it.
“Brigsby Bear” begins by introducing us to James (Mooney), a thirtysomething male who is living underground at the behest of his parents, Ted and April Mitchum (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams), who tell their son the air outside is toxic, but who offer something of a greenhouse-type shelter above ground where James can go to view the natural yet flat desert landscapes that surround their bunker. While, as the film establishes the routine of James and his family in the first ten or so minutes of the film, we are unsure whether this is taking place in some post-apocalyptic environment. Things soon begin to unravel as we see Ted and April have placed fake animals and lightning bugs outside the peer where their son can go to view the outside world and they have named them as well only furthering this illusion they have created for James. What the point of doing as much for is not revealed, but while Ted and April are keen to impress upon James the importance of his studies they seemingly learned some time ago that such could not be accomplished through books and classes alone. For what seems to be the duration of James's stay with them they have shown him an educational program in the vein of an eighties and nineties PBS show that were delivered on a weekly basis to the bunker. James, now a grown man, is obsessed with the show and has even taken to online forums, albeit via outdated technology, to discuss the possibilities of where the show might next take the titular character and how he might resolve the intergalactic issues that have a moral lesson behind each of them. What it doesn't seem Ted and April have accounted for though, is that through Brigsby James has found the only connections to other humans outside of them. Brigsby has become this deity of a figure to the innocent and naive mind they have cultivated whereas the bear's sidekicks know as the Smile Sisters, Arielle and Nina (both played by Kate Lyn Sheil), have become the object of James's affections due only to the fact they are the only females James has ever laid eyes upon outside of his mother. It is a dangerous game they've put the pieces in place for and thus is the reason I would suggest going into “Brigsby Bear” as cold as possible. The less one knows prior to allowing the film to unfold in front of them the better, but if more is desired as to why the movie works as an experience of sorts then continue to read on. You've been warned.
It is after establishing how James has come to be the man he is presently that the film abruptly interrupts this established routine to reveal that James has been held captive for most of his life after Ted and April abducted him from the hospital shortly after he was born. It turns out that, not only does James have a real family who have been searching for him all this time in Greg and Louise Pope (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) as well as a sister, Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), but also that he was the only viewer the “Brigsby Bear” TV show ever had. That the show was completely manufactured by Ted to teach James the worldview they desired him to have. This doesn't change the fact James was and still is obsessed with the show though with the revelation that, given Ted and April will undoubtedly be going to jail, there will be no more episodes for James to consume. “Brigsby Bear” is rather bold in that it doesn't go in the direction audiences might expect in seeing James completely rebel against his new normal in light of not being able to accept such a reality as normal, but rather James seemingly understands the reality of his situation, isn't sheltered by the Pope's from what happened to him or the fact that it is obviously going to take some time to adjust, but rather it sticks with James attempting to understand all of these things that are new to him as well as comprehend why things are done the way they are in this real world. In many aspects, the film could be likened to Lenny Abrahamson's “Room” minus the parental drama. Instead, what comes to be the crux of the difficulty in James adapting to this new way of life is that he still desires Brigsby to be a part of that life whereas his new family would tend to forget about it as it only serve to remind them of the time that has been taken away from them. On both sides of the conflict, there is understanding to certain degrees and compromises to be made, but it isn't in these conflicts that “Brigsby Bear” places most of its stock. Rather, it uses these conflicts more as support beams to give the movie the arc of a traditional three act structure while much of the actual content revolves around James latching onto filmmaking and his desire to make a feature around Brigsby that would bring the adventures of this character that has defined his childhood to an end; both liberating him from the once literal and now metaphorical shackles the show placed on him while simultaneously providing an outlet for James to discover the real him past the point of Brigsby being a part of his life.
Early on, Hamill's character talks about how having the ability to dream and the fact we, as humans, have imaginations that help us escape reality is what separates us from animals. It is in this that not only does “Brigsby Bear” again go against the grain by making James's captors people who aren't necessary as evil as one might hope they are thus making them easier to hate, but it sets the stage for what the film is ultimately about: imagination. “Brigsby Bear” doesn't focus so much on the trauma of the main character or concentrate on the regret that could be felt on either side of the equation for all that has been missed out on and sacrificed to the point they drive themselves or one another mad, but rather it demonstrates how one can channel that pain and anguish into something inspiring. How, rather than focusing on what cannot be changed James is more intent on creating new memories out of what he knows and learns to experience the joy of this new life. James is not inclined to fight the circumstances of his life, but rather embrace them the only way he knows how and what he knows is Brigsby Bear. In nurturing this approach Mooney, Costello and McCary do well to capture the simultaneous tones that amount to a movie that is heartbreakingly inspirational. Sure, it's depressing to know James was deprived of a typical childhood where he lost out on countless experiences every kid deserves to have, but that means he also didn't have to deal with same amount of cruelty an inherently dorky guy like himself might have been subjected to as well. Of course, the key word there is "might", but the point is the script chooses to allow James to come out of the experience with a sense of wonder and optimism that views adults who have given up on their dreams as sad beings who are going on with life unable to do what's important to them. It touches on the relevant idea of nostalgia and how it can cloud our view of our own maturity as well as how we may or may not fit into other ideas of their ideal, but no such substance would be possible without the performance of Mooney who so guilelessly becomes James that one can't help but be moved by the character, his plight, and his need to feed his vision-especially if you think of yourself as creative in any capacity. That isn't to say the rest of the cast isn't solid-Greg Kinnear is great because he's game and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as James's new friend and collaborator Spencer is endearing as hell-but it is Mooney who successfully carries the weight, emulating every action someone gives him to create his own reaction, that truly makes “Brigsby Bear” "dope as shit".