Mother & Child (2009)

Anchored by a trio of plucky performances, Mother And Child is a rousing Hollywood rarity – a film that focuses almost entirely on female relationships without ever succumbing to romcom slushiness. In fact, quite the opposite is true of this commanding drama. The three women at the centre of the film’s narrative are occasionally volatile, often prickly, sometimes hard to relate to, but never anything less than wholly engaging.

When she was a teenager, Karen (Annette Bening) gave up her newborn daughter for adoption. It’s a decision that has haunted her ever since. Now working as a nurse, she’s unaware that her grown-up child, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), is still living in the same city she was born in, and is now a successful attorney. Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington) has been unable to bear a child with her partner, and is investigating the possibility of adoption.

The lives of these three women form the crux of Mother And Child. Each has been affected by adoption, each has reacted differently. Karen is a woman lost in her past, prone to emotional outbursts and dreamy musings on her daughter’s possible life. Elizabeth, meanwhile, has no interest in her past, and has become a hardened manipulator entirely untouched by sentimentality.

To brand this nothing more than an ‘adoption’ movie, though, would be unreasonable. Mother And Child excels in its exploration of these three very different women and, more than anything, exists as a showcase for some truly fantastic performances. Though Bening is magnificent as the bristly Karen, it’s Watts who most impresses. At first an ice cold bitch reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Elizabeth slowly becomes someone we can empathise with.

In a market where good films solely about women are few and far between, Mother And Child is a poignant exception to the rule. 3/5

The Messenger (2009)

Don’t shoot ‘em, goes the adage. But what if a messenger pitched up on your doorstep to deliver the worst news of your life? Not that director Oren Moverman’s intimate, heavy-hearted drama actually involves any such gunfire. No, it’s emotional fireworks that are the priority here, with Messenger following two army officers tasked with delivering bad news to the family members of dead soldiers.

“I’m not gonna be offering any hugs, sir,” gripes Will (Ben Foster), whose life has been the definition of ‘spiralling despair’ ever since he got back from Iraq. The sir in question, meanwhile, is Captain Tony (Woody Harrelson), the kind of guy who makes the bad-ass marines in Aliens look like fluffy, frisky kittens. Together, they do the job nobody else wants to.

It’s a smart premise, the character-inclined slant affording Messenger a freshness that the bullet-riddled, war-wail likes of The Kingdom couldn’t hope to attain. Of course, it helps to have had a man on the inside. An ex-paratrooper himself, Moverman clearly has demons to exorcise with his directorial debut.

Unforgiving in his endeavours to capture the pain and horror of those left behind during times of war, Moverman extracts white hot performances from his cast (“You fucking cowards!” screams a terrific Steve Buscemi, the father of a dead soldier), while also unearthing the midnight humour in the harrowing happenings (“Could be worse, could be Christmas,” deadpans Tony during one rough job).

Though Harrelson was the one nominated for an Academy Award, Foster is the eye of the storm here. Through him, Moverman enacts his testimonial against war, and Foster’s never anything less than 100% up to the task – a bold, fierce star in waiting. Is The Messenger a movie with a message? Yup, and one many are probably not going to like.

Another war movie, but starring a resurgent, Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson… 4

Well-crafted, taut with emotion, but vaguely directionless. Foster’s a blinder, though. 3

In Retrospect
It stumbles a little, loosening its grip in the bromantic final stretch, but if impenitent heartstring pluckage is what you’re after, this is where it’s at. 4

Via Little White Lies

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

If you’re ever having a bad day – say, the milk’s gone off, or your phone battery’s died – spare a thought for the trio of poor backpackers in The Human Centipede. Captured by a raving loon of a German surgeon, they become key players in his whacked-out experiment – forming the segments of, yes, a human fucking centipede.

A crazy concept that near trumps even David Cronenberg in the body horror stakes, Human Centipede is all about taking a gross notion and executing it in the grossest, most visual way possible. It’s telling that the film’s far more effective in its slowburn first half, when simply the idea of what is going to happen to our innocent victims is enough to get the stomach churning.

When the operation’s over, however, Centipede loses its legs. With the full horror of the idea fulfilled, all that can possibly follow is a string of scenes that hammer the point home. Repeatedly. Until the film caps things off with a tacked-on bloodbath finale and sudden ramblings about God and what it means to be a human being.

It’s a shame, because Centipede clearly has lofty aspirations, even if it is a glorified B-movie. Cronenberg’s already been mentioned as an obvious inspiration, but director/writer Tom Six hasn’t quite got the script to back up such spirited ambitions. The dialogue is often cruddily repetitive (I lost count of how many times the two girls screamed each others’ names, and that’s only in the first 10 minutes), while characters repeatedly do stupid things that means they very nearly deserve what happens to them. Nearly.

On the plus side, Dieter Laser at least gives a commendably creepy performance as Dr Heiter – one scene in which he sobs at the unveiling of his masterpiece (while the masterpiece itself howls in agony) is particularly effective. On the other hand, another scene in which he screams “Feed her!” as number one in the centipede line-up attempts to not do a number two is ridiculous to the point of absolute farce.

For Six, Centipede seems to be an attempt at updating the Frankenstein mould for the 21st century, mixing in a little traveller’s warning and freaky-deaky ‘this could really happen’ science for good measure. While he’s not entirely successful in his delivery, Six should, I suppose, at least be congratulated for coming up with such a sickening premise. And this is only the ‘First Sequence’. God knows what Six has dreamed up for the in-production ‘Full Sequence’, but on the evidence of this bloody (and bloody silly) first go, it’s hard to tell who’ll bother tuning in a second time. 2/5

30 Scene-Stealing Movie Animals

Up (2009)

The Animal: Dug, a Golden Retriever who wears a special collar that means he can talk with humans.

Cutest/Best Moment: “I was hiding under your porch because I love you.” Dug sounds exactly how we all expect a dog would sound – adorable and full of love and stuff. That, and “Squirrel!”

If It Was Your Pet: Your social life would die a swift death – you’ll want to spend every second with Dug. And rightly so.

Sorority Row (2009)

Hold up, that’s not fair game, surely. Sorority chicks in a slasher flick? A serial killer could pick off a dozen in a three minute ad break. But then, this is a post-Buffy age… Updating the original ‘80s House On Sorority Row, this contemporary stab ratchets up the bitch factor, and boasts Carrie Fisher brandishing a rifle. (Oh, yes.)

After a botched prank staged by the sisters of Theta Pi, one of their own is killed. The clever gals decide to cover up the crime, but before you can sneeze ‘I know what you did last summer’, they are each being hacked up by a masked menace with a pimped-out tyre iron. Hysterically snarky, Sorority Row is nothing new, but has its blood-spattered heart in the right place, with a nifty, Halloween-nodding reverse-chase scene, and newcomer Leah Pipes as a gloriously snippy ice queen. A slasher for the Gossip Girl intifada.

Via Total Film