Mother! Review

Mother is a gothic story in which a couples tranquil life is disturbed by a pair of unexpected guests who turn their lives upside down. Working on multiple levels and leaving each person with their own unique tale on what the film is supposed to mean.

Or…..

Mother is a deeply pretentious mess which people have convinced themselves is deeply meaningful because writer director Darren Aronosky (who also directed Black Swan) never got around to giving any of his characters names

And I know that the criticverse has taken a monastic vow of silence about the actual plot of the film but I promise you, the less you know going in, the better your experience will be.

What I will say though is that towards the end of the third act, this film contains one of the most graphic, brutal and revolting scenes I’ve seen in a film. It feels like something that the film has been building towards but hasn’t quite earned. It’s pace was too sedate, it’s setting too small to earn it. Because for about 95% of the film, the camera is aimed squarely at Laurences face.

And normally I wouldn’t mind a film where Laurences face takes up most of the screen for all of the runtime as she attempts to do up a huge mansion, support her poet husband (who is suffering from severe writer’s block) and deal with people who allegedly mistook then for a b and b, never quite get around to introducing themselves and don’t seem to want to go anywhere.

That and the house seems to be invading her mind, Making her doubt her own sanity and us question what is and isn’t real…

But,

Look, Laurence gives an amazing performance and she deserves the Oscar nomination she’s probably going to get for this and I get why there are no monologues or real backstories given to anyone but there is a difference to following someone in their story and just looking at their face for two hours 

And the takes are too short as well. A film like this needs long, sweeping takes, especially becuse the house (which we never leave) looks like one giant set. Instead, the camera cuts every few seconds and it quickly became annoying and distracting. 

It is effective in provoking reaction and several people were outside it discussing what it really meant. But several people walked out and I understood both reactions. This is a film that will feature on a lot of top and bottom ten lists at the end of the year.

With longer takes, a more intense third act that actually deserved it’s shocking finale this could have been the masterpiece it wants so badly to be.  As it is, it’s a flawed, pretentious work of art. 

My Score- See It 

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Death Note Review

Having worked in retail for more years than I care to imagine, the chance to kill anyone whose name I know and face I can picture seems like a tempting idea. Although unlike the main character presented here, I would be less avenging angel and more old testament God.

I would differ in other, more subtle, ways as well. For example I would use an ancient mystical ability called ‘acting’ to convey my emotions, thoughts and feelings as opposed alternating between looking at all times like i’m about to burst into tears or screaming.

Another difference would be me asking why one of the major characters is never in shot. A case could be made that it’s to do with keeping an air of mystery and menace and that any character voiced by Willem Dafoe and has two glowing red eyes is inherently scary enough. But, then when you do get a clear look at Ryuk you realize that it could be because he looks about as realistic as a villain of the week in an early episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

As is, they both appear to have a similar budget. Although episodes of Buffy had much, much better, writing, plot, characters and played with cliches instead of embracing them.

Hell, even the original Buffy film didn’t feel as rushed or full of hackneyed characters.

But I hung in there, thinking that there might be some interesting ideas coming up, justice versus vengeance, do you have the right to play God and what happens if you make a mistake?

Instead, Sherlock Holmes tuns up, determined to track down the main character and I knew that whatever charms, or ideas or clever moments this film had were gone. Instead it was just a race to the bottom in a bid to see if this was bad as Dragonball Evolution which it isn’t (by a whisker).

Because this does have some nice shots and atmosphere but since I’ve never read the manga or seen the anime I don’t know if these are original shots and atmosphere or just copies. And how this got an 18 rating is beyond me. It plays out like a 12a film except maybe two or three times someone covers themselves in tomato ketchup and everyone pretends that they’ve dies in some horrific manner.

And if you can’t tell exactly whats going to happen and when, then i’m going to assume that you haven’t seen a lot of films.

It has themes that it doesn’t develop and tries to cram in a hell of a lot of lore into a single film. It’s not menacing, or scary or thought provoking in any way shape or form. It might turn into a minor cult classic but it’s not bad enough to develop that much of a following.

Recast the main character, calm down and develop your ideas and characters a bit more and this might have been salvageable.

As is?

My Score- Skip It 

Una Review

Making the leap from stage to screen makes sense in theory and certainly seems easier than adapting a novel to the screen.

After all, plays and films are of similar lengths and have similar three act structures attempting to tell the same stories as most independent films, typically small scale events about regular people that occur over a small amount of time. As opposed to a novel which can take place over decades and consist of vast locations with dozens of characters and plot-lines which can lead to films that are confused or confusing and tend to leave everyone unsatisfied.

Una started life as the stage play Blackbird written in 2005 by Scottish playwright David Harrower. It’s received critical praise from Seoul to Stockholm to Off-Broadway to the Edinburgh festival and it’s not because Una is a barrel of laughs with catchy song and dance routines.

Una is most defiantly not a barrel of laughs with catchy song and dance routines.

Instead it’s about two people reuniting after many, many years and about them discussing something horrific that happened between them several years ago. And if that sounds vague then that’s the way it has to be. I’m sorry, but this is one of those types of films.

It’s driven by two amazing and subtle performances from Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn in a quiet, disturbing little film. It still shows its stage origins but not in the way that you would expect. Instead of monologues, the film appears to have gone slightly overboard on flashbacks when sometimes silence would have been better or even just to have them discuss the events in question.

Because this is a film that thrives in its small, quiet moments. Disturbing you with it’s moral ambiguity and refusal to allow you to make easy judgments about what happened and how it’s impacting both of them in different ways in the present day.

This is director Benedict Andrews first cinematic endeavor as previously he’s directed for Opera

Shin Godzilla

This far I’ve only ever experienced Godzilla from a Western standpoint. From a terrible 1978 Hannah Barbarea Cartoon to the 2014 film where Godzilla was always slightly off-camera to the 1998 Matthew Broderick vehicle which was so poorly handled that the original company bought the rights to the character, renamed him ‘Zilla and promptly had the proper Godzilla wipe the floor with him.

So the chance to watch the king of the monsters in his natural habitat of Japan being made by the company Toho which had produced 28 previous installments a well as two previous reboots. Which worked for me on another level.

Because, this is the first Japanese Godzilla movie to be a full reboot, meaning that it shows what would happen if Godzilla attacked for the first time in modern day, and there had been no previous records of him. Although Toho has “rebooted” Godzilla a few times each previous film acknowledged the original 1954 movie as canon and just ignored all previous sequels.

So, with my popcorn and coke in hand I settled back in my chair and….

Well, let me put it this way. Japanese films don’t have the same budget as Hollywood films. the 2014 version had a budget of roughly 160 million dollars, this… has a budget of 15. Now to put that in comparison, The Guardians had a budget of 5 million, the closest American production I can find is 10 Cloverfield Lane which was mostly set in a basement.

This is also, the only Japanese Godzilla movie in which the monster was realized completely through CGI, abandoning the traditional suitmation effects. However, according to effects supervisor Atsuki Sato, Godzilla’s skin was deliberately made to look like rubber as opposed to realistic animal skin, and his movements were performed via motion capture, adding a live performance element to the animation.

Well, that’s what they studio claims anyway, to my mind he started off as a sock puppet, then went through his Harryhausen faze before winding up looking like the sort of threat that a 1980’s disaster movie would have been proud to claim.

Seriously, at times I half expected one of the creatures googly eyes to fall off. But, as I’m always saying, a higher budget does not make for a better film. And besides, there was a lot that should have worked. As a straight reboot, the film was free to instead of tying Godzilla to nuclear weapons but to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and many critics and journalists have noted similarities to those events. As Mark Schilling from The Japan Times stated, “The original Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear devastation, most notably the then-recent Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Anno’s beast, however, is also clearly inspired by the March 11, 2011, triple disaster, with Godzilla serving as an ambulatory tsunami, earthquake and nuclear reactor, leaving radioactive contamination in his wake”.

Which is a good idea, and it sort of works with shots of blue-jumpsuited government spokesmen convening emergency press conferences and shots  of a stunned man quietly regarding mountains of debris, something that could have been lifted straight out of television footage of the hardest-hit regions in the north of Japan.

The film also attempts to show the, the old guard with their overly complex and corpulent bureaucratic ways were simply unable to deal with a crisis in any kind of efficient or fluid way. This is shown repeatedly in Shin Godzilla, as the high-ranking members of the cabinet, comfortable in their positions of power, use the hierarchical nature of the system they reside within to protect their own positions, at the expense of the lives of their citizens. In the end, it’s left to your standard group of geeks and nerds to save the day before the USA starts dropping nuclear bombs.

And there are lots of human characters, this is a film has 328 credited actors with maybe enough personality for 32.8 of them. Of which maybe 30 would be some variation of ‘stuffy, panicking bureaucrat.’ Even the ‘committee of heroes’ didn’t do that much to distinguish themselves  beyond one of them wearing a nice pink scarf which I was pretty sure doubled up as a tea towel whenever the washing up needed doing.

Unfortunately, the tonal shift from 80’s disaster movie to what I think is supposed to be political intrigue handles about as well as channel hopping between Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and an episode of Yes Minister. There you are, happily watching Godzilla smash up what I think are supposed to be buildings, with the orchestra going full blast and then BLAM! Office scene, no music, no natural pause in the action, just a mid-scene cut to a bunch of random middle-aged people discussing what we’ve just seen and what Godzilla is up to now instead of showing us.

And the music is weird as well. It constantly sounded like it was about to break into the Thunderbirds theme. Not that I was complaining but I was then half daydreaming about Thunderbirds 2 and 4 turning up to help whilst Thunderbird 1 blasted the living daylights out of Godzilla, in a kind of puppets vs. man in suit battle royal.

Oh, what could have been.

As is, Shin Godzilla has some good ideas- tying Godzilla to more modern threats and bringing back the political themes that used to be prevalent in the series can only be applauded as opposed to the empty western versions I’ve sat through and I’m sure someone’s enjoying it – At the 40th Japan Academy Prize, the film won seven awards out of its 11 nominations, including Picture of the Year and Director of the Year. But I was left cold and pining for a vs battle that will never be.

Trim the run-time down from 119 minutes to about 90, put a man back in the rubber monster costume, merge your story-lines together with slightly more skill and give your characters actual personalities.

As for me?

I’m just going to sit here waiting for Pacific Rim 2: Rim Harder. 

My Score: Skip It 

Detroit Review

Director Kathryn Bigelow was inspired to unearth this event by the Ferguson (MO) riots (Aug. 2014) where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer.

And in a way, that’s the most depressing thing about Detroit. update everyone’s fashion sense, throw in a few smartphones and you could very well be setting this in 2017. The more things change…

Now, for the 12 people who actually watched The Hurt Locker, for which Bigelow won the award for Best Director; and, as of 2017, The Hurt Locker is still the sole film by a female director to win that Award. Your going to find a very similar shooting style.

Because using a style she first adopted with The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow deployed three or four cameras at a time, keeping them in constant motion around the actors. Bigelow preferred to light the entire set to give the performers more flexibility to move around. She didn’t block a scene for the camera by plotting out a series of close-ups and wide shots, instead filming everything in a few takes to keep the emotions as raw as possible. “After two or three takes, I have it,” she said.

Or, if your having trouble with that, try imagining a Jason Bourne movie made by your history teacher.

Essentially, we are given a limited understanding of the situation and then dropped in the middle of things and left to get on with it. Characters don’t monologue about their past or have little phrases about them appear on screen the first time they turn up meaning that at times it’s a little disconcerting trying to work out who everyone is and how they’ve come to be here and empathizing with them can be difficult to start with although towards the end if your not screaming with silent rage at the screen then I don’t know what to say.

Because it’s easy to mock Detroit and make Robocop jokes but, the film shows us a world where a police officer can shoot a man and be back on the beat a few hours later. Where brutal violence is seemingly consequence free depending on the color of your skin. And again, it would be almost effortless to update this to 2017.

Essentially, this movie is based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot, which prior to this film I’d never heard of. And that’s quite a limiting idea when you think about it. Taking a citywide riot which was an inevitable result of systemic racism and took place over several nights and choosing to focus on it’s most notorious aspect- that three teenage civilians, all of them black, were beaten and killed by police. Nine others—two white females and seven black males—were badly beaten and humiliated by members of a riot task force composed of the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, and the Michigan Army National Guard, and a private security guard.

Now that is still a lot to work with and  Bigelow does a good job of getting all the characters in one place, and then forcing us to watch as the ensuing brutal events emerge almost inevitably as no-one seems willing or able to stop a train that left the station long ago.

Now, i’m not normally a fan of the Jason Bourne style of shooting a film but here it seems a perfect fit. It’s gritty and raw, making it seem like no character is safe or, if they do escape that the events of that night will stay with them forever.

Detroit can seem a little dry at times and spending ten minutes fleshing out the characters before the film gets going proper would have helped the emotional gut-punch that happens throughout the second act. It does nothing wrong, but it could have done more things right.

And why it was released at the height of blockbuster season is simply beyond me.

It needs ten more minutes to be spent developing the characters in the first act and ether another 15 minutes on it’s third act or to spin that off into a different film.

As is?

It’s a solid film but more workmanlike than the passion project this needed to be, with material that sadly seems like it won’t be out of date in another 50 years.

My Score- See It 

 

The Hitmans Bodyguard Review

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably have to say it again.

The United Kingdom has severe anti-gun laws. Whilst it is not impossible to acquire a firearm in London it would take you a long time to build up the trust required to be given access to a single pistol. Getting hold of enough rifles to launch a small coup? Not going to happen. There’s a reason that London’s gangs use knives and acid instead of guns.

Also, if your trying to get from the UK to Amsterdam in a very short time frame, maybe taking an 9 hour ferry ride isn’t the best idea? Even if you are getting a lift with a bunch of singing nuns.

But, if I started applying logic to this film then it’s going to fall apart completely. Because this film is a blast from start to finish, it’s a live action cartoon not meant to be taken seriously in any way shape or form. Could I sit here and pick hole after hole after hole in it?

Yes, yes I could. But why would I want to?

After months of CGI filled ‘blockbusters’ it’s so refreshing to see a film with actual stunts, actual explosions and a complete knowledge of the fact that it is what it is.

The plots very, very simple.   Ryan Reynolds has to get Samuel L. Jackson to the Hague so he can put Gary Oldman in prison for appearing in Robocop. But Oldman has unlimited access to people who flunked out of Stormtrooper academy for failing their marksmanship tests.

Well, either that or our two main characters are so indestructible that the bullets are hitting them and their just patching up faster than the human eye can see. Because after about 20 minutes I figured out that there was absolutely no danger in any of the fight scenes and from then on whilst I enjoyed the film it did get a slight downgrade.

Call me old fashioned but I like my heroes to have a chance of being killed when their being shot at by a million bullets. Because after a while it an start to get a little bit tedious. And the run-time could do with 15 minutes being chopped off as towards the end I was starting to feel slightly bludgeoned.

But Reynolds and Jackson have amazing chemistry and some of the best scenes are just them, sitting in a car throwing barbs at each other. And I wished that they were longer as they represented a chance for the headache I was starting to develop to start going away.

I would also like to recommend for a knighthood whichever genius decided to hire Salma Hayek for her role which is little more than a glorified cameo where she either sits in a cell hurling some very creative and funny abuse at anyone unlucky enough to wander into her eye-line or wrecking stuff up in a low-rent bar.

And  Élodie Yung is there as well. She gets a nice participation trophy as well as another thank you from me for giving me a break from the relentless action.

Look, this film is not some deep think piece on the human condition, it’s Shoot ‘Em Up blended with The Nice Guys and The Blues Brothers. The films plot twists  which it thinks are so amazing and unforeseen could all be predicted in the first ten minutes. But I mustn’t fall into the trap of over-intellectualising. This is just instantly disposable, artistically worthless, expertly crafted trash, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Just don’t take your mum, this film has Tarantino levels of swearing.

My Score- See It 

Dunkirk Review

 ‘With Dunkirk, Nolan has finally hit the heights of Kubrick’ proclaimed The Guardian. Which caused me to raise an eyebrow in surprise. Because yes, Nolan can frame a shot and use music like a master as well as juggle multiple character arcs, motives and timelines like no one else working in cinema today.

But last I checked, he didn’t spend two days and 127 takes getting the perfect take of a highly complicated scene in which someone gets up, walks across a room opens a door and then closes it again. And, i’m pretty sure that Kubricks characters actually talked like human being with lives and dreams and actually did things like romance and had what we humans call ‘a sense of humor.’

Yeah, the one thing that’s holding me back from joining every other critic in worshiping at the altar of Nolan is the fact that his characters don’t talk to each other, they make speeches and spout exposition dialogue but they don’t talk.

Happily though, Nolan had gotten around this eternal sticking point by making Dunkirk an almost silent movie. To my mind he could have made it completely silent and the film wouldn’t have suffered in any way, shape or form. Would I have missed any of Tom Hardy (naturally with half his face covered) 10 lines? Nope.

But back to Dunkirk,  which until the Fall of Singapore in 1942  was widely viewed as the worst defeat in British military history. And it’s a relatively simple story. 400’000 British troops are trapped on a beach at Dunkirk like fish in a barrel until they are rescued by a flotilla of more than 850 fishing boats, allegedly summoned by Sir Francis Drakes drum which according to legend it can be heard to beat at times when England is at war or significant national events take place. (Insert Brexit joke here) the boats worked for a solid week to carry troops back to safety in England.

It’s a very simple story, told from three points of view with three different timelines. The army story (starring Harry Styles who’s actually kind of awesome) is set over a week on the beaches of Dunkirk. Mark Rylance is sailing towards Dunkirk on his small boat to save as many soldiers as he can over the course of a day and Tom Hardy is flying a Spitfire with seemingly unlimited ammunition trying to provide what cover he can with an ever dwindling amount of fuel.

And if it seems like if forgotten a few nationalities, I haven’t. Their simply not in the film the Germans are never seen because the troops on the beach wouldn’t have seen them and well, Le Monde critic Jacques Mandelbaum has accused the director of being “witheringly impolite” and “indifferent” toward the role the French played in the evacuation of Allied troops, writing: “No one can deny a director’s right to focus his point of view on what he sees fit, as long as it does not deny the reality of which it claims to represent.

“Where in the film are the 120,000 French soldiers who were also evacuated from Dunkirk? Where are the 40,000 who sacrificed themselves to defend the city against a superior enemy in weaponry and numbers?”

Finally, he asks “where is Dunkirk itself?”, Nolan having chosen to set the film almost entirely on the beaches and ocean.

But even leaving that aside, this is a seriously tense film with the soundtrack seemingly consisting of a clock endlessly ticking away, ratcheting up the tension as the ever un-seen Germans strike, and strike and strike again.

But this is a tense masterpiece telling a story that hasn’t been on the big screen since 1958 and whilst I would say this is a good telling of the tale, I was more affecting by the single 5 minute tracking shot in Downton Abbey style Rom-com Atonement than I was by this 106 minute 150 million dollar film. That show showed officers shooting horses, and destroying jeeps troops trying to scrape some enjoyment out of a hopeless situation, people getting drunk and a few preparing for the hopeless last siege. None of which was in Dunkirk. 

It’s too clean, held back by it’s 12a rating when a 15 would have allowed for a greater examination of the human cost at Dunkirk. This film is three short stories dancing together which is fine, it works and has some tense moments. And I get why the characters are pretty interchangeable and mostly nameless and it does work on so many levels but it’s just missing that certain something.

I would have scrapped the air force storyline- it’s pretty pointless anyway and kept the focus on the land and sea, made the film a 15 and really shown what it was like at Dunkirk. Instead, this feels somewhat sanitized.

This is not a bad film, Nolan doesn’t make bad films. Disappointing ones every now and then *coughTheDarkKnightRisescugh* but never bad. And this is a good film that captures a lot of the tension and desperation of 400’000 men who are less than 30 miles from safety but may as well be a million.

With stirring performances, Nolan’s eternal dedication to practical effects and some amazing performances Dunkirk is the best war film I’ve seen since Fury.

But Kubrick levels of good?

Not yet.

My Score- See It