Movie review: mother!

Movie reviews

Hello!

While I’m definitely more of a mainstream pictures kinda cinephile, I’m not against more arty/experimental films. Darren Aronofsky represents both: while his style is very much unique, his name is well-known to even the most casual moviegoers. Let’s see what his latest movie – mother! – has to offer.

IMDb summary: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Writing

mother! was written by Aronofsky himself. Now, going into the film, I knew what to expect and what not to expect. I didn’t think I was going to see a simple story – neither in its structure nor message. I was right: mother!’s narrative was quite complex (and looped) and it had an abundance of layers of meaning. While I think I understood some of the ideas the script was trying to portray, I’m sure a tonne of others just went completely over my head. Also, the meaning I got might not have been the meaning intended by the filmmaker or understood in the same way by the other viewers. This begs the question – if one makes a movie that is super hard to understand, isn’t he/she just being pretentious? Also, if one makes a movie that only a small percentage of audiences can understand, isn’t one damaging his/her career prospects (art films don’t pay much).

Anyways, let me tell you what mother! was about as explained by people smarter than me online (I’ll tell you my personal interpretation afterward). Supposedly, mother! was a metaphor of a film about the relationship between the mother nature (Lawrence’s mother character) and Judeo-Christian god (Bardem’s Him). The crowds symbolized Christians, while Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel also appeared. Lawrence’s and Bardem’s child was a symbolic version of the baby Jesus. When put in relatively simple terms and while looking back at the picture, I do get that general idea and how it was portrayed. However, while watching the movie, only the Jesus similarly came to my mind. I’m not a religious person (actually, an opposite of that), so I don’t actively search for sacramental imagery or metaphors in the films I watch, so that’s probably why I missed it.

I, personally thought that mother! tried exploring the topics of inspiration and creation of both life and art. I also believed that its main concern was the differences between the female and the male creation (which kinda goes in line with the female mother nature and the masculine God portrayal).

Additionally, just looking on a surface level, I was quite frustrated with the main character of mother! because I perceived her to be a very much traditional (old-school) female figure. She was depicted as needy, dependent, and solely family orientated. If not for the later realization of the mother nature connection, I would have been (still kinda am) disappointed by this portrayal that didn’t achieve much in terms of moving the female characters forward. Why couldn’t mother nature be seen as strong and powerful and completely able to discipline its children a la humans?

Lastly, the commentary that I comprehend the most and was the most intrigued by was the one about fame, cult following, and celebrity worship. These things were portrayed as addictive and damaging: a cautionary tale. However, it looks like I misinterpreted the belief in god for the obsession with celebrities (and, honestly, they aren’t that much different). Besides, if one thinks of mother! as portraying celebrity culture, it’s interesting to note than Aronofsky would then be seen as being both cautious of and partaking in it by going to the film festivals and the premieres, by signing autographs or taking pictures.

Directing

I have highly enjoyed some of the previous films by Aronofsky (The Wrestler and Black Swan, specifically), respected others (Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) and been angered by some too (Noah). Now, mother! encompassed all of the feelings mentioned.

I really loved the way the movie was filmed – by following the titular character and keeping the focus of the camera mostly on her.The handheld style and the mobile frame are generally very much indie/small budget films’ staples but here, they seemed refined, high-end, glamorous and expensive. mother! did not have a score, only diegetic sounds were heard. This added to the overall distinct ambiance of the film. The close-ups of eyes, the heart-imagery, and the fire/life effects were all interesting and disturbing visuals too. Lastly, there were quite a few tonal shifts in the film. In a heartbeat, mother! would go from low energy creepiness but almost normalcy to complete exaggeration and total escalation.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem delivered stunning performances and basically carried this movie. It was so nice to see Bardem finally starring in a film worthy of his talents, instead of wasting them on Pirates 5. Lawrence was also really good. I loved her look – her grayish blonde hair both made her seem older, more sophisticated but also somewhat timeless/ageless too. I think she should just probably continue doing art/indie films (Joy) because she really doesn’t seem to enjoy the more mainstream work (The Hunger Games, X-Men, or Passengers). Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer were also really good. I’m so happy that they too finally got a chance to showcase the full extent of their acting chops. Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant, Star Wars, Brooklyn, Anna Karenina, Unbroken, American Made), his actual brother Brian Gleeson, and Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters) all had cameo appearances as well.

In short, mother! was a unique film that both frustrated and intrigued me with its metaphors. Just now, while finishing this review, I came across another potential symbol in the movie and I imagine that I’ll find new ones the longer I think about it. If that’s your forte, then mother! is for you. If you want an easier but no less smart scary thriller, watch It again or for the first time.

Rate: ?/5 (I can barely put this film into words, let alone a single number)

Trailer: mother! trailer

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Movie review: Ben-Hur

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last movie reviews of this summer. This time, we are discussing a film that was mostly panned by critics and was almost completely forgotten by the audiences – Ben-Hur.

IMDb summary: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge but finds redemption.

2016’s Ben-Hur is the 5th Ben-Hur picture in the last 100 years. This story is quite old, both literately and figuratively. Not only is the plot set in the ancient times, but the original source material – a book by Lew Wallace titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – has been published at the end of 19th century. While I usually enjoy epic and historical movies, their religious aspects tend to be a hit and miss for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Noah and, while Exodus seemed like a fun action adventure, its casting had a lot of problems. Don’t even get me started on Gods of Egypt. The mosts successful religious movie to date is probably The Passion of The Christ, but other than that, religious action features are a hard sell for Hollywood. I’ve also personally noticed that I more interested in movies about pagans rather than any monotheistic religions.

Speaking about Ben-Hur – it is not as bad as everyone is telling you. It has problems, like any other film, but it also a fun adventure with some religious ideas that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. I wish that the audiences wouldn’t have given up on it without even giving it a chance. At this point, I should also probably note that I haven’t seen any other Ben-Hur pictures because I wanted to allow this movie to stand on its own. I haven’t read the book either, but I’m strongly considering doing that, as I did enjoy the film overall.

Writing

Ben-Hur’s screenplay was penned by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Ridley has an Academy Award for writing 12 Years a Slave, while Clarke is not that accomplished – he has mostly worked on documentaries until now. For the most part, I really liked the writing for this film. I thought they did a good job with the development and likeability of the two leads – you could actually understand both of their arguments. The supporting characters could have received a few more scenes, but the lack of development for them didn’t bother me much. The dialogue, the catchphrases as well as the repeatable lines that the characters would spit out to each other were all cool and worked well in the picture.

My biggest problems with the story were all related to the set- up also known as the first act. Messala’s decision to leave seemed a bit rushed – I would have like to see more of him and Judah as kids or teenagers. The parts of the story leading up to the big betrayal/accusation were also wonky – the film was going all over the place and seemed to be both rushing and dragging at the same time. However, with the beginning of the second act, which I thought was that sequence with Judah on the ship, the movie really found its footing. It had a clear direction and a cohesive, simple but interesting main storyline.

Ben-Hur also had nice topical ideas. It cleverly contrasted the ideology of Rome ‘let’s spread civilization through violence’ with the teachings of Jesus, which were all about the compassion, peace, and solidarity. The whole biblical ending seemed a bit weird and out of place, especially after that big action sequence, however, I do understand why it had to be there – they wanted to end the film with a positive message of forgiveness instead of the celebration of revenge. It was a truly happy ending in a classical Hollywood fashion.

Directing

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the producer of Hardcore Henry, directed Ben-Hur and did quite a nice job. Yes, some scenes were a bit overdramatized, but the ship sequence, as well as the final race, were both awesome. The whole setting and vibe of the film reminded me of HBO’s Rome, while the chariot race gave me flashbacks to a similar sequence in a French family film – Asterix at the Olympic Games. Ben-Hur’s CGI was also quite good – I have seen worse effects in the movie that cost even more to make. The credits of the film were also quite cool – those graphics were interesting and fit the movie perfectly.

Acting

The film didn’t have any really big name talent involved, so maybe that’s why the audiences passed it by. The most prominent name actor of the cast was probably Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me)  – he looked ridiculous with those dreads but worked well in the role of the mentor.

The two leads were played by Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as Messala. The two of them were great in the roles, both in the dramatic and action sequences. Their chemistry was also believable. Huston is mostly known for starring in Boardwalk Empire, but he also had roles in American Hustle and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kebbell has started in a few big films but without showing his face – he played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, starred as Doctor Doom or at least Fox’s version of that character in Fantastic Four and was the actor behind the main Orc character in the Warcraft movie. Coming up, he has Kong: Skull Island.

The supporting cast consisted of Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest; Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus; and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother. I love the fact that the casting director at least tried to make the movie more international and introduced me and other Western viewers to some new talent, although, Zurer should be quite familiar to us all – she plays Kingpin’s love interest on Daredevil. Two Americans – Sofia Black D’Elia as Tirzah and Moisés Arias (who is still stuck in the Hannah Montana times in my mind) as Gestas – rounded up the cast and also did a good job.

In short, Ben-Hur was a solid picture that exceeded my expectations. It needed some time to get into the right path but when it did – it was great! The story was interesting, the two leads were complex characters, brought to life by two amazing actors and the action didn’t suck either.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Ben-Hur trailer

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Movie review: Spotlight

Movie reviews

Hey Hey Hey!

Lately, I have been running out of ideas on how to greet you and on how to introduce the film that I am going to review. Basically, it’s another awards’ nominated movie, but one that I really really enjoyed. Let’s talk about Spotlight – another serious and slightly depressing motion picture.

IMDb summary: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Writing and Directing

The film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy. I haven’t seen any other film he has directed, but I did enjoy a few films that he has written scripts for. Mainly, Up and Million Dollar Arm. However, McCarthy was not the only one working on the film’s screenplay. The Fifth Estate’s scriptwriter Josh Singer was also credited for Spotlight. While I liked both Million Dollar Arm and The Fifth Estate from the writing standpoint, Spotlight’s story and plot completely blew me away.

To begin with, the saddest and the most shocking part was that the film is based on true events – these child abuse stories are a reality. The lies and the cover-ups are, sadly, real as well. And the film Spotlight treated these stories with the utter most respect and did a great job not only in bringing these narratives to the attention of the public once again, but in maybe even influencing further change in the system.

The film was thrilling without having any over-the-top action. The dialogue was superb: it gave enough exposition to let the viewer follow the story but also did not give too much away. The viewer followed the investigation step by step, the same way that team Spotlight little by little uncovered the truth. It also had very subtle character development – the audience knew just enough about the main characters in order to be compelled to follow them. And even if the filmmakers hadn’t given the viewer this knowledge about the characters, the film would still have worked, because it was a storytelling/narrative film and not a character movie.

I don’t really want to get much into the actual story, though. While it was interesting to watch on the screen, it also was scary and gave me goosebumps. I do not understand how someone could ever do something like this and how other people can just let it happen. But the again, people are known for turning a blind eye to terrible events that are happening near them. We tend to notice the flaws in strangers easily and quickly, but usually don’t want to admit that something wrong is happening near us.

One of my favorite parts of the film was Mark Ruffalo’s screaming monolog. Not only did the actor was amazing in his performance, but the words that he was saying/shouting were very well written and portrayed his emotional state (breaking down inside) accurately. I really liked that the film incorporated the idea that this type of work takes a toll on people and can turn their worlds upside down or make them crazy.

While reviewer Room, I mentioned that the way journalists were portrayed in that film reminded me, why I decided not to study journalism. However, Spotlight reminded me why I wanted to pursue the career in journalism in the first place. I really hope that there are still journalists like the Spotlight team in the real world, because, nowadays, even respected news sites and newspapers seem more like a cheap propaganda disguised as news reporting than the actual examples of journalism.

To touch upon a directing real quick: I think that McCarthy did a nice job. I was a bit to engrossed with the story and the amazing acting that I did not really look at directing that much. I gotta say – I really liked the juxtaposition of the story and its setting with the church being in the background of a lot of investigation/interview shots. I also think that the usage of a religious gospel – Silent Night- was really clever. Lastly, I liked the mise-en-scene of the Spotlight team’s office and the shots with all of the team members together but in their own spaces.

Acting

The film’s cast completely transformed into their characters – the Spotlight team. They were all unique and had a distinct way of talking and behaving but they all shared a common goal.

While watching Mark Ruffalo, I did not see Bruce Banner/The Hulk or Dylan Rhodes from Now You See Me or Dave Schultz from Foxcatcher. I saw an investigative reporter Michael Rezendes, trying his best to solve this puzzle and connect the dots. The only Ruffalo’s role that might be a bit similar to this one was when he played an inspector in David Fincher’s Zodiac – a really good but underrated film from 2007. I have always admired Ruffalo’s ability to be both a mainstream movie star and an awards contender. I can’t wait to see his future projects.

Michael Keaton starred as Walter “Robby” Robinson, while Rachel McAdams played Sacha Pfeiffer. I really liked their scenes together and the work relationships that their characters had. Keaton picked up an Academy Award for Birdman last year and while he didn’t get a nomination on his own this year, the whole ensemble cast has picked up quite a few smaller awards. Moreover, Spotlight has 6 Oscar nominations, even without Keaton being nominated. Rachel McAdams has already impressed me this year in Southpaw, but she just continues to blossom as an actress and I’m really happy that she finally was recognized by the Academy and received a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Other Spotlight members were played by Liev Schreiber (as Marty Baron), John Slattery (as Ben Bradlee Jr.) and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). I have recently seen Schreiber in Pawn Sacrifice – a really interesting film about chess and mental health. I still have not seen Mad Men (I know, I’m a terrible person) , so I am not that familiar with Slattery’s work. Since Brian d’Arcy James is more of a stage actor, I, sadly, cannot comment on his previous work as well.

The film had a lot of additional characters of attorneys, survivors, and religious figures. The one that had the biggest impact on the story and the one that was portrayed by a very well know actor was an attorney Mitchell Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci. I swear Tucci can play anyone and he somehow manages to find time to star in a plethora of movies every year.

All in all, Spotlight is/was a film that one would not enjoy in a literal sense of the word just because of how difficult the subject matter of the film is. However, from a filmmaking standpoint, I believe that the movie was masterfully made – the writing was perfect and the acting from the whole cast was top-notch. The motion picture definitely requires the full attention of a viewer, so if you want to snack on some popcorn or check your phone during the screening, pick a different film. Bye!

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Spotlight trailer

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