Friday, 19 June 2020

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Jessica Rothe returns for the second instalment of the 2017 teen-horror-comedy, and with a bit more kitschy humour and bad science thrown in, this too is a fun film to watch. The premise remains the same, most of the characters return but the focus shifts to another angle of why the days keep resetting. Even with a far more kooky story, and far more silliness, the writing and editing remains compelling.

If you enjoyed Happy Death Day then this is a worthy follow-up.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Happy Death Day (2017)

A bit Groundhog Day, a bit Tru Calling, the film opens with a college student waking up one morning, living through a day of minor events, and getting killed by a masked assailant at the end of the day. But then her day resets and she finds herself waking up to the same day. Despite making some different choices, she still gets killed by a masked assailant at the end of the day, albeit in a different scenario. And then, the day resets yet again. And so on and forth till she finally figures out the mystery of the masked assailant and manages to 'save the day', find love and become a better person.

For a teen-horror-comedy-flick this is actually quite fun to watch. It has a very simple story, but with some decent writing, directing, editing and acting, it stays interesting from beginning to end. Jessica Rothe as the selfish, unlikeable teen is a compelling watch, and very quickly grows on you, just as her character grows into a more likeable human.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Nosferatu (1922)

I finally watched this classic!

And as far as silent films go, it's perfectly creepy, atmospheric and 'scary'. Not for a moment does Count Orlok look enticing or charming, as future generations of Count Draculas do. Everything from his appearance, to his words, to his behaviour, shows him to be the blood-thirsty fiend that he is. Everyone else is also overly dramatic and extreme, just as you would expect from a 1920s silent film.

Worth a watch for all film lovers.

Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

One of my favourite genres - noir - delivered charmlessly.

A wonderful cast - Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe - wasted.

The opportunity to deliver an offbeat gem - thwarted.

This is a fairly forgettable modern noir, a mystery that keeps getting more and more complicated, while the main characters keep getting less and less interesting.

21 Bridges (2019)

There is nothing here that has not been seen before in multitudes of American cop dramas.

A robbery gone wrong, a criminal stuck in a deal much larger than anticipated, a cop with a conscience, institutional corruption, conspiracies galore, etc.

And yet, the film is oddly gripping and entertaining, and not a bad specimen of its genre.

Chadwick Boseman, JK Simmons and Sienna Miller, all deliver decent performances and the film is perfectly average.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Dark Waters (2019)

Mark Ruffalo has come a long way in my books. From the guy who did bad rom coms, to the guy who made it big (rightly so, and no pun intended) as the Hulk. But it is his 'acting films' (Spotlight, Foxcatcher) that have really made me stop and notice him. Plus he appears to be a nice guy, which always helps.

Dark Waters is a really important film, on a really important topic, one that doesn't just affect the Americans or the people living close to the DuPont factories. It affects pretty much everyone in the world today, anyone who has ever used non-stick pans or clothes or products. As Rob Bilott (the real-life lawyer that Mark Ruffalo is playing in the film) said with confidence to the audience at the Graham Norton Show in February 2020, "it's in the water everywhere, it's in everyone's blood in this room, everyone's blood in the whole planet".

The story is shocking, disturbing, and it's the truth for all of us, so even more impactful. And yet, the film is not very compelling. It drags, it bores, it doesn't keep you engaged.

Still, I would recommend - because it is that important.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Lighthouse (2019)

Excellent acting by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.

And really the biggest waste of my time this year in every way.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Bombshell (2019)

From the very start, this film reminded of the Big Short. It is not as good, but it's pretty damn good.

The story of Fox News female presenters, and the sexual harassment case they brought against their CEO, a story that is not from the 1960s but sickeningly from 2016, blew my mind. How Charlize Theron transformed herself (looks, gait, speech), how Margot Robbie used her face like a canvas to paint so many pictures, how Nicole Kidman walked the line between shrill and sensitive, these women were a marvel to watch. And the story was, as said before, just sickening to watch.

I have reservations about what these Fox News women presented to the world, and what this vile channel and its affiliates continue to present, but my politics aside, these are women who were treated like commodities, and when they finally rose against that, they were almost wiped out.

To think that this happened/happens in this century and in this decade, in this world and in that country, and is not only tolerated but also protected, it is terrifying to think what the women in the rest of the world go through.

Great performances, good film, important to watch.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

The Gentlemen (2019)

If you like Guy Ritchie's style of film-making, this film will hit all the right notes with you.

There's style, there's smart dialogue, there's an awesome cast, there's a complicated plot that gets unravelled layer by layer, there's brutal violence, there's fun, there's dark humour...and did I mention the style already? Let's say it again for good measure.

I enjoyed this film from beginning till end, with all its twists and turns and predictability. It just made me smile.

Plus there's Matthew McConnaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Jeremy Strong, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan, Henry Golding, Tom Wu, Michelle Dockery and a whole host of others to make you smile. But above all, above them all, there is Hugh Grant in the best role of his life, one that he clearly relished doing.

I loved this film. That's all.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Little Women (2019)

I know my opinion completely goes against the grain on this one, but this film was a complete disappointment to me. Yes, it's a host of female characters, in a story written by a female author, and a film directed by a female, which is all reason to rejoice - but no, I did not like this at all.

I have grown up reading Little Women from the age of 10 all the way through my late teens, over and over again. I love the characters - Jo and Laurie more than anyone else - and I feel that I know their souls. I have seen this novel filmed badly enough times to be used to that. But somehow this version offended me most because I expect better in this day and age. Plus it got hyped as a great adaptation and got Oscar glory and so much good press that I guess I hated its shortcomings even more.

The acting is so unconvincing, it is like watching a high school play. Most of the filming is suffocatingly chaotic. I would've enjoyed the stylisation, and the jumping through time, if I had connected with any of the characters, but that didn't happen.

So, I am fine being the odd one out here, as I just cannot like this film.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Mary Poppins Returns 2018

It is sacrilege to publicly admit this, but Mary Poppins (1964) was never a film I enjoyed. I'm not completely heartless, and other beloved musicals of the time like My Fair Lady (1964) and Sound of Music (1965) absolutely delight me. I just never really liked the songs or the story of Mary Poppins. So much so, that the first time I ever really connected with it is when Emma Thompson played PL Travers in Saving Mr Banks (2013) and the film revealed how much the author detested the treatment given to her books and characters by Walt Disney and his studio. I empathised with her (even though I've never actually read the books)!

So a sequel is not what I would normally have cared for. Except, in this case, they cast Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins - and she's an actress that I do care for. From her very early days' My Summer of Love (2004) to her husband's labour of love A Quiet Place (2018), she has proven herself over and over again to be an actress who does not need to be in every frame of a film to make an impact. And films made in the noughties are meant to be slightly more sophisticated than films made in the '60s. So I gave Mary Poppins Returns a go.

The story revolves around the Banks children: the ones from the first film who are now grown up and yet still in need of some love and guidance; and their next generation, very much in need of some nurturing. There is a crisis, there is a deadline, there are some evil characters in the financial services world, and some very sweet cockney-speaking poor characters on the streets that clash - and of course, the shiny happy people win that battle. In between, there are some ok-ish songs, some average choreography, some crazy 'impossible' adventures, and in an homage to the original, there is some 2D cartooning.

There are big names as part of the ensemble - Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Firth, with cameos by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. And yet, this little magical film held no magic for me. I was not only not entertained, but was thoroughly bored. I found myself hoping that the story would pick up, that the actors would stop overacting, that the dialogue would become engaging, that the songs would become memorable - but none of that happened. This film, as it turns out, is just as boring as the original (and seems to be garnering just as much love from fans and newbies alike).

For me, it was the under-10-minutes of Meryl Streep's screen time that saved the film for just the shortest duration. SHE is about as phenomenal as she was in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) and well, almost every film she ever stars in!

Otherwise, as far as my opinion goes, this film is best avoided.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Teefa in Trouble 2018

Ali Zafar's entry into Pakistani cinema is also Pakistan's re-entry into a world where cinema is not an extension of television, but a very different entity altogether. With Teefa, not only has he secured himself a seat at the big boys' table, but also ensured that the standards by which we judge Lollywood (sometimes very low standards, and sometimes high but simply not appropriate for this medium) are changed for ever.

Teefa (Ali himself) is a small-time thug, who serves at the command of Butt saab (Mehmood Aslam), and does all his crooked work for him. Butt's son, Billu (Ahmad Bilal) has his heart set on marrying his father's best friend's daughter, Anya (Maya Ali). So when the settled-in-Poland-best-friend, Bonzo, aka Basheera (Jawaid Sheikh), breaks the decades old promise to marry off his daughter to Billu, Butt saab turns to his trusted hood-for-hire, Teefa, to kidnap Anya in Warsaw, and bring her to Lahore. This little 'adventure' is the tale that is told over 154 minutes, with a fair share of action, comedy, romance, music and fun thrown into the mix.

While the story is simple, and as old as time, the treatment is fresh, and very entertaining. And for the sake of giving credit where it's due, I will break each 'fresh' aspect down separately.

The film, in its entirety, is extremely slick. The attention to detail paid to art direction, costumes, props, and stylisation is commendable to say the least. Money has been spent on the making of this film, and while that is obvious in every frame, it is also not in-your-face and out of place. As a comparative, this could be a Farhan Akhtar film, not a Karan Johar film (that is, it looks real; not like an unrealistic figment of the maker's OTT ad film imagination). And the producers, for those who may not know, are Ali Zafar and Ayesha Fazli, his wife. Obviously Ali knows what he is doing, and has wisely invested in himself. First impressions are lasting, and he has spared no expense to launch himself in a way that will stay in the minds of the audience for a long, long time.

Cinematography & Visuals
Speaking of the way it looks, the cinematography is, quite simply, excellent. Zain Haleem's camerawork is exciting, it's fresh, it's energetic. Every scene has multiple camera angles, some of which are genius, none of which appear to be unnecessary, and all of which add to the pace of the narrative. The action sequences have been shot (and edited) with a standard I have never seen in Pakistani cinema before, and very rarely seen in Indian cinema. It doesn't end here though - the VFX that allowed for a trail of blood to appear in the water, as a character falls to the depths of the river, (amongst various other details throughout the film) is worth commending too. The film has a certain sun-kissed tone to it, with lots of blues and rusts (especially amplified for the scenes in Lahore), which has of course been achieved in post-. It all looks beautiful, almost perfect, always interesting. I have never known Zain Haleem to be associated with anything but ad films before, but now I will be looking out for his name. 

Direction & Editing
Ahsan Rahim, another name from the ad film and music video world, is the first-time director here. His music videos always seemed ahead of their time (maybe not so much in retrospect) - and he made quite a few of those with Ali Zafar in the past. But nothing would have prepared me for the standard of work he's done for Teefa. He's managed to extract some very sharp performances from his actors and his crew - and pushed out a tight, gripping, entertaining action-comedy-thriller, the likes of which Pakistan has never produced and India only sometimes produces. Ahsan has not only made a great Pakistani film, he's made a really good (desi) film. The continuity and attention to detail is remarkable. The editing, done by Ahsan and Taha Ali, is also mostly on point. There are some scenes that could have been shorter, or some rare cuts that could have been sharper. The duration of the film could be about 15 minutes less, which could be achieved by sacrificing a little extra weight (I mean come shouldn't take that many minutes for the train to leave that platform!). This is possibly one of the rare flaws of the film.

Much of the credit for the 'tight, gripping, entertaining' bits mentioned above, goes to the screenplay. Unsurprisingly this, along with the story, was penned by Ahsan Rahim, Ali Zafar, and his brother, Danyal Zafar. Yes, it's a family affair! While the story is terribly simple, the storytelling is really not. It captures, enthrals and keeps you hooked. Events are not always presented in a linear fashion, but often criss-cross into each other comically. In fact, events often happen off-screen and the audience is expected to have the intelligence to understand (e.g. Dream Dealers). The characters are pretty much all multi-dimensional. All the 'good' characters have shades of grey, as do all the 'bad' characters (nobody is really evil, with the exception of the main villain, but even he has a comic thread). While it's definitely a male-dominated cast, the women are what make the men, every one of them. And the lead lady is as headstrong, as wild, as devious as the male lead. She is not delicate, and is not in need of rescuing (even though that's what the men think they are doing). In fact she is the one who ends up rescuing the 'hero' multiple times and even gets to be the driver of the most prominent car chase scene. She rides bikes, gets herself out of tricky situations, chooses the man she wants to be with, and will not be controlled by any of the men in her life. The narrative and character arcs aren't original, but they are most definitely uncommon.

This is the piece de resistance. The dialogue is rammed with puns (ban-behn, mocha-mauqa, maa ki, iron man, teefay-feetay), subtle jokes, referential humour, and sharp wit. One would think it was written by an experienced comedy writer - but it is Ali Zafar (AGAIN), who wrote the dialogue. A discerning Pakistani audience would recognise the style to be of the ilk that was on television in the 1990s, when a number of NCA alumni had launched multiple music and comedy shows on television. One of the faces of that movement was Faisal Qureshi (who is Teefa's sidekick in this film and gets to deliver many of the hilarious one-liners, which is his signature style anyway). As it happens, Ali Zafar is also an NCA graduate, and the humorous writing is obviously very much in his blood. Because of the continuous stream of jokes, some so subtle that you actually miss them the first time round, the film remains fresh on repeat viewings. But humour isn't the only winner here - Ali has written with equal confidence for the more sentimental moments, none of which induce boredom or eye-rolling (which is what I usually end up doing). The writing is intentionally corny yes, but not sickly cheesy. Nor is it sickly sweet or obviously romantic (even the final confession of love comes as a question and is responded to with a list of culinary conditions!). And more importantly, especially in light of recent Pakistani comedies like Jawani Phir Nahin Ani (2015) and Punjab Nahin Jaungi (2017), this film is bereft of vulgarity in its comedy. Aside from one reference to 'andey', there is literally nothing in this entire film that is even slightly 'dirty' or inappropriate for family viewing. This is practically a miracle in this day and age, so deserves a special mention.

Music (and lyrics)
Shocking as this may sound (!!!), the music is composed by Ali and Danyal Zafar (and Naqash Haider), the songs are sung by Ali, and even the lyrics are written by Ali. And this is some of his best work in a while. Butt Saab has a completely different sound to typical Pakistani music, and is the perfect start to the film. Item Number is catchy, funny, and is choreographed superbly. Chan Ve and Sajna Door have a sweet and melancholic sound respectively. But it is Ishq Nachaunda with its slight sufi feel that completely captured my mind, both with its words and its sound. While we are speaking of music, the tipping of the hat to the 90s anthem Main Kya Karun and the humming of Rockstar, were both noticed and appreciated. The background score by Shani Arshad is consistently appropriate and really very good in most parts.

Now the final, and most important, part of the film that keeps this going. The entire cast from the sets of parents, to the henchmen, to the groups of friends, everyone has committed to their characters and delivered (Tom Coulston was slightly annoying though). 

Maya Ali was a bit of a surprise for me, as I have never liked her acting on television - it's always a bit too fake and unnaturally bubbly or unnaturally docile. As Anya, she has finally become a real person. Her acting is entirely natural, she's charming, fun, clever, beautiful and has screen presence. I have a few issues with her make-up in some scenes, but her wardrobe is perfect. She carries her Western and Eastern outfits with equal aplomb, and that is not always the case with Pakistani actresses. I definitely want to see more of this Maya Ali in the future.

And now for Teefa himself - I have to make a confession. I have for years not particularly liked Ali Zafar, when the rest of the country and its neighbour was loving him. I resented Channo (for its likeness to Dhanno) and his voice (for its mimicry of Kishore Kumar) and his acting in Indian films (for its obvious out-of-place-ness with his Lahori accent and delivery). Over the years, his voice has come into its own (and then some), and his acting has excelled to the point where he was my favourite character to watch in Kill Dil. Regardless of that, I watched this film on Netflix with little expectation. And after I finished, I immediately restarted it, because he is that compelling on screen that he had to be watched again. And again. His acting is natural, his timing perfect (comic or otherwise), he looks good, he dances well, he fights very well. I think Pakistan has just found itself its own Farhan Akhtar and Ranveer Singh, rolled into one. 

I have watched Teefa in Trouble roughly eight times over the last week, sometimes in an attempt to show this to other people, sometimes in an attempt to understand analytically why this film works, and sometimes simply for entertainment. And I am making no promises to never watch it again. If there are other people like me out there, then this will trend on Netflix for a while longer! 

Most modern and stylish Pakistani films over the last five years are labelled as the 'revival' of Pakistani cinema. In some cases, they have only been an extension of Pakistani television - Bin Roye (2015), Ho Mann Jahaan (2015), Janaan (2016), Dobara Phir Se (2016), which really cannot be a true revival of cinema. 2017 onwards, the films that have done well are definitely more cinematic, but I am not sure if the others have been of this quality. This is really the true arrival of Pakistani cinema. Teefa in Trouble may change the cinematic landscape - but even if it doesn't, I have faith in whatever project Ali Zafar invests in next.

Need I mention this? Teefa in Trouble is available on Netflix - and it deserves a watch (or many).

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Greatest Showman 2017

Unlike Indian cinema, Hollywood does not make a habit of producing films with completely original songs because, well, 'musicals' are an optional genre and not a necessary ingredient in the west. So, every time a major musical film comes out, and becomes a success, it is a really big deal.

Personally, I have not been too impressed by the grand Hollywood musicals that have caught the audience's imagination in recent years. I still stand by my disdain for Les Misérables and my indifference to La La Land. But in The Greatest Showman I finally find salvation.

The story revolves around an actual person, Phineas Taylor Barnum, a 19th century American showman, well-known for promoting 'human curiosities', and notorious for passing off hoaxes as the real deal. There is a fair amount of controversy around him today, about how he exploited the people who worked for him in his circus, and how he would do anything to make a quick buck. In the 21st century some things have changed for the better, and I assume someone like him would be much maligned today. But things were different 150 years ago and The Greatest Showman does away with any ethical commentary on this subject, being a happy musical and all.

This PT Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is simply a dreamer, an inventor, a creator and an entertainer. He's had a difficult life, but has made some money through hard work and is rewarded with marriage to Charity, his upper class childhood sweetheart (Michelle Williams), and two beautiful daughters. Still his heart wants more, and his ambition knows no bounds. He establishes a 'circus', gathering people with unique abilities and appearances (trapeze artists, a bearded lady, a dwarf, a man with full body tattoos, etc) and creates shows the likes of which New York has never seen before. Despite the success and stardom and controversy that he enjoys very much, he is still not accepted by the society he craves to be a part of. So, he brings in a partner (Zac Efron) from the higher echelons, gets invited to Queen Victoria's court at Buckingham Palace and associates himself with a famed opera singer, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), just so he would be accepted by the very elite who laugh at his upstart background. And in the process, he loses everything that had brought him real love and laughter. So will the wayward find their way back? Will our great romantic hero correct the wrongs he has done and will he find happiness again? The suspense, I'm sure, will kill you.

The storyline is razor thin, and extremely predictable, and moves through the expected twists and turns at breakneck speed. Plus every cliché under the sun is employed on the way. I mean there is an actual visual reference to the witch who offered Snow White a poisoned apple (but here she is a kind, misunderstood soul, much like Quasimodo). Sidenote: Hugh Jackman's younger self in these musicals really needs to learn to steal bread, without getting caught instantly!

But while the story may be simple, the presentation is exquisite. As in the case of La La Land the songs are all original and have been written for the film, but their staging is far more spectacular, almost as if the creators are waiting to be invited to re-write this for Broadway or West End. There is a blue-print in the choreography of some songs that simply needs to be applied to stage (watch 'A Million Dreams', 'This Is Me', 'Rewrite The Stars', etc and you will see what I mean). Every number is larger than life, thoroughly entertaining, and has the thump-thump that stays with you for days after you've heard it. Think of the melodies in the by-now-so-annoying Frozen, and now imagine them better. The singing too is pretty extraordinary. Everything I hated about Hugh Jackman's renditions in Les Misérables is gone, and every time he sings here, it is a joy to hear. One of my favourite songs (and it really is hard to choose) is 'The Other Side', which is a brilliant and very funny back and forth between Jackman and Efron, who by the way, shines as an actor, singer and dancer here. Zendaya plays Zac Efron's love interest in the film, and is also a great performer in every regard. Keala Settle's powerful voice really makes the backbone of all the songs she is part of. So, in some ways, Michelle Williams is the weakest singer here, and even she is very good. Or maybe it is Rebecca Ferguson who's the weakest singer, in the sense that she didn't sing her songs at all (playback by Loren Allred), which is a shame, because her performance is really very good. In fact everyone is great, even the two girls who play Barnum's daughters, or the two kids who play the young Barnum and the young Charity.

If you can't tell from my incessant gushing, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and the story has little to do with it (I would rather not think about the fact that some credibility has been given to the man, who probably exploited humans and animals alike for his personal gains). It is all because of the outstanding music and choreography that literally brought me joy for two full hours. This is truly the greatest show of the year.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - 2017

So, this film seems to have been deemed a flop - and half the online writers have written the 5 reasons, 7 reasons and 10 reasons it didn't work. They feel compelled to come up with reasons, because the critics, and much of the audience that did watch it, think it's an excellent film.

I watched Blade Runner 2049 a few hours after re-watching the original Blade Runner (1982) - and my expectations were much lowered because of that. I hadn't liked the Ridley Scott cult favourite when I first saw it in the 1990s, I hated it when I saw it again in the 2000s and I still couldn't hack it in 2017. I understand how my personal aversion to most sci-fi films is attributed to my disdain for, say, the Star Wars franchise, for example (I've also been told that I pretend to hate them only because I like to be 'contrary'), but I maintain that a well-written, well-made film, regardless of genre, will always win my genuine appreciation. Blade Runner does not fit that requirement. I find it too slow and interminable, with a series of long, moody, atmospheric scenes that stop being relevant once the 'mood' has been established; and the mood is unfortunately established multiple times. I understand that this 'original' stylisation spawned many future characters and set-pieces, and for that we will be eternally grateful (I can see how Joss Whedon was inspired by it, when I watch Firefly, his awesome 2003 sci-fi series). I also understand that it broached certain philosophical and existential questions, which I think are still unanswered, about consciousness and what difference having a soul, if there is such a thing, makes. But I still cannot understand why everyone thinks it's a great film, because it bored/bores me.

Anyhow, with low expectations and little faith, I went to see the sequel, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

This is another neo-noir, a mystery that unveils truths of the last 30 years (since the previous film's ending). There is a new philosophical conundrum, an extension of what we saw in the last instalment of the story. There are new replicants, more advanced but more compliant. There are new humans, seemingly more 'soulless' and less conscionable than the androids. In the midst of all this, is K (Ryan Gosling), our new protagonist, with a clear purpose and a remoteness of character. It seems that K's biggest flaw, throughout the film, is that in spite of his lack of humanness, he finds in himself, that most human of all aspects: he finds Hope. And in its pursuit he finally finds Deckard (Harrison Ford) almost 120 minutes into the film, and ties up many loose ends. But the questions about humanity, love, compassion, sacrifice, and hope being the birthright of humans, being the very factors that make humans superior to machines, being the result of a soul - these questions remain asked and unanswered. As they should.

I was unaware when I went to see it that the film was not directed by Ridley Scott, but by Denis Villeneuve. It was only afterwards that I realised this is the work of the same man who directed the excellent Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016). Like those films, this is beautifully crafted and delivered. The cinematography is flawless; whether it is the extreme close-ups, or the large landscape shots, the colours, the movements, the compositions, they are all perfect. Editing is appropriate and nothing feels too drawn out - even the slow, long scenes remain interesting and relevant. And the acting - wow! Most of the film hinges on Ryan Gosling's performance, and like his character in Drive (2011), he has very few lines to communicate what he's feeling. But Gosling's greatest ability is in what he can communicate with his face, and his eyes. And he does not fail his audience here. Not once.

Even as a self-confessed sci-fi-phobe, I highly recommend this film. It requires patience, but it fully rewards the patient viewer. Much, much better than the original.

Monday, 9 October 2017

mother! 2017

Darren Aronofsky has done it again. He's delivered a perfectly crafted, difficult to endure, conversation-piece of a film.

After 2010's Black Swan, his best film in my opinion, he directed Noah (2014), his worst in my opinion. So, I desperately needed his next film to remind me of what he is capable of. And mother! is everything an Aronofsky fan could want, and more. Does that mean I loved it? No. Far from it. But there's very little I can fault in it.

First the easy bits - technically, the film is very powerful. The hand-held cameras follow and capture every nuance of the main protagonist's expressions. The cinematography is grainy, and the sound mixing is sharp and accurate. Together, the visuals and sounds, create a constant sense of uncertainty, a fear of the unknown and of impending doom. The editing, for the most part, is excellent (there's room for improvement in the final act). And the direction, the performances (especially Jennifer Lawrence's), the delivery - they're all perfect.

The issue, if there is one, is entirely with the content.

What feels like a psychological thriller (much like Black Swan) slowly reveals itself to be more of a philosophical (like 2006's The Fountain) and theological (like Noah) conundrum. It takes a while to understand what the protagonists stand for, what their story is about, and what Aronofsky wants to tell us. And while that is quite clever, it was for me, quite disappointing. I guess I expected more, and once I realised where I was being led, I just needed it to reveal and end quickly. Hence the very violent, very graphic, very out of control second half felt badly edited; almost unnecessarily long. That may have been intentional too, but it made me dislike the film intensely.

The story revolves around a set of unnamed characters: a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) obsessively fixing and renovating and recreating a childhood home for her husband who she dotes on; her husband, an older man (Javier Bardem), who once wrote a perfect novel, for which he is known, but now struggles to write anything of that stature; a male guest (Ed Harris) who shows up out of nowhere one night, and despite the wife's hesitation, is invited by the husband to stay overnight and seems to provide him with a new-found inspiration; the guest's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who shows up unexpectedly the next day, whose existence till that moment was not known, who also ends up staying over just as the hostess's hesitation is turning into a slightly frenzied discomfort (this female guest interferes into the hosts' lives to the point that she meddles with a precious stone the host is especially sensitive about and ends up breaking it, after which she proceeds to have sex with her husband with the door left open); two sons of the guests who show up out of nowhere, have a huge physical fight, and one brother ends up killing the other with a heavy object. As the wake is also held in the same house, new people show up one after another, seemingly taking over the house, breaking things, making the hostess feel unwelcome in her own home, while her husband, who is being fawned over seems oblivious to the damage being done and enjoys the attention and the company with no cares for his wife or his home.

As the ensuing madness reaches boiling point, this chapter ends, to reveal a calmer second chapter, where the guests have been thrown out, the hosts are finally alone again, the house is perfect again, and they are expecting a baby. The husband has finally finished his book, it's been published and has been well received, and they are sitting down to enjoy each other's company, when a fan arrives. And then another. And another. And very quickly, their newly renovated world goes through another cycle of madness, another round of unruly guests who take over the place, steal from it, ravage it, pillage it - all the while ignoring the mother(-to-be). Her husband, once again, is oblivious to the damage, as he is too wrapped up in the fervour around him. She repeatedly asks him to stop them, and he doesn't. A montage of ills befalls her house, and finally as she delivers her baby boy, her husband takes it away and gives it to the fans, who tear it apart within seconds and distribute its flesh and eat it. As she screams in agony at the death of her son, her husband appeases her and asks her to forgive the people. In her rage, she burns the house down - with herself in it, and when she has nothing left to give, her husband takes her beating heart, her precious stone and the cycle starts all over again.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If only Aronofsky had not told the story of a God, weakened by his adoring people, a pillaged Mother Nature and a tortured Mother Mary, and a disgusting  mob of the human race, to create this shabby analogy, I'd have enjoyed the suspense and the creepiness of the film. But the moment, I made the connections, I switched off. And every further reveal just annoyed me. And I can't decide whether I am more angry because this is a preachy parable, based on the Bible or because this is an atheist's angry tirade against a God he doesn't believe in. Are we to learn a lesson about respecting Mother Nature before our world implodes yet again as has been told over and over again in holy books, or are we to hate the very concept of this narcissistic God who in his obsession to be adored has actually turned away from his creation and has give us too much freedom to destroy what we have. Whichever way I look at this, I find myself revolting against the contradictions in the philosophical angles.


Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure. Darren Aronofsky has made yet another film that will be discussed and analysed for a long time to come.

I can't recommend it, but it is an interesting film. Watch it if you are a fan of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist or films of that ilk.