Film Review – Drama

mother! (2017)

I am of the opinion that if a film manages to divide audiences far and wide, then that is a measure of a good film. And with that in mind it was always going to be intriguing going into mother! due to the response that it had garnered. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Darren Aronofsky’s latest offering, especially as Noah was his last feature.

Aronofsky has affection for biblical matters when telling a narrative, clearly seen by Noah, but he continues this theme in mother! although this time not as clear cut. It opens with Him (Javier Bardem) placing a crystal on a pedestal and the house begins to renovate itself around him, and upstairs Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) forms and begins to wander the idyllic house.

Him is currently suffering from writers block and moved out to the idyllic house with his wife to find solace to once again start working. But Aronofsky immediately establishes that Mother has a connection with the house she has helped rebuild from the ashes as she almost feel the beating heart of the house.

Immediately it’s clear that Jennifer Lawrence was going to be the focal point (irrespective of being the titular character) as Aronofksy focuses the camera around Mother, whether on her face or her being the focal point of the shot. She plays this fantastically from the nuanced movements in her body language, to the explosion of emotion that she experiences later on.

Having the house in such an isolated setting, there is a certain silence that encompasses the screen. With that in mind, the sound design in mother! is absolutely fantastic, that you hear the floorboards creaking around the house giving the film creepy overtures.

And those creepy overtures continue to occur when Man (Ed Harris) comes knocking on the isolated door. Immediately Mother takes a dislike to him, but Him implores her to allow him to stick around as he finds his stories fascinating. As Man makes himself at home by smoking and having general disregard for the house, Mother begins to feel the effects and feels an aggressive pain. Again, linking to that Mother is connected to the house in some regard.

Man then invites his wife into the house, and as she makes herself at home, Mother feels a toxic presence in the house, which is typified by the heartbeat Mother feels in the walls begins to turn black. Suddenly everything goes south for Mother, as Man and Woman’s (Michelle Pfeffier) two sons rock up to the house and overcome with rage, the older son (Domnhall Gleeson) kills his younger brother (Brian Gleeson) in a Cain and Abel-esque way.

And the allegorical meanings continue throughout the film, but Aronofsky manages to cleverly include this in the narrative in a way where it doesn’t seem to overbearing for the story to continue. As well as having the narrative firmly footed in biblical meanings with the story of Cain and Abel and the following Him experiences with his writings, Aronofsky continues to make it feel incredibly poignant for the world we’re living in today.

As the writings of Him have this profound effect, the house Mother and Him live suddenly descends into chaos. From the whirlwind of the success of the poem, to the house almost becoming a hive for human trafficking and then a warzone, which echoes the stories that enter the news daily.

I thought what has been created was incredibly brilliant and really imaginative way of telling the story. Time becomes a big significance in this story, as it feels as though it unfolds in a matter of days, whilst the telling the story that spans hundreds of years. Aronofsky also managed to create an incredible timeframe within mother! as it was difficult to establish when the film was set, featuring both contemporary features, but also having a feel of a historic feeling to the story.

mother! manages to effectively get under your skin with the films allegorical readings into it. The big takeaway from this film is that everyone can read the film differently, which is probably the reasoning for the divisive reactions thus far. But I felt Aronofsky really had his footing superb with this film. The cast members also significantly help him throughout the two-hour runtime.

They all give terrific performances, especially Jennifer Lawrence moving from the nuanced features to the invigorating protector of the house. And Ed Harris plays his role to perfection and continues to hit the mark regardless of what he does. I think the real winner with mother! is how the story is told though, Aronofsky’s grip on the narrative keeps you entertained throughout and the way it is revealed is just fantastic.

mother! is definitely a film that is going to stay with you regardless of the viewings because of the magnitude of what occurs on screen. It’ll continue to divide audiences, but one thing is for sure, it will surely get some award nods come that time. I thought the audience rating of F was unfair especially as I found it to be A truly wonderful piece of filmmaking and deserving of the plaudits.

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The Limehouse Golem (2017)

Here we are again!

Often with period dramas, the film hangs in the balance of whether it’s actually believable. The Limehouse Golem is no exception to this role as it breathes in a feel of Victorian London that is rife with grit and dirt found in the Limehouse district.

But one strange thing about The Limehouse Golem is the casting of Bill Nighy, as I cannot remember a role where he was serious. And with a setting that reeks of Jack the Ripper, it was going to interesting where the film was taken with Bill Nighy in the pivotal role.

Regardless of the questions around the casting, what is immediately clear is the brilliance of setting and the authenticity of this Victorian London setting. These characters that are established, thrive in this environment as they add to the mysterious element that is surrounding Limehouse.

Juan Carlos Medina did an excellent job of feeding the narrative throughout the hour and forty-ish minute runtime, especially as he immediately establishes the panics surrounding the murders in Limehouse. And the case is assigned to John Kildare (Bill Nighy) as it is deemed unsolvable and they need a scapegoat.

Immediately it’s clear Bill Nighy is not doing his usual comic act, as he wears a morose face as he delves right into the case. At the same time, Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) is accused of murdering her husband John Cree (Sam Reid) whom is a suspect in the Limehouse Golem case. Kildare becomes enticed in this and is hellbent on deciphering who the Golem is and saving Lizzie.

Through this the film becomes interesting, especially as Lizzie recounts her stories around Limehouse, but also as Kildare with the help of George Flood (Daniel Mays) rounds up the suspects. The suspects being those in the reading room on the last date of the diary entries, including Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) and George Gissing. (Morgan Watkins)

Through the use of Kildare reading the entries for the suspects to scribe, Medina uses some really interesting effects as each of the suspects take the role of the Limehouse Golem in the recreations. And this only adds to the incredible atmosphere that is created throughout the film by Medina.

However, there is a fault within The Limehouse Golem, as the film does delve straight into it’s meaty core, at around the fifty minute mark it begins to slow it’s pace and trudge through the narrative. But with this interesting method of telling the narrative the film does work its magic as it enters it’s final third.

It was really refreshing to see Bill Nighy take this role by the horns and really get involved in it. He was backed up by the great performances by Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth, however, I could not get on board with Booth’s Russell Brand-esque accent, but the performance was still great.

And Medina was brilliant at creating an authentic Victorian atmosphere that emanated through the screen. Not only through the impressive set, but also through the scripting that was produced by Jane Goldman, based on the novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. But through the scripting, little sections throughout the film really accentuate the feeling of Victorian London, from the ‘not the marrying kind’ line to the attitudes to murder scenes.

But at the centre of The Limehouse Golem was this story Lizzie Cree coming up from the streets to become one of the stars of the musical stage with the help of Dan Leno. This story is wrapped up perfectly inside the story of the Limehouse Golem.

The film will probably be muscled out of awards contention by the bigger and better films of the year, and that is probably fair. In a week where I saw IT as well, the horror element of The Limehouse Golem is completely inferior, but the methodical narrative really creates a mysterious atmosphere throughout the film. The Limehouse Golem itself is probably not going to be breaking any ground, but it is a really interesting piece of filmmaking and really enjoyable. And how that final scene plays out is absolutely fantastic and is executed with such finesse. Hats off to Juan Carlos Medina and the cast for creating an admirable piece of film.

Detroit (2017)

Hate only breeds hate.

One of the tensest I’ve been in the cinema was earlier this year with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a close second, and she places you dead centre in the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, amongst the police brutality and racist tension that was rife in 1960s America.

Before becoming swept up in this 1967 time period, Bigelow chose to use an illustration that gave the film it’s legs to stand on, using the Great Migration as it’s launching point. This illustration is incredibly poignant and showcases the tensions although on a relatively small scale.

And Detroit is told around the centrepiece of an event at the Algiers motel that occurred during the riots. Mark Boal’s ability to interplay that with enough background to really amp up the tension on screen is integral to the middle section becoming one of the most terrifyingly shocking events throughout the film.

I was transfixed with Detroit, as a retaliation prank becomes incredibly volatile and tense. But it demands your attention every step of the way, as so much is going on, but told perfectly. Bigelow’s choice to splice archive footage into the film only exemplified the believable set that was to recreate the destruction that of property that occurred during the riots.

I believe with a film like Detroit it would have been easy to slip into the telling of one side, but I think that Bigelow managed to get the correct balance and show that the riots not only had a huge impact on the black communities in Detroit but also everyone else caught up in it, from the national guard to the local police force.

Not only this, but the nuanced movements of each character was crucial in Detroit from the shaking, stuttering hand of Aubrey, to Larry Reed’s (Algee Smith) performance to the empty Fox Theatre as the lights are shut off around him. But also the looks of terror, not only placed on the faces of the those forced to face the wall, but also the deputy to Krauss as he seemingly questions his actions during a key scene.

The tension definitely emanated through the screen, especially as the Detroit Police Department begin to essentially bully the suspects in the Algiers Motel. But this event is seen all the way through, which only helps build the tension, through the actions of Krauss and the Detroit Police Department and the effective use of set by Bigelow.

The casting of Will Poulter was interesting as one of the leads, but he was playing Krauss to perfection, as you become to loathe the character that is unveiled at the Algiers. But the rest of the casting was absolutely superb and kept me transfixed throughout the film from John Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes to Jacob Latimore’s Fred Temple. They all played their parts to perfection.

Kathryn Bigelow had this film nailed on every step of the way. I believe Detroit is going to be staying with me for a long time and for all the right reasons. It’s important to have films like this, as it’s incredibly poignant for today and suggests that we haven’t moved far from these attitudes at all.

I was honestly left stunned by this film, and it’s not often that this happens. This comes to the believability of the performances from the cast, but also how the narrative was told. It was incredibly compelling and I was gripped for the entirety of the 140-odd minute runtime. Although it was slow to get off the ground, once it started running, Detroit took me with it. It’s an incredibly harrowing tale, but one that is also incredibly important at the same time.

A Ghost Story (2017)

This is not a horror film.  

Before you think it is, A Ghost Story is not a horror film, it is anything but. Although Ghost appears in the title, it’s rather a comic ghost that situates itself throughout the best part of this film.

One of the first things I noticed about A Ghost Story was the ratio setting of the screen, as David Lowery encloses the screen in a box awash with a vintage-esque filter. This was actually really effective and almost became a window in the relationship of C (Casey Affleck) and M. (Rooney Mara)

Through this lens, we see C and M living in their quaint suburban house, but what unfolds is a strange devoid between the two of them for some unspoken reason. Suddenly the idyllic relationship between C and M is thrown into the abyss as C is killed in a car crash. But this is when the Ghost comes into the story.

At the morgue, M identifies the body and leaves. But Lowery holds the scene for an extraordinary amount of time with the body and it rises becoming the titular ghost. He returns the house C and M lived in and watches M as she tries to deal with the passing of her husband. Lowery has a tendency to hold his shots for a significant amount of time and he continues this trend, holding the shot where M eats the pie. The stillness of this shot is incredibly, especially as the Ghost watches on mere metres away.

Instead of becoming a terrifying story about the ghost, it rather begins to transcend time as the ghost watches M leave the house and the new residents that move in after him. These moments pass by like seconds, as the Ghost watches them through piano lessons, Christmas and mealtimes.

Throughout the 90ish minutes of film, the film is mostly devoid of speech, but it rather about the movements of C as the Ghost. Lowery does lace the screen with beautiful and picturesque shots, including the shot where the house is torn down and the Ghost is stood there amongst the rubble, almost contemplating the destruction around him.

As well as being almost devoid of speech, A Ghost Story contains the perfect blend for the score, between the natural sounds of suburban life to the soundtrack and score becoming increasingly enchanting as the Ghost passes through the future in a matter of seconds.

During one of the new tenants, Lowery chose to have a lengthy nihilistic speech interjected into the film, which worked perfectly. Considering the Ghost glides through these peoples lives, almost as though nothing matters when all is said and done.

A Ghost Story isn’t packed to the gills with narrative, but it’s not about the narrative completely, but rather the interesting premise of this time-travelling ghost and essentially the message that time does continue when we are gone, regardless of what we can try to do to stop it. The performances displayed by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are brilliant, because it’s not about the speech and over-egged performance, but the nuanced movements that are displayed by the duo that makes the distance in the relationship believable.

A Ghost Story on a large scale worked, but I doubt it will be challenging for a spot of top film come the end of the year. But through the subtle performances and lengthy shots, David Lowery has really created a window into this relationship and the perception of time. Although A Ghost Story slipped into the realms of Interstellar towards the end, it managed to keep it’s footing. With the picturesque scenes throughout and enchanting music, A Ghost Story will definitely be a more memorable picture than most I’ve seen recently.

Dunkirk (2017)

War is hell. Absolute hell.

And that is exactly what Christopher Nolan has chosen to portray in his latest venture, Dunkirk. However, unlike Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge with their glorious actions sequences, Dunkirk rather takes on a subdued approach to the war.

Christopher Nolan is an absolute visionary of a director, with his back catalogue including Interstellar, The Prestige and the Batman trilogy. It’s an absolute change of pace from showing the quest to leave the planet, to the evacuation of Dunkirk, a key point during the Second World War for the British forces.

What’s always been interesting in Nolan’s filmmaking is that he shows a diverse range of how to tell a story from Momento to The Prestige. He chooses to have Dunkirk shown in a linear method with three intersecting stories from the air, the sea and the ground. And that is where we find Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running the streets of Dunkirk eluding German fire as ‘We Surround You’ flyers cascade around him in one tense sequence.

And the tension doesn’t stop there. For the entirety of the film, the tension never takes it foot off the pedal. The constant changing of the tempo between the land, the sea and the air was crucial to keep the tension at boiling point throughout Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan also manages to convincingly display glimpses into the hellishness of war, channelled mostly through Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked soldier and his apprehension to continue heading into battle. But also the recognition from the civilian perspective, as Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his father, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), share a nuanced nod to not disclose information to the shell-shocked soldier aboard.

The narrative choice is possibly one of the most interesting choices, but it is key for the tension to be kept at a high level. But what is more interesting there is a certain absence of a traditional protagonist held within the film, but rather having The Mole, The Sea and The Air being characters within their own right and having characters placed throughout.

Normally Christopher Nolan allows the screen to be drenched in the characters, giving them time to be invested in, but the narrative method doesn’t allow this as time became a key factor in each of the segments. But there comes in the brilliance of the cast behind Nolan’s Dunkirk. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh managing to exhibit the perfect amount of emotion that is needed regardless of how bleak the situation is and regardless of the screen time, especially when Home arrives.

Long-standing music collaborator Hans Zimmer chose to intertwine his score with occasional ticking, giving that reminder time is incredibly precious in these situations. This motif is carried throughout the three segments, as Farrier (Tom Hardy) keeps a close eye on the time to gauge his fuel.

Dunkirk is an incredible piece of filmmaking and Christopher Nolan showed a wonderful skill of narrative structure as the film progressed through it’s 100+ minute runtime and the motif use of time. The cast gave unbelievable performances, especially for the screen time each member received. It is potentially the tensest I’ve been in a cinema when watching a film and it was incredible.

Without the need to show the explicit war sequences, Christopher Nolan managed to give Dunkirk an incredible feel for the war by the incredibly loud action sequences from the get-go. By having the air sequences shot incredibly close to the nose was great and incredibly effective for what was needed on the screen. Overall, there’s little to dislike with Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan continues his incredible visionary filmmaking and remains one of the best directors in the business today.

The Beguiled (2017)

I’m unsure what it is at the moment, but period dramas are becoming my highly anticipated films of the year. The first instance was My Cousin Rachel, and the second is Sofia Coppola’s latest venture with The Beguiled.

Set in the 1800s during the American Civil War, the film had the promise of being a rather tense affair. It’s clear that Sofia Coppola’s has adoration for costume pieces, especially after Marie Antoinette but also the use of clothing and accessories in less-than-forgettable The Bling Ring.

It has to be said though, the opening forty or so minutes of The Beguiled do slog their way through the narrative as it tries building toward the tense and gripping affair it looked to be. As the Civil War is underway, the placement of the school in Virginia is excellent, as you hear to not-so far off gunshots and explosions as the war rages into it’s third year.

But with that comes a certain sense of innocence, as Amy (Oona Laurence) hums a playful tune whilst looking for mushrooms to pick. Amy stumbles across the injured John McBurney, (Colin Farrell) an injured Corporal of the Union army, who happens to have deserted the war effort. With good intentions, she brings him back to Miss Martha’s school, which causes an immediate disruption to the school.

Although the film does stand at around an hour and a half, it is a slow burner to begin with, which makes it feel longer. But Coppola dresses the screen with this aforementioned adoration of the dresses and the setting of the house, interior and exterior. The cast all eventually come into their own as they fight for the affections of Corporal McBurney, which does reach breaking point. The tension between Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) is brilliant, especially as Elle Fanning channels her performance from The Neon Demon.

Each of the girls within the school is given apt time on screen, with the large chunk revolving around Miss Martha, (Nicola Kidman) Edwina and Alicia. Farrell is given enough time to spin his web within the house and what began as resentment for the ‘Yank’ soon became affection as each of the girls begin tussling for his attention and affection.

Her choice to leave the screen almost devoid of music for the first forty to fifty minutes really helped accentuate the wartime effort that engulfed Virginia. The natural noises mixed perfectly with the placement of Miss Martha’s home and often at times gave it a claustrophobic feeling as the film progress towards it’s climax. But when the tension of the music kicked in, it elevated the screen tenfold.

My only issue with the film is that opening forty minutes. Once it is past this hump and John McBurney incites the line ‘vengeful bitches’ The Beguiled really comes into it’s own. Especially with the performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as they try to play off each other. Sofia Coppola continues the trend of having intriguing female characters and created enough of a story to keep it’s head above water going into the final half of the film. And that last shot is just gorgeous.

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

It’s always a worry when I highly anticipate a film because with that enters a certain sense of trepidation. My Cousin Rachel had me anticipating it and I couldn’t wait for it’s release. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier novel (which I haven’t read) by Roger Michell, it had promise of a fantastic mysterious period drama.

And this mystery is the strong undertone felt through My Cousin Rachel as it opens with Philip (Sam Claflin) openly questioning “Did she? Didn’t she?” and quickly recounts a young Philips life. He takes residence at his cousin Ambrose’s estate after being left an orphan at a young age. In this opening segment there is a lack of a female presence, so much that Philip retorts ‘women weren’t allowed in the house, only the dogs’.

And Roger Michell really begins to divulge the screen by having the sprawling English countryside to the dark and dingy estate, really emphasising the boisterous attitude of Ambrose and Philip. This opening segment also gives the opportunity to pry into the character of Philip as he’d rather spend time on the grand estate of Ambrose’s than learn at school.

But also the hatred that slowly consumes Philip as he learns of Ambrose’s relationship to Rachel via the means of letter as Ambrose spends the winters in Italy in an attempt to get better. This opening 20 or so minutes slowly becomes brilliant as Rachel isn’t introduced other than the throwaways comments from people regarding her appearance, weight and height.

That is until Rachel arrives in England. This is where the film sets itself apart in two areas. The first part being Philips consuming hatred and loathsome attitude towards Rachel, and then the second being the infatuation and spell-like bliss Philip finds himself in.

But as I mentioned, this mysterious undertone carries itself quietly throughout the film and leaves you guessing throughout. Quite constantly. And it all centres around this ‘did she? Didn’t she?’ as she recounts her love for Ambrose, whilst the letters from Ambrose suggest otherwise. Rachel Weisz plays Rachel perfectly and this consistent mysterious air that surrounds My Cousin Rachel has stayed with me. And the question remains, did she kill Ambrose?

This is only but helped by the believable infatuation of Sam Claflin’s Philip. His puppy-dog gaze as he dismisses his earlier thoughts without a moments notice is brilliant. Unfortunately, the narrative does trot toward an unsurprising ending considering the events that unfold, but the brilliance of the characters by Weisz and Claflin do help it over that final hump.

Iain Glen and Holliday Granger do help the picture progress, especially as Nick Kendall (Iain Glen) becomes surprised and mentioned that Philip has become infatuated by Rachel. Their role in My Cousin Rachel becomes intriguing as they serve as confidants, but also a neutral party between Philip and Rachel, but they help narrative move through it’s 100+ minute runtime.

Although the music helped the mysterious manner of My Cousin Rachel, it did at times take me out of the film with the same laborious tune over and over. Aside from that and the aforementioned foreseeable ending the film didn’t have much to not enjoy. Roger Michell really does indulge himself with this picture and creates some gorgeous shots, including the short of Rachel and Philip walking out into the snow. The costume design really worked well as Rachel is constantly in black, almost as though she is in mourning, which helps with the intrigue of the did she, didn’t she element throughout the film.

I did enjoy My Cousin Rachel, but didn’t love it. It did work to a large degree with the intriguing mysterious narrative throughout, but the clear stars would be Weisz and Claflin in the leads, as they simply stole the show. This is only helped by the Roger Michell’s devotion to the costume period drama that My Cousin Rachel becomes and the crawling shots of the English countryside.