Movie Review

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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Flatliners (2017)

Hands up if you didn’t realise this was a remake of a 1990s Kevin Bacon film

So, my hand is up. Especially when I made the connection halfway home after viewing the 2017 reimagining. Flatliners posed a really interesting question at the beginning of it’s film as it questions what happens to us after we die.

Whilst the premise kind of intrigued me, with the trailer placing five medical students all are trying to prove something new in medical science. And Ellen Page’s Courtney takes centre stage for this discovery. What lay beneath was peculiar though, instead of being profound and using the existence of the afterlife as a platform, it rather focuses on the sins of the flatliners.

Flatliners does open in almost a subliminal message to not check your phone whilst driving as Courtney with her sister is involved in a crash because Courtney was checking her phone. As the result of this crash, Courtney carries guilt about causing the death of younger sister.

She invites Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Jamie (James Norton) to help her with a project. The project? To intentionally cause a near-death experience, and record the brain activity. Much of this film would rely on the performances of the cast and their believability of this ‘experience’. Unfortunately, when Ellen Page flatlines, it shows no more life than she did when on-screen.

And this continues with the rest of the cast, as it does touch on the motivations of the rest of the cast but I felt Niels Arden Oplev’s choice was to get the bulk of the story rather than nurturing these characters to grow. As a result, Flatliners actually bored me fairly early on. Also, it seemed apparent that Sophia and Jamie fit a mould that is all too common, as Sophia bends to her mothers beck and call whereas Jamie is the preppy guy that is coasting his way through the internship.

After Courtney’s flatline experience, she seems nonchalant about it all, until rounds the following day with her medical student colleagues and answers the questions without hesitation. This sets up the rest of Flatliners after they all connect Courtney’s newfound knowledge to her near death experience.

So what do the others decide to do? Stop their hearts as well and tap into a newfound consciousness, of course. Aside from Ray (Diego Luna) who remains severely against what is now being called ‘flatlining’. After everyone goes through their experience the film then enters strange territory as it becomes a paranormal, psychological thriller of sorts.

But for that to work, it has to be convincing. And I don’t think Flatliners manages to get convincing in any regards. The cast do not make the hauntings convincing either, probably down to their quite unlikable characters, but also the borderline idiotic venture they put their bodies through. Diego was the only shining light throughout the film as he constantly opposed this ridiculous study from the start.

As I mentioned Oplev seemed dedicated to the cause of the paranormal and psychological elements held within Flatliners. However, because I had already lost interest at this point due to the lack of substance behind the characters, I couldn’t get on board with how the film played out into it’s climax. It chose to adopt a few jump scares which were very foreseeable and thus became even more boring.

I have no idea if the 1990s was similar, or completely different, but with this reimagining I have no intention to view the original. The film does feel fairly apt for it’s runtime and doesn’t drag it’s feet so much, but I just couldn’t get invested in a largely unlikeable characters and idiotic nature of the story. Flatliners certainly flatlined for me.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Back in 2014, Matthew Vaughn and Taron Egerton effectively blew up the action comedy genre with Kingsman: The Secret Service with it’s effective chalk and cheese stylistic approach to the Spy genre. It successfully managed to leave a lasting impression, as Taron Egerton in his first role coupled with Colin Firth (rather brilliantly) made the Spy genre funny without being too cheesy.

It was only a matter of time before the sequel occurred due to the relative success of director Matthew Vaughn’s feature. And it had the early looks of trying to bigger and better than it’s predecessor. With the likes of Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum and Halle Berry joining the cast, the film looked like it was going to go whole hog with the action spy-genre.

However, Kingsman: The Golden Circle does enlist the same sort of formula held that made the film enjoyable, as a benevolent antagonist holds the world at ransom. This time it is in the form of Poppy (Julianne Moore) a woman living in isolation and running the most successful drug cartel in the world. She brings the Kingsman to their knees by managing to bomb every agents in spectacular fashion with the help of Charlie (Edward Holcroft) a failed Kingsman recruit.

This whirlwind opening sets up the film within around half hour, but considering the film is a lengthy 140 minutes, it does begin to falter it’s way through the next hour or so, as it builds to the eventual guns a-blazing climax. But that’s where the action and comedy come into the play to keep the film ticking over as it continues it’s building.

I found Kingsman: The Golden Circle troubling in parts though, mostly due to the throwaway nature that Matthew Vaughn used throughout the film towards it’s narrative. The lewd behaviour that the first instalment finished on does continue into this film, which really wasn’t necessary, but also the bit part references to The Secret Service instalment.

Vaughn managed to keep my attention for the large part of the 140 minutes, with the stylistic approach to the action sequences and incredibly imaginative scenes, including Harry getting his memory back. (however, we’re not going to talk about the whole Harry coming back thing – ridiculous) And of course, the film is layered with the fly tailored suits and the music that screams James Bond in places, but also the American ties for the Statesman scenes.

But, on the other hand, the film does have a terrible moral code that seeps into the film, which really loses my attention. With the echo of potential spoilers, I won’t discuss the narrative’s moral code too much, but believe me it’s horrendous. The narrative does take Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy to America to meet with their sister organisation the Statesman, headed by agents named after alcohol, including Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila, (Channing Tatum) after enabling the Kingsman doomsday protocol.

The only reasoning behind their inclusion I can think of is the continuation of the chalk-and-cheese characterisations that occurred in the first instalment. Also the continuation of the stereotyped version of Americans from the South, that is incredibly overplayed. Vaughn seems to enjoy the continuation element of the Kingsman, echoing scenes throughout the film that are almost lifts from The Secret Service.

Many of the action sequences seem to echo the moves Eggsy used during his training and the toppling of Valentine’s plan. But probably the most iconic Manners Maketh Man, with Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey taking the role of Harry this time and armed with a whip, instead of a brolly.

This necessarily isn’t a bad thing, but not a good thing either. As it reminds one of the enjoyment taken from the first one as Kingsman: The Golden Circle begins to plod through the misshapen narrative and racing toward the climax that is relatively short-lived and quite frankly felt a bit rushed.

But that being said, I still laughed during the film, with Taron’s Scottish impression of Merlin’s “that was fucking spectacular” remaining hilarious even now. But it wasn’t just the comedy used throughout, as the film still showed that it had a beating heart rather than falling victim to the machine as it has emotions between the characters really shining through crowned by the relationship instilled by Eggsy and Princess Tilde.

With a bit of shaping up, Kingsman: The Golden Circle could’ve been great. Between the morally misshapen narrative and some decent editing the film could’ve proudly bore the heart it instils on it’s sleeve and seemed a much crispy film. But unfortunately the edit that was shown, just did not cut it for me.

American Assassin (2017)

How many times has a film had it’s protagonist suffer a life-altering event, for them to use that in their vengeance or as motivation. It’s seems to be a trademark for films involving spies, as the harrowed past is zeroed in on during their training montage.

And American Assassin does fall victim to this trope that has almost become a staple of these films. However due to the film being adapted from the original novels by Vince Flynn, I have no idea how faithful the film is to the books.

But American Assassin does feel incredibly poignant for the day and age we’re living in within the opening moments as Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is caught in an ambush by terrorists as they murder holiday goers. Amidst the chaos and merciless killings, Mitch’s fiancé is murdered with Mitch unable to save her.

Film, meet the harrowed past.

Rapp (as he goes by Rapp now) uses this as his motivation and begins training in vision to take down the terrorists that are responsible for the countless deaths. The film garnered an 18 rating by the BBFC, which I thought was odd considering IT was given a 15 rating. But the opening 10 minutes, it becomes clear with the merciless killing and the strong themes of terrorism and vengeance throughout.

My main issue with the film stemmed from the opening ten minutes, as although there is a lot to take in, I couldn’t find a connection with the character of Mitch. Part of this, I believe, comes down to the believability of what is actually on-screen. But also because of the montage, as he manages to successfully infiltrate a terrorist cell, but this is whilst taking up MMA and going rogue at firing ranges.

American Assassin does continue this trend as Michael Keaton’s Stan Hurley just rolls through the runtime and his character just isn’t believable at all. Rapp is enrolled in a black ops-training programme, headed by the aforementioned Stan Hurley, who is supposed to be a hard-nosed individual.

The narrative is a bit strange, because it’s built around the antagonist, but is largely washed over for the rushing into the grand finale of action. Strangely, it had depth, but it didn’t feel acted upon with the whole Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) character. Whereas the action scenes are intriguing, they are cut between far too quickly and sometimes feel like a mess as it ends up with Rapp and his assailant end up rolling around on the floor.

There are enjoyable sections to American Assassin but on a large scale it doesn’t work for me. I think the majority of this comes down to the acting that is on show. In glimpses, it’s okay, but for a large part there is no believability. I did mention that the opening is incredibly poignant for the time we’re currently living in, but it suddenly the vengeance is transferred from one character to another and never really delved into to what could’ve been an interesting story.

For the 110 minutes or so, the film’s narrative just bobs along. American Assassin is okay, but for sure there is nothing to be blown away by in the film. I did leave the film feeling like I haven’t enjoyed it, because it just decides to keep the framework for usual spy crime capers.

Passenger 57 (1992)

“Always bet on black”

I think Wesley Snipes is one of my heroes on film appearing in some of the greatest action flicks of the nineties. My favourite appearance of Snipes is probably in Demolition Man as the blonde-haired Simon Phoenix.

Hankering a craving for Wesley Snipes, I decided to check out one of his earlier ventures in Passenger 57, which is home to that memorable “always bet on black” quip. Where Ice Cube has perfected saying anything and can make it menacing, Wesley Snipes has perfected that demeanour about him that just smells of action hero.

Wesley Snipes is John Cutter, the all round bad-ass head of security for Atlantic International Airlines, but has a haunted past. He relives the night of his wife’s death during a convenience store robbery and in the true 90s action flick style, the flashback is coupled with a training montage as he punches a bag at a late hour.

He boards a flight to Los Angeles, after accepting a job offer from his friends, only to find the notorious Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) on-board after he is caught and sent to LA to stand trail. And this is where the fun happens, as he hijacks the plane with the help of his cronies and a youthful Liz Hurley.

And what’s the American badass to do but save the day?

But it isn’t without a few hiccups, as Rane is calculated every step of the way and unrelenting as he mows down passengers without remorse. In true nineties fashion, the antagonist is there to just be an antagonist and only given very loose motives. Rane just seems hell bent on causing havoc and being a general nuisance. In general though it works, because for the runtime of eighty minutes the depth of usual antagonists isn’t needed, as John Cutter is the regular action hero.

The action sequences are of course completely over the top, but also excellent as Cutter jumps over seats Kung Fu kicking his way down the airliner. And what is a nineties classic without an over the top explosion, especially as the stairlift explodes in Michael Bay-esque fashion.

And why is there always a set of golf clubs in the storage units of planes? But of course it’s brilliant whilst John Cutter wields a club to beat the crap out of a bad guy. Of course, John Cutter isn’t a shade on Simon Phoenix, but the Passenger 57 is still incredibly enjoyable.

If you need a film to pass the time and want to see Wesley Snipes kung-fu kicking his way through bad guys then Passenger 57 is your film. It’s of perfect length and it’s nothing like modern-day action films with their intricate narratives, but Passenger 57 doesn’t bother with an intricacies, but rather just action for the sake of action. Just don’t take the film too seriously.

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.

It (2017)

I do not want to float too, thank you very much.

After 27 years, Stephen King’s IT has made a return to the big screen. I genuinely cannot remember the last time that I was terrified by a film, and the early trailers had an allure to it, so much so that I wanted to actually be terrified by it.

And I come into IT with a relatively fresh approach, as I have no attachment to the original, nor do I have an attachment to the book, so I was kind of excited to see how menacing Pennywise the clown is. What I anticipated was a creepy, thrilling ride of a film, but not something that physically got under my skin.

So much so, there was a point where I shuddered around halfway through the film, without anything menacing happening on screen.

Terrifying.

During a rainy afternoon in 1988, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) begins his reign of terror on the children of Derry by appearing in a drain and talking to Georgie, (Jackson Robert Scott) offering him a balloon. And it’s the immediate creepiness of Pennywise that comes from the screen, as he drools whilst talking to Georgie, claiming he’ll float too. But the creepiest aspect is the glowing yellow eyes as they slowly jut out in different directions as it leaves a lasting imprint. (which is still sending shivers down my spine) 

What I did not anticipate, was the immediate turn that It took with this scene. And that was the opening ten minutes. Fast-forward to the end of the school year in 1989, where Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his friends are bullied by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) about his stutter, but also his missing brother.

What IT does, is cleverly sets up the outcasts instantly in the film, through their own stories. Although Bill is the focal point of The Losers Club, each friend has ample time for his or her own backstory as they find themselves on the cusp of adulthood.

Through their own time on screen, they each encounter It and it’s mysterious yellow eyes. And in each encounter, with Ben, Stan and Mike, the effects on show are just incredible but equally terrifying. And this is where the narrative picks up the pace, as with each encounter, more is revealed about the friends, but also Pennywise himself.

I am normally okay with jump scares and usually can spot the cues, but It was a whole different kettle of fish. The cues were perfectly timed and nothing what I had anticipated. Usually I am okay with clowns, but after the showing, I’m not entirely sure I will be.

But what Andy Muschietti managed to capture was an authentic feel for childhood at this age, especially as the boys cycle round Derry helping Bill investigate the disappearance of his brother. And through Henry Bowers constant terrorising of anyone smaller than him, the friends welcome Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Bev Marsh (Sophia Lillis) into their group.

I was completely gripped with this film throughout the entirety. The narrative flow of It was superb and hit every mark, and lingered where it needed to for the perfect amount of time. Whether it is a faithful adaptation of the Stephen King novel, I wouldn’t know, but I want to actively see the original and read the book due to the enjoyment from Muschietti’s reimagining of this legendary character.

The construct of Pennywise as a character was insanely brilliant, and I was 100% creeped out by the dancing clown. Obviously this comes down to the shift and a half put in by Bill Skarsgard. But the terrifying clown is only amplified by the believable performances from ‘The Losers Club’. As I mentioned the effects on show are incredible, but the ability to manifest the fears of the friends and make them become entities was enticing throughout the film. But it all comes back to the creepiness of Pennywise. The simple effect of having a red balloon float through the library was enough to send shudders down my spine.

It really had the ability to get under my skin and it was glorious. As I mentioned, I cannot remember the last time I was terrified by a film, but I do now. I’m not usually a fan of horrors, but if they were more like this, I imagine I would be. Having been completed mesmerised by the performances and the film as a whole, I can wholeheartedly say, I am excited for Chapter 2.