Jennifer Lawrence

mother!

 

17/08/17

Darren Aronofsky is always an interesting filmmaker, but he can be inconsistent. Requiem For a Dream is, in my opinion, a morose and devastating masterpiece, while The Fountain is clumsy and ineffectual. Black Swan definitely goes onto the ‘good Darren’ pile, while Noah is… er… probably best slipped under the carpet. mother! has polarised audiences like no other film in recent history. I find myself fascinated by the plethora of reports on social media from disgruntled punters claiming that it is the worst film they have ever suffered through – people so incensed they seem to be on the verge of stringing up the cinema staff for daring to show such guff.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in an octagonal house in the middle of nowhere, with ‘Him’ (Javier Bardem), a celebrated poet, currently suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block. We learn fairly quickly, that the house has, at some unspecified point in time, suffered a devastating fire and Mother is single-handedly attempting to return it to its former glory. While she mucks in with the paintbrushes and wood filler, her poet husband sits around and broods. But then the doorbell rings and we are introduced to ‘Man’ (Ed Harris), a creepy fellow with a consumptive cough, who claims to be a doctor. Mother is instantly suspicious of him, but the poet welcomes him in with open arms and invites him to stay. It isn’t long before Man’s surly wife (Michelle Pheiffer) turns up and starts to treat the house like her personal property, smoking cigarettes indoors and snogging her hubby at every opportunity. But the strange visitations don’t end there. Soon, the house looks like the worst Airbnb invasion in history, with people arriving in droves… and then Mother discovers she is pregnant…

Aronofsky’s camera seems to be caught up in a major infatuation with Lawrence. When it’s not looking her straight in the eye, it’s peering voyeuristically over her shoulder, and following her from room to room, as though it can’t bear to be parted from her. I love the fact that the film takes off at a sprint and barely pauses for breath, as event piles upon event and the whole thing careers headlong into madness.

Look, I appreciate that this won’t be for everyone – but neither do I buy the story that it’s some kind of an insult to the intelligence. In look and tone, the film it most resembles is Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby – it inhabits a similar world of paranoid speculation, Mother constantly aware of things going on behind her back, against her wishes, but unable to assert her authority. It’s an allegory, for sure, but one that drags in so many potential allusions that you can literally discuss it for hours. There’s the spectre of fame and what that can do to relationships: the way that some men feed off their partners in order to fuel their creativity. There are biblical references, observations about immigration and the way people selfishly protect their own space. And of course, there’s the subject of birth and what that does to a woman, how much it demands of her and what determination it takes to see it through to fruition.

Maybe what ultimately turns so many viewers off is the fact that all these references are there and all of them are relevant. Perhaps most people prefer to have things cut and dried – to identify exactly what the filmmaker is saying in a movie and then walk away feeling pleased with themselves. But there’s a lot to be said for allowing people to arrive at their own interpretation of what the film is actually about. Everybody will have a different view, and it’s no bad thing. In my opinion, when sorting out Aronofsky’s films, I genuinely feel this one belongs on the ‘good Darren’ pile – and that the term ‘Marmite Movie’ was probably never more apt than it is here.

One thing’s for sure. Watching this, there’s one thing you definitely won’t be. Bored.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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Passengers

 

30/12/16

It has, for a very long time now, been my custom to go to the cinema on my birthday – and this year, Passengers was pretty much the only film on offer that we hadn’t already seen. We picked an afternoon showing at the small but perfectly formed Cameo 2 and we settled down to watch with open minds. I have to say that I enjoyed this film; it’s a slick futuristic creation that is centred around an interesting question. What are people prepared to do in order not to be alone?

Engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes from suspended animation aboard the Starship Avalon, en route to the ‘Homestead Colony’, where he intends to forge a new life, but an unexplained malfunction in his sleep pod had led to him waking a little bit earlier than planned. Ninety years too early, in fact. And the problem is that none of his five thousand or so fellow-travellers have woken up with him. He is faced with the awful prospect of spending his entire life alone. To give him his due, he manages for about a year before finding himself on the verge of suicide – but then he notices another passenger asleep in a pod, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). He reads her files, which include some of the articles she has written and he starts to think about waking her up.

Right there lies the film’s moral conundrum – to wake her  would be, essentially, an act of murder – but he is going slowly insane with loneliness. Obviously, it’s hardly a plot spoiler to say that he does wake her and that, after a tricky start, the two of them hit if off – but as sure as eggs is eggs, it’s only a matter of time before Aurora discovers the truth about her awakening – and she is not going to be happy about it.

Morten Tyldum’s sleek imagining of the future is beautifully done and, given the absence of many actual characters in this story – the central duo are augmented only by android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen) and one of the ship’s crew, Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne) – it’s amazing that the film never drags. The Starship Avalon itself is a remarkable creation, a towering edifice of lights and movement and the special effects are generally well-handled, but this is essentially an intimate story about a relationship. Lawrence and Pratt make an appealing double act and Passengers is well worth checking out – but the galaxy may not move for you.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Joy

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29/12/15

David O Russell seems to have the knack of creating great films from fairly unpromising material – Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle are two movies that rose far above their IMDB outlines. On paper, the true life story of Joy Mangano, the woman who invented the ‘Miracle Mop’, might suggest that the average viewer should take along a pillow in order to sleep comfortably through the whole experience. But Joy is actually a riveting slice of cinema, made especially enjoyable by a luminous central performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

When we first meet Joy she’s a child, obsessed with building imaginary worlds out of scraps of paper; but very soon, she’s grown up, stuck in a dead end job, and divorced from her husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) who still lives in the basement and shares parental responsibility for their young children. Joy’s soap-opera-obsessed Mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen) refuses to leave her room, while her wayward husband Rudy (Robert De Niro) has just insisted on moving back into the family home after breaking up with his latest partner. All-in-all, this has to be one of the most dysfunctional families in America and Joy is the one tasked with making everything run as smoothly as possible.

In the midst of the chaos, she gets an idea for a self-wringing mop and persuades the rest of the family, plus Rudy’s hard headed but minted new girlfriend, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini) to back her invention with hard cash. But the path to bringing it to reality is not an easy one and there are shady business people out there queuing up to steal her idea. Joy soon discovers that if she’s going to take her dream to fruition, she’s going to have to be as tough as the sharks she’s sharing the water with…

Russell’s take on the story is quirky, assured and never loses its sense of pace. There are great supporting performances from the ensemble cast (how lovely to see De Niro finally getting a decent role after a string of one-note cameos) and Bradley Cooper also shines as QVC pioneer, Neil Walker. But make no mistake, this is Lawrence’s movie and she makes the most of it. The camera loves her in this and you will too.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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21/11/15

Another day, another dystopia.

So, one of the biggest movie franchises of recent years grinds inexorably to its conclusion and the overriding question is this: is there another blockbusting series in the cinematic universe that is so monumentally dull? Seriously, I know this series isn’t really aimed at somebody like me, but my goodness, it moves so slowly and when you find yourself sitting there thinking about what you might have for breakfast tomorrow, that’s surely not a good sign.

At the film’s start, Katniss Everdean (Jennifer Lawrence) is nursing a bruised throat, delivered courtesy of her old squeeze Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) now a brainwashed wreck thanks to the fiendish ministrations of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Enlisted to lead a mission into the heart of the capital, Katniss enlists alongside her other squeeze, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). And guess what? Peeta goes along too, despite the fact that he keeps trying to kill members of his own squad. Go figure.

What follows is a long series of misadventures as the team are systematically despatched by bombs, bullets and er… oil. In between, we are treated to Katniss trying to choose between her two suitors. Will it be hunky Gale or unreliable Peeta (and if you have to think about that, for very long, then you haven’t really absorbed the message thus far)?

To be fair, there’s a decent sewer-set action sequence towards the final third (though the attacking creatures look like they’ve been drafted in from a far better film, Neil Marshall’s The Descent) and then there’s some more explosions before we’re treated to a ‘surprise’ twist which only the visually impaired won’t have seen coming. And of course, this being the final episode, there’s a syrupy coda, which seems intent on undermining the kickass female role that Lawrence has worked so hard to develop.

Of course, one cannot deny the financial success of this series – people are suggesting that together with the Bond and Star Wars franchise, it will single-handedly restore the fortunes of the cinema industry. But the supposed wisdom of the ‘political messages’ incorporated here are little more than fridge magnet sentiments – and it’s particularly galling to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final screen moments wasted on this bombastic sludge.

At least the series is finished – that is, until author Suzanne Collins decides to rewrite the first book from the point of view of President Snow. Don’t laugh, it seems to be the prevailing trend.

1.5 stars

Philip Caveney