Friday, September 15

mother! Review

Dir: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfieffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Stephen McHattie, and Kristen Wiig

In the middle of an undisclosed forest, a house exists. It’s an odd looking mansion of sorts that, once entered, is filled with pathways leading throughout the labyrinthine structure. A woman and a man live in this house; the woman is tasked with shaping and molding the house into a home, while the man searches for inspiration for his new book wherever and with whomever he can. You can feel that this story is building towards something uneasy, something difficult; a place that will challenge the characters’ understanding as they try so desperately to control their crumbling, destructive situation.

Director Darren Aronofsky, the auteur behind films like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan”, composes a story that functions as a metaphor, a parable, and a satire. It’s an allegory that is a bold artistic expression with equally frustrating and fascinating strokes. Mr. Aronofsky’s film is also deeply personal, for the director and the viewer, echoing sentiments from places religious, political, and ecological.

Without ever stating specific names, the film opens with the awakening of a woman identified as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) looking for a man identified as Him (Javier Bardem) throughout a sprawling house in the middle of rejuvenation. The couple seems distracted and lonely, lost in the seclusion they have manufactured for themselves. Interruption invades their seemingly idyllic existence in the form of two guests (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer), from this point the paradise that they have created becomes torn apart. 

From the beginning moments of “mother!” you can feel the influences taking hold and pushing your attention in different ways. Mr. Aronofsky doesn’t aim for subtle movements, the narrative design may operate on a few different planes of explanation but the connections to the ideologies the director is trying to express are felt throughout. What you may connect with may not be the same as someone else who watches this film but that’s not the point. This is a film that aims to conjure an emotion, in some moments you may feel aggravated or confused while in other places you may feel surprisingly optimistic. To a point, these feelings may depend largely on your outlook within the world or your relationship with the themes examined. Saying this film is about religious fascination, political and social divisions, or environmental destruction may be too easy an explanation.

The director connects again with his longtime visual collaborator, director of photography Matthew Libatique, who composes the film within swathes of light that illuminate natural shadows composed by the house. The camera follows Mother while she moves throughout the house, we see her frustration and visualize her changing emotions, you can feel her seclusion and isolation through the tight framing of the camera. The photography also takes a cue from Stanley Kubrick, playing with space and time within the house similarly to how it was composed in “The Shining".

Jennifer Lawrence is provided the difficult task of playing Mother, a multifaceted character that plays passive throughout the melodramatic first half of the movie and dynamic in the frenzied latter portion. Because her character is written to embody far greater meaning than the simple aspect of a woman living in a problematical relationship, the changeover in the finale for the character is equally as complicated. The portrayal is brimming with passion and extravagance while in other ways it is missing an emotional component that makes the character feel empty and somewhat inhuman. It's all by design and Jennifer Lawrence does her best to convey everything that's being introduced.

Film, like any other form of art, is subjective. Your ultimate interpretation is part of the process of connecting with an artistic expression, regardless of whether it’s negative or positive. “mother!” will be divisive but it will also be thought provoking. Some may see the demonstrations of violence and the more sensational aspects of the script too intense while others, myself included, will find the comic audacity in the embellishment of the ideas the director is trying to transmit. “mother!” in many instances is what filmmaking should be, a vessel for the expression of ideas.

Monte’s Rating

4.50 out of 5.00

Friday, September 8

It Review (2017)

Dir: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, and Bill Skarsgård

“Everything down here floats…” If you were a fan of Stephen King and watched television in the fall of 1990, there’s a good chance that you didn’t look at clowns the same way ever again. Mr. King’s novel, “It”, was made into a two-part television miniseries starring Tim Curry as the menacing, dancing clown named Pennywise who tormented a group of young people in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. The film is still regarded by many people as one of the most traumatic film experiences, turning jovial clowns into the stuff of nightmares.

After losing writer/director Cary Fukunaga ("True Detective"), the retelling of Stephen King’s story looked bleak. However director Andy Muschietti, who last helmed the horror film “Mama”, stepped in and composed a film that is much more successful than early insights might have suggested. “It” taps into 1980’s nostalgia and mixes it with highlights of Mr. King’s expansive story, utilizing a group of young characters that add substance to the horror that is coming for them.

Derry is a small town with a high historical death count and a current rash of missing children. Some think the town is cursed but for a group of friends the mysterious circumstances in their town has taken a sinister shape, a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) who feeds on the fear of his victims. For Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) the terror has taken a personal turn, his brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is an unfortunate victim. Bill, along with his friends, are tormented by Pennywise, forcing them to either face their fear or succumb to it.

Stephen King’s stories have a unique way of creating a sense of dread for everyone involved; even the stories that are structured within the lives of adolescent people, the characters aren’t exempt from being forced to deal with mature situations. It’s no different here, the children deal with a multitude of concerns; from a homicidal bully at school to despicable adults at home, the world outside of their group of friends is a terrible place. And there are more disturbing situations in the book that aren’t detailed in the film.

Director Andy Muschietti taps into some of those feelings, the emotional rollercoaster of pubescent maturation and the influence of a community that doesn’t seem concerned with the walking nightmares their children express seeing. So it’s surprising that this film has such a strong undercurrent of humor that breaks up the chilling moments from scene to scene. While this disrupts the overall tone in some places during the film, it also helps in creating an interesting wave of emotions between creepy horror sights and what would be an exceptional coming-of-age drama without the genre elements.

It’s the genre elements that cause the most frustration within this film. Unnecessary digital elements in which Pennywise, an already scary monster in makeup alone, is given elongated features or overly shaky motions undercut the rather impressive performance from Bill Skarsgård. When the actor is given an opportunity to provide the character some personality the result is completely chilling. In one scene involving a spooky, decrepit house Pennywise is given the stage to taunt and torment in exceptional fashion.

Within the Loser’s Club, that’s what these teenagers call their band of outsiders, is a young person that you can identify with. The foul-mouthed jokester Richie (Finn Wolfhard) has a smart quip for every situation, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has asthma and allergies, and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) is the lone lady with enough confidence to match all the boys in the group. Leading the charge is Bill, a kid with a stutter that also feels like the friend we all hoped to have in school. These characters are nothing without the talented performers behind them; their character’s personalities seem so genuine and heartfelt throughout the film. Ms. Lillis is a particular standout amongst the group, her character is strong-willed and provides the courage that promotes the boys to act.

At over two-hours in length, “It” never seems to lose much steam. This is partly because the character story is so well composed, which keeps the attention off the horror film that never fully commits to creating something that is very scary or unnerving. Still, “It” is much better than I was expecting and, not surprising for those that have seen the original television film or read the book, we will have an opportunity to float again.

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Sunday, September 3

Streamathon - Dystopian Futures (September 2017)


September 2017 – Dystopian Futures

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Mubi, FilmStruck, and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By. Emery Martin-Snyder

DYSTOPIAN FUTURES – This is probably my favorite sub-genre of science fiction. On the surface, these stories are often flourished with futuristic technologies and gadgets. But underneath, these are really just cautionary tales meant to inspire the public to question the powers that be. Many of these films could be considered “Orwellian”, a reference to George Orwell’s masterpiece novel 1984. Plenty of other authors have taken on this theme as well; Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells and William Gibson have all contributed seminal literature. My favorite of the lot is actually a novel published about 17 years prior to Orwell’s book. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World gave us a view of a future in which the public is not overtly oppressed by a heavy handed government, but rather complicit in its own subjugation. He envisioned a future far too preoccupied with sex and pop culture to concern itself with civil liberties, government atrocities, corruption or collusions. I think the present day has proven Huxley’s future to be far more prescient and prophetic than Orwell’s. The mechanisms of our domination are pleasure and distraction, rather than fear and pain.

“...most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.” -  Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

I’d buy that for a dollar!!! - H.G. Wells (I think)

And now that we’re only a month away from Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated sequel, BLADE RUNNER 2046, I figured it would be a good time to gear up and get in the mood with a bunch of films warning us with a harrowing glimpse of what may be.

PRO TIP: Add Fandor to your Amazon Prime membership. That way, its entire catalog is available through your Amazon Video app.


DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) 
Directed by Paul Bartel – Streaming on Fandor

1975 was apparently a great year for this type of cinematic theme. This film and ROLLERBALL have very similar premises. A large corporation runs the country and pacifies the masses with a popular annual sports event. This is a cross country race in which the drivers score points by killing pedestrians. The front runner is Mr. Frankenstein (David Carradine) and he’s treated like a national hero. The story takes place in the year 2000, around 20 years after what is described as a “world crash”. It doesn’t really go into any more detail but it absolutely doesn’t matter. This low budget grindhouse flick is as bizarre as it is delightful.

LA JETEE (1962) 
Directed by Chris Marker – Streaming on FilmStruck

For those unaware this is the film that Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film, 12 MONKEYS, is based on. This arthouse classic is stunning. It is composed entirely of black and white still photography that tells of a post holocaustic future. Humanity’s survival depends on a man with a sponge memory to travel to the future to gather technological information that could save the present. The photography is gorgeous and the accompanying narration is extremely creative and inventive. Also, it’s only about a half an hour long so what’s there to lose?

Directed by Fritz Lang – Streaming on Netflix

Even before Huxley’s masterpiece novel, this silent German Expressionism film tackled the subject of a dystopian future. This story takes place in a futuristic city in which the divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ could not be more stark. It’s a utopian wonderland for those with the means. The city’s gears however are turned and greased by the working class in an underground factory, out of sight. This film is also unique in that ultimately its message is one of hope. The prophet is searching for a mediator between the hands and the head, someone to bring unity, empathy and understanding.

Directed by Lam Nai-Choi – Streaming on Fandor

There are a lot of good reasons that the public should be concerned with the privatization of the industrial prison complex. It incentivizes local law enforcement and prosecutors to fill them with non-violent criminals. It incentivizes lobbyist groups to pressure legislators for tougher laws to keep their criminal faucet running. And lastly, as this film explains, it gives crime bosses super powers… I guess. And no one wants that. This is a ridiculously violent flick. I can’t really say that the practical effects are great, but they are excessively bloody. And isn’t that what’s really important?

ROBOCOP (1987)  
Directed by Paul Verhoeven – Streaming on Hulu

This film takes place in the crime riddled future of Detroit. In order to combat street crime, the city begins privatizing the police force. It’s like Reaganomics on steroids. The evil Omni Consumer Products essentially “Pickle Ricks” the body of fallen officer, Alex Murphy, making him into a titanium/Teflon super robot cop. This is a satire meant to send up the excess consumerism of the 80’s. It should be watched in the same tone as John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE (88). And I actually think it’s a lot more fun than that film.

Directed by Norman Jewison – Streaming on FilmStruck

Although it’s not explicit in the film, I’m sure this world’s backstory began when some real estate billionaire reality show star became president after his failing ventures into the XFL and WWE. The world is controlled by what I would call a corporate oligarchy. The masses are subdued by live sporting events called rollerball. It’s basically like quidditch but they ride motorcycles instead of broomsticks. This makes for a much better spectator sport. The opulence of the set design on display here is what you would expect to see from the 70’s vision of a dystopian future, glass and crystal are everywhere. It reminds me of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE. It’s very tacky.

SIDE NOTE: Considering the political and economic climate of the mid-70s, it’s understandable that we would find films like DEATH RACE 2000 and ROLLERBALL. This year also saw the release of a different post-apocalyptic dystopian future film that I almost included in this list. Unfortunately, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend L.Q. Jones’ A BOY AND HIS DOG. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now but it’s just far too disturbing for me. Judging by the rest of the films that I do recommend, this should tell you a lot.

Directed by James McTeigue – Streaming on Netflix

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think this is all that great of a movie. I find it a bit over stylized and most of the action scenes don’t really work kinetically. Some of the dialogue is just downright poorly written as well. But in the right mood, it works. Part of the reason that it works is that it’s just as much about the revolution as it is about the problem. And there isn’t anything with Natalie Portman in it that I won’t watch. In spite of all of its flaws, I still find the tone of this film to be inspiring and hopeful.