Tuesday, 26 September 2017

'mother!' Review

Darren Aronofsky is one of the few directors working who seems to be able to garner two opinions about his films. Usually, you either love them, hailing them as masterpieces, or despise them, claiming they are a waste of time. The director has received many plaudits from critics whilst also creating controversy with his films, with many believing that sometimes he goes too far making uncomfortable, disturbing films. His latest film 'mother!' will certainly be no different as Aronofsky more than makes use of the films 18 rating.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a loving couple whose relationship is put to the test after strangers come to their secluded home. This starts a series of events that raise the tension and drama with each and every step.

'mother!' may just be the most complex, unconventional film of the year and due to this, I have absolutely no idea where to begin talking about it. It is very hard to talk about this film without verging on spoilers so take this as your precautionary warning.

Darren Aronofsky has taken a very unusual approach to his latest controversial film 'mother!'. If you are looking for a film that has a usual structure, set up and story, then you will not be best pleased with this movie. This film is unlike any other this year as instead of following a new story that unfolds before your eyes, everything instead is symbolic and means something else. The entire story is made up of imagery and symbolism which in many ways is very effective. 'mother!' can be interpreted in many ways but my take on it seemed to be very obvious of Christianity and many stories from The Old Testament. Many scenes are incorporated from the stories from the Bible and do make for some compelling, tense and incredibly well-acted scenes.

However, the fact that the film doesn't look to really tell its own story can cause problems. I found myself becoming generally lost due to not having the full knowledge of the biblical stories. This didn't happen a lot in the film but it did take me out of what was happening and made it generally less effective overall. Films that make you think are truly great and we really need them, but I do feel that having the entire story based on symbolism doesn't work that well. Perhaps if it were based on a topic that I was much more familiar with then I wouldn't have a problem or notice anything wrong with it. A balance of the two is fine for me as it allows a clear story to be told amongst having much deeper messages within it. This seems to be the problem that people are having with the film and it is completely understandable. The film doesn't and can't stand on its own without the viewer having prior knowledge of the symbolism. The extreme reactions then come to this as the film really hasn't connected to the viewer and engaged them into the message it is trying to drive home.

Aronofsky has undoubtedly taken a huge risk and his bold choice to use this narrative is to be commended whether you loved the film or hated it. This is an incredibly bold risk that could've been a complete disaster but Aronofsky manages to make it work. An odd type of an artistic piece that only someone with as mad a creative mind like Aronofsky could have the nerve to attempt. It's not a perfect formula but it is a change to traditional styles and has to be admired for creating something original.

As far as performances go, you may not see a better performance all year than Jennifer Lawrence's in this film. The four-time Oscar nominee may very well be on her way to another nomination with what is a completely mesmerising performance. It's strange that in this stage of her career, Lawrence still has many skeptics but 'mother!' only solidifies why she is one of the best actresses working today. Lawrence's unnamed character goes through a lot which allows Lawrence to show a wide range of acting skills. Her facial expressions are on point and help all the way in helping you feel exactly the same way as the character. This is a key factor in the film for me as Aronofsky captures the turmoil that Lawrence's character is going through and completely feel and understand her emotions. The constant use of close-ups of Lawrence - whether on her face or following her around the house - really allows this to be possible as no look or action is wasted. The finale really allows Lawrence to shine as her last words are packed with emotion and genuine feeling, leaving an everlasting impact.

Javier Bardem plays off Lawrence incredibly well as her oblivious husband who is easily recognisable as being selfish and reckless. The contrast between himself and Lawrence's characters work very well with the symbolism as Bardem doesn't hold back in his role. He plays his character incredibly well acting oblivious to mistakes, yet powerful and devious when needed. Michelle Pfeiffer is a strong bet to be considered for an Oscar nom as well as she truly shines in her short supporting role. Pfeiffer is great to watch and steals every scene she is in with a mysterious, intimidating role that commands your attention. She delivers every line with a great deal of attitude towards Lawrence and perfectly shows her disgust at J-Law's character. The look Pfeiffer gives Lawrence whilst leaving the home is one of the best pieces of acting you'll see without a word being said.

On a technical note, there are many aspects to truly admire. The sound design, in particular, is a highlight as it gives the setting a true genuine feeling. When characters walk away or go into different rooms, it sounds as if there is a distance between the characters which makes you feel like you are right there in the moment. A friend of mine summed it up perfectly by saying it allowed the home to feel like it had an anatomy which fits perfectly with the symbolism within the film. Aronofsky has specialised recently in using a lot of close-up shots and he does well with them here to create a tight, claustrophobic feeling within the house. This helps with the character played by Lawrence who in many ways feels trapped. At times, the camera work can feel a bit bumpy making it a bit sore on the eyes at times. It's not detrimental to the film but the handheld camera work at times wasn't that successful.

'mother!' doesn't really have much in its build-up that makes it feel like it deserves its 18 rating but oh boy the last 15 minutes or so certainly earns it. The film goes completely off the rails and lets loose giving the viewer all it has to offer. There are some disturbing scenes that may be excessive for many which will leave the viewer completely appalled. With the film's narrative and the vulgarity at the end, it is no surprise that there is the reaction it is getting from many. Is some of it unnecessary? At times, yes. But there's no doubt that this ending is incredibly memorable and will impact in you in some way. For me, it worked incredibly well leaving a tragic ending to a truly challenging film.

'mother!' certainly is an incredibly unique film that you will either love or hate. If the symbolism clicks, you may have one of your favourite films of the year. If it doesn't, you may have one of the worst. Due to this huge contrast, 'mother!' is quite an important film that you should see immediately. I can't really think of a recent film that has caused such a great discussion within the community, critics and casual fans. Aronofsky certainly seems to be taking pride in this effect the film has caused and quite rightfully. He has made something truly memorable and new in a time that seems to lack originality. Give this film a try, what's the worst that can happen?

Final Verdict = 

So have you seen 'mother!'? If so, what did you think of the film? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on seeing the film or not. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

'Wind River' Review

Few people in Hollywood are on such a hot streak like Taylor Sheridan is right now. His first feature film as a screenwriter 'Sicario' gathered a whole lot of praise and put Sheridan on the map. His follow up did even better as 'Hell or High Water' gained Sheridan an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Sheridan seems to have a knack for compelling, cop dramas and 'Wind River' rounds this unofficial trilogy off magnificently well.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a wildlife officer who knows the Wind River Indian Reservation area better than anyone else. Lambert comes across the dead body of an 18-year-old woman out in the open snow under unusual circumstances. The autopsy reveals that the woman was raped before she died as FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives to handle the case. With a lack of help from her superiors, Banner teams up with Lambert in order to find out what happened to the young woman and bring those guilty to justice.

Sheridan has more than proved his quality in Hollywood by producing two of the best crime films in recent years. 'Wind River' provided the 47-year-old the opportunity to direct his second feature film but the first that he had also written the screenplay for. There's no denying that the screenplay yet again from Sheridan is incredibly strong as it provides great drama, emotion, and even humour perfectly yet again. He has a clear knack for creating a great dynamic using compelling and interesting characters. Sheridan is also an expert at making the setting of the film a character within itself. In 'Wind River', the harsh snowy conditions adds to the mystery of the film, bringing more tension and threats at every junction. The dialogue is yet again fantastic as there are many engaging, interesting and powerful conversations that really hit the films messages into you. Sheridan really doesn't miss anything out as he covers all bases you look for in character, story, and emotion proving yet again that he is one of the best writers working today. As a director, Sheridan isn't quite up to the same standard just yet.

The two scripts Sheridan has previously written have then been directed by different directors - Sicario with Denis Villeneuve and Hell or High Water with David MacKenzie. It's clear to see that Sheridan has learned many things from working with these directors especially on how to handle tension. The standoff scene only confirms this as Sheridan produces the tensest moment of the year. However, as a director, Sheridan does seem to rush some moments where he could really let it linger on to create even more impactful moments. In saying this, it is a very solid mainstream debut as he does create a fairly well paced, shocking film that succeeds very well in the end.

Jeremy Renner produces perhaps his best performance to date as Corey Lambert, a wildlife officer who takes care of the large snowy area. Renner's character is deeply troubled by his past and the murder mystery really hits him deep which gives him the motivation to find out the truth. Renner is quiet in his role but showcases the misery of his character as well as being well informed and wise. He is paired with Avengers co-star Elizabeth Olsen, an FBI agent located in Vegas who is simply thrown into the harsh conditions due to being the closest available agent. This creates a fish out of water dynamic for Olsen as she is completely unprepared and has very little support. Due to this, she requires the help of Lambert but it is her who is providing the support to Lambert instead. This gives each character clear motivations and reasons to slug it out in the wilderness in order to find out what has happened in this brutal circumstance. Gil Birmingham returns to work with Sheridan who provides a very solid performance which helps bring such a satisfying ending to the film.

'Wind River' is so impactful as it feels so incredibly real. The conditions have already been talked about and the cinematography really shows the grand scale of the location. The use of showing Renner constantly traveling via Snowmobile also adds that extra harshness of the wilderness and how this area is unlike many others in America where people are forced to live. The sound design plays a great role in conveying this feeling as you hear the elements which then makes you feel in that situation. There is a chilly feeling that comes with this film as the film capitalises on its setting and conditions for a much effect as possible. Details to the story such as the lack of help from the FBI without the autopsy defining the cause of death as murder add to this feeling especially due to where this film is set.

 The end of the film features statistics of how Native Americans have suffered from a lack of help as it really hits hard for the viewer. And this is also what the film is majorly about. It's not just a murder mystery film but a telling of events that still happen today. This is an area of America that really doesn't get much attention and those statistics only prove that. This makes the film not only a highly enjoyable and thrilling movie but a very important one as well.

Sheridan's writing makes this film one of the years best and a great end to a loose trilogy of American frontier films. He continues to prove himself as a great talent and his skills will only improve the more work he does, whether that's directing and/or writing. Packed with drama, tension, emotion, and one of the most satisfying endings of the year, 'Wind River' is one that you cannot miss.

Final Verdict = 

So have you seen 'Wind River'? If so, what did you think of the film? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on seeing the film or not which I recommend you do. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor

Sunday, 10 September 2017

'IT' (2017) Review

When it was announced that Stephen King's IT would be getting the reboot treatment, the reaction was not very positive. However, as more images and footage was released, the film soon became highly anticipated by many. After a lackluster end to the summer of 2017, 'IT' looked to provide the quality missing in the last month. Thankfully, 'IT' delivers making it one of the best horror remakes in recent years.

Every 27 years, an evil presence Pennywise haunts and torments the children of Derry. It's latest victims are the Losers Club, a group of misfit kids who are already targeted by the neighbourhood bullies. Over the summer IT will look to bring these kids fears to life and feast on the children themselves. 

Recreating a story using an iconic horror villain is never an easy task - ask 2010's 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' or Rob Zombie's 'Friday the 13th' - as no matter what, the film will be compared with its predecessor. This version of Stephen King's classic horror novel isn't a direct adaptation, changing from a mini series to a film format with some changes to make it different and stand on its own. The characters - in this case, Pennywise in particular - will be compared due to the great performances in the past series. Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise is instantly recognisable and brought great fear to audiences across the world. Bill Skarsgard would be challenged with improving on an already beloved character. With a new look and a bag full of new tricks, Skarsgard does just as good a job as Curry did back in 1990.

Anyone with a fear of clowns will not be able to sleep easy at night after seeing the latest incarnation of Pennywise. Skarsgard provides a creepier version of the shapeshifter that uses more psychological torture and wild antics to mess with his prey rather than using his own moniker entirely. The Swedish actor goes all out, fully committing to the character in every scene, a particular highlight being when he torments Eddie Hasbrek for the first time at the Well House. This new Pennywise is very different to many of the recent clown characters we have seen as it takes a fairly childish approach to some antics which is close to being fairly silly. However, it knows when to push it at the right time in order to get as much effect as possible.

With this adaptation happening 27 years after the original, the film is able to do a lot more and be creative using CGI. The practical effects are gone with a lot of CGI replacing to try and recreate the thrills and scares. At times, this was quite excessive making the effects look very fake which in hand made some moments a whole less scary. This is the one factor of the film that did disappoint. The use of CGI is very apparent in many scenes which take you out of the world that has been so masterfully created throughout the film. This problem seems to be very apparent in modern horror films - 'The Conjuring' Universe is a big criminal of this - and it is no different with 'IT'. 'IT' also falls victim to using an extremely loud noise to accompany a "scary" moment. This really doesn't help as it doesn't add anything to the scene, it might shock you at first because a loud noise went off but that is it. Some of the best scares were also in the trailer which has been playing non-stop which has caused these moments to lose some effect. Although the film creates a tense and creepy atmosphere, I never really felt scared by anything that was happening. Maybe the pre release buzz and my expectations for the film set the bar too high but I have to say, this aspect sort of disappointed me.

Despite the scares not working at every moment, there is plenty to enjoy and that is mainly down to the cast of kids playing The Losers Club. There is a 'Goonies' vibe to this group of unpopular kids who are a complete joy to watch. There is so much personality in this group which makes every scene enjoyable and never leaves a dull moment. As someone who really enjoys a good coming of age story, I found myself enjoying the friendship of this group just as much and even more so than the horror aspect most of the time. Finn Wolfhard is the stand out for me as Richie Tozier, the loud trash talker who steals every scene with his quick wit. He bounces off each character fantastically well showing that he is capable of providing great comedy. The whole gang are great and really carry this film themselves due to their being very little screen time for the adult characters. In saying this, some of the characters are left with little to do in the film, especially Mike and Stanley. Mike, in particular, is robbed of his main role as it is delegated to another character, leaving him with little to do for most of the film. This does make some of the characters feel much less important than the others.

There is plenty of depth given to each character in the Losers Group as well as their main bully Henry Bowers. We get to see each character's background and own personal story that really helps builds each person as an individual. This creates so many layers for the characters and allows the film to create many creepy and eery scenes for each specific character. The use of these characters is fantastic as no detail really feels unnecessary as the film capitalizes on almost everything it sets up. The script is incredibly strong as it succeeds in making you really care for and take an interest in all of the characters. The first part of the mini-series was the most enjoyable due to the group of children and that has transcended into the feature film and the script deserves huge praise for this.

It's a rarity to see such graphic violence to children, even in horror films but 'IT' certainly does not hold back in these moments. This helps the film go much darker at times and create an everlasting impact on the viewer. The biggest example is the classic scene where Pennywise attacks and drags Georgie into the sewers with him. In the original, all you see is the clown grab Georgie and then a close up of Pennywise's gaping mouth closing in on its prey. The film recreates this scene shot for shot until the encounter when it improves on it massively. I won't spoil it but the images are truly horrifying and gets the film off to a blistering start.

'IT' is a highly enjoyable film even for those who aren't the biggest horror fans. A great coming of age story with an everlasting creepy feeling is a great combination that provides great entertainment. I wish it was a lot scarier with much less CGI but 'IT' is definitely worth checking out nonetheless.

Final Verdict =

So have you seen 'IT'? If so, what did you think of the film? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on seeing the film or not. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor