Icarus File No. 5: mother! (dir by Darren Aronofsky)


You have to admire the courage of a filmmaker like Darren Aronofsky.  After receiving some overdue Oscar love for Black Swan, Aronofsky probably could have settled into the type of career that Tim Burton currently has: i.e., the self-styled quirky director who makes safe studio films.  Instead, Aronofsky has continued to chart his own course as an artist by following up Black Swan with two films that seemed specifically designed to challenge audiences and annoy the complacent.

With Noah, Aronofsky dared to suggest that God’s mistake with the Great Flood was to allow anyone to survive at all.  Then, he followed up Noah with 2017’s mother!, which was a film that practically dared confused and alienated audience members to stand up and walk out.  And walk out they did.  mother! was one of the few films to score an F on Cinemascore.  I mean, typically, a bad movie will at least get a C.  You have to really piss off the audience to get that F rating.  Watching mother!, it’s obvious that pissing off the audience was a part of the film’s design.

Paramount Picture advertised mother! as being a horror film and, to a certain extent, it is.  Jennifer Lawrence plays the Mother.  She lives in a beautiful house with a poet named Him (Javier Bardem).  Him spends a lot of time talking about how much he loves the Mother but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s rather self-absorbed.  People are constantly showing up at the house to speak to and eventually worship Him and he continually lets them, regardless of how difficult it makes things for the Mother.  The Mother is reduced to begging people not to make a mess but no one listens to her.  As the crows gets bigger, fights break out.  There are sounds of war and explosions rock the Mother’s meticulously cared-for home..  Him can only smile and shrug while his visitors trash the house.  The more the Mother complains, the more cruelly she’s treated by the crowds.

Among those who show up are the Man (Ed Harris) and the Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer).  They have two teenage sons who have developed a dangerous rivalry.  Him seems to be very concerned with them but the Mother just wants them all to leave.  Once they finally do leave, Him is inspired to write his greatest work which, of course, just leads to more people showing up.  It’s a dangerous cycle….

I could actually relate to what the Mother was going through.  I tend to be a little bit on the neat side, which is a polite way of saying that I’m obsessed with keeping the house clean and tidy.  Nothing annoys me more than when a stranger comes in and drags dirt or leaves or whatever across a freshly vacuumed carpet.  When Jennifer Lawrence was reduced to begging people to just make the most basic effort towards not messing up the house, I totally sympathized with her.  Jennifer Lawrence yells so much in this movie that she actually starts to lose her voice in a few scenes.  I could relate.

Of course, Jennifer Lawrence is not just playing a homeowner who doesn’t want her house to get trashed.  And Bardem isn’t just playing a poet.  As you probably already guessed, Bardem is God and Jennifer Lawrence is the Earth and Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer are a surprisingly old version of Adam and Eve.  The entire film is a biblical allegory and it all gets a bit heavy-handed.  Aronofsky has said that the film was a result of “anger and anguish” but it’s obvious that all of that anger and anguish prevented him from considering that mother! would have worked better as a 15-minute short film than a two-hour epic.  It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s going on and the film occasionally gets almost embarrassingly obvious in its attempt to push it metaphor.  Aronofsky, at times, seems to think that his film is more enigmatic than it actually is.

Still, despite the fact that the film goes on for way too long and is never quite as much of a mindscrew as Aronofsky seems to think that it is, you have to admire not only the courage of Aaronofsky but also the dedication of Jennifer Lawrence.  This film was not the first high profile Jennifer Lawrence film to not be a hit with audiences (Passengers wasn’t exactly beloved) but it is the one that’s most often cited whenever anyone writes an article about why Jennifer Lawrence’s star is a bit dimmer today than it was back in the days of The Hunger Games.  Undoubtedly, some people did go to the film expecting to see a “typical” Jennifer Lawrence film, just to suddenly be confronted with Javier Bardem ripping her heart out of her chest.  But, at the same time, you have to appreciate a star who is willing to take a chance and that’s what Lawrence did her, lending her star power to a project that was thoroughly out of the mainstream.  Both Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence took a chance with mother! and, even if the film is not quite the triumph that some viewers may want it to be, you still respect them for having done so.

Previous Icarus Files:

  1. Cloud Atlas
  2. Maximum Overdrive
  3. Glass
  4. Captive State

 

Oh my God! Here’s the Trailer for Mother!


Oh my God!

Okay, forget anything that I may have said about being reluctant to see Mother!, the latest film from Darren Aronofsky.  Forget anything that I may have said about suspecting that Jennifer Lawrence is no longer as interesting an actress as she was at the start of her career.

Seriously, this looks fucking brilliant!

Mother! opens on September 15th and I can’t wait to see it!

Here’s The Teaser for Mother!


Here’s the teaser for Mother!  The full trailer drops on the 8th.

No one seems to be really sure what Mother! is about.  It appears to be a horror/thriller sort of thing but, with Darren Aronofsky directing, it’s safe to assume that there will be all sorts of layers of meaning.  Along with starring Jennifer Lawrence (who, after Joy and Passengers, could really use a movie that’s worthy of her talents), Mother! also features Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Ed Harris.  Judging by how the majority of this teaser goes out of it’s way to portray Jennifer Lawrence as being isolated in a big house, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Bardem, Pfieffer, and Harris all plays figments of Lawrence’s imagination.

Who knows?  We’ll find out on September 15th!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #114: The Wrestler (dir by Darren Aronofsky)


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I’m always a little surprised by how much I like the 2008 film The Wrestler.

Actually, to be honest, I’m more than a little surprised.  I’m a lot surprise.  First off, The Wrestler takes place in the world of professional wrestling and that’s a world that I not only know nothing about but which I also have very little interest.  (My cousin Gustavo — Hi, Gus! — loved the Rock.  That’s about the extent of my knowledge.)  Add to that, The Wrestler doesn’t take place in the world of televised pro wrestling.  (I may know nothing about wrestling but I do know a lot about television.)  Instead, this is a world of backroom matches, broken dreams, and fading lives.

Secondly, The Wrestler features, as its hero, a man in his 50s who is still a total and complete fuckup.  The character of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (played, in an Oscar-nominated performance, by Mickey Rourke) is perhaps epitomized by the fact that, after going out of his way to try to reconnect with his daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), and setting up a dinner date so that they can finally talk and get to know each other, Randy ends up getting consumed with self-pity, getting drunk, getting high, getting laid, and ultimately standing up his daughter.  And whenever I see that part of the movie, I hate Randy just as much as Stephanie does because I know exactly how she feels.  Stephanie can’t forgive Randy and neither can I.

And yet, oddly enough, I still care what happens to Randy.  Randy is a former wrestling superstar, a guy who was big in the 1980s but now lives in a haze of obscurity and self-pity.  He now wrestles on the weekend, works a demeaning job at a super market deli, and occasionally plays an old video game which features him as a character.  His only real friend (and source of strength) is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who knows what its like to get older in a profession dominated by the young.

Randy does have one final chance at a comeback, when he agrees to an exhibition fight against his former nemesis, a  “villainous” wrestler known at The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller).  (It’s interesting to note that, outside of the ring, “bad guy” Ayatollah seems to be everything that “good guy” Randy is not, i.e., responsible, stable, and content with his life.)

However, there’s one problem.  Randy has a heart condition and he has been told that continuing to wrestle could kill him.  Will Randy give up the only thing that he’s ever been good at or will Randy potentially sacrifice his life to have one last chance to hear the cheers of the crowd?

Randy Robinson is another one of director Darren Aronofsky’s obsessive protagonists, a character who is so obsessed with something that he’s sacrificed everything else to pursue it.  Fortunately, Aronofsky is a master of making these type of characters sympathetic.  Over the course of the film, Randy fucks up so much that you really are tempted to just give up on him but Aronofsky directs the film with such compassion and Rourke gives such a vulnerable and emotionally raw performance that you find yourself giving Randy another chance despite your better instincts.  The film’s melancholy ending is effective because you know that it really is the only way that Randy’s story can end.

I’m always surprised to like The Wrestler.

But I do.

So, was Noah good or not?


Poster-Noah-Aronofsky

Was Noah a good movie or not?

That’s a question that was first asked way back in March.  At the time, the answer depended on who you asked.  For instance, Noah is one of Arleigh’s favorite films of the year.  My reaction, however, was far more mixed.  Noah was one of those movies that I thought I would review as soon as I watched it but that proved to be a lot more difficult than I expected.  As I found myself wondering what I should say in my review, it became very apparent to me that I wasn’t sure whether I liked the film or not.

By the time that I finally decided that I was, overall, disappointed by Darren Aronofsky’s controversial and spiritual-but-not-quite-biblical version of the Deluge, over a month had passed and we had all moved on to different movies.

And so that review remained unwritten.  And, at first, I thought it wouldn’t matter.  As much as I try to review every single movie that I see, I know that the world is not going to end if I miss a film or two.  After all, I’ve never specifically written down just how much I hated the latest Transformers movie and the world has yet to plunge into the sun…

And yet, for all of its flaws and the fact that it left me feeling underwhelmed, Noah has stuck in my mind in a way that many of the films that I saw this year have not.  It would be a struggle for me to remember much of anything about Dracula Untold but Noah Noah has stayed with me.

Thinking back, it’s easy for me to say what did not work about Noah.

As opposed to Aronofsky’s best films (Requiem for A Dream, The Wrestler, and my beloved Black Swan), Noah felt oddly paced with certain scenes ending too quickly while other scenes seemed to drag on forever.

The film’s environmental message was delivered with such a heavy hand that it ultimately did not make much of a difference whether you agreed or not.  For a film that went out of its way to establish itself as not being a traditional biblical film, Noah was certainly preachy.

While the film deserves credit for not flinching in its portrait of a surly and self-righteous Noah, it still doesn’t change the fact that the movie was essentially 138 minutes spent with a very unlikable character.

Anthony Hopkins gave perhaps the worst performance of his career as Methuselah.  In the role of Tubal-Cain, Ray Winstone was such a one-dimensional villain that I half expected him to invent trains just so he could tie Emma Watson to the tracks.

And, of course, there were the Watchers — fallen angels who had been turned into sentient piles of stone by a vengeful God.  I know that some people loved the Watchers but to me, they looked ludicrous…

NoahWatchers

And yet, that’s the reason why we love Darren Aronofsky, isn’t it?

Obviously, it was a risk to portray the fallen angels as being a bunch of talking rocks.  It was also a risk to take a character who is mentioned only once in the book of Genesis — in this case, Tubal-Cain — and then use that character as a representation of everything that’s wrong with the human race.  It was a risk to make a “biblical” film that openly questioned both the existence and wisdom of God.  We expect and demand that directors take risks but, at the same time, we also want to ridicule and judge when those risks don’t work out.  That’s the issue that we, as film lovers, often face.  Do we celebrate and perhaps excuse a director for his intentions or do we solely judge him based on the results?

And the thing with Noah is that, as much as the movie did not work for me, it also did work for me.  For all of those flaws that I listed above, Noah is full of images that are so beautiful and so memorable that I can still visualize them as if I saw them yesterday:

Noah and his sons walk across a gray and blasted landscape, stopping just long enough to stare at a foreboding city in the distance.

Noah walks through a decadent settlement and briefly, this somber film is so full of bright colors and flamboyant characters that the viewer is almost as overwhelmed as Noah.

That Ark, looking small and isolated, floating across an endless blue ocean.

And finally, Noah talking about the horrors of humanity and briefly, we see that the shadows that he’s visualizing are dressed in modern clothing.

For all of my issues with Noah, it’s such a visually impressive film and takes so many risks that I can’t help but respect it.  I don’t consider it to be a great film but, after all this time, I can say that it’s a film that only a true artist could make.

And, considering the current state of American film, that’s one of the best compliments that one can give.

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Arleigh’s Top 9 Films of 2014 (Front End)


We’re now past the halfway point for the film season of 2014. The year has seen it’s share of hits, bombs and surprises. Many look at the box-office numbers some that these films generate as a sign of their success. Others look at how the critics-at-large have graded these films as a way to determine whether they’ve been successful.

I know some people would list nothing but independent arthouse films as their best. They look at genre and big-budget films as not being worthy of being the best of the year, so far. It’s that sort of thinking that limits one’s appreciation of film, in general.

Does having a 150 million dollar budget mean that a film cannot be one of the best of the year. Past history will suggest that’s not the case. Yet, there are cinephiles out there who will dismiss such films because they consider it as being too Hollywood. The same goes for people who look down upon genre films like horror, scifi, westerns and many others that do not fit their slice-of-life drama study. They’re not existential enough for some.

I’ve come to look at all the films I’ve been fortunate enough to see through the first six months of 2014 and picked 9 of the best (I picked a random odd number since Lisa Marie already does the even numbers thing) no matter their genre, type of film and budget. I’ve picked a couple of scifi films, a documentary, an action-packed blockbuster sequel, a wonderfully made 3-D animated film (itself a sequel), a neo-noir Western, a brutal crime-thriller, an indie horror-thriller and one of the best comedies of the last couple years.

In no special order….

noah-banner222Noah (dir. by Darren Aronofsky)

capawsmovarthc-cvr-a91f8Captain America: The Winter Soldier (dir. by Anthony and Joe Russo)

cold_in_july_ver2_xlgCold in July (dir. by Jim Mickle)

HTTYD2How To Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean DuBois)

JodorowskysDuneJodorowsky’s Dune (dir. by Frank Pavich)

the-raid-2-berandal01The Raid 2: Berandal (dir. by Gareth Evans)

Snowpiercer (dir. by Bong Joon-ho)

GrandPianoGrand Piano (dir. by Eugenio Mira)

22JumpStreet22 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

My honorable mentions: All Cheerleaders Die, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Joe, Edge of Tomorrow, Lego: The Movie, Blue Ruin, Locke, Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Sacrament

Scenes I Love: Noah


Poster-Noah-Aronofsky

One of the best films (at least in this blogger’s honest opinion) of the year also happens to be one of it’s most controversial. It’s Darren Aronofsky’s follow-up to his equally critically-acclaimed and just as controversial Black Swan. I am speaking of his Biblical epic Noah and the story of the Flood.

It’s a film that doesn’t feel religious yet full of spirituality. It’s a film that dares to take a look at text seen as hallowed by billions in a way that doesn’t take a stand on the debate of science versus religion (though some feel that Aronofsky’s atheist background paints the film on the side of science). Noah has a scene in the beginning of it’s third act (one that some have called the dealbreaker for how they thought of the film in the end) that best exemplifies the conjoining of science and religion. It’s the best retelling of the Creation Story that I’ve heard and/or seen.

Courtesy of Protozoa Pictures…The Creation scene from Noah.

Song of the Day: Make Thee An Ark (by Clint Mansell)


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I’ve been waiting for quite a long time for the release of Darren Aronofsky’s biblical disaster epic. Now that it’s finally here it also means a new film score from Aronofsky’s collaborator Clint Mansell.

The soundtrack to Noah is definitely on par with past Mansell scored Aronofsky films going all the way back to Pi. It’s a soundtrack that’s both epic, majestic and more than just a tad apocalyptic. One of my favorite tracks from the soundtrack comes at a moment of triumph early on in the film which creates a sense of hope in the face of the approaching divine apocalypse.

“Make Thee An Ark” starts off slowly. Layers on layers build within the string work by the Kronos Quartet who have worked with two Mansell on past Aronofsky films. The track actually has a nice musical throwback to Mansell’s work on The Fountain. It’s probably the influence of that past film which made the Noah soundtrack appeal to me more than the previous ones for Black Swan and The Wrestler.

Super Bowl Trailer: Noah


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Noah is Darren Aronofsky’s follow-up to his critically-acclaimed film Black Swan (which was reviewed by Lisa Marie Bowman herself) and he looks to tell the tale of Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis.

When news first came out that Aronofsky would follow-up Black Swan with a biblical epic that retold the Flood and Noah’s role in saving those not corrupted according to Heaven was a sort of headscratcher. The teasers and trailers that has come out about the film hasn’t really fired up the masses. Some think it as another sword-and-sandals epic that’s late to that particular subgenre’s resurgence. Some think too much fantasy elements has been added.

One thing I’m sure of is that Aronofsky will not make an uninteresting film.

Noah is set for a March 28, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Noah


Poster-Noah-AronofskyI have mixed feelings about the upcoming film Noah.

On the one hand, it’s directed by one of my favorite directors, Darren Aronofsky.  I don’t think I need to remind anyone just how much I love Black Swan.

However, it also stars Russell Crowe.  Crowe is a good actor but he’s also  rather impressed with himself and Noah seems like the type of film that will bring out all of his worst tendencies.

But the film is directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Then again, Noah also appears to feature Anthony Hopkins playing yet another vaguely threatening mentor figure.  Hopkins is also a good actor.  I like Anthony Hopkins.  But, seriously, as soon as I heard that they were making a film about Noah, I knew Anthony Hopkins would be somehow involved.  It’s just so …. expected.

However, the film is being directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Unfortunately, the trailer that was released yesterday has a painfully generic feel to it.  Let’s put it like this — every time I saw the trailer for Black Swan, I knew that this was a movie that I had to see.  Every time I see the trailer for Noah, I find myself wondering if Michael Bay was somehow involved in producing the film.  That’s how generic it feels.

However, Noah was directed by Darren Aronofsky.

So, I’ll see it.