Film Review: Mary Magdalene (dir by Garth Davis)


“Dress more like the Virgin and less like the Magdalene.”

That’s something my grandmother always used to tell me and my sisters.  That’s because, Mary Magdalene — who is described in the Gospels as being a woman who traveled with and supported Jesus — is often mistaken for being the “sinful woman” who scandalized Simon the Leper by anointing Jesus’s feet.  As such, there’s a tradition that Mary Magdalene was either a former prostitute or, at the very least, a formerly promiscuous woman who repented and followed Jesus.  That said, there’s nothing in the canonical gospels that supports that tradition and, in all probability, the sinful woman was another Mary, Mary of Bethany.  In 1969, Pope Paul VI officially removed all reference to Mary Magdalene being the sinful woman but it’s still fairly common for Mary Magdalene to be portrayed as being a former prostitute.

Mary Magdalene, which was released briefly in theaters last year, attempts to set the record straight by imagining a different backstory for Mary Magdalene.  In fact, the whole theme of this movie seems to be, “See?  She wasn’t a prostitute!”  And that’s fine except, while watching the movie, I really had to wonder if it was somehow an improvement to instead portray her as being the most boring person in Judea.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that the filmmakers were so proud of themselves for making Mary Magdalene a feminist that it didn’t occur to them that they might also want to make her an interesting character as well.

In this movie, Mary Magdalene (played by a dependably dull Rooney Mara) is a young Jewish woman who rebels against the wishes of her family and refuses to enter into an arranged marriage with Ephraim (Tzachi Halevy) and who instead decides to follow a preacher named Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix).  As portrayed in this movie, Jesus is charismatic but often moody, preaching a good message (though the film seems to interpret that message as mostly being vague Gnostic liberalism) while getting annoyed with almost everyone around him.  Jesus often seems to be exhausted by his followers, especially Judas (Tahar Rahim) who is way too eager for Jesus to lead an armed uprising against the forces of the Roman Empire.  Meanwhile, Jesus’s main disciple, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), often finds himself growing jealous of Mary Magdalene and the trust that builds between her and Jesus.  While this film does not go the Jesus Christ Superstar route of portraying them as being a couple, it also leaves little doubt that Mary Magdalene, who is defying not just Rome but also the entire patriarchy, understands Jesus and his teachings in a way that the male disciples never will.

As a film, Mary Magalene takes itself and its story very seriously and it generally eshews the type of grandeur that one might expect from a biblical epic.  That low-key approach may be historically accurate but it’s not much fun to watch and, with a running time of 120 minutes, the action just kind of plods along.  Rooney Mara can give a good performance when she has the right material but here, she’s often just reduced to just wanly staring off into the distance.

As for Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus …. well, the casting actually works better than you might think.  Phoenix plays Jesus as being a passionate leader who is haunted by his destiny.  With his long hair and his scruffy beard, Phoenix is not a glamorous Jesus but he’s very much a credible one.  The film is probably at its best in the scene where Jesus witnesses the money changers in the temple.  Rather than playing Jesus as being simply enraged, Phoenix plays him as being deeply disappointed.  One gets the feeling that he’s looking at what is happening in his father’s house and he’s thinking, “These are the people I’m supposed to sacrifice my life to save?”

Mary Magdalene is one of those films that took forever to actually show up in theaters.  The Weinstein Company was originally set to release the film in early 2017 but the release was pushed back to 2018, for reasons that have never been particularly clear.  Eventually the Weinstein Company pulled out of distributing the film and, for that, I’m thankful.  The idea of any film about Jesus carrying the Harvey Weinstein name is just too terrible to think about.  The film was then picked up by IFC, who gave it a perfunctory release in 2019.

It’s a flawed film, even though it’s heart may be in the right place.  The approach that it takes is just too low-key to be consistently interesting.  Sometimes, bigger is better.

Here Are The DGA nominations!


la-la-land-full-poster-image-691x1024

The Director’s Guild announced their feature film nominations earlier today.

A DGA nomination is one of the biggest prizes of the precursor season.  In general, if the DGA nominates a film then it’s likely that film will also get nominated for best picture.  There have been exceptions, of course.  (David Fincher was nominated for his bastardized rehash of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.)  But, for the most part, the DGA is the most reliable precursor available.

Five directors were nominated.  The usual suspects were there — Lonergan, Jenkins, and Chazelle.  Fortunately, Denis Villeneuve picked up a nomination, which is good news for Arrival.  The fifth nominee was a bit of a surprise.  Garth Davis was nominated for Lion, which I guess means I’ll have to go see that movie now, even though I have little real desire to do so.

Martin Scorsese was not nominated for Silence, which probably means that the film will be dead-in-the-water as far as Oscar nominations are concerned.

Also not nominated — Tim Miller for Deadpool, a film that’s been doing surprisingly well with the precursors.  If Tim Miller had been nominated, heads would have exploded.  It would have been fun to watch the twitter reaction.

Instead, we just got this —

Just to make it official, here are the five DGA nominees:

Denis Villeneuve — Arrival

Damien Chazelle — La La Land

Garth Davis — Lion

Kenneth Lonergan — Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins — Moonlight

manchester-by-the-sea-sundance-2016

The Las Vegas Film Critics Society Take A Gamble With Their 2016 Nominees!


Let’s take a gamble with the nominees of the Las Vegas Film Critics Society!

(Ha ha — I’m so cute.)

Anyway, the winners will be announced tomorrow!

Best Picture
Moonlight
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Nocturnal Animals
Hell or High Water

Best Actor
Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nocturnal Animals
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress
Emma Stone – La La Land
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures
Amy Adams – Arrival
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women

Best Supporting Actor
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water

Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Viola Davis – Fences
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Director
Garth Davis – Lion
Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
J.A. Bayona – A Monster Calls
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals

Best Original Screenplay
Manchester by the Sea
The Witch
Hell or High Water
Moonlight
La La Land

Best Adapted Screenplay
Hidden Figures
Lion
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
A Monster Calls

Best Cinematography
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
La La Land
Rogue One

Best Editing
La La Land
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge

Best Score
Jackie
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
Lion
La La Land

Best Song
“City of Stars” (La La Land)
“How Far Will I Go” (Moana)
“I See Victory” (Hidden Figures)
“The Great Beyond” (Sausage Party)
“Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song) (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping)

Best Action Film
Deadpool
Captain America: Civil War
Rogue One
Hacksaw Ridge
Doctor Strange

Best Documentary
8 Days a Week
Weiner
OJ: Made in America
13
The Eagle Huntress

Best Costume Design
Jackie
The Witch
Fantastic Beasts
Love & Friendship
La La Land

Best Visual Effects
Jungle Book
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts
Arrival
A Monster Calls

Best Art Direction
Jackie
La La Land
Arrival
A Monster Calls
Fantastic Beasts

Best Animated Film
Kubo and the Two Strings
Sausage Party
Finding Dory
Zootopia
Moana

Best Foreign Film
Elle
Neruda
The Handmaiden
Toni Erdmann
The Salesman

Best Comedy
Deadpool
Don’t Think Twice
The Edge of Seventeen
Sausage Party
The Nice Guys

Best Horror/Sci-Fi
The Witch
The Neon Demon
Arrival
10 Cloverfield Lane
Don’t Breathe

Best Family Film
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Moana
Zootopia
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Ensemble
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Fences
Hell or High Water

Breakout Filmmaker
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Robert Eggers – The Witch
Kelly Fremon Craig – Edge of Seventeen
Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert – Swiss Army Man
Nate Parker – Birth of a Nation

Youth in Film
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Hailee Steinfeld – Edge of Seventeen
Alex B. Hibbert – Moonlight

Here Are the 48th Annual NAACP Image Award Nominations!


moonlight

You can see the film nomination below.  For a full list of all the Image nominations, including the television nominees, click here.

Outstanding Motion Picture
•    “Fences” (Paramount Pictures)
•    “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox)
•    “Loving” (Focus Features/Big Beach)
•    “Moonlight” (A24)
•    “The Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture – (Film)
•    Anthony Russo, Joe Russo – “Captain America: Civil War” (Marvel Studios)
•    Barry Jenkins – “Moonlight” (A24)
•    Garth Davis – “Lion” (See-Saw Films)
•    Mira Nair – “Queen of Katwe” (Walt Disney Studios)
•    Nate Parker – “The Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Film)
•    Adam Mansbach “Barry” (Black Bear Pictures and Cinetic Media)
•    Barry Jenkins “Moonlight” (A24)
•    Jeff Nichols “Loving” (Focus Features/Big Beach)
•    Nate Parker “The Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
•    Richard Tanne “Southside With You” (Roadside Attractions)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
•    Denzel Washington – “Fences” (Paramount Pictures)
•    Don Cheadle – “Miles Ahead” (Sony Pictures Classics)
•    Nate Parker – “The Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
•    Stephan James – “Race” (Focus Features/The Luminary Group A Solofilms/Trinidad/Trinity/Trinity Race Production)
•    Will Smith – “Collateral Beauty” (Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
•    Angela Bassett – “London Has Fallen” (Focus Features/Millennium Films/G-Base Production)
•    Madina Nalwanga – “Queen of Katwe” (Walt Disney Studios)
•    Ruth Negga – “Loving” (Focus Features/Big Beach)
•    Taraji P. Henson – “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox)
•    Tika Sumpter – “Southside With You” (Roadside Attractions)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
•    Alano Miller – “Loving” (Focus Features/Big Beach)
•    Chadwick Boseman – “Captain America: Civil War” (Marvel Studios)
•    David Oyelowo – “Queen of Katwe” (Walt Disney Studios)
•    Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight” (A24)
•    Trevante Rhodes – “Moonlight” (A24)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
•    Aja Naomi King – “The Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
•    Lupita Nyong’o – “Queen of Katwe” (Walt Disney Studios)
•    Mo’ Nique – “Almost Christmas” (Universal Pictures)
•    Octavia Spencer – “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox)
•    Viola Davis – “Fences” (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture
•    “Lion” (See-Saw Films)
•    “Loving” (Focus Features/Big Beach)
•    “Miles Ahead” (Sony Pictures Classics)
•    “Moonlight” (A24)
•    “The Birth of a Nation” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Documentary – (Film)
•    “13th” (Netflix)
•    “I Am Not Your Negro” (Velvet Film)
•    “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” (The People’s Poet LLC)
•    “Miss Sharon Jones!” (Cabin Creek Films)
•    “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” (Coffee Bluff Pictures)