Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Man with the Iron Fists 2 (2015)

*. I really didn’t like The Man with the Iron Fists, but I held out a small sliver of hope for this sequel. Why? Because a lot of the time sequels to superhero action movies are more fun than the original because they don’t get bogged down in having to explain the hero’s background. Also, I knew this film wasn’t directed by RZA (or The RZA, which he pronounces “The Rizza”). I figured that could only be a good thing.
*. I was wrong.
*. The story here is pretty basic. Thaddeus the blacksmith (he of the iron fists) is “on a path to Buddha.” This means he is renouncing violence in an attempt to “replenish [his] soul.” On his way to Nirvana (or the Wu Chi Temple, home of the fabulous Golden Nectar) he is swept downriver to a town ruled by a brutal overlord named Master Ho who runs the town’s silver mine with the backing of the Beetle clan. The miners, who are not slaves but serfs (or “bastard maggots of whoring mongrel dogs” in the words of Master Ho), are chafing at their bondage. Led by spirited family man Li Kung they begin to fight back and Thaddeus is drawn to their cause.
*. I just finished typing that summary and I’m already wondering why I bothered. I don’t know why I’m bothering with any of this. Or, for that matter, why I even bothered to watch this in the first place.
*. Most of these martial arts movies are just excuses to stage a bunch of fight scenes, but despite not being hamstrung by the first film’s cast of less-mobile all-stars (Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista) the fights here are dull and unconvincing bursts of rapid editing meant to conceal the fact that there’s little choreography.
*. There’s also none of the comic-book spirit of the original, which had a bunch of heroes gifted with special powers or weapons. Here there’s just Thaddeus and his iron mittens, as well as some awkward metal booties at the end.
*. RZA has to be one of the most unlikely action heroes in all of film history. He doesn’t have a commanding on-screen presence and, for a martial artist, doesn’t move well. And then there is his voice, which (and I’m being charitable) may be characterized as marble-mouthed. His “r”s come out as “w”s and the “th” sound as an “f.” Without trying to be snarky, I think he has the worst English of anyone in the cast. At least it’s the hardest to understand.
*. Luckily, the movie isn’t entirely about him. In fact, he disappears for a long period at the beginning as the power dynamics in the village are set up. I say this is fortunate because the main characters here, Dustin Nguyen as Li Kung and Carl Ng as Master Ho, are both pretty good. Ng in particular gets a lot of campy, over-the-top villainous lines. It was a shame to see him dispatched so quickly at the end.

*. Yes, Master Ho was so named because he has a harem of hos. Get it?
*. I wonder why they bothered playing Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold” over the final battle in the village. Sure it’s a great piece of music, but how does it fit here?
*. How could journeyman director Roel Reiné have thought that having a kung-fu fight underwater was a good idea? He says on the commentary that he’d never seen it done before. Did he ask himself why he hadn’t seen it done before?
*. The locations and sets in Thailand are picturesque. Thailand is a place that always looks great on film. I’ve never been, but I’m told it isn’t as nice a place to visit. I don’t like heat and I hear it’s very hot.
*. Apparently the filming took place around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, which is where that soccer team was trapped in a cave in 2018. I don’t know why I made that connection. Maybe because of all the time spent in caves here.
*. I just don’t get the sense that anyone cared a whole lot about this one. It was a direct-to-video release, which is usually not a good sign. More telling is the fact that on the DVD commentary track with RZA and Reiné, RZA simply walks out at around the hour mark, saying that he has to go work on some music. Left on his own, Reiné talks about things like how he had to shoot the movie in 20 days but then didn’t stick around to work on it in post-production because he had to go shoot another movie in Denmark. This all suggests a certain level of disengagement, if not indifference, to the finished product.
*. Well, my time may be worth a lot less but I too have other things to do. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It has a couple of cheesy-fun moments. But even if that’s your thing I don’t think they’re enough.

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

*. I was actually looking forward to this one. Big mistake.
*. What a disappointment. Especially given how I’m a big fan of the Shaw Brothers chopsocky epics of the 1970s, which this film is an almost slavish homage to. Where did they go wrong?
*. I think most of the blame has to be layed at the feet of writer-director-star RZA. Yes, RZA is his professional name. To give you some idea of how old and out of touch I am, I had never heard of him before. Apparently he was the leader of a hip-hop band called The Wu-Tang Clan, which I had heard of but whose music I’m unfamiliar with.
*. Whatever his musical accomplishments, RZA is no filmmaker. Even with what I’m assuming was a lot of help this is an unforgiveably dull martial arts film. Right from the pre-credit fisticuffs I knew I was in trouble, as the fight scenes just don’t work at all. RZA needed to up his game. And he is also no actor, joining a long list of pop stars who have tried to make the leap to the big screen and failed. He can’t even poke fun at himself. Which means what we have here is a sort-of amateur vanity project that isn’t amateur enough for its own good.
*. The story is actually OK. Despite the script being years in development, what they ended up with was a pretty decent tribute to Shaw Brothers kung-foolishness. There’s a caravan of the Emperor’s gold that’s being eyeballed by around a dozen masters of various martial arts styles, each identified by their distinct choice of weapon (poison darts, a mechanical knife, a coat of knives, a body that turns to brass). In other words, it’s a superhero movie, drawing on traditions going back before the advent of MarvelCrap. It could have been fun.
*. Despite the story being more than adequate, the script itself just isn’t clever enough. Russell Crowe seems to want to ham things up, but he has no good lines (and obviously can’t fight). RZA’s blacksmith looks like he’s falling asleep, and he doesn’t have any good moves either. The fact that neither of the two leads can fight, a rather large drawback, has to then be concealed with camerawork and other stunts like split screens and tons of edits. The only person who really seems to be enjoying himself is Byron Mann as Silver Lion, but he’s all on his own.
*. I think they tried to make it too much of a throwback. There’s actually very little here that doesn’t look like it belongs in the 1970s. Despite being filmed in China it’s a studio-bound production. About the only nod to being made in the twenty-first century is the gore, but it’s dull gore. Mostly just CGI arterial sprays.
*. I really shouldn’t have been surprised I disliked it so much. It is, in some ways, a sort of spiritual sequel to Tarantino’s own homage to the same genre: Kill Bill. In fact, it was while RZA was doing the soundtrack for Kill Bill that development on The Man with the Iron Fists got started, and the original cut was supposedly four hours long, so RZA wanted to release it in two parts, just like Kill Bill. Since I hated Kill Bill, this should have put me on my guard.
*. I suppose if you’re not familiar with the tradition it comes out of then it would be possible to like this more. But then, if you’re not a fan I don’t know why you’d bother with it in the first place. Meanwhile, even though I appreciate the spirit in which it was made, I came away from it feeling let down.

Quiz the thirty-third: Are you seated comfortably? (Part one)

Well, maybe not too comfortably. After all, there’s work to do! And I guess your level of comfort depends on the quality of your office chair or couch. Or perhaps you’re not sitting down at all, but doing this week’s quiz lying in bed! Whatever the case may be, you’re better off than these poor souls . . .

See also: Quiz the one hundred-and-nineteenth: Are you sitting comfortably? (Part two).

Continue reading

Walker (1987)

*. Then, and then, and now. 1855: William Walker’s conquest of Nicaragua; 1987: Alex Cox’s film Walker; 2007: the recording of the Criterion Collection’s commentary track for the film, featuring Cox and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer.
*. And here’s what the two had to say about then (when the film was made) and now (2007). Cox: “I think people were more inclined to be activists in those days. I mean these guys, these actors came down to Nicaragua because they wanted to make a statement, they wanted to say we’re behind the people of Nicaragua and we’re not behind our government.” Wurlitzer: “That’s true, and there was still a residue of Vietnam too, you know, that was lingering in the collective consciousness in those days. This is like the tail end of the Vietnam disaster.”
*. The next generation would be determined to rid the collective consciousness of this residue of Vietnam, kicking what was called the “Vietnam syndrome” (defined as a nervousness about getting involved in foreign wars that might turn into quagmires). Then, as Cox explains, it was precisely because this generation had forgotten Vietnam that they recreated it in Iraq.
*. William Walker, meanwhile, was a name known to only a handful of historians in 1987. And, despite the notoriety of this film, I don’t suppose many more people have heard of him today. Selective amnesia is a constant in any culture.

*. The military had learned its lesson too. Just as they controlled the media coverage of the 9/11 wars to a far greater extent than in Vietnam they also knew the value of bringing Hollywood on board. If you were going to make a war movie about Iraq (or wherever) you were probably going to need some help from the army to do it. Good luck being critical of the military when you’re that compromised.
*. But all that was still to come. In 1987 Hollywood could still make an anti-war film. Or just barely. Both Cox and Wurlitzer were outcasts at the time, and Walker wasn’t going to get them back into anyone’s good graces.
*. That said, I had a hard time believing it was a movie that met with as much opposition on its release as they make out on the commentary. At least that’s the way I felt until I dug up Roger Ebert’s contemporary review, in which he gave it one of his no-star ratings. I guess the anachronisms really did bother people. Ebert called it a “travesty” (twice!) and said that if it was meant as a satire he didn’t know what the target of the satire was. Really? Not one of your finer moments, Rog.

*. Another way of looking at then vs. now is in the way war is filmed. Walker‘s battle scenes are very much in the Peckinpah tradition, with the spins and twists of bodies dancing to bullets in slow motion. Today the language of battle is borrowed entirely from video games, where everything seems to move much faster than in real life. In today’s war films death is something anonymous and abrupt. The enemy are only a score of kills to be tallied.
*. I like how Cox consistently works the margins. Walker’s wife (played by Marlee Matlin) literally has no voice and can only sign her contempt for the businessmen in the smoke-filled room (a contempt that Walker deliberately mistranslates). Later we’ll see something similar in the way the Nicaraguans have their real feelings for Walker put into subtitles (“this is no ordinary asshole”). Hornsby (Sy Richardson) is a central character but is someone pushed increasingly to the margin as the film proceeds, his big scenes often playing like moments just out of frame. His criticism of Walker becomes mere sniping from the shadows, and he is finally disposed of in what seems like an afterthought.

*. Ed Harris’s Walker is a fascinating creation. After the death of his wife the brakes come off his monomania, the sense he carries with him of his own greatness. He is less the poster boy for American imperialism (as Wurlitzer calls him) than its embodiment. He is the grey-eyed man of destiny but selfless. “Walker’s goals involve a higher purpose than the vulgar pursuit of personal power.” He says so himself.
*. His referring to himself in the third person prefigures the annoying habit of today’s celebrities to do the same and suggests the same pathological dissociation. For what is such a creature of destiny but a tool of that same destiny, a vehicle for the spread of American ideology? As Walker recognizes, and tells the people in the church at the end, he may die but more Americans will come. He is only a drop in the tide.
*. It’s correct to have Walker deliver his final speech in a church from a pulpit. Manifest destiny is an article of faith, and at the end of the day Walker is a political fanatic, sustained by his sense of the rectitude of his cause. Not necessarily his own rectitude, mind you, but that of his mission.

*. Harris’s performance I think nicely captures this. He has the blank look of an android or alien and his actions underline the paradoxical passivity of such a hero. Since he is only a representative of a larger, inevitable historical force he allows himself to be swept onward by fate, walking through battles indifferent to his own safety. In much the same way he can casually dispose of principles like being against slavery if that is what the situation requires. He is not leading but being led by larger forces. He cannot be compromised because he is only embracing fate.
*. After its poorly-received initial run Walker has gone on to gain a bit of a cult following, despite being a film that runs against the various currents, political and artistic, that I’ve mentioned. The main reason being that it’s a well made movie, but also because it’s political message has stayed relevant. The final CIA airlift was meant to recall the fall of Saigon, but on the commentary track Cox insists that “this is Fallujah.” Walker’s sermon on the inevitability of America’s expansionary destiny is still a message for our time, whether you think of it as a warning or a promise.

Gaslight (1944)

*. This is the second adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s play Gas Light, which had been previously filmed in 1940 by Thorold Dickinson. Apparently MGM tried to destroy all the prints and even the negative of that earlier film but weren’t successful.
*. Believe it or not, at the time this tawdry melodrama was considered a prestige picture, and it went on to be nominated for a raft of Academy Awards, with Ingrid Bergman winning for Best Actress.
*. I’ve already said in my notes on the 1940 version that I prefer it in almost every way. This movie is too long and filled with extraneous stuff. Why bother with all the back story of Boyer romancing Bergman when he’s too smooth to be trusted for a second anyway? And, despite adding so much, I still didn’t think the husband’s plot made any sense.
*. David Thomson thought Cotten’s character “a sham and a waste of everyone’s time.” That said, I doubt Thomson’s preferred way of handling things, which would be to have Bergman solve her own problems without the help of an interested third party, was in the cards at the time.
*. This was Angela Lansbury’s debut, playing the slatternly cockney housemaid who is either a red herring or just an awkward fit in the plot. Lansbury was only 17 and had to be accompanied by a social worker on set. But she’s an actress who has always seemed to be years older than her actual age and she looks like she’s about 30 here. Which kind of gets rid of the sense of something really taboo going on between her and the master of the house (a slightly kinky relationship that was made more explicit in the 1940 film).
*. This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s very much a studio production of its time and I think it does suffer in comparison with Thorold Dickinson’s film. Still, this is the kind of thing audiences wanted, and it’s what a lot of people still want to see when they re-visit Hollywood’s golden age.

Gaslight (1940)

*. I’d never had much interest in Gaslight, either this film or the better known 1944 version, until I started hearing so many references to “gaslighting” as a way of characterizing the messaging of the Trump administration. Before Trump I don’t think I’d ever even heard the word used before, at least that I can remember. Since Trump it has become common parlance. So I decided to go back to the source.
*. The original source is a 1938 play by the British playwright Patrick Hamilton titled Gas Light (two words), which premiered on Broadway as Angel Street in 1941 (with Vincent Price playing the wicked husband). This film is closer to the play than MGM’s 1944 production, but it almost disappeared because when MGM bought the rights they wanted all of the prints and even the negative destroyed. This is something studios did, back in the day.
*. Cinephiles like to debate the respective merits of the two films. I’ll say up front that I prefer this version. For starters, it’s 30 minutes shorter. I don’t think less is always better, but the 1944 film feels awkwardly padded while this one is much tighter and has some real snap to it. Just look at that opening scene as the thief tosses the house: the frantic cuts, wipes, and dissolves, the odd angles and shadow play, the violent stabbing of the furniture and rifling of drawers, all to a score vibrating with tense strings. There’s nothing like that in the MGM production. Hell, Boyer even wears gloves when he tears the attic apart. The jewel thief here has no time for gloves.
*. Then there is the cast. In 1944 MGM managed to get a bunch of stars in alignment (and it wasn’t easy), but I prefer Anton Walbrook to Charles Boyer. Walbrook is a more believable and altogether nastier piece of work. His creepy voice has an unnerving way of making his lines sound a bit like perverted baby-talk. And while it will be accounted heresy by some, I think Diana Wynyard is more convincing in the role of the bride coming unglued than the always composed Ingrid Bergman. Wynyard has the haunted, neurotic look of Véra Clouzot in Les Diaboliques, or Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. Finally, the amateur sleuth/hostler Frank Pettingell is a lot more fun than Joseph Cotten (“Saucy shirt, isn’t it?”), and Cathleen Cordell is a more erotic housemaid than Angela Lansbury, without having to try so hard. There’s some real heat generated between her and her louche master.
*. Apparently it’s a play that’s long been popular on stage, even up to the present day, but does the story make any sense? Could Paul have come up with a more complicated plan as subterfuge for continuing his search for the rubies? What good does it do to drive his wife insane? In later examples of “gaslighting” like Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte and the Hammer psychothriller Nightmare (both 1964) there was a practical point to what the villains were doing. Here, not so much.
*. Thorold Dickinson doesn’t take a back seat to George Cukor in the directing department either. There’s nothing in the later version that matches the pan here that follows the discovery of the jewels. In a single shot we see the triggering of Paul’s own madness, culminating in his tossing the chair.
*. Well, if you’re curious about the origin of the expression “gaslight,” or if you just want to enjoy an atmospheric thriller from the golden age then I would recommend this film ahead of Cukor’s. If you just want to do some star-watching though, fast forward to 1944.

Long Weekend (1978)

*. Long Weekend is usually considered an example of the Ozploitation genre, if that is a genre. All the label means is that it’s an Australian exploitation film from the ’70s. However, I do think they did things a little differently in the Antipodes. Long Weekend is a curious mix of themes and genres that combine to make it a different and memorable — if not, in the end, a great — movie.
*. In the first place it’s a man vs. nature flick, which is itself close kin to the eco-horror that was big at the time. And yet does nature ever really go on the attack aside from the one dive-bombing eagle and the angry possum (who seems to have been provoked)?
*. This was deliberate. Writer Everett De Roche (who also scripted the even better known Ozploitation classic Patrick, which came out the same year) just wanted to show the natural world rejecting the insufferable Peter and Marcia like an autoimmune system protecting against cancer cells. He sought to avoid “a Jaws-like critter film” and instead make the “beasties to all be benign-looking and not overtly aggressive.”
*. On that same point, I love how nature’s first “attack” takes the form of the mundane (but equally threatening and disgusting) mold that grows on their frozen “chucky” (chicken). They’re more likely to die from salmonella than a wombat bite!
*. Another theme being mined is that of the urban dwellers who take a wrong turn and end up somewhere off the main road. Here the young couple do arrive at their intended destination but only after being led through forthrights and meanders that make it clear they’re effectively lost. And all that expensive camping equipment isn’t going to help them in a real struggle to survive.
*. I wonder if it’s just the Australian background that also made me think of Roeg’s Walkabout (1971). Are the messages, in this one respect, all that different?
*. Then there is the domestic breakdown angle. This is actually quite interesting for a couple of reasons.
*. In the first place it’s surprisingly graphic. Peter tells Marcia to go fuck herself and the next time we see her she’s in bed reading one of her “dirty books” (at least that’s what Peter calls it) and masturbating. That was not something you saw a lot of outside of porn in the ’70s. Or today, for that matter. Self-love is a bit of a no-go zone for movies. Later Peter will pick up a copy of Playboy but be interrupted before getting to enjoy himself.
*. I can’t help but add another note here. In the trivia section of the IMDb entry for Long Weekend there’s a note telling us that the book Marcia is reading is The Inheritors (1955) by William Golding, which is a story about a tribe of neanderthals being wiped out by homo sapiens. Not sexy stuff! Alas for whoever came up with that gem (which I did get a laugh out of), the book she is reading is The Inheritors (1969) by Harold Robbins, which is more of a one-handed read.
*. The second thing that makes the story of the doomed couple interesting is that they are both so completely dislikeable. Every time you think they’re about to be redeemed they throw our sympathy away and we’re left to feel they deserve each other and their own little weekend in hell. The only one I felt sorry for was the dog, who I hope someone eventually found and let out of the jeep.
*. I like how Marcia throws the “grotty symbolism” of her smashing the eagle’s egg in Peter’s face (he had suggested it represented her having had an abortion). I guess if a movie is going to go in for grotty symbolism it’s good to show you’re aware of it. And could any symbolism be grottier than that truck heading to the slaughterhouse providing a rendezvous with destiny at the end?
*. Overlaying (or I suppose underlying) all of this is a sense of abiding oddness. What is up with that sea cow? What are all those weird noises on the soundtrack? What’s that dark shape in the water when Peter is out swimming? What happened to the people in the van? Strange things happen when you get lost in the woods.
*. It was remade, not well, in 2008 because that’s the kind of thing that happened in 2008. I began by saying this version isn’t great, but I think that’s mainly because of limitations that made the animal attack scenes all look ridiculous. The leads both perform well and while there’s nothing suspenseful going on it does hold one’s interest most of the time and is hard to entirely forget.

Crazy Murder (2014)

*. What was I thinking?
*. I think I was I thinking that it would be something like an homage to Abel Ferrara’s gritty cult thriller The Driller Killer.
*. No such luck.
*. Instead, we follow a nameless homeless person (Kevin Kenny) as he aimlessly wanders about NYC. He mutters, shouts obscenities, and rambles incoherently. He eats garbage. He continually shits himself and rubs the feces over his face and in his hair. He eats his shit. He pukes his shit up and lies down in it. He knocks someone unconscious and shits on their face. And he kills a bunch of random people he meets (including a mother and her baby).
*. It’s billed as a horror-comedy, or something like that, but for the life of me I don’t know what’s funny, or was even meant to be funny, about it. And while it’s filled with horrors, it’s not really a horror film. There may have been some sort of political point, but I don’t want to think too hard about what it might have been. Perhaps the idea that since we don’t see the homeless when we pass by them on the street every day it’s that much easier for them to kill dozens of people and get away with it.
*. So . . . why? What’s the point? There’s nothing wrong with a filmmaker wanting to shock, but the shocked are entitled to ask to what end. Is Crazy Murder just a dirty joke?
*. Co-director Caleb Pennypacker has a credit list that mostly involves working as a digital effects artist on various blockbusters from the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. I’m guessing he just wanted to get his hands dirty with something raw and edgy. There’s even a nod to the Marvel universe in the passage where the Killer transforms himself into a Wolverine-style blade-wielding supervillain.
*. In the face of so much bad taste there’s not much for me to say. Basically this is an orgy of coprophilia and -phagia for people who thought 2 Girls 1 Cup didn’t go on long enough. It’s probably one of the hardest movies to watch that I’ve seen in years, and I don’t mean that in any kind of a good way.

Mother! (2017)

*. In 2017 there was a critical and box office success scored by an adaptation of a previously-filmed Ira Levin novel. This was Get Out, a revisioning of The Stepford Wives. Basically, Get Out just switched the feminist angle for a racial argument, but in doing so director Jordan Peele produced one of the best movies of the year.
*. 2017 also saw critical division and a box office flop in an adaptation of a previously-filmed Ira Levin novel. This was Mother!, a revisioning of Rosemary’s Baby. Yes, Mother! was borrowing from a lot more than just Rosemary’s Baby but I think that was the most obvious source and parallel.
*. I guess all I’m saying is that Levin deserves a lot of credit for creating such a pair of durable modern myths. I find his writing only functional, but there’s no denying his ability to get at contemporary social anxieties. His main point seems to be that there’s only ever a thin layer of civilization papering over humanity’s inherent evil: our natural state consisting primarily of cruelty and selfishness. Neighbours may seem perfectly respectable, but of course they’re really monsters. And, in the end, so are we.
*. From this springboard much critical speculation over the meaning of Mother! has been launched. I think this was intended, as it is with any fantasy, but writer-director Darren Aronofsky didn’t want to encourage freestyle interpretation too much. As he put it, “I think it’s OK to be confused. The movie has a dream-logic and that dream-logic makes sense. But if you try to unscrew it, it kind of falls apart. So it’s a psychological freak-out. You shouldn’t over-explain it.”
*. I think this is disingenuous. Mother! is an allegory, a story that’s meant to suggest another story (or various other stories). This makes it something different from what I think audiences were expecting.
*. I’m not saying it’s successful allegory, by the way. Just allegory. There is no “realistic” reading of it that works. There’s a reason none of the characters have names. They’re not characters, but meant to represent abstractions. I mean, a superstar poet? Come on.
*. As I see it, there are at least three main interpretive models available.
*. (1) A feminist take on the myth of the genius artist sustained by his long-suffering doormat of a helpmeet/muse. Behind (well behind) every great man, etc. His poetry will make him a god, while her domestic labour will be taken for granted, ignored, or even despised.
*. (2) A satire on the cult of celebrity, with the vulgar public all wanting to claim a piece of the star, whom they raise up only to destroy with their worshipful fandom.
*. (3) An environmental allegory, with Jennifer Lawrence as Mother Earth and Javier Bardem as the one who despoils her and then re-invents her (over and over) in his imagination.
*. Uniting all three of these is the religious idea. The artist, the celebrity, and the Earth are all objects of devotion. And Mother! duly raids the Bible for a lot of its language and imagery, some of which seems to have been tossed in for no reason at all.
*. While not religious myself, I have to register that I think this may be the most anti-Christian film I’ve ever seen. The savagery of its travesty of various rites and doctrines even outdoes Buñuel. These aren’t the coven of devil-worshipers in Rosemary’s Baby but basically a bunch of good Catholics. Which actually makes them worse! At least the NYC cultists didn’t wreck the damn place.
*. But to what end, all of this? I should say here that I didn’t dislike Mother! I actually liked it better than The Black Swan, which I thought was an even sillier movie. But I didn’t feel as upset or ambivalent about it as many did. I didn’t think the end was too chaotic or violent or hysterical or disturbing. I just thought it went on too long. And as far as the message is concerned (you may pick from the menu above or supply your own), it seemed shrug-worthy to me. Other films have explored these themes with more passion, originality, humanity, and coherence. Ultimately, it’s not that Mother! is about too much, but that it’s about too little.
*. I began by linking this movie to Get Out, and I think the comparison is instructive. Get Out is also an allegorical fantasy, but one whose story is fun just in its own right. By being more abstract, Mother! covers more mythic ground but is far less involving and in the end feels stuck in dream land. What point is it making, aside from the obvious? And how powerfully can it make any point, however simpleminded, when the action and characters are so removed from our own world? Those overhead shots of the house in its clearing made me think of the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, another parable that, despite being set on a distant planet, seemed more rooted than Mother!
*. I’m curious as to what will happen to Mother! I could see it becoming a kind of cult film (or whatever passes for a cult film in the twenty-first century). I could also see it being totally forgotten. On balance, I think it’s well worth watching, and I’m glad there are filmmakers so determined to create a cinema of personal expression. I’m just not sure Darren Aronofsky has that much to say.