Thoughts On: 2017


The Best Films That I Watched In 2017 pt. 1

A short while ago, we went over 50 of the best films that we've covered on the blog during 2017. This year, however, we started the End Of The Week Shorts, where I briefly talk about a selection of films I watch throughout the week. With the last shorts of this year having just gone up, we're going to look back at some of the best films I have watched this year.

You can see a version of this list on Letterboxd here, and a part 2 will follow. But, that said, let's jump into things...

Rear Window (1954)

Probably my favourite Hitchcock picture as it is one that forces him to work with characters just as much as plot.

Koyaanisqati (1982)

A mammoth experimental film, one without pretence, just awe-inducing splendour.

Broken Blossoms (1919)

You can say it's a D.W Griffith picture, but to watch Broken Blossoms is to see the magic of three people: Griffith, Bitzer and Gish.

A Bride For Rip Van Winkle (2016)

One of those films that you just feel lucky to have stumbled across, and one that stays with you for a long time.

Surf's Up (2007)

Shia LaBeouf's best movie? The best animated penguin movie? The best animated docu-drama? A highly underrated comedy? All of the above?

The Red Balloon (1956)

Incredibly simple, but nonetheless one of the most poignant films about childhood ever constructed.

Bio-Dome (1996)

Stupid dumb, but I still laugh - and almost as much as I did when I was a kid.

Earth (1930)

A soviet-montage movie that doesn't find its way into all of the textbooks, but is just as tremendous as - if not better than - the likes of Battleship Potemkin.

House (1977)

Insane, but not senseless. I'm still itching to watch this again.

Life (1993)

My favourite Peleshyan film, and one that has an image quality so evocative and magnetic that it is impossible not to be transfixed by all that transpires within it.

Ménilmontant (1926)

Devastatingly powerful and ingenious in its use of cinematic language, this is silent cinema at its peak.

Brief Encounter (1945)

One of the finest pieces of British cinema containing some of the most crisp black and white cinematography, and a powerful story to back it all up.

Magic Myxies (1931)

A fascinatingly beautiful piece of film history that combines some brilliant camera work and some slightly questionable science.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

A tremendous reminder from 60 years ago that self-reflexivity in movies is in no way a new thing.

Come and See (1985)

When we think of war films, we often think about American war films. Come and See is a huge punch to the gut that shows war in a uniquely European way, and so puts much of American war cinema to shame.

You, The Living (2007)

Off-beat, black comedy at its finest. Absurdly rewarding.

A Monster Calls (2016)

Not perfect, but one of the ballsiest kids films I've seen a while that really deserves mention here.

48 Hrs. (1982)

1980s Eddie Murphy. Need I say more?

Los Olvidados (1950)

Surrealism and drama meet in the hands of a master.

Harvey (1950)

How can you not love Jimmy Stewart after seeing Harvey? Harmless, despite fleeting implications of darker themes, and a pure joy to watch.

Repo Man (1981)

A film that breezed past me as I watch it, but has creeped up on me many times as I've thought about it again. Can't wait to re-watch this one.

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Keaton, like all great auteurs, was a genre of cinema unto himself. Steamboat Bill Jr. is just one sparkling example of this.

True Heart Susie (1919)

As in Broken Blossoms, we see one of the greatest silent film trios meet, and the results are magical.

Top Hat (1935)

Maybe the best Astaire-Rogers picture, and it makes you look at La La Land with a tinge of despair. Hollywood doesn't know how to make musicals anymore - not like this.

Beauty And The Beast (1946)

Anyone who thinks 2017's Beauty And The Beast is a good film, kill yourself. Or just watch this masterpiece.

Godzilla (1954)

Everyone knows and should recognise it: The monster movie to end all monster movies.

El Topo (1970)

Jodorowsky at his finest. Equal parts ridiculous and profound, this one of the most unique films you'll ever see.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Wes Anderson before he fully became Wes Anderson. A gem of a film, well worth seeing.

Pickpocket (1959)

Poetically, meticulously and brilliantly Bressonian.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Not as brilliant as so many claim it is, but a movie I've grown to appreciate more and more as I look at the growing heap of superhero movies.

Mean Machine (2001)

Another one for the stupid column, but a film I won't hesitate in saying I love.

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End Of The Week Shorts #38

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The Best Films That I Watched In 2017 pt. 2

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End Of The Week Shorts #38

Today's shorts: Kagemusha (1980), His Girl Friday (1940), John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), Netwon (2017), Call Me By Your Name (2017), Queen (2014), A Man Escaped (1946), Atomic Blonde (2017)

A powerful epic that is restrained and subtle in its approach - don't expect to see battle, rather, try to understand its motion-semiotics - Kagemusha is a film that asks what it takes to lead. With its conclusion implying a symbolic and metaphorical elemental harmony, this is a weighted film. However, this is not Kurosawa at his absolute best. 
Whilst there is the staple Kurosawa quality embedded into this film, it lacks profundity to support its visual mastery. Kurosawa then, in some ways, undermined this film 5 years later with Ran - though, there is an argument for Ran being a nice companion piece. The spectacle of this jidaigeki ultimately leaves it a tremendous film well worth the watch, but, as implied, this may not leave you speechless like other Kurosawa films manage.

Tremendous. Like very few other films, of its time or of any time, His Girl Friday is a film entirely run by dialogue. In a way, you can see this film to represent Hollywood perfecting the play adaptation, and so be preemptive of great movies such as 12 Angry Men, A Streetcar Named Desire and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. However, there is a distinct purity to this film in that the dialogue is a form of spectacle unlike that seen in any of the mentioned films; it dazzles, tickles, moves the plot, berates your ears and warms your heart. 
Not too cinematic, but a must see and a great piece of cinema, His Girl Friday is certainly a movie that will continue to ring through the ages.

I enjoyed Chapter 2 today more than I did on the first watch, but this is not a particularly good movie. And this is despite the fact that it knows and embraces what it is. This then means that John Wick 2 doesn't bring much to the table that even lives up to expectations. 
The direction is very choppy - as is the editing. The dialogue, more so as it is spoken that it is written, is goddamn horrible. Reeves really lets this movie down; he seems to be quite lost as the out-and-out badass. In movies such as The Matrix, Point Break and Speed, he has a touch of weakness and fallibility that leave his laconic mumblings and goofy exchanges natural and palatable. This is not the case with John Wick. I won't criticise the action as much as, on this watch, I sunk into it all, but everything else is a real let down. Not looking forward to Chapter 3.

Newton is a brilliant film, one that simply asks its main character how to be honest. In exploring such an idea, this formulates a specific and general commentary on democracy that is both fascinating and striking. 
Shot beautifully and with a precise control over comedy through editing and framing, Newton is rife with round, human characters that engage you in the confined world of the narrative terrifically. There is very little to criticise about this film beyond the fact that it is maybe slightly predictable. However, this isn't a mystery and it doesn't fall on unnecessary plot devices (such as a romance) to keep moving. So, the minute aspect of predictability does not hurt the film overall. Instead, the characters and themes shine out, leaving this a light, yet memorable film. Not a masterpiece, but a true joy to watch, I have to recommend Newton.

Pompous. It's not impossible to make a film about love and time that is structured around a group of people conversing on a thin line between pretence and genuity (Linklater seems to be a master of this genre). Unfortunately, Guadagnino fails on this front. Whilst this is nicely shot and brilliantly paced, I would be lying if I said I cared for this movie at all. Each and every single character is essentially an unengaging caricature of a rich, intellectual Jew in Italy complicated only by a gimmicky subversion of tradition. There is something to be said for the mise en scène and the manner in which bodies are shot as highly expressive idols - statues of sorts - throughout this film. However, I fail to see a valid reason why this rather cheap, awkwardly written drama has garnered so much acclaim - though, I have to say I'm not surprised by the phenomena. Again: pompous.

Third review: still love it. Whilst a few of the performances are weaker than others, Queen is a tremendous movie that is consumed in one character: Rani. Played wonderfully by Ranaut, Rani is defined by the bounds of her confidence. Seeing those bounds fluctuate and expand is the joy of this movie and the source of its emotional subtext. 
In support of Rani's journey are a selection of brilliant songs and some really crisp cinematography and editing. A balance between harmony and chaos then materialises through pulsating entertainment, leaving this narrative as touching as it is uplifting. So, though this objectively isn't a technical or formal masterpiece, Queen is an ever-developing personal favourite that I can only imagine I'll be watching many, many times more.

Whilst Au Hasard Balthazar is still, in my opinion, Bresson's best film, A Man Escaped is undeniably tremendous. Without embellishment, just raw realism, this is a film about, without any better words to describe it, luck. This is then a humble nod to the forces that be and a look in the mirror punctuated by a staggered exhale. 
Having watch this only once, I feel I have not seen this in its entirety. Presented as a set of actions, a pair of hands working, mouths speaking, feet moving, but captivating the inner prayers of a condemned man, it seems that your ear cannot be sharp enough to have heard every utterance of A Man Escaped. Having finally got my hands on this film, I then look forward to watching it again in the near-future.

Tight script. Sharp editing. Flashy camera work. Buzzing cinematography. Solid performances. Atomic Blonde is a competently made film, but is one that offers very little of substance and isn't too engaging. Its greatest subtextual moment is a cheap reference to Tarkovsky's Stalker, but - no matter how many close-ups of vodka bottles we're shown - this fails in capturing a hapless existential search for meaning. Instead, the plot drones on and on as we wait for the next action sequence - which, themselves, are the best parts of the movie, but aren't mind blowing. 
All in all, Atomic Blonde is technically better than John Wick 2, but lacks just as much personality and pop. A simple throw-away movie.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - The Tickle Between Us

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The Best Films That I Watched In 2017 pt. 1

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - The Tickle Between Us

Quick Thoughts: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

A town is pulled into turmoil when three billboards are raised on an obscure back road.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dramatic masterpiece, and a story about laughter. Thematically reminiscent of both Sullivan's Travels and Bresson's L'Argent, Three Billboards uses drama to question the humanity of its subjects and to explore what defines and joins us as humans. This something is not pretty, but it is touching. This something is not obvious, but it is profound. This something is not what brings us to our knees, but is what has us rise up to our feet. This something might as well be laughter - if not, maybe it is something to, at the very least, smile at.

Substituting melodrama for dark comedy, Three Billboards confronts the corruption within a society and sees, not political conundrums, not issues of law, but conflicts of humanity. A surprise to anyone who views the world with naive or ideologically bound eyes, this film is both harshly unforgiving and unconditionally empathetic as it asks its characters what it is that they are doing, what it is that they should be doing and, above all, why. Examining something beyond ego, the focus of this film is that intangible line that binds one person to another, whether they be an enemy, a friend, a neighbour or a stranger in a distant part of the world. Seeing this line bend and morph as people do is the source of the deep profundity in this film. Seeing this line, for lack of a better word, tickle its constituents is the source of the unfathomable poignancy in this film.

Without needing to explain any further, all I can end on is a firm recommendation that you do not miss what is certainly one of the very best films of this year. If you have seen Three Billboards, however, what are your thoughts?

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Khadija - Gambiwood?

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End Of The Week Shorts #38

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Khadija - Gambiwood?

Thoughts On: Khadija (2016)

Made by Aisha Jobe, this is the Gambian film of the series.

The Gambia, The Smiling Coast of Africa, is a nation that has had a strong tourism industry since the 1960s. Tourism is in fact one of the most significant elements of The Gambia's economy. However, prostitution is entangled in tourism and the wider economy, which sees men, women and even children earn a living through sex work. Despite the illegalisation of prostitution and many schemes intended to prevent the spreading of sexual diseases and infection, sex working remains prevalent.

Khadija picks up on this social issue in following a girl seeking education that attempts to escape her rural village and find a better life for herself in The Gambia's capital, Banjul. With a focus on reflecting present day issues, an embraced amateur aesthetic and sound, highly melodramatic acting and a clearly limited budget and production schedule, Khadija is distinctly a commercial African film production that fits within a form of filmmaking that you can find across the continent. The centre of this form of cinema is, of course, Nigeria, and so there is a clear Nollywood influence on Khadija evident in the aesthetics, the plotting and even the acting styles and accents. However, whilst Khadija works within these acceptable conventions, it does not do so very well.

In low-end commercial African filmmaking, you can often sense that scenes are rushed. But, in Khadija, it seems that almost no effort was put into even loosely planning scenes. Just look at the blocking here:

If you look to the bottom of the frame, you can see the shoes of the woman that we are supposed to be listening to through the legs of the foregrounded character, and if you look to the centre, you can see her hand. It needn't be said, but there is no reason for the mise en scène to be this bad.

Unfortunately, there is this continual sense that the director just does not care about the technical details of this film - consider the soundtrack for instance. It is not uncommon to hear the same song played over and over again in low-budget African movies - the theme tune for Sakawa Boys still rings in my head. However, this is usually done to fill up the sound track so there aren't elongated sections of dead air. You will see this technique used a lot in Old Hollywood pictures - especially around the early 30s as filmmakers were still learning how to utilise sound. However, whilst you can find varying degrees of success with this bodge-job technique, Khadija uses its sound track in a uniquely careless manner. For example, the lyrics of this film's theme song are ridiculously direct.

As we push towards the third act, we get this flashback sequence that tells us a little about Khadija's (our main character's) aunt's background. By this point in the narrative, Khadija has left home with the hope that her aunt would ignore her father's wishes and send her to school in the city. Her hopes are never realised, however, as her aunt - who is a prostitute herself - forces her into sex work. In this flashback scene, we are then told that Aunty Angelica did go to university herself, but had to turn to prostitution because she couldn't find a job where she wouldn't be taken advantage of by her bosses. Whilst there is substance in this scene, and whilst it marks some of the better elements of this film that we will touch on soon, as we cut back to present...

... the theme tune kicks in with a segment we've not heard yet and with the lines: "Aunty 'gelica is regrettin'... that her life is full of mis'ry... ohhwwu-whoaaa-uh-whoaaa-uh-whoaaa...". You can't blame your audience for laughing at this.

The worst part of the sound track, however, is not its repetitious use of this theme song, but the fact that it uses a few songs that I'm not sure it acquired the copyright licences to use. I wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble over this, but, if you were to steal a Mariah Carey, at least put it to good use.

That said, looking past the technical downfalls of this film, there is some substance to be found in the narrative. In fact, the script is probably the strongest element of Khadija for the fact that it brings to light the issue of prostitution in The Gambia. However, whilst there is an undertone of poignant tragedy that supports the melodrama of this narrative, its commentary appears quite limited. For instance, there is a clear reference to Islamic texts and Khadījah bint Khuwaylid, Muhammad's first wife. However, this reference is confined to an implication that out main character, like Muhammad's first wife, had a strong faith. This faith for our main character is not just religious, but is bound to a belief in education. So, whilst there are allegorical parallels drawn between this narrative and stories of Khadījah bint Khuwaylid that certainly say something, they are quite weak and fail to build into something cohesive.

Nonetheless, the fact that this film attempts to be a social document that implores change - moreover, is seemingly a product of a newly emerging national cinema - is highly commendable. This social document does not reflect the complications of its subject matter by considering the economical pulls that lead to the manifestation of a sex industry. But, despite these limitations, I found this to be a watchable movie that is worth seeing if you have come this far in the post. You can then click here to see Khadija on Koollife Tv's YouTube channel, or you can watch below...

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A Ghost Story - (Sur)Realist Impressionism: Surrendering To Time

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A Ghost Story - (Sur)Realist Impressionism: Surrendering To Time

Quick Thoughts: A Ghost Story (2017)

A couple are pulled apart by tragedy and held together by fine threads.

A Ghost Story is an incredible film, maybe even a masterpiece - time will have to tell. Questioning what it means to lose and be lost just as much through form as it does through its content, this film sits in a unique place somewhere between Tarkovsky's Mirror and Akerman's Jeanne Dielman. There is little that binds these films together, and so it is difficult to find a worthwhile way to compare them. That is, beyond considering their approach to, and representation of, time.

In expanding and contracting time, Lowery forces us to step inside of his imagery and not just question its purpose, but surrender to the bottomless subtext of seemingly never ending shots. Lowery thus captures something close to ethereal and poetic Tarkovsky time, whilst simultaneously projecting the realist impressionism that Akerman does by also expanding time - seemingly into inertia. By straddling these two approaches, Lowery, as implied, formulates his own style which is both poetic, realist, surrealist and impressionistic.

Let it then be emphasised that, like the mentioned Akerman and Tarkovsky films, this is not an easy watch. However, if you split this up into multiple sittings and/or entirely invest yourself in what is essentially an hour and a half of image-assisted meditation, you may find this film incredibly rewarding. But, as much as this film impressed me, I do not feel inclined to dive deep into it.

Boiling this film down to a few conclusive thoughts, it seems that A Ghost Story questions how we are supposed to cope with the entropic vacuum of time, an entity to which we owe and lose everything to. Its answer is surrender via acceptance. The only way to confront time and the fact that everything we do has simultaneous meaning and futility of infinite intensity embedded into it is to realise that time itself, when bound to the conscious mind, is not linear. With memory - the building, preservation and loss of it - comes the looping and bending of time, and in turn the crossing of paths of all conscious beings. So, whilst we are lost in time, we are not alone. And if one cannot find solace in recognising this, then you will forever wander in search of impossible reconciliation, a ghost scratching at the textures of time.

This captures the essence of what I saw in A Ghost Story, but I firmly believe that this film has to be experienced to be understood more broadly. So, if you haven't yet, and if you are interested in a difficult art film, I wholehearted recommend A Ghost Story. If you have seen this film, however, what are your thoughts?

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Fighting - Where Is The Music?

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Khadija - Gambiwood?

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Fighting - Where Is The Music?

Thoughts On: Fighting (2009)

A street hustler meets an unlicensed fight manager/producer.

Fighting isn't a bad movie. It follows the usual street fighting/boxing movie plot whilst incorporating much-seen tropes of redemption, brotherhood and romance into itself, and this makes for a strong, albeit slightly unoriginal, story. In support of the story is some really nice cinematography, solid performances and some gleaming moments of writing/world building. In such, there are parts of this movie that really pull you into the streets of New York - without throwing at you the same old shots of the cityscape, Times Square, bustling crowds, grimy subways and yellow taxis - as well as the lives of our main characters. This is quite refreshing and makes for as film worth watching. However, there is a reason why this came and went without garnering much attention or acclaim.

The manner in which the editing, sound and direction of this movie interact is quite bad. There is then a constant sense of discord as you watch Fighting as there is no pop in the dialogue and no emphasis of the important beats of a scene. This all comes down to the framing, the blocking and the montage composition: they show no understanding of rhythm and subtext. As a result, most scenes mumble by or stagger across the screen - so much so that I thought this was harshly re-cut to trim down the run time. However, whilst there is a longer version of this movie, it is 108 minutes long whilst the original theatrical cut is 105 minutes long. Those extra 3 minutes do not imply that the awkward editing in this movie was inflicted upon it by a studio, rather that the shots weren't planned and, in terms of sound design especially, executed to a high enough level.

The crux of the problems with Fighting are then that it doesn't understand basic theories of editing very well - or at least it shows a very poor understanding of them. To explain this a little better, I'll leave you with a master of filmmaking and a few of his words that many of you would have heard before:

As Hitchcock picks up on, montage is a musical phenomena orchestrated with shot types (medium close-ups, wides, bird's-eye-view, etc.) and juxtaposition. In other words, certain images placed together in a certain way create a symphony of motion and imagery that impacts the audience as a filmmaker desires; we feel the violence of a scene, its melancholic weight, its wrought tension, etc. Throughout Fighting, there is very little music and there is no harmony created through editing and direction.

This is most evident in the actual fighting scenes. In terms of both storytelling and technical filmmaking, there are some things missing in this movie that leave many notes out. Starting with story, it may surprise you to know that, whilst this is a movie that claims to be all about fighting, there are no training sequences. Channing Tatum does about 5 push-ups before his final fight - that's about it. There are no Rocky sequences in which he goes running, where he hits some meat or does some some pull ups. And whilst there is a backstory concerning wrestling in college, who knows how many years it has been since our main character has trained. And who knows if he's ever trained in boxing, kick boxing, muay thai or jujutsu. After all, we do see mixed martial arts - kicks, take downs, ground and pound, some sketchy rear naked chokes and so on - throughout this movie. For the fact that there is this huge plot hole that is supposed to be filled singularly by the physique of Tatum, when we enter the fight scenes of this movie there is an inner-discord: the content of these scene does not produce music.

Taking a step back and looking at how these scenes are shot, I am quite astonished at the confidence that is implied with the rather terrible title, Fighting. Whilst some of the action seems legitimate, the camera movement and editing almost always completely mask what it going on. The shaking handheld camera used throughout action sequences then does nobody any favours - the editor least of all. There is then ultimately no formal music created in the assemblage of the fight scenes in this movie; we don't feel the pace of the fights, the inner emotions of characters or even the chaos/skill that we're supposed to be impressionistically struck by.

To bring things towards a close, whilst Fighting was a good watch, this movie largely serves as a lesson in what weak editing looks like. There is a harmony in the story, but there isn't much music supporting elsewhere. So, if this interests you, it is worth a go, but don't expect fireworks.

Thanks, Aimee

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Mother - The Maternal Nightmare

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Mother - The Maternal Nightmare

Thoughts On: Mother! (2017)

Chaos emerges in a crumbling household when a fan shows up at the door.

Aronofsky's Mother is a difficult film. The first hour is bad. The second hour builds into a twenty minute masterpiece. And the ending is precariously balanced. If you are still to see this film, I certainly recommend you watch it - and probably before reading on. If you have seen this film, or do not mind having it spoiled in its entirety, please read on.

Mother is a film about, as the title of this posts suggests, a maternal nightmare. In such, this follows the mother of a childish man who thinks he is a messiah and, coincidentally, has his wish fulfilled by the world. As his wish is fulfilled, this film draws upon biblical tropes, portraying the man as a corrupt God or failed Christ-figure who sacrifices his son and wife without reason and without any understanding of the complex subtext of biblical/archetypal stories. In many senses, this is then a film about childish vanity. Without losing sight of our main character's role, however, this is a film about the consequences of the oedipal saviour.

To start unpacking this narrative, it is best to begin by analysing the crystal jewel that the man treasures so dearly. As the ending suggests, this jewel is the heart of a woman that the man stole. We can think of this with two key questions. Is this the heart of a previous wife? Or, is this the heart of the man's mother? The crux of these questions lies in their redundancy. It does not matter who the heart belongs to if the man is caught in an endless cycle of recycling wives as there must have been a starting point: the man's mother. We can assume, and leading on from the fact that this is a film all about motherhood, that the man maps his perception of his mother onto his wives. After all, this is how he treats them: he only wants their love and is unwilling to give anything back to them. But, if the wives are essentially his mother, then it does not necessarily make sense for us to see them as distinguished figures. The man has no mother just like he has no wife. He only has a false idol (a perfect embodiment of Mother Nature) that he continually exploits. In a sense, there is also no man, there are only archetypes: the false, oedipal messiah and the tortured idol of maternity.

The false messiah exploits his idol by coercing her to love him and set up a domain within which he will exist, thrive and continue to exploit her. This is the home that the wife constructs. And whilst she builds what is essentially a sanctuary for the man, he provides nothing: he does not write. And so he searches for inspiration.

This is the point at which I have to stop analysing the film and start criticising it. The first hour of Mother only works so well in retrospect; it sets up the final half, but in a very clunky manner. In such, we are thrown into the story and are never introduced to characters. Whilst it is completely reasonable that Aronofsky would do this considering the implied cyclical structure of this plot, mistakes are made in subverting classical structure. Without an introduction to the story, just an immediate inciting incident, there is no time to know characters. This is clearly part of the design of the movie: we are supposed to see the mentioned archetypes, and this is all. However, because of the intense passivity of the wife and the equally intense absurdity of every single other character in the first half of this film, the archetypes often become bad caricatures as they show no logic or humanity; they aren't even half-decent shells of people.

What Aronofsky is clearly attempting to construct in the first half of this narrative with his idiosyncratic characters is an absurdist drama founded upon alienation. Alienation, or the alienation effect, is a concept belonging to Bertolt Brecht, and it essentially describes a play or story (a movie even) that is so obviously contrived - that is so obviously a constructed story - that an audience is disengaged from its fantastical illusions and forced to question what is happening. Storytellers use this technique to essentially give audience a slap and to tell them to pay attention. I am not a big fan of this technique.

One of the most diabolical proponents of the alienation effect is the French New Wave director that most will know, Jean-Luc Godard, and I pretty much despise every single movie of his that I have seen because of this. Godard's pretence manifests itself through alienation as he believed that people don't know how to, or simply do not, watch movies correctly. In an attempt to correct our misguided ways, Godard breaks all the rules of cinema that he can conceive of. Unfortunately, however, he has very little to say after managing this.

Alienation isn't all bad, however. One of my favourite director's, Yorgos Lanthimos, utilises alienation in all of his films to construct absurd worlds that we, by virtue of their absurdity, can't help but question. Lanthimos then represents, in my view, how to do alienation: it is not about breaking the fourth wall, but deconstructing a fourth wall to tell a new kind of story.

Coming back to Aronofsky's Mother, we see alienation being used in the first half to merely break rules. In the second half, however, alienation is used to tell a story in a pretty original way. (However, let it be noted that the surreal sequences in the back end of Mother feel very much like those in Requiem For A Dream and even use similar techniques: shifting sets and a trembling frame). For the fact that Aronofsky fails to build believable, complex and true archetypes in his opening act, I really didn't like the first hour. Instead of trusting us to handle the jump from drama into surreal drama as he does in Requiem For A Dream, Aronofsky uses a facade of mystery to construct a weak alienating drama that has the latter half suffer because there is no strong character base.

With my gripes put to the side, the first half of Mother builds upon the discussed ideas of false saviours and tortured idols by establishing a broken relationship between the woman and the man through his first fans. The man of this fan couple signify the man (Javier Bardem) to be vain. The fact that this man and his wife are so rude, assuming and disgustingly open with their 'love' thus signify what isn't in the wife and husband's relationship - which is, to a normal person, a good thing. Moreover, this couple represent a base, animalistic, rebellious pairing; troubling candidates for Adam and Eve positions. Nonetheless, the husband accepts their love and openness and, in turn, opens up - not his home - but his wife's home to them.

This is the subtextual crux of the entire film. The husband is, in essence, a child. He interfaces with the world as if everything and everyone is his loving mother and he, simply by shining the brilliant light of his being, is their beloved son. This relationship is, using Freudian language, an oedipal one, and it is predicated on a mother taking too much care of her son. Whilst this is classically shown to destroy the son first and foremost, within Mother, it is the oedipal mother who suffers the utmost; who not only bears the brunt of the tragedy that comes her way, but has to carry the weight of her husband's - and in turn, the world's - problems on her shoulders.

If the wife is at any fault in this film, she facilitates this oedipal relationship. There is a tension throughout the narrative, however, between her passivity and her victim-hood - and Aronofsky does not handle this well. In such, the wife remains silent and submissive whilst things are going awry in her house. It is never made clear, however, whether or not she is caught in a whirlwind of events that she cannot stop (during the more cohesive parts of the film, this is what you sense) or if she is merely, and incomprehensibly, watching things go by when a normal person would have put a stop to things much sooner (this is the main issue with characterisation in the first hour). Nonetheless, with the husband as a child, his wife becomes a mother. This seems to be one reason why the two do not have sexual relations, and, because the husband sees the entire world as his loving mother, the wife eventually falls short for him: she cannot provide him with enough love and attention.

The vanity that the fan couple symbolise within the husband is now clear; they love him more than he probably deserves, and he relishes in this. Now, however, it seems, that biblical undertones arise. This new couple's sons seem to be Cain and Abel - just consider the way in which one brother kills another out of jealousy. This leaves the couple to be Adam and Eve, who walk obnoxiously in the garden of Eden alongside a benevolent God and absent (ignored) female archetype. There may then rest some heavy criticism of religion in this film - a criticism that becomes far more apparent in the latter half. The criticisms Mother has of religion seemingly concern the manner in which the female is neglected by the Christian mythos and, historically, has been abused by its doctrines. It may even suggest that the Garden of Eden should be thought of as a female archetype - a striking idea. There isn't too much clarity on this front, however. Whilst I think the idea that biblical stories hold too few female archetypes is evident in this narrative, I'm not sure where this critique ends and an audience's prejudice's begin. In such, if you wanted to see them as such, the overwhelmingly harrowing and disturbing scenes of abuse (there are very few cinematic sequences that have made me want to look away from the screen and Mother holds one of them) can be seen as a critique of all religious structures. However, in contrast to this, the scenes of abuse and religious anarchy can also be seen as a commentary on the bastardisation of religion.

So, coming back to the couple as Adam and Eve and their sons as Cain and Abel, we can see them to catalyse a movement towards a critique of religion, or, a critique of vanity with religious stories. I see sense in the idea that the couple and their children aren't used as mere religious fanatics, but that they signify the building of a broken cult. As a result, after one brother murders another, we see the decedents of Cain enter the house and poison the world. Interestingly, there is no Great Flood that wipes out the house invaders. The sink that explodes is then a mere MacGuffin as it finally has the wife burst out as she should have done so much earlier in the day, but fails in repelling evil from the world. With the husband as a Christ or God-like figure (the New and Old Testament are seemingly jumbled), he takes on the burdens of this world with love and compassion - Aronofsky, of course, contemporises this commentary on the anarchistic world in the powerful sequence in which the house becomes hell.

There are major problems with the husband's compassion as he watches the world turn to hell. There is no 'wrath of God' to eliminate evil in Mother as there is in the bible that distinguishes good from evil through the Great Flood. With the husband as a God or messiah without wrath, we have a formula for annihilation: benevolent, omnipotent weakness. And so though many people see Old Testament stories as rather brutal, in the context of Mother, we see a few of them referenced as commentary on our oedipal theme.

Without initial wrath - without being able to recognise the insanity in his followers and kick them out of his home - the husband is weak, and thus his wife carries his burdens and his religion destroys her meaninglessly. Exploitation is then the core of the second part of this movie; the wife is perceived to be a Great Mother who will carry the world's problems and love unconditionally - a benevolent God's comforter - but, she is only perceived as such so that she may be exploited by the selfish children of a false God. This is why theft and disrespect are rampant throughout this narrative: the wife is seen to be a receptacle of infinite love, welcome and forgiveness: a fake, oedipal, female archetype.

There are some loose parallels made between the fan wife - the Eve archetype - and our protagonist, her, upon such a concept. The fan wife seems to be a willing servant of her husband; she starts out seemingly like a traditional housewife, but her servitude becomes absurd. Is she then what the wife's husband (Bardem) expects her to be? Is she introduced into the cycle of his exploitation at every turn, and is she then placed here for the sake of reflection? I cannot find a way to confidently analyse the fan wife's role in this narrative in much depth as I believe she is a rather weak, underutilised archetype. So, whilst there may be more to said, I will leave these as open questions whilst we jump towards the end.

There needs to be no close analysis - unless it is of meticulous detail - of this film's religious allusions and themes of exploitation as they are very evident and powerfully projected in the second and third act. When we arrive to the latter half of the third act, however, we are again asked if this is a film about the bastardisation of religion, or the inherent corruption of religion. In such, we have to ask if Aronofsky's allusions to religion are a commentary on ideas of sacrifice, Christian virtue and God's yearning for love that are, in reality, only a mere facade for misogyny and patriarchal abuse, or, if Aronfky's religious allusions comment on - as we have thus far discussed - false messiahs and abused idols.

If the former is true, if Aronofsky uses this film to comment on misogyny stemming from religion, then the ending, the restarting of a cycle after the wife destroys everything, suggests that religion will always be corrupt and will always lead to anarchy unless it (the husband as God or Christ) is destroyed. I personally see no weight in this reading as it projects a rather bland statement that shows no convincing understanding of religious meta-narratives. Moreover, I'm not sure that Aronofsky - having made a plethora of statements about the film's allegorical nature by now - would intend for this.

The ending of this film and the implied cycle that exists beyond it may have a closed loop. To close the loop, it seems that an oedipal relationship needs to be struck down. Seeing a new wife wake up, there is then a tinge of hope for change. And considering that Aronofsky comments on both female archetypes and, as he claims, Mother Nature in general, we can see this film to be a warning that false messiahs - not just the idea of God or Christ, but a particular, broken type - must be recognised and overcome. Ultimately, this narrative seems to not just be an allegory about the book of Genesis, but an analysis of its key themes that repeat in a plethora of other stories - all of which come together within Mother in an attempt to reduce a global idea of a saviour down to an individual person. The real task of this film is then seeing the individual in the archetypes of Him, her and the plethora of other characters. Not only is it then crucial to understand what these figures say about us, but also how they can again become normal people.

As said, for the characters of this film to overcome their hubris, the oedipal relationship between man and wife, God and Mother Nature, must be destroyed. The self-fulfilling false prophet, God and Christ, the grandiose father and the son, needs to become a man, a husband and a real father. The tortured idol and the oedipal mother needs to find her voice and found a joint wrath in her relationship that does not destroy the world, but preserves it whilst burning away the dead wood of their Eden. Just as much a cry as it is an answer "mother!" is then, potentially, about waking up from the maternal nightmare.

Because of the allegorical nature of this film, its commentary can be mapped onto any circumstance in which we see males abusing power and women suffering - silenced, or in silence. It would then not surprise me if someone read this film to be about pollution, capitalism, sexual abuse scandals, or even see it to be a commentary on political figures. There is greater scope to this film that should be emphasised, however. If we understand the depths of the archetypes, we can see a raw commentary on paradigmatic vanity, idolisation and oedipal weakness that transcends the realm of the individual and collective.

So, though Aronofsky, Lawrence and a plethora of others have tried to lay Mother bare by explaining some of the key symbols, I'll end by asking you what your thoughts are on this movie beyond all that you have seen within and beyond this post. Is there more depth and intricacy to be seen in Mother?

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End Of The Week Shorts #37

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End Of The Week Shorts #37

Today's shorts: Woman in the Dunes (1964), Machuca (2004), Masaan (2015), The Intern (2015), Magma: Volcanic Disaster (2006), Beau Travail (1999), DragonHeart (1996), Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), The Ascent (1977), Moana (2016)

With Woman In The Dunes, Teshigahara shows an understanding textural movement that very few others - Tarkovsky is one of the few that come to mind - have ever projected. Imagery is not all that Teshigahara masters in this film, however. Though I do not feel confident in my understanding of this narrative as of now, there is a presence of futility and attraction in this film that implies a tremendous profundity in the symbol of a body of sand; trouble, an eighth of a millimeter in diameter, but in multiples of the millions, an unstoppable force. To see a man and woman trapped, bound and willingly immersed in a dune of amalgamated chaos is the source of this film's mesmerising quality. I will certainly be re-watching this in the future.

Machuca is a powerful film about the brief reign of Allende's socialist government in early 70s Chile. In following a trio of children who come into contact through an educational equality programme, this allegorically traces a rather futile attempt at integration which is nullified by bitter social tensions that eventually turn poisonous. Machuca is then a film about a refusal to change, about progress not being given a chance, and such a denial not giving rise to a previous regime and way of being, but a bruised and devolved incarnation of the past. 
Without romanticism or much bias, Machuca features a historical story told well and framed quite poignantly. Recommended.

Embodying a genuine harmony of character, motion, light, theme and atmosphere, Masaan is a masterful moral symphony that sees the currents of the past clash with the currents of the present on a body of streaming tragedy and gushing pathos. 
It feels like it has been an age since I've been so fully immersed in such a unified cinematic space and so entirely at the whim of a narrative flow. This is a faultless film and about as impressive as a cinematic debut gets. No more words really need to be said - and, speechless as I am, I'm not sure I could provide many more. Call yourself a cinefile? This is a must see.

Horribly blunt and contrived. Cheap characterisation. Immature and amateur sound design. The dialogue sounds like a sixteen-year-old was the head writer. Plain cheese. I wish I didn't have to exist in the same space as this claptrap. 
De Niro isn't terrible, but his delivery is generally bad. Hathaway has some of the sloppiest shit to juggle and unsurprisingly doesn't do well with it. Just shameless. I couldn't imagine the torture that it'd be to edit this for weeks on end. Walked away way before the end. Take or leave my opinion.

Magma: Volcanic Disaster is terrible... but not as terrible as the title would suggest it is. And that is almost all that this movie has going for it. Besides a few genuine, non-amateur moments of dialogue that show that the writer either did a lot of research or took Volcanology as a their major and film studies as a minor, this is rife with 'movie dialogue'. The writers aren't attempting a Tarantino impression however: they rip off the most cliched, vanilla movie dialogue that we've all heard too much and grind it through some mediocre actors before casting aside their performances and overshadowing it with some horrific ADR. And the state of the dialogue should suggest to you much about the qualities of the rest of the film: trope-ridden and badly executed (the CGI is almost torturous). 
Wasn't expecting much from an early morning television movie and I didn't get much. In the end, this wasn't hateable, but I did fall asleep.

Whilst I admire the sound-montage of Beau Travail, I struggled to give it much attention. Its image never felt inviting and it holds no illusive or mysterious quality that evokes curiosity. It is then all too easy to see this as a series of happenings that don't deserve to be given much meaning. 
Having read about the movie, its themes of masculinity, identity crisis and the homoerotic, I can certainly see these at play within the film. None of this struck me much, however, and so whilst I can appreciate the function of sound, dance and motion in this quiet montage piece, I can't say I cared much for it. A swing and a miss in my books.

I used to love this movie when I was a kid, and re-watching this today, I can see why. The humour and GCI are very clearly from the 90s, but retain an edge that is both poignant and memorable. Added to this, the story is truly tremendous. Not only is the world then populated with strong characters, but it is motivated by powerful themes of corruption and honour that are deeply embedded in symbolic archetypes. Unfortunately, however, the direction, acting and elements of the writing in this film are often horrific as they show no control or understanding of the story at hand. 
So, whilst I enjoyed this movie, this has much to do with nostalgia. This nostalgia has me think of a potential remake. That said, this movie already has a bunch of sequels - none of which, that I've seen, have been any good. This seems to then be a story that no one can tell right.

Rarely is heartbreak so tragically poignant and beautifully voiced. Make Way For Tomorrow is, in some respects, a film about an old couple facing a young couple's problems: money is seemingly impossible to come by, being together is a struggle against those who run your home and the future seems dim: a force that wants to pull you apart. With old age being a return to infancy as such, Make Way For Tomorrow portrays a world that, whilst the young are cared for as they need, the old are often not allowed the dignity they deserve. Misunderstanding and an ignorance of ones own future and responsibility swirl in the undertow here and so reach out of the screen and knock into us some truth that is worth remembering. 
Emotional poetry from a place and time deeply entrenched in the industrialised new age, Make Way For Tomorrow is an undeniable Hollywood masterpiece.

The Ascent is one of the most miserable and hopeless occupation films and, moreover, is one of the most difficult Christ allegories I've ever seen. There is then no sense of hope in this film, only an atmospheric cloud that hazes what we are urged to believe that some characters see to be a transcendent truth. For the fact that this truth, or any sense of meaning and direction, are shrouded so heavily, there is an intensely dark psychological realism imbued into every frame of this film, one that, as we can only imagine, captures the true struggle of the times depicted, and one that honestly captures the pitiful and the fallible spirit of its characters. 
Hypnotically sable, The Ascent is a film to behold.

Cinematic magic at its finest. 
Moana is an entirely faultless film and a true joy to watch. The songs are tremendous, the animation is masterful, the characters are brilliant, the subtext - I've already gone into that if you're interested. I could watch this a thousand times and I'm sure I'd still get the tingles. Stupid good, plain great, a straight masterpiece.

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Mother - The Maternal Nightmare

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