Holy Mother of…

Let’s face it: Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is not the best nor the worst movie of the year, or the decade, or of all of movie history. It’s an average piece of art from a filmmaker who, after making Noah in 2014, has used another narrative from the Bible, i.e. the Garden of Eden, mixed it with ecological concerns, and made a mildly interesting story out of it. The main problem I have with mother! is its lack of surprise for all of its two hours. Once you get that the Jennifer Lawrence character is some kind of Eve and ecological earth mother whose universe is the house she lives in, the rest sort of falls into place. The movie has only three kinds of scenes: Lawrence’s point of view, Lawrence in the frame, or shots over her shoulder. It’s the earth mother’s story and how her realm gets invaded by careless, selfish humans. She has built that house herself and will never leave it – the porch is as far as she will go. She can feel the house’s beating heart getting poisoned by unwanted intruders. The invasion is gradual, but unstoppable, and you know well before the end that we will be back at the beginning, where the house is in flames, with the earth mother dying in it, and her husband placing a diamond on its little altar so that the house can heal again. And so on. Continue reading

Blood takes guts

On the outside, Julia Ducournau’s Raw seems like an endurance test. There are reports of audience members fainting and vomiting, interrupted screenings and official complaints. And all of these people have seen the R-rated version, not the original, unreleased NC-17 version. During the show I was in, a guy left twice, his girlfriend stayed on, but all three of us fidgeted and squirmed more than once. Yes, Raw is hard to watch, but once you think you can cope with the blood and guts, you will find one of the best-told horror flicks in a long time. Like Lady Macbeth last week, Raw is a feature debut in a double sense: Julia Ducournau directed her own feature-length screenplay, and Garance Marillier, who plays the main role of Justine, is a newcomer. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Continue reading

Dark candle in a dark room

Reader, we are not in Jane Austen country anymore. Any Austen adaptation must end in a marriage, whereas Lady Macbeth starts with one, not a happy affair, and it gets worse from here on out. The source of this story is, of course, that famous Scottish play, and then there is Nikolai Leskov’s novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District from 1865, which is said to be loosely based on a real crime. William Oldroyd’s movie, from a screenplay by Alice Birch, could have approached the character of Lady Macbeth from one of those angles. Instead, the movie shows us a young bride called Katherine who initially does not object to be married to a wealthy nobleman who resides in a bleak, solitary country estate. The troubles start during their wedding night: the husband is a gruff alcoholic and under his father’s thumb. He orders her to undress and face the wall, and then he puts out the light and goes to sleep. She discovers that he is impotent and wants to keep her indoors. The mood of the movie has more in common with Wuthering Heights than any Merchant-Ivory movie. Continue reading

From the School of Subtle Manipulation

There is a wounded stranger in the music room of Mrs Farnsworth’s seminary, a Union soldier from Ireland, a deserter with a leg wound, a man, not exactly young, but handsome. What to do? He is a Yankee, they are all from the South, so shall they hand him over to the Confederate troops nearby, or should they do the Christian thing and dress his wounds first? Mrs Farnsworth herself, the head teacher Mrs Morrow and the five pupils all feel an undercurrent of fear because that deserter might bring the War to their school, a war they watch every evening through a telescope from the upper balcony of their mansion, and they see the black plumes of smoke just beyond the treeline. Sometimes the boom of cannon-fire can be heard. That’s the situation at the beginning of Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. It’s a must-see, because who tells stories about groups of girls or women better than Coppola? The movie is set in Virginia in 1864, but it resembles Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) in more ways than one. Continue reading

Between Us and Them, the Middle Ground Wins

Zombies in themselves aren’t that interesting, are they? If they don’t want to eat your flesh and slurp your brains, they just stand around rotting and smelling badly. Some of them walk slowly, others are able to run towards you. There are some who learn a thing or two, like climbing a ladder after you, or bashing a glass door in with a heavy rock or their own head. That’s about it. The key, then, to rather long-running series like The Walking Dead, or to movies like 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later is that those stories are all about the living, who are the survivors in some post-apocalytpic world with scant food and shelter and safety, where they are the endangered species, and mostly vastly outnumbered by zombies. Yes, sometimes the zombies get the living, but it’s also the living who seem to be very good at killing each other off when pushed into a corner like that. Humans have become a minority. It’s a metaphor that every audience member immediately understands. Continue reading

An Amazon in her Prime

Wonder Woman gets Wonder Woman right. Princess Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta and mighty Zeus, speaks her mind and does what she damn well pleases. In this movie, she wants to end World War I singlehandedly. She talks freely about slavery and freedom and the duty to fight for the weak. And boy, can she kick ass. Sometimes she is serious about fighting because there are civilians who need saving, but there are a few moments where she seems to enjoy combat, and she has a little glint in her eyes, just like Errol Flynn did before another bout of swashbuckling. It’s just that Wonder Woman deserves a better movie than this one. Continue reading

Genocide by Xenomorph? Discuss.

Alien: Covenant is a notch better than Prometheus, maybe two, but it still leaves much to be desired. The main problem, for me anyway, lies not within the film, but outside it. My main complaint is this: I am no longer afraid of the Xenomorph and its many manifestations. Oh sure, I am going to lose my shit for a moment at a jump scare (they are named that way for a reason), but even facehuggers and new-born chestbursters don’t do it for me anymore. I might suffer from what Mr Thirith calls Alien fatigue. Continue reading