Tag: Darren Aronofsky

Movie Review: mother! (2017)

It’s next to impossible, and I would say almost entirely fruitless, to try to talk about this movie without delving too deeply into spoilers. So this whole review will be a spoiler. That being said, here’s my brief opinion, which I’ll go into much greater detail with below: mother! is a movie so offputting that I can’t really recommend it to anybody, but I also think it’s a unique theatrical experience that, if you’ve got the stomach for some intense shit, I think is worth seeing in a theater. 

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Friends, mother! is a trip. Though it touches on a lot of horror elements and is kind of an adaptation of one of the world’s most famous books, it is also unlike anything I’ve seen outside some very old books. Because mother! is really a film-length allegory for much of Christianity, and not only that, but also a critique of that religion’s inherent cruelty. The allegory is cemented early on, with versions of Adam (Ed Harris) and Eve (Michelle Pfeiffer) overstaying their welcome in a house newly renovated by a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her poet-husband (Javier Bardem). From there on out, each bit of weirdness can, through metaphors both tortured and kind of great, be explained as versions of biblical phenomena. But this isn’t an adaptation of the Extreme Teen Bible, this is an atheist’s nightmare vision of the foundational horrors in the book and religion.

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Noah (2014)

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Before this film came out I told any family member who expressed an interest in it that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah probably wasn’t going to be exactly what they were expecting. This wasn’t going to be a “rise and shine and build an arky arky” kind of thing. And it isn’t, but it also kind of is. No, you probably don’t remember the rock angels from your Sunday school classes and Russell Crowe’s Noah is a heck of a lot more dour and brooding than the nice 900 year old man from the story, but the bones are there. Aronofsky has just put his own kind of meat on them. As such, it’s a pretty successful movie for film fans and religious moviegoers alike, so long as each keeps an open mind about what the other might want and enjoy from a movie such as this.

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There is apparently some controversy involved in the fact that Noah doesn’t ever use the word God to refer to a central character in the story’s narrative. Instead, Noah and his family and his distant cousins, the sinful sons and daughters of Cain who want to get a piece of his sweet salvation, use The Creator to refer to the entity whose biggest act to this point had been the creation of the universe. Doesn’t seem like that bad a compromise, as there was no real organized religion at this point in “history” and therefore no name to be named. It also underlines the dramatic irony of the whole situation. We know what happens to man during this story, our great destruction is at the very center of the film, so to call God “The Creator” calls attention to the fact that he’s about to do the opposite of that moniker quite soon.

It’s also telling that two of the film’s best sequences come back to back which tell parallel stories of destruction and creation, first as the flood waters rise and those rock angels protect the ark for just long enough to allow Noah to achieve his goal and then, as Noah and his family listen to the dying cries of humanity – a haunting and terrifying sound with one equally scary visual representation – Noah tells his sons and daughter the first story, the creation of the universe. This is done in the most spectacular of ways: a montage of short 3-4 frame bursts of motion that at  first follow the Big Bang and then zoom into Earth as the seas die down and life begins to form inside them, starting as a single cell which splits into many and then eventually forms fish who sprout legs and walk on land and so on and so forth. It’s imagery that you can see watching Cosmos, but the frantic energy wrought by the staccato editing enlivens and invigorates the otherwise overly familiar story. The montage ends with the legacy of Cain as two silhouetted warriors meet on an almost-pop-out-book battlefield and enact the history of warfare with all the technological advances in killing that have happened throughout history using the same rapid-fire editing. It is brilliant filmmaking and storytelling combined into one outstanding package.

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But for all of the large scale things that must happen in a Noah story, the heartbeat of Aronofsky’s film comes in the more intimate – but no less intense – second half. When it’s just Noah and his family the impact of what has just happened becomes almost too much to bear. Noah becomes convinced that not only must all the descendants of Cain die, but also his descendants, those of Seth, the other brother of Abel. Even his own daughter’s child might need to be eliminated, should it be a girl, because the sin of humanity might still live on in her and her offspring. Everybody else on board disagrees and there is much family drama. Like I said, not the Noah of the Arky Arky song. Noah’s relationship with The Creator is a rough one; he often looks to the heavens and sees only the sky. Aronofsky’s God is mostly absent, or at least deliberately hiding. It is then up to Noah to overcome his survivor’s guilt and try to see the good that humanity can be. Does he? Well, it’s a Noah story, but also an Aronofsky movie. He has a penchant for killing off his main characters. You’ll have to see it yourself.

Top 100 Films: The _2’s

The penultimate segment of the list! A lot of physical films this time around. Only two were released after the year I was born, though only two are in black and white. Many of the films take place in only a few locations. Also, they’re all great.

92. The Wrestler (2008)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei

And now, I’m an old broken down piece of meat… and I’m alone. And I deserve to be alone. I just don’t want you to hate me.

That this film and Black Swan were once the same script makes total sense. Both examine how the body suffers from performance and willpower. The Wrestler is more grounded and heartfelt, though not sentimentally so. Rourke and Tomei give great, real performances and Aronofsky keeps everything immediate.

82. Days of Heaven (1978)

Directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Richard Gere and Brooke Adams

Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you.

Malick loves him some voice-over and pretty pictures. This tale of depression-era farming and a simmering romance is beautifully shot and told. The locust scene is spectacular filmmaking.

72. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Directed by Charles Crichton. Starring John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis

Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement.

One of the smartest movies I’ve seen, A Fish Called Wanda is a hilariously absurd film that manages to get some real emotion in while crushing dogs under pianos. Kevin Kline won an Oscar for his performance as the monumentally stupid and confident Otto and he deserved it.

62. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Directed by Elia Kazan. Starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando

I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.

The key word for this movie is heat. There’s the obvious and overwhelming sense of heat in terms of temperature but the real heat comes from the characters. There’s something boiling under everybody’s surface and as the film goes on it gets closer and closer to exploding. Kazan cleverly changes the room where the majority of the film takes place to get more and more claustrophobic as the movie progresses.

52. 7th Heaven (1927)

Directed by Frank Borzage. Starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell

Chico… Diane… Heaven.

Though I don’t like it as much as Lucky Star, 7th Heaven is another fantastic film pairing Gaynor and Farrell under the direction of Borzage. There’s a lot about levels and rising and falling, along with some terrific romance and Borzage’s typical miraculous ending.

42. Die Hard (1988)

Directed by John McTiernan. Starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman

“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Benefits of a classical education.

Yes, for those of you that didn’t know, my blog name is a quote from Die Hard. It’s the best of the 80’s and 90’s action films, mostly because of Willis and Rickman and their superb bantering. Die Hard is a movie that will never age.

32. North by Northwest (1959)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint

No. No. Mother, I have not been drinking. No. No. these two men, they poured a whole bottle of bourbon into me. No, they didn’t give me a chaser.

Cary Grant is one of the best people ever. This is scientifically proven. Here he gets to be caught up in a smuggling plot and a delightfully devious romance. When I finished watching it I remarked that it felt very modern and retro at the same time. I could see Steven Soderbergh doing a remake like he did the Ocean’s movies. But they wouldn’t have Cary Grant and that would be a travesty.

22. Fantasia (1940)

And then we hear the “Ave Maria”, with its message of the triumph of hope and life over the powers of despair and death.

Fantasia was supposed to be the beginning of a continued experiment where Disney would create a visual accompaniment to a work of classical music every year and put it on the front end of their flagship releases. That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. Fantastia is a fantastic work of art in its own right, though. Each piece works for me and the animation is beautiful and compelling. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 60 years for another sequel.

12. Jaws (1975)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss

Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.

If you haven’t seen Jaws I don’t know what you’re doing reading this list. The original summer blockbuster, it has a lot more depth than most of the crap we get during the summer now. It is superbly directed and the acting is just great. Where is the Quint speech about the Indianapolis in Transformers or the restraint about showing the bad guy in the later Pirates films? Yeah, the shark they built didn’t work so Spielberg couldn’t show it but the way he handled that technical glitch created one of the most terrifying monsters in cinema history.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Ivana Baquero and Sergi López

The moon will be full in three days. Your spirit shall forever remain among the humans. You shall age like them, you shall die like them, and all memory of you shall fade in time. And we’ll vanish along with it. You will never see us again.

More of a war drama than a fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth subverts expectations at every moment. The real world horror is worse than any fantasy could be, thanks to an all-time great performance by Sergi López as the evil step-father and fascist general. Whether the fantasy world exists outside of Ofelia’s head isn’t important because it is entirely her story and it is real for her. Another film where I wouldn’t change a thing.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Top 100 Films: The _7’s

Today’s portion of the list leans heavily on the romantic side, with 6 of them containing heavily romantic elements. There’s also only two movie from before I was born. And it leans towards the generic side, with 2 period epics, a rom-com, a courtroom drama, a con film, a 2 crime dramas, and 2 films about artists and their works. And dinosaurs.

97. Gangs of New York (2002)

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis

That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.

Another mini-epic, this film survives thanks to strong performances by DiCaprio and Day-Lewis and remarkable directorial work by Scorsese. He’s not a favorite of mine but here everything works. It is forgotten all too easily.

87. The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Starring Marlene Dietrich and John Lodge

I want to play with my toys!

This telling of the story of Catherine II is probably the best looking film on this list, at least in terms of set design. The opulence on display is overwhelming, and Dietrich’s performance matches it. Then there’s the hilarious Sam Jaffe’s over-the-top Grand Duke Peter, amping everything up to 11.

77. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson

I didn’t ask for a shrink – that must’ve been somebody else. Also, that pudding isn’t mine. Also, I’m wearing this suit today because I had a very important meeting this morning and I don’t have a crying problem.

The best Adam Sandler film takes the typical Adam Sandler shtick and puts it in the real world. Mostly. It’s funny and romantic and thrilling and sad. All the things you want a movie to be.

67. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Directed by John Ford. Starring Henry Fonda and Marjorie Weaver

By jing, that’s all there is to it: right and wrong.

More great Henry Fonda, more great John Ford. And there is another on the way. This one shows a small part of the beginnings of Abe Lincoln’s career. It’s mostly a courtroom drama, and a great one at that.

57. The Brothers Bloom (2008)

Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Rachel Weisz and Adrian Brody

The perfect con is the one where everyone involved gets just what they want.

I’ve not seen a great deal of con movies, though I have seen some of the big ones. This one has a lot more heart to it than any of the others. It’s also hilarious and all of the con stuff works. The ending is super great. So’s the middle and the beginning.

47. Out of Sight (1998)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez

It’s like seeing someone for the first time, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Cool and hot, this movie has it all. Clooney’s on top of his game and Jennifer Lopez has never been this good since. A tale of impossible love and criminals, there’s a lot of humor and violence. That’s how you know it’s a good romance.

37. Black Swan (2010)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis

Perfect? I’m not perfect. I’m nothing.

A movie about art, the pursuit of perfection, and going crazy. There’s much melodrama in this film, everything is black or white. It’s not subtle, but I love it. The final performance is one of the best things I’ve seen recently.

27. Fargo (1996)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring William H. Macy and Frances McDormand

There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand.

Sometimes you just gotta laugh at some of the silly things that people do. The Coens know this, which is why their seminal Fargo is at once real and hilariously un-real. The accents just enhance everything to another awesome level.

17. The Fall (2006)

Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru

You should ask someone else. There’s no happy ending with me.

A movie about storytelling and why we do it. With two amazing performances at the center, filmed all over the world in what must be the most beautiful places, this film is something to get wrapped up in. The story within the story doesn’t always make sense, but it shouldn’t, really. The ending is, again, amazing.

7. Jurassic Park (1993)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Sam Neil and Laura Dern

But with this place I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion, something that was real, something they could see and touch. An aim not devoid of merit.

Dinosaurs always fascinated me. Things that did exist but don’t any more. But Jurassic Park gives us a glimpse at what might happen if we weren’t the top of the food chain anymore. It’s thrilling and thrilling and thrilling. Also, Jeff Goldblum is amazing.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section