Mother!: Movie Review. Will have film students hard at work for years.


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Darren Aronofsky has followed up his biblical epic, Noah, with another biblical horror story starring Jennifer Lawrence (his partner in real life) and Javier Bardem.

Whilst advance publicity had suggested this might be heavily inspired by Rosemary’s Baby this is not in fact the case.  Far from it.  Rosemary’s Baby is about the birth of Satan. This is not.

I found it helpful to know in advance what the premise of this film was and there is  a brilliant deconstruction of the plot in this article in the Telegraph.  You may not want to know before you see it, but it’s a great read after the fact and confirmed most of my assumptions about the heavy allegory and metaphor used in the movie.

To make two consecutive biblical films is surprising because Aronofsky has declared his atheism but presumably the source material is such brilliant storytelling that he simply could’t resist.

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What results in mother! is a film of such epic proportions, such horror, such artistry that at times your jaw actually drops.  Aronofsky stops at nothing.  There are no sacred beliefs that he cannot explore or visualise.  What he does not do is ridicule them.  This is a representative telling of Genesis, the New Testament,  earth science theory and sustainability all wrapped in one great gothic whole.

And it’s gorgeous, sumptuous and creepy.

The performances by Bardem and Lawrence are electrifying, albeit their togetherness as man and wife seems unlikely, but as the plot unravels it’s obvious why.

The appearance of a married couple in the shape of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (both extraordinary performances) into their lives is startling in its aloofness and cruelty.  One feels Lawrence’s panic bubbling over as the idyll she is trying to create in an island home is about to gradually unwind.

And unwind it does; in increasingly spectacular fashion.

I’m not going to go into spoiler territory (read the Telegraph article for that (after you’ve seen the movie) so I’ll stop here.

Suffice it to say that although this won’t appeal to many; for those that it does this is a truly great movie.

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Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, National Theatre Live: Review.


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Eight hours in a theatre (or in this case my two favourite cinemas; The Cameo in Edinburgh for Part 1 and The Hippodrome in Bo’ness for Part 2) is a daunting prospect, especially when the subject matter threatens to overwhelm you emotionally.

In fact it is a breeze because the writing of Tony Kushner and the direction of Marianne Elliot (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) pepper this doomsday epic with both humour and beauty (in staging, lighting, sound and movement – it’s a technical masterpiece throughout).

The acting is uniformly brilliant with Andrew Garfield in the lead role of AIDS sufferer Prior Walter.  But the support he gets from Nathan Lane, in particular, is astounding.  Core ensemble shout outs also have to go to the entire cast especially Denise Gough, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Russell Tovey.

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Whilst, at times, you might want Garfield to slightly reign in the histrionics (and the fey gayness to be honest) you sit with bated breath waiting for Nathan Lane to go off on vitriolic outburst after hateful rant.  He plays a corrupt, gay bashing (ironic) lawyer who has no limit to what he will do to save himself (he too had AIDS but says it’s cancer, having spent his entire life in the closet, much to the disgust of most of the rest of the male gay cast).  He is the highlight of the show.

Although ostensibly a ‘gay fantasia’ the background of story is built largely on a religious platform.  The AIDS ‘plague’ has clear biblical connotations and the angels of the title are fantastical creations that are there to question morality, justice, belief and whether or not there is an afterlife.

The creation of the ‘main’ Angel played by six dancers/puppeteers and Amanda Lawrence as the angel itself is breathtakingly original and continuously mesmerising.  She’s magic.

I grew up during the ‘AIDS Epidemic’ and my home city of Edinburgh had to deal with an almost unique needle sharing problem, as well as the gay spread of the disease, (It’s well captured in Trainspotting) so, that meant it was as much a heterosexual issue as a homosexual one in Edinburgh,  Consequently, HIV/AIDS was very front of mind in this city.  Another reason that the story strongly resonated with me.

Two of the central characters are Mormons and that particular creed comes in for some pretty hefty slagging although overall you sense that Kushner has deep religious beliefs or at least is hedging his bets on whether there is a God.  The fact that both Louis and Nathan Lane’s evil character are both Jews is also an important part of the storyline and leads to considerable debate about the morals of that belief, compared to Christianity.

Politics, too, feature heavily in the storyline with a clear leaning towards both Socialism and the Democrats that make Reagan (the then leader) an object of ridicule.  Indeed Part Two is subtitled Perestroika with a certain reverence for it’s chief architect Gorbachov in evidence.

One of the lead characters (a gay nurse, Belize) former lover of both Prior (Garfield) and Luois (McArdle) and an ex drag queen is black and proud of it. As he nurses Lane’s character (Roy Cohn) this opens up another topic for Kushner to at times hilariously, at times terrifyingly, exploit; racism.  The man is a pig and it’s all that Belize can do to maintain his dignity and ethical professionalism to tolerate the monster that he tends.  In fact a relationship develops that is, at times, surprisingly tolerant and even tender.

Meanwhile closet gay and Mormon, Joe Pitt (Tovey), married to valium addicted Harper (the superb Denise Gough) is straying into an experimental homosexual exploration of his sexuality with Louis (former lover of both Belize and Prior) this has massive personal  consequences.  McArdle in particular plays a really strong supporting role and has the subtlety to play his part with conviction and sympathy.  He’s the ‘tart with a heart’ but can’t deal with all the consequences of these tumultuous times for the world’s gay population.

It’s complicated.  And that’s why Kushner needs eight hours to unravel the labyrinthian plot and the fundamental BIG questions it tackles, but he does so with great skill and lightness of touch.

The National Theatre are to be applauded for reviving this monumental work.  And it’s to our great fortune that we can experience it (from essentially front row seats) in small movie theatres all over the world.

A production that has wowed audiences and critics alike, I expect to see it pick up many more London Theatre awards.  If you get the chance to see it when NTLive does a reprise, kill for tickets.

When the Church is gone…


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“You’ll miss it when the church is gone” was the Yahoo headline that caught my eye this afternoon.  It referred to this article by Madeleine Davies who is the deputy news editor at the Church Times.

She references caustic and patronising remarks by Barbara Ellen in The Guardian in which she, along with many others, sneer at the anachronism that is Church life in the 21st century.

Except it isn’t anachronistic.

I know because I am a churchgoer, albeit not one of resolute faith and not one with an unblemished attendance record.

Like many, I am the product of a childhood of well-meaning indoctrination.  In my case into Roman Catholicism.

I often read, on social media channels with unhidden glee, the defamation of this particular doctrine and it saddens me.

Firstly it saddens me that the excesses and undefendable actions of a minority of our clergy has tarnished the faith as a whole.  I also, particularly on visits to Italy, squirm at the absolute lack of inhibition when building our altars of early centuries bling.

Ancient papacies (nay, possibly even recent ones) stink of hypocrisy and political pap.  But not, I think, the current one.  And not, as I gathered from my recent trip to Poland, that of John Paul II who is a giant of a man.

The conservative leanings of the Catholic hierarchy towards old rhetoric and the strict adherence to creationism in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary make me uncomfortable.

It doesn’t sit well with my education and lifetime of reading.

But, and it’s a big but, Madeliene Davis is absolutely right about the role of the church in today’s society (all churches, faiths, religions) because, even though they gradually reduce in number and become cheap boozers or flash penthouses, those that remain are at the heart and soul, yes soul, of their communities.

They tend the aged, they democratise the community and in some I know of they can be outstanding boozers, social clubs, restaurants, cafes.

They and their members (and clergy) provide irreplaceable social services and are hubs of charitable activity.

Madeliene Davis is right.

Even without the religious needs that churches satisfy they make an immense contribution to our society and I am proud to declare that although I am one of the worst drummers in musical history my community tolerate me, provide me with a regular gig and in some instances actually rather like that a drum, a mandolin, a violin and an organ can sometimes make sweet music.

Shalom brothers and sisters.

 

St Francis of Assisi.


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Our new Pope opted for Frankie’s nom de plume and today at mass our priest – the wise old Western Islander, Fr Tony, gave us an interesting insight into his inspiration.

I was particularly taken by this quote from St Francis that he referenced in his Homily.

“Preach the Gospel at all times (and use words if necessary).”

Wise words indeed, particularly in these times where religion is used as a front for the most heinous of behaviours.

Ghandi made a particularly interesting observation (again my Source is Fr Tony) when he said “The trouble with you Christians is that you have great preachings but don’t live up to them.” (I paraphrase I’m sure).  That observation would benefit not just Christians of course.

Think The Diving Bell and The Butterfly meets 40 Year old Virgin and you still won’t be close


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21 hours a day. No wonder he wants to get his rocks off.

This is a remarkable hidden gem of a movie directed with grace and understatement by Ben Lewin, a 67 year old director whose career has little in the way of highlights or recognition.  Until now that is.

His main protagonists, John Hawkes who was Oscar nominated for Winter’s Bone, Helen Hunt (who won one for As Good as it Gets) and William H Macy (Fargo nomination) tell a story as touching as any you will ever see that tries to make sense of whether sex out of wedlock as a (disabled) Catholic can be tolerated by those of great faith.

The good news?  It can.

What makes this trio of understated performances so remarkable is that they are all so extreme, yet constrained.

Firstly, John Hawkes (Mark) plays a 38 year old quadriplegic (a consequence of childhood polio), with a fine sense of humour, who lives 21 hours a day in an iron lung and desires nothing more than to have full penetrative sex and yet does not turn the role into a freakshow.

Secondly, Helen Hunt  spends much of the movie completely naked (as brave as it gets at 49) teaching Mark how to suck her nipples effectively, perform passable cunnilingus and generally satisfy her and himself – she’s a sex therapist.

And thirdly, William H Macy plays a cool dude Catholic priest that assumes the role of God, granting Mark the dispensation to get his rocks off free from the guilt of mortal sin.

What’s more, the supporting cast all put in excellent and mostly touching shifts that add to the overall quality of the movie.

It’s in places hilarious (although Seth MacFarlane would hardly agree), breathtakingly taboo (without offending anyone – including the four pensioners sat behind us) and moving.

What makes it work so wonderfully is what it doesn’t do or say.  Whilst issues surrounding morality must sit full square at the centre of the (based on true) story it’s not hammered home.  It makes no judgement and that’s in no small part down to the skill of director Lewin.

Very few people have seen this movie, more’s the pity, and the screening we saw was achingly badly attended.  Nonetheless it cost only $1m to make and grossed a modest (but profitable) $5m in the US.  I think it’s a sleeper of potentially Sideways proportions that will, over time, make the funders very large returns as its absolute honesty and sincerity wins it advocates like me.

Anne Hathaway is unbettable for Best Supporting actress at this year’s big hooley and she is by a distance the best thing about Les Miserables, but it’s a cameo role.  This, on the other hand, is a career defining moment for Hunt who would win every day in my book.  And I may indeed have a small wager on her at 25/1.

Life of Pi


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I'd be tempted to give life of Pi this score out of 3 (3.14159265
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09) but it so annoys me when people talk about giving 110% that I 
just can't do it.

So, instead, I'll just have to settle for an old fashioned 9/10. 
Now, let's get this straight.  Life of Pi has just shown that there
 is life left in 3D.  It may be, on the whole, a gimmick but the 
exception can still prove the point.  Only two movies have made 
the 3D entrance fee worth the extra IMHO, Avatar and this. 

It's a tough movie for bibliophiles to even want to see because the book is so magnificent (in my all time top ten probably) and many 
I've spoken to who love it equally are just downright scared that 
Ang Lee was going to blow it.  The odds were strongly in favour of 
 that happening because it's a pretty full on philosophical workout. 
 So full credit has to go to Fox pictures for shelling out $120 million
on the ultimate movie gamble. 

How Ang manages to retain the existential angst of the book AND make 
a blockbuster movie that holds the attention from start to finish 
(yes, including the pretty turgid first 100 pages) is not only anyone's 
guess but a cinematic achievement of considerable merit. 

It's the storytelling that wins the day but it's wrapped up in 
cinematography of the very highest order.  So many times one gasps out 
loud at what's on screen that it's like a day out in a theme park. 
Surely the Oscar for this is certain to go to Claudio Miranda 
(Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, Benjamin Button). 

The acting is universally good but it's the tiger, Richard Parker, 
and his four legged companions that really steal the show.  CGI 
has never, ever been this good. This might sound like it's the 
technology that carries the movie but don't think that.  It's an 
honest, stunning exploration of the true meaning of life, 
religion and truth and it’s an absolute must see.  

I would not discount it winning best movie come early March and 
I certainly wouldn't grudge it.  

Ang Lee's finest hour.