mother! (2017) Review

mother! film

I’m usually a pretty positive person. I like look for the upsides in most things – if I watch or read something I haven’t enjoyed, I’ll try to point out a few of the good parts that were worth mentioning.

Darren Aronofsky’s widely reviewed and commented on mother! is not a film I can be positive about. It left me feeling angry and upset – both due to the content and also the fact that I had spent £11 on a ticket to see it.

So be warned, this might be the most negative thing I’ve ever written. And another heads up, I’m going to be dead spoilery. I’m going to talk about events and scenes that take place at the very end of the film, so if you do decide to watch it maybe read this review after. Or before, if you want a little warning about what it to come.

Set in a beautiful rural house somewhere presumably in America, mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence (admittedly one of the better elements of the film) and Javier Bardem star as the two main characters – an unnamed married couple who are trying to redecorate the house and find inspiration for their next collection of poetry respectively. After the unexpected arrival of two obsessive fans of the poet’s work (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, on creepy form) events begin to spiral out of control. And not just in a hedonistic, expected way.

The two strangers more or less move in uninvited – at least by Lawrence’s character – fawning and flattering the poet who enjoys the attention. After the sudden arrival of their sons who are at loggerheads over a will, there is a quick but brutal fight in which one of them has their head bashed in by another and subsequently dies. The house is then taken over by the family’s grieving friends and relatives for a wake in which Lawerence has no choice but to act as hostess.

The camera is entirely focused on Lawrence for the duration of the film. Unflattering, uncomfortable close ups on her face force you into her position, witnessing every indication of emotion that she experiences. You begin to anger when she does, feeling completely and utterly helpless and ignored when her questions and opinions are ignored by every single other character. And when, finally, she explodes in rage as the funeral party destroy her house, her screams feel like your own.

The appearance of a cult-like following to the poet and his work lingers. In a brief period of calm, in which Lawrence becomes the Mother of the title, she waddles round heavily pregnant, organising a feast for the poet to celebrate his new collection selling out.

This moment of calm quickly descends into chaos when a mob appear with torches to meet the objection of their obsession – the poet – quickly transforming from a few people demanding signatures to howling, demented hoard who destroy the house. Lawrence tries to escape the madness but becomes lost in the house that becomes a war zone, crawling over corpses as people lose their minds around her.

She finally gives birth, screaming in agony – and by this point I wanted to do the same. Finally, there is some sense of respite – the baby is adorably cute and Lawrence contently breastfeeds him. The poet however, self important and egocentric, wants to show his adoring masses his progeny.

What follows is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on screen.

The crowd seize the baby and carry him over their heads, shouting and cheering as Lawrence screams and tries to get him back. You then are forced to see the baby wetting himself, and as it covers the crowd there is a horrifying crunch that drowns out anything else in the soundscape and the baby’s neck bends unnaturally backwards.

I could barely concentrate on the rest of the film. And I didn’t want to. I didn’t care about what happened to the bland, passive Mother and the egotistic Poet. Put it this way, as my friend commented at the end, it essentially copies the ending of (500) Days of Summer.

The film has been divisive; if you look at reviews you’ll either see people passionately defending it’s daring, it’s dissection of modern society or the incredible metaphors that Aronofsky supposedly weaves into the film.

For me, I didn’t see that. Aronofsky uses stereotypical, boring tropes: the unhappy couple whose relationship is solved by a baby, the women as the earth mother who physically feels the changes of the world around her, or the “incredible” genius of a man whose boring, timid wife can’t possibly understand his struggles and his work. It’s mediocre creative who believes that world are simply crying out for his insight and talent. Sounding familiar?

Do yourself a favour – see something else instead.


Dunkirk (2017)

I saw Dunkirk last night in a packed cinema, and I’m pretty sure my ears are still ringing over 12 hours later.

Christopher Nolan’s latest film has all the makings of a blockbuster: a clear cut genre, huge budget and a wealth of star power. Dunkirk however feels a lot different from anything else I’ve seen on screen, definitely in terms of a war film for a long time.

First of all, there’s the narrative. It’s divided into three sections: the mole (aka the beach), which takes place over a week, the sea, whose timespan is a day, and the air which takes place in just an hour. This is indicated at the beginning of the film through intertitles but isn’t immediately made obvious, which lends an element of confusion at first. The film switches between these different narrative strands with ease, leaving the audience to keep track of all the various happenings in the narratives. 

Although this is a war film, rather than simply another depiction of explicit violence, Nolan chooses to focus more on the psychological aspects of war. The enemy are never shown on the ground – there is only the gunfire from behind buildings and sand dunes that indicate their presence. This contributes to the intense claustrophobia that seeps through every scene set on the beach. Bombarded by bombs and gunfire from above  and increasingly surrounded, the sense of desperation and urgency to get off the beach is tangible. This is furthered by Hans Zimmer’s eerie score, often returning to the motif of the ticking clock that dominates the soundtrack. 

This psychological aspect of the film is probably one of the most interesting things about it. Dialogue is sparse – especially for a mainstream blockbuster – mostly reduced to military commands or hurried shouts. It shows the bravery as well as the fear in those trapped on the beaches and how their desparation could turn ugly. Up in the air, the long shots of the vast blue down below are contrasted with tight closeups on the faces of the two fighter pilots as they try to defend those stranded on the beaches. 

There’s something incredibly beautiful about this film, as the camera captures both the beauty and danger of the sea, as well as the desolated beach, covered in sea foam and desperate men. Harsh waves are contrasted with beautiful vistas of the views from the sky, unnerving, tightly shot scenes in sinking ships are followed by the vast emptiness of the beach. 

No character has any real backstory, there are no mentions of families or anything designed to manipulate the audience’s sympathy. Instead you become as focused as the characters in escaping the hell that they are trapped in. The actors themselves do a lot with a little, conveying emotion through their action rather than words. And it’s a stellar cast too: Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy are the big names, but there are great perfomances from Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard and Jack Lowden. 

Even if you don’t like war films, I’d recommend it because Dunkirk is so much more than that. 

Baby Driver (2017)

I got the chance to see an advanced screening of Edgar Wright’s latest film yesterday and it did not disappoint.

First of all, I should probably state that I am an Edgar Wright fan, with his and Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz being up there as two of my favourite comedy films. Having almost grown up watching the very British twists on genre film – such as corruption that goes all the way to the top of the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance in a countryside town, something you’d never get in Serpico – the prospect of a heist film set in Atlanta was intriguing. Would it still have the same idiosyncrasies of other Wright films?

Luckily it did. With a stellar cast, a blinding soundtrack and the dry, offbeat humour Baby Driver is more than just a simple heist film – it is a thriller, a love story and a musical.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) lives in his own world, surrounded by music. From the very first scene cherographed perfectly to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, to Baby’s Gene Kelly-esque dance through the street that annoys all other passers by who can’t hear the music pounding in his ears, music is part of the very fabric of the film. It’s how characters relate to Baby – telling stories of siblings to the sound of Queen, or meeting a girl through a love of music and songs about Debora through a pair of shared earphones.

Music pulsates throughout the film, soundtracking shootouts and fight scenes and scenes of hope – with impeccable timing and flare, something that isn’t something often seen in film.
The cast too are great. There’s Kevin Spacey, on form as a criminal mastermind who is both ruthless but also has a heart. Oh, and a nephew who loves Monsters Inc. Lily James brings the perfect amount of innocence and determination to a world that is much dark than the one she is used to. Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eiza González are also great as Bats, Buddy and Darling, criminals with explosive and distinct personalities who provide the edge of the film – and also some great costumes, I am a big fan of Darling’s purple fur jacket.

Weaving so many different aspects of genre into a film just under two hours long might seem like an impossible task. But it works. And it works well.

And, importantly, its a studio backed film that isn’t a outward blockbusters, it’s not another remake or sequel or part of a wider universe. It’s an auteur film, an Edgar Wright film, something different to anything else you’ll see in the cinemas this year.

Watch it, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Free Fire (2017)

If any of you saw my guest post for Lucie Rose a few months ago, you’ll know that Free Fire was one of the top 5 films I was looking forward to this year. And it did not disappoint. 

Set in 1970s America in a single warehouse on the outskirts of Boston, Free Fire focuses on an arms deal that goes wrong between two Irishmen Chris and Frank (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and an American gang led by the mildly overdramatic Vernon (Sharlto Copey) and Ord (Armie Hammer on excellent form as the gang’s representative who delights in winding up everyone else in the room). Rounding out the rest of the core cast is Justine (Brie Larson) the mediator and the thankfully level headed Martin (Babou Ceesay). 

One of the things I enjoyed most about Free Fire was the fact that its genre films thats knows its a genre film. From the out the way setting, the general Resevoir Dogs feel generated by the single setting to the brilliantly choreographed walk that they all do in time to the music up the stairs like a 70s band. 

Jump and Wheatley’s screenplay builds the tension from the off, from Frank’s immediate dislike of Ord – “I don’t like his jumper” – to the more important issue of incorrect weapons and finally to the trigger issue that starts the shootout. That issue however, was the only real problem I had with the film, the use and later dismissal of it felt uncomfortable – used a as something of a joke when it probably shouldn’t be. 

Unlike most action films Free Fire focuses on the impact of the violence that the characters inflict on each other. Every successful hit has a reaction – yelps of pain, bullet nicked suits – and by the end of the film the characters left standing are barely doing that, using makeshift crutches to limp and crawl their way across the warehouse. 

The cinematography of Laurie Rose also captures the dirt and grime of the setting so well that you are almost in need of a shower by the time you come out. Dust flies through the air as characters fall heavily to the ground, close ups capturing their faces increasingly coated in grime and sweat.

Alliances are made and broken in quick succession so that by the end of the film you’d be forgiven for forgetting which side everyone belongs to. Its also a wonderfully human film, although the violence and callousness might not be for everyone, its very much about people being hopeless at keeping it together, being calm, but also trying to arrange dates amoungst chaos.  

It’s a film that is divisive – one woman at the end proclaimed how much she hated it – a Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump film that has the ability to pull a more mainstream audience due to big name stars but still revels in its independence. 

Get Out (2017)

After seeing the trailer for this back before Christmas I’ve been both looking forward to this, and worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it – mostly due to my immense dislike of horror films. 

But Get Out is so much more than your average horror film – I’d argue that despite its trailer’s image and the general discussion of genre around the film, it is very much a psychological thriller rather than just another horror movie. Even if the opening scene does feature a kidnapping to the tune of Run Rabbit Run. 

The plot, on paper, could be described as simple: a young black man Chris goes to visit his white girlfriend’s parents in the countryside, where everything is not as it seems. Get Out isn’t just about this however – it’s a film about race, tension and privilege in an America that professes that it had moved past all these issues.

Daniel Kaluuya excels as Chris – showing a man who is trying to be comfortable in these surroundings but who can’t shake the feeling that something is desperately wrong. From his comfortable life as a photographer in New York to the shear desperation and horror that he is forced to endure, he plays with a sincerity and truth that only makes what happens to him even worse.

The film also skewers ‘liberal white America’: the Armitages insist on how much they loved Barack Obama and how relaxed they are for Chris to be dating their daughter but their true agenda and feelings are as explicitly racist – and so much worse – as any ‘non-liberal’. 

While being an important and timely film, Get Out is also beautifully shot. Transitions from the countryside to photographs of inner city life to the sound of Childish Gambino, to the eerie and unsettling hypnosis sequences, Jordan Peele manages to unsettle the audience through this depiction of ‘the normal’ American countryside where much more sinister things lurk beneath the surface. 

Not liking horror films is not an excuse to not see this film, it’s a film that uses generic conventions to talk about issues that still affect America today. Plus it’s entertaining and thrilling as hell.

T2 Trainspotting Review


I finally got around to watching the new Trainspotting sequel last week, and it did not disappoint.

The original 1996 film was a massive cultural phenomenon, a shift away from the period costume dramas that dominated most of the British film industry in the 1980s and early 1990s. Even if you didn’t come of age during the heyday of Britpop, as most people in my generation didn’t, the film still resonates with a lot of people.

Luckily, the sequel does not disappoint.

Partially based off the novel’s sequel Porno, T2 follows Mark as he returns from his self-imposed exile in Amsterdam, confronting the actions of what he did twenty years previous. Begbie’s in prison, Sick Boy’s running an unsuccessful pub in the last non-gentrified area in Edinburgh, with a small blackmail operation on the side. And poor Spud is still an addict.

To try to recreate the original would be a mistake, but Danny Boyle manages to seamless blend clips from the first film into the memories of the characters, along with clips from their friendships as children. This is a film about addicts and ex-addicts trying to avoid the ghosts of the past, but it is also a film about ageing.

If this seems all a bit melancholy, then don’t worry. The script is filled with much of the same black humour as the first film, with recaps of the deaths of Tommy and Baby Dawn juxtaposed with a brilliant scene set in a Protestant social club.

All the orginal cast are on top form, managing to highlight their character’s dissatisifaction with the situations they’ve ended up in, as well as the strong and often painful bonds of friendship that they have with each other. One new character, Simon’s partner and prostitute Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) although key to the narrative of the film is somewhat underwritten, sidelined by the original characters despite her relavance to the plot.

It is all stamped with Danny Boyle’s unique style of filmmaking: exaggerated tilt shifts, pulsing action sequences, and scenes where the colours become illuminating and dominant. It’s a funny, unique film that doesn’t ruin the appeal of the original but will almost certainly become a classic in it’s own right.

And, of course, the soundtrack is brilliant. Combining the hits that were such a major aspect of Trainspotting’s appeal, such as a cracking remix of Born Slippy, songs by Blondie and The Clash, with recent additions by Young Fathers and Wolf Alice. Pretty much my only grievence with the film is the criminal underuse of the Fat White Family track (and a personal favourite) ‘Whitest Boy on the Beach’ which is left until the second credits sequence.

But T2 is a funny, unique film that doesn’t ruin the appeal or legacy of the original but will almost certainly become a classic in it’s own right.



Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)


It’s January, it’s cold and it’s just generally miserable. What better way to cheer yourself up by watching the most uplifting, joyful film of 2016?

Written and directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the story of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) a young boy who is finally adopted after years in the New Zealand social system, by a couple who live in a remote farm on the edge of the bush. While Bella (Rima Te Wiata) is excited by Ricky’s arrival, her husband Hector (Sam Neill) is less thrilled, spending his time grumpily trudging round the farm. After Bella’s sudden death, both characters escape into the bush and become the targets of a nationwide manhunt.

If this sounds  like the very opposite of a cheerful, happy film, don’t worry. Sam Neill is excellent as Hector, both extremely cankerous and utterly caring at the same time, in his own special way, while Julian Dennison’s performance of Ricky definitely mark him out as someone to watch. The chemistry between the leads is a perfect mix between annoying and caring, as through their adventures they move from two people brought together by circumstance and family.

This being a film set in New Zealand, it has plenty of sweeping helicopter shots, showing the landscape in all its glory as well as several Lord of the Rings references. Waititi’s frequent collaborator Rhys Derby also makes an appearance as ‘Psycho Sam’, a man living in the bush who, true to his name, has gone slightly mad. And although  Neill and Dennison are undoubtedly the stars of the piece, it is the antagonists social worker Paula (Rachel House) and useless police officer Andy (Oscar Kightly) who provide as much amusement with their often failed attempts to catch the pair.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople veers between a heartfelt film about the meaning of family to a western thriller, with shootouts, dangerous boars and a beautifully choreographed police chase in the final act.

Do yourself a favour in these rubbish months and check out this gem of a film on Netflix now!

P.S If the Ricky Baker Birthday Song doesn’t warm your heart, there is something wrong with you.

I, Daniel Blake – Film Review


I didn’t go into I, Daniel Blake expecting an uplifting film by any means, but the amount that Ken Loach’s latest release moved me was surprising. It’s been a while since I’ve been that upset and angered by a film that portrays the injustice faced by people trying to negotiate the UK’s benefit system.

The two main characters, Daniel and Katie, both face different issues within the overall benefits system. Daniel, after a recent heart attack, has been told by a doctor he cannot work, yet the local benefit office rule that he is ‘fit to work’ and refuse to give him Employment and Support Allowance. Katie, a single mother of two children, has recently been relocated to Newcastle and is facing near starvation after a benefits sanction when she turned up late to an appointment at the Job Centre.

Shot and presented in a typically Loachian realism, the minimal camera work and sparse sets give the film an appearance of a documentary, and given the debates surrounding the benefits cuts under the current government, this is a film that is especially relevant.

The lengths which the characters go to in order to survive – the food bank scene is one of those that will stick with me for a long time – is heartbreaking, and the ending, although not completely left field, was shocking.

When I saw it in the cinema, it wasn’t packed, but when the credits rolled on a plain black screen we all sat in silence, not moving. It is one of the films that leaves you with a huge sense of injustice, made all the worse for non-fiction element.

A worthy Palme d’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake is a film that will go down as a damning example of the inequality of 21st century society.


Welcome to the Punch – Film Review


Welcome to the Punch  has all the ingredients of a great film: with the combination of a plot involving detective forced to work with his enemy, and a stellar cast including Mark Strong, James McAvoy and Peter Mullan that should all but guarantee a hit, right?

Although the film is exciting at points, with the twists and turns you’d expect from a  film in that genre, the whole thing falls a bit flat. Max Lewinsky (McAvoy) is a detective still recovering from the physical and mental wounds inflicted by  notorious career criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong), when he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that goes right to the top of the Met.

From that point, the details get a little hazy. The film can’t quite decide if it’s about arms dealing, or a somewhat bizarre plot to arm the Metropolitan Police, and you are never given anymore details about Sternwood’s past. There are a few points which are given a weird significance within the narrative, but then never mentioned again – but not in a Lynchian way, more in a ‘we forgot to resolve this’ way.

That’s not to say I hated it, I am a complete sucker for thriller films, but it felt formulaic, going over ground that has been tread a thousand times by films with not nearly as much potential as this one had. The prevalence of the blue tones in the mise en scene did lean it a cold, impersonal edge, almost making the film feel like it is in black and white, so drained of colour are some of the scenes, which was an interesting but effective choice.

A decent thriller film, that fell short of what it could have been.


Sicario (2015) – Film Review



There probably isn’t much left to say about Sicario that hasn’t been said already, but what a film. From the gruesome discovery in the walls of an inconspicuous house to the final, tense encounter, this is a film that refuses the audience even a small break from the pervading sense of unease.

As Kate Macer, the FBI agent suddenly adrift in a morally grey world, Emily Blunt is fantastic, balancing the increasingly complex demands with her own conscience. It’s also refreshing to have a female character in an action film like Sicario who isn’t just reduced to a side character, or treated as useless purely due to her gender. The times when she is dismissed by Graver (Josh Brolin) or Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) is usually due to her persistence in finding out the truth about the operation, going behind her superiors’ backs. Brolin is also excellent as the mysterious, unorthdox leader of the operation, whose relaxed nature hides an appetite for violence.

A special mention has to go to del Toro, whose portrayal of Alejandro has to go down as one of the best of the year. He has the tendency to stick to the background of the film, serving as an observer of the action, revealing little about his character to the audience. It is through a heart-breaking reveal that his motives are revealed, and his unbreakable calmness in the final act of the film is as unnerving as the violence. How he didn’t win an Oscar for this performance, I do not know.

The film itself is beautifully shot by Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, with the washed-out pastels of Arizona and the various internal locations contrasting with the almost complete blackness of the night op, or the vivid colours locations in Juarez.

While Villeneuve does criticise the policy of the US in the Mexican drug wars, the individual characters are not criticised, and the film ends on a slightly unfulfilled note, with the implication that despite everything Macer has experienced, nothing will ever really change.