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Non-Review Review: mother!

mother! is a vicious and visceral parable.

For all its flaws, mother! is never less than compelling. It is an ambitious piece of work, a piece of filmmaking that really knows what it wants and really goes for it, with little regard for the audience’s comfort or for the conventions of storytelling. mother! is an absurdist and surrealist narrative, one that makes no apologies for its more bizarre twists or brazen brutality. Aronofsky has conceded that he wrote the first draft of mother! in ten days, a much shorter turnaround than most of his films. It shows in the best possible way, with mother! feeling like a gonzo fever dream.

There are problems, to be fair. mother! is probably strongest in its opening acts, when it is still structured as a mystery to the audience, when the uncanny aspects of the script are creeping in around the edge of the narrative and the story supports any number of allegorical interpretations. This otherworldliness carries over to the second half, when it is paired with an intensity and momentum that prevents mother! from ever completely losing its footing. At the same time, the conclusion feels overly literal and blunt, sacrificing ambiguity for purity of vision.

While this is a serious enough flaw from a narrative perspective, it is hard to complain too much. mother! is energetic and invigourating, brash and bold. It is a movie that feels completely and utterly unlike a relatively high-profile mainstream cinematic release, the studio committing wholeheartedly to Aronofsky’s vision in a manner that is never less than endearing. mother! is pure and unfiltered Aronofsky, with the flavour only overwhelming in the final third.

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Non-Review Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – Salazar’s Revenge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salavar’s Revenge is a strange beast, a conscious effort to refactor the Pirates of the Caribbean series into a more modern movie franchise.

On the surface, the appeal of Pirates of the Caribbean seems very simple. People like pirates, pirates have adventures. The period trappings, supernatural elements and exotic maritime setting add a sense of novelty to adventure. It is not rocket science. Indeed, the relative simplicity of the premise is part of the appeal, with the series tending to construct very straightforward narratives that provide a framework for set pieces and comedy action.

They should bottle Jack’s water.

It is very hard to imagine Pirates of the Caribbean having a “mythology” in the same way that many modern blockbuster franchises have a mythology. Audiences are not necessarily watching for character arcs or larger plot developments. Audiences are drawn in by the and the set pieces, with a healthy dose of Johnny Depp’s performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. There is a reason that Pirates of the Caribbean will always be a notch below The Lord of the Rings on Orlando Bloom’s filmography, because the series has never really aspired to “epic” heft.

There is a sense that Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner only appeared in the first three films so that they could be tied together to form a “trilogy”, with the two sequels hastily bolted on to an original film that was a runaway success story. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was not diminished by the absence of Keira Knightley or Orlando Bloom, even if it ran into other structural problems related to making Jack Sparrow its primary character.

New Jack City.

As such, Salazar’s Revenge feels like a very strained attempt to rework the series to resemble modern blockbuster cinema. As with sequels like xXx III: The Return of Xander Cage and The Fate of the Furious, there is a conscious effort to appeal to nostalgia by roping in cast members from earlier installments to make token appears in order to cultivate a sense of continuity. Salazar’s Revenge attempts to create a broad “mythology” within the context of Pirates of the Caribbean, treating characters from the original film as fetish objects due to their continuity ties.

It is a very strange and unsettling creative direction for a series that would lend itself to a more episodic and playful approach, an attempt to add nostalgic weight to a franchise that cannot necessarily support it. Salazar’s Revenge buckles and suffocates under the demands of callbacks that nobody wanted and references to earlier events that are unlikely to have lodged in any viewer’s long-term memory. The result is disorienting and unsatisfying, despite some of the movie’s more endearing set pieces.

Pirates II, plus Pirates III, equals Pirates IIIII: Salazar’s Revenge.

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Non-Review Review: The Counsellor

There are two ways of looking at The Counsellor, both handily articulated by the movie itself.

At one point, two characters engage in an abstract conversation about grief. They speak on the phone about what it means to lose something that is irreplaceable, and what that does to a person. They speak in metaphors and lyrical turns of phrase, dancing around the issue at hand. One participant in the conversation recounts the story of Spanish poet Machido, who managed to channel his grief into beautiful and moving poetry. Poetry woven from misery and suffering, beautiful and yet torturous. Much like The Counsellor itself, a story about corruption and consequences and greed and wraith, articulated with thoughtful elegance.

There's a lot going on under the hood...

There’s a lot going on under the hood…

At another point, one character regales another with a tale of his strange sexual misadventures. Awkward metaphors are used to describe exactly what went down, as the other character (and the audience) watch on in a state of awkward disbelief. Using surprisingly elegant language – never at a loss for words to describe a truly surreal turn of events – the storyteller crafts a stunning portrait of a bizarre encounter. Trying to make sense of it all, the listener articulates the thought running through the mind of most of the audience. “Why did you feel the need to tell me that?”

The Counsellor straddles both extremes almost recklessly, veering from a sophisticated and thoughtful moral tale into something grotesquely indulgent and almost distractingly oblique. During one conversation, the seductive Malkina asks her lover Renier how he sees things playing out. He can’t help but imagine two contrasting extremes. With just a hint of self-awareness, Malkina point out that there’s a middle that Renier just isn’t seeing.

Deal or no deal?

Deal or no deal?

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New Skyfall Trailer

Sony have released the latest trailer for the new Bond film Skyfall. I will say that I am very much looking forward to it, and leave at that.

Also, I didn’t think Javier Bardem could appear scarier than he did in No Country for Old Men. I was wrong.

And here’s a slightly different international version of the trailer.

Is Anton Chigurh an Angel?

Yes, you read the title right. Is Anton Chigurh, the sociopathic hitman from No Country For Old Men who kills his victims an instrument used to cull cattle, an instrument of divine will? I stumbled across an interesting argument on-line which proposed that McCarthy (who is – apparently – staunchly conservative) wrote the character as an angel who was sent down to purge all those connected in anyway with the money from the drug trade – bringing on the old-school biblical wrath which you don’t see too often these days. Talk about executing your purpose with zeal.

Everytime Chigurh kills somebody, an angel gets its wings. It's pretty crowded up there, too.

Everytime Chigurh kills somebody, an angel gets its wings. It's pretty crowded up there, too.

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Non-Review Review: No Country For Old Men

It’s a funny world. But it has always been a funny world and it’s arrogant to presume that the world waited until we got here to go and get itself in a mess. Sure, some of us carry the fire off into that night, but it’s a very cold and very dark night and all we have is faith that there is an even greater fire out there waiting for us. No Country For Old Men is a stunning film – an odd fusion of the Coen Brothers with Cormac McCarthy which manages to say a hell-of-a-lot without weighing itself down with too much exposition or dialogue. It’s a great film which realy stands out even amongst the Coens’ already-impressive filmography.

Yes, it's a silencer. On a shotgun.

Yes, it's a silencer. On a shotgun.

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