Movie review: mother!

What went wrong with mother!?

 

In order to answer that question, you need to first look at its creator, Darren Aronofsky and his career to date.
His debut feature Pi, would wow the critics of a man who would be driven by madness and obsession with mathematics as a universal language. This idea of obsession is evident in both Javier Bardem’s character and to a degree Jennifer Lawrence’s too in mother!
Two years later that obsession and dedication for the ultimate thrill would transfer into the deeply disturbing and frightening journey of the central characters In Aronofsky’s sophomore outing, Requiem For A Dream. Only this time it would be in the form of alcohol and drug addiction that would ultimately pull their lives apart in pursuit of said dream.
And then again in The Fountain’s quest for the meaning of life through science and medicine which led one critic to describe as ‘rampant, metaphysical codswallop.’
By this time, Aronofsky was in danger of falling somewhere between genius and insanity with his subject choices.
Arguably, The Wrestler would continue this trend with a fine performance from Mickey Rooney, who struggles to fall from grace, continuously being pulled back into the ring and the fame that comes with it.
Natalie Portman would push the boundaries of brilliance in the next feature, Black Swan, that perfectly tapped into the driven ambition of a ballerina and her search for perfection.
Noticing a theme yet?
Noah similarly sees the titular character determined to fulfil his vision in Aronofsky’s first feature to lend itself to biblical matters, so it’s no wonder that he would again try from the ‘good book’ and delve into the story of Genesis for mother!
This re-imagining would be told from the eyes of Mother Earth, (Lawrence) as she will do everything she can to protect her house (the Earth), the man she loves, the creator, Him, or God if you will (Bardem).
Throw in a dash of Man/Adam (Ed Harris), Woman/Eve (Michelle Pfeiffer), their sons, Cain and Abel, and a sprinkle of humanity gone wild, and you have the chaotic, unstable world that is told throughout the movie.
Aronofsky’s world is so infused with biblical images and metaphors that some would argue that it’s laid a little too thick, and its this depiction that could easily sway the viewer away from the movie and in essence drove a lot of people from the auditorium in disgust or displeasure in its initial screenings.
And its this depiction that could easily sway the viewer away from the movie
However, if they chose to stick around to its conclusion, you see a significantly strong performance from Lawrence, who like her character pours her heart and soul into every decision and choices that she makes.
And Bardem’s drive for glory and attention (again not a flattering image of ‘our creator) is one that is truly captivating.

The Diagnosis:
The pain and passion bleeds on every frame and Aronofsky taps once more into this need for humanity to strive no matter what the cost for faith, glory and beyond.
The viewer can be left feeling bruised and battered in the journey on screen, but proves fascinating as a result.
It will be interesting to see where Aronofsky transcends to next in his own quest for spiritual enlightenment and salvation.

Flatliners (2017)

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Alternate Title: I Know What You Did in the Abandoned Medical Wing

Hollywood loves nothing more than a remake.
In 2017, audiences were subjected to the remake of the 1990 film starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon.
Medical students use themselves as guinea pigs in a bold experiment to see what lies beyond death.
By stopping their hearts for a “safe” amount of time to avoid brain damage, they trigger a near-death experience and are then revived to report back about the afterlife. Simples. What could go wrong?

Ellen Page plays a gifted young medical student who is obsessed with finding out what happens after death. (It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why – she is shown in the beginning of the film in a terrible car accident with her sister who does not survive.)
She ropes in four of her fellow students to participate in the experiment – the playboy (James Norton), the beauty queen (Nina Dobrev), the one under her mother’s thumb (Kiersey Clemons) and, clearly playing well outside of his comfort zone, Diego Luna plays the handsome Spaniard who keeps warning them in his charming accent that what they’re doing is a bad idea.

Four of the students flatline and each comes out with apparently more intellectual gifts than they had before such as the ability to recall obscure medical case histories and how to play the piano.
After they have a drunken snowball fight in the street after a near-miss flatline – ain’t it grand to be young and alive again? – they each start to realise that something has followed them back to the land of the living.

Diagnosis:

This film was brought back to life but clearly flatlined for too long. It is a shell of its former self with none of what made the original so enduringly good.
There were a couple of scares but at its heart, this is really just an expensively produced teen drama with a trailer and poster art that is scarier than any moment in the actual film.

Having mentally flatlined watching the full hour and 49 minutes of this film, I can only report that I saw some terrible, terrible things. Cheesy dialogue.
Terrible acting. A totally gratuitous sex scene. And no, I can’t remember how to play the piano.

  • Vanessa Cervantes

The Love Witch

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As summer solstice rolled by last night for those on the Southern Hemisphere it seemed appropriate to delve into a movie that is embedded in the occult and then i remembered a little known movie that was released not so long ago called The Love Witch.

It’s something of a shame though, that this film has drifted under the radar of popularity.
And yet one can understand why this film has been lost in the depths of the celluloid art form when more ‘heightened’ and easily accessible popcorn horror is at hand.

The fact that this movie is unique is both part of its beauty and its Achilles heel.
Billed as a comedy horror of sorts, the light-hearted approach to the films direction which is quite subtle at first and can easily be lost as a result.

Coupled with the style that The Love Witch utilises to deliver its message through a 60s love song to a bygone era, with a modern setting and thinking, one could feel quite brainwashed by the experience of a world not far removed from Hitchcock and Technicolor thrillers.

Directed and written by Anna Biller, The Love Witch stands out with her firm grasp of the setting, and beautiful attention to detail.

Following a White Witch, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) whose look is so fitting and perfect that one could be forgiven for believing that she was lifted straight out of the 60s, The Love Witch follows her journey as she dabbles in Love magic to woo men in her pursuit of love and happiness.

Her callous nature leads Elaine into dangerous territory though, as her potion proves to effective, leading men dead in her wake.

It’s only when she meets the ‘perfect man’ that her troubles start to catch up with her.

The Diagnosis:
The battle of the sexes is firmly on display here with a fresh twist on the female gaze and the lengths of absurdity that is evident through a timeless tale.
The Love Witch owes a lot to the strong and beautifully shot scenes.
It’s not to everyone’s taste but if you let the film absorb you, the feeling you’re left with is absolutely mesmerising and deeply satisfying.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Replace (2017)

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Taking out the A Night of Horror’s “Best Film” award from this years festival, Replace doesn’t match this accolade at face value, at least for the first few minutes, but as the layers are slowly pulled back, an intelligent and beautiful movie emerges within.

The reason for this initial reaction, is through the level of confusion that the viewer is faced with and the style that director Norbert Keil has chosen seems off kilter. The acting seems to be similarly stifled too, but all this is a deliberate device to echo the feeling of despair that our lead character, Kira is confronted with.

As she unravels her situation, Kira has to face up to her situation, revealing some unwelcome truths along the way.

The topic of the movie, deals with an age-old dilemma, that seems to be more concentrated over the recent years with women in particular. Especially with the developments in social media and this continuous fascination with beauty and youth that faces our society.

Imagine then the gravity of the situation when you discover that your skin ages rapidly and begins to wither away. The impact that this has is immense and one that Kira lands head on, but when she further discovers that she can replace her skin with another’s with immediate effect, her journey then transcends into a murderous rampage, fuelled by the need to stay youthful.

If this isn’t a measure of our times, I’m not sure what is.

The cinematography on display is both stylised and stunning and Tim Kuhn deserves some of the accolades thrown his way for luring the viewer in through a hypnotic gaze in places.

The score is equally as mesmerising with its rhythmic pulse driving through the films narration.

Further praise should also be bestowed upon Rebecca Forsythe who manages to display Kira’s vulnerability, innocence, rage, and desperation, with delicate transition and believability that belies her age.

The Diagnosis:
This latest entry into the body horror genre is filled with intelligence and beauty. A lethal combination that hits the mark through Norbert Keil’s stunning vision.

 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Alien: Covenant

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Some time has passed now since Ridley Scott’s latest chapter in the Alien universe was released.

As with most movie franchises that have been so immersed in our psyche and reawakened the nostalgia in us all when the latest adaptation hits the screens, we yearn for that ‘magic moment’ that connected us to the world in the first place.

It only exasperates things further when in this instance there have been two successes from the outset and have left such a strong mark that many have tried to replicate but fallen short of every time, even Scott himself with his prequel Prometheus, which many felt fell short of their expectations.

For good or ill, Scott has chosen to delve deeper into his journey and provided us with Covenant, the true beginning of our favourite Xenomorph.

The trouble lies with trying to provide the audience with all that we fell in love with offering something new in the mix at the same time.

A fine line to walk along and one that will guarantee some unhappy punters regardless.
The journey does carry on where Prometheus left us and David’s (Michael Fassbender) search for the ultimate creation in a God-like pursuit.

When the crew of the Covenant, an ark carrying human cargo to their new Eden, are woken early from their hyper sleep, their troubles begin. Despite a form of salvation appearing in a transmission originating from an inhabitable planet, their journey takes them further down the rabbit hole.
Cue new creatures and a world within David’s playground.

Some fine performances are on display with Fassbender’s dual role of David and Walter, alongside Katherine Waterston’s Dany (the voice of reason and hope), Billy Crudup’s faith driven leader of the group, and Danny McBride’s pilot Tennessee.

Much more could have been made of Demián Bichir’s Sgt Lope and his talents are criminally wasted, but one could put that down to an over-populated cast who one can’t really differentiate as the film goes on. Their expendable for a reason but our care factor is non existent when they are knocked off one by one as a result.

As far as offering something new to the genre, Scott does provide us with some fascinating creatures and a possible hint and something less tribal and intuitive is on hand only to be squashed by the ‘outsiders’. But one can’t help but feel that there is something missing to this tale and if rumours are to be believed that the next venture may completely be remiss of the xenomorphs, then we are left scratching our heads and pondering the end game to Scott’s vision.
It’s little wonder then, that some traditionalists are campaigning for Blomkamps’s vision for an alternate take on the universe to become a reality.

The Diagnosis:
Whilst there are plenty of entertaining moments in this film with some strong performances from the cast and ultimately an enjoyable narrative, the faithful fans of the original movie will be disappointed in this latest direction.
Recommended for those who have never drifted into the Alien universe before, but what does that say when you’re effectively alienating your fan base in a quest for one man’s vision?

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Honeymoon

Back in 2014, Leigh Janiak delivered her directorial feature debut with Honeymoon, a film that centres on a newlywed couple who arrive at a remote cabin to celebrate their nuptials.

We are first introduced to the couple through their recorded confessions to camera as to how they met, which is actually beautifully acted.

The homestead for the honeymoon soon unleashes and otherworldly experience that shifts the film into a new territory which keeps the couple and us on their toes.

The film is currently available on Netflix and may have slipped by unnoticed by fans of sci-fi horror.

Riding on the crest of fame that came to the leads Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful) Janiak crafts a strong narrative of young love.

The problem is that this film relies heavily on its leads to pull the story along, and in stronger hands they could have pulled it off with a blink of an eye, but it has to be said that the players weren’t quite up to the task.

There are moments where the tender moments feel forced and disingenuous and perhaps with more time and space with the actors this could have been reached and maintained to keep within the realms of believability.

It’s unfortunate as there are key moments later in the film when there idealistic notions of romance come unraveled which need the hard work at the front of the movie for it to be pulled off.
But let’s face it, it’s rare these days that actors have the luxury of time to build on their characters and deliver cutting edge results, so I don’t want to appear to harsh because the moments that they do connect, the performances are incredibly touching and vibrant.

Part of this I strongly believe is due to Janiak’s adaptability behind the camera. There is an organic approach to her style that feels polished and we are able to be transported as a viewer from scene to scene with a style that belies her experience at the time.

Since then, Janiak has helmed an episode of Outcast and 2 episodes of Scream: The TV Series, and if IMDB is to be believed, could very well be directing The Craft sequel.

The Diagnosis:

The setting and ambience is incredibly well directed and despite a few little niggles, I found myself strangely drawn into the narrative. I would definitely recommend watching this one.

 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Life

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When life gives you lemons you make lemonade or in this case, when Life gives you aliens you get a carbon copy of everything you’ve seen before, and yet it’s strangely watchable despite its obvious flaws.

When a six-man crew encounter evidence of life on Mars, they get more than they bargained for.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds who all turn out solid performances as the storyline ticks along at a fairly decent pace.

It’s just a shame that Life doesn’t offer any smart alternatives in the process of its narration.

The only glimmer of difference comes in sacrificing one of its key players in a semi-shock twist moment.

By the films conclusion though, it tries to pull another trick but this resolution could be seen from a mile off and the audience is left disappointed as a result.

The Diagnosis:
Most cinephiles may note the comparisons with Alien and other sci-fi horror movies if its kind, but it is a great attempt at a modern entry into this genre and has enough energy and pace to keep the momentum moving along.
This combined with the strong acting make it compelling viewing despite its flaws.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: 47 Meters Down

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Or a more accurate description would be ‘Just barely brimming above the surface’, as this movie never really dives any new depths in Shark horror films.

It would appear that this is a tough task to take on, as many souls have ventured into the big blue to tackle one of humankind’s greatest predators. However, since Spielberg’s classic Jaws invented the term ‘blockbuster’ back in 1975, those pretenders have been left drifting with no sense of direction at all.

While director Johannes Roberts (F, The Other Side of the Door) does his best to weave through the tension surrounding two sisters who attempt a cage dive for the first time, only to plummet to the ocean floor.

As there oxygen runs low, they must brave the shark infested water in order to survive.
Australian Claire Holt cuts a fine performance as the fearless Kate and one can see her career escalating beyond The Vampire Diaries from which she became a household name.

Where as Mandy Moore’s Lisa grates, and as twee as she may appear to be, by the end of the movie you’re wishing that she would become shark bait so that we don’t have to endure her shrill voice in every panic-driven scene.

On a lighter note, it was refreshing to see Matthew Modine back despite little screen time.

His role as the boats captain has a subtlety to it that only an actor of his expertise can pull off whilst still being believe able. His presence is a welcome relief during the scenes when the girls are submerged, albeit in the occasionally voice across the comms system.

The diagnosis:
With the promise of a sequel in the works titled 48 Meters Down, it must be doing something right, and whilst it is watchable, this hardly blows you out of the water.
Best advice would be to get tanked and watch with some mates.
At least then you can rely on the good company.

 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Bloodlands

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Steven Kastrissios takes us deep into modern Albania for his sophomore outing in the director’s chair.

Paving his way into the horror scene, Kastrissios turned heads with his debut feature, The Horseman, partly for hits ‘extreme violence’ but also for his ability to not shy away from the harsh society that is infused throughout the films narrative.

With Bloodlands, the subject of vengeance is once again at the forefront of Kastrissios storytelling, a subject that seems close to his heart.

In this instance, we are faced with a family struggling to make ends meet and with conflicting interests pulling at their innermost desires. It is only when confronted with a blood feud set by a witch and her mysterious clan that the family must unite and stand together against a common enemy in a brutal fight for survival.

Recently Bloodlands took out 3 awards at A Night of Horror Film Festival for Best Foreign Language Film; Best Australian Film; and Best Australian Director, and one can see why as it this tale of mythology and highly tense drama is a refreshing sight against the anarchy and gore that has been presented of late on our screens.

Cinematographer, Leander Ljarja beautifully captures the Albanian landscape, and Kastrissios slow burn direction allows the tension to build steadily to keep the viewer gripped to its gritty conclusion.

It just feels a shame that the characters feel so two-dimensional in places and this makes the strong concept and themes lost in what would have been thoroughly engaging piece had more care and attention centred on this area.

As such, there are no real shock moments, and the path becomes a predictable one as a result.

The Diagnosis:

A slow-burn horror that is reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes in tone, but is embedded with Albanian culture, which adds a new flavour to the horror scene. A rewarding watch despite some character flaws.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Alternate Title: Surgeon’s Choice

 

If you asked me to list my favourite directors, here are my top three:

  1. Guillermo del Toro – I want to curl up inside his brain and take a nap despite the soul-crushing disappointment that was Crimson Peak (2015)
  2. Simon Rumley – You must watch Red, White & Blue (2010) or his deranged but brilliant contribution to the anthology horror film Little Deaths (2011)
  3. Yorgos Lanthimos. Oh, Yorgos Lanthimos, you beautiful weirdo.

Lanthimos, the Greek director of Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015), gifts us with yet another glimpse into his weird and wonderful imagination in this psychological horror film.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is based on the Greek myth of King Agamemnon, his daughter Iphigenia, the goddess Artemis and, as per the film’s title, one dead deer. Go forth and Google.

Colin Farrell, star of The Lobster and the director’s deadpan muse, is in the best form of his career.
He plays Dr. Steven Murphy, a successful cardiothoracic surgeon, with a beautiful wife played by the icily perfect Nicole Kidman, two beautiful kids (Kim and Bob) and a beautiful home.
Other than a strange bedroom ritual (I won’t divulge more here but it does kind of involve general anaesthesia), his life appears to be perfect. Until everything goes to shite.

When he first meets with the teenage Martin (the excellent newcomer, Barry Keoghan), you immediately think “Hmmmm.” Martin immediately comes off as odd and unnerving. Their meetings appear to be quite suspect especially when Steven gifts him an expensive watch and lies to a colleague about who he is when he unexpectedly visits him at his hospital.

When Steven invites him home to meet his family, it appears that the relationship between the boy and the surgeon is innocent. The viewer goes from suspecting Steven is up to no good to suspecting Martin himself. It soon becomes evident that Steven has a stalker on his hands…

Half way through the film, and after a building sense of dread, the film suddenly veers from Fatal Attraction to Sophie’s Choice. To give any more away would be to deprive you of the thrill of watching the film with no idea what’s going on or what’s going to happen next.

Diagnosis:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is definitely a Yorgos Lanthimos film yet it doesn’t feel like the carbon copy of a successful formula (ahem, Wes Anderson). If you are a fan of the director, you will definitely enjoy the film and if you are new to his work, it may just make you want to watch his earlier films.

 

  • Vanessa Cervantes