MOTHER! (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Disturbing Violent Content, some Sexuality, Nudity and Language

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Written by: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, Jovan Adepo & Stephen McHattie

Darren Aronofsky is known for artsy psychological headtrips and experimenting with narrative structure. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM put him on the map for moviegoers, whilst THE FOUNTAIN served as an ambitious anthology that split folks down the middle, and BLACK SWAN was a beautiful descent into madness. Also, NOAH saw Aronofsky putting his own fantastical spin on a Bible epic with polarizing reactions as a result. I’ve pretty much loved every Aronofsky film that I’ve seen thus far, so know that’s where I stand when I say that MOTHER! is a brilliant, ballsy piece of cinema that completely blew me away. This is easily one of the most original horror films that I’ve seen in years and is guaranteed to make a lot of people hate it. Those who dig MOTHER! though, will likely love it and not be able to stop thinking about it.

Without giving any spoilers away in my plot synopsis, I’ll say that MOTHER! is about the relationship between a poet (Javier Bardem) and his much-younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence). Lawrence’s character has renovated her husband’s formerly burned down house from scratch and the end result is beautiful to behold, but Javier’s character still can’t get over a troubling bit of writer’s block. When a mysterious couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) show up uninvited and make their way into Lawrence’s and Bardem’s home, tensions begin to flare as Lawrence strongly dislikes their imposing presence and Bardem revels in their company. More guests soon arrive and things quickly spiral into morbid metaphorical madness!

MOTHER! is a film that’s bound to polarize viewers. First of all, this is very much an arthouse horror flick. The narrative constantly uses nightmare logic and plot points/characters are clearly meant to represent things outside of this story. Symbolism is strong in this film. Those who don’t enjoy slow burns and artsy flicks will most likely despise this movie from its strange beginning until the deeply disturbing conclusion. Then there’s the actual message (or messages, depending on your interpretation of events) which may turn certain viewers off. Aronofsky isn’t exactly subtle in certain areas, and there’s enough head-fuckery to guarantee multiple viewings are necessary to catch everything in this detailed piece of art.

Jennifer Lawrence deviates from her mainstream dramedies and teeny-bopper roles to play her ballsiest role yet as this film’s titular protagonist. As Lawrence’s character is put through the emotional gauntlet, the viewer is also pushed through the wringer. I felt that her growing frustration, bafflement and devastation were all completely believable as I felt the same emotions whilst experiencing this film (in the best way possible). Javier Bardem has already proven himself to be a phenomenal performer time and time again. I don’t want to say too much about his character here, but he leaves an unforgettable impression and tackles his difficult-to-understand character with bravado.

In a supporting role, Ed Harris is half likable and half creepy as the first unexpected guest. Michelle Pfeiffer is positively hateable as his wife and will make you want to slap her in the face. She’s so good at being bad in this film. Domhnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig, and Stephen McHattie also pop in for supporting roles and make the most of the screen time they receive. The other supporting actors, a bunch of random faces, also will gradually piss you off as much as they do Jennifer Lawrence’s character. This film does a fantastic job of making you irritated and uncomfortable towards people simply being assholes. I don’t want to dive deeper into these characters’ actions…because there would definitely be spoilers in those details.

As far as cinematography goes, this movie is incredibly atmospheric and there’s a growing dread that digs inside you as the running time moves forward. Even though this is a slow burn, these two hours rushed by for me and I know that I’ll be rewatching this film many times in the future. It also seems fair to describe MOTHER! as the most unusual home invasion horror flick that you’ll ever see. The film also contains truly disturbing scenes and becomes all-out insanity during its final third. There are genuinely horrific images that you won’t be able to forget after you’ve seen this film and Aronofsky’s demented script puts brilliant spin on centuries-old themes.

If you don’t want to read minor spoilers, skip to the last paragraph. Aronofsky really ticked people off by treating NOAH as a fantasy and though that film wasn’t perfect, I thoroughly enjoyed it. This taken into consideration, MOTHER! seems to be the exact swtich-up of that formula. Here, Aronofsky is retelling Bible stories in the most fucked up, disturbing way possible and it winds up being one of the ballsiest films that I’ve seen in the 2010s. Though there’s an argument to made about the interpretations of artistry and failing relationships, I totally bought this on the not-so-subtle Biblical ideas and characters’ names seem to really hammer that home for me. I adored this film, but can totally understand why someone wouldn’t be into this sort of thing and not care for it at all.

MOTHER! feels like something that Lynch, Cronenberg, or Kubrick would have directed in their heyday. It’s one of the strangest home invasion horror films you’ll ever see, while also serving as a brilliant slice of metaphorical madness for those who really love this film’s sheer darkness and overall message. This is a strange, rough, and fucked up film…and I loved every single second of it. A movie hasn’t left me pondering over it this much in a long time and I can’t wait to revisit MOTHER! many times in the future. This is not only the best horror film that I’ve seen in years and one of the best films of 2017 (so far), I’d argue that this will go down as one of the best films of the 2010s for me!

Grade: A+

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: NC-17 for some Graphic Sexual Content

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Directed by: Kirby Dick

Written by: Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt & Matt Patterson

Starring: Kirby Dick, Becky Altringer, Darren Aronofsky, Jamie Babbit, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan, Mary Harron, Wayne Kramer, Kimberly Peirce, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Michael Tucker & John Waters

My hatred for the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) burns with the white-hot rage of a thousand suns and I respect nearly everyone who stands up to them. You may know of the group as they are responsible for dictating which films are appropriate for what age group through a backwards system. In 2005, documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick put together a highly ambitious project that would shed light on the reclusive movie ratings board. THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED thoroughly examines the organization that determines which movies are G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17 and points out the hypocrisy in this deeply flawed system.

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Fed up with the silly actions and illogical secretive nature of the MPAA, filmmaker Kirby Dick recruits a private investigator to find out the identities of the ratings board members. While Kirby’s investigation intensifies, we are shown interviews from various filmmakers, critics, and former MPAA raters about the double-standard of sex being more taboo than bloody violence. There’s also a special examination spent on the dreaded NC-17 rating (formerly X) that prevents a film from going into nationwide theatrical release at any of the mainstream theaters. A special focus is on specific directors speaking up about their experiences with receiving an NC-17 and going through complex appeals process.

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The way in which Kirby Dick goes about proving valid points against the MPAA are extreme to say the least. He straight-up hires a private eye complete with hidden cameras and stake-outs. Though it’s very entertaining to watch, one could argue that the ethics behind this approach are a bit questionable. I do agree that names of the MPAA board members need to be made public, but could draw the line at flaunting their personal information (revealing the ages of the children and digging through their trash). At times, it seems like Kirby is going too far. I know that some may disagree, but he could have condensed this information down into a small piece near the conclusion.

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As far as Kirby does go, the big complaint I have regarding THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED is that it offers brief throwaway glimpses of other problems with the MPAA (including ridiculously strict piracy laws and possible propaganda). These are coincidentally both brought to light to in two separate clips of one interview with a guy who seems to be straying off topic onto completely different things. Either Kirby might have devoted a more time to these topics or he could have cut these pieces out entirely because they seem out-of-place.

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Interviews with filmmakers and former MPAA board members more than make up for this documentary’s faults. These snippets are far more revealing and interesting than anything that Kirby or the private investigators offer. Most hilarious are Matt Stone’s experiences about the puppet sex scene in TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE and John Water’s possible reasons for A DIRTY SHAME receiving an NC-17. Filmmakers shed light on the MPAA’s prejudice towards pubic hair, gay sex, or a film’s overall tone being “too extreme” for an R rating, but other potentially harmful stuff skates by with a PG-13.

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There are annoyances in Kirby Dick and the private investigators going too far and unrelated interview clips, but this is a very well-executed and important documentary nonetheless. THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED is highly recommended for those who want to know more about the mysterious all-powerful MPAA and essential viewing for those who blindly judge movies simply by their ratings. I know some people who don’t bother watching an R-rated movie (let alone one with an NC-17) based completely on the MPAA’s decision to dictate what’s appropriate for certain ages. If you want to be informed about double-standards of a broken system that’s not likely to change any time soon, then this is a must-see. In spite of a few faults, THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED is one of the most important documentaries about filmmaking ever made.

Grade: A-

NOAH (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Disturbing Images and brief Suggestive Content

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Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Written by: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Anthony Hopkins, Douglas Booth, Frank Langella, Marton Csokas, Madison Davenport & Nick Nolte

Biblical epics are nothing new. Since the art of filmmaking has been around, talented (and not so talented) directors have been putting scripture stories into cinematic form. It’s odd that the story of Noah’s ark has only been brought to film twice before. I have yet to see the 1929 silent film and the 1999 made-for-TV movie looks embarrassingly bad. Darren Aronofsky’s film version of the tale is sure to be a divisive one. Instead of staying completely word-for-word true to the source material, Aronofsky plays everything as a sort of fantasy epic. It is ironic that the people who might enjoy the film also might condemn it on sight. I’m not speaking of religious people, but atheists. There are admittedly stupid decisions here and there in Aronofsky’s storytelling (one of which definitely knocks this movie a notch down on my grade factor), but I found NOAH to be a stunning piece of work that stays true to the themes and overall message of the Bible story, even if it’s not close enough to the material for many viewers’ comfort.

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For those who have utterly no knowledge of the tale (despite it being prevalent through many different religions), Noah is a good man in a world of wickedness. He has visions from God (or as they only refer to him in the film: The Creator) that inform him of the impending destruction of the world. The Creator plans to wipe everything clean with a massive flood that will cover the entire planet. With the help of fallen angels in stone form (more on that in a moment), Noah constructs a massive ark that will carry two of each animal safely through the watery doom. The evils of man pose a threat as the king (descendant of Cain) plans on taking the ark from Noah by force when the flood arrives.

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One thing should have immediately stuck out from that previous paragraph that is vastly different from the Bible story and that’s the rocky fallen angels helping Noah out. These beings looked like the Rockbiter from NEVERENDING STORY (big strong hands) and the fact that they do talk in gravely voices made it even more awkward to watch. The first 15 minutes featuring these beasties front and center are a bit shaky to say the least. However, it does get to a point where they are merely means to an end in the background. I did like what they resolved these creatures with as well. There are other fantastical elements added as well, but I thought these other ideas were integrated very well into the story.

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The really interesting stuff comes after those first 15 minutes. The film is the Noah’s Ark story, but new ideas have been thrown into the mix that make Noah a much more fleshed out character. He’s portrayed as very flawed and faces tough choices before the flood arrives and while on the ark. The supporting cast of Noah’s family includes familiar faces too. Jennifer Connelly is great as Naameh (Noah’s wife) and delivers some really heart-wrenching emotional moments. Logan Lerman (PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) plays the rebellious son named Ham and does it well. Meanwhile, Emma Watson is nothing short of amazing as Ila (an adopted daughter of sorts to Noah’s family). Anthony Hopkins also appears in about four scenes as Noah’s wise grandfather. Ray Winstone is a gruff and intimidating figure in his most notable roles. As King Tubal-Cain, he shines. This is the arch-enemy of Noah and there’s more to this character’s story than meets the eye. I really liked where director/writer Aronofsky took things with this plot-thread. Finally, there’s Russell Crowe himself as the title character and he gives a powerhouse performance as Noah. You feel his desperation, his struggle, and see where he’s coming from (even if you don’t agree with some of his actions).

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Effects-wise the film is absolutely amazing to behold. This is spectacle done almost perfectly. It’s a movie made to be seen on the big screen and it certainly adds power that the story’s so compelling. For all the mistakes in the opening that hint at an awkward experience shown in the beginning, NOAH gripped me more as the film went on longer. Once the flood comes and the family is aboard the ark with all the animals, you’d think the film would slow down. Instead, it went in a much more human-nature oriented direction that I imagine a lot of Bible purists won’t approve of, but I found it to be very deep and profound. The flood sequence itself and the battle leading up to it are awesome. There is a stark raw brutality around the film that must be respected too. The Bible had uplifting messages in its stories, but plenty of them weren’t pretty and the same can be said of this film adaptation. There were a couple of scenes that really shocked me at how dark Aronofsky decided to go with this material.

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Even though this story has been given almost a sort of LORD OF THE RINGS epic treatment, the message is still at the heart of this film. The concepts of sin, repentance, human life as a gift, giving thanks for blessings, and things happening for a reason are all examined in a respectful way. It’s ironic that atheists might enjoy this film a lot more than most Christians. The religious relatives I saw the film with thought it was boring and just not very well made. I heartily disagree. There is one dumb decision (those lame rockbiters), but everything else is absolutely awesome. It’s a slightly flawed biblical epic that I plan on revisiting many times in the future. Worthy of seeing on the big screen!

Grade: A-