Mother!

Mother!2017.jpg
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Capsule Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Rating: 7/10

Mother! is a remarkable film. There is this ‘Poet’ (Javier Bardem) and the woman he created, the ‘Mother’ (Jennifer Lawrence), who is married to him, loves him and the two eventually even have sex, following which the Mother gives birth to a son but everything in the script doesn’t have so much of a relatively tranquil atmosphere. The brilliance of the movie is that it switches from light romance (which Lawrence emotes evocatively) to horror and then to utter tragedy.

Separate stories seem rather abruptly stitched with each other, at times in Mother!: for example, when the Mother tries to protect her infant, she fails – in the end, her son is brutally killed by the Poet’s fans, post his fans performing solemn ceremonies around him; the fans, who normally exhibit extremely loony behavior such as stealing objects from the pair to act as mementos, are around the two because of this book the Poet’s just published, which he finally manages to do when he finds out he’s going to have a baby – the thought of which makes the Poet overjoyed. This puzzle-like approach to storytelling by Darren Aronofsky makes for a bumpy-ride of mental adjustments sometimes, because everything moves so fast – a good handful of mini-stories juggernaut around before the overarching brilliant theme of the film (comprising of the three dramatic forms) manages to shine through.

After losing her son, Mother willingly gives up her love (well, what is left of it!) for the Poet, at his asking, and he rather quite brutally replaces her with another entirely new woman, another Mother, but who seems to be not very much different from the previous Mother. The movie is quite unique to begin with – a crystal placed in a frame turns a charred house into a temple-like home, an eerie romantic-tragedy but it works rather superfluously.

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The Founder

McDonalds is one of those fast food joints which can easily be termed as an American classic. Born out of the ingenuity of two brothers Maurice “Mac” McDonald (John Carroll Lynch) and Richard “Dick” McDonald (Nick Offerman), it’s hard to escape its presence around the world. In John Lee Hancock’s (Snow White and the Huntsman and The Blind Side) latest film, The Founder, a failing salesman with a Prince Castle milkshake invention he wants to sell catapults an already successful business venture into a profitable franchise financed by middle class money (in front of which, the scenario is caricatured so that Ray is the founder of McDonalds) at first, and then into this huge independent fast food corporation, but at the expense of growing into a dishonourable businessman.

A captivating tale about the global origins of a hamburger shop
A captivating tale about the global origins of a hamburger shop

The film starts out heartwarming: when you meet an overtly-curious Ray Croc (Michael Keaton) drive out to pay a visit to a drive-in, which has placed an enormous order of milkshake makers, it’s not hard to see what might follow, despite the comfortable life Croc has been leading so far, with his wife, Ethel because Croc’s professional experience, at this point in time, is limited to being just a plain sailing travelling salesman often down on his luck. After getting a mini-tour from the founding brothers of McDonalds, at dinner, Ray convinces the two to franchise the joint, so long as both Maurice and Richard name-stamp all future changes that are about to follow. Up until here and especially when Ray struggles to franchise the joint amongst people with wealth (in the fifties) – which is similar to the experiences that had put off Maurice and Richard from the idea of franchising the joint once before, Ray comes across as a somewhat simple and hardworking businessman, struggling to make business ends meet. It’s hard to not root for Ray here but pretty soon the ugly side of the business world takes over and Ray goes from a struggling business person to a financially struggling person. Ray finds success here too, after some time and begins to offer a real estate investment window for new McDonalds franchises – it brings in more company income and follows through with the McDonalds brothers vision of the quality of milkshakes never getting compromised, in spite of initial troubles for Ray in that food department.

With Ray’s newfound success in business, he eventually reduces the quality of the milkshakes that are offered, buys out the hamburger shop and never honours the founders with their business royalties because the agreement to sell involved no contract. What is extraordinary about the movie is Robert D. Siegel’s unique script – the lengths to which a businessman can go to call an American hamburger shop his own, when he never invented it, is a morally-corrupt moment, in an otherwise inspiring film. But I liked that the spotlight is placed on the corporate universe in a honest manner because business dealings aren’t always about honesty, they are also about manipulation; naturally in a business environment, not everyone’s moral compass always functions correctly, even though what they really should be doing is prop up some moral boundaries instead. The squeaky clean image of the corporate world gets tarnished magnificently in the film – it’s not just suits and boring ties, it’s also about an enduring amount of real success, which Ray manages to bring to McDonalds on a global level.

Rating: 8/10

My Life As A Zucchini

An orphan called Zucchini looks like a potato with blue hair. He is made of Play-Doh and Zucchini likes to roll his big owl-like eyes at life’s little moments. My Life as a Zucchini attempts to part with good wisdom over serious (and relatable – well, for me) episodes. I liked how it takes a subject so rarely explored – the lives of kids in a home, and then makes it both endearing and fun. Splashed with colours and funny-looking children, the French movie looks set to be a rare classic, where animated films are concerned.

An amazing animated tale
An amazing animated tale

In this tale of an orphan boy, Zucchini, who is nine years old, befriends kids in the same boat as him who all have had difficult pasts, and to make matters better the group all have the same day-to-day worries as any other kid in town – how to roll as a gang through it all. Zucchini comes to the Fontaine household after he kills his mother by accident during one of her anger-filled outbursts, whilst drunk.

Over there, he find friends: Ahmed, Camille and Alice. The four kids aren’t that much different from each other even though upon first look you would like to think otherwise. Camille, the latest addition to Fontaine saw her parents get killed and commit suicide, Ahmed’s father is in prison for looting a shop, and Alice’s father had to be taken away for his bad nature.

There is also a bully around by the name of Simon that the gang tries to keep off their tracks at the orphanage, who, in reality, is a sharp contrast to Raymond – the nice policeman, with a moustache. It is only because of Raymond (he hides the fact that Zucchini accidentally killed his alcoholic mother) that Courgette even found a space to call home in Fontaines.

Zucchini develops an infatuation for Camille, who speaks her mind and loves footie (love it! – sometimes more than the character of Courgette) and this actually is a little bit of a ‘love at first sight’ scenario because Zucchini develops romantic feelings for Camille, the moment he meets her. Camille and Courgette even spend some time thinking about how to continue to be together when they are no longer together at Fontaines’. The snowy atmosphere in the film is one of the nicest things, I feel and the movie really does have a great story.

Rating: 8/10

Jackie

Jackie is a tribute to the steeliness with which the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (also known as Jackie) manaevoured the assassination of her husband President John F. Kennedy, when the two were out on a trip in Texas. Dressed in a pink Chanel suit and a pillbox hat of the same colour, the young First Lady’s choice of attire on that day has since then evolved into one of the most memorable fashion reference points in history, particularly for the sixties. In the film, Natalie Portman stars as Jackie and it is directed by Pablo Lorrain; the film is quite dramatic in places and more often than not it is emotional and historically-evocative.

Natalie Portman portrays 'Jackie'
A class act in fashion

Portman looks very much like she is keeping up appearances for her role and it is tough upon first sight to strike a chord with it because I think the most endearing quality of a biopic is the level of realism that can be sourced and splashed on screen. That nature of the film acts as a major drawback because Portman doesn’t convince enough as Jackie and it almost throws off a very good script off it’s tracks. The story is, first and foremost, about an interview given to LIFE magazine soon after the sudden death of her young husband, during which she is rather easily irritable and even flat out tells the unknown reporter (for the magazine) that he cannot print segments of it.

Jackie comes off as a woman that you cannot help but sympathize with. She divulges that the ‘Camelot’ remarks surrounding the presidency was a pure marketing pull and nothing else, and she always has to have a sense of higher duty: whether or not she is on the other side of Atlantic and projecting a classic American culture because once she did use to be the First Lady or if she is at home in the United States managing to keep the whole story of what transpired on that tragic day the least bit sensitive that is possible. The film is watchable for that new angle on a remarkable political figure, and then there are also the breathtaking costumes.

Rating: 6/10

Miss Sloane

Miss Sloane is a thrilling tale of a lobbyist called Elizabeth Sloane. The film is directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and the cast involves Jessica Chastain, Jake Lacy, Sam Waterson, Mark Strong, and John Lithgow amongst others. It is an angular story somewhat on a selected range of day-to-day work that Sloane does, hinged on subjects such as senator connections, the probable imposition of tariffs on palm oil and downright harassment of people lower than her in life.

Sloane sports copper hair, pale-as-a-ghost complexion and a steely demeanor – at first sight, it’s hard to imagine Jessica Chastain playing the role because she stands out so much from what comes in your mind as to how a steely woman would look like but the story carries itself so effortlessly, everything blends in absolutely perfect. Sloane has foresight, she knows how to win at guessing games and directing her winning points according to her well-pinned-out guesses, and is so robotic at times, nothing ever earns her surprise.

A very nice look inside the lives of Washington's elite
A very nice look inside the lives of Washington’s elite

Sloane, despite her favourite lipstick shade of crimson (which she wears a lot) and designer heels, is a frightening woman. I mean, when backed into a corner the woman readily expresses her disdain in a lordly tone. Sloane is a private person but she is not a loner because she does keep the company of numerous male escorts, such as Forde, who she sees a lot of. Nonetheless, friends turn foes for Sloane within an instant if it means that she can professionally get ahead.

It’s naturally a subject of debate: Sloane does not strike as a sympathetic character sometimes unlike Esme Manucharian, a survivor of gun violence, who is forced by Sloane to share her personal experiences with the world. You can see how it would be easy in the film to sympathize with Manucharian because of the kind of life she has had and how hard it must be to feel the same way for Sloane fiercely trying to climb the career ladder, no matter the cost and on her own terms. It’s a no-brainer win for Sloane, for me, there because those are the very qualities that make a woman admirable in the twenty-first century.

Sloane manages to disintegrate circumstances around her, where everything just breaks down and goes neurotic, all thanks to her attitude to life but she doesn’t back down from any of it, even going so far as to look forward to being a powerful threatening force in the world. Sloane is the mother-of-all-characters in the film, and the movie is a deep and very good look at the life of a highly successful woman, who always aims to win.

Rating: 8/10

Florence Foster Jenkins

Set during the Second World War, the film Florence Foster Jenkins charts a story about a novice soprano, who is adamant about pursuing a musical career despite never receiving any favourable judgments over the question of her singing talent. As the founder of the Verdi Club Florence has friends who are sympathetic to her ears, a husband who gave up his faltering acting career to be there for his wife as she pursues her musical interests and is the subject of constant ridicule from commentators in music, and audiences of her performances alike. British director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen) brings the tragic (and sometimes darkly comedic) biopic remarkably alive. The titular character in the film is played by Meryl Streep and the film also pairs Streep with Hugh Grant, who plays St. Clair Bayfield and Simon Helberg, who plays Cosmé McMoon, respectively.

What makes the subject of the film interesting is Streep’s strong desires to sing even though she is terrible at it. Bayfield’s money goes a very long way to ensure Streep’s hopes aren’t shattered beyond repair, but in the end a terribly scathing review by the New York Post does do it. Money gave Florence the chance to perform in Carnegie Hall, and her 1944 opera singing episode there turns into a rather memorable figure in Carnegie’s illustrious history for it’s distastefulness and the ruckus of laughter that spread out amongst audiences when Florence had opened her mouth to passionately sing, which really no amount of money could cure.

A nicely comedic tale
A nicely comedic tale

There is very little exploration of the American scene during the war, except for soldiers being part of the audience at Carnegie Hall, which was disappointing to say the least. What was entertaining was how Florence’s marriage with Bayfield is very absurd: they do not live underneath one roof and there is no sex in the marriage because Florence tragically contracted syphilis from a previous romantic liaison. It was interesting how Bayfield simply romps up his masculine sexual urges with a mistress called Kathleen Weatherley because of the absence of a sex life with his wife, but strange how emotionless and accepting Florence is of that. Despite the odd marriage between the two, Bayfield does his part to buy critics and also shows signs of affection towards Florence, albeit rarely.

McMoon and Florence’s friendship, on the other hand, is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs; McMoon is horrified, at first at the level of support Florence has despite her lack of talent in opera music, but a recording tape of her singing manages to alter it. McMoon’s eventual friendship with Florence does nothing for doubts in his mind over her singing ability at Carnegie Hall, however as he confides in Bayfield how pleased he is to be able to accompany Florence in singing in such a distinguished space in New York. The film isn’t melodramatic at all but instead it is an emotion-filled and realistic portrayal of a tale of an aspiring music artist, who wants to continue singing despite her bad reviews, and a kind of soul-crushing criticism she is often subjected to for it.

Rating: 7/10

Sully

Sully is a miraculous retelling of a water landing made by US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009, which saved the lives of all of the 155 passengers on board. Because of the Captain of the plane, Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger, the emergency landing on the Hudson River was made possible – he trusted his gut instinct to deliver the safety of people aboard the flight and definitely delivered. Although, only minor injuries were inflicted and there were absolutely no casualties in the accident, thorough investigations into the episode soon threaten to derail Sully’s image and career. Tom Hanks stars in the film as Sully, and it is directed by Clint Eastwood, making this his thirty-fifth directorial venture.

A Captivating American Hero

Sully represents atypical heroic values enshrined in the United States of America – he is fearless in the face of obvious danger and proud of his bravery and achievement in managing to pull off one of the most difficult landings ever. Sully also tragically suffers from difficult dreams in the aftermath of the incident and the dreams involve the plane horrifically crashing into the Manhattan skyline.

For a good part of the film, the tension builds over whether or not Sully can manage to convince the board about the investigations which point to the emergency landing as Sully’s fault. Eventually, Sully manages to convince them that one of the engines had completely lapsed in its performance, following Sully’s simulation of that moment in time, when the Captain decides to land the aircraft on the Hudson River, instead of very safely in an airport close-by.

I liked the film for its brave subject. After watching Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, which involved a similarly difficult flight episode into the galaxies, for the moon, it was interesting to see him in an avatar, where less time is spent safely getting back to a home base, than investigations pouring into the event; it’s very unlike any of Hanks’ previous work, which made the film a treat in itself.

Furthermore, Hanks’ naturalistic portrayal of Sully is coupled up with Eastwood’s direction of yet another factual story, which makes the hero in the story a relatable person as well, despite all his larger than life mannerisms; Sully gushes when the public shower him with affection, and he also becomes an overnight hit with the media (even doing interviews with David Letterman) which just makes the Captain come across as a pleasantly modest American hero too, who has his heart in the right place.

Rating: 8/10