Monthly Archives: September 2017

mother! — 8/10

MOTHER! (2017, Darren Aronofsky)

Sports journalist Max Kellerman was on TV the other day making the point that Colin Kaepernick is out of the league, ironically, due to the very thing he was criticized for protesting. He sat out the National Anthem because of systemic, institutionalized racism in American culture, and it turns out the on-balance racist institution that is the NFL ownership has punished him for it. I bring this up because much of the hatred of MOTHER! that I’ve seen online is a reaction to the same criticisms Aronofsky is making of humanity at large.

There are many things this film is a parable, metaphor, or allegory of, and in ways it’s a Rorschach test for ideology — whatever you want to put on it, Aronofsky has given you fuel to do. But it’s clear (from NOAH, at the very least) that he has some arguments to make against Christianity and its poisonous effect on its fervent followers. (Even going back to REQUIEM, he’s long been wary of the lies we tell ourselves to avoid the harsh truths about the human condition). Aronofsky makes no bones about showing just how much people hate when their core ideals are challenged and how blindly they’re willing to follow that which makes them feel safe or valuable. As a work of art, MOTHER! is anything but a safe narrative with a conventional, feel-good sense of calm and seductive cajoling. It’s a bitter, mean-spirited, wide-eyed attack on the sleepy complacency that infects much of conventional cinema, and of conventional thought as well.

Not that everyone who hates this movie is objecting to its unlikable assault on expected narratives — certainly you’re welcome to despise this thing for any number of reasons. But the control it has over its manipulation of audience expectation, emotion, and reaction is pretty astounding. The pace is expert, the removal of all safeguards is well-calculated, and the conclusion is both shocking and inevitable. This thing is crazy fucked-up, and it’s pretty great for the most part.

One way it masterfully engages the audience with its protagonist is that every shot is one of Jennifer Lawrence, either close-up, following from behind, or framed center-punched so you can’t look away. If it’s not, it’s her point of view. Only until one explosive moment, minutes before the end of the movie, does it finally — and justifiably — break that dogged insistence. Through her eyes we see a story about artistic obsession, environmental collapse, jealousy, the paradox of creation and destruction, and all sorts of probably-Biblical references that I’m too ignorant to understand (I’m in the bottom 1% of all people in terms of knowledge of that book, so what do I know from Bibles).¬†And even if you can’t groove on those themes, it’s hard to deny just how visually acute this thing is shot and edited — the descent into madness that happens in this house is a gorgeously orchestrated slippery slope, so you can hardly pinpoint what’s really so different between two housewives sharing a glass of lemonade and a literal war zone.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming — 6/10


A group of high school students is on an elevator ascending the Washington Monument in D.C. The elevator breaks and the monument begins to crack. Spider-Man races to the rescue with the help of his AI computer-suit voice “Karen” giving him directions. Meanwhile, inside the elevator the terrified teenagers are told by a tour guide: “don’t worry, you’re safe,” and immediately Karen tells Spider-Man something like “They are not safe at all.” It happens one more time for repeated comic effect — the human tells the teens one thing, then the computer reveals the opposite truth to the superhero. Science and artificial intelligence, built by billionaire weapons developer Tony Stark, are always far more accurate than the fallible, gullible blue collar humans. And that eerie realization makes this film unintentionally but deeply, deeply misanthropic.

The theme extends to the villain, too. Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a blue collar construction foreman whose career is destroyed by Stark, who just wants to keep unknown alien power stones out of the hands of people too dumb or untrustworthy. And indeed, once Keaton and his goons attain the weapons, they use them for evil. The good guys are the rich scientists; the bad guys are the poor working stiffs. Don’t rely on the goodness of mankind: rely on technology, money, and intelligence. That’s the only thing that will save us.

Luckily Watts doesn’t even really seem to realize how disturbing and capitalistic this movie is — he revels in the glee of Spider-Man being the one superhero freed from adult darkness, trafficking in typical high school shenanigans. And that’s where this movie shines. Holland is terrific; not only his American accent but his Marty McFly-like voice as he struggles with a crush (on the wrong girl, of course — Laura Harrier’s Liz is a dud compared to the sardonic appeal of Zendaya’s MJ) and with earning the respect of his idol Iron Man. Whenever the film takes place between the school walls or Aunt May’s apartment, the comedy is in high gear. But when Keaton and Downey (and third-billed Jon Favreau, for some reason) drag it down into predictable CG Marvelness, it just turns into yet another interchangeable entry in this ongoing, super-expensive television series.

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