Review of “mother!”

Him and Mother (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence) live in a secluded home in a clearing surrounded by woods. The wife has been renovating the home after a fire severely damaged it. Him is a writer and has some popular books published but is suffering writer’s block. He hopes the seclusion will help the ideas flow. One day a stranger knocks on their door. This stranger is Man (Ed Harris) who says he was sent to the home by locals that thought it was a bed and breakfast. Him insists that since it is so late Man stay the night but Mother thinks inviting a stranger to stay in their home is a bad idea. Showing Man around their home Him brags how Mother has redone everything by herself. In his office, Him shows Man his prized possession: A fragile crystal orb that came from the remains of his burnt home. Man wants to hold it but Him says no and puts it back on its display stand. Not long after Man arrives Mother begins to feel ill. She puts some medicinal powder in a glass of water, drinks it and feels better quickly. Man has some sort of illness that causes coughing fits that keep him and Him up all night; but the next morning both act as if they had a good night’s rest. Later that day the Man’s wife Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and Him invites her to stay as well. Soon Woman gets drunk and begins asking rude and personal questions of Mother. Despite being told to stay out of the office Him writes in, Man and Woman enter and break the crystal orb driving Him into a rage and orders Man and Woman to leave his home. Not long after, Man and Woman’s Oldest Son (Domhnall Gleeson) and Younger Son (Brian Gleeson) arrive to argue over the Man’s will and what will happen to his money. The two sons fight and Oldest Son kills Younger Son. Then things get weird.

Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is a challenging movie to watch and it’s challenging to figure out what it means. It’s a film that is so open to interpretation it could be accused of meaning nothing. As I write this I am just about 24 hours away from leaving the theatre and I am still questioning what I saw. Is that the mark of a good film? I don’t know. It certainly is the mark of an Aronofsky film as I have seen three of his other works over the years: “The Fountain,” “Black Swan” and “Noah.” If nothing else, Aronofsky is a film maker that doesn’t spoon-feed his audience. The images are up on the screen and what you do with them is entirely up to you. While it is an interesting experience I can’t say it was particularly entertaining.

In doing some reading online by other critics and movie websites, it appears that “mother!” is a biblical allegory for God’s creation of the Garden of Eden and Man’s fall from Grace. Once it is pointed out to me the correlation is painfully obvious. It may also be a metaphor on how man is given the beautiful gift of the Earth but uses its resources and fouls the air, land and water and must be punished for his arrogance. That fits as well.

“mother!” is a whirlwind of meaning with layers of symbolism stacked one on top of the other. It is almost sensory overload as you watch the film as it often keeps a very tight close up of Lawrence’s Mother as she moves from one room to the next doing chores or looking for Bardem’s Him. Lawrence’s face is frequently a blank slate in the early parts of the film. Only later does her face contort into confusion and pain. Lawrence is probably the best thing about “mother!” Her performance is the anchor and the access point for the audience. It may not be the doorway to understanding but Lawrence’s Mother is the most human and relatable of all the characters. She is a dutiful wife, a caring and hard-working homemaker and a skilled craftsperson bringing a burned-out shell of a home back to life. She has poured so much of herself into the renovation she can even feel that life pulsing through the walls. What do these scenes mean as she touches the walls, closes her eyes and sees and feels the heartbeat of the house? I haven’t a clue but Lawrence’s performance made me want to find out.

There are parts of “mother!” that are beautiful to look at and some of that dare you to keep watching. Late in the film one of the characters is being beaten. The impacts of the fists and feet seem to jump off the screen and pummel you in the audience. There are more scenes of violence and chaos as the world of “mother!” descends into utter madness. Is this more symbolism for a world consumed with greed, lust and envy? The biblical allegory could be stretched further into Genesis with the Great Flood washing away the evil of humanity. You’ll have to see the film yourself if you want to see exactly what I’m talking about.

The real question: Is “mother!” entertaining? For me it wasn’t. I was always interested in what would happen next and enjoyed some of the weirder and more twisted things in the film but by the end I was left with the question of if what I’d just witnessed improved my life and/or mood. Did it elevate my humanity or relieve any stress? I can’t say that it did. The ending is far from satisfying and left me wondering what exactly the point is? Is “mother!” art merely for art’s sake? If so, that’s fine with me but having experienced it I can’t say I have been enlightened or improved in any way.

“mother!” is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, language, strong disturbing content and strong violent content. We see a person alive and burning. Several people are shown shot in the head. There are some stabbings and at least one beating. General riot-like mayhem occupies most of the last 20 minutes of the movie. There are a couple of explosions. There is a brief scene of Javier Bardem getting out of bed nude. There is also a brief scene of Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts exposed but it is in a violent context. The remains of a baby that has been ripped apart are briefly shown. Foul language is scattered.

For the previous 1100 words I have pontificated on the meaning and qualities of “mother!” but the question remains: Is the movie any good? My honest answer is I don’t know. While it kept me interested for the full two hours I can’t say I enjoyed the movie; but I didn’t hate it either. This is one of those rare films that I simply cannot get my head around. It is an enigma wrapped in a riddle and I am not smart enough to work my way in between the words, the images and the meaning. In short, “mother!” has me stumped.

Simply because I don’t know what else to do, “mother!” gets three stars.

This week three new films open and I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Friend Request—

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle—

The LEGO Ninjago Movie—

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Review of “The Gunman”

Sometimes the actions of a performer off stage color or alter your perception of that person on stage. I don’t think most people will be able to watch Bill Cosby perform standup (or sit down in his case) without thinking about the allegations of rape or sexual misconduct against him by over three dozen women. And while many of his hardcore fans stayed faithful to him, Michael Jackson was always under a cloud of suspicion after allegations of child molestation that eventually led to a trial where he was found not guilty. While his actions usually aren’t illegal (except beating up the occasional photographer), actor Sean Penn is considered a left-wing radical by those who disagree with his political views and probably won’t go see his latest film “The Gunman.” Penn obviously doesn’t worry about his critics as he includes some of his politics in the script he co-wrote. If those who don’t like his views could look past their opinions for a couple of hours, they might find a pretty decent action movie.

James Terrier (Sean Penn) is working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to build a landing strip and help with humanitarian aid in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. In reality, Terrier and his co-workers are actually part of a private security firm being paid by mining interests in the region to provide security and other services. Terrier is informed by Felix (Javier Bardem), the liaison between his employer and their client, that he has been given an assignment to assassinate the minister who oversees mining agreements as he has just ordered all contracts to be renegotiated. Once the mission is completed, Terrier will have to leave the country immediately, abandoning his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a doctor working in a nearby village. Eight years later, hoping to atone for his actions, Terrier is back in the Congo with an organization digging wells to bring fresh, clean water to the people. Armed men show up looking for “the white man.” Terrier is able to kill all his attackers except one who is killed by one of his assistants. Searching the bodies, Terrier finds vials meant to hold samples of his blood once he was dead to verify via DNA they had killed the right man. Terrier flies to London to visit with his former colleague Cox (Mark Rylance) who, now in management, still works with the private security firm. Somebody wants Terrier dead and he hopes Cox can help. Cox doesn’t have any information but suggests he fly to Madrid where Felix is running a company connecting businesses and charities. While in London, Terrier is hit with debilitating headaches and nausea. After an MRI, a doctor tells Terrier he has plaque built up in his brain from repeated blows to the head. He’s supposed to avoid any more concussive noises and stress. Set up with phony documents, a car and an apartment by his friend Stanley (Ray Winstone), Terrier is cautious since someone could be following him. And someone is as we see people tracking his movements with public security cameras. He finds Felix’s house and observes him through a window, seeing him kiss Annie. They are now married and attempting to adopt a child. Meeting Felix at his company, Terrier asks for help and Felix says he will make a few calls to find out what he can. There’s an odd tension between the men due to Felix and Annie being married but is there something else Felix isn’t saying?

While there’s certainly nothing original about “The Gunman” and it isn’t terribly imaginative with its plot, I found myself enjoying the film despite its 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps it’s my age as Penn is just about a year older than me, but I enjoyed the action and the espionage aspects of the film. “The Gunman” is another in the “over-50” action genre that is pretty much the exclusive domain of Liam Neeson. It tries to be smarter by mixing in the interference of international conglomerates in the political affairs of a Third-World country; but the film lives or dies on the action and for me “The Gunman” did a pretty good job.

Penn appears to have the body of a 25-year old. From his bulging arms to his washboard abs, Penn must either spend hours in the gym with a personal trainer or is juicing. Either way, the results look impressive on screen for a 54-year old man. Penn needed the stamina to carry out the stunts he’s asked to do. There are several close up fights that, as is the current fashion, consist of martial arts moves and gymnastics. These are shown in medium shots that don’t isolate the movements of only one limb. You can see the action and actually follow what’s happening, which I appreciate.

The film also doesn’t skimp on the number of gunshot deaths we get to see with lots of gory detail. Whether it’s blood spatter on a wall behind a victim or being able to see the hole blown out of someone’s head, “The Gunman” isn’t shy about showing about as much as anyone could want to see.

The globetrotting the film does is a kind of travelogue for those of us who will probably never go to Europe. We spend time in London, Madrid and Gibraltar as well as what is supposed to be the jungles of the Congo. The settings are taken advantage of best in Madrid where we spend the majority or the film’s running time. Downtown apartments, estates in the countryside and narrow city streets give the film a luxurious and exotic feel. While it isn’t as exotic as most Bond films, it still manages to make the setting feel unique.

The movie runs into some trouble in two areas: First, the romance between Terrier and Annie feels forced, like they felt the need to create some emotional tension and tacked on a romantic aspect to the story. I didn’t believe the intense connection between the two characters and the decisions those feelings lead them to make. Jasmine Trinca is a fine actress who has done most of her work in her homeland of Italy. She has a believably beautiful face that conveys all the emotion one might expect from the events in the film; but the combination of Penn and Trinca feels like a mismatch. Second, the political and economic aspects of the story feel overly complicated and under explained. Perhaps in the editing some exposition was cut out. I felt lost on a couple of occasions and wasn’t sure who was doing what to whom. That confusion wasn’t from crafty storytelling, but from jumbled storytelling. While I like the idea of the story, the story itself isn’t fully fleshed out.

“The Gunman” is rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. As stated earlier, the film is full of bloody gunshot wounds. There are also a couple of stabbings and a death by goring. There are a couple of scenes with people in bed. One scene shows a couple having sex but there is no graphic nudity. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

It isn’t unique and it won’t set any box office records (it made only $5 million its opening weekend), but “The Gunman” still has something that made me like it. Perhaps it’s a combination of settings and action that appeals to me. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed “The Gunman” even though I appear to be in the minority.

“The Gunman” gets four stars out of five.

It’s a light week at the multiplex with just two new films opening up. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Get Hard—


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