Written and directed by James Gray, The Lost City of Z (2016) traces the life of British soldier and explorer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is compelled to scour the Amazon for evidence of a lost civilization. Along the way, he’ll repeatedly abandon his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his children and overcome resistance from skeptical colleagues, all to ultimately come up empty handed. It is based on a book of the same name by David Grann.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film since its release, because it’s one of those real life stories more incredible than fiction. Percy Fawcett’s adventures inspired both Indiana Jones and Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World (1912). Unfortunately, The Lost City of Z was less an adventure film and more a plodding, meandering biopic that never quite finds its footing.
As the film opens, we see Percy Fawcett at the cusp of the British upper class. He is a major in the army, but has no medals; he goes on a hunt and kills the stag, but is not invited to dine on it. We see he’s skilled, daring, and willing to take risks. However, this isn’t quite an introduction.
The film makers assume their audience already knows who Percy Fawcett is, but he is a relatively obscure historical figure, especially to American audiences. It’s crucial to quickly establish the identity of the main character and why he is important. Otherwise, you lose the audience’s attention.
Thirteen minutes into the film, a plot finally appears. We learn Fawcett’s father was a gambling drunkard, and he is told that if he completes his mission to map the Bolivian border it will redeem his family name.
Ok so my headline is kinda tongue-in-cheek, but listen to Paramount Pictures’ President of Marketing and Distribution Megan Colligan’s bizarre defense of the grotesque infanticide, cannibalism, and violence in Darren Aronofsky’s Mother (2017):
“This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold… Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.”
Not sure what Netflix production she’s referring to. 13 Reasons Why (2017)? Must have missed the graphic infant dismemberment and cannibalism in that one. I could see maybe arguing the brutal scenes were necessary for the story (such as it was), but “audacious and brave” and “bold”? Brave? Did the filmmakers take personal risks to tell a story no one else wanted to tell? Give me a break!
What bold statement does this film make? That human beings abuse the earth? Oh boy, we’ve never heard that before. Couldn’t have conveyed that message without stripping Jennifer Lawrence’s character and repeatedly punching her in the face.
Truthfully, I wanted to like this film. The preview was compelling and it looked like it had a lot of promise. I like Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. It was just so boring and unnecessary. Only the last twenty minutes are worth talking about, and only because of how graphic it was.
Mother! still has an F rating on Cinemascore. No other recent release even falls below a B minus.
Mother! (2017), staring Jennifer Lawrence as the titular character and Javier Bardem as her husband, Him, is writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s nihilistic allegory for Biblical creation and the rape of nature. Though marketed as a psychological thriller, Aronofsky told Vanity Fair after the Toronto International Film Festival the film is “about how it must feel to be Mother Nature.” It was partially inspired by Shel Silverstein’s picture book The Giving Tree. No, really.
The story itself isn’t very interesting. A writer lives with his much younger wife in an old octagonal farm house on the prairie. Uninvited house guests interrupt their solitude. Their transgressions worsen, climaxing in a murder that leaves a permanent, bloody scar in the floor. Things settle down again after Mother becomes pregnant, but then crescendo into an orgy of violence and depravity as the writer’s fans take over the house and begin worshiping him.
It’s difficult to say for what audience Mother! was intended. People who enjoy long, boring interludes punctuated by moments of extreme violence? It’s not for the squeamish or easily triggered, but it’s not a work of genius either. For my part, it was painful to see talented actors and actresses, including Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, wasted on this pretentious monstrosity.
Throughout the film, and especially in the final act, Mother is marginalized, tormented, brutalized, and violated. At one point, her clothes are torn open and she is repeatedly punched in the face. Finally, her heart is torn from her burnt chest. I think it’s a little bizarre that A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence, who prides herself on playing strong female leads and on being a role model for young women, would agree to star in her boyfriend’s deranged snuff film.
Curiosity led me to watch Mother! (2017) last weekend, writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s nihilistic allegory for Biblical creation… or something. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as Mother [Earth] and Javier Bardem as Him. I’ll mention that Darren and Jennifer are a couple only because it helps explain why she agreed to appear in this pretentious and awful film. Like Him, Darren Aronofsky is a writer and significantly older than his love interest, Jennifer Lawrence. Hmm, it doesn’t take a psychology major to figure out what’s going on here. Anyway, these are my first impressions:
- If I hadn’t read about its controversial ending ahead of time, I probably would have walked out of the theater. When Mother wakes up the morning after having sex and declares “I’m pregnant,” someone in the audience actually started laughing. I had a hard time staying awake until the end.
- Knowing what Mother! was about prior to watching it may have ruined the experience for me. It was hard to miss the obvious symbolism and painful attempt to distill the Biblical story down to its worst elements.
- I considered comparing this movie to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Fando y Lis (1968), but that would be giving it too much creative credit.
- When Fando y Lis premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival, a riot broke out and the director’s car was pelted with rocks. It was banned by the Mexican government for its sacrilegious depiction of Catholic ritual. But will Mother! have that kind of impact in 2017 America? Or will audiences simply react with revulsion to its grotesque Grand Guignol and miss the religious symbolism altogether?
- I think it’s a little bizarre that A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence, who prides herself on playing strong female leads and on being a role model for young women, would agree to star in her boyfriend’s deranged snuff film.
- Once again, the setting was the best part. Everything had a raw, earthy look and feel. Real texture. I love when the characters literally dig into it and organic wounds open up as though the house itself is alive.
- Why are films so out of focus lately? Is this the “shaky camera” trend of the late-2010s?
Look for a more thorough review on Thursday afternoon.
Greed and obsession collide in Gold (2016), a gritty morality tale set in 1980s Nevada, Wall Street, and Indonesia. Matthew McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a prospector desperate for a lucky break. He teams up with geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez), and together they descend into the uncharted jungles of Indonesia hoping to find one big score. This poorly-advertised film almost escaped my notice, until I saw it playing at my local theater. I’m glad I took a chance on it. Gold is a solid film and surprisingly entertaining. Matthew McConaughey disappears into the role, achieving absolute rock bottom in body and spirit.
Gold is loosely based on a true story. In 1995, a small Canadian mining company called Bre-X, owned by David Walsh, claimed to find a massive gold deposit deep in the Indonesian jungle on the Island of Borneo, near the Busang River. Filipino geologist Michael de Guzman and John Felderhof convinced Walsh to invest $80,000 to purchase and develop the gold mine.
In 1997, Bre-X collapsed and its shares became worthless in one of the biggest stock scandals in Canadian history. On March 19, 1997, de Guzman committed suicide by jumping from a helicopter in Busang, Indonesia. An independent investigation of core samples from the mine determined de Guzman had been “salting” the samples with gold flakes, some from his own wedding ring. Walsh died of a brain aneurysm in the Bahamas in 1998, and in 2007, Felderhof was acquitted of securities charges. The scandal cost investors an estimated $3 billion.
Gold follows Nevada prospector Kenny Wells, who inherited his father’s company, Washoe Mining, in the early 1980s. Stress-induced alcoholism caused by the economic downturn leads him to sell the last of his jewelry and fly to Indonesia to meet geologist Michael Acosta. There he endures hardship and survives malaria. When he emerges from the illness, Acosta tells him he made what might be the largest gold discovery in history.
Patriots Day follows fictional Boston police sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) as he helps track down brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who detonated two bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon. The tragedy occurred at 2:49 p.m. local time on April 15, 2013. Massachusetts celebrates Patriots’ Day on April 15 to commemorate the anniversary of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the Revolutionary War. It’s estimated around 500,000 spectators attend the marathon. The bombs, made from pressure cookers, detonated 12 seconds apart, killing three and wounding approximately 264.
The film opens the night before the marathon, establishing a backstory for Sergeant Tommy Saunders. He is a well-meaning cop who got into a fight and has to pull guard duty at the marathon finish line before he can assume his regular duties. From there, we are shown snapshots of characters as they get up and start their day, but it is unclear how most of them will tie into the plot. We see future bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his wife and daughter, at their apartment. Their morning is not typical, as one watches a video of masked terrorists demonstrating how to construct a pressure cooker bomb.
The terror, gut-wrenching shock, and confusion of the bombing is dramatically portrayed, as is the following manhunt. We see both law enforcement and the Tsarnaev brothers as they head for a fiery confrontation in the Boston suburb of Watertown. Moments of humor break up the dramatic, heart-racing scenes. During the final shootout with the Tsarnaev brothers, a man tosses a sledgehammer from his porch at police officers crouched behind the fence. “Give ’em hell!” he shouts, as if the crude melee weapon will do anything against the terrorists’ guns and homemade bombs.
It is meant to show defiance and resiliency in the face of terror, and Patriots Day is full of such crowd-pleasing moments, but how accurately does the film depict these events?