Six films for a rainy day (R-085)

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The weather has been rather Biblical recently in the UK and so I battened down the hatches and took the opportunity to get a few things check off my Netflix and Amazon watch lists. Here’s some quick ramblings about the six films I watched (the first five were on Netflix, the last one on Amazon).

Wind River is a film written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) starring Kelsey Asbille (One Tree Hill) and Jeremy Renner as a rookie FBI agent and a hunter investigating the death of a young girl in the snows of a Wyoming Native American reservation. I think it’s loosely based on a true story, so don’t expect any happy endings.

It’s a good film with both lead actors doing a good job in portraying characters from different lifestyles working together to the same ends. It doesn’t paint a very nice picture of oil and gas contractors which seems somewhat reductive, but if it’s based on something that actually happened then I can’t really complain. There’s some rather far-fetched guff about the relative physiology of a teenage girl versus an adult man in terms of environmental exposure but it’s part of telling a poetic ending and so we can let it pass I guess. It’s worth a watch.

Robin Hood is yet another retelling of a story which seems to have been done to death by Hollywood and has nothing particularly novel to offer once you get over the spectacle of the bow and arrow combat which at times feels more like a Ghost Recon cut scene than a Medieval tale.

This film feels similar in its modernish presentation as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword with lots of anachronisms and storytelling shortcuts. I had to laugh when Robin arrives back from the Crusades and a ship lookout shouts something like ‘Nottingham off starboard bow!’. For non-UK readers, Nottingham is in the centre of the UK and one of the furthest places away from the sea. Unless Robin was on a canal barge (which he wasn’t) there’s no way the city could be seen off the bow of the ship.

I have to admit I did enjoy the film as a simple action film and it was rather more satisfying than the fairly recent Russel Crowe / Ridley Scott film, but that’s not really saying much.

Mother! is a bizarre film from writer director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream). It starts off feeling like a haunted house horror film with Jennifer Lawrence wandering about the rooms of the house she shares with a poet played by Javier Bardem who is suffering from writer’s block. However, it is soon obvious that this film is more about the connection Lawrence has with the house and how she wants to protect it from uninvited guests.

By the time she is pregnant these uninvited guests have multiplied to frightening numbers and the horror tropes are put to one side in favour of a religious / mother earth allegory where the poet is seen as some kind of Godlike creator, Lawrence’s character as mother Earth and her baby as a messiah.

I can wholly understand why this film was divisive. The pace is plodding and the story itself a jumble of ideas – sometimes guilty of violent shock tactics – with a ‘go round again’ ending reminiscent of the King’s finale to The Dark Tower series. Talking of which…

The Dark Tower is a hugely disappointing interpretation of the Stephen King series of books. I have less of a problem with Idris Elba being cast as the gunslinger Roland in this film as I would if he was cast as James Bond, since King himself said he wasn’t overly bothered and was happy to forgo the idea that the gunslinger was a Clint Eastwood type figure. However when you see Matthew McConaughey playing the man in black Walter, you can’t help but feel that he might have made a better Roland.

With a ninety minute run time there was absolutely no way the filmmakers were ever going to do the series justice. What we’re left with is a severely boiled down version of one of my favourite book series of all time. There are many main characters missing and then easter eggs that point to where the gaps are making it even more obvious that this film is but a shadow of what it might have been (maybe as a Netflix show). Examples are the comment by Roland watching a pair of raccoons being voiced over on a TV show asking Jake ‘do animals still speak to another in this world?’ or somesuch – referring of course to the missing billy-bumbler Oy. Other little nods are the graffiti red rose on a shop front and a look over at a railway station but no actual train ride.

The ka-tet of 1999 is comprised solely of Jake and Roland. As well as Oy, Eddie and Susanah Dean are completely missing. It was so frustrating to watch, until I resigned myself to thinking of the film as a sequel to the last book in which (SPOILERS ALERT) – in one of the weakest Stephen King endings ever – having finally arrived at and entered the Dark Tower, Roland has to ‘do it all again’ – like Neo in The Matrix trilogy. There are no Wizard of Oz references, or surprise surprise Harry Potter references, which probably would have left non-aficionados completely bewildered.

There were a few nice touches like: using the terminology ‘shining’ to describe Jake’s power and obvious ties it to The Shining and the forthcoming Dr Sleep film; the red and white Plymouth Fury toy car (a reference to Christine); and the ‘Pennywise’ sign in the ruins of a theme park (which is the name of the evil clown demon in It), but these really couldn’t make up for such a watered down cinematic retelling. Hopefully if/when they do an episodic TV show of the story they will do the story the justice it deserves.

The Dark Tower wasn’t the only lacklustre book adaptation I saw this week…

Noah is what Darren Aronofsky wrote and directed before Mother! and there’s no prizes for guessing that this is an adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah, the animals and the flood. While it’s not as crazy as Mother! this film doesn’t exactly stick to the accustomed story as I recall it from Sunday School and RE lessons.

I’m not going to moan on about it quite as much as I did about The Dark Tower because it doesn’t upset me half as much. I’m a lot more a fan of Stephen King books than I am the Bible. Besides, there’s plenty of pissed off Christians on the internet that have already had a good old rant about how Noah doesn’t stick to the ‘facts’. It’s funny really.

Let me summarise a few of the things that are upsetting the Bible people:

  • Noah’s sons don’t go onboard the ark with any wives apart from one girl who Noah only lets on because he thinks she’s barren. For him the voyage is all about rescuing the animals and he actually wants to end humankind once they’ve found land once the flood recedes, since he thinks the world would be better of without humans on it (this sentiment carries over into Mother!).
  • Noah is helped in his big ol’ DIY project by some CG rock-based Transformer type creatures called The Watchers who are fallen angels trapped in earthly form. I don’t remember them featuring in the original story.
  • Noah has a stowaway onboard in the form of a descendant of Cain. This chap’s bloodline is deemed to be bad whereas Noah’s family bloodline is deemed to be good, despite them both originating from Adam and Eve.
  • The story of creation is told while a load of really nice graphics show the big bang and evolutionary steps of life on earth.

I actually really liked the creation story juxtaposed with what I believe is a rather more digestible theory on the evolution of life on Earth. The Watchers were quite an original concept but rather reminiscent of the Ents in The Lord of the Rings.

It’s interesting that no-one seems to be complaining about Noah being a white Kiwi/Aussie and the rest of the cast all being white, or the fact that corrugated steel existed in Biblical times – like Robin Hood there’s a lot of technology and clothing knocking about that just isn’t ‘period’.  But, when the story itself is so fundamentally farcical I suppose it doesn’t matter.

You Were Never Really Here is probably the best of this bunch. It tells the story of a mentally unwell veteran, Joe, who lives with his geriatric mother and works as a private agent searching for missing girls and getting them out of whatever predicament he finds them in, by any (violent) means necessary. Think Taken with a huge dollop of PTSD and gritty realism plus a brilliant performance for Joker star Joaquin Phoenix.

It’s yet another film based on a book (by Jonathan Ames) directed and written by Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin). It’s up to the viewer to piece together what’s going on, short audio and visual flashbacks provide a jigsaw puzzle of Joe’s past, and there’s not a whole lot of dialogue. The film is hugely atmospheric and Phoenix’s performance is as usual superb and disturbing. I won’t say any more about this one as i wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. Here’s the trailer:

 

Stone image by HeonCheol LEE from Pixabay.

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