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Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

It’s the very near future, and extreme weather conditions are kept in check by a system of weather control satellites that encircle the earth, all controlled from the now surprisingly roomy International Space Station. Things go awry when a series of malfunctions wreak localised weather-riffic havoc on various spots around the globe (a sudden freeze in the Afghani desert, for example) – but, of course, it’s not accidental, is it? A loose-knit team must race against the clock – quite literally in the final act – to figure out who’s behind the sabotage before the titular weather event wipes a goodly proportion of the population from the planet.

Geostorm comes to us from the mind of director and co-writer Dean Devlin, long-time producer and writing partner of Roland Emmerich, and the pair have form for this sort of thing – see 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow as proof. There’s a formula for this sort of thing deeply rooted in the big budget disaster spectacles that super-producer Irwin Allen specialised in back in the ’70s, and that Devlin has pretty much made his own in our time: take a high concept disaster, fill your cast with known but affordable faces, add pathos and cutting edge special effects, and cash your cheque. Indeed, the only real difference between the likes of The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and this is that effects technology has marched on, and that casts have regressed (Gerard Butler and company are fine, but they’re not quite the calibre of Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman, are they?)

Butler, always a robust performer, is Jake Lawson, the maverick designer of the weather control system (nicknamed “Dutch boy” for no real reason), fired for insubordination but brought back in to troubleshoot by his estranged brother, Max (Jim Sturgess). That means getting back on board the ISS and trying to figure out what’s going wrong with his supertech baby while a traitor on board does his best to take our man Jake out of the picture. Max, for his part, has to try to unravel a conspiracy that leads to the highest echelons of government, with the help of his Secret Service agent girlfriend, Sarah (Abbie Cornish, the best thing here). Andy Garcia crops up as the President, Ed Harris as the Secretary of State, and future Domino Zazie Beetz as a computer tech who helps Max in his quest for truth – which is really a quest for padded running time to allow for more weaponised weather mayhem.

In fact, the running time is too padded – we spend a lot of time spinning our narrative wheels with the fairly perfunctory mystery plot when we could be watching world landmarks get wrecked – which is the entire reason we’re here, after all. The action setpieces, when they do come, are a lively time. You do, of course, have to leave any understanding of physics and climate at the door in order to get anything out of this nonsense, but that’s a price worth paying – otherwise you don’t get to see Rio de Janeiro flash-frozen, and where’s the fun in that?

The film falters when it tries to introduce emotion into the proceedings, which it does in as heavy-handed and obvious way possible. Lawson elder’s standard issue cute daughter (Talitha Bateman) gets so bent out of shape over the prospect of her father heading back into space for work she’s practically a cackling harbinger of doom. The Lawson brothers’ eventual and inevitable reconciliation is about as shocking as flies in summer, and the eventual reveal of the villain even less surprising – just ask yourself which big name actor has been given the least to do, and you’ll out-Sherlock our dogged protagonists in seconds flat.

Geostorm is, in its way, enjoyable enough. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and hits the quota of spectacle and thrills without ever threatening to do anything too new with the disaster popcorn genre. It’s still a hard film to recommend, though – while it’s perfectly fine Sunday afternoon background noise, even the scale of its effects sequences makes it a hard sell as a theatrical experience. Still, one couch-bound day, you could do worse than queuing it up – just calibrate your expectations accordingly.

Click here for nationwide movie times for Geostorm

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Review, Theatrical, This Week 10 Comments

There will be spoilers. 

A woman’s face is wreathed in flame.

In a charred and desolate room, a man (Javier Bardem) places a rough-cut white jewel on a golden stand. Magically, the room begins to heal itself, spreading out from the stone – smoke damage fades, cracked and peeling paint runs smooth, broken furniture becomes whole.

Alone on a double bed, a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens. “Baby?” she calls.

How telling. So too is the next thing we hear her say, when her husband (Bardem) surprises her on the porch of their rambling and beautiful country home: “You frightened me.”

mother! (small m, exclamation point) begins enigmatically, as you might expect from the little we’ve been able to glean from the marketing materials thus far. It’s a mystery, we’ve been told. Allusions have been made to classic horror – Rosemary’s Baby in particular. The promotional posters are cryptic, bloody, and disturbing.

The grainy film stock and handheld camera work employed by cinematographer Matthew Libatique reinforce the notion that we might be looking at writer and director Darren Aronofsky’s ode to the highbrow horrors of the ’60s and ’70s, and our introduction to the scenario is infused with a subtle sense of menace and foreboding. Bardem’s character – no names are ever given –  is a poet, struggling with writer’s block. His much younger wife (Lawrence) is devoted to him and determined to fix up the beautiful but somewhat dilapidated house they share. Their relative contentment is broken by the appearance of a traveler (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). The poet invites the pair to stay, but the woman is disturbed by the intrusion.

As it transpires, the interlopers have arrived under false pretenses – the man is a fan of the poet and, dying, wished to meet him before the end. His wife, a sensuous creature, blunt and fond of drink, inserts herself into the household as though she owns it. The poet is glad of the attention and determined to be a good host, but the woman grows more discomfited. Who are these people? Why is her husband so enamoured of their attention? Why are they so familiar with each other? Why does she feel so alienated?

When the penny drops will vary from viewer to viewer. For us, it’s when Harris’ character’s bickering sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) turn up, arguing over their inheritance, and one murders the other before fleeing. mother! is not a return to the psychological horrors of Black Swan, folks, but to the metaphysical ruminations of Noah! Aronofsky’s latest is nothing less than an allegorical retelling of all the better bits of the Old and New Testaments. And not the familiar, watered down King James version, but the crazy, apocrypha-riddled proto-Judaic stuff – how else could we get away with having Asherah, Yahweh’s consort, as our point of view character? The titular mother goddess, shoved aside by the patriarchal Abrahamic religions, is finally getting her due on the big screen. That’s sure to play well in the red states.

Yes, Aronofsky has cast Lawrence, his real-life girlfriend as the wife of God – which is an incredible and strangely admirable act of hubris, when you think about it. It’s a short leap to consider Bardem’s god-figure as a stand in for Aronofsky himself, obsessed with the act of creation, hopelessly susceptible to flattery and fawning, and more than a little dismissive of his husbandly duties. How could he not be? His house is soon thronging with people, friends and family of Adam and Eve (again never named, but we’re through the looking glass here) who have come for Abel’s wake, and who are all singing the poet’s praises, each in their own way.

A demand for passion ensues and is answered, and the woman is now pregnant. Her calling realised, her belly swells – surely this new life will heal the growing rift between them. Meanwhile, all this attention has gotten the poet’s creative juices flowing, and he’s begun to write again. Soon, more fans are arriving at the house, petitioning him for attention.

“I’ll get started on the apocalypse,” Lawrence’s character intones.

It all spins queasily, crazily out of control (and let us not forget that Aronofsky alluded to the possibility of early Middle Eastern monotheism being a mushroom cult in Noah) quite quickly, as the film stops pretending to pay lip service to narrative and psychological realism and cleaves only to its own systems of allegory and metaphor. Before long Stephen McHattie crops up as a raving zealot, and Kristen Wiig is – the Pharisees? The Catholic Church? At one point she’s executing people in the kitchen with a pistol, and by that stage we’re so steeped in spectacle, symbol, and oblique event after confounding, naggingly intriguing event, that it all becomes difficult to parse, at least on first taste. We do know where we’re going, though, as the gyre widens and mere anarchy is loosed upon the house. But are we pursuing an end or a new beginning?

It’s great.

It really is, and it’s great in a way that you know will divide audiences and send them barreling towards opposite ends of the opinion spectrum – it’s not a work that invites middling responses. Some will be angered by the irreducibly religious elements. Some will be scornful of Aronofsky’s pretension at mounting such a work (and make no mistake, art like this requires a certain level of pretension). Some will be annoyed at the seemingly countless unfathomable visual and narrative symbols and motifs (what’s the tonic that Lawrence’s character keeps taking for her pains? What’s with the toad? Is there a satan?). Some will claim they saw it all coming, and it’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is (and frankly, screw those guys).

But some will love it. We certainly do. It’s a dense, delirious, playful and serious work of capital A art, and easily the most ambitious film to come out of a major studio since… well, let’s just say it: since Kubrick died. It’s the most interesting and intellectually rigorous religious film since The Last Temptation of Christ, and easily the best film of Aronofsky’s career. The closest analogues that come to mind are Jodorowsky’s earlier works, especially The Holy Mountain, but it’s going to take time and several viewings to figure out if that’s a worthy comparison – that it comes to mind at all speaks volumes, though.

No matter what you think, or think you might think, about mother!, it certainly demands and deserves your attention. Go and see it. You haven’t seen anything like it since… well, you just haven’t seen anything like it.