Friday, March 16, 2018

Threading the Needle: A Portrait of the Haunted Artist

Movie Reviewed: Phantom Thread

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Date: 16 March 2018

jamesintexas rating: ***

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Phantom Thread exists in a nebulous plane where I feel instantly unqualified to explore its meaning and themes because of my own inadequacy with understanding what it is saying.  I saw it in the same theater and even the same seats that I saw The Master in several years ago, and I remember a similar feeling: this film is important and has something to say, but I am not sure that I get it.  I have found myself swimming in PTA's films this decade-The Master, Inherent Vice, and now this-that have left me mesmerized, confused, and desirous of more viewings, more thinking, and more consideration.

Paul Thomas Anderson does not make boring movies, and Phantom Thread is compelling in its focus on 1950's London acclaimed dress designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis in his final role), his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) who manages The House of Woodcock, and the waitress-turned-ingenue Alma (Vicky Krieps) who upends both of their worlds.  Anderson's camera glides in with the phalanx of women, climbing a vertigo-inducing staircase, who sew and imbue Reynolds's creations with life, and much of our time is spent in this insular world with its elegantly designed rooms and beautifully arrayed trays of scones, teas, eggs, and such.  Woodcock prefers a kind of reverential silence and an artist's complete control over facets of his life that his sister is completely willing to provide.  An opening scene reveals him stating, "I cannot start my day with a confrontation.  I simply have no time for confrontations," and Cyril helping jettison his latest relationship.  The plot of the film is nearly nonexistent, but instead, Phantom Thread becomes a contest of wills and an exploration of desire and need within a relationship as Alma proves to be the most formidable person Reynolds has in his life.

During a trip to the country, Reynolds encounters Alma, a waitress who catches his eye, and he, hers.  The upending of routine is tantamount to an earthquake for the fastidious Reynolds.  Jam scraping against toasted bread, the pouring of tea, and the movements of chairs even disrupt him.  Cyril reveals to Alma how a discombobulated morning for Reynolds can obliterate the whole day, but for the most part, Anderson is content to show us Woodcock arranging and sewing fabric for the royalty and the upper classes, fevered into a near-frenzy at a 1950's fashion show where he applies the final touches to the women who wear The House of Woodcock and also views them through a spyglass emboldened in the wall of the studio.  Alma defends his work, makes demands of him and his time and his fastidiousness, and the suggestion is that upfront clashing with him is what Reynolds needs and ultimately wants as a man who sees himself as cursed at times and sees the past living and breathing alongside him.

Anderson is saying something about the reciprocity of desire and fulfillment here, and he shoots hauntingly beautiful scenes of them walking outside, driving in a very cramped automobile with the sky lurking overhead, with them inside the carefully calibrated domains of the dressmaker's studio.  Jonny Greenwood's score is impossibly gorgeous and luminous, echoing shades of his brilliant, masterful work in There Will Be Blood, leaning heavily on pianos and strange, discordant sounds.  The entire production is one of beauty and meticulousness.  Vicky Krieps is a strong challenge to Day-Lewis here, making their pairing a powerful one, and Manville, though she seems to disappear in the final third of the film, an iron presence of will and love for her brother.  There is something profound and beautiful here, and I think I have faith in Anderson to accept that Phantom Thread is going to take much more time and thought (and probably subtitles) for me to learn more about what I think about it.  Anderson makes us consider how love is both rapturous and poisonous, I think, and the importance of changing because as Reynolds puts it, "A house that doesn't change is a dead house."

And finally, a word about Daniel Day-Lewis, who can command the screen just putting on his purple socks or slowly eating an omelette.  To see the man who embodied Christy Brown, Hawkeye, Gerry Conlon, Bill the Butcher, Daniel Plainview, and Abraham Lincoln round out his career in film as Reynolds Woodcock, this enigmatic, oblique, cruel, and, at times impenetrable man is a wonder.  Woodcock's frustrations burst through in florid, painful remarks to those around him and the occasional wonderful round of cursing.  The performance is a more physical and silent one of movements, looks, and gestures though, and his gaze is a haunting one, captured in many close-ups, often peering over frames of glasses or as he straightens out the fabric from a dress.  Hearing him pontificate about the word "chic" is a highlight of the year, as well as his final Oscar clip.

I have been in awe of Daniel Day-Lewis since My Left Foot, but in the theater, probably since Last of the Mohicans.  I saw that film at the York Theater in Elmhurst, The Boxer in Columbus, Ohio, Gangs of New York at the Edwards in Houston, There Will Be Blood at the Ritz East in Philadelphia, The Nine in downtown Chicago, Lincoln in Las Vegas, and I leave him now at the River Oaks Theater in Houston with Phantom Thread, constantly awed, grateful for his pairing with Paul Thomas Anderson, and appreciative of spending so much screen time with this marvelous actor.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lady Bird Soars

Movie Reviewed: Lady Bird

Director: Greta Gerwig

Date: 6 January 2018

jamesintexas rating: ****

Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird is a triumph of cinematic storytelling and emotion.  With its fully realized and complex performances by Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous heroine and the great Laurie Metcalf as her mother, Marion McPherson, Lady Bird confronts class and place in very moving and specific ways, as well as relationships that we surround ourselves with and what we chose for ourselves.  I'm writing this the day after the Academy Award nominations came out, where there was much love for this film, and yet it does not even seem like enough admiration.  From its casting to its narrative decisions, Lady Bird emerges fully formed and wondrous, and I'm sure that it offers more on its second and third viewings.

Coming of age stories are rarely this nuanced, eschewing the hyperbolic and the gags, and that's a credit to the creative force of Greta Gerwig.  The self-anointed Lady Bird ("It is my given name; I gave it to myself") feels constrained by her life in Sacramento, what she calls the Midwest of California, and shuttles from her warm Catholic High School to her complex relationship with her mom.  She has a close friend in Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and when they both sign up for Drama Club, a sort of chain reaction occurs that leads to different layers, different friends.  Her teachers are foils but also fully realized people with their own agendas and aches.  Her relationships with her brother, his girlfriend, and her father also work themselves into her senior year in poignant and surprising ways.  And, as always, there is college looming and Lady Bird's sense of possibility in herself as a writer and what that means.

To reveal more would be a sin, but rest assured, there are secrets and surprises, quiet epiphanies and heartbreaks, as well as an airport sequence fraught with intense, reserved emotion that comes spilling out over the great Laurie Metcalf's face.  The final chapter of the film is both elegiac and profoundly hopeful in the best possible way; I never knew where the film would take us.  It is also deeply, deeply funny.

Part of the reason that I hope you read this blog is that you are a family member or friend or classmate or student of mine at some point in the many chapters of my life.  Facebook is a constant barrage and collision of those chapters, and it is jarring to see people from my time at YES Prep (where I work now) in the same timeline as people that have known me since first grade at Immaculate Conception Grade School.  Walt Whitman's line is that "We contain multitudes" as a signal on the contradictory nature of us as Americans, as humans.  To say Lady Bird contains multitudes is an understatement. But returning to the reason I hope you read...   Part of the reason that I hope you read this blog is to see something that even with some Oscar recognition and accolades on year-end polls or Rotten Tomatoes still has a much smaller chance of being seen and appreciated, especially when juxtaposed against the Top Grossing Films of 2017, a panoply of special effects, comic book madness, and sequel maintenance (with apologies to Wonder Woman, the rare film that offers style, substance, fun, and emotion).  No matter where you are in your journey with film or what chapter of your life you find yourself, Lady Bird should be seen and appreciated.  To be age 39 and reviewing films means to see a character like Marion McPherson anew, with fresh sympathy and empathy for all that occurs, whereas an earlier version of me would fixate on the main character exclusively.  It is a startling treat about getting older that time and life experience shifts whom you connect with in a film.  My son is four; my daughter, two.  I have no idea what the teenage versions of themselves will be like.  Lady Bird states to her mom, "What if this is the best version of me that I can be?" to a perfectly wry look from Laurie Metcalf that captures her mom's loving disbelief and exasperation at her daughter's emerging public identity.  The quiet moments at the end of the film are more abstract and less expected, but as someone who has emerged and grown in large part away from both of my parents since leaving home at seventeen for college, it was undeniably powerful.

I hope that you take this review as a call to action: Gerwig's voice cannot be denied, and Ronan especially continues to dazzle, even after great performances in films like Atonement, Brooklyn, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I am so thankful that I will get to watch her career unfold.  Recommendations are tricky, but I stand by this one.  Lady Bird is among the best films of the year, maybe the best.  See it.

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Well, here we are: Star Wars Episode Eight, The Divergence of the Force by The Mouse.

Movie Reviewed: Star Wars Episode Eight: The Last Jedi

Director: Rian Johnson

Date: 6 January 2018

jamesintexas rating: **

Failure is always an option, and I think The Last Jedi represents a failure of ideas at times despite its many wonders.  "The greatest teacher, failure is" says you know who in an appearance applauded for its puppetry and lack of CGI but another example of pillaging the past.  (Side note: Hasn't this character been through enough when I think of the Sonic-the-Hedgehog type stunts in Episode 2?)  I am also not sure if the creative forces behind this film and the aggressive release schedule which drives forward stories so quickly would align with the master's idea of learning from a failure.  A failure that makes one billion dollars in box office in only a few weeks.  I think that as a long-time fan, I am coming to terms with the world being a place where a new Star Wars film happens yearly and is just less special.  That is what it is.

The Last Jedi.  Even the title to this film lacks conviction and clarity because I do not know who it is supposed to refer to and what it means.  Rian Johnson's bloated, overstuffed take on the Star Wars universe stumbles in its own mythology, seems to mishandle the great Carrie Fisher's last onscreen performance as General Leia (unless maybe there is footage for Episode Nine?), juggles multiple story lines poorly, gives short shrift to characters like Rey and Finn as well as substance in order to fit in multiple CGI cute creatures and quasi-political and social commentary about arms dealing and weapon-building, and ultimately the film embodies the worst tendencies of Peter Jackson's finale in The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King, with an overlong, extended, indulgent denouement.  Here, Johnson flirts with making bold, radical choices with this storytelling and always blinks, never being courageous enough to shock or stir the audience.  In contrast, he is much more comfortable blowing up the tenets of the Jedi world, including the laws that govern them and the Force-ghosts in ways that provide quick storytelling shortcuts but up-end the universe itself without making sense.  And don't get me started on the jump to Hyperspace.

This film is a curiosity: a storyteller's decision to play in the world and muck it up, which I guess is his right, as this new trilogy is significantly farther away from George Lucas's vision than The Force Awakens would have made us believe.  In that film, J. J. Abrams offered a mishmash of old recycled into new, charmingly playing in the destruction of the world of the original trilogy with exciting, fresh characters like Rey and Finn and even Kylo Ren.  My favorite moments included Rey scavenging in the wrecked carcass of a Star Destroyer, now smashed up on the floor of her planet.  Now, the world constructed in The Last Jedi seems constrained by its script, in a rush to go here and there, while being a bit of a tale of sound and fury, as it were.  Many ridiculed George Lucas's focus on trade federations in Episode One; now, we have an entire movie devoted to running out of fuel?

After an exciting, WW2-esque opening battle, there are too many storylines to follow: Kylo Ren's (Adam Driver) dark journey and then rage; General Hux's (Domhnall Gleeson) grandstanding; the unconvincing bad guy Snoke (Andy Serkis); Finn (John Boyega) and Rose's (Kelly Marie Tran) journey to another planet and back to gather secrets to help their failing ship; sidelined flyboy Poe (Oscar Isaac) clashing with autocratic Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern); Rey (Daisy Ridley) following Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) around until he agrees to teach her; and I think that's it?  There is an early fake-out death which goes far beyond the logic of this established universe and feels like a take from a Superman film.  I think that moment took me out of the film, and I struggled to get back on board.  It was distracting and still does not make sense to me.

To say this film signifies nothing is not true.  But whatever Johnson's vision is for this world, I am not sure I want in after this because there is some really strange altering of the world as we know it which offers some great visuals but sacrifices something in the process.  Johnson displays clumsiness and an unsteady hand throughout, which is evidenced by the film's inability to end.  The overlong quality of this movie betrays its own insecurities: Johnson wants to give us everything and nothing at the same time.  Rey engages in an Empire Strikes Back-ish quest to learn from Luke as teased in the closing moments of the previous film.  Luke's reluctance to join The Resistance and become her teacher are the most compelling moments of the film.  When the film is at its best, Skywalker storms around a rainy Ireland island in a cloak with Rey following and trying to engage him while also undergoing her own self-discovery.  Rey begins to psychically connect with Kylo Ren through Force telepathy, and her thoughts are never far away from her origin story.  Who are her parents?  What is her destiny?  How does she negotiate The Force and her newfound power?  Those are my favorite moments, and the more Rey, the better.  Rey and Finn are kept strategically apart this film, and I think that's a mistake because of the chemistry between the two characters, and dramatically, I think I just wanted more of Rey, though she does have a wonderful action sequence mid-film that repairs a missed opportunity in The Return of The Jedi.

As the latest two Star Wars films have proven, you show me an AT-AT, I'm probably on board because of nostalgia and the Hoth Battle being maybe my favorite moments in the series, close second being the forty minutes in Jabba's palace.  And there is a nice apocalyptic quality of some of the final sequence with its stark imagery, snow-like salt on top of red, blazing with light shimmering everywhere, but the final machinations of the film left me nonplussed, about which the less said, the better.  I was emotional in the final scenes, but I also think that part of that emotion was because the film seems to have sidelined its most interesting characters in plot lines that do not allow them to shine.  Ridley and Boyega are so fun to watch; they deserve to do more than just wait around.  Hamill does what he can with a Luke Skywalker that has been given this story line.  The performances generally are strong; I think I just was troubled by the arrangement of the film and storytelling, and some of dialogue is very clunky, even by Lucasian standards.

"We are what they grow beyond" says the green sage.  Growth, I guess, is debatable.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 2017, 4K

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I Waited Sixteen Years For This?

Movie Reviewed: The Score

Director: Frank Oz

 Date: 7 December 2017

jamesintexas rating: **

The Score film.jpg

I waited sixteen years to see this 2001 film.  Here's the score:

Robert De Niro wins, I guess, but this tepid film signals a decline from his heist masterpiece Heat, and it sure isn't Ronin or Meet The Parents, both quite fun.

Edward Norton finishes second, but he's redoing his Primal Fear ticks and head bobs, and is more distracting than anything else.

The always excellent Angela Bassett finishes third in an underwritten character that is far beneath her talent.

Legend Marlon Brandon finishes fourth in a strange, sad final performance that just seems an ignominious end to such a stellar career.

I think that the film earns points for me because of the following:

1. It is filmed mostly in Quebec, and the Canadian streets, buildings, and jazz clubs are charming.
2. The jazz is quite wonderful, and Howard Shore, the great Howard Shore, does some very memorable, soulful work with the soundtrack.
3. There is a kind of workman-like dullness to the film that is nice.  Its stakes are not that high; its characters, not that hyperbolic; its MacGuffin, a French royal scepter which no meaning outside of its cash value.
4. Robert De Niro, for the most part, does not seem to be in much of a hurry as the world's most relaxed and pretty successful Canadian Jazz Club owner.  Neither is the film.  I think the opening scene encapsulates the whole film: there is a break-in without much panache or artistry; there are elements that we think are going to pay off big, and then they kind of don't; there is a lot of fading out of shots of De Niro traveling and traveling.  And then it is over.
5. There is a pretty cool extended shot of a torch cutting into a safe if you're into that kind of thing (maybe appealing for safecrackers?).
6. I'm never not interested in Marlon Brando, even just walking across a room or sitting in a bizarre basement pool room pontificating.

I do not mean to be chippy with this film, but I just think its ending feels unearned.  But more important than that, The Score is joyless and not much fun or funny.  That's okay, and it passed two hours of my team, but it isn't enjoyable.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Recording History: No Maps on My Taps

Movie Reviewed: No Maps on My Taps

Director: George Nierenberg

 Date: 19 November 2017

jamesintexas rating: ***

No Maps on My Taps is an exhilarating social document, a chronicling of a disappearing art form by its denizens in the late 1970's, while also an exciting look at the lurching forward of culture from vaudeville until now, with its eye keenly focused on the controlled mayhem of the feet and bodies of legends Howard "Sandman" Sims, Bunny Briggs, and Chuck Green.  And, as a chronicle of these men and their art, Nierenberg has preserved them, has shared them, has allowed them to live on as I sat with 130 eleventh graders from my high school in Houston, watching this documentary at the 2017 Houston Cinema Arts Festival.  We know their names because of his film, which he watched with us and poignantly reminded us that he is the only person left from this film.  He tells their story.

Watching the film unfold, I was struck by its elegiac quality; these powerful performers lament their art's diminishment, especially in the face of rock and roll and other mediums.  They look backwards to the world of the 1930's with its films and shows focused on tap.  They enjoy being onstage with each other so much, each pushing the other to do better and better.  The footage from the 1930's is spellbinding, and the dancing, stupendous.  I wondered lots about Harlem in the 1970's which peeks in and around the edges, especially as Sandman walks the streets with his son.  His son must be nearly fifty years old now, and he has this document of his time with his dad.  I wondered about what art forms loved and embraced now will diminish in the next forty years.  Some of my students learned tap dancing when they were young; my conversations with the dancers among them made me think that hip hop has replaced tap in a way.  The Cross Country coach in me just marveled at their muscular control, their calves and ankles, their indefatigable rhythm and power. 

Chuck Green holds the heart and soul of the film, with his distant quality (the director revealed that he was struggling with much during the filming), yet his soulful uttering of the titular phrase is both sweet and hopeful.  No Maps on My Taps means, essentially, "No limits, Jonathan?" the philosophical underpinning of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, another artifact from the 1970's, this one shared with me by my Cross Country coach Mr. Joe Newton.  To dance, to run, to create art is freedom: freedom from your constraints, your illness, your struggles.  Chuck, Bunny, and Sandman are all gone now, but this film holds them firmly in its heart, showing the beauty in these men and their love of tap and how it enriched their lives.  Thank you, George Nierenberg. 

Call it the Best Film of the Year.

Movie Reviewed: Call Me by Your Name

Director: Luca Guadagnino

 Date: 13 November 2017

jamesintexas rating: ****

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Mr. Perlman, Michael Stuhlbarg's character, has a monologue at the end of this marvelous new film that detonated with an unexpected emotionality in me and resulted in a richer appreciation for all that came before.  Without revealing the contents of his epiphany, Perlman's naked honesty and perceptiveness expose the raw nerves of the film. I cannot remember being caught off-guard by such a transcendent and riveting moment in cinema in recent years.

Call Me by Your Name is a burgeoning love story, a collision of cultures between a seventeen year old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) who is staying with his academic parents in a remote Italian paradise for the summer, the land of apricots and peaches and swimming, and "the usurper," Oliver (Armie Hammer), a graduate assistant of sorts who lives with them for six weeks and helps his father catalogue his work.  It is 1983, Elio has lots of time on his hands, to play piano and read, to meander the Italian countryside, to spend with possible love Marzia (Esther Garrel), but he is magnetically drawn to Oliver, with his towering frame, his clipped way of speaking, and his marvelous intellect (watching him correct Mr. Perlman is one of the film's many delights; them mocking his speech habits, another). Hammer's work here is sublime, making Oliver both overtly powerful and hypnotic while also private and secretive. And his cutting loose on the dance floor to the Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" at two crucial moments in the film is both mesmerizing and cathartic.  As the summer drips away, the two circle around each other, tentatively negotiating their growing feelings all set amidst a backdrop of beautiful lagoons and cisterns, gorgeous bicycle rides through the countryside, and meals around parents and neighbors.  Where the film goes is both beautiful and heartbreaking, and the telling of the story was compelling in the way love works its way to and through Elio.  It reminded me of falling in love and all that entails.  The film imposes no artificial plotting or conflict other than time and its devastating ephemerality.

Director Luca Guadagnino is a new name to me, and I have never seen a film by him before, but now I want to more than anything. Guadagnino surprised me multiple times in multiple ways in this film: with his abrupt editing choices, mid-scene and mid-song sometimes that shift the chapters of the film forward; with his showing of the film frames at key moments, making the film more about memory and the past in its very tactile nature; in its final shot which lingers, painfully and truthfully after an epiphany of sorts is made.  I am grateful to have seen this film as part of the 2017 Houston Cinema Arts Festival, and the introduction to the film gave us a tantalizing morsel to chew on about a future film by this director.  I do not think the indicators of genre (drama, romance) or plot key words (gay relationship, teenage boy, lgbt, first love) do this powerful film justice.  I think about the role the parents play in the film, hungering for more from Mrs. Perlman (Amira Cassar), especially in a car ride scene fraught with raw emotion.  Her character, for whatever reason, seems confined to glances and looks and movements behind the scene, while Mr. Perlman gets the weighty, prescient, and elegiac monologue at the end of the film that still haunts me. 

I want to immediately return to the world of Call Me by Your Name now, read the book the film is based upon by author Andre Aciman, and in a second viewing, I want to appreciate even more the quiet, understated work of Chalamet and even the actors playing his parents, as there is simply more to consider (as there always is) when love shakes you to your core.  As the Psychedelic Furs sing, "Love my way, it's a new road / I follow where my mind goes," and dance like Armie Hammer in 1983. 

It is the best film of the year.

See the source image

Sunday, September 17, 2017

mother! flipping strange.

Movie Reviewed: mother!

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Date: 17 September 2017

jamesintexas rating: ***

A frantic, frenetic, claustrophobic journey through the unraveling of a life, mother! succeeds on the level of cinematic craftsmanship while faltering under the weight of its own self-importance.  The exclamation point intentionally reveals Aronofsky's motif of writing and creating Art (emphasis here on the capital A) which courses through the film, as well as signals the hyperbolic frenzy that is to be expected from the director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan, and Noah. Aronofsky has tackled gigantic, weighty issues in his films before while displaying visceral commitment to body horror and obsession. He is never uninteresting, and much of what is completely captivating by mother! is the commitment to tight medium and close-up shots of the eponymous matriarch (Jennifer Lawrence) and the poet, referred to in the credits as Him (Javier Bardem) as we begin the film locked inside of a creaking, ominous country house with work spaces and spacious kitchens and lots of rooms to wander into and out of in search of someone. He is creatively blocked and cannot write a word; she works steadily on rehabbing the house by painting it, when not cooking meals for them. However, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. 

The haunted house motifs, strange behavior of Him, as well as the mounting dread culminate in a marvelously uncomfortable extended scene that begins with a doctor, The Man (Ed Harris) knocking on their door looking for a room and sanctuary for the night. It could possibly be case of taking in a lost person, but there's more than meets the eye, quickly. In nods to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a far superior film), Aronofsky compresses time and has The Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive to comfort the man, and things begin to escalate and escalate and spiral out of control. And despite brief interludes where Mother seems to be listening to and feeling kinship with the building itself (which is alive?), the sequences have a lucid, fever-dream quality that keeps jumping up in tone and severity that is only enhanced by Aronofsky's tight camera shots and swirling through maze-like rooms, following Mother. Without revealing much more, the film traces the line of The Artist as God in our culture, and the costs of such worship, before it goes completely off the rails by the third act where a commitment to entropy envelops the film as it returns to its opening, fiery shot.

mother! is not as shocking as it attempts to be, though it is hard to be shocking when it keeps staring at you dead in the face and screaming out loud, "Look at how shocking I am!" Aronofsky is trying so hard.  Instead, I view this work as an atmospheric tone poem, a long extended meditation on Art (with a capital A) and its emotional costs within the self and others. Kind of. Without more complexity, Jennifer Lawrence's character serves as a vessel for Javier Bardem's fears, anxieties, and more without being much more than a cipher. And at times, I didn't feel that Lawrence was up to the work of the character's constant searching and unraveling which plays against her work as intelligent, fierce heroines (see Rhee Dolly in Winter's Bone). Is Aronofsky trying to unpack the male desire to create in response to the female ability to give birth?  Is this all a modernized, tricked-out retelling of The Book of Genesis in the Bible with its many allusions to The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, being cast out, Cain and Abel, and more?  Aronofsky has greatness within him in the film's construction and especially its insidious music and sound design by Johann Johannsson, who was the elegant Oscar-nominated composer behind Arrival and The Theory of Everything, and here he uses voices as sound, echoing and buzzing off of creaking floorboards, doors being shut and open, spoons clattering against the edges of cups, all to ominous, eerie effect.  It is a tour-de-force performance of sound.  And when Mother leaves the room, she still hears most of the conversations, muffled but clear, as she tries to enter another part of the house but has to contend with the lingering words from other parts. Lawrence struggles at times here to be compelling, and I think that has to do with the way her character is conceived and written; Bardem has the full-blown egomania of The Artist at work in a bigger performance, though really a supporting one. The rest of the cast are excellent, with Michelle Pfeiffer being a stand-out. In Pfeiffer's scenes with Jennifer Lawrence, she stands toe-to-toe with her, uses her physicality and eye-rolling and devours her, in both words and actions, reminding us of Pfeiffer's cinematic power and great skill as an actress. I want to see more of her, please.

I'm still buzzing the morning after watching such a busy, strange, frenzied work which has some genuinely upsetting moments and seems fixed in the chaotic oeuvre of Aronofsky's other work and pet themes. I'm not sure that I want to watch this film ever again, and I understand its seemingly divisive reception upon its release this week. mother! is stressful and upsetting to watch. Part of the morning, I spent helping other teachers and community members rip out parts of a student's recently flooded home here in Houston, and as I pried up boards and nails, cracked out wood with crow bars, the old adage of "destruction being much easier than construction" resonated anew within me. I think that Aronofsky's commitment to destroying as he simultaneously creates results much of the vertigo that I experienced, but there is the lingering sting of wanting more from this film and its cipher characters than just a demolition derby and Bible concordances.