How bad is the new film “Mother”?

Darren Aronofsky's Mother.

Darren Aronofsky’s Mother.

So just how bad is the new Darren Aronofsky film, Mother? Well, and at the risk of bamboozling you with arcane technical jargon, it is what we in the industry refer to as pants. Which is extremely disappointing, because for a while Aronofsky seemed as if he might be the great white hope of independent cinema.

He made his impressive debut in 1998 with Pi, and followed it up two years later with the genuinely dazzling Requiem for a Dream. Here gloriously, form is content, and content form, as Beckett had defended Joyce with. The highly stylised exploration of the language and grammar of cinema was the perfect way to delve deep into the topic of addiction. The result was the film of the decade.

Jarred Leto and Jennifer Connolly in Reqiem for a Dream.

Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream.

Next up was The Fountain in ’06. And, suffice it to say, we all put that film down to the immense pressure he must have been under to produce a worthy follow-up to what had come before. So he was forgiven that.

Then came The Wrestler in ’08. So okay, before earning the right to go back to making the sorts of films that he really wants to make, he needs to accommodate the bean counters in Hollywood. And as nice as it was seeing Mickey Rourke back on the silver screen, it really is little more than your runofthemill, feelgood Hollywood film.

The dream master, David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.

The dream master, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.

But then came Black Swan, reviewed earlier here, a further a n other Hollywood picture. And then, worse again, Noah in ‘14 which couldn’t have been more Hollywood had it been directed by Cecil b DeMille and starred Charlton Heston. So just what kind of a film maker is Aronofsky?

Well let’s just hope that Mother isn’t the answer to that question. True, for periods of ten, even fifteen minutes, the film trundles along inoffensively enough. And you begin to wonder what all the fuss is about. But then there’ll be a plot point, a quote development unquote in the ahem, story, that’s so implausible and so completely unconnected with what had gone on before, that your only response is an almost overpowering urge to get up and leave.

I don’t remember ever seeing a film that left me so permanently on the edge of my seat, about to get up and leave, only to remain where I was on the assumption that any moment now, it was surely going to improve. It was like re-living the 2016 Election Night all over again.

Jodorowsky's most recent pair of comeback films, Santa Sangre and the Dream of Reality.

Jodorowsky’s most recent pair of comeback films, Santa Sangre and the Dance of Reality.

For a while there, you wonder whether what’s being explored here might perhaps be some sort of dreamscape. But as Freud so memorably summed up, dreams are about “the transformation of manifest dream material into latent dream content”. The whole point of dreams and their reading in other words, is the connection between what you dream about, and the stuff of your everyday life. The different elements need to be connected, otherwise they are literally meaningless. And if on the other hand we are looking at a metaphor, allegory or parable, then we need to be able to identify with whoever it is that is experiencing the lesson to be learned.

There are no connections between the beginning, middle and end of Mother, or for that matter, between any of its major scenes, and you couldn’t possibly identify with any of the characters involved. There are the same two principal actors, poor old Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, on the same set of the same house, and all the props are the same. But there is almost nothing to connect what happens in one scene with what happens in the next.

Fellini's 8 1/2.

Fellini’s 8 1/2.

Dreams have been central to cinema, which is hardly surprising for a medium designed to produce illusion. Fellini’s 8 ½, Bunuel’s the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Polanski’s Repulsion and, more recently Alejandro Jodorowsky’s the Dance of Reality, reviewed earlier here, and, of course, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., where, as David Thompson astutely pointed out, D R stands first and foremost for Dream, and only secondly for Drive.

If there are any of those films that you haven’t seen, do so now. If however you want to see what happens when you try to make a film without having a script or therefore a story, then if nothing else, Mother will put you right on that.

Here’s the trailer to Mulholland Drive. And you can see the trailer to Mother here.

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“Heimat”, the original box set.

Heimat.

Heimat.

Heimat, a Chronicle of Germany, comprising of 3 seasons and a prequel and made up of 32 individual films that last for more than 53 hours, is one of the most ambitious and brilliant series ever broadcast. Season 1 has eleven episodes that cover the years 1919 to 1982 and was first broadcast in 1984.

The whole saga centres on the Simon family in the fictional village of Schabbach in the Hunsruck, in the heart of rural Germany. Specifically on Maria, and the two sons she has with Paul, and with Hermann, the son she later has with Otto. What Edgar Reitz, who writes and directs them all, does then is to concentrate on the things that matter most to all communities, big and small, rural and urban. Family life, love and loss, triumph and despair and on all those who leave the fold never to return, and on those who stay behind.

Maria.

Marita Breuer as Maria.

Each of the decades from the 20s to the 70s get about a couple of episodes each in season 1, so all of those defining events that Germany was subject to through the course of those years are seen through the prism of village life, where everybody knows everybody and practically everyone is related to one another in some shape or form.

So instead of being the fulcrum around which everything else pivots, the rise and fall of the Nazis is just one of the many backdrops against which village life proceeds. It’s not remotely surprising then when Lucie, Maria’s sister in law, cosies up to the Nazis in the 30s and early 40s, only to completely switch sides in the late 40s and 50s as she sidles up to the Americans, who effectively replace them in the wake of the second World War.

Season 2 of Heimat was made in 1992, and the 13 episodes cover the 60s.

Season 2 of Heimat was shown in 1992, and the 13 episodes cover the 60s.

There is nothing immoral about her denial. It’s entirely amoral. You do what you have to, to survive. The second world war, like the first before it, the great depression, the swinging 60s and the fall of the Berlin wall to come, all look very different when viewed from the purblind confines of village life, buried deep in the heart of nowhere.

What Reitz does so brilliantly is to make a succession of individual, stand-alone films that each focus on one or two  characters. So that the rhythm, pace and feel is not that of a succession of episodes, but of individual, 70-80 minute European art house films.

Season 3 of Heimat was screened in 2004 and covers post 1989 in 6 episodes.

Season 3 of Heimat was screened in 2004 and covers the post 1989 period in 6 episodes.

Every frame is carefully and precisely composed, and you’re deliberately given the time to take in its composition. Music is used but sparingly, and in its place tactile sounds resonate; film being loaded into a very early camera, the soles of worn, leather boots scrunching on a dirt track, the chopping of vegetables being readied for a soup. And all the while, Reitz slips in and out of the predominant black and white and into occasional bursts of colour, as his very personal aesthetic dictates.

History unfolds in the distant background as village life is brought to a standstill by the defining events that shape their lives; the laying down of the first tarmacadam road, the arrival of the very first telephone, the opening of that first industrial factory in the post war years, those gorgeous, curvaceous, open-top Mercedes’ that they manufactured so triumphantly in the 60s, and the erosion of their very specifically German, and rural German culture, that all that late 20th century progress destroyed so methodically as it made its way inexorably onwards.

The 2013 Heimat prequel covering the 1840s.

The 2013 Heimat prequel covering the 1840s.

Like Syberberg’s equally magisterial Hitler: A Film From Germany from 1977 (over 7 hours and in 4 parts) and the work of W. G. Sebald (specifically his almost unbearably moving novel Austerlitz), Heimat is a nuanced and measured exploration into how what happened in Germany could have happened there, and what it means therefore to be German. Like the people it deals with, it’s a serous work that demands to be seen.

Season 1 was screened over the summer on Sky Arts, so there’s every chance it’ll be repeated there. While the recent prequel Home from Home, which Reitz made in 2013 and which covers the 1840s, was  screened recently on BBC4, so keep an eye out for it there. All four hours of which are every bit as captivating as the very first episode of season 1, first broadcast over a quarter of century ago.

You can see the trailer to Home from Home here.

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The Beguiled and Dunkirk, a fab new shampoo ad and video game

The Beguiled.

The Beguiled.

Dunkirk and the Beguiled are the latest his and hers films from Christopher Nolan and Sofia Coppola. And if nothing else, they’re a slight improvement on the ones that they last produced.

Back in 2006, they’d offered up another pair of matching his and hers films, with the Prestige and Marie Antoinette. The former has a denouement that’s so mesmerically obvious, that you immediately dismiss it as soon as it occurs to you, oh, about 90 seconds into the film. Only to discover hours later, that yes, that is the explanation – it’s the explanation you always suspect when it comes to magicians.

The Prestige, really?

The Prestige, really?

It’s like listening to one of those jokes that nine year old boys tell. You know what the punchline is hours before they get to it, but you indulge them anyway. While Marie Antoinette is like watching his eight year old sister parading in her brand new dress, which she refuses to take off for days. And each time you encounter her, you’re expected to gasp dutifully in cowed admiration. Marie Antoinette is so vacuous and so vapid, that you’d have had difficulty sitting through the entire three minutes had it been offered up as a sub-Adam Ant pop promo.

What usually happens to everyone at that age is that, almost over night, they grow up. So that one year later, they are each mortified at how juvenile their behaviour was, when they were the tender ages of nine and eight, all that year ago. But every one in a million, the boy and girl fail to grow up. And they continue parading their new dress and telling their endless and remarkably unfunny, shaggy dog stories well into their twenties and beyond.

Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette.

Here we are then ten years on, and the pair have produced another couple of films that, once again, are completely devoid of any real substance.

The Beguiled is a wholly un-necessary remake of a Clint Eastwood film, with Colin Farrell stepping in as the solitary man waylaid in a household lorded over by women. Had it been the latest 60 second Timotei ad, we could all have sat back and luxuriated in its glamorous, glitzy, glossy surface. But ninety minutes of pretty girls in vintage dresses, their immaculate hair back-lit just so, gliding in and out of the house from the garden begins to pall after a while. I love soft porn as much as the next guy, but even I drifted off after a while.

Dunkirk.

Dunkirk.

While Dunkirk prides itself on not giving any of its characters any sort of back story or history, robbing them all of any depth or individuality. What you have instead is a cast of interchangeable dark haired soldiers, let’s call them Players, who need to get from the bottom of the screen (France) to the safety of the top of the screen (England). But in their way, and coming at them from all directions, are a succession of creations designed to prevent them – torpedoes from the sea, Messerschmidts from the air, and orders from above etc.

MV5BMTc1ODcyNjk2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcyOTYwMTE@._V1._CR50,63,895,1375_UY1200_CR75,0,630,1200_AL_The only individuals who are given any form are the Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy characters, because they’re isolated from everyone else on a small boat on its way in the opposite direction, from England to France, which after all is what the story is supposed to have been about. So that they literally get given space to stand out from the crowd.

Other than which, it’s just the loudest, most technologically sophisticated version of Space Invaders you’ll ever see. But you won’t be able to play it. This is one of those video games you can only watch, and who the hell wants to watch a video game you can’t play?

A Separation.

A Separation.

If you want a real test for Dunkirk, try watching it on your iPhone. Then try watching, say, A Separation – reviewed earlier here. Of course you should never watch a film on anything other than the largest screen with the finest sound system you can find. But two minutes into A Separation, you’ll be lost in the depths of its mesmerising story. Two minutes into Dunkirk you’ll be wondering if there’s anything happening on your Facebook page. Because if you’re watching a film on your iPhone, you’ll obviously be somebody who regularly checks up on their Facebook page.

You can see the trailer for the Beguiled here, and for Dunkirk here.

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New albums from Father John Misty and Car Seat Headrest.

 

Pure Comedy, Father John Misty.

Pure Comedy, Father John Misty.

Pure Comedy is the latest album from Father John Misty and it’s as profoundly disappointing as his previous release was impressive. And it’s not hard to see what’s happened.

The penultimate track on that last album, I Love You, Honeybear, reviewed here, is the melodious “Holy Shit”. There, he briefly name-checks many of the Big Issues baring down upon us in these our oh so uncertain times, before breezily dismissing them to ask disingenuously what any of them have to do with all the really important stuff that he has to deal with.

It’s impossible to decide whether he’s being entirely serious, deadpan or a bit of both. Which is what gives the song its charm. And it’s all too easy to imagine what’s happened in the interim.

On the one hand, the commercial success and critical acclaim that that previous album enjoyed mean that the last couple of years must have been a relatively happy time to be Mr. Josh Tillman. And, as fans of Dylan, Shakespeare and pretty much any artist who has ever lived will know, nothing is as creatively stultifying as personal happiness, however briefly endured.

The said culprit.

The said culprit.

And on the other, he’s clearly begun to believe some of the hype surrounding his prowess as an apparently thought-provoking lyricist.

So that the new album sees him musing almost exclusively on those big, heavy themes which were briefly touched upon in “Holy Shit”. Only now, far from wryly acknowledging his own ignorance on any of them, he seems to imagine that he’s suddenly become something of a sage, and any sense of irony has been summarily dismissed. What’s worse, his mellifluous voice, impeccable diction and regal sense of melody mean that it’s quite impossible to escape all of those dreadful lyrics.

Imagine Martin from the Simpsons being set as his homework the task of producing a set of lyrics designed to impress the grown ups. This is what his first draft would have looked like. Not that he’d have ever actually shown them to anyone, obviously.

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial.

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial.

I studiously avoided the latest Car Seat Headrest album, Teens of Denial. The boys from All Songs Considered, reviewed here, have been so effusive about it these last few months that I’d been thoroughly put off and was quietly hoping to be able to casually dismiss it. There’s a thin line that separates infectious enthusiasm from irritating insistence. So I’m delighted to be able to report that they were right and I was wrong. It really is that good.

There’s a palpable air of early Beck wafting from the tracks collected here. He inhabits a very similar persona to the one that Beck adopted way back when, as a guileless slacker drifting directionless like Pound’s hedonist bereft of purpose, to the tune of a post-punk, new-grunge musical backdrop.

The main man ,Beck.

The main man, Beck.

But as with Beck, the sonic landscape is infinitely more complex than it first appears, and you quickly find yourself disappearing from the song’s casual surfaces into the murky depths below. All of which results in a serious album, from one of the most exciting new artists to emerge for many a moon.

You can see the video for “Vincent”, track 2 from Teens of Denial here

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Sofar sounds hits Dublin.

There more than 400 Sofar Sounds gigs every month now.

There are more than 400 Sofar Sounds gigs every month now.

Ah the joys of heading out to a gig. You’re shuffled ever further from the stage as inebriated hipsters jostle noisily in their frenzied attempts to capture hours of video no-one’s ever going to see again, drowning out the music with their drunken, witty banter. This after hours of studiously ignoring any of the acts misfortunate enough to have been supporting whoever the main attraction was.

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The mellifluous Molly Sterling.

And then five minutes after the gig, the band you all went to see have suddenly become so big that they can now only ever play to vast hordes, as venues become arenas and arenas stadia. And as the band disappear into the distant horizon, the gulf between them and their fans seems painfully emblematic of a bunch of guys who’ve plainly forgotten why it was that they first met up to play music together in the first place.

Such at least were the thoughts of Rafe Offer, Rocky Start and Dave Alexander. So they decided to do something about it, and thus was launched Sofar Sounds way back in 2009.

Basically, a secret gig is organized where 30 or 40 people sit cross-legged around somebody’s sofa listening to up and coming bands performing their songs. No drinking, no shouting, and no money to muddy the senses. Just music and ears.

Katiiii

Fiona Harte.

These days, there are more than 400 gigs organized a month in some 300 cities across the globe. And although you’re more likely to find yourself on the floor of a vintage clothes store than you are in someone’s living room, there are still rarely any more than about a hundred people at any of the gigs. And despite the fact that they sold a chunk of the company to Richard Branson, the very personification of the man, last summer, there’s no evidence yet of any selling of their soul.

Having languished on the virtual waiting list for a few months, I finally got along to my first Sofar Sounds gig at the end of April. 70 or 80 of us gathered at the Nine Crows vintage store in one of the few corners of Dublin’s Temple Bar as yet unsullied by any of the soontobeweds from across the way whose charming shenanigans have turned the area into a cultural wasteland.

Sofar Sounds at Nine Crows in Temple Bar.

Sofar Sounds at Nine Crows in Temple Bar.

And, having collected our bottle of Kopparberg, who kindly sponsored the event, and whose cider is so magnificently sweet, that there’s absolutely no possibility of anyone ever drinking more than the one bottle of the stuff, rendering any drunkenness a physical impossibility, we sat down to listen.

As usual, three acts were there to nervously strut their stuff, each performing a 20-25 minute set. First up was Chase Nova and the Everchanging Bandname, which, to quote the Simpsons, is one of those names that’s funny the first time you hear it, but gets increasingly less so the more you think about it. The songs they performed were actually a lot better than that name suggests, and all they need now is to become a little less polite and a little more, you know, rock and roll. That natural charm that they exude needs a pinch of salt to offset it.

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Chase Nova and the Everchanging Bandname.

Next up was Fiona Harte, a 23 year old from the North who’s a recent graduate of the Dublin branch of the BIMM music institute. And she was followed by Molly Sterling who apparently represented us at the 2015 Eurovision which, happily, was one of those years that none of us paid any attention to. So she should have no difficulty in putting any of that behind her to concentrate on actual music.

Both produced sets of intense introspection that brooded on matters clearly personal. I’m not sure exactly what it was that the men in their lives had done, but I found myself studiously avoiding eye contact, as I fidgeted quietly away from the stage to hide behind one of the pillars. I’m pretty sure I overheard one of the people next to me quote Camille Paglia, or maybe it was Shere Hite.

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Molly Sterling holds court in Dublin.

All three performers and their bands were generous, serious, welcoming and will definitely produce interesting work when they get back into the recording studio to lay something down on disc. And Sofar Sounds is a brilliant idea, superbly realised, and yet to be darkened by the shadow of filthy lucre. And best of all, barely a phone in sight.

As we left, we were gently encouraged to donate 5 Euro for all the work that the organisers had put in, voluntarily, for our enjoyment. Which is almost embarrassingly little. But it’s very much in keeping with the spirit of the venture. Long may it continue thus.

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