“Are We So Different From Men You Must Teach Us Different Things…”
With 2016’s Lion a solid and warm-hearted Oscar nominated directorial debut for Australian filmmaker, Garth Davis, expectations remained high for a cinematic second coming, no pun intended, and with the Easter holiday’s swiftly approaching, a time in which kids devour chocolate coated eggs with less and less of an understanding each year regarding its’ figurative meaning, the release of Mary Magdalene seems naturally apt. Featuring Rooney Mara (A Ghost Story) as the titular follower of Jesus Christ, whose religious and historical actions tend to primarily focus on her bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion by the hands of the Roman Empire, Davis’ movie unfortunately conforms to the curse of the follow-up album by being a body of work much weaker than its’ predecessor, a staggeringly dull and uninspiring let-down which works much more effectively as a medicinal cure for insomniacs rather than a religious spiritual mediation, and whilst I am all for movies which opt for a slow and ponderous sensibility over choppily edited spectacle in the ilk of Blade Runner 2049 and Mara’s own strangely hypnotically strange, A Ghost Story, a film famous for a ten minute continuous shot of a character eating pie, Mary Magdalene is unfortunately an example of a film which uses the strategy and fails miserably.
With an underwritten screenplay which seems to have been typefaced onto the back of a postage stamp, the lack of real adventure or push results in the on-screen transfer from paper to film one which is tortuously painful to endure, with the film lacking both a simple element of life and a substantial capacity for the audience to not only believe that any of the characters are believable but more importantly, interesting enough to care for. With Joaquin Phoenix (Her) cast as the prophetic figure of Jesus, his whispering tone and shaggy-dog hair demeanour results in a performance which manages to come across as the lovechild of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending and Phoenix himself in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, and whilst Phoenix normally manages to pull off decent performances regardless of the overall quality of the movie, his performance is poorly directed and staggeringly dull. With two hours of film to burn through, Davis’ movie just doesn’t offer up a sizeable reason for why it exists in the first place, and even with a slightly interesting concluding contemplation, Mary Magdalene is the cinematic equivalent of a Tesco saver Easter egg; unequivocally bland.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We Do What We Can To Endure…”
Fresh from an inevitable and well deserved Oscar win for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, Casey Affleck returns to the big screen alongside Carol and The Social Network star Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story, a supernatural drama written and directed by David Lowery who reunites with the duo after previously working together on the 2013 drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. With an eerie, off-kilter sensibility, a staggeringly ambitious ideas narrative and one of the most affecting musical accompaniments of the year in film, Lowery’s latest is unlike anything seen on-screen this year, a film which utilises the basic horror trope of a common haunted house movie but then manages to expand its’ horizons into something which resembles closer an allegorical mix of themes which evoke everything from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life to Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. With little dialogue and a raging art-house aesthetic, A Ghost Story is a film undoubtedly not for everyone, but for those with the patience and willingness to embrace its existence, Lowery’s movie is an exquisite work of art.
Shot in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, or in televisual and layman’s terms, 4:3, A Ghost Story follows a sheet cladded Casey Affleck who after passing away due to the events of a traffic collision, follows his unnamed wife, portrayed by Rooney Mara, throughout her life after his death, all within the confines of the dated home in which they both shared. With directory David Lowery utilising the retro and “boxiness” nature of the aspect ratio to ensure the audience understands the claustrophobic nature of the film from the point of view of Casey’s spectral presence, the film utilises endless long shots and unbroken edits for the first half of the movie, including the now infamous one-shot “pie scene” and a chilly, uncertain introduction to Affleck’s transition from life to death, and whilst at times the pace of the movie does begin to falter, the second half of the movie in which Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar seemed to be a obvious blueprint for the direction of the narrative, concludes the film in a stunning and ambitious fashion. A Ghost Story isn’t a movie which belongs on the big screen, instead, Lowery’s latest is more akin to a museum piece where examination and steadiness is key to admiring its’ beauty, and whilst the film doesn’t hold together everything it intends to accomplish within such a short amount of time, A Ghost Story is undoubtedly an unforgettable and bold moviegoing experience.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Had Another Family. A Mother, A Brother. I Can Still See Their Faces…”
Arriving in the season of Oscar madness, Lion, the directorial debut from Gareth Davis, is the cinematic adaptation of Saroo Brierley’s non-fiction book, “A Long Way Home”, an autobiographical account of the extraordinary tale of the Indian-born Aussie, who after being separated from his family in Central India at a young age remarkably sets upon reuniting with his long-lost siblings after a staggering 25 years, resulting in the sort of movie you’d expect to be part of the many conversations regarding the upcoming Academy Awards, particularly regarding its’ undeniably touching screenplay. Whilst Lion boasts a fundamentally humane and uplifting narrative basis, one which inevitably results in being an effective tear-jerking tale of the power of human nature, Davis’ debut falls short of being a really excellent drama and instead settles for nothing more than being a solid adaptation of an interesting tale of one man’s journey to rekindle his lost love.
With Dev Patel in the leading role, the links between Lion and Slumdog Millionaire are entirely obvious and unfortunately expected, particularly in regards to the two films’ similar narratives, albeit one being entirely fictional and the other based upon true events. Furthermore, where Danny Boyle’s movie succeeded is where Gareth Davis’s ultimately falls flat, with the riveting and sharp feel of Slumdog being entirely absent within Lion, a film which takes way too long to actually get going and one which would have benefited from actually being at least twenty minutes shorter, particularly in its’ plodding second act where the elder Saroo attempts to locate his lost family, a particular shame when regarding the strong opening portion of the movie in which we witness the younger Saroo’s efforts of survival throughout the mass maze of Central India. With captivating performances from both Nicole Kidman and young newcomer Sunny Pawar, Lion seems to transcend an extraordinary tale from page to screen with some degree of success, yet its’ moments of prolonged tedium in certain areas of the film leave you slightly underwhelmed come the closing credits.
Overall Score: 6/10
Best Supporting Actress
Following on from the nominations for Best Supporting Actor at this years’ Oscar ceremony is the esteemed category of Best Supporting Actress, a category developed in order to not only distinguish the difference in gender, but to adhere to the notion that maybe the dated nature of the ceremony itself has failed to catch up with the times in a society where distinction is a much more delicate and diverse subject matter and can not only be distributed between one or the other. Maybe it’s time to scrap the Actor/Actress thing overall and instead focus on just a leading/supporting role as well as perhaps an award for Best Cast? This would definitely suit a film like this years’ Spotlight, a film which although has many nominations in the acting categories, depends mainly on the ensemble of a cast rather than certain individuals. An argument for another time maybe, but for now we have nominations for Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, Rooney Mara for Carol, Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs and of course Jennifer Jason Leigh for her blood-spattered performance in Tarantino’s western thriller The Hateful Eight.
As for the bookies and their infinite wisdom, favourite to win the award is Alicia Vikander for her role in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, contradicting Kate Winslet’s win most recently at the BAFTA’s whilst being fundamentally strange with Vikander’s role in The Danish Girl no doubt being much more than one that is just supporting. You are a strange bunch you Oscar voters you. As for those who have been overlooked over the course of the past year or so, Vikander herself should have been recognised for her portrayal of Ava in the brilliant Ex Machina as either leading or supporting actress depending on your POV, whilst Marion Cotillard and Rebecca Hall both gave rip-roaring performances in Macbeth and The Gift respectively and could have easily been noted by this years’ ceremony. But hey, they can’t always be right can they? The nominations this year are: