Sunday 25 February 2018

Film review: Mother! - The brave-hearted should go see for themselves

Cert: 18; Now showing

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in Darren Aronofsky's Mother!
Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in Darren Aronofsky's Mother!
The Villainess
The Jungle Bunch

For about 85 of its 121 minute running time, Mother! is a reasonably straightforward film. It's claustrophobic and increasingly creepy but you are still unprepared for the frantic, relentless assault that it becomes towards the end.

Inevitably, reviews like this will take the sting out of that end for viewers, however it is still one of the most shocking barrages of images and concepts that will hit the screen this or any year.

I have an interpretation of what Darren Aronofsky's latest film is about, but mine is one among many and I cannot say with any certainty that I understood the film. As a piece of cinema it is remarkable, well made, well-acted, original and thought-provoking, but although for many people it will be love or hate, I felt surprisingly unengaged with it on an emotional level.

None of the characters have names. There is a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who is married to an older man (Javier Bardem). They live in his old home which was once destroyed by fire and which she has painstakingly and personally reconstructed, believing the effort and environment will unblock her once successful writer husband. A strange man (Ed Harris) appears and is shortly joined by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and they both proceed to trample on the young wife's boundaries. Their sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) arrive and the mildly peculiar begins to escalate. My interpretation is based on one of the few expository lines in the film: "You don't love me, you love how much I love you," and in my view it's a film about the destruction wrought by loving a narcissist. But that's one view of many. The brave-hearted should go see for themselves. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Victoria and Abdul

Cert: PG; Now showing

In 2010 Abdul Karim's private journals were released. These previously unknown memoirs told of an extraordinary friendship which had caused great consternation and been largely excised from history.

Karim was a clerk in Agra when he was chosen, largely because of his height, to take the four-month boat trip from India to England, to present a commemorative coin to Queen Victoria.

He became one of her closest friends in the last years of her life and Stephen Frears's film tells a version of the story.

Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) was almost 70 and exhausted when the young, handsome and very tall Karim (Ali Fazal) arrived in her life. She promoted him from servant to member of the royal household, calling him her Munshi, an Islamic teacher, in order to facilitate their friendship.

At first a source of fascination and then of outrage to other members of the household, Karim and Victoria faced fierce opposition.

Inevitably reminiscent of Mrs Brown, the 1997 film about Victoria (again played by Dench) and her friendship with John Brown, this film feels a little unnecessary. However it is very light and enjoyable. Dench is great, the baddies, including Eddie Izzard as Bertie, are bad, the goodies are good.

It would have benefited from a timeline as it was unclear how long the friendship lasted (14 years) but it is a pleasant, unchallenging film that will please fans of period drama and Dame J. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Jungle Bunch

Cert: G; Now showing

2017-09-17_ent_34582203_I1.JPG
The Jungle Bunch
 

The Jungle Bunch is a French television cartoon series of which there have been several TV movies (this is their first cinema outing). David Alaux directs this as he did the other films and it is grand. It's low budget so the animation is less refined than we have become used to but it is aimed at younger children who are unlikely to be interested in animation technique.

The Champs, led by Natasha the tigress, have been looking after security matters in the jungle for some time. Now that they have retired, Natasha's adoptive son Maurice, a penguin who paints stripes on his body to be like his momma, has gathered a group of animals to take their place.

They meet their mother's old foe, Igor the psychotic koala, who, thwarted by the Champs the first time he tried to destroy the forest, is now absolutely intent on achieving his aim.

Why is unclear, he just is.

Natasha, in some pretty dodgy parenting is rather disparaging of her son's ability to achieve anything, much less save the forest, so poor old Maurice battles lack of faith and a mental marsupial. The Jungle Bunch is quite derivative; there are many pieces that bring to mind other cartoons. The tone is also a little strange, it's quite snarky at times - the humour lies in laughing at rather than laughing with.

This won't go down as a classic of children's cinema, however it is short and will amuse younger children without costing too much in merchandising. ★★ Aine O'Connor

The Villainess

Club Cert; Now showing, IFI

If Mr and Mrs Smith had a South Korean baby and called her Nikita, the result would most likely be something like Sook-hee, the anti-heroine of Jung Byung-gil's murder fest.

Gory-action-filled from the opening seconds, The Villainess (Ak Nyeo) is more style over substance but fans of superbly choreographed fighting should be more than happy with a film that opens straight onto seven minutes of first-person carnage.

The clue is in the title and the person whose murderous point of view opens the film is a woman, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin).

The reason for her rage will become apparent later in the film but initially after capture she is given plastic surgery and the option of jail or spending the next 10 years of her life as an operative in the South Korean Secret Service.

When she learns she is pregnant, she opts to join the service. The backstory, filled in between extraordinary set pieces - the director, Jung Byung-gil, was a stuntman - is messily told and both current and past narratives flag under the strain, but as an action film it is extraordinary. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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