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Reviews for September 15th, 2017

Documentary Round-Up

      Red Trees centers on the life of Alfred Willer, an architect was among 12 Jewish families in Prague who survived the Holocaust during WWII. The Nazis used Alfred's father for his skills in chemistry. It also helped that he was one of the inventors of the formula for citric acid. Using Alfred's memoir as a major source of first-hand information, director Marina Willer, Alfred's daughter, charts Alfred's childhood, the survival of his family, and his eventual emigration to Brazil where he flourished as an architect. Red Trees doesn't focus on the horrors of the Holocaust; there have been plenty of documentaries that have done that already. Instead, it immerses the viewer in Alfred's story along with beautifully-shot scenes of nature that compliment the eloquent words from Alfred's memoir, narrated by Tim Pigott-Smith as the voice of Alfred. The poetic images often speak louder than words. Could Red Trees have been more gripping, provocative and dark? Yes, but then it would've been less accessible to younger audiences. To be fair, perhaps more perspectives and insights would've permeated through the film if it were to have been filmed by someone not so closely related with the subject. It's nonetheless fascinating and captivating enough to hold your attention. The director wisely avoids turning this doc into a heavy, dry and emotionally exausting experience--there are even some surprisingly light moments to be found. Within Alfred's story, there's even a heartwarming bond between him and his grandchildren. At an ideal running time of 82 minutes, Red Trees is often a mesmerizing, heartfelt and fascinating film that would make a compelling Hollywood biopic. It opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema via Cohen Media Group.

Brad's Status

Directed by Mike White


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Amazon Studios.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.


Directed by Darren Aronofsky

      Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a house in the middle of nowhere with her husband (Javier Bardem), an author struggling with writer's block. A man (Ed Harris) knocks on their door one evening while claiming to be a doctor who confused their house for bed-and-breakfast. The husband lets him in despite that Mother does not consent to letting a stranger inside her home. Soon after the doctor's arrival, the doctor's wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and then their two sons (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson) also arive. The doctor's wife refuses to leave when Mother asks her to. Even more strangers show up eventually and also refuse to leave.

      mother! is the kind of film that not only has a terrible, silly concept, but also a terrible execution of its concept. Writer/director Darren Aronofosky weaves a simplistic and shallow biblical parable while hitting you over the head with symbolism in a very pretentious way. He channels the films of Felinni, Roman Polanski (Rosemary's Baby) and Luis Bu˝uel (The Exterminating Angel) with some attempts at Hitchcockian suspense. As Godard once wisely stated, though, it's not about where you take ideas from, but where you take ideas to that's much more important. Unfortunately, Aronofsky takes mother! to an ugly, over-the-top place that's more silly, pretentious and disgusting than surreal or clever. It's very rare for a film to elicit so many bad laughs from the audience as the plot---if you even want to call it a plot for that matter---progresses. Not a single character comes to life nor do they have anything that allows you to root for them. Unlikable characters, like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, can be intriguing in a guilty pleasure sort of way with a good screenplay. The experience of sitting through mother! is like going to a bad party where you haven't met anyone that you like or that you ever want to meet again, and you feel empty when it's over---that's assuming that you can even make it to the end without walking out like many audience members did at the public screening that I attended.

      Fundamentally, mother! feels like a bad student film made by someone who's trying to emulate the great directors of cult classic mindf*cks without understanding what made those highly divisive cult classics so great to begin with. Why did Aronofosky feel the need to shake the camera so much to generate tension when it generates nausea instead? Did the film really need to be 115 minutes long? It probably would've worked better as a short instead of a feature-length film that overstays its welcome much like the guests at the house.

      If Aronofosky merely wanted to f*ck with audiences' minds, he should have learned from great filmmakers like Jodorowsky or David Lynch who do a much better job of making their mindf*cks a fun experience for the audience. There's nothing inherently wrong with confusing the audience as long as they have something intellectually and/or emotionally to cling onto. He can also learn from Alain Resnais who made the brilliant, head-scratching mystery/drama Last Year at Marienbad which still baffles the mind upon repeat viewings. There's only one good thing about mother!: the exquisite sound design. Other than that very minor strength, mother! is a sure-fire awards contender----at the Razzies!

Number of times I checked my watch: 12
Released by Paramount.
Opens nationwide.
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