Tagged Aesthetic

Beautiful Black Cinema in Mother of George

Mother of George. 2013. Directed by Andrew Dosunmu. Screenplay by Darci Picoult.
Starring Danai Gurira, Isaac de Bankolé, Anthony Okungbowa, Bukky Ajayi, Yaya DaCosta, Klarissa Jackson, Ishmael Omolade, Roslyn Ruff, Chinaza Uche, Florence Egbuchulam, Mutiyat Ade-Salu, Atibon Nazaire, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, & Susan Heyward. Parts and Labor/Loveless/Maybach Film Productions/SimonSays Entertainment/Fried Alligator Films.
Rated R 107 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2
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We all – meaning those of us with any sense – know that the mainstream Hollywood system largely ignores stories about people of colour, apart from the civil rights pictures and slave narratives. It’s obvious, if you take the time to look at it. Rarely do we just simply get to look inside the culture of others aside from the perspective of white people, at least when it comes to the mainstream films in the West. Even more rare is a film starring solely black people.
So Mother of George is a unique piece of cinema for a film set in the U.S. Although, it is most certainly a Nigerian film. The story is all about the cultural expectations within a Nigerian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, involving a married couple. Plus, Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu leads the movie, as well as adds his unusual style to the mix. It is a refreshing story, Dosunmu presents it gorgeously with the added help of cinematographer Bradford Young, and the main performances of Danai Gurira and Isaac de Bankolé root the drama in such a wonderful yet tragic humanity.
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Ayodele (Isaac de Bankolé) and Adenike (Danai Gurira) are married in a grand traditional Nigerian ceremony. Ayodele has been in America a little while, whereas Nike is newer. She’s still trying to adjust, stuck in the old school role of wife at home her husband works during the day. She tries to get a job cleaning, though, this angers Ayodele whose culture demands of him masculinity; part and parcel of which is providing for his wife and not needing her to work. Between the culture clash and her marriage, Nike has a million different things on her plate.
Meanwhile, her mother-in-law is pressuring her – in their culture it is proper for a woman to get pregnant soon after the marriage, and unfortunately Nike and Ayodele can’t seem to get pregnant, though. When the situation becomes more and more dire, with Ayodele refusing to go against traditional, conventional methods, and his mother insisting he take another woman, Nike soon makes a decision which will have huge repercussions for her, her husband, and everyone around them.
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The first thing you’ll notice is the extremely rich, vibrant colour palette of the film. Bradford Young brings a unique and beautiful look to Mother of George. Some of his other work includes Pariah, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, as well as most recently A Most Violent Year and Pawn Sacrifice. Young’s visual flair through the lens adds a true gorgeous quality to every single frame of the film. Added to that, Dosunmu has a different style of direction, which I’ve seen some people say detracts from the performances and the screenplay. Not at all, I say. In fact, the way Dosunmu and Young capture everything together in their respective ways it draws me tight. I felt as if I were right next to Nike (Gurira), going through the motions. The tight frames on the characters helps their world absorb into you, the colours reach out and touch you. There’s never a moment where I felt outside of the story, or the characters, even if the film moves at a slow pace much of the time.
Brings me to another portion of the movie I love: the screenplay. The script doesn’t have much dialogue throughout, which places a special significance on the performances. At the same time, the lack of massive pieces of dialogue lends itself to a film with a main concern for aesthetic and tone. With a lot of subtle, quiet scenes, the actors are left carrying so much of the weight – like a complete counterbalance between style and performance.
Isaac de Bankolé, whom I knew originally from Jim Jarmusch films specifically (as well as the impressive White Material from director Clair Denis), plays a very strong, if not fairly flawed character in Ayodele. He portrays the vulnerability and masculinity, both tied together most of the time, with such an ease. You feel for the man while also wishing he might let go of a little of his boisterous pride, instead it pushes his wife to a point of no return. Bankolé is a reserved and thoughtful actor whose presence is large in this film.
But mainly, it is Danai Gurira I love here. She is a strong and powerful actor. Her presence is equally enormous, if not more so than Bankolé. Gurira is tough, she is also flawed, but above all she bears the weight of a relationship on her shoulders. The way she has to navigate the trappings of her Nigerian culture, stuck between what she wants and what is expected of her, it is a difficult life. Gurira brings out Nike’s pain, her desire, everything with such a subdued and commanding performance. She and Bankolé work very well as a couple onscreen, their chemistry helped their relationship seem natural. Further than that, Gurira presents a woman who struggles to both adapt to living in America and adapt to marriage, plus its requirements, all the while – even in her rash decisions – making us feel for her every step of the journey.
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There are not enough films set in the U.S. which celebrate the other cultures among Western culture. It is a melting pot, even if the cities become, at times, broken into ethnic enclaves. Still, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of two worlds coming together, as one woman tries to hold her own together. A 4&1/2-star film that succeeds because of Bankolé and Gurira acting their hearts out, as well as the combo of director Dosunmu and Young’s cinematography. Everything in this film speaks volumes, from the wonderfully sparse screenplay to the vibrancy of the visual style. All these elements are so important to Mother of George. This is not the conventional black narrative we’re offered in mainstream Western films, but as I said, this is totally a Nigerian film regardless of its Brooklyn, New York setting. We need to see more of this, and hopefully with all the talk of diversity re: Oscars in 2016 we may see a shift; somehow, some way. Studios need to take the chance and tell more stories like this one, affording different cultures a look, giving them an avenue to touch peoples hearts and minds. This is a piece of art, not simply a movie. Mother of George should be seen by everyone, especially those who love powerhouse acting and a unique sense of visual storytelling; all of which you’ll find here, in spades.

30 Days of Night: Scary Vampires, Flawed Script

30 Days of Night. 2007. Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Stuart Beattie/Brian Nelson/Steve Niles; based on the comic by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith.
Starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall, Amber Sainsbury, Manu Bennett, Megan Franich, Joel Tobeck, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Nathaniel Lees, and Peter Feeney. Columbia Pictures.
Rated 18A. 113 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★1/2
30-days-of-night-theatrical-posterTo start, while I don’t like that director David Slade did one of those junk Twilight movies, I’m a big fan of his work on Hard Candy, the episode “Open House” in the 4th season of Breaking Bad, and most of all I love his directorial efforts in the 5 episodes of Hannibal he directed (“Mizumono”, “Ko No Mono”, “Savoureux“, “Potage“, & “Apéritif“); he’s also produced nearly 30 episodes of the show, as well. One of the reasons I think he actually ended up involved with Hannibal might be due to his work here in 30 Days of Night because of the level of blood and how it looks, the visuals. I don’t think this is a spectacular movie, though, one of the things I do enjoy most about it is the overall aesthetic – from the atmosphere and tone to the actual look of the blood and the effects.
I have mixed feelings about 30 Days of Night. On one hand, I think there’s some decent acting along with incredible visuals and plenty of good ole blood and gore. But on the other, I do feel as if the script is pretty flawed in a few places where it ought to be much stronger.

Right off the bat, even though the tone of the movie is awesome and that aspect often takes time to build, I feel as if 30 Days of Night is a tad too long. I mean, I’m a person who loves both atmosphere and character development in horror. Really helps a movie sort of grab hold and not let go if you can fall into it those ways. Yet there’s a point where things go on too long. I think there could’ve been 15-20 minutes cut from and it wouldn’t have damaged the film, but that’s only my opinion; I’m not a director, I’m not a screenwriter. I just think that, while the concept of this movie is awesome, it isn’t particularly tough to grasp. There’s no need for this pushing two hours. And I get it – 30 days – but that’s the funny thing, even in that amount of time I still felt like those 30 days had passed quickly, so I find it all very strange.
CTF - 30 Days of Night - PairThat being said, I do really love the story. Funny enough, the comic series started as a film pitch. Ended up as a comic then began a movie; weird how the system works, as soon as it’s viewed as a commodity in the comic world THEN the execs want to use it because it has a base already. Sad, funny, weird.
Unfortunately, I have a few problems. Right off the bat, Barrow can be flown to almost every day of the year – like anywhere else conditions can vary, but it’s not inaccessible and especially not for 30 days at a time. Then, it’s as if Barrow is completely lit up one day then the next day there is complete darkness, stretching on for a month. Totally unrealistic. It’s a slight process until the darkness has sort of spread over the entire town. But, y’know, I guess if we’re talking vampires there’s a slight suspension of disbelief going on in the first place. Still it’s hard to get past blatant and upfront errors like that when the whole plot pretty much hinges on some of these facts. While it originates from the comic, it might’ve been better had the adapted screenplay tried to fix some of these mistakes. I don’t know how that whole adaptation process works, so I’ve no clue how much liberty the screenwriter would’ve had in terms of crafting a slightly fresh story. Either way, I don’t like how parts of the story’s logic works against the film, I don’t care if it went that way in the comic series or not. They would’ve been better off coming up with a fictional Alaskan town instead of using Barrow and so obviously distorting factual stuff.
30-days-of-nightThere are pieces of the film I do truly enjoy.
Love the music. Of course, it turns out Brian Reitzell – another Hannibal alumni – is the composer. Great score, honestly. Lots of strings and some brass, interesting percussion for which he seems to have a fondness.
As I mentioned earlier, I think part of why David Slade ended up on Hannibal himself as both director and producer is because of how he works visually. For all the crappy storytelling and logic in 30 Days of Night, Slade injects a ton of brutal and beautiful imagery. One of my favourite shots – and everyone’s I’m sure of it – is the aerial view as the vampires first really take hold of Barrow; it’s this amazing shot sort of floating above, all the creatures feeding, blood spurted everywhere in the snow. All that white against red, the music, everyone screaming and the vampires making hideous noises. The movie is overall nothing special to me, but I have to say that this particular shot is one of the best shots in a horror movie over the last decade. Too bad the entirety of the film couldn’t hold up to the aesthetic Slade tried to give it. Unfortunately for him, the story’s just not there.
arvin-30-days-of-night-32231674-3000-2000Big thing I did enjoy are the vampires themselves. It’s strange how Slade went from vampires like this to those of the Twilight persuasion; a conversation for another time. Here, though, the vamps are how they ought to be: cruel, Other-ish, savage. I thought the way the production of the film came up with a language for the vampires was interesting because it worked, as well as the fact it sounded pretty damn eerie to hear them communicating. Very mysterious and cool. I liked this aspect of the movie a lot. Naturally, a vampire movie’s main aspect needs to be the vampires – regardless of anything else, the plot, the subplots, the story, it’s all secondary to the vampires. Honestly, if you don’t have good vampires it won’t work no matter how fresh a story ends up.
At the same time, no matter how god damn scary your vampires are, no amount of savagery from them can save the lack of proper story and logic which is so evident in 30 Days of Night.
30-daysI don’t care how visually incredible I find this film, I can’t in all good conscience give this movie more than 3 out of 5 stars. To be honest, I want to give it 2.5 instead but I won’t simply because I think there’s a great all around look and feel to 30 Days of Night. There is a good story in there, however, I just cannot bring myself to get past glaring errors. Straight away, the whole inclusion of Barrow is a terrible decision; from the comic to the film, bad idea. Extreme weather would keep flights out maybe a day, possibly two, but there’s no way in hell Barrow would find itself cut off for longer than that. Certainly not for 30 days. Anybody with Google can figure out – from proper sources – all the information they need about Barrow, or any other god damn place on the map for that matter.
Okay, you know what? This gets 2.5 out of 5 stars. There’s too much bullshit nonsense happening for me to ignore and while I love the vampires, plus all the bloody, gory intensity which comes along with them, I can’t ignore enough for that to make this worth it.
30-Days-of-Night-horror-movies-8549739-2048-115730 Days of Night is good enough for the vampires. Come and see them, enjoy their bloodletting. Don’t come and expect to get a story and plot that’s ultimately going to make you think something fresh and innovative happened here. While the idea is great, using Barrow to accomplish it, trying to root this in reality, fails because REALITY WILL NOT LET IT WORK. There was a time I didn’t think too much about the logistics of this movie, I turned my brain off I suppose. I let the movie whisk me away with its aesthetically pleasing blood on snowy landscapes and the dripping gory faces of its vampires.
Now, I see you for what you are, 30 Days of Night: a farce and a letdown. You’re no better a movie than half of the crap getting churned out. This movie works for me only in the way any other mindless, nonsensical movie does, like that type of action or comedy or whatever you don’t need a brain for – switch off, tune out, enjoy. Took me a while to figure this out. If you want David Slade’s best work, go watch some Hannibal, or the excellent Hard Candy.