Tag: Rooney Mara

Mary Magdalene


The history of the Christian church is one fraught with systemic fault-lines, brought about by a long line of fallible decision-makers pushing male-centric agendas of the age. One particular victim of the church’s patriarchal institutional flaws has been Mary Magdalene. In his latest movie, Director Garth Davis (Lion) has set about straightening some historical distortions of a woman who, only recently, has been recognised by the Catholic Church as an “Apostle to the Apostles”.

Most notably, the film does not depict Mary as a former prostitute—a tenuous claim introduced by Pope Gregory in 591, that Davis was keen to dispel. Instead, Davis’s Mary appears to be a corrective to many previous depictions, aided by the quiet potency of Rooney Mara who plays her. She is shown here to be a woman whose strength and agency becomes an affront to many men around her.

The film begins in Mary’s family home and recounts her journey from elopement to a life of discipleship. Following Jesus (played by a very measured Joaquin Phoenix) up to the time of his death and resurrection, she learns that some of his teachings may be at odds with the interpretations of the disciples around her.  In particular, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who voices his discomfort at her understanding of selflessness and her brash claims that revolution and change comes from within, rather than, as another disciple declares, a physical revolution of “fire and blood”.

Mary Magdalene does not push the artifice of film in any groundbreaking direction, Davis opting to keep his sophomore outing aesthetically safe. However, this conservative approach only serves to highlight the film’s introspective calling, ensuring that one doesn’t get caught up in a sensory light-show, but rather, inwardly contemplate the gravity of what the film is revealing.  It seems appropriate, in this current age of feminine resurgence, that this film has been made and while Mary Magdalene might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it remains a thought-provoking and timely story.
See more of my NZME reviews here.


The Secret Scripture

tssIn this Irish production, director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), has cobbled together a curious mix of romance and intrigue in an adaptation from Sebastian Barry’s book of the same name.  A Secret Scripture leaps out of the gates with a very promising start and from the outset appears to have everything going for it; romance, engaging characters, an alluring mystery, and intriguing themes, but unfortunately, like a soufflé with one too many kids running through the kitchen, the middle can’t sustain the weight of its mixture.

Dusting off her shoes from a very similar role in Atonement, Vanessa Redgrave plays an elderly Rose McNulty recounting her wartime story. Now living in a mental institution, Rose refuses to vacate the soon-to-be-demolished hospital. Psychiatrist, Dr. William Grene (Eric Bana), is called in to assess her condition and learns about her younger years and the tragic account of her baby’s departure.  Rooney Mara plays the younger Rose in a role that is well cast and suits her wistful looks. Secrets are revealed in her rudimentary memoir that is scrawled down in the margins of the biblical book of Job. The book of Job offers a powerful metaphor for loss and enduring faithfulness that unfortunately the film doesn’t take the time to explore further and would’ve otherwise encouraged a deeper emotional texture to the film.

Biblical accounts aside, the film has a familiar feel to it. Its narrative structure and tone owe a lot to Joe Wright’s superb Atonement, and thematically there is a hint of Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table. However, it never quite amasses the gravity of either film and suffers from hurried character motivations that lead to some events that could only be described as perplexing.

Visually, however, the film is sumptuous with Russian cinematographer Mikhail Krichman employing the skills that made his previous work on Leviathan such an arresting experience—his visual punch framing the characters centre of screen among the lush Irish backdrop.

Although The Secret Scripture misses opportunities to elevate itself from the masses, it engages more than it confounds and remains an entertaining enough tale to mask the fact that it really is a poor cousin of many films that have gone before it.

You can see my published reviews here.

A Ghost Story

agsWe’ve all been there in our younger years: cut eye holes out of a sheet, throw it over yourself and roam the hall pretending to be a ghost. But despite Casey Affleck’s character looking the quintessential trick-or-treater, A Ghost Story delivers a haunting and ephemeral existential tale rather than cheap jump-scares.

Early in the film, Affleck’s character, C (the protagonists being named by a single initial), dies and returns as the aforementioned sheet-clad ghost. Still and solitary, he haunts every frame of the film, sadly observing his grief-stricken lover, M (played by Rooney Mara), move out of the house he loved so dearly.   Years pass and C’s ghost remains stubbornly fixed to the land, silently observing the house’s various occupants come and go. Thematically, A Ghost Story traverses many topics but its core is rooted in a solid sense of place and examines what it means to be attached (both physically and emotionally) to a piece of land. It is little surprise then, that the story was born out of an argument Director David Lowry had with his wife about moving house. 

Lowry elides time beautifully as he succinctly shows years of tenancy compressed into minutes. Meanwhile, C’s quest to retrieve a mysterious note that M slipped into a crack in the wall soon after his death remains tantalisingly just out of reach—the note being the film’s central plot device and providing the only semblance of conventional narrative structure in a story that is otherwise very meditative in its intention.

Certainly a far cry from his previous directorial outing, Pete’s Dragon, Lowery has delivered a slow burn that is painstakingly meticulous, indulgent and patient. There is a palpable sense of David Lynch or Terrence Malick in Lowry’s aesthetic scope; the long takes, the camera’s limited but very deliberate movement.  The culmination of which projects an almost unbearable dreamlike sense of loneliness. A five-minute continuous take of Rooney Mara’s character alone in her kitchen eating an entire pie sums up the film’s approach. Mara delivers a tour de force of non-verbal acting in this scene that is simultaneously rewarding and frustrating. It will have you scratching your head along with the film’s other elusive messages about relationships, grief, mortality and the ruthlessness of time … but, boy, it’s wonderful to watch.

A Ghost Story may not be for everyone—it requires a great deal of patience and a willingness to embrace the unconventional but put in the effort and you’ll be rewarded with a film that is both original and sublime.

See my reviews here at Witchdoctor.


Grab Cut Insert Cut F:PHOTOMediaFactory ActionsRequests DropBox46593#weinsteinlion_markrogers-3472_(1)_lg.jpgLion is directed by a relative newcomer to the feature film set, Garth Davis, who has taken the reins of bringing the seemly impossible true story of Saroo Brierley to the big screen. Adapted from the book A Long Way Home (written by Saroo himself), Davis has brought about a film that is harrowing, tragic, beautiful, and thought provoking.

It begins by introducing Saroo (who is superbly played by young Sunny Pawar) in his home village, beautifully sketching out village life from the perspective of a five-year-old. From the loving relationship with his brother and mother to the playful nature of his walk home, his world is wonderfully captured through the lens of master cinematographer Greig Fraser (Bright StarKilling Them Softly). Tragically, while waiting at a train station for his brother to return, Saroo inadvertently wanders onto a train bound for Calcutta hundreds of miles away. Search hard enough and many of us can remember brief times as a child of accidental separation from our parents and the fleeting but undiluted feeling horror that ensued. This feeling is conveyed in gut-wrenching scenes that capture impoverished India in all its Slumdog-esque filth, colour, and chaos. The tragedy of an innocent five-year-old lost among it all, while being beset upon by the denizens of unscrupulous intent, is difficult to watch.

Fortunately pockets of humanity lift little Saroo out of his desperate situation to where he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (played by Nicole Kidman and David Denham).

Twenty-five years on and Saroo (Dev Patel with an unwavering Aussie accent), who is now firmly ensconced in the Australian way of life, begins to recall flashes of his early life. This triggers what becomes the obsessive task of piecing together his own origins based on the unreliable memories of his five-year-old self. The obsession puts a strain on the relationship with his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), and his adopted family. There is a scene where Saroo remonstrates his mum over her selflessness and unswerving commitment and love for her adopted children. It is a short but powerful scene where Sue Brierley’s anguish is caught in one wonderfully acted moment by Nicole Kidman, demonstrating in her limited screen time what a class actor she is.

If I had one quibble, it concerns the chemistry between Patel and Mara. Both are good actors in their own right and yet their on-screen combination felt a little forced and over drawn. Despite this, Lion is a beautiful and moving film made all the more compelling because it is a true story … make sure to bring your tissues.

Rating: 4 jalebis out of 5.

You can see the published review here