Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Melancholia

I was one of the few who absolutely loved Lars Von Trier's last film, Anti-Christ. Initially, I was tickled pink to learn of Melancholia, his follow-up, and expected to see it ASAP. Things don't always work out the way you plan. If I'm not mistaken, that's a recurring theme in Von Trier's work.


There are no films that compare to Melancholia. The closest I can come up with is Rachel Getting Married, if only because it's fresh in my mind. Imagine that film if it featured a rogue planet on a destruction course with Earth. That the Earth is destroyed is no spoiler and Von Trier didn't intend it to be: it happens at the beginning of the film so the more casual moviegoer won't be expecting a Hollywood ending. Although the classical music and the imagery in this sequence begged comparison to Kubrick's 2001, to call this science fiction is both an insult to the film and science fiction itself. The idea that a planet such as Melancholia exists is actually a "serious" subject of conspiracy theory websites. I repeat: this is not a high-brow science fiction film, nor does it want to be. I for one refuse to accept such a preposterous gimmick as SF.

Sometimes, though, it doesn't matter what happens, but why it happens and, more importantly, what you can do with it once it happens. Doctor Who fans will appreciate this example: so there's this ridiculously designed box that traps radiation inside it and the only way to get someone out of it is if someone else exchanges places with him or her. Yeah, it's dumb, but the resulting drama can totally make up for it. That's the case with Melancholia, even if the gimmick is derived from an old Father Sarducci joke.

Which is not to say Melancholia is sensational, at least not in the way you'd expect from an end-of-the-world movie. The most impressive shots of the movie are contained in the overture, the three or four minutes before the title card is ever seen. Von Trier plays with the same ultra-high speed cameras he employed at the beginning of Anti-Christ, giving us a taste of the imagery and motifs to come. Then the film switches to gritty hand-held photography and focuses on Justine (Kirsten Dunst) who is struggling to deal with a selfish family on the day of her wedding. It seems like the entire world is out to get Justine, like thinly drawn characters from a bad comedy. It's hard to believe that nearly everyone in this family can be, as one character puts it, so stark-raving mad, but Trier exaggerates this sequence to show us know how the terminally depressed actually feel.

a better Von Trier film

Here it is, the day of her wedding and it's the kind of reception too grandiose for most people to even dream of. Despite her countless blessings, Justine simply can't be happy. She's wearing a smile, most of the time, and giving it a good try. Yet it just isn't working for reasons that can't be attributed to anything other than faulty biochemistry. So you can understand her frustration when John, her brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland), comes to her and threatens, "You better be goddamn happy." It's a terrible thing to say, but he did spend a fortune on the wedding and is probably sick of Justine's wish-washy ways. You understand how he feels, too—people like Justine have a knack for taking a toll on others.

Justine's sister may have seemed like a snotty little bitch during the wedding, but we later get an indication of just how far Justine has pushed her. Depression isn't fair for the people who experience it, but it can be just as unfair for friends and family. When people on either side of the equation are forced to deal with something that has no easy fix, sparks will fly. Part two of the film focuses on this sister, Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Claire turns out to be a pretty normal person who loves her sister, warts and all. The problem is she's a lot more stable and caring from her own point of view than from Justine's. I think this half of the film is probably closer to the reality of the situation.

The tables turn again, however, when the impending doom becomes certain: it's Claire who becomes unhinged while Justine looks on unmoved.

I find it hard to review a film like this. Like I said, nothing compares to it and sometimes it's hard to even think of it as a film. The reason I didn't watch it sooner is simple: I wasn't prepared. Anti-Christ took a lot out of me. It affected me in a way few movies are capable of, which is why I cherished it so much while simultaneously holding it at arm's length. While I was excited to see this film, I also dreaded it.

Although it's no one's fault but my own, I was expecting a more powerful film. I was rarely moved during Melancholia, which isn't to say I didn't like it, but even the climax failed to get a rise out of me. On the other hand, maybe that wasn't the point.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

5 reasons to get excited for Prometheus


Prometheus might be The One. Here are a few reasons:

1. Noomi Rapace

She's unreasonably beautiful in a non-Hollywood way and she's the last actress you'd expect to play the lead character in a summer blockbuster. My favorite part of the trailer is when someone tells her, "You're smiling." She is smiling, like a giddy schoolgirl, presumably over a scientific discovery. That's exactly the kind of stuff I think Hollywood science fiction is short on. I want to see characters who react to the amazing sights like humans, not "cool" action heroes.

2. Charlize Theron

Theron said Ridley Scott is her dream director. Word on the street is the role was a pretty two-dimensional character, which the writers re-wrote when they found out about her involvement. You'd expect the company stooge (this film's equivalent of the Paul Reiser part in Aliens?) to be a boring stereotype, but it's been revealed they really beefed up her part.

There's that, but then there's also the fact that Theron reportedly does push-ups in the nude, which I believe was the very first scene revealed to the public at Comic-Con. Just saying.

3. Ridley Scott

When I was growing up, absolutely secure in my belief that 2001: A Space Odyssey was the greatest science fiction film of all time, I was collecting every new version of Blade Runner that released over the years, from VHS to DVD. Little did I know how much the film was growing on me. By the time The Final Cut came out, it became my favorite science fiction film of all time.


It looks like a mainstream film, and it'll satisfy mainstream audiences, but it ain't a mainstream story. This looks like dark, thought-provoking stuff despite the PG-13 rating.

4. The R-Rating

Oops, did I just say it was rated PG-13? I lied. We all expected it to be PG-13, because that's what Hollywood does these days. Even Die Hard 4 was rated PG-13. No, the higher rating isn't an automatic indication of a good film, but conversely, whenever a sequel to an R-rated film is rated PG-13, we all know that probably wasn't an artistic decision. Usually it's just the studio bending over backwards for a pre-teen demographic that wouldn't know good movies if they were punched in the face by one.

5. Alien films were beginning to suck

Imagine if Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem was the film that closed the franchise. It was rated PG-13, sported no-name directors and, like the previous film, the studio took the chicken-shit stance of refusing to screen it for critics.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Hitchhiker (HBO Series) just popped into my head

My brain pranked me today. I'm nearly thirty years old and I haven't thought about The Hitchhiker (an anthology series on HBO) since it aired in the mid-eighties (I was born in '83). Not once.

Today it just popped into my head without warning. This is how it happened: "Dunt, dunt, dunt, chhh. Dunt, dunt, dunt, chhh... what is that tune? I've heard that before... I seem to remember a hitchhiker talking to the camera... walking down the road... and... oh my god how did I forget about The fucking Hitchhiker?!"

I looked it up and the oldest I could have been during its original run was four. I might have seen it later when it was syndicated or something, but I don't know for sure. Perhaps a television show of all things is my earliest memory.


Memory is a funny thing. I barely remember what I did yesterday, but I remembered that.

(Ray Bradbury claimed to remember his own birth, in particular the pressure he felt around his head. Jay Leno once claimed the same thing on national television. Modern science, on the other hand, claims they're delusional. Given what little I know about the subject, I'd say yes, they probably are confusing imagination with memory. I personally don't believe any man who actually remembers childbirth could bring themselves to have sex with a woman like those two men presumably did.)