MELANCHOLIA

November 24, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Anyone who walks into this film having not seen the trailer or being unfamiliar with the previous works of writer/director Lars von Trier has my sincere sympathy. He is a unique and ambitious filmmaker with a touch of expressionism, abstractness and a unique visual style. His movies are seen by a small audience and appreciated by even fewer. And on top of that, he may be the least politically correct celeb working today.

The film begins with a most unusual prologue backed by an ominous Wagner composition and numerous visuals that play like slow moving paintings come to life. Clearly, the end of the world is at hand. After that, we get two parts: Part 1 Justine, and Part 2 Claire. Justine (Kristen Dunst) is first seen in her wedding gown heading towards the reception with her new husband (Alexander Skarsgard). Normally, this is one of the happiest times of anyone’s life, but here something is just not quite right. Once inside, we begin to understand. Justine’s family and friends are all a bit off-center, and she is the worst of all.

 I won’t go into the details because what really matters is that Melancholia, a large blue planet, is headed directly towards earth. Kiefer Sutherland plays Justine’s rich brother-in-law and he assures everyone that the “pass by” will be a special moment and no need to fear a collision. His wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) believes her husband and tries to comfort her sister Justine.

The supporting cast is outstanding and includes not only Alexander Skarsgard as the groom, but also his father Stellan Skarsgard as Justine’s over-bearing employer; Charlotte Rampling as Justine’s beyond bitter mother; John Hurt as the take-no-responsibilty father; Jesper Christensen as the faithful caretaker; and creepy Udo Kier as the wedding planner. It’s quite a cast and the only real point of their existence seems to be having Justine and the viewer question if this existence is better than no existence … which could happen in 5 days.

 This year has provided quite a metaphysical buffet at the theater. We have had The Tree of Life, Another Earth, Take Shelter and now this entry from von Trier. This group will have you questioning many things in life, and beyond. The other similarity between the three is the artistic craftsmanship with which each is made. Clearly two famous paintings play a key role for von Trier, and his final shot is done with such a deft touch that only guys like Tony Scott and Michael Bay will feel let down.

I certainly can’t recommend this one to all. It is somewhat slow moving and filled with symbolism and characters bordering on depression. It is beautiful to look at, but tough to watch. My guess is you already know if this is one for you.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy risky, creative filmmaking designed to initiate thought in the viewer … even if that thought might be questioning how one would handle pending doom.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you look to movies to be uplifting and funny – a way to take your mind off the heavy stuff

watch the trailer:


ALL THINGS GOOD

January 23, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Who among us isn’t intrigued by a real life “unsolved” murder mystery? Throw in a very wealthy New York real estate family, a never-discovered body, an executed friend, and a horrible childhood trauma and it is certain to draw the attention of filmmaker Andrew Jarecki. Jarecki’s film Capturing the Friedmans won numerous awards and is among the best  documentaries ever made. He has a knack with dark family secrets.

In the film, Ryan Gosling plays David Marks, disenchanted son of Real Estate mogul Sanford Marks (a powerful Frank Langella), who witnessed the grisly suicide of his mother when he was very young. David meets the energetic and affectionate Katie (Kirsten Dunst) and the two dreamers escape Daddy’s clutches and head to Vermont to open a health food store. Finally wilting under pressure from Sanford, the couple returns to the city and David joins the family business. The good things are soon to end.

Since much of the real life story is still a mystery, Jarecki does a nice job in assembling pieces from the trial records. Along the way, we meet David’s friend Deborah Lehrman (Lilly Rabe), an acclaimed writer who seems to always be there for David … as he is for her. We witness the transformation of David from loving husband to mentally disturbed murder suspect.

Jarecki gives us some guidance on what might have happened and how the plan could have been executed, but we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that there was not much happiness associated with this family, despite the wealth and 42nd Street real estate holdings.

The acting in the film is tremendous. Gosling, Dunst and Langella are top notch. Yes, Ms. Dunst provides what is easily her best screen performance ever. Support work from Lily Rabe, Phillip Baker Hall, Nick Offerman and Kristen Wiig is all strong and believable. This one will give you the creeps … and rightly so.

A brief overview of the real story: Seymour Durst is the real life NY real estate mogul, whose son Robert stood trial and was also accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen.  Author Susan Berman wrote “Easy Street”, was friends with Robert, and was the daughter of a Las Vegas mob boss.  She was murdered, execution-style, and the case was never solved … though police believe it could be linked to the disappearance of Kathleen Durst.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you believe the best thrillers are based on real life mysteries OR you want to see Kirsten Dunst in her best ever performance (yes, better than Spider-Man)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: real life murder mysteries give you the creeps OR you don’t want to give your spouse any ideas!