Monthly Archives: April 2012

Melancholia (2011) Review

Sometimes, I come across a film that is so amazing that it totally redefines what I think is possible in the medium of cinema and threatens to totally change everything about the way I view the world. Melancholia was one of those films. 

In Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible and hopefully career-defining performance as Justine, a woman who suffers from terrible, numbing depression (also known as melancholia — see what he does there?).  

Throughout the first of two specially delineated acts of the film, Writer-Director Lars von Trier (Antichrist, Dancer in the Dark, The Idiots) seems to return to his former self, constructing a complex — but occasionally humorous — drama a lá The Idiots as Justine completely ruins her wedding (and marriage) because of her depression. Though I found this half refreshingly real, raw and biting, it was an enormous surprise to see this kind of film from von Trier, who has certainly transformed

The second part of the film is more like what I had expected going in to this film. Having completely lost all sense of hope and self esteem on her wedding night, the bereaved Dunst moves in with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her family. While father (Keifer Sutherland) and son (Cameron Spurr, who is adorable!) delightedly prepare for the upcoming fly-by of the rogue planet Melancholia (see what he did there?), Justine and Claire seem to share the belief that Melancholia is on a direct collision course with earth. In this shared fear of inevitable apocalypse, we see some of the most beautiful and complex sibling interaction that I think has ever been placed onto film. 

Despite all their differences, Melancholia and its sibling motion picture Antichrist share many elements. Both deal deeply with issue of shame, guilt, grace, and depression. Von Trier has said that Melancholia was an investigation of his battle with depression during the writing and filming of Antichrist, so these connections make a lot of sense. They both heavily feature one form of apocalypse or earthly annihilation, and they both use a slow-motion montage set to classical music as their beginning (Antichrist uses Handel; Melancholia uses Wagner).

Antichrist and Melancholia were also both filmed digitally, and you can tell. However, let me make myself clear: when I am saying this, it is NOT an insult. The Social Network, Take Shelter, Antichrist, Melancholia and many others share a particular look and feel that seems to be unique to digital. I can’t put my finger on what it is (I have an inkling suspicion it has to do with exaggerated color depth), but I love it and think it’s beautiful. If I ever get around to making a feature length motion picture, this is definitely an aesthetic which I want to recreate.

Though von Trier clearly intended Melancholia to be viewed in one sitting, I just couldn’t do it. The first part was so heavy that I felt compelled to take a ten minute intermission and then return. Personally, I don’t believe that this hindered the film’s ability to connect with me, but you can feel free to disagre in the comments.

Overall, I believe that Melancholia is a must-see. It’s one of the best films of 2011.

I give Melancholia a 5/5.


Immortals (2011) Review

This review is definitely behind schedule, but I have a good excuse: the movie was completely perplexing to me. I needed time to process it and understand the situation. Quite frankly, I still don’t understand why anyone would produce this schlock.

There’s a plot here somewhere (something about John Hurt being Zeus), but I quite frankly don’t think it remotely matters. The movie is really a series of cringe-worthy torture scenes and ridiculous action sequences strung together.

What seems to be emphasized in this film are the visuals. Unfortunately, this is like putting an empty picture frame on an entirely empty white wall: it highlights an enormous void. 

There are plenty of films that work with little to no plot. The first part in the Kill Bill saga has almost no plot and is entirely made up of action, but the action and visuals are so interesting and entertaining that they make up for this lack of story. In Immortals, the visuals are entirely unfulfilling and depressingly boring.

The first thing I noticed when I fired up this movie was the fact that, as opposed to most action films, or, for that matter, most modern films in general, Immortals isn’t shot in the 2.35:1 (Anamorphic) aspect ratio, but the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of a typical high definition television. Though this seems like a stupid nitpick and it’s certainly not something I would complain about from a film made before 2000, it seems to be symptomatic of a larger problem with this film’s cinematography at large.

Immortals seems to have been filmed as if it were a prime-time broadcast television show, and this is definitely not a compliment. Every shot seems to have been carefully formed by some sort of unintelligent robot sitting in as the Director of Photography. Sorry, Mr. Galvin, but you appear to be shit at your job. Everything interesting is centered instead of put on a third line, the dialogue is filmed in confusing and convention-violating manner, and scenes when there is both water and land seem to always orient themselves in a certain direction so that the water is on the right. These weird visual quirks single-handedly seem to suck all interest out of the visuals. 

There is a lot of interesting CGI and color correction work layered on top of this poor cinematography, but the old adage about polishing a turd comes to mind. Everything you do on top of this cinematography only highlights how painfully boring it is.

I haven’t even begun to talk about the action sequences, which seem to take up the vast majority of this film. Instead of simply showing us fighting, director Tarsem Singh seems to be obsessed with slowing down and speeding up the action as if he’s just playing back a video tape. This is not only annoying, but it actually makes some of the action nearly impossible to comprehend. These action sequences also seem to last forever. I can’t stand action sequences that are either poorly filmed and edited or self-indulgent, and these seem to be both.

To his credit, Henry Cavill seems to make it through this film with a straight face, which is better than I could do. If I were cast in this film, I would be laughing at Singh and the screenwriters all the way through.

My bottom line: if you want to see a movie about Greek people fighting, go watch 300. It sure isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than this.

I give Immortals a 1/5.

The Skulls (2000) Review

Sometimes, I come across a movie that has such a terrible script, I can’t help but wonder why on earth it ever got made. The Skulls is one of these movies. 

In The Skulls, Joshua Jackson (of Fringe fame) stars as Luke McNamara, a Yale student hard up for cash. When he’s inducted into the local secret society, The Skulls, life seems to take a turn for the better — at least until his best friend (Hill Harper) commits suicide after snooping around The Skulls’ inner sanctum.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. Essentially, The Skulls is a bad rip-off of The Firm. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Firm (I felt it was far inferior to the book), but I would watch it a hundred times before I subjected myself to this tripe again.

The largest problem with this movie is the writing. It’s on-the-nose and stilted. Nothing ever seems to happen naturally. What’s more, things in the script just don’t seem to make sense. Despite the fact that The Skulls are a “secret society,” everybody knows who they are, where they are, and the organization’s history. Emotions change without warning. One moment, the characters are having a polite civilized conversation, then the next someone is storming out of the room. Since the writer, John Pogue, is best known for Rollerball, I  didn’t go in expecting David Mamet, but I definitely didn’t go in expecting this.

Even more ridiculous than the writing is the “clubhouse” that The Skulls call home. Enormous, painfully obvious to the rest of the campus (again, what kind of secret society announces their existence?), and decked out with everything from Indiana Jones-style stone slab doors to enormous chambers made entirely of travertine marble to complex theatre lighting rigs and laser light shows that seem to have been perfectly focused for every event that takes place, even the unexpected ones. Oh – and they have a neon green glowing crystal skull.

The technology in this movie is atrocious. I know it’s only a very small part of the overall movie, but I can’t just let these things go by. The Social Network proved that you could be true to the way technology actually is and still create an interesting movie, so now I expect that same thing from every other movie. Here, they say that a computer is random. The truth, of course, is that it’s just the opposite. Creating a truly random computer is nearly impossible, not automatic. They also do that thing where they “enhance” a surveilance video to get more detail. I die a little every time that happens in a movie.

Though the director, Rob Cohen, cannot be left blameless in the equation that created this piece of garbage, I think that this albatross should be around the neck of Pogue, who — in addition to writing — also produced this monstrosity. My bottom line: just don’t watch this. There are a lot of better movies that cover similar ground.

I give The Skulls a 0.5/5.

Jumper Review

When I went the theatre to see Chronicle, I found myself sitting behind a birthday party full of eleven-year-old kids. Chronicle was definitely not their kind of film; it’s mature and complex, dealing with the true ethical issues behind becoming a “superhero,” someone with paranormal powers and ending in one of the most tragic and depressing action sequences in recent memory. It was great, but not a film for an eleven-year-old boy and a half dozen of his closest friends. Exiting the movie theatre, I couldn’t help but imagine how upset the birthday boy’s parents were that they hadn’t previewed the movie beforehand. Chronicle clearly wasn’t their movie, but Jumper would have been. Jumper is, in just about every sense of the word, a prepubescent film.

In Jumper, Hayden Christensen plays David Rice, a boy (and I use that word on purpose) who finds himself imbued with the power to teleport, or “jump” from place to place by simply picturing the place he wants to be. This souds like an awesome concept, and it is. Unfortunately, there is a story to cope with here, and it isn’t good.

We open this movie on a fifteen-year-old version of David, played by Max Theriot, who does some of the best acting in this film. He has a crush on a girl named Millie (AnnaSophia Robb) and tries to give her a present. Unfortunately, the tough jock guy doesn’t want her to have it and throws it onto a frozen river. In classic film trope form, David falls into the frozen river trying to retrieve it, and somehow manages to teleport himself into the middle of the local public library. 

For the next fifteen minutes after these initial scene, this movie is an awesome ride. We watch as David escapes his callous and alcoholic father (Michael Rooker), travels cross-country, rents an apartment, robs a couple banks via teleportation (which has got to be the coolest way to rob a bank that I’ve ever heard of), and starts a life on his own. At this point, I was excited by the prospects this film had to offer. It was fun and, while all of David’s actions seemed incredibly childish, I had never seen any movie quite like this. 

Then, suddenly, twenty minutes into the movie, everything changes. The last title card (“Directed by Doug Liman”) shows (Why do these titles take fifteen minutes?), we’re transported eight years into the future, Theriot is replaced by the far less charismatic Hayden Christensen, and the movie gets really crappy.

Samuel L. Jackson shows up as the leader of a group of people who call themselves the Paladins. As he explains in his long dull opening monologue, the Paladins seem to believe that “only god should be in all places at once,” thus they’re trying to kill all the Jumpers. Jackson’s character finds David, and a typical cat-and-mouse game begins as the Paladins try to track down him and Millie (now played by Rachel Bilson), whom David inexplicably decides to drag into this mess. Another Jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell) is introduced, although I’m not quite sure why. We travel around the world, and finally, we find ourselves in that inevitable epic battle scene between Jackson and Christensen. This plot makes no sense.

But it’s not just the plot that’s messed up. The characters are stupid too. If you’ll recall, I called David a “boy.” There’s a reason for this. Even in this “eight years later” future, he acts like a fifteen-year-old. Instead of leveraging his powers for socially responsible and interesting behaviors, David chooses to mess around with them, going surfing in Fiji, eating picnics on top of the Sphinx, and chilling next to the clock face on Big Ben. These are not mature or responsible behaviors. In fact, I’d like to think that they’re nowhere close to what a sound-minded twenty-three-year-old would do with his time.

David is even presented with an obvious opportunity for heroics. As he prepares for his day of fun, the news on the TV tells him about a tragic flood that has left people stranded on their roofs. All he would have to do would be to teleport there, then teleport to dry land with those people, a five minute job, and he could have saved lives. Instead, he goes surfing. 

All this said, the plot and characters aren’t the only things worthy of blame here. It seems like everyone involved in this film knew going in that it was going to be terrible, and as a result decided to phone it in. Even the great actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Rooker didn’t seem remotely interested in the movie. Their characters were flat and unmotivated. Visual Effects, usually the highlight of a film like this, also didn’t seem up to snuff. In scenes where actors teleported, I could often either see bits of a blue or green screen showing through their costumes or find that whole chunks of them just didn’t appear, the results of under- and over-zealous compositing, respectively. And for a movie about someone capable of traveling wherever he wants, we only seemed to visit a couple of different locations, as if nobody wanted to buy more stock footage. 

Overall, this film was a huge disappointment. I have typically been fond of Director Doug Liman‘s works in the genre of action, but this is just plain lackluster. 

I give it a 2/5.