Melancholia, Marriage and the End of the World

Lars Von Trier’s epic ode to depression and the end of the world – perhaps one and the same – opens with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde playing over a series of breathtaking, beautiful and perfectly composed shots that at first appear to be stills until you realize they are moving in ultra slow motion.  With the hauntingly operatic music full of swooning lilts and gasping rises into the stratosphere, Von Trier symbolically (and in some shots literally) transmits what we are about to experience.  The slow motion represents the trudging through emotions while the music elicits thoughts of a great tragedy about to befall us all.  And then boom! – he lays all of his cards right on the table as we watch in simultaneous horror and joy as two worlds collide.  It’s an eerily quiet yet emotionally bombastic counter action to Terence Malick’s creation of the universe sequence in The Tree of Life.  Both films, operating at opposite poles and giving us glimpses into the vast outward expanse of human imagination through the precipitous downward spiral into the mind and madness of one, are miraculous masterpieces.

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The Mirror of Film

The Tree of Life - Submerging memories through film.

Still awash in fresh memories of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, I watched for the first time Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror.  The problem I’ve had with Tarkovsky films in the past (especially Stalker, which I found tedious and nearly impenetrable though certain moments and images have stubbornly stuck with me) is that I feel like you need an advanced degree in Russian history to understand the context and symbolism.  With Malick’s film, however, illuminating the way, I found Tarkovsky’s The Mirror to be deeply rewarding on multiple levels, and it emerged as an unforgettable cinematic experience deserving of repeated views.

The two films are strikingly similar: deeply personal, semi-autobiographical, supplemented by other art forms (classical music is used exquisitely in both, while The Mirror also drew upon original poetry) and constructed in a stream-of-consciousness style made to evoke dreams and memories.  Both films are deeply rooted in the childhoods of their makers. Continue reading

Revisiting The Sweet Hereafter – The Best Film of the 1990’s

There is no such thing as a simple list.

The 1990’s proved to be as ponderous as it was wondrous when looking back on its contributions to cinema.  It was the decade where I came of age as a film buff, but many of its films that seemed at the time to speak so strongly to my generation just haven’t held up that well to scrutiny as years have passed.  It was a decade that saw one of the most original filmmakers of the 1980’s, David Lynch, do his most astounding work on television with Twin Peaks.  In film, the Coen Brothers hit their stride while a contemplative Canuck (Atom Egoyan) and an insane Dane (Lars Von Trier) reached career pinnacles.  Meanwhile, emerging from the British Isles were the classically refined works of Anthony Minghella and Sam Mendes.  But it was in the Coen Brothers’ America where many saw a mini-Renaissance.  Unlike the 1970’s, which produced a plethora of auteurs (Scorsese, Spielberg, De Palma, Coppola, Lucas) who were birthed in formal film schools, the 1990’s saw the emergence of a new generation of auteurs (Tarantino, PT Anderson, Fincher, Spike Jonze) who developed their styles first by working in music videos or by being products of their own self-guided fan-boy obsessed film clubs after dropping out of film school. Continue reading

Well If You Must Scream

We can scream if we want to!

We can scream if we want to!

Inspired by the current polling going on at Wonders in the Dark  (which for my money is the best movie blog site on the web right now) concerning the Best Films of the 1970’s, I decided to catch up on some of the great films from that decade I had yet to see.  One thing led to another, and there I was with the obscure Edvard Munch sitting atop my Netflix queue.  Directed by renowned forefather of the docudrama, Britian’s Peter Watkins, this complex and nearly four hour long biopic of Norwegian post-Impressionist painter Edvard Munch was originally made as a miniseries for Norwegian/Swedish TV in 1974.  It was released theatrically around the world in 1976 and was recently done up as a two-disc special edition on DVD.  I watched it in those two parts over the course of two nights and was completely transfixed.

Brazenly presented in the style of a documentary, Watkins’ film begs you to feel as if his cameras were literally there from “moment one” in Munch’s childhood during the late 1800’s all they way up through the abrupt close of the film half way through his life around 1910.  Continue reading

When the Good Movies Are

Max decides to take a nap and dream of wild things until his movie comes out in October.

Max decides to take a nap and dream of many wild things until his movie comes out in October.

 

With last week’s unnecessary X-Men sequel? prequel? reboot? oh who cares?—and this week’s Star Trek hullabaloo, someone like me is left to wonder when will it be safe to venture back into the darkness of the movie theaters?  Thankfully the summer movie season has become a refuge for some decent counter-programming ignored by most feasting on Hollywood’s fatty products, but even better, it’s a good time to start checking out the early trailers and buzz for the gilded autumnal slate of films reeking of prestige.

Here’s my list of the most anticipated films for Summer 2009 and beyond ordered chronologically by alleged release date.  No sequels or franchises allowed beyond this point!

Drag Me to Hell:  (5/29/09)  This is that horror flick from guru Sam Raimi for those who enjoyed The Evil Dead trilogy over his Spiderman trilogy.  It looks kinda goofy, kinda ghouly and kinda fun with a smoking hot Alison Lohman playing a mortgage broker who gets damned to hell after turning down a little old lady’s application for an extension–how timely!  My only concerns are why this thing isn’t rated R and where the heck is Bruce Campbell?  Check out the trailer or go to hell. 

 

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Alison Lohman can drag me to hell anytime. But I don't think she'll ever approve me for a mortgage.

 

If this one cops-out on the gore, be sure to check out the Norwegian zombie Nazi romp Dead Snow due to infect art-houses in June.

Away We Go: (6/5/09, limited)  After giving us one of the most depressing films of recent memory with Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes goes all quirky dramedy on us with this one featuring a surprisingly likable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an expecting couple re-examining their life together.  Let’s hope this doesn’t suffer the same unfair fate of Sunshine Cleaning, which was mostly ignored by mainstream audiences due to a bad marketing campaign that endlessly compared it to other (and lesser) quirky dramedies.  Novelist/memoirist du-jour Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay.   Check out the trailer or go away.

Public Enemies:  (7/1/09)  This is an A-lister all the way and promises to be the thinking person’s summer event flick.  Michael Mann, who has proven that both filming in digital doesn’t mean things have to be shaky and grainy and that Depression era films need not be saturated in sepia tones, has crafted what looks to be a crackling period gangster flick inspired by true events featuring a swaggering Johnny Depp, an always brooding Christian Bale and a seductively demure Marion Cotillard.  This thing looks like a real brick that is about to be thrown through everyone’s window.  Check out the trailer or go to jail.  I reckon I won’t be all alone when I take that ride come July.

District 9:  (8/14/09)  It’s so rare these days to see a non-franchised non-comic book based sci-fi flick come out during the summer.  It’s even cooler when that sci-fi film is presented by Peter Jackson, has been kept mostly under wraps, and is just now releasing the early stages of an ultra-clever viral marketing campaign.  The trailer for this one is wickedly deceptive (it looks like some political documentary) and reveals just enough of the “alien…shall we say, invasion?” plotline to tantalize viewers.  This one has some major potential for social commentary, satire and some kick-ass alien action as it blends elements from V,  Alien Nation and Starship Troopers.  Check out the humorous mock-site Maths from Outer Space, or better yet, check out the hella-cool trailer.

Antichrist:  (Unknown)  The only thing more interesting to watch than an established director attempting to go back to his roots (see Sam Raimi above) is watching a controversial auteur go off the deep end with something he’s never attempted before.  Here, Great Dane Lars Von Trier (last seen directing people acting on minimalist chalk-lined stages in Dogville and Manderlay) goes the psychological horror route with this tale of an emotionally crippled couple seeking refuge at their cabin in the woods and perhaps coming in contact with…Satan?  Guaranteed to be his most stylistic film since Zentropa (aka Europa), Antichrist‘s reception at this month’s Cannes Film Festival will go a long way in determining its potential success in the States.  Look for a limited Fall release and prepared to be disturbed.

Shutter Island:  (10/2/09)  Leonardo DiCaprio stars in a Martin Scrosese adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel.  Need I say more?  Added bonus for me:  my favorite underrated actress Emily Mortimer co-stars.  I was in line for this before I even knew it was being made.

 

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

 

Where the Wild Things Are:  (10/19/09)  Any doubts about this Malkovich-less Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book should be wiped away by what is hands down one of the most infectiously appealing trailers ever crafted.  The versatile Eggers appears again as co-scripter.  Go ahead, get wild and check it out.

Amelia:  (10/23/09)  Will Indian born Mira Nair finally achieve a massive cross-over hit with this bio-pic of Amelia Earhart, or will this be another well intentioned and glossy miscalculation like Vanity Fair?  If Nair can inject the emotional connection she so effortlessly achieved with Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake into the still unsolved mystery surrounding the famed female pilot, then we should be in for something special, and watch out for Hilary Swank in the lead role to nab her third Oscar nod.

Tree of Life:  (Unknown, potentially 2010)  Having once allowed two decades to pass between films, legendary auteur Terrence Malick has now adopted a more Kubrickian five to ten year span between projects.  Given his notoriously long post-production process, this one might not find its way into theaters until the end of 2010 even though principle photography has been completed for some time.  Though this Brad Pitt/Sean Penn drama has been kept tightly under wraps, the advanced buzz surrounding a potential IMAX companion piece and a special effects team working on the “dino shots” make it clear this will be more than just some dreamily poetic coming-of-age mood piece.  For the first time, we might witness Malick go whole-hog.  As such, film purists should be waiting with baited breath.

Other potential films of interest include Quentin Tarantino’s spelling and good-taste-be-damned WWII flick Inglourious Basterds (to be released in August) and James Cameron’s uber-secretive sci-fi epic Avatar (to be released around Christmas) that will either be the biggest bomb or hit of the holiday season.

What films are you most looking forward to?  Leave your top pics in the comment form!

Written by David H. Schleicher