Sunday, November 27, 2011


Lars von Triers is one of my favorite directors. His films are always artistic and challenging. If you are looking for simple escapist entertainment, this is not the film for you. However, if you are up for the challenge, you will be drawn in by the gravitational pull of "Melancholia". To quote R.E.M. "It's the End of The World as We Know it and I feel fine".

The film is divided into two parts. In Part One "Justine" we are introduced to Justine, played by kirsten Dunst, who is suffering from a crippling depression (one could call Melancholia) while at the same time, a planet named Melancholia is on a collison course with Earth. Ms. Dunst is celebrating her wedding to Michael, played by Alexander Skarsgard. They are at the rented castle of her sister and brother-in-law, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Keifer Sutherland. It is a lavish "black tie" affair but Ms. Dunst's condition prevents her from any happiness.

Part Two, "Claire" takes place just after the events of the reception and focuses on the impending arrival of Melancholia and it's effects on Justine, her sister Claire, her husband John and their son. Mr. von Triers presents his themes and ideas to the audience through the actions and reactions of both sisters in each half of the film. The counterbalance of Justine's condition and the planet closing in on Earth only serve to strengthen his point of view.

The film is visually stunning, enriched with a wonderful classical soundtrack. Ms. Dunst gives a rich, complex performance and Mr. Sutherland is a surprise in a unique role. Co-starring in minor roles are Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt and Stellen Skarsgard but the film really belongs to Ms. Dunst and Ms. Gainsbourg.

Mr. von Triers is a writer/director with a unique style that is not for everyone but he does continues to surprise with each new film.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

J. Edgar

Director Clint Eastwood does a wonderful job with his actors in an otherwise dull biography of J. Edgar Hoover. Leonardo DeCaprio is excellent as Hoover and equally good is Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson. There were only two important women in Hoover's life, his mother, played here by Judi Dench and his faithful secretary, Helen Gandy, played by Naomi Watts. Both women give strong performances as well.

Despite the fact these four actors are at the top of their game, they are hampered by a claustophobic, dry script that bounces back and forth in time never settling down long enough for the audience to catch up. The screenplay by Dustin Lance Black draws on historical facts and rumors about Mr. Hoover but keeps a tight focus on his relationships with Mr. Tolson, his mother and to some extent, Ms. Gandy. While other characters come and go, they are just background and never fully developed. The film's makeup and lighting are both distracting. Only the three main character age and at times, their makeup looks like something bought in a Halloween store. The lighting keeps the film in blue and grey hues further dulling the story.

Mr. Hoover was a powerful and paranoid man throughout his long tenure in the FBI. Even Ms. Gandy who was his most trusted confident, probably didn't know everything about the man. The film crawls through his life with only the numerous flashbacks providing any spark, keeping the audience involved trying to guess the correct timeline. The story only hints at his relationships with the eight presidents he served.

The focus is on the unspoken love between Mr. Hoover and Mr. Tolson. Their relationship was deeper than the world knew but many probably suspected and that love is painfully and honestly portrayed by both Mr. DeCaprio and Mr. Hammer. Mr. Hoover's devotion to his mother is also a focal point and scenes between them are poignant yet, a little strange. Mr. Black's script is strongest when exploring the repressed homosexuality of the two men and even suggests the reason behind Mr. Hoover's rumored fondness for cross dressing.

While the acting is terrific, "J. Edgar" is an overall disappointment.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tower Heist

A heist movie where the audience gets robbed. Usually when you mix a high concept with a big time cast and director, the results fail to make good on the promise of the trailer. "Tower Heist" doesn't disappoint in that respect but it does in everything else.

Directed by Brett Ratner and starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda, you would expect action and laughs but end up with a sluggish first act and only a moderately entertaining second act. The film takes forever to get going and finally shows some life once Eddie Murphy starts getting more screen time. Credit Mr. Broderick for providing some good laughs as the mousey analyst and to Mr. Alda playing against type as the smug, billionaire villain. Mr. Stiller, on the other hand brings nothing new as the Tower manager who decides to rob Mr. Alda for the good of the building staff.

The highpoint of the robbery towards the end is fun but the film is so badly edited, it appears that chunks of scenes have been omitted, ruining the continuity and taking the heart out of the story. The film ends up as disposable entertainment, quickly forgotten once it ends.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene

A star turn by Elizabeth Olsen in a fascinating story of a girl, who after living in a cult environment for two years, tries to reconnect with the outside world. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, his first feature film is both disturbing and captivating.

We first meet Martha as she is leaving the cult for unknown reasons. She reaches out to her sister Lucy, played by Sarah Paulson who brings Martha to her Connecticut home, with no knowledge of where's she's been. Lucy and her husband Ted, played by Hugh Dancy, try to be understanding but are confused by Martha's behavior especially when she refuses to tell them the truth about her recent past.

The film cuts back and forth in time, between the present in Connecticut and Martha's time with the cult, when she was renamed Marcy May by Patrick, the cult leader. John Hawkes is chilling as Patrick, a man with an evil aura hidden beneath a seemingly gentle exterior. The edits and unusual score create a dream like atmosphere that deliberately unsettles the audience.

Adjusting to life after her experience is not easy for Martha and as layers are peeled back, you realize there will be no simple answers. You are left to interpret these characters as you will. The end, in particular, will be open to much discussion. Love it or hate it, one thing is clear. Elizabeth Olsen has a terrific career ahead of her.