Over the course of a week I watch a lot movies and neglect my responsibilities and personal hygiene, all for your benefit. Here is the list of movies I have seen this past week. Try to keep up:
Gerry & Elephant – I am going with a two for one deal here. In the aughts Gus Van Sant went on a bit of a tear, ending with his 2008 best picture nominee Milk. To date my only exposure to him had been his mainstream films such as the previously mentioned film Milk and Good Will Hunting. Now not to take anything away from these movies, because I enjoyed them both very much, but the direction seemed a bit standard. This could be an impressive feat by Mr. Van Sant of knowing when to step back and let the story be the main driving force of the movie, to which I would applaud, but now having been exposed to other Van Sant creations, I must say, I am far more impressed with his ability. Both Gerry and Elephant are masterfully choreographed and executed. Elephant in particular has a beautiful scene where we follow three characters through a cafeteria, listening to their mundane dialogue, then we pickup a cafeteria worker and follow them through the kitchen until we arrive back in the cafeteria, seamlessly reuniting with our original group. It was breath taking. We float along within the story, seeing things unfold. A methodical surgeon with the camera, Gus Van Sant plays with time through each of these films. In Gerry we are painfully made aware of how long a minute actually is. Each moment that passes only heightens this awareness. This could be seen as a risk, but it is a risk that pays off. In Elephant his teasing of time creates an anxiousness in the viewer as he prolongs the inevitable end we all know is coming. And even though we know it is coming, we see how the film must end, we cannot turn away. The camera lingers long enough for us to absorb the scene as it glides by on the screen. Van Sant shows us reality, every excruciating minute of it.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – I am not one of those “The book was better than the movie” kind of guys. I usually want to punch that guy. We get it: you’re smart, you read books and can’t even stoop to the level of being entertained by such a pedestrian medium as film, but … Some works of literature are sacred to people, and the collection of novels and short stories produced by David Foster Wallace in his brilliant and devastatingly short career, would fall under that category for me. It could be that no film reproduction of his books will ever be good enough, but even if that were the case, that would not excuse the poor execution by John Krasinski. There are some things that work on paper, but not on screen. DFW’s vernacular would be one of those things. To see it written out on paper, woven together by someone who really understood his own voice and what he meant it to say, is completely different than a person who admires that work and wants to sound cool and smart using it. In the book we get a dissection of the male psyche that is devastating, funny, and clearly thought out in painful detail. Foster Wallace is accused of being verbose, but it was more from his perception of his own work where he felt he could never clearly communicate what was inside of him. Through this struggle, though, we began to understand both the character and the author. Krasinski’s attempt fall short of the genius on which his movie is based. There were a few pieces in the film that stand out as well done, most notably Julianne Nicholson’s subtle and nuanced performance as Sara Quinn, the interviewer, but overall the short vignettes are choppy (as was the editing choice of jump cutting every 3.4 seconds) and never found a rhythm. I was unsure at one point if the characters were breaking the 4th wall and talking to me or if they were glancing at the camera accidentally (turns out they were talking to us, but I shouldn’t be wondering that, it should be clear). And most tasteless of all was the decision of John Krasinski to leave for himself what he clearly felt was the most important and powerful story of the film. He is confident that only he could execute such a bold and intellectually overpowering scene. I, however, am less sure of it. I hate to say it, but: read the book.
Antichrist – I am not sure I am ready to discuss this movie. To discuss it is to relive it and I know I am not ready to relive it. Do not however, take this as a declaration that the film was not good. I want to state quite the opposite. Lars Von Trier did exactly what he set out to do. The discomfort I felt during the film (and several hours after) was the desired effect. You cannot view this film and not be affected by it. Lars takes us on a journey into the depths of darkness and does not allow us to come up for air. Not even for a moment. We enter a fantasy world where chaos reigns (so says the fox), seeds of life fall and die around us, Man and Woman struggle, fear consumes, depression overwhelms, sex is violent and sinful. The entire film is a nightmarish hallucination, but within this nightmare we begin to learn about ourselves. To dismiss Antichrist as another shock film filled with the misogyny Lars is often credited with, would be disingenuous to the true topics it is discussing. Symbolism oozes from the screen, and it is up to us to stomach the film as best we can so that we may peel the rotten onion of humanity that Lars has masterfully placed before us. A technically and visually stunning film, it is hard not to be both uncomfortable with the subject, but in awe of the beauty of the images. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance was stunning. She became the subject of our interest much the same way as She was for He (Willem Dafoe). We wanted to look away, we wanted to run, we wanted He to run, but as He could not, for He must understand how far She was spiraling into the depths of depression, we too stuck around for the same reason. This was a film that was rewarding to watch, but I recommend it with caution. Watch alone, and be prepared to think about it.
Since it had been a couple of weeks since my last post, I have watched a lot of movies. This is more of a lightening round to get us all up to speed.
Couples Retreat – If you heard bad things about this movie and are thinking, “it can’t be as bad as they say, can it?” The answer is a resounding, “yes.” If you have a choice to either watch this movie or be kicked in the groin by a donkey: go with the donkey.
Before Sunrise – I watched this the same day as Antichrist. The perfect follow up movie. It was wordy, and at times I felt like the writer just wanted to tell us their views on topics, but I was in a place where I needed a film like this. It was a great chaser.