My Week in Movies: October 8, '11

Lars von Trier, 2011
I hardly know what to say yet on the matter of Lars von Trier's entrancingly lovely latest. I haven't been able to shake its feeling from within me (as if I'm trying to). For the sake of review I can resort to nitpick and mention that the first few nods to the approaching apocalypse are agitatedly patched on, but this is mere fallback to clearer observation. Thinking generally, "Melancholia" is also surprisingly comedic and features a unique use of jump cuts contrasted with a literally jaw-gaping, occasionally "2001"-esque slow motion sequence that pleases me generously. But how to describe my true reaction to the picture? It leaves me aching for another viewing - the way we ache and obsess over potential end times and, as von Trier forces his characters to do more immediately, ponder what we'd do with the brief remainder of our lives were our world's end imminent. Do these final moments of dust-scraped existence as we know it on our globe epitomize our character? Do they excuse anarchy? Each member of the crucially intimate on-screen party is on a different level of plausible psychosis, regardless of ever-nearing disaster - disaster that, to an extent, can be interpreted as in the mind of the most self-destructively depressive psychotic. If that one wrote an allegory about the planet's undoing to wrestle with her despondency, this is likely the most brilliant piece she could come up with. I guess I can't make fun of Kirsten Dunst anymore. And hey, Charlotte Gainsbourg got to keep her lady bits this time. Listen to further thoughts on episode 24 of Reel Time.

Milyang (Secret Sunshine)
Lee Chang-dong, 2007
Perhaps the greatest element of the cinema is its ability to allow us to vividly experience alternate lives we're otherwise prone to never so much as recognize. When such an allowance is achieved with depth, detail and breathing room it makes for some of the most rewarding individual films. "Secret Sunshine" boxes in none of its subjects, honestly profiling the prohibitively tight-knit community of its title through the eyes of a dreadfully luckless newcomer. Director Lee isn't necessarily looking for the most striking compositions, but rather a perpetually mobile image of this slice of humanity. His reverence for each characters' story is infectious, his dedication to their brutal realism emotionally wrecking.

The Ides of March
George Clooney, 2011
Where "Good Night, and Good Luck." spoke through a resonating Edward R. Murrow on relevant matters of information media, "The Ides of March" looks to expose with drama the inner workings and unreported scandal of political campaigns just in time to enter our minds for the upcoming 2012 United States presidential race. From luxurious hotel rooms with spreads of complimentary refreshments all paid with campaign donations accessible platform concepts are reworked along with more than a helping of backstabbing that never gets old. This is Clooney doing Lumet, and while familiar it works like a charm. Indubitably, on the merits of Clooney’s assured hand and Gosling’s veritable talent (which here reminds me of a young Al Pacino), “Ides” is one of the year’s best. Read the full review and listen to further thoughts on episode 24 of Reel Time.

Lars von Trier, 1991
At once the aesthetically astonishing "Europa" feels as though a remastered release of a technically and conceptually progressive film from its year of setting - 1945. As otherworldly as its lunar title implies, von Trier's Germany is seen from a train thrust deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole of choose-your-own-adventure arthouse that structurally recalls David Lynch's early masterwork, "Eraserhead". Rear projection and set windows outside which all is obscured by blackness bolster the nebulous aura. Our fittingly sleeper car conducting American protagonist is living a lucid dream, endeavoring to maintain its pleasance, attempting to stalwartly evade a stubborn nightmare of WWII in the time of the Nazi Werwolf. Sadly all this becomes lost once the nightmare takes over, as though we've made a poor selection in our adventure book, with only Max von Sydow's hypnotically commanding narration to intermittently reconcile our involvement. At an hour, the ravish of "Europa" could be one of von Trier's better efforts. At two, it renders itself but a worthwhile experiment. Screenshots after the jump.

Tales of Terror
Roger Corman, 1962
In the realm of immediate physical reactions to film, "Morella" runs the gamut - you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cower with heebie-jeebies. The "Cask of the Armontillado" portions of the anthology's second chapter amuse greatly, while its odd amalgam with "The Black Cat" leaves me wishing I'd simply watched a different version of "The Black Cat". Finally, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" intrigues the mind and chills the bone. These three breezily accessible and simply effective "Tales of Terror" are a "Pricey" treat for any fan of classic horror and Edgar Allan Poe (is that redundant?).

Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Brian Gibson, 1986
So that's why Chief really fled the institution. "Poltergeist II" proves to be sheer entertainment from beginning to end with no time to rest between set pieces and satisfyingly practical effects. Not by any means should it go down as any great example of the cinematic medium, but it represents why many of us so enjoy silly horror flicks when they're done with spirit, and it's certainly returned me to the temporary habit of thinking twice before opening my closet, or glancing over my reflection's shoulder at the bathroom sink. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Further first-time viewings:

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop - Rodman Flender, 2011
Don't get me wrong, I'm a long time Conan fan, and for better or for worse I wouldn't go as far as to call the irresolute patchwork of "Can't Stop" anything but a must-see for other fans, but the at least watchable post-debacle documentary offers detrimental little of enlightenment outside performances from the wan, ultimately mediocre "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television" tour and progressively revealing hints that behind all the sarcastic self-deprecation, Conan is actually rather egotistical and selfish. The real story here is about the non-celebrity culture people surrounding an openly annoyed Coco, primarily personal assistant Sona Movsesian.

Pet Sematary - Mary Lambert, 1989
What brings the film down more than anything is Stephen King's screenplay adaptation of his own novel. King struggles to kill his darlings, those being remnants of the literature that clearly weren't translating well to a 100-minute film. Just like the characters of the story who are selfishly kept alive beyond their time, throwaway implications of greater detail and deeper consequence and convoluting plot threads such as Ellie's subconscious premonitions hang around where they shouldn't, only making matters worse than they already are. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

The Big Bang - Tony Krantz, 2011
Yet another direct-to-DVD dose of palpable cheapness (in this case, cheapness trying to be quelled by colorful, early '90s-esque lighting) in which a bevy of recognizable faces are merely cashing paychecks. At least we get to see Claire Forlani gyrating in her skivvies.

Scream 4 - Wes Craven, 2011
Some movies are so bad they make me want to vent about their awfulness for days, weeks, months on end. The "Scream" franchise, which carves its reputation solely on the names of past horror icons those involved claim to adore and honor but can't help picking apart, is the kind of bad so exhaustingly stupid I hardly want to continue thinking about it at all. In all its tiresome exposition of exposition, "Scream 4" is saying nothing we couldn't learn by simply looking down a list of mainstream 21st Century horror. Are we meant to point and smile and declare, "Yes, this movie must read the same blogs I do!" upon bitterly uninspired narration on the condition of contemporary scare cinema amidst further blurring of the on-screen world's maddeningly fake "reality"? Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Total: 10

Rewatches (6): Boogie Nights (P.T. Anderson, 1997), Poltergeist III (Sherman, 1988), The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973), Hall Pass (Farrelly & Farrelly, 2011), The Haunted World of El Superbeasto x2 (Zombie, 2009)
- Still one of the best of the best, the greatness of "Boogie Nights" only seems to grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow... cue the montage-capping disco routine, please.
- Don't mind me... just checking... and... yep, I wasn't crazy in my youth; "Poltergeist III" is actually quite good (or maybe I've just never stopped being crazy... but seriously, I think people are unfair to this third outing just for the fact that its tone deviates from the more overt special effects onslaughts that are its predecessors). The unique, intricately mirrored skyrise setting is a spooky pleasure to wander through for 90+ minutes, guided by human and otherworldly voices incessantly calling, "Carol Anne!" Craig T. Nelson is missed, but Tom Skerritt fills the paternal shoes nicely (not as the same character, of course), and Lara Flynn Boyle... man, her late teens were good to her... she is Hotcakes von Hottenstein without a doubt. It's nice to see the credited call-out for Julian Beck and the dedication to Heather O'Rourke, whose untimely death spurred a reworking of the film's ending, which depicted her as temporarily lifeless (this original ending can be read about and viewed in as much detail as possible via set photos at www.PoltergeistIII.com). Regarding the resulting ambiguous ending for the Scott character, my guess is that the actor simply couldn't make it to the reshoot. We are left to wonder whether the Scott that was ejected from the frozen pool and deposited in his own apartment following a questioning is in fact the real Scott as he seemed to be, or if the evil, cheek-tearing "reflection" is all that made it out.
- Sure, "Hall Pass" goes out of its way to be accessible to wide masses and contains product placement to a point of humor ("5 Dollar Foot-Long!")... it even gets a little too uncharacteristically outlandish at times... but these things never hurt its quest to tap in to the modern monogamous male psyche and provide an anti-"Hangover". I love it. And Jason Sudeikis is a puppy dog.
- Because I'm a man of superior taste, I will take [yet another] order of your tasty "Haunted World of El Superbeasto"!

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