Friday, October 30, 2009

"Chaos Reigns": Antichrist (2009)

I'm not usually afraid to watch a movie, even if it's deemed "scary." I shrug off most horror films, since few of them are really all that scary. And as a general rule, I abstain from watching any entry into the appalling "torture porn" genre, such as the Saw films or the Hostel films or any of their even-cheaper knockoffs. The idea of finding entertainment in watching the mutilation and dismemberment of a human being is sickening, and in most cases I refrain from participating.
But last night, I was afraid. I chose a movie that is well-known for its misogyny and its human destructiveness. And I watched it, at some points through my fingers. My stomach churned, my muscles ached; I kept asking myself, why did I choose to sit through this? How did I manage to convince myself to watch it?
I watched Antichrist, the new film by Lars von Trier.

The deer with the dead fetus hanging out of it. The mutilated fox that exclaims "Chaos reigns." The hawk eating the dead bird. The tick-covered hand. The sexually graphic scene under the tree laden with dead bodies. The graphic mutilation of He (an excellent Willem Dafoe) at the hands of She (a terrifically terrifying Charlotte Gainsbourg) in ways in which it pains me just to think about. Antichrist was by no means an easy movie. In fact, it may be the most gruelling, exhausting movie I've ever sat through. Von Trier has made a movie that subjects you to the same kind of emotional pain that the characters experience, twisting the psychology of this couple who have fled to a remote cabin to come to terms with the loss of their child into a demented fever dream of extreme behavior and, yes, physical torture. This movie is only for those who can stomach it, and I can somewhat proudly say that I (barely) survived.
The problem with my description is that it sounds like I hated Antichrist. But I didn't. It was artfully rendered, and masterfully directed. The film doesn't work in spite of the gratuitous misogyny, it works because of it. Without those disturbingly graphic images, the film would fall flat as a rote melodrama. The images are important as they provide the most raw interpretation of the feelings of loss, guilt, and the concept of evil. Which is the main question of Antichrist: does evil actually exist, or is it just an idea attached to extreme behaviors and emotions? Is it possible that we are all capable of evil, and that those who are deemed "good" just have more emotional control?

And then there's the problem with that description: it makes it sound like I liked the film. At this point I don't know what to make of it. It was beautiful, and yet it was ugly. I want to love it and I want to hate it. Which is probably exactly what Von Trier wanted when he made it. Its still haunting me to the moment; the images of She walking through the forest, in a fluid slow-motion that makes it look as if she were floating, remain in my mind as I look out of my window at the overcast sky.
I'm impressed by von Trier's dedication to the extreme darkness of the film, and for turning his depression into art rather than self-destruction. Antichrist may just be one of the most incredible films I have ever seen. Its left me in a state of malaise, which of course meant it did its job. I don't think I'll ever get over this one.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Let the Wild Rumpus Begin": Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Where the Wild Things Are in my favorite (i.e.:closest) local theatre, Palace Pointe in Roxboro. Needless to say there were plenty of small children present; I guess that's the consequence of buying a ticket for a so-called "kid's movie." Where the Wild Things Are was a fantastic movie, one of the year's best so far (I'd put it above District 9, but below Inglourious Basterds and Up) and Spike Jonze is now 3-for-3 in crafting superbly whimsical movies. However, this was definately not a "kid's movie;" in fact, it was one of the most mature movies I have seen all year.
I hate calling it mature. It makes it sound dirty, as if there's inappropriate content in it that children should avoid. With the exception of one (bloodless) on-screen dismemberment, there was nothing in this movie that could be found inappropriate. I say its mature in that the themes of this film are decidedly adult and are aimed at adults, rather than having potty humor and messages like most "family" movies these days (I keep using quotations for a reason, but that's a completely different discussion for another day). And judging by the reactions of the children in the audience, these themes were definately aimed at the parents.
In interviews, Spike Jonze has said that this is not a movie for kids, but rather a movie about being a kid. And he succeeded in that. The film wonderfully captures the magic and wonder that comes with the innocence of childhood, and indeed had me reflecting nostalgically on my days in Moultrie, Georgia, digging a six-foot hole in the ground for no reason other than to find out what was underneath. And there's also the obvious theme of getting along in a dysfunctional family, as the Wild Things bicker and fight with each other over any small offence.
However, I noticed two other themes hiding underneath the surface. Where the Wild Things Are serves as a metaphor for our current state of the world. In one scene, Max's teacher tells the class that one day the sun will blow up, and everyone on Earth will die. Not a day goes by that we don't wake up in the morning with the news telling us how we're going to die today: H1N1, terrorist attacks, military quagmires in the Middle East and so on. In our post-9/11 world, there's always a sense of dread hanging over everyday life, a feeling of paranoia towards outsiders. The film shows Max running away to the land of the Wild Things, and by doing so embodying our own personal want to escape from the calamity of the world. The film provides an escape from that atmosphere into one where fear is resolved, where disasters don't strike: its a simpler world, the world of...a child. It's easy to understand why this is meant for adults: most of the film's (re: Warner Brothers') intended audience probably hadn't even been born when 9/11 happened, and in no way could comprehend this desire.
Then, in the land of the Wild Things, an even sneakier metaphor comes in. When Max meets the Wild Things, they make him their king, since he promised to make sure nothing bad ever happened, to reunite KW with the rest of them, and to make all the sadness go away. At first everything is fantastic, as everyone at least pretends to be enthusiastic about the new king. But as time goes on, some of the Wild Things grow unhappy with Max's rule, especially since he hasn't done all he promised. As Max becomes less superhuman and more falliable to them, they lose their faith in him, which leads to his departure from their island.
Sound familiar?
When put that way, its easy to substitute Max with the Obama administration. Obama arrived on the political scene in his campaign promising to fix the nation's woes, and the people enthusiastically voted him into office (I was among them). For his first few months he remained our White Knight, but as time moved on, more and more people have become dissatisfied with his policies, and griped about how the "change" and "hope" he promised has yet to arrive (I could rant in his defense, but again, another time). Where the Wild Things Are provides a cautionary tale on the future of his presidency: even though he tries his hardest to make changes for the better, the dissatisfaction of the public could force him to leave.
Never thought a movie based on a children's book could be so dense, did you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ridiculously Early Oscar Predictions!: October 2009

Its that time of the year again. Personally, of all the seasons, my favorite is award season (fall-winter). And of the awards, the Oscars reign supreme. And so, its time for my early Oscar predictions. I haven't seen many of the contending films, mostly because no one has. These are built on buzz alone; soon, though, I'll be checking them out, and next month I'll have a revised list of nominees, leading up to the big announcement in February (side note: why, Academy, must you punish me by making me wait 2 extra weeks for the nomination announcements? My heart is breaking...). Best Picture An Education The Hurt Locker Precious The Lovely Bones Up Up in the Air Invictus Nine A Serious Man Inglourious Basterds Best Director Clint Eastwood, Invictus Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Lee Daniels, Precious Jason Reitman, Up in the Air Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones Best Actor George Clooney, Up in the Air Morgan Freeman, Invictus Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine Viggo Mortenson, The Road Michael Stuhlberg, A Serious Man Best Actress Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia Carey Mulligan, An Education Gabourey Sidibe, Precious Abbie Cornish, Bright Star Hilary Swank, Amelia Best Supporting Actor Alfred Molina, An Education Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones Richard Gere, Amelia Richard Kind, A Serious Man Best Supporting Actress Mo'Nique, Precious Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air Marion Cotillard, Nine Julianne Moore, A Single Man Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tarantino, Michael Bluth, and Other Joys

It's been an exciting weekend for me, as far as movies go. Friday night I got to see Zombieland and Jennifer's Body in a horror-comedy double feature with Kimi. Like any good horror film, both had interesting ideas and hidden meanings, though I feel like I may be overthinking some of them.
Zombieland had a pretty simple concept to it: a goofy-awkward guy pairs up with a gung-ho, Twinkie-obsessed modern cowboy to survive in a post-zombie-apocalypse landscape, and are eventually joined by two sisters. Trust amongst these survivors is thin: they use there destinations as their names and are constantly watching each other's moves (for good reason). However, they make a hilarious dysfunctional group, particularly Woody Harrelson's Tallahassee and Jesse Eisenberg's neurotic Columbus (honestly, he feels like a Woody Allen character dropped into Dawn of the Dead; perhaps Allen and Eisenberg should team up sometime....), whose zombie survival tips appear in print on screen throughout the movie. The interesting thing is the presence of Abigail Breslin: she is maturing into a truly talented actress, and in this, she's young enough to enjoy a roller coaster but old enough to help with driving. Zombieland is a clever and hilarious movie that both satirizes and reveres the zombie genre. And by the way, the cameo appearance halfway through is to die for.
Jennifer's Body, on the other hand, was something completely different; it was more like a cautionary tale against falling for the hot mean girl in high school because she is, you know, truly evil. Coming from the mind of Diablo Cody, it should be no surprise that all of the characters talk with the same hip, indie-cool lingo that was so prominent in Juno. This time, however, it doesn't seem so natural; only Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried, really pulls it off, and even then, she is no Ellen Page. Megan Fox, as Jennifer, feels like she's just being herself, which kind of helps the movie in its own way. In fact, she plays a literal man-eating demon girl a little too well. The movie reveres and pokes fun at traditional bump-in-the-night horror films, with Cody's well-structured script (but don't expect Oscar nominations) and Karyn Kusama's serviceable direction. It's notable the film has so many major female players when the horror genre itself is supported mostly by female audiences. Jennifer's Body's biggest fault, however, is it's clunky set-up: would a girl like Needy and a girl like Jennifer really be best friends? And, although Low Shoulder, an indie rock band planning to sacrifice a virgin to Satan to gain fame, is hilariously dimwitted, are we really expected to believe that they would believe someone who looks like Megan Fox is a virgin when innocent, nerdy-looking Needy is standing right next to her? Come on!

Now, apart from my personal movie viewing, the weekend provided exciting production news. First, Quentin Tarantino has announced that he will be making Kill Bill Vol. 3, as you can read here: I like the idea of using Copperhead's daughter, Nikki, but please, for the love of all that is holy, DO NOT MAKE HER THE PROTAGONIST!!! Keep the focus on Beatrix, maybe using Nikki as a way of exploring the consequences and loose ends of exacting her revenge. Hopefully Tarantino will keep the kung-fu-movie aesthetic that made the first two films (in my opinion, his best) so good. And, in what would be a fanboy's (re: me) dream, how great would it be to have Nikki and Bebe face off in a vengeful fight to the death?
My other source of joy and joyness is the announcement that the Arrested Development movie is FINALLY getting made. Being a devoted fan of the series, I'm very glad that everyone is coming back to do the movie, especially since some of them (Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Will Arnett) have found film success. Seeing the Bluths on screen again would absolutely make my life, and according to Total Film (, Mitchell Hurwitz, the series' creator, his hoping to start production in spring 2010. After five years away from the Bluths, its good to know they're finally coming back. And, as a personal note, they had better keep Ron Howard's narration.
And, just for kicks, here's a link to the greatest films never made, many of which I would have loved to see: