is no tip-toe through the tulips.
“I’m trudging through this gray woolly yarn . . .” Justine tells her sister Claire. Justine is a twenty-something woman who suffers from severe depression. “Melancholia,” a 2011 film, was written and directed Lars von Trier. Von Trier is a Danish filmmaker (Dancer in the Dark) whose idea of a good yarn is the flip-side of what Disney churns out. Disney makes feel-good/think-less product while von Trier makes feel-miserable/think-alot art films. After a series of strange slow-motion images where we see Dunst seeming to flee, then stop, stop, then flee, the movie shifts from neutral into low gear where it seems stuck for the length of the film. It’s not exactly like watching paint dry–I wish it were that easy. The narrative begins with Justine’s wedding. There’s an uncomfortable tension that made me want to head for the nearest exit. We watch as Justine checks off names on her insult/alienate to-do list–all learned at the sharp knee of her toxic cold-eyed mother (Charlotte Rampling) with a little help from the passive-aggressive dad (John Hurt). As we watch, we shake our heads, wondering why long-suffering sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsburg) and Claire’s ultra-rich, exasperated husband Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) put up with the little darling. Justine insults her boss (Stellan Skarsgard) a nasty man, but one who just promoted her. She skips out on the after-wedding main-event where the bewildered groom (Alex Skarsgard) sits on the bed in his white shirt and underwear. She tells him to “give her a moment” then makes straight for the golf-course (it’s night) where she practically rapes a wedding guest. The groom takes that as a sign things aren’t going to work and stomps out.
One more thing–the world is going to end. There’s a planet on a collision course with earth. We know this from the opening images accompanied by lots of somber music (I wonder if von Trier and Terrance Mallick swap ideas and tunes). The planet is called Melancholia and all the heavy-duty scientists, Jack assures Claire say it’s going to pass us by. Right. In the meantime, Justine goes from bad to worse and Claire decides she needs a sister’s care. This was the only time the movie connected for me. Depression is a serious, painful, often disabling illness and Dunst conveys this in her performance. Because she is virtually catatonic, I kept wondering why she wasn’t in a hospital and why Claire would expose her small son to Dunst’s unstable behavior.
As it dawns on Claire that Jack is wrong and Melancholia is going to collide with the earth, Justine gets better. Misery loves company, I guess. Justine tells Claire that she’s known all along the world was going to end because she “knows things” like how many beans there were in the “guess how many beans in the jar” game that was a party game at the wedding from hell. Life as a concept is bad according to Justine; when comes to life in the universe–we on earth are all there is and the universe is going to correct its mistake. Despite the theatricality of the ending, I wasn’t moved. I’m sure a lot of people were–mostly critics from what I’ve read. Regardless, this film wasn’t my cup of tea. When it comes to deep thought, I like to down it with a spoon full of sugar. Melancholia, deeply profound as some might find it, was pure caster oil.
is not for the faint of heart
TRUST, a 2011 film, directed by David Schwimmer, and starring Clive Owen, Catherine Keener and talented fifteen year-old newcomer Liana Liberato, is a movie that totally unnerved me. Critics, who don’t like the film, criticize the melodramatic nature of Owens’ performance. Those who like the film say it’s Owens’ best work. I tend to agree with the excellence of Owens’ performance, though I didn’t totally buy the way his role was written.
Either way, I think they miss why this film is so powerful. It’s the detailed step-by-step seduction of a child by an online predator that will stay with me for quite a while. The story begins with fourteen-year-old high school freshman, Annie, who, as most teens do, spends a lot of time online, especially now that she has her new Mac laptop–a birthday gift from her loving and together parents (Owens and Keener). Annie knows about predators, blocking “Big Mike” when he intrudes in the chat room with a salacious comment. Then “Charlie” approaches Annie (Liberato), joining the other “friends” who offer encouragement to Annie before a big volleyball team tryout. “Charlie” is fifteen and his friendly puppy icon pops up periodically with cheery hello’s. Soon, his insightful pep talks and compliments result in Charlie becoming Annie’s confidante and best friend.
The scary part of this process is how easy it is to gain the trust of a child online. As Annie reads his lies, we do too. Charlie asks for pictures of Annie and sends his pictures. Annie is thrilled to see Charlie is a cute fifteen-year old who tells her all about his folks and his big brother. Annie is alarmed when Charlie sends new photos–he’s older in them and confesses to being 18 and in college. Then he sends pictures of a handsome young athlete, revising his age to 25. Annie is hesitant but smitten. After weeks of late night chats and phone calls, she agrees to meet him at the mall and is startled to see Charlie is middle-aged. Charlie is smooth and it’s oh so easy for Annie to feel comfortable. He’s someone who understands and thinks she’s special. He takes her to a motel. All the time I’m cringing. That’s what unnerved me–just how easy it is–even when a child is aware of predators–even when a child is loved. The rest of the film of course is what happens to Annie and her parents after this devastating event. The psychiatrist (Oscar nominee Viola Davis) helps Annie and her parents cope with what cannot be changed.
The film has no easy answers and it’s difficult to watch. If you are a parent, or someone who loves a child, I recommend you check it out. We do discover why Charlie the predator knows just what to say. It might help to know more about how a “Charlie” plays the game. Then we can make sure that he does not pass “go”, but instead, goes directly to jail.
TRUST is currently available on Netflix.
The Cabin in the Woods
is like a fried Twinkie
Dang Fandango. The critics said go and the fans said must go to see The Cabin in the Woods. So I went. I ignored the lone “worst movie I ever saw”– naysayer–there was only one. Now that I’ve seen it, make that two. This movie, written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard, looks like it was a lot of fun to write. I can see all concerned cracking each other up at the hilarity. I would have loved to sit in on the sessions that put together this script, a combination of office comedy and slasher-college-students-go-camping sadism. The office segments, centered in a high tech control room with lots of screens and tons of controls are smart and very funny. A couple of middle-aged men in white shirts and ties combat the boredom by shooting down slasher-movie conventions as they comment on the progress of the college students, whose story unfolds on one of a series of screens via hidden cameras. Different departments participate in a betting pool to see who dies and how. We’re told that steps (spiked hair dye, pheromone mists, etc.) have been taken to ensure the students follow the intended course. Like the office, we’re meant to watch as the students struggle to survive. And like the betting pool, other than what we paid for the ticket, we have no investment. We spend almost the entire movie guessing the point of it all. Why is this happening? We’re given clues that point to a blood sacrifice.
By the time we learn that it’s either the college students’ deaths or the “end of the world” we’re still detached. When one of the students begins to outsmart the puppeteers, there’s frantic damage control. We, the audience, continue to observe but not invest because the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together. If you don’t care, you have time to be logical and the story collapses. Other than a mild curiosity, we don’t care about what happens to any of the characters. For example early on one of the office techs complains that his wife’s plans to get pregnant include child-proofing the entire house. Then he and the rest of the office complex bet on which group of young people dies a grisly death. Jarring but not quite believable because so little attention is paid to character–it’s all jokes and office politics; there’s no anchor–no place to establish a point of view. Absurdism ala Mel Brooks this isn’t. Brooks parodies genre, establishing a setting and a narrative and commenting on the conventions. He doesn’t splice two genres together. When you’re guessing at the setting and confused about who or what to root for, you, like the office workers, are indifferent. The Coen Brothers make you laugh at the violence resulting from human folly, but you’re also horrified because they find the humanity as well as the absurdity. There’s no humanity in this office. I thought perhaps they weren’t human–maybe the office was set in hell. It would have made more sense.
Clever performances and jokes can’t make up for the cynicism and indifference of the script. At the end, like the surviving college students, you shrug at “the end of the world.” To be scared, you have to care. Cabin in the Woods has a crisp outer layer of office humor with a sweet gooey center of college-students-sex-and-death. And like a fried Twinkie, it’s hard to swallow and just as indigestible.