Faster – Review

24 Nov

I’ve heard quite a few positive things about the 2010 film Faster since the time of its release. While it didn’t do too hot with the critics, a lot of people who’ve seen it have recommended it to me. Honestly, I was just kind of excited to watch a movie where I wouldn’t have to think too hard. I mean, an action film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson couldn’t be anything too thoughtful. What I got instead was a satisfying action film that was equally intelligent with fully developed characters and some heavy thematic depth.


After serving a ten year prison sentence, Driver (Dwayne Johnson) is finally released with his mind solely focused on getting revenge on the gang that killed his brother. Armed with a pistol, a list of names, and unflinching fury, Driver begins making his way down the list of names, brutally killing anyone on it. This catches the attention of a few people. On one side, there’s Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a highly skilled but neurotic hit man hired to stop Driver at any cost. On the other side is Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a detective trying to piece his life back together after struggling with a heroine addiction. As these three parties come closer to colliding, more is figured out about what truly happened to Driver’s brother, revealing a bigger conspiracy than was originally thought.

There’s a lot more going on in this movie than just brainless action, and that’s what really sets Faster up a step above many other films in this genre. Not only is there a revenge story at the core of the movie, but there’s also nice thematic depth, a purpose for everything you see on screen, and a message at the end that perfectly wraps up everything that came before it in a nice package. In one scene when we see Killer beginning to track Driver, he can be seen on the phone with his therapist while on the job. I found that to be a very creative way to add some levels to his character and made me realize that I wasn’t just watching a throwaway movie that I’d forget tomorrow. Mostly all of the characters in the movie have their own idiosyncrasies that make them feel real and help them give meaning to the message that sometimes it is too late to turn your life around.


With a name like Faster, I also thought this movie was going to be one of those non stop jolts of action that’s kinetic and over the top. The fact is that that’s nowhere near what this movie is actually like. There are plenty of action scenes, but they don’t particularly last very long. Most of them are over within a few seconds since they mostly have to do with Driver getting his revenge on another person on the list. He really only fights one of them, and the rest he pretty much just executes. There’s also a small car chase that is fun, but that kind of stuff isn’t really what this movie is about. What I’m trying to say is that nothing is excessive in this movie. I never felt like I was watching a scene of violence just for the sake of violence. This just goes back to when I said that everything that happens in Faster has a purpose.

While the movie may be a step above average, I can’t really say the same thing for the performances. Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje stand out in terms of their performances, but everyone else is just so so. Dwayne Johnson kind of just stands there and kills people for most of the movie. There are one or two scenes where he lets his acting rip a little bit, but I think his character is a little underwritten and not very interesting. Carla Gugino and Jennifer Carpenter also show up in the film, but they also don’t give any kind of interesting performance. The only people to really watch for in this movie are Thornton, Jackson-Cohen, Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Faster may not be the best action movie you or I will ever see, but it was really nice seeing some creativity and thought put into not only the story, but also what the movie was truly about. Not only did this film entertain me, but it actually forced me to think and want to dig deeper at what lied beneath the revenge story on the surface. I was really surprised by how good this movie actually was, and I can’t believe the review turned out this way, but I definitely recommend this one.

A Bridge Too Far – Review

18 Nov

It’s easy to make a war film that celebrates victory, but I can’t say the same about making a film that tells the story of an overwhelming defeat. Film history is sort of lacking in movie that tell the story of missions or operations that have gone terribly wrong. Arguably, one of the most notorious failures was Operation Market Garden, which happened after D-Day as World War II was coming to a close. Director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman took Cornelius Ryan’s in depth book examining the loss and turned it into the grand World War II epic, A Bridge Too Far.


On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden was put into effect by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The plan was to drop 35,000 men behind enemy lines and secure a series of bridges so that ground forces could cross them on the way to liberate Arnhem. After only a few days of preparation, the mission began and things soon begin to go very wrong. This film follows different people through different locations and problems, among them being Staff Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan), Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery), and Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins). As the mission drags on a lot longer than it should have, supplies begin to run low and more soldiers fall victim to the desperate Nazi soldiers.

This films may be one of the most “star studded” movies I’ve ever seen. I almost can’t believe how many people they got to sign on this project. I’ve already mentioned James Caan, Sean Connery, and Anthony Hopkins but the list doesn’t end there. A Bridge Too Far also features Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine, Maximilian Schell, and Laurence Olivier. With a cast like this, you would expect a lot of really emotional and hard hitting performances, but in this case you would be wrong. Sure, the acting is great, but A Bridge Too Far is far from being an emotional powerhouse. In fact, save for a few scenes, this is a pretty cold and objective look at Market Garden.


With this huge amount of actors, it’s pretty obvious that there’s also a huge cast of characters. There’s British soldiers, American soldiers, and Polish soldiers to keep track of along with a couple of scenes of important Nazi soldiers. There came a point in the movie where someone was asking about how others were doing, and I didn’t know who they were talking about. I still have a hard time remembering who was who. I don’t think that’s really my fault either because so much is crammed into this movie. Even at 3 hours long, I felt like it could have gone on for even longer since some of the characters never really got their story arc fully realized. That’s part of the reason why I say this is a very cold war movie rather than an emotionally intense one.

Now while this is a pretty detached move doesn’t mean it doesn’t get pretty wild. There are scenes in this movie that are some of the coolest I’ve seen in a war movie because they feel huge and are executed with perfection. One scene in particular shows the thousands of men being dropped out of gliders, with some of them being show from a first person perspective. There’s also no music playing during this part which makes it extra effective. Some other great scenes include the air force bombing Nazi forces entrenched in a forested area and the nail biting assault on Nijmegen Bridge. There is unfortunately a lot of down time between some of the other better scenes, which often makes everything feel uneven at times.

A Bridge Too Far certainly can’t be called the best World War II film ever made due to some of its glaring issues with character and pacing. There’s so much stuffed into this movie, there really was no way to give every event or character a chance to develop fully without making this some sort of miniseries. Still, there are plenty of scenes that stand out as something truly special. The scale of this movie is large enough to fit the shoes of such a military blunder as Market Garden. If anything, this movie should still be viewed to get an interesting look at history and also for its extraordinary cast.

Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” – Review

11 Nov

There are a lot of different way to make a western film. There’s the more traditional ways that are often equated with actors like John Wayne and there’s also more modern and/or revisionist westerns that have been made by film makers like Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino, and Clint Eastwood. My personal favorite kind of westerns, however, are the Italian made spaghetti westerns. I like to compare spaghetti westerns to comic books since they’re usually colorful (with setting and characters), over the top, and often violent. The most famous of these films arguably make up Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, which are A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Not only did these films help launch the careers of Leone and Clint Eastwood to new heights, but also plenty of other reasons that make these films classics and worth a review.

Let’s start with A Fistful of Dollars from 1964.


In this film we are introduced to the now iconic character, the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood), a wandering gunslinger who happens upon a small Mexican border town called San Miguel. What the Man finds in this town is surprising. San Miguel is a town that is under the clutches of two rival gangs. One one side there’s the Rojo family, who deal in liquor, and on the other side is the Baxter family, who deal in weapons. The mysterious gunslinger realizes a way where he can make a profit from both sides by playing each family against each other. While this is a great source of income, the Man learns by the local innkeeper, Silvanito (José Calvo), of the great stress that the two warring families have put on the town and the lives that have been lost in the process. This turns the Man’s mission of profit into a mission of protection and vengeance for the townspeople.

If you’re thinking that the plot for this movie is almost the same exact plot for Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai film Yojimbo, you wouldn’t be the only one. The fact that this film was an unofficial remake to Yojimbo, without giving credit to that film as inspiration stirred up some controversy when it was released. To be fair though, Yojimbo was pretty much lifted from Dashiell Hammet’s 1929 novel Red Harvest. While A Fistful of Dollars seems to be taken from a couple different sources, the film still stands as a film that helped redefine the western genre.

Clint Eastwood’s performance as the Man With No Name is one of the most iconic in film history. It’s been imitated and parodied, but never has it been equaled. Not only is the Man a real tough guy and quick to shoot, he also shows a lot of compassion and has a great sense of humor. It’s really everything you look for in an archetypal hero like this. Sergio Leone’s direction also elevates this movie above many others in the genre because of the abundance of style thrown into it. Not only does it have western tricks and motifs, but also implements Eastern styles of film making like using close ups and quick zooms. Finally, this movie really wouldn’t be complete without Ennio Morricone’s controlled and melodic score.

So, in conclusion, A Fistful of Dollars stands tall as a classic of the western genre, but this review doesn’t stop there. After being pressured by the studios, Leone would go on to make a sequel, For a Few Dollars More released in 1965 overseas and in 1967 in America. Not only is this a great sequel, it’s a huge improvement over the first film.


The wild west was the land of bounty hunters, and the people that matched the hunters in dangers were only the people that were being hunted. Problems also tended to arise when two bounty hunters vied for the same target, which is the case of the $10,000 reward on El Indio’s (Gian Maria Volonté) head. On one side there’s Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), an ex-soldier who was labeled the “finest shot in the Carolinas.” On the other side is the Man With No Name, aka Monco, a wandering gunslinger who can draw faster than you can blink. When the two bounty hunters wind up in the same town, it becomes quite clear that they would be more effective if they teamed up to take down El Indio and collect the enormous bounty on him and his gang.

This is a movie to get really excited about because you have to think about how cool A Fistful of Dollars was and add a bigger story with more larger than life characters and then you finally get For a Few Dollars More. This film perfectly builds on my describing spaghetti westerns as the comic books of the western genre. Monco and Col. Mortimer feel like superheroes the way they can hit their targets from so far away. Even the way they dress is symbolic to their characters. El Indio on the other hand is a perfect super villain since he can shoot almost as well as the two heroes and has a gang of henchmen surrounding him. Not to mention his over the top personality. This film is just a super entertaining and well made movie.

Ennio Morricone returns as composer for the film and the music is also a huge step forward. One song in particular is written and performed like something you would hear in a music box. That kind of composition reminds me of Morricone’s work for The Untouchables. This film is also the point where Leone found out just how skilled he was as a film maker and also strengthened his stylistic choices. Leone is known for his sound and editing, and there are many scenes in For a Few Dollars More that feature no dialogue, but only some sound or quiet music. This trademark would be perfected in the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the West.

While A Fistful of Dollars is arguably one of the best westerns ever made, it can be debated that For a Few Dollars More may be one of the best films ever made. Believe it or not, things only get better with the third film of the trilogy. This is of course the 1966 film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which has become one of the most iconic films in the history of cinema.


As the American Civil War ravaged the entire country, there were many people who did anything they had to to survive. Tuco (Eli Wallach) is a bandit on the run from law enforcement and bounty hunters that seem to be coming from every direction. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is a ruthless bounty hunter who will kill anyone of any age in order to complete his job and get paid. Finally, there’s the Man With No Name , aka Blondie, another bounty hunter, who along with his new partner Tuco, scam towns by collecting reward money and then escaping later on. As Tuco’s and Blondie’s partnership collapses, another monkey wrench is thrown into their lives: a rumor of hidden gold buried in cemetery. Blondie knows the grave and Tuco knows the cemetery, forcing them to once again work together. Unfortunately for both of them, the sadistic Angel Eyes also wants a piece of the gold and will stop at nothing to claim it all for himself.

While it can be argued that For a Few Dollars More is one of the greatest films ever made, I’m pretty sure that anyone who has scene The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly will agree that this is definitely one of the best movies ever made. Everything that I’ve said was great about the first two films are back for this one, but enhanced on such an epic scale. There are so many iconic moments that it’s hard to name them all. The destruction of a bridge strategically placed in the middle of a major Civil War conflict and the climactic Mexican showdown in the middle of the cemetery are just a few examples. The film’s themes are also as epic as the everything else you see. The catastrophic effects of war and how it shapes people trying to survive through it is a surprising theme for a movie like this, but there are scenes where it really can strike a nerve and get the emotions flowing.

When the film was first released in 1966, most critics gave it a lot of negative reviews because they were disgusted by how violent it was. Yeah, it’s violent, but like the other films in this trilogy it happens very fast and always has a reason. The only thing excessive about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the run time. Granted, I’ve only seen the extended version so I may be a little unfair. What isn’t unfair is my complaint that Angel Eyes doesn’t get NEARLY enough screen time. This film is also very episodic in nature, but watching the characters adapt to whatever strange scenario happens next actually builds up who they are more than you might expect. Finally, I can’t talk about this film without mentioning how Morricone created one of the most beloved film scores in the history of movies. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a landmark of film making, and must be discussed whenever the topic of film history comes up. It truly is a masterpiece.

I could say so much more about the Dollars Trilogy and I might one day. For now, I just wanted to give an overview of it and try to explain why they are three of the most important films you may ever see. Leone completely deconstructed the western genre and turned it into something never seen before. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing these films yet, it must be done as soon as possible.

Caché – Review

27 Oct

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (I’m partial to the 2007 version) is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve been severely slacking at watching some of his other works. I’ve finally gotten around to it with his 2005 critical success Caché. This film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and many critics call it one of the best films of the 2000s. All of those critics kind of have to slow down a little bit there. Caché is a very interesting and complex film when all is said and done, but it’s also extremely pretentious and often feels like a chore to sit through. The real joy of this movie comes through when you begin thinking about it after the credits roll.


Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juiliette Binoche) Laurent are a upper middle class family living a relatively quiet life in Paris. Georges is a talk show host on a public television station, Anne works as a publisher, and they both have a 12 year old son named Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). That quiet life soon gets uprooted when they begin finding videotapes from an anonymous stalker showing up at their doorstep. Why they are being recorded and who is responsible forces Georges to look back into his past and come to learn that actions he did when he was just a young boy could be the cause of the family’s stalker finally taking his revenge.

Caché is a very smart and well executed thriller that definitely does not fit the Hollywood definition of what a thriller is supposed to be. I highly respect Michael Haneke for stepping outside what is considered to be the genre conventions. Haneke said in an interview that he didn’t want the viewer to figure out what the one possible answer is to the mystery of this movie, he wanted people to accept all of the possible answers. This makes for some ingenious movie making, but to me it didn’t hit the mark well in the entertainment department. In my opinion, there are two kinds of art house movies. There’s a movie like Drive or even Requiem for a Dream. Those movies are “artsy.” Caché falls into the other category that I like to call “artsy fartsy.”


Technically speaking, though, the movie is really cool. The very first shot lasts a few minutes, and just shows the front of the Laurent’s house. It’s a great opening shot and got me in the mood to see how Haneke’s artistic vision would help tell the story, but this trick is used a few times too many. The film is also shot on video, which is actually an appropriate choice since the whole plot revolves around videotapes being delivered to this family. All of the artistic qualities that are in Caché do enhance it and halp it stand apart from more run of the mill thrillers. I’m just saying that for me some of it was a bit too much for me.

I will praise wholeheartedly the performances in this movie. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche work perfectly together and both of their performances are very natural and feel very real. The same can be said about everyone in the movie, even the younger actor, Lester Makedonsky. Someone who really steals the show every time he’s onscreen is Maurice Bénichou, and while he’s not present very much, every scene he’s in is memorable.

This was a strange review to write because I liked Caché more as I thought about it, but as I was watching it, it felt pretty tiresome. This may be because the real payoff is looking back on the entire thing and putting all of the pieces together instead of just being confused the entire time. There’s that and the fact that Haneke goes a little overboard with long takes of nothing, which he is actually also guilty of in Funny Games, which I love. Caché is a memorable movie that is in the same vein as Hitchcock, but watching it is nowhere near as entertaining as it probably should be.

Sicario – Review

23 Oct

I’ve seen plenty of new movies this year, each with various degrees of emotion, suspense, and tension. Looking back on everything I’ve seen, I can honestly say that Sicario is the most intense film I have seen and probably will see all year. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners and Enemy), written by Taylor Sheridan (known for a performance on Sons of Anarchy), and filmed by Roger Deakins (who worked with Velleneuve and on many of the Coen Brothers’ films), Sicario not only looks beautiful and offers a very powerful and realistic story, it also features strong performances from all its actors. Sicario is definitely a stand out film of 2015.


Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a young FBI agent with a bright future ahead of her. After a terrifying encounter with murderous members of the cartel, Macer is recruited by mysterious government agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to be part of a strike force aimed at crippling those responsible. She soon meets Graver’s partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who she can’t quite place on any particular side or agency, making him the wild card of the team. After joining this special operations team, Macer is plunged into the violent world of the Mexican drug trade where the reprehensible violence is done by the cartel as well as the Americans she is working for, and soon clear right and wrong becomes indistinguishable.

Sicario very much reminds me of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic from 2000. Both films show the realities of the drug trade and the lives that are affected by all of the violence. While Traffic is most certainly unapologetic, Sicario feels like a behind the scenes look at something we’re not supposed to see. There’s crime, lies, torture, and murder on both sides of the spectrum, which forces the audience to find logic in the lesser of two evils. This isn’t really a film that will allow you to kick back and relax for a few hours. There is way too much thought that has to be put into the story and characters, plus it’s just way too stressful.


There’s a scene in Sicario where the special forces team is attempting to cross the Bridge of the Americas to get back into the United States. The only problem is that they are caught in a gridlock and are surrounded by a few cars filled with cartel members. Instead of creating what could’ve been a run of the mill action sequence, Villeneuve and Sheridan create an incredibly suspenseful and low key scene that explodes in only a few seconds of realistic violence. This scene is the best example of the tension that this movie creates. Never does anything in this movie seem overblown or unnecessary. This also means that there is a lot of down time between missions that the team goes on, which may seem boring, but remember that this film is striving for realism.

Even though Sicario strives to paint an accurate portrait reality, never does it forget that it is still a movie and requires time for cinematic drama and character development. Sheridan’s screenplay is very down to earth and all of the actors play their parts very well. Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro especially stand out as the scene stealers of this movie. Deakins’ cinematography is as beautiful as ever and deserves a possible Oscar nom when all is said and done. Speaking of Oscar noms, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is haunting and is certainly the best music I’ve heard in a movie all year.

Sicario is an unforgettable movie experience that feels like it sometimes bends the rulers of modern film making in order to create a unique story with real characters and situations. There have been a lot of great movies that came out this year, and this film stands up there in the upper echelons of my favorites of 2015. It can be difficult and unsettling at points, but it feels so authentic that it should be required viewing for anyone who loves movies.

Crimson Peak – Review

20 Oct

Has Guillermo del Toro ever done any wrong? Maybe just once, but he continues a streak of interesting and beautiful films with Crimson Peak. Let me just get something out of the way here. This film is nothing like what you may think it’s going to be based on the trailers and the other advertising done for it. What this film actually is is a Hammeresque fairy tale brought to you by one of the masters of the fantastical, Guillermo del Toro. Is Crimson Peak perfect? Absolutely not, in fact it’s one of this film makers weaker movies, but it’s still a good means of escape.


As a young girl, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) was warned by the ghost of her mother, “Beware of Crimson Peak.” Some fourteen years later, Edith is all grown up and aspiring to be a writer of ghost stories. Her life starts going through a major change when she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet who came to America to raise money for a new machine he has designed. After someone close to Edith dies under mysterious circumstances, she marries Sharpe and moves to his family’s mansion in England where he lives with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Both of the Sharpes begin acting a lot differently to Edith once she arrives. Not only that, but she begins getting visited by ghosts in the night who suffer from all sorts of physical deformities. Obviously, not everything is what it seems which reminds Edith once again of he dead mother’s mysterious warning.

The closest movie in del Toro’s filmography that I can compare Crimson Peak to is Pan’s Labyrinth, although it’s not nearly as epic as del Toro’s masterpiece. Like I said, this film is not exactly what you or I would call a modern horror film. There are horror elements to the story, but this mostly feels like a Grimm fairy tale told through the lens of del Toro working for Hammer Studios. That’s kind of a stretch in terms of descriptions, but that’s just how I see this movie. Edith’s last name is Cushing for heaven’s sake. Anyway, if you go into this film expecting to see a horror film or ghost story like Sinister or Insidious, you may be sorely disappointed.


I’d love to say that Crimson Peak is a flawless movie, but that simply is not true. There are some aspects of this movie that really began to put me asleep in my seat. For one thing, the first half hour or so is excruciatingly boring. I get that it’s set up for everything that’s about to happen, but Edith’s character isn’t really interesting enough to make this part of the movie really anything special. There’s also the manner with which the ghosts are used in this movie. First of all, there were far too many jump scares. This film doesn’t need these cheap tricks. It’s already creepy enough. The ghosts also didn’t do as much as they were maybe intended to do. I loved their designs and how they moved, but I just wish their role in the story was tweaked a little bit so they could show off how cool they were some more.

Now let’s move on to what was awesome. First of all, this is a beautiful film with the best use of color I’ve seen this this year. The beautiful colors and the gorgeous costume and set design only add to my theory more that this is meant to be seen as a fairy tale and not a horror movie. The acting in this film is all fine too. Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska work well together and both really look and act the parts that they are trying to play. The real scene stealer in this movie though is Jessica Chastain. I’ve seen her in a lot of movies, but this may be my favorite performance of hers. It’s a side of her acting that I’ve never really seen before and I was really impressed. Finally, the whole movie just has a magical tone to it where things seem to float on air in some instances and crumble before your eyes the next. It’s hard to explain but it’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of Crimson Peak.

While the advertising for Crimson Peak really blows the big one, the film itself does not. That being said, it’s far from being Guillermo del Toro’s best work and may even be one of his weakest in terms of storytelling and pacing. The film does succeed, however, in providing some legitimately cool scares, creating a creepy yet startlingly beautiful atmosphere, and telling an archetypical fairy tale. While Crimson Peak is a mild disappointment, I certainly wouldn’t mind revisiting it sooner rather than later.

Dogville (2003) & Manderlay (2005) – review

17 Oct

I can’t stay away from the works of Lars von Trier, the self-proclaimed “greatest film maker in the world” and the “Mad Genius of Denmark.” I could continue with all of the nicknames this eccentric guy has garnered over the years, but I’d like to instead look at two of his films that are supposed to be the first two in a trilogy. The trilogy is called USA: The Land of Opportunity and the two films are Dogville and Manderlay. Now, I knew nothing about these movies, other than they were made by Trier, but what I got out of them were two piece of experimental film that I haven’t quite seen the likes of before.

First, let’s tackle Dogville.


Somewhere neatly tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, near an abandoned silver mine, is the small town of Dogville. Tom Edison, Jr. (Paul Bettany) is the moralist and philosopher of the town who does his best to teach the people of Dogville the proper way to live. Late one night, Tom hears gunshots and finds Grace (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious woman who has just so happened to stumble onto the hidden little village. It turns out that Grace is on the run from the mob for some unknown reason, and a logical place for her to hide is this is hidden town. It takes a while for the townspeople to agree to let her stay in Dogville, and the only condition that she can is that she does labor for all of the people living there. This works well for a while, but soon the residents of Dogville begin to take advantage of Grace to the point of abuse. What they don’t realize is the dangerous secret the Grace is holding behind her unassuming demeanor.

Let me set the scene for you. I put in my DVD of Dogville, grabbed some food, and set myself up for what I thought was going to be a pretty run of the mill movie watching experience. Let me just reiterate that I had no idea what this movie was going to be like. When I saw what the movie actually was, I thought that I wasn’t going to make it through the entire three hour run time. Basically, the entire thing takes place on a stage with very little set design or props. It’s as minimalist as you could possibly get. As the film progressed, I realized that this is really the only way to tell this story, since Dogville isn’t about the the town itself, but more so the residents. Because of the minimal set, we can see into their houses for some of the most private moments and really learn what their characters are all about. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is one of the most brilliant films that Lars von Trier has ever made.


Dogville isn’t just about visual flair, though. There’s also a really tricky story filled with memorable acting to back it up. Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany really steal the show as their characters. Supporting actors like Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgård, and James Caan also do great, and let me just say that John Hurt should narrate everything. Sorry Morgan Freeman. As far as the story goes, it’s subtle and effective. It plays out like an interesting character study of the evils that can broil in small towns like this, and the whole thing kind of plays out like some strange experiment in human psychology and morality.

The only thing I really have to add is that Dogville is a fantastic movie watching experience and may be my favorite of all of Lars von Trier’s works.

The sequel, Manderlay, continues Grace’s story not long after the events of Dogville. Even though it’s made in a similar style, my reactions to the film were far from that of its predecessor.


Now on the road with her father (Willem DaFoe), Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the rest of the travelers happen upon an Alabama plantation called Manderlay. What shocks Grace is that this plantation is filled with slaves, even though at this point slavery has been abolished for 70 years. As soon as Grace arrives at the plantation, Mam (Lauren Bacall), the head of the plantation dies and Grace, angered by the idea that there are still slaves, writes a new contract for the people there. The white people living on the plantation become responsible for the hard labor, while the black slaves are allowed to live a more free life. Grace begins to see improvement, but there are many secrets of Manderlay that she doesn’t know.

While Dogville was a subtle film with a strange story that somehow made perfect sense, Manderlay practically bashes you over the head with it’s preachy morality tale. Even though the set remains similar to the first film with its minimalist style, that is just about the only similarity. Bryce Dallas Howard is nowhere near as affective as Nicole Kidman, in fact she just comes off as ignorant and annoying for pretty much the whole movie. The most interesting characters are the former slaves of Manderlay, with some of the most important of those characters played by Danny Glover and Isaach de Bankolé, but sadly their talents are underutilized and Howard’s played up too strong.


To me, it sort of seemed that Trier didn’t care about Manderlay as much as he did Dogville. While some people may find this idea very upsetting, some of the main themes of these movies are very anti-American. That’s fine with me as long as I don’t feel like I’m getting preached to by someone who thinks they are far superior than us commoners. That’s what watching Manderlay felt like. It’s true that it is still a visually beautiful movie, but that’s all I can really say about it.

While Manderlay is a pretty rotten movie in my opinion, Dogville is a genuinely fantastic piece of experimental drama. The style of these movies take a little bit to get used to, but once you do Dogville is definitely worth your time, if not just to experience a different style of film making. Manderlay, however, can be left well enough alone.


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