Tag Archives: art house

Epidemic – Review

21 Jun

Here we are once again revisiting the work of the Mad Genius of Denmark. Of course, I’m talking about the one and the only Lars von Trier. I probably say this every time I review one of his movies, but I can’t stress enough that there’s something about his movies that keeps drawing me back in. Today, I’ll be talking about one of his earlier works from 1987 called Epidemic. This is the second part of his Europa Trilogy which also contains The Element of Crime and Europa, both films I’ve talked about already. Out of the three movies, Europa is by far my favorite, and Epidemic takes the unfortunate spot as my least favorite of the trilogy, and quite possibly my least favorite of the von Trier films that I’ve seen.

Lars von Trier and screenwriter Niels Vørsel star as themselves in this film. They are two struggling artists who, on the break of a deadline for a screenplay which bears a striking resemblance to The Element of Crime, lose everything they’ve worked on and have to start from scratch. Soon they think of an idea that features a doctor named Mesmer, who in the midst of a plague, heads to the infected area to help the sick that are there. As the duo become deeply involved in creating the story, they fail to notice warning signs of a viral epidemic breaking out all around them. The two writers travel to find inspiration and spend time discussing different points of view, which they incorporate into their story, and when the time comes to present their work to the producer, an unexpected tragedy strikes.

This is a hard film to review because it doesn’t really have that much of a story. Like some other films that I’ve reviewed, this one is almost just a collection of scenes involving von Trier and Vørsel getting inspiration for their story and becoming so obsessed that they lose themselves in their fiction. This is something that I do like about this story. As a fan of film and writing, I know that it is easy to get lost in something that you’re working on or watching, and it also can be seen as things that happen in a story, wether on paper or on screen, can have an effect on real life. The banter between the two stars is often very relaxed and believable, and their chemistry is definitely there, but the whole experience seems very long winded. There are plenty of conversations that go nowhere, and only a few times do I really see the parallels in real life and the story they are writing. It’s such a missed opportunity, and in this case the degree of minimalism they were going for just didn’t fit what the movie might have been trying to be. I’m really not sure. I honestly don’t get this movie.

So, while I’m really grasping at trying to find the meaning of this film, which I’m failing to do I might add, I can say that this is a really excellent looking movie. Say what you want about Lars von Trier, because in many instances you’re probably right, but he really has an eye for cinematography and that shows once again in Epidemic. It doesn’t quite have the visual flair as the other two movies in this trilogy, but it definitely separates itself as it’s own style. The scenes that show von Trier and Vørsel planning and writing their film are shot using 16mm film, while the scenes of the movie they’re writing is shot using 35mm film. The stuff shot in 35mm looks very crisp with very smooth lighting while the stuff shot in 16mm is the really cool stuff. All of this is harsh and grainy and highlighted by some really cool contrasts of light and shadow. This is what kept me involved with the film the most. One really annoying thing is that throughout the film, and in bright red lettering, the title of the movie is kept at the upper left hand portion of the screen. I thought it would get less distracting as the film went on, but I was sadly mistaken.

Like I said, Epidemic is broken up into two parts. There’s the segments that show the screenwriters hard at work developing their story and ignoring the warning signs of a plague and the actual movie they’re writing. Whenever the movie cuts away to the film within a film, I kinda got lost. It just wasn’t very interesting and I couldn’t help but think that if they didn’t do that, more time could have been spent developing the plague that is surrounding the writers. That’s what really interested me about the movie, but it totally fails to live up to that expectation and instead tries to be a super meta art house film that doesn’t even live up to that potential. That sounds harsh, but I expected a lot more from this movie.

I had pretty high hopes for Epidemic simply because I really love the work of Lars von Trier. This may actually be my least favorite of his films with the only competition being the absolutely idiotic Manderlay. The concept of this film is very intriguing and the look of it had me interested enough to keep watching, but it’s really the bottom of the barrel compared to his other works. It’s a pretentious, self indulgent mess that doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and the shock ending feels so tacked on that it really didn’t affect me in the least. Only hardcore von Trier fans should try this one out, just to say that you’ve seen it. Other than that, it’s not worth your time.

Final Grade: D+

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The Seventh Seal – Review

30 Mar

To any film lover, the name Ingmar Bergman is one to really perk up the ears. If I hear anyone having conversation about him, I automatically want to jump in, but that would be weird. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen too often. Anyway, he;s known mostly for a large amount of dramatic works and one really fantastic horror film, Hour of the Wolf. One of his most famous and respected works is a film from 1957, The Seventh Seal. In this movie, Bergman tackles some really heavy subject matter and wraps it all up in some of the most beautiful black and white cinematography you’ll ever see. The honor of being a “classic” was invented for movies like this.

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Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning home after the Crusades with his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand). Block is having problems with his faith after fighting tirelessly and then returning home to find the country ravaged by the Black Plague, while Jöns is comfortable with being a nihilistic agnostic. While on a beach, Death (Bengt Ekerot) comes for Block, but to stall Death’s intentions Block challenges death to a game of chess. While the game continues, Block and Jöns keep traveling home when they run into a family of performers. The performers and the two Crusaders move through the countryside contemplating life, death, and religion as the horror that surrounds them begins to engulf everything they believe in.

Sometimes looking at movies like this can be a weird experience. A lot of the times, they aren’t really entertaining movies, but more so movies to just be appreciated for their artistic value. The crazy thing about The Seventh Seal is that through all of it’s artistic qualities and moral preaching, it’s a damn entertaining movie. The whole idea of playing chess with Death is cool enough, but using the Crusades and the Black Plague as a time to set it in makes it all the more cool. But that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate this film as a piece of art. In fact, when this movie was released it pretty much defined modern arthouse cinema.

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One of the main draws of this movie is how beautiful everything looks. The atmosphere is completely haunting and the black and white cinematography really is a must to make this story work. Bergman got a lot of inspiration for this movie by looking at paintings of Death and other works from this time period, so a lot of this movie does actually look like a moving, black and white painting. To top off the beautiful aesthetics is a score that will chill you right to the bone. Discordant melodies that seem to be seeping through the cracks of hell flood the dying landscape like the plague, itself. It’s memorable and something I’d love to put on my iPod if I could find the music anywhere.

Another problem that normally bogs these art house movies to the ground can be there length. If an artsy fartsy movie goes on too long, then the entire impact of what could’ve been great gets obliterated. Luckily, The Seventh Seal wastes no time with unnecessary scenes, and cuts right to the chase with Death starting his chess match with Block. From there, the story keeps progressing at a steady pace, leaving me no time to get bored with it at all. I was honestly expecting to be just a little bored, but I was too busy enjoying myself the whole way through.

I’m quite surprised with The Seventh Seal. I knew that it was going to be beautiful and aesthetically excellent, but I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did with it. The setting is cool and eerie, the music is chilling, and the religious and moral questioning is interesting to listen to and think about. Many people say that this is one of Ingmar Bergman’s masterpieces, as it has been praised, parodied, and honored since it was first seen in 1957. I’d have to agree with them. This film pleases in every regard and can certainly be regarded as an international classic.

 

Drive – Review

29 Aug

It’s nice to be out from under my rock and enjoying the fresh air and watching Drive. Seriously though, it seems like everyone and their mothers have seen Drive, and they all have their own differing opinions on it. Critics praised it, and audiences were torn apart like God parting the Red Sea. Some enjoy the aesthetics and plot of the film, while others condemn it as derogatory art house crap. Well yes, the film is highly artistic and stylized, but it comes nowhere close to crap.

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The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a man of many occupations and a lot less words. By day, he is a part time stunt driver for films and also works his close friend’s Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) garage, but by night he is a getaway driver for the criminal underworld. After helping his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos), the trio forms a bond that seems unbreakable. Trouble soon interrupts their little paradise when Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is let out of jail and the Driver helps him on a job that will pay off a debt that he owes someone during his time in prison. Of course, this job goes completely awry, which draws the attention of mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman), who will stop at nothing to silence everyone involved in the heist gone wrong.

By just reading the synopsis, I kept thinking that this is The Transporter‘s new wave younger brother. Much like Statham’s character in The Transporter movies, the Driver has a very strict set of rules that he applies to his more illegal means of income. He can also take care of himself, which provides some of the best parts of the entire movie. Unlike The Transporter and its sequels, the Driver is much more conservative with his time taking down his enemies, but he doesn’t spare on the brutality. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this movie is brutal as all hell, and it was so entertaining. As brutal and unforgiving as the violence is, the scenes are pretty few and far between. This is not an action movie after all.

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I can’t really talk about Drive without talking about the soundtrack. What kind of music would you put to a brutal art house heist film? Electronic synth-pop, of course. Cliff Martinez composed a fantastic, and at times ironic, soundtrack that lingers in your mind along with the rest of the movie. While the synth-pop is blaring at full volume, and excellent story begins panning out. It’s subtle, yet strangely overt. There’s little dialogue, but actions speak louder than words. But, apply enough pressure even to the most comfortable of situations, things are bound to burst. The second half of this film is the exact opposite of the first. The pacing is strange, but this movie is pretty strange. Not in the David Lynch type of strange, but it’s not your average, everyday heist film. I really can’t stress that enough.

There’s been a lot of jokes and complaints about Gosling’s character. He is definitely a man a very few words, but the Driver is as strong a protagonist as the most obnoxious action hero. Hell, he’s a much stronger character than the most obnoxious action hero. The chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan are great, and the relationship of their characters is pretty unique. Literally nothing can tear them apart, as the Driver completely dedicates himself to protecting them. Bryan Cranston is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to acting, and this film just goes to show how great his range is. The man of the hour, though, is Albert Brooks, who plays a menacing villain that just makes your skin crawl.

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The fact of the matter is, you may not like Drive right away, or you may be pretty unsure about it. Give it time to really sink in, and really start to think about all the characters and aesthetic choices that make Drive what it is. After all this time, I’m still not really sure what it is. It’s a film that seems to bend the rules of a genre to make a movie that is unique and a complete thrill to watch.