Tag Archives: disease

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+

The Painted Veil – Review

7 Apr

Way back in 1925 a book was written called The Painted Veil, which told a story of love, heartbreak, and betrayal in the midst of a cholera epidemic in rural China. I’m not sure what the initial reaction was to the novel, but it spawned a plethora of adaptations dating back to 1934 and starring Greta Garbo. Another adaptation happened in 1957 with the film The Seventh Sin, an overlooked movie that cost MGM a great deal of money. The version I’m going to be talking about is the 2006 film starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The Painted Veil is one of those movies where I’m really glad to have watched it, but it’s not something that’s going to stick with me for very long.

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a well known and admired socialite who has no real interest in doing much of anything with her life, despite the pleas of her parents to find someone to marry and build a family with. Kitty is taken off guard one night when she meets a bacteriologist named Walter (Edward Norton) who asks her to marry him the next time they meet. She agrees to the marriage for the sole purpose of getting as far away as possible from her family. The couple move to Shanghai for Walter to continue his work, but Kitty meets Charlie (Liev Schreiber), a British government official, and they begin an affair. Walter quickly learns this and volunteers for a position to study Cholera in a rural village suffering from an epidemic. He brings Kitty along as a punishment and threatens to create a scandal if she doesn’t accompany him. It is in the middle of the sickness and the death that Kitty and Walter are forced to face mortality and their own selves to discover what is really important in their lives.

The first thing that pops out at me in The Painted Veil, and where I think the film is most successful, is in its production design. This is a gorgeous looking movie that’s beautifully shot and filled with excellent costumes and set designs. Being a period piece, it’s very important that the film has a sense of time and place, and this one knows and understands its time very well. This is why I really love well made period pieces, because they have the ability to transport you to a time that you’ve never seen before or never had the chance to experience. This also comes in handy when dealing with the plot point of a cholera epidemic. It hits the viewer hard and director John Curran pulled no punches in showing the horror that these people went through before a real cure was found.

You can clearly tell that the studio and makers of this film were really trying to push this movie as Oscar bait. Unfortunately, it never got to that point. I will say that they cast the right actors to get audiences’ attention, including mine. I think Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are two powerhouse actors, and usually give their all to whatever movie they’re in. The same can be said about their performances in The Painted Veil. They have really good chemistry together, which makes it all the more upsetting when the hostility between their characters reach their boiling points. There’s also real fear behind the stone wall façades that the two characters have built up, which make them feel all the more human. There’s also some great performances by the film’s minor roles with Toby Jones and Anthony Wong.

It’s hard to pinpoint where this movie falters, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the full potential of this film wasn’t reached. It may be that this story and its archetypal characters have been seen a dozen times before since the original story was written way back in 1925. There’s lots of flash in the production design and the acting, but I knew exactly where the story was going to go before I even started watching the movie. I had a good idea of what was going to happen based on the plot summary and most things I predicted came true. That takes a lot of joy and fun out of watching a movie since it feels like I’ve seen it all before. There are certain plot points in movie that can be predictable and have the movie remain intact, but when I can guess the entire movie, beat by beat, it kind of makes me rethink how entertaining the movie actually was.

I’m glad that I watched The Painted Veil because it has some really great production design, very good acting, and an interesting enough hook to get me engaged in the story. I feel as if I don’t need to see it again, however, because at the end of it all it was a very predictable film. It doesn’t dare to be different from any other romantic period drama, and it actually seems to try really hard to stay within the parameters of a very exact formula. If anyone ever asks me if they should watch The Painted Veil, I’d say sure, but I’d never go out of my way to recommend it.

Final Grade: B

The Elephant Man – Review

12 Nov

Joseph “John” Merrick is a man that throughout the years has become a very interesting individual. This isn’t due to any achievement or talent that he had, but because of the rare and extremely curious disease that ailed him, now known as neurofibromatosis. In 1980, the year of this film’s release, David Lynch only had Eraserhead in terms of feature films, but the uncredited producer Mel Brooks was so impressed with this film that he hired Lynch to act as director of the story of Merrick’s later life in The Elephant Man.

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Doctor Fredrick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) is a surgeon in London who comes across an interesting specimen at a traveling freak show one night. This specimen is John Merrick (John Hurt), a man whose extreme deformities make the general public reel in horror at just the sight of him. Treves takes Merrick to the London Hospital to be studied, but soon gets him permanent residence and care. Over the time spent together, the two men become very close friends and Merrick’s reputation as a tragic human being is made known after he befriends famous stage actress Mage Kendal (Anne Bancroft). While everything seems to be going better for Merrick with the help of many kind and caring people, hateful and greedy men from his past and present still use him for fear and money, making Merrick’s ailment all the more difficult.

The Elephant Man is a hard movie to summarize because it isn’t really a plot based movie, but more of a character study and a look at how society should see people who are different. Casting David Lynch was a very interesting choice given his absurd and surreal filmography. This is a much more straightforward film than his others, but there are still glimpses of his trademark style from nightmare sequences to the heavily industrialized area with beautiful shots of smoke blowing out of chimneys and grimy machinery being operated, all embellished an excellent industrial sound design.

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Now, there are a few movies whose sole reason for existence is to test the limits of my tear ducts. Crying isn’t the most enjoyable past time, but sometimes when I’m watching a movie (or the last episode of the John Adams miniseries!!) I just can’t really help myself. The Elephant Man is a very difficult movie to watch in this respect. Seeing Merrick dealing with his disease is hard enough, but seeing his very human reactions to people gawking, screaming, and making fun of him is even worse.

So no, this is not an uplifting movie at all, but this isn’t really a film to watch if you’re looking for a good feeling to be had. This is something to watch to learn about a man’s life, how to treat other human beings regardless of their individual circumstances, and to admire the cinematography by Freddie Francis, who went on to work with Lynch in Dune and later on with Scorsese in his remake of Cape Fear. The point is that you really need to know what you’re getting into with The Elephant Man.

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David Lynch may forever be known as one of the strangest and most surreal film makers of the modern era, with films like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive to stand as testament. He did something beautifully different with The Elephant Man. He created a very human drama an very unusual and interesting man to come out of the Victorian era. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and succeeds in telling this man’s story, despite some historical inaccuracies. It’s one of those movies that are just plain perfect.