stellan skarsgard

Movie Review: Nymphomaniac Vol. I

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I’ve become very suspicious of the number of people giving high praise to movies where people say a lot of big words in an accent. I suppose it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that since the script contains such poetic language that it all must make perfect sense. Add in those fancy British accents and obviously the film is incredibly intellectual and therefore impossible to call out as being stupid and self indulgent. NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. I is precisely the latter- it’s long, boring and not nearly as intelligent as others might have you believe.

Lars von Trier’s newest venture finds the filmmaker exploring in gruesome detail an obsession with sex- shocker I know. Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as a woman. Joe, found by a passer by, Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). Seligman takes Joe into his home where she rambles on and on “poetically” about her insatiable sexual appetite and experiences.

It barely takes this movie a half hour to start delving into excess. Lars von Trier is sometimes praised as bold for his technique because he does not shy away from the uncomfortable or the unconventional- in this case I find it to simply be misguided. This is a story that is not interesting, entertaining, moving or thoughtful in the least. I think it wants to be those things on some level, but the effort is so ham handed that it’s kind of embarrassing to watch at times.

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Movie Review: Melancholia (2011)

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I officially have no idea the best way to approach watching a Lars von Trier movie- not to mention how to really get my thoughts together for it. This will be my best attempt at doing so, but this still comes days after finishing the film and desperately searching for some sort of palette cleanser to lift me out of the funk MELANCHOLIA plummeted me into.
Lars von Trier has a pretty clear and distinct vision here- though his vision is decidedly bleak and depressing. MELANCHOLIA is the final days of humanity as seen from the perspectives of two sisters, Justine and Claire. Kirsten Dunst plays the uber depressed Justine who has her new husband walk out on her right after the reception and Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Claire who has some deep seeded resentment towards Justine but still loves her unconditionally. The two are the focal points of the film and both play the parts fantastically, but the other side of the sword is that they are almost too convincing as both sides of the story are dark and depressing. In the end the film by way of the performances just sucked the life out of me- though the length and sluggish pace really didn’t help much either.

The first half of the film is Justine’s wedding reception after her marriage to Michael, played by Alexander Skarsgard. Eventually the event befalls a downward spiral when Justine’s mother shits on the whole union, metaphorically. This half of the film sets up the characters nicely but is a showcase for performances only and they are all very good. The planet of doom, Melancholia has not shown itself at this point, but Justine’s drastic mood change doesn’t give us tidings of good things to come either.

The second half focuses on Claire, who is extremely worried about the discovery of a planet that has been hiding behind the sun and may or may not be on a collision course with Earth. This half of the film again is mostly about performances from Dunst and Gainsbourg, but the best part for me- at least the less depressing part- is the visuals of the planet, Melancholia, bearing down on Earth. The idea of course is depressing that this planet forebodes the end of all humanity, but the visual is actually as beautiful as it is haunting.

There are a handful of pretty great supporting performances from Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard and John Hurt. Sutherland has the bigger role of the supporting cast as he plays Claire’s husband, John, who spends most of his screen time complaining about the money he’s spending and the fact that there’s no way Melancholia will hit Earth. For the most part though, the film spends most of its time laying out the depths of Dunst’s depression and acceptance of her own death and the developing depression of Claire’s unwillingness to accept the possibility they may all die as Melancholia approaches.

My conflicted feelings for the film fall on the labored pace which is super slow and with all the utter despair on display it created for a very troubling viewing- one I was very close to stopping and coming back to once I was able to get my happiness meter charged back up. I hoped desperately for a character to come out and be the anchor that snaps one of these characters out of their sobbing and add a more heartwarming presence in this world- I realize of course given the subject matter and the ultimate demise of humanity that me just wishing for hope was in and of itself playing right into the hands of von Trier and his depressing opus.

The most obvious thing I can say about MELANCHOLIA is that it should be avoided at all costs if you’re having a bad day or are even slightly of the depressed variety. As the film dwells in the depression of its characters and offers little on the front of hope or relief I failed to really connect with the film in a meaningful way. Outside of the performances which are fantastic, I recognize the skill at which von Trier operates although his style is very hit and miss with me. MELANCHOLIA while hard hitting in its portrayal of depression and coming to terms with death is a bit light on its ability to be entertaining and truly memorable. If one day the film is a haunting prediction about the true end of the world I really hope that the scientists that name our ultimate demise don’t bring a heavy hand down on a term that literally refers to sadness or depression- subtly is something that von Trier was not going for here.

Rating: 6/10

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

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David Fincher did wonders turning nothing into something with THE SOCIAL NETWORK. In many ways he accomplishes many of the same things in his adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in that the film depicts scenes where people are doing nothing but reading and doing Google searches into something that is oddly compelling. However, as compelling as stuff felt I also couldn’t help but feel somewhat disconnected with the mystery at the heart of the film, but blown away by Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander.

The film is an adaptation of the popular book which is the first of a trilogy and the American remake of the original Swedish film. It stars Daniel Craig as Mikael, a journalist that has been hired to solve a forty year old mystery as to the location of a woman said to have vanished without a trace. Mikael also enlists the skills of a very talented hacker but strange hacker, Lisbeth to help him crack the case.

My first impression of David Fincher’s film is that it’s good looking and interesting but long. Having never read the book I can’t coherently comment on who well it was adapted or if there’s a lot of content that makes the book hard to adapt and that it has to be incredibly long in order to bring the story to life. I will say though that at one point I was getting ready to shut it off because I assumed the credits were about to roll but there ended up being another 20 to 25 minutes left in the movie. I wasn’t necessarily bored during that final 20 minutes but I was indeed ready for the film to end before that point.

Fincher really does have an eye for making extremely boring activities seem exciting on screen. This time around though where I was fully entertained by that fact in THE SOCIAL NETWORK I was a little less impressed during THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO although I still enjoyed watching it. I attribute my slight lack of interest to the fact that for the first half of the movie I just didn’t care about the mystery that Craig’s character is researching and it wasn’t until Lisbeth joined forces with Mikael that it picked up for me. Even with the duo working together I was more connected with their scenes interacting with one another or off doing their own thing than their actual research about the case. When they both finally thought they cracked the case though I finally snapped back in and remembered that there was a reason the two were working together in the first place.

No one really gives a bad performance but Rooney Mara is the only one that really makes a lasting impression. She injects life into each scene she’s in due either to her peculiar personality that comes with the character or her fragile yet aggressive persona. Daniel Craig is decent but he doesn’t quite take his performance to the next level although the character doesn’t really beg him to do so- he does have a few good one liners that gave me a good laugh though.

The score is once again very good by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross although not quite as memorable as their work in THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The opening credits are a very nice touch albeit strange transition from the opening scene to the rest of the film, but visually striking and a nice way to get the blood flowing for what’s to come.

As a follow-up to THE SOCIAL NETWORK Fincher continues to put forth great work from challenging material even though I didn’t love THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO quite as much as his tackling of the Facebook saga. Rooney Mara stuns as the peculiar Lisbeth Salander and outshines all of her co-stars- for many scenes I was stuck watching and waiting for her to appear back on screen. My biggest complaint is that I didn’t feel the film did enough to make me care about the mystery the film is built upon and that it eventually stayed passed its welcome. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO however a great looking film that pulls attention in with its strong female lead and the promise of its premise even if it never really lives up to it. It’s a film that could benefit from subsequent viewing where the subtle parts of the mystery a bit easier to spot and connect with when you know what you’re looking for. From the opposite spectrum once you know where it ends some might find revisiting the film a waste of time, but like many films such as SHUTTER ISLAND, once you know how it ends that makes multiple viewing a more fruitful endeavor to pick up intricacies of the plot- not to mention you can appreciate Mara’s performance all over again.

Rating: 7/10