Sunday, April 27, 2014

C2E2 2014: Sunday

As this year's C2E2 draws to a close, there's still plenty of things to do and fun to be had.
IMG_0420, a website devoted to fandom and pop culture, is holding the first of its kind fan art expo on the first floor Fan Village this year. The site's illustrators and editors were on hand all weekend for fan art trivia challenges, screenings of Fan films, live illustrations sessions, and a panel discussion on the evolution and impact of Fan art. They're also showcasing a collection of the best, most unique Fan art personally curated by the Dorkly team. I've included shots of some of my favorite pieces from the expo below.
IMG_0423 IMG_0418 IMG_0415 IMG_0419 IMG_0414 IMG_0422
Meanwhile, back on the show floor, there were still lots of cool exhibitions happening. Fans could take their picture with the actual shield used by Captain America in The Avengers, and Thor's hammer Mjolnir, though the line to do this was outrageously long. A company called Anovos showed off some of their outstanding replica costumes and props from Star Trek & Star Wars. There were also some incredible, officially licensed prop replicas from Game of Thrones by a company called Valyrian Steel. Their life-size, wearable replica Hound helmet was absolutely mind-blowing in person.
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This one R2 unit must have had a bad motivator, because it wasn't moving around, but the other R2 unit was in prime condition, a real bargain.
Several toy companies also debuted mock-ups of their latest toys, like Enterbay's 1/4 scale Robocop and Terminator 2 T1000 figures. It was Diamond Select Toys that stole the show however, debuting the figures for their upcoming Pulp FictionSin City, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier lines. They also unveiled the X-Men Days of Future Past Mystique figure with an incredible Oval Office display base.
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As the show continues to grow, more and more cool exclusive stuff like this will begin showing up here, so make sure that if you're anywhere near Chicago on the last weekend in April, you mark it on your calendar to come to C2E2. It's a blast!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

C2E2 2014: Saturday

Here we go again folks! Welcome once again to my stalwart coverage of The Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as C2E2. Now in its fifth year, C2E2 is held on the last weekend in April at McCormick Place in Chicago, and it's a popular event once again this year. As a matter of fact, I just saw them hosing off Chuck Heston on the Main Floor…

This convention has grown in popularity with each passing year, particularly as August's Wizard World Chicago has begun to wane. Cancelled guests, overpriced tickets, and poor layout have caused Wizard World to take a backseat to C2E2, which was moved to a larger part of McCormick Place this year to accommodate its growth.
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This year I was able to attend a panel titled "Your Opinion Sucks! Rotten Tomatoes Critics vs. Fans," hosted by Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity & Senior Editor Grae Drake. It featured's Erik Childress,'s Peter Sobczynski,'s Nathan Rabin & Keith Phipps, and Chicago Sun-Times film critic, and former co-host of Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper.
(l-r Atchity, Ryan Fujitani, Roeper, Rabin, Phipps)
The format for the panel was fairly simple. Attendees were invited to offer up a one-minute defense or takedown of a film, and then the panel would discuss the film's merits, or lack thereof. Everyone in the audience was provided with a two-sided paddle with a "Fresh" tomato on one side and "Rotten" splatter on the other, which we held up to indicate our personal opinion of the film. IMG_0372 IMG_0373
Some of the choicest bits from the critics follow:
Pacific Rim: General consensus was Fresh, though Childress said the film was no more than "tin cans punching one another," and that "none of the stars registered as characters." Phipps also added that while he liked the film, he wished that he "cared about the characters as much as (he) cared about the monsters."
Iron Man 3: This one was divisive, though it seemed that most of the critics liked it. Roeper expounded on how Tony Stark is the most interesting civilian in all of the comic book films, but he can see how fans desiring lots of Iron Man would be disappointed for him to spend so much time out of the suit. Childress complained that while the Mandarin twist was clever, they didn't do anything interesting with it, and Sobczynski summed it up best by saying, "it wasn't the worst superhero movie I saw. Even that week."
The Wolf of Wall Street: Most of the critics were positive about the film, with Sobczynski calling it one of Scorsese's best and that it doesn't glorify the terrible behavior because it's "seen through the eyes of a terrible person who doesn't think that anything he does is bad." Childress also said that if the person who proffered that question was expecting a room full of critics to "break bad" on Scorsese, it wasn't going to happen.
Pain & Gain: All but Roeper rated it rotten, with Rabin saying that it was "a satire of stupidity made by stupid people." Phipps said, "I wanted to like it, but I always want to like Michael Bay." He suggested that with a different director, that cast & script could have made a great film rather than just a film that says drugs and whores are great.
Some of my favorite out-of-context quotes include:
Roeper: "Everyone hold up your rotten sign… That's exactly how I feel about Transcendence."
Rabin: "The Rock is a genius who will win an Oscar one day."
Roeper: "Saying Southland Tales is good because it's bad is like saying, 'I stubbed my toe so now I'd like to break my ankle.'"
Rabin: "Jason Lee is like a human Rosetta Stone for Kevin Smith's dialogue."
Roeper: "Please don't ever use the phrase Timothy Olyphantastic ever again."
Overall, this was a fun, light, breezy panel with a group of critics that had a great rapport with one another and the audience. While some of the audience members were fighting a losing battle trying to defend films like Speed RacerHalloween III: Season of the Witch, and even the recent 300: Rise of an Empire, everyone seemed to have a great time. Nathan Rabin even signed my copy of his book The Big Rewind for me, and he, Phipps, and Sobczynski hung around and chatted up fans before and after the panel. And Richard Roeper has tattoos! Who would've guessed?
(l-r Rabin, Phipps, Childress, Sobczynski)
(Grae Drake, wearing Empire Strikes Back stockings, with a young woman making a passionate defense of Pacific Rim)
That's it for today. I'll be back tomorrow with even more fun and some exclusive first looks at X-Men: Days of Future Past and Pulp Fiction action figures being released this summer and fall by Diamond Select.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day 292: Only Lovers Left Alive

"I don't have any heroes."
Jim Jarmusch has always been a darling of the indie scene, and unlike so many of his contemporaries (Steven Soderbergh, The Coen Brothers, and Gus VanSant to name but a few), he has never really had a big, breakout, mainstream film. However, unlike a number of his other contemporaries (Alex Cox, Jim Sheridan, and Hal Hartley), Jarmusch continues cranking out projects, to varying degrees of success, with no signs of slowing down. He's probably closest in terms of clout and respect to David Cronenberg, though even he has had major success as a studio director. 
Jarmusch has never been one of my favorite filmmakers, but I've always appreciated his work, with a particular affinity for his output from Down by Law in 1986 through Ghost Dog in 1999. I liked aspects of Coffee & Cigarettes and Broken Flowers, but never even bothered to see The Limits of Control, so all of this is my way of saying that while I like Jarmusch, I certainly don't worship at his altar, and I'm definitely not a fan of his stance as an outspoken Anti-Stratfordian. Having said all that, I was intrigued by his latest film Only Lovers Left Alive, and anxious to see his unique take on an incredibly played out sub genre, the vampire movie. 
Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a musician living in a dilapidated mansion in the crumbling metro area of Detroit. His only contact with the outside world is through Ian (Anton Yelchin), a guy who can procure him anything he needs from rare guitars to a single wooden bullet. Adam also makes trips to a local hospital where he pays a doctor (Jeffrey Wright) to give him stores of non-contaminated blood to feed his vampiric habits. On the other side of the world in Tangiers, Eve (Tilda Swinton) is eking out a similarly solitary life, acquiring the blood she needs from Kit (John Hurt), better known as Christopher Marlowe (yes, that one).
Adam and Eve are married, we discover, but Adam refuses to leave Detroit because of his existential malaise, so Eve is forced to fly to him so they can be together again. Their love is the only thing keeping them going at this point, as Adam has clearly become so disillusioned by humanity, that he can barely keep it together anymore, hence his request for a single wooden bullet. They begin to find some semblance of happiness again, when Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve's sister, shows up at their doorstep. Things did not end well between Adam and Ava the last time they were together, and Ava's destructive ways threaten to destroy the peace that Adam and Eve have only just begun to enjoy. 
Despite the obvious parallels between Adam and Anne Rice's Lestat, this is a wholly original take on the vampire myth, and really takes a long, hard look at what eternity must actually feel like for the undead. This is a slow, methodically paced film that is likely to bore many audience members to tears, but it's leisurely pace should not be confused with pacing issues. Any teenage girls wandering in to see another vampire love story, this time with the hot guy that played Loki, will find themselves confronted with what eternal love actually looks like. It's not all furtive glances and pearl clutching, it's a lot of sitting around, playing chess, driving around the once great city of Detroit, and avoiding contact with most of humanity. It's a wonderful antidote for all those fed up with the sparkly, chaste vampires that ruled the multiplexes for the better part of the last decade. 
The film is also, very clearly, Jarmusch's thesis statement on the hopelessness of humanity. The way Adam and Eve casually refer to humans as "zombies," and Adam's rant about how humanity has treated all of the great scientific minds of history is very clearly the rant of a filmmaker disgusted with the average person's ignorance of truly noble pursuits. The biggest roadblock for many will likely be the insertion of Jarmusch's Anti-Stratfordian views into the proceedings, as well as a number of additional casual references to great art having really been created by a handful of undead interlopers. It's a clever enough concept, and certainly not jammed down the audience's throats, but it is there and will upset some in the audience. 
The performances are as excellent as would be expected from such a diverse cast of seasoned veterans and proven younger talent. This is the role that Swinton was born to play. She always seems like an alien presence in everything she does, and it works remarkably in her favor here, giving her performance a verisimilitude that an actress in makeup just wouldn't have had. Hiddleston is also fantastic, doing so much with very little. He keeps everything very quietly contained, except for carefully chosen moments to unleash, and he is brilliant. For someone who cut his teeth in the theatre, and became best known for his very theatrical performances as Loki, he is incredibly tuned in to film acting, and never goes over the top. 
Yelchin and Wasikowska are both very good in their handful of scenes, and Hurt is also wonderful in his two scenes. Wright is great, as he always is, yet he was sorely underused. A film can never have enough Jeffrey Wright in it, and sadly this film proves that axiom to be true. Jarmusch does a lot of interesting things visually, in particular the opening shots of the film that oscillate like a record turntable, instantly setting the tone and letting the audience know precisely what they're in for. His use of music is also fantastic, both in his choice of "popular songs" by artists such as Wanda Jackson and Charlie Feathers, as well as a terrific score by Jozef Van Wissem and SQÜRL.
Only Lovers Left Alive fits the very definition of Jarmuschian, and will be like a warm blanket for his fans, eager to spend two hours in the company of creations that are uniquely his own. It will also appeal to those who may not be fans, but crave a quiet, luxuriously paced film that caters to grown-ups. Those with short attention spans need not waste their time or money, but those willing to give themselves over to the experience will find an oddly touching love story that shows what true love really looks like. Love is about time spent in the company of someone you love, not running around doing things that only people in the movies do like horseback riding or hot air balloon rides. This is a literate, well made film that will stroke the intellectual part of your brain, and I just don't get to say that often enough.
GO Rating: 3.5/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spotlight: How to Fix the New "Star Trek" Film Series

It's no secret that I hated Star Trek: Into Darkness. I've made no Dr. McCoys about this, it was a lazy, calculating, horrible attempt at fan service that backfired in spectacular fashion. The 2009 reboot made it seem as if things were headed in a new direction, and the film adeptly walked the line between homage and innovation. It wasn't a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it managed to simultaneously update the franchise while honoring its rich history. Expectations were high for the follow-up film, and Abrams managed to keep the project shrouded in secrecy (a tact he admitted was "a mistake") yet he's going down that road once again with a different franchise, which is likely a subject for another article entirely. The result was a rousing good time for anyone that didn't count themselves among the die-hards, whose opinions on the film ranged from disappointment to outright rage, dubbing it "The Worst Film in the Star Trek Franchise." It's as if none of those fans have seen 5, 7, 9, or 10, but I digress. Even Karl Urban expressed his frustrations with the film. 
I'm not among the doomsayers in regards to the green-lit third film of this reboot, but I am also pragmatic in regard to the fact that there are some major flaws that need to be addressed. There are certain things that cannot be amended. Orci & Kurtzman are still the writers, J.J. Abrams will still be involved, and the many mind-numbing additions to the franchise such as curing death and transwarp drives are too big to just ignore. There are steps that can be taken to fix the films, and here is my list of the top 5 priorities for fixing this, not necessarily broken, but certainly damaged franchise that I love and hold so dear...
1. Captain Kirk needs an overhaul
The Kirk of Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman universe is the Kirk of the original Star Trek motion picture series. Brash, defiant, arrogant, and always right no matter what (with the exception of Wrath of Khan), this Kirk had enough braggadocio to fill the entirety of outer space. Casual fans seem to forget that this was not the same Captain Kirk that trekked the stars for three years on the TV series. While that Kirk definitely had a blatant disregard for the Prime Directive, and managed to Kobayashi Maru his way out of more than one unwinnable scenario, he was also a master planner who broke the rules because he knew that the end justified the means. This new Kirk acts without thinking, doesn't listen to anyone, and always has the best solution to every problem. He was able to see the transwarp drive in Khan's ship, he knew Khan would attack Starfleet, he knew that Scotty could deus ex machine him and Khan onto the Vengeance, and he probably knew that Bones would figure out a way to bring him back to life. Before you jump down my throat, I'm not saying that's in there, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was in an earlier draft of the script.
Now I know what you're thinking… This Kirk is young, he doesn't have the experience and worldliness of Shatner's Kirk, so get off his back. That's all well and good, but the fact of the matter is that these filmmakers have decided to give him all of the qualities the older Kirk possessed with none of the wisdom of his age. It's like they took all the worst parts of what made Kirk such a role model for the act now, plan later set, and hoped that the "he's still a young captain" excuse would be enough to keep the ship afloat. I'm not buying it, even for a dollar. Kirk needs to stop using his crew and start relying on them. Hopefully all that nonsense involved in him resurrecting at the end of the film has given him a bit of wisdom in this area, but if the movie has another cold open where Kirk is right back to his old ways, that entire climax and denouement will have been for naught. They got their way, now they need to run with it and not look back. 
2. No more attempts at fan service
The most shocking realization that I and the other hardcore Trekkers came to in the days and weeks following our first viewing of Into Darkness was that for all that stuff about it that we hated, the filmmakers had put it in there as an attempt at fan service. They thought that four years of us saying "don't put Khan in the next film," really meant, "use Khan, we demand it, even though we're saying that we don't." They also thought they were being clever by reversing Spock's and Kirk's roles in the climax, but to call that an unearned gesture is an understatement. When Kirk and Spock shared that tender moment before Spock's death in The Wrath of Khan, the fans had had 16 years to get to know the characters, three seasons of television and one and three quarters feature films, and it felt like the logical extension of their relationship coming full circle with Kirk learning an invaluable lesson from Spock about sacrifice and the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, or the one.
You don't get such license four years into your reboot, I'm sorry. Stop trying to give the fans what you think they want and just focus on telling a good story. Stop concerning yourself with what the fans think, which is exactly what this Twitter battle between writer Bob Orci and angry fans proved. They could really care less about what fans think in much the same way that they think the fans actually want the opposite of what they're saying aloud (and for the record, biggest box office in franchise history does not equal best film in the franchise. Star Trek IV proved as much in the first go around). Don't concern yourself with fans who won't be happy no matter what you do, concern yourself with those of us who want you to stop trying to appease everyone, and write a damn film with a story worth telling. That's writing 101 folks. 
3. More Bones & Scotty
The biggest asset in these films has been Karl Urban and Simon Pegg as Bones and Scotty respectively. Stop relegating them to the sidelines. I know what the more cynical fans will say, "they were never used well in the original films and TV show;" Okay, fine, does that mean that we can't fix that glaring problem? If this new franchise reboot has proven anything, it's that trying to duplicate the original in any way has spelled disaster every step of the way. Blaze a new trail, give these guys something to do other than run around spouting off catchphrases or participating in comically absurd plot scenarios. Your Chief Science Office and Chief Engineer can certainly do more than that. Take a page out of the TNG playbook for this one. They always managed to give Geordi and Data something to do, even if it was in service of a less than stellar plot device like Geordi's visor hijacking in Generations.    
Bones and Scotty both have that wisdom of age and experience that this Kirk so desperately needs, so rather than having Bones doling out metaphors and "Damnit Jims," allow him to challenge Kirk, to defy him, and prove him wrong. Allow Scotty to do more than just provide subpar comic relief with a weird alien sidekick. Transparent aluminum was another fairly ridiculous subplot in IV, but it gave the guy something to do other than defusing potential bombs with Tits McGee. These characters have an important and integral role in this franchise, now start acting like they do. 
4. Fix the Klingons and make them the primary antagonists
The "Blingons" (as some have called them) that we glimpsed for thirty seconds in Into Darkness were an encapsulation of everything that was wrong with the film. Here's something from the old show and movies that won't be cool to kids today unless we jazz them up with a bunch of piercings and a makeup job like something out of Enemy MineThe Klingons have been used incredibly well throughout Star Trek history, never better than they were in Star Trek VI, and they provide a wealth of material for the Enterprise crew to combat. Their entire philosophy is in direct opposition to Starfleet, so why not have them play more of an active role in trying to dismantle it? Just casually inserting them into the plot the way they did in Into Darkness was not the best use of this race. 
Here's an idea on how to fix this, and it borrows liberally from III & VI… The Klingons stage a ploy to frame the crew of the Enterprise for the destruction of one of their strongholds, which was actually the result of an Arab Spring-esque uprising among a faction of Klingons that do not want war. Starfleet demands Kirk and his crew return to Starfleet Headquarters to face punishment, where the Klingons launch their first attack. Not realizing that this was a ploy to get them to attack Kronos, Starfleet orders a full on assault of the planet that launches them into war with the Klingons. Kirk and his crew are the only ones that know of the faction of Klingons trying to stand up to their militaristic leaders, and must try to form an alliance with them, forever dividing the Klingons against themselves. It's not perfect, and it honestly took me about ten minutes to think up, but infusing the politics of the day with the adventures in space has always been what Star Trek does best. 
5. You set up an alternate universe, now go use it!
The most brilliant thing about the 2009 Star Trek was that they established a timeline completely separate from the original series and films' timeline. So why didn't they use that in Into Darkness? Rather than give us a completely new villain, or a confrontation with an alien race invented after the creation of TOS, they pulled out Khan, dusted him off, and crapped all over him. I'm not saying I want to see this crew battle the Borg, but if my choices are between that and rehashing yet another plot that's already been done before, I say Resistance is Futile! They've opened up a literal world of possibilities, so to go back to what's already been done was more than nonsensical, it was insulting. The fans accepted this splintered timeline as a way of quite literally boldly going where no one had gone before, only to witness two hours of backtracking. 
Above and beyond anything else, use this new timeline as a way to explore new ideas. How about exploring new life forms and new civilizations? They're on their five year mission now, supposedly, so why not trek the stars a bit, see what's out there. The last two films have been too tied to Earth, and while there is room for a storyline to start or even conclude on Earth, with an entire galaxy awaiting you, and an infinite number of possibilities contains among the stars, not taking advantage of all those possibilities would be a cheat and a cop-out. I am as optimistic about the future of this franchise as I've ever been, but unless they learn from their mistakes, they are sadly doomed to repeat them. And after all, isn't that what Star Trek, at its core, is really all about?
[Photos via 123456]

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 291: Under the Skin (2014)

"Free me."
One of the most auspicious debut films of the last twenty years was Jonathan Glazer's gritty crime film Sexy Beast. Featuring (arguably) the best performance of Ben Kingsley's career, and formally introducing Ray Winstone to American audiences, Sexy Beast was the work of a new master filmmaker, and a wonder to behold. With his follow-up film Birth, Glazer showed that he wasn't willing to be pigeonholed, trading in the violent world of low-level hoodlums for an enigmatic melodrama about a boy claiming that he is Nicole Kidman's reincarnated husband. It's been ten years since that film's release, and Glazer has finally returned with his third film, the sci-fi mood piece Under the Skin. Could it live up to the hype that's been built during his ten year hiatus, or would it show signs that this once promising director has officially gone off the deep end? Read on to find out...
Opening in total blackness, Under the Skin wastes no time in alerting the audience that this is not run of the mill fare. A cacophony of sounds and strange images become the eye of a woman (Scarlett Johansson). She is brought the body of another woman from whom she strips the clothes and takes them for herself. She then travels the Scottish countryside looking for men who have no discernible attachments to anyone else, and lures them into her van. She then seduces them and invites them back to her place. This pattern is repeated with varying degrees of success.
To say any more about this film would be to do it a disservice. For the first time in ages, a film gives literally zero indication of where it is headed, and it is up to the audience to not just figure it all out for themselves, but to interpret exactly what is happening. The only things that we know for certain are that she appears to be an alien of some sort, and she's on a mission to capture men, but for what purpose remains unclear, even to the bitter end of the film. There are likely a dozen interpretations as to what it is that she's using these men for, but to share any personal opinions might only serve to lead you in a certain direction when you see the film for yourself, which I cannot recommend you doing any higher. 
The film is neatly divided into two distinct halves, and the juxtaposition of her assured demeanor in the first half with her curiosity in the second gives the film all the meat it needs to serve as something greater than just a collection of nicely composed images. Make no mistake about it, this is a director's showcase as much as any film that's ever been made, but the story isn't treated as some sort of ancillary afterthought as many directors who traffic in sensational imagery often do. Based on a book by Michel Faber, the film version jettisons any and all explanation, leaving it up to the individual viewer to ascertain precisely what they think is happening. This sort of thing has been attempted many times before, but never with the calm assurance that this film has in spades.
Slow but never boring, the film lures you in with its beauty, much the same way the main character lures unsuspecting Scottish men into her van and home, and suspends you in confusion as you seek to understand precisely what is going on, only to discover that you're not going to be spoon fed any sort of explanation, so you'd better start making sense of it all in whatever way works best for you. The film bills itself as science fiction, but plays more like an unrelenting horror film in which you're never entirely sure where the threat is coming from, but you know it's getting closer with each passing moment. Mica Levi's score aids in setting this mood remarkably well, and never allows the audience a sense of relief. It's a truly incredible pairing of image and sound.
Without giving too much away, there is a fantastic scene set on a beach near the twenty minute mark in the film. It contains one of the most haunting images ever put on film, and will shake you to the core with how simplistically effective it is. When coupled with an extended encounter our main character has with a disfigured man in the center piece scene of the first half, it almost certainly feels like a masterpiece in the making. The film's second half ambles a bit too much, and traffics a bit too heavily in ambiguity when compared with the first, but not enough to derail the entire film. 
The comparisons will certainly fly about between this film and the work of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Nicolas Winding Refn, but this is clearly the work of an individual in much the same way all of their films are. It takes pages out of Kubrick's playbook, from the long tracking shots of The Shining, to the trippy visuals of 2001, but it never slips into outright mimicry, which is the most refreshing thing any filmmaker seeking to be compared to Kubrick can do. It also shirks the most basic tenet of Kubrick's best films, and that is an insight into the mind of the protagonist. With no narration, very little dialogue, and a heavy reliance on image and sound to convey its story, this film could never be mistaken for one made by Kubrick, and its infinitely better as a result. If the film has any kindred spirit, it is Nicholas Roeg's masterful 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the comparisons are even more apparent in the second half. 
Scarlett Johansson continues to surprise every time out of the gate lately, and her expressive face aids her in unbelievable ways in this film. The humor that is present in the film's first half grows out of her ability to go from charming to deadpan at the drop of a hat, and she's able to do so much with very little. It's almost the perfect companion piece to Her which relied solely on her voice, and when taken together, prove that with the right material, she's one of the best actresses working today. The litany of men she interacts with never hang around long enough to make much of an impact, with three notable exceptions, but with no names given, they become intentionally interchangeable, and all serve their purpose incredibly well. Their Scottish brogues also provide the film with some humor, and give a fantastic sense of what it might be like to be an alien trying to comprehend the English language. 
Under the Skin is not a film for everyone. It will baffle and annoy some filmgoers, and its refusal to conform to any established rules of filmmaking will make it a downright maddening experience for some. Those willing to give themselves over to the experience will find a refreshingly original and gorgeously realized film that will be dissected and studied for years to come. If it feels groundbreaking, it's because it most certainly is, and it is bold enough to stand its ground and wait for the right viewers to come to it rather than the other way around. My only hope is that we don't have to wait another ten years for Glazer's next film, but however long the wait ends up being, it will be well worth it for the sharp left turn he's sure to make yet again.
GO Rating: 4.5/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Day 290: Nymphomaniac Vol. 2

"For a human being, killing is the most natural thing in the world. We're created for it."
Now that the cat's out of the bag on Lars von Trier's latest experiment and expectations have been adjusted accordingly, Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 has hit theaters and on demand with all the welcoming grace afforded a fart in church. More obligatory than anticipated, at least by this critic, the second part of this film wraps up this sex and shame filled odyssey, providing some much needed closure that will allow anyone foolish enough to have stuck it out this long to move on with their lives. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 couldn't have set the bar any lower, so could this film manage to redeem the lackluster first half, or are we just circling the drain for two more hours? Read on to find out...
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) dives right back into her story, telling Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) about her first orgasm at age 12. This is juxtaposed with the point in her marriage to Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf) when she became unable to achieve one, leaving her to wonder if she will ever attain pleasure from sex again. She and Jerôme have a child together, but with him constantly out of town on business, she quickly discovers that she's not cut out to be a mother. Her quest to get her groove back, so to speak, leads her to a man named K (Jamie Bell) who specializes in a special brand of deviancy that might hold the key to Joe feeling something below the belt again.
Her frequent visits to K find her increasingly distant with her son, and she is often leaving him unattended to pursue her selfish desires. When Jerôme arrives home to find their son alone, he tells Joe that if she goes to see K again, he will take their son and she'll never see them again. She accepts his deal, sending her further down a path of self-destruction. She soon takes a job as a debt collector, working for a rather unscrupulous boss (Willem Dafoe) who is pleased with her work, but suggests she take on an apprentice. P (Mia Goth), the girl he chooses for her, turns out to be a quick study, but a chance encounter between P and someone from Joe's past causes her old and new life to collide in unexpected ways.
If there's anything positive to be said for Vol. 2, it's that it is not as egregiously offensive as Vol. 1. That's a fairly small consolation, however, because it does little to redeem how absurdly awful the first half of this nonsense was. It's a more interesting film, but von Trier is still more concerned with shocking his audience into submission rather than telling a good story. Some of the film's scenes are at least mildly entertaining, but they're all thoroughly forgettable, particularly when the highlights are rehashed in a late film montage, and you get the distinct feeling that it's been days rather than hours since you've seen some of them. For a film so concerned with shock value and doing things that no one else has done before, it's a sadly forgettable affair in the grand scheme of things with little to no resonance.
Such is the folly of undertaking such an endeavor simply to do something that's never been done before. All great art has come from a place of someone wanting to say something rather than just wanting to say something different. Form should always follow content, but von Trier fails to realize this, and it's why many of his most ardent supporters have abandoned him in the wake of his nonsensical, late career tailspin. He puts the "art" in artificial, and it's taxing. There's no longer any substance to be found in his films, and all the intellectual gobbledygook in the world doesn't make your film profound and meaningful if there's no there there. And it's not as if the film isn't personal. It reeks of a cry for help from a man desperate to bare his soul, and the saddest indictment of all is that in doing so, he's almost conclusively proved that he doesn't have one. 
While Vol. 1 was front loaded with terrible performances, Vol. 2 at least has a handful of good performances, although none of them stick around long enough to make the film palatable. Willem Dafoe is good, as always, but with only two scenes, he fails to land much of an impact. Udo Keir has all of one line of dialogue, but it's always fun to see him show up in a film. Jamie Bell fares the best of the characters with any substantial screen time, having grown into quite a fine young actor and making good on all the promise he showed fourteen years ago in Billy Elliot. Gainsbourg & Skarsgård continue their comatose tête á tête, which is about as informative as reading a litany of wikipedia pages and nearly as titillating.
Anyone who's seen Antichrist will recognize a very obvious callback to that film's opening scene, but von Trier does nothing interesting with it beyond simply reminding audiences of another one of his terribly repulsive films. All the visual flash and pizazz in the world is meaningless without any substance, and this is the height of vapidness. This film is dead behind the eyes, and all the blustery, self-aggrandizing talk between Seligman and Joe does is further prove the point that metaphors are best left in the subtext and become drained of all meaning when spelled out for an audience. It's not just that the emperor is wearing no clothes, it's that at this point, he's not only aware of it, he's proud of that fact.
Taken as a complete piece, Nymphomaniac is one of the most soul draining and wearying films ever made. It doesn't look, sound, or play like a film. Instead it feels like some nonsensical work made by a first year film student given access to limitless resources, all of which have been squandered in the pursuit of a medium that person has no business laboring in. The wheels are off the von Trier express at this point, and it seems as if critics are content to placate him by praising his desire to push buttons over saying something, anything, meaningful. In the rush to celebrate individualism, it seems that many have lost sight of the fact that it's a thoroughly empty gesture when one considers that there's nothing noteworthy about standing out merely to stand out. You have to say something worth listening to, and after listening for four hours I have heard, quite literally, nothing. 
GO Rating: 0.5/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]