I hated Pulp Fiction the first time I saw it. The first Tarantino movie I’d ever seen was Kill Bill: Vol. 1, which is a decidedly gorier and altogether more accessible movie for an eighth grader (technically I wasn’t legally “mature enough” for either by the MPAA’s standards), although I was the only one in my grade who seemed to enjoy it. When I watched Pulp Fiction for a second (and a third and a fourth ad infinitum) viewing, it gripped me like few other movies had before or since. To this day it is still one of my all-time favorites.
Movies, especially great ones, often change from viewing to viewing, not because they are different but because we are. Though we now live in an age of Rotten Tomato blurbs and aggregated consensus, a critic’s most valued possession is still their written voice. With every review now posted quickly and then archived online, conversation on most movies usually peaks quickly when they are first released, and then dissipates just as fast. The only time afforded to looking back is the annual “Best of the Year” cluster fuck.
Melancholia Directed by: Lars von Trier Written by: Lars von Trier (screenplay) Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland and Alexander Skarsgard
When Lars von Trier announced “No more happy endings,” after the premiere of his last film, Antichrist, people were a little dismayed. Had any of his movies actually had a happy ending in the traditional sense? Bjork dangling from a rope at the end of Dancer in the Dark, an entire village (and America by extension) facing a woman scorned at the end of Dogville, a man walking through the woods and then being overcome by persecuted female ghosts (or something like that) in Antichrist- he’s not exactly Disney material.
His latest, Melancholia, certainly contains a grim conclusion whether or not you subscribe to the “more” part of his proclamation. This is a film in which the world ends and everyone on it perishes, but not before a young woman succumbs to crippling depression during her wedding.
I’m Not There Directed by: Todd Haynes Written by: Todd Haynes & Oren Moverman (screenplay) Starring: Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and Richard Gere
Where to begin? Here is a movie with almost no beginning and no end, an interwoven tale about both the same person and six very different ones. It’s fitting that a movie about such a radical is filled with radical notions of its own, at least about filmmaking.
Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is a visionary look into the life and ever-shifting personas of Bob Dylan. You don’t hear his name once during the two-and-a-half hour journey into his head, but at the end you get something you don’t usually get from biopics: a true understanding and examination of the subject. We don’t follow a single artist as they are discovered to have musical talent, inevitably become famous and then acquire famous people problems. All of these things happen in I’m Not There, but to different characters in different ways.
Antichrist Directed by: Lars von Trier Written by: Lars von Trier Starring: Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Much has been made of this visually striking, grotesquely dark film from Danish auteur Lars von Trier. The rumors are true, almost all of them. There is a talking fox. There is a gruesome climax filled with not one, but two, genital mutilations. If the latter doesn’t draw in today’s torture porn crowd, it’s only because the barbarity doesn’t fall within the tight moral coding and sugar-coated bloodbath of the Saw franchise.
Von Trier likes to think of himself as above mere mutilation for the sake of it, but viewing this film as a tale with morals when the content is so morally reprehensible creates kind of a paradox. His film is at times visually striking, and at times brutally unwatchable.
It begins with a beautifully filmed yet tragic slow-motion black and white sequence of a couple (William Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) making love while their son sneaks out of his crib and plummets out a window to his death. Mr. von Trier is not above starting out his film with the most cliche form of tragedy: kill the kid.