ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Five Obstructions

The Five Obstructions
Directed by: Jorgen Leth & Lars von Trier
Written by: Jorgen Leth & Lars von Trier
Starring: Jorgen Leth, Lars von Trier, Patrick Bauchau, and Anders Hove

Fans of Danish auteur Lars von Trier likely know his penchant for sadism, both on and off the screen.  Until The Five Obstructions, we’ve had to take Bjork’s word on the off screen part.

Though there are no grueling executions, rapes or scenes of graphic mutilation, von Trier does have his way with one of his idols, director Jorgen Leth.  He challenges him to recreate one of his earlier films, The Perfect Human, five different times with different rules, or “obstructions,” each time.

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Five movies to watch alone

To coincide with our “Five movies to watch with a group,” post from the summer, it’s time for the foil.  Here are movies that we think you’ll get a deeper understanding from if you kick out the guests and block out the rest of the world.  While the group movies offer visceral thrills and outlandish humor, these movies use a sometimes understated, subtle way of telling the story that can’t be appreciated with a loud group of people.

There Will Be Blood- We both named Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic the best movie of the 2000s, but we’ve never watched it together.  Something primal about Anderson’s direction and Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance (also topping our best male performances list) leaps off the screen and speaks right to you.  If you’re in a crowded room, you won’t hear it as well.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Dogville

Dogville
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Written by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, and James Caan

You’ll notice while watching Dogville that the town doesn’t actually exist.  Not in any literal sense that is, but in the minds of the actors and the ideals of the provoc-auteur behind it, the fictional non-town comes fully to life.  Lars von Trier, hell-bent on eliminating elements he deems unnecessary in films, has this time decided to completely remove an actual setting from his movie.  Instead all of the actors, big ones mind you, walk around a stage marked with condescending street names and flimsy outlines of houses.  You can see the entire population, and you often do.

For three rapturous hours von Trier holds and sustains a mood without anything but people, white lines, and some flimsy set pieces.  It’s a terrific feat all by itself, but added to the material is a script powered by ideas and filled with allegory.  He may have never been to America, but he sure knows how this country sees itself.  He approaches the filming as if he were watching a village of ants, often looking from above and then zooming in with his magnifying glass.

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If they were in television… Lars von Trier

Notable films: Europa, Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist, Dogville, Breaking the Waves, and The Idiots.

Famous for: Shocking his audience, controversy, female lead performances, depressing idealism, anti-religious undercurrents, beautifully unique visuals, low budget hand-held camera angles, talking about his fears and emotions, and refusing to watch his own movies.

Hypothetical title: Heaven’s Highway

Hypothetical premise: After being set up for a misdemeanor and kicked out by her polygamist family, lonely widow Gretchen kills her abusive father and flees her small west-coast mountain town.  Emerging from the mountains a completely new person, she begins rebuilding her life for herself, learning her sense of individuality and coming into her own.  However, the past catches back up to her, and she is soon on the run from the law as well as her haunting, abusive past.  She begins seeing delusional crimes committed in everyday life, mimicking both the ones her father did and the way she killed him. When the police catch her, there is no proof that her father was the patriarch of a repressive polygamist regime because nobody in it will talk but her.  She is sentenced to life in prison, but commits suicide after reflecting on how good her life was for those few months.

Cross between: Thelma and Louise, Dancer in the Dark, Big Love, and Dogville.

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Color blind: Modern directors and black and white

For most of the movies’ existence, we’ve had the ability to show color.  Nothing personifies the transition from black and white to color more than that immortal transition in The Wizard of the Oz, when the movies took the audience from the bleak colorlessness of everyday life into the beautiful colors of Victor Fleming’s adaptation.

It’s weird, then, that many modern directors’ greatest film making achievements are in black and white.  One benefit of it, besides the beauty you can capture without color, is that it may be hard to tell which decade a movie came from.  It can make a movie timeless, which is good when you’re talking about subjects like WWII and the Holocaust.  To celebrate 100 posts, here is a look back at movie history at directors’ ventures into a world without any vivid color, and how it paid off for them.

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Our (Belated) Best Female Performances of the Decade

1. Bjork- Dancer in the Dark It was already a complicated role to step into; a lower class immigrant who must work in a factory to support her son and save up for his surgery to save him from the same blindness that was dooming her.  She then runs into serious threats when capitalist America comes into the picture. Add in musical fantasies, tension from the sadist Lars Von Trier and impossible songs written by Bjork herself, and the role of Selma is just as doomed as the character.  But Bjork takes this tragic story, gives it the proper life, glimmer for hope and our sympathy to prolong the inevitable as long as possible, making it even that much more difficult to take. It’s a pure work of devastation to watch Bjork melt right down into the role, with her far-off eyes, that reckoning, hopeless smile and perfectly broken down English that match every last theme in the movie. Key Scene- Selma is in a jail cell broken down and alone and once again turns to music to take her away. Moving to the ventilator, she begins singing Julie Andrews’ “Favorite Things” to calm herself from one of the lowest points in her life. It’s a sad setting but a bright song, and then it gets even more disturbing when Bjork throws in the deep lumps in the back of her throat and tears matched with her revealing smile and dancing around. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

2. Ellen Burstyn- Requiem for a Dream- Her role as an aging widow hooked on caffeine pills in an attempt to get on her favorite television show is also one of the most heart-wrenching performances you’re ever likely to see.  Burstyn may have lost the Oscar, but her performance will live on longer than any of the nominees from that year.  Key Scene Her monologue to her son Harry.  It’s here that her character’s drug use is humanized, tragically.  Burstyn doesn’t go full-on with her grief, she restrains herself to devastating effect.  The close-up shot catches every nuance of a performance with many dazzling ones.

3. Naomi Watts- Mulholland Drive– Watts’ performance(s) in David Lynch’s mind-boggling neo-noir catapulted her to the ranks of Hollywood’s finest young actresses.  Without her perky smile and willingness to bear her body and soul, Lynch’s vision would’ve been less convincing.  Key Scene– As Betty auditions for a part in a movie, Watts makes the audition seem like reality thanks to a close-up of the two actors and her smoldering intensity and eroticism.  It’s unlike anything you’ll see in any other movie. Continue reading

ARCHIVE REVIEW: Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark
Directed by: Lars von Trier
Written by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare

Brilliant auteur and unapologetic cinematic sadist Lars von Trier is one of the movies’ most polarizing figures among critics.  He has a cult following of fans, some of which are the most respected film scholars working today.  Almost all of his movies follow an artistic pattern of well thought out shots that often contain disturbing images.  This is where Dancer in the Dark is unique.

Von Trier’s emotionally wrenching film has a visual style that many will recognize from Cloverfield or NBC’s The Office.  It may throw fans off, and that’s probably his intention.  As a member of the Dogma style of film making, it is this director’s goal to throw you for a loop by defying everything held sacred in the movies.  He deconstructs typical methods and injects heavy amounts of emotion and tragedy in order to confound the viewer and leave them uncertain about what they’ve witnessed.  Dancer is no different in this regard.

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