Friday, 30 September 2011

'The Earth is Evil, We Don't Need to Grieve for It'.

When entering the cinema to see Lars Von Trier's attempt at a "disaster film", I was apprehensive to say the least. For one, I was not overly keen on 2009's tedious and unnecessarily repulsive Antichrist. Watching the trailer of Von Trier's newest mind-fuck, I was worried that it would fall into the same trap as Antichrist: Being far too involved. It appeared self indulgent and unrealistic, even laughable.
This sombre telling of a strange planet named Melancholia colliding with our earth is, of course, absurd in every way. A handful of critics have also labeled the film as 'too slow' and even 'boring'. I, however, felt a pleasant balance of horror, sadness and discomfort.

The story is split into two halves: The first structured around Kirsten Dunst's spiritless Justine, whose country wedding party is where a good proportion of the film takes place. The second half is presented through the eyes of Justine's sister, Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. The two parts of the drama are perfectly paralleled; one presented with feelings of a hollow, defeated outlook on life and the other with a desperate longing to exist.
Melancholia has the most severe of Science Fiction set-ups, having a planet colliding with our earth and ending mankind's existence for good. Yet without generalising, Melancholia would ironically leave your typical, thrill-seeking Sci-Fi junkie feeling underwhelmed. This is a far cry from Independence Day.
Von Trier's film-making style treads familiar ground to Sophia Coppola's, displaying elements of Marie Antoinette and Virgin Suicides Not only because they are sharing a protagonist in Dunst, but because of their long silences and organic character developemnt. This comparison leads me to the question of whether "the end of the world" is even needed for this kind of family-orientated drama? And whilst this particular tragedy could work to a certain extent without the Sci-Fi element, Planet Melancholia's menacing presence throughout made for a strangely hypnotic and haunting viewing: The planet not only being an elusive figure of fear for the characters and audience alike but signifying Justine and Claire's inner turmoil.
Critics have admired Dunst's delicate portrayal of Justine, calling it her comeback after being out of Hollywood's spotlight for some while. This was not just her "comeback" but her breakthrough. Justine's steady decline into a state of complete desolation and despair is the sensitive and realistic representation of mental health that an audience of 2011 needs. Watching Justine is like car-crash syndrome - there is no way to tear away as she destroys everything in her path, much like Melancholia itself.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, who normally plays some form of erratic basketcase takes on her most unusual role: The everywoman. Her performance as a typical middle class mother is her most beautiful. Though the plot is, as mentioned, absurd and ridiculous, something still lingers frightfully close to home. In many people's opinion, this could happen, and eventually it will. Our existence will inevitably come to an end and Claire's reaction has us nailed to the seat with its sheer honesty. She acts as one would imagine any sane mother would in such an awful situation.
These are two of the finest female parts written in years and people are still shying away from the idea of the film, mainly because of Von Trier’s track record. The director has been continuously accused of showing women in a shallow and overtly sexual light. Though in his previous pictures his misogyny could be argued, Melancholia is a true exception to this. Not only are Justine and Claire complex and realistic human beings but they also have a rare cinematic strength. The men of his film flee in one way or another and it is his women who (quite literally) stick it out to the end. As Kirsten Dunst says herself on the matter, '[Von Trier] feels more comfortable with a woman portraying his emotions, so how is that misogynistic?'

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Glee Season 2 - In Retrospect

I resisted joining the masses in becoming a fan of Ryan Murphy's phenomenon for some while. However, somewhere between the Madonna and Gaga episodes of season one, I realised that I was apparently not impervious to the show's charm.

I may now be a self proclaimed "Gleek", as they say, but I still have a complicated relationship with the show: Glee is a show that I love, hate, laugh at, cry at, am forever frustrated with, skip the dull songs of, moan about, watch on repeat, am bored by, am passionate about, cringe at....

So let's get the negative out of the way first.

The Glee club itself is far too incestuous! Surely there is somebody in McKinley High OUTSIDE the 15 members of Glee club to play with? It seems to be one big game of musical-lips. Sam in one season has dated Quinn, Mercedes and Santana, who has now has ploughed her way through Puck, Fin, Sam and Brittany. And let's not even open Puck's little black book. It is ridiculous! They may all be 57 in real life, but they are suppose to be playing 16 year olds! Surely this is not the best of examples to be setting on the impressionable youth of today.

The popular teen comedy has never been at its strongest when it comes to plot line. The show runs on well written comedy infectious characterisation, decent sentiments and the music. Which brings me to, of course, the core of the show.

Glee's music is always going to be hit and miss, and I do not think there is any way the creators can avoid this. As long as they continue on with the odd hit, they are doing their job...Still, in my personal opinion there are ways for the creators to avoid the misses and pull in more hits. Here a list of the worst breeds of Glee-song.

1) Ballads by Rachel. - I'm sure they held some sort of emotional power over an audience in season 1, but sadly they happen far too often and have become increasingly repetitive and dull. This is where I usually skip to the next scene...

2) Copycats. - I know 98% of Glee's discography is made up of cover-versions but it is when they get really lazy that I feel like tuning out. When the show covers songs still floating around in the top 40, like 'Firework,' or 'Tik & Tok,' with no sense of unique identity, it often just feels like karaoke. They just sound the same. It's not difficult to make it creative - just get a member opposite sex to sing it. Rebecca Black, anybody?

3) Irrelevant songs that nobody knows. - Every fan can surely relate to this category.

With the underwhelming songs aside, there have been a number of enjoyable numbers this season. Here are my five favourite performances of season 2:

1) Quinn/Rachel - I Feel Pretty/Unpretty.

2) Glee Club - Marry You

3) Blaine - Teenage Dream

4) Holly Holiday, Santana & Brittany - Landslide

5) Artie - Stronger

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Coppola effect

A love letter to one of my favourite directors
Lost In Translation showed a 13-year old me the frightfully powerful hold that cinema can have on a person. ‘But nothing happened‘, so many complained. Yet, I cared not, as to me, everything happened: Sophia Coppola happened.

It can be difficult to tear Sophia’s name from the stigma that her family name carries, even though her work is so different from her father’s. While I like the Godfather, and was thoroughly entertained by the Godfather part II, I will always choose a viewing of Marie Antoinette for a Friday night in. Controversial, I know.
Being boo'd and hissed at during various film festivals, Marie Antoinette is largely known to be Coppola's biggest cinematic failure (Directorial failure, this does not include her acting in The Godfather part III). I cannot deny that in means of story and character it is about as realistic as Avatar, even though it is supposed to be based on truth. Though, this is no hindrance to a devout Copola fan: While I can barely remember what happened in relation to plot, I remember what I felt watching the film. Marie Antoinette was as beautiful as Avatar. Every scene edible, every costume striking and Kirsten Dunst’s performance massively underrated - which could have been a denominating factor in why she ended up in rehab so soon afterwards.
From one Dunst/Coppola Collaboration to another, The Virgin Suicides, is for me, the teen angst film of all time (Though, I do like Bring it On. A lot). Not only is it faithful to the essence of Jeffrey Eugenides’ terrific novel, but it works itself as a ingenious observation of the teenage girl. The emptiness, the loneliness and the insignificance of being a 14 – 17 year old adolescent is showcased from an obviously personal viewpoint, and is accompanied perfectly by a score from French electronica band Air.
As with her three past films, Coppola's newest feature, Somewhere is about being materially rich but morally bankrupt, which is impossible not to interpret as a biographical reference. Just like Lost in Translation, we have a rich film star spending his life in hotels doing fuck all. How can this be entertaining?

Somehow, without telling us how we are suppose to feel through a plot, she shows us. It is what is not said that is important. There are moments of intense stillness that tie the audience to Stephen Dorff’s character in ways that underline Coppola’s specific breed of filmmaking. Without giving away too much for those who have not seen it, we are left with a similar conclusion as to Lost in Translation; and Bob’s whispering in Charlotte’s ear. We want, so desperately, to know what was said, but never find out, however many times we re-watch it.
Stephen Dorff – Who’s work I was not familiar with until now, performs the role brilliantly and Elle Fanning gives her older sister someone to watch out for. Somewhere is another addition to what I'd call a fantastic start-out for a young(ish) director.