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Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Godawful melodramatic abuse of the recurring Van Trier humorless sweet gull/idiot (or Lillian Gish, per Roger Ebert) archetype, AGAIN!
The production numbers are visually interesting, like BREAKING THE WAVES chapter headings, which underscores the absurdity of Van Trier, whose talent is strictly decorative, aiming for plain indecorous truth? At LEAST 60 minutes overlong? Ms. Deneuve is hilariously miscast as a Frenchly American working wench!!! Bjork IS Gishy enough, or TOO Gishy, &/but modern rural/suburban industrial American scene/milieu is so gravely misunderstood (or dishonestly portrayed?) that one must be a stone artsfop to even consider suspension of eyerolling?
Even the sappiest Frank Capra movie (LOST HORIZON?) is less risibly romantic than ANY Van Trier film? DANCER IN THE DARK rings heavily false, saccharine jejune, politically simpleton, often just implausibly maudlin/grim? Which suggests the real trouble with this kind of art or worldview? Minus genuine humor plus sufficient empathy for others to bother to learn/depict their peculiar complexities, what? I dunno. Crippling inexorable inanity? Adolescent tragic drivel? Compassionate conservatism?
Movie fable/allegory is not & need not be dead, but spouting doctrinaire stylistic dogma implies paying more attention to the harsh (& sometimes funny?) facts/details of the world outside?
Patti Rocks (1988)
Try It IF the Opportunity Arises
We whine about extravagant cute foppishness by the brothers Coen, but bury straight sweet refreshing slaps in our supersilly faces like this $350,000 wonder, also generated in/from the northmidwest? Why? Superficially woman-unfriendly, but at least two females have watched it all the way through & rated it for imdb, granting an average of 8. I would go a little higher than that, but wonder how much how we REALLY seem/act/are interests us. Viewer inexperience in working class taverns may limit appreciation/recognition. A gem.
Where's Marlowe? (1998)
THE Grand American Private Dude Meta-Movie
This practically undistributed movie deconstructs the deeply hilarious American Private Dude archetype MUCH more sagely/gently/smartly/straightly than the also amusing, if brazenly campy/overcooked/dumbed-down, "The Big Lebowski". Commercial media wizards reject complexity, especially comic complexity (anything not BROADLY slapstick/satiric?) BEFORE it can come to market? Apparently. Wonderful stuff. Rent/buy it if you can find it. You might be charmed. You might even wonder WHY our professional masters consider us so uniform? Or plumb stupid? If we want ONLY movies that wash over us sensationally, WAVES of light/sound, we don't need ANY movies that ask for our attention, our thoughtful participation. Of course. If, on the other hand...
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)
Certainly one of the dozen or so worst movies ever released in any form, featuring a bizarrely abominable performance by Rain Joan of Arc Phoenix (River's sister, inevitably), as Bonanza Jellybean plus inconceivably awful voiceover narration by Tom Robbins, the author of the novel, which had/retains its peculiar sweet/loopy charms.
Hamlet cries out for cutting, for complete removal of the martial frame & merciless editing of LONG asides on the theater wars & the art of acting that STOP the play. Branagh is NOT a bad Hamlet, especially when he quiets himself (a particularly nice graveyard scene performance), but Jacobi might have been better employed as Polonius, Winslet is an unconvincing Ophelia, Christie is neither here nor there as Gertrude, the Altmanesque cameo casting is distracting (though some of the celebs perform capably), the opening & closing scenes are grossly extravagant (Hamlet is NOT Henry V?), the straight jacket & modern fencing gear are silly notions, the whole thing rings stiff/false/inflated. The 1990 Zeffirelli/Gibson is truer to the spirit by being less obviously obsessed with the letter?
A BUY Recommendation
An astonishingly wise/sweet funny movie to find among the endless variations on ignorantly cool/cruel now dominantly littering both the commercial & critical marketplaces. Like tripping over a ripe melon while traversing a lunar (or polar) landscape? Vastly sager on mean cop mentality than the arrested punk norm. Reminds us that permitting character growth can succeed, that connecting with our own cultural history may yield more than trying too hard to invent something dazzlingly new, that love need not be misrepresented as an obvious death force, that blind stupid loyalty has its up/down aspects. Beyond that, Lisa Stansfield CAN sing, is an honest-to-goodness white soul/swing diva, even better than Dusty Springfield in Dusty's prime. She can also act, express exasperation/pleasure calmly, appears to find/release a voice as she goes, which is true, fair/accurate, how it happens.
The sensibility behind the effort is not completely different from the sensibility driving the cinema vogue, but everything, instead of little or nothing, is ventured/risked/revealed. Brit street lingo is employed as properly/liberally as in "Trainspotting", but leads elsewhere. Lisa plays a strictly decent, if shaggable, wench. Warmly erotic with her shirt on? It's hers, but Hugo Speer does just fine & every performance is at least adequate. All of the players had genuine fun playing? One feels so, smiles. The leader of the Irish Orange horn section earns a special mention for perfect ref/riff/bow to what was beautiful in "The Blues Brothers". BUY the video or DVD, & BUY a CD or three too. Earns its title. Has IT, whatever IT is. Plenty smart but also deeply generous/charming.
A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
Don't Blame Capra
Imagine attempting to expand/extrapolate the absolutely trite monologue that opens TRAINSPOTTING into anything other than a glossy picaresque punk romp. Impocerous! But high comedy is vastly tougher than the addict-eye view? There's nothing underlying Boyle/Hodge, yet, & may never be? Who can say? Too much sensational success too soon? Diaz IS lovely/charming here, & the attempt is generally sweet, well-meant, but the script is atrocious, sophomoric. A sort of meta-Coens movie minus the brothers' wordy dazzle & deep love for & knowledge/appreciation of old movies? Unfortunate, but there will be more of this sort of thing?
Rancho Deluxe (1975)
The Definitive End-of-the-Western
Thomas McGuane, 25 years ahead of the commercial marketplace, invented the [post]modern dialogue SNAP now central to the filmfop vogue. Anyone who enjoyed Jeff Bridges as Dude Lebowski MUST see this movie. Also recommended for those interested in the final disposition of the American West, those who thought Sam Waterston might be an actor, those who can't believe Slim Pickens could improve on his "Dr. Strangelove" role, etc.
Margaret's Museum (1995)
Worth Any/All Efforts Required to Locate a Copy
A film of almost inconceivable beauty & directness. Helena Bonham-Carter as sniffling Margaret is well past grand, as is Clive Russell as her Neil, with bagpipes, & Kate Nelligan as Mom. Not for the foolishly squeamish, but all others will experience grave, if occasionally hilarious, delight.