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MASH (1970)
Arrogant irreverence is not the same as actually funny, 14 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For a legendary comedy, MASH isn't that funny. It's mostly mean, petty, arrogant and self-righteous.

As anyone familiar with the TV show spawned by this film knows, MASH is the story of 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. It primarily follows the exploits of surgeons Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John (Elliot Gould) as they joke their way through bloody surgery and dealing with Army bureaucracy. There's really not much of a plot to the film. It's just the characters moving from one situation to the next, mostly becoming more absurd as they go along.

There aren't that much more than a handful of real jokes in the movie and most of them are the simplest sort of slapstick. Almost all of the alleged humor of MASH comes out of the characters' irreverent attitude toward each and every thing around them. But being irreverent isn't always the same as being funny. Sometimes being irreverent is just being a jackass and in the case of MASH, sometimes it's just being a cruel child lashing out at anyone different than you.

My problem with this movie started with the scene where Hawkeye and his fellow newly arrived doctor, Duke (Tom Skerrit), encounter Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall). As they enter their tent, they find Frank trying to teach a young Korean boy how to read, and he's using the Bible to do it. Hawkeye and Duke find this to be odd and somewhat offensive behavior and give the boy a girlie magazine to look at instead. Later on, Frank prays for the safety of U.S. soldiers in the field, their commanders on the ground and their Commander-In-Chief and again, Hawkeye and Duke find this behavior objectionable and openly mock and deride Frank for praying. And it's very clear that the movie wants us to agree that Frank's actions are strange, bad and laughable. But the movie never bothers to explain why.

Trying to teach a Korean kid to read English is a noble thing, especially because the movie never implies that the kid has any real education to speak of and in contrast to the way the movie's "heroes" treat him as nothing more than a servant. Praying for the well being of others should be about the most unobjectionable thing anyone can do, yet MASH implies it shouldn't be tolerated in polite company. Frank Burns is constantly treated like a terrible person, but Duvall's Frank isn't the complete weasel that Larry Linvile portrayed on TV. The only sin Duvall's Frank ever commits is being a little uptight. He never does anything any normal person would consider that bad, yet because he doesn't think and act the way Hawkeye and Trapper John do he's subjected to cruel torments and physical violence.

It's even worse for Major Margaret O'Houlihan (Sally Kellerman). Again, her only real offense is being a little uptight. But she's repeatedly subjected to the most vicious sorts of humiliations and unlike Frank, who at least gets to strike back at his tormentors, "Hot Lips" laps up the abuse like a whipped dog and later in the film grinningly pals around with the very people who treated her like the lowest form of garbage.

I can only imagine that MASH was supposed to reflect the cultural attitudes of the day. Audiences were supposed to identify with Hawkeye and the gang as "us" and laugh uproariously as they heaped abuse on "them". But if the narcissistic, crude, intolerant, vindictive, sadistic and awful thinking and attitudes embodied by this film really did represent the true face of the late1960s/early 1970s…no one should be surprised that there are so many people who deeply despise that era and everything it stood for.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
I feel sorry for Hugh Jackman, 29 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Wolverine is one of the better made super-hero flicks of its era. Screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank have come up with a story that's better than Spider-Man 1 or 3, Iron Man 2 or 3, either Hulk movie and both Captain America and Thor combined. Director James Mangold also does fine work, though many of the action scenes suffer from the modern blight of camera movement that's so frenetic you can barely tell who is hitting whom. The special effects are solid and even the soundtrack is well done. And the cast, highlighted by the tremendous Hugh Jackman, is as appealing as you'll find. There's almost every ingredient here you need to make a great motion picture. The one thing missing, however, is so important that it negates almost everything positive.

Wolverine is not a great character. Yes, I know. He's the most popular comic book creation of the last 40 years and has joined, if not surpassed, Batman, Superman and Spider-Man in the hearts of super-hero fans. That's still doesn't change the fact that he's not a great character. Or to be more accurate, that's he's only a great character in the limited role for which he was originally conceived. Wolverine was created to be a one-off opponent for the Hulk and then was hauled out of mothballs to join a revamped X-Men roster and as a rebel anti-hero in opposition to or operating alongside more traditional heroic types, Logan is a whole lot of fun. On his own as the emotional and narrative heart of a story, he's a whole lot of one-note nothing.

Wolverine is nothing more than adolescent badassery given form. He has none of the natural depth of Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne. Those characters are enmeshed with bigger concepts like responsibility, guilt, compulsion and myriad other things. Wolverine is about nothing more than looking, talking and acting "cool" and every attempt to graft more onto him ultimately fails. This film ambitiously tries to build off both Logan's sense of loss from killing Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand and his weariness over decades of battle-torn existence to give him some pathos, then strips him of his healing factor to try and make him slightly vulnerable. But adolescent badassery and vulnerability never mix and by the end of the movie, Logan is back to getting skewered through the chest by a katana and shrugging it off like it was a splinter. The super power that originally meant he could recover from a non-fatal gunshot in a day has metastasized into every boy's fantasy of never being hurt by anything.

And if you think I'm wrong, ask yourself this. What are the best Wolverine moments on the big screen. They're all from the first two X-flicks, aren't they? Moments when he may have been the star but shared the screen and story with others. Or why did they need to go back to a 4 issue limited series from 30 years ago for the guts of this motion picture? No one wrote a Wolvie story-arc in the last 20 years that was good enough for the job?

In many respects, this movie helps to solidify the standard of quality by which the whole genre should be judged. It really is that good in so many ways. But just because a comic book character is popular, that doesn't mean he or she can carry an entire film.

5 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
If any filmmaker desperately needed to fail, it's del Toro., 13 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The greatness of Guillermo del Toro as a filmmaker is his ability to tap into the pure imagination of childhood. The failing of del Toro as a storyteller is that he's not grown up enough to discipline that imagination. He embraces fantastic ideas and marvelous imagery but, left to his own devices, his films falter on simplistic and underdeveloped characters, boring and meandering plots, clichés piled on top of clichés and an unwillingness to get everything to make sense. Like a child, del Toro doesn't notice if he's being repetitive or nonsensical or erratic or if his story isn't going anywhere.

Pacific Rim is probably the best looking giant robot vs. giant monster movie ever made. The special effects and fight scenes are remarkable to watch. Outside of those scenes, this film isn't any better and might be a bit worse than the average man-in-suit Godzilla flick from Toho. Frankly, the prologue where del Toro world-builds the setting of this motion picture is more interesting and more dramatically compelling than everything that follows.

After years of Mankind using giant robots to kill giant monsters coming out of a dimensional rift on the ocean floor, a fallen hero is resurrected to help in a final attempt to end the war. A bunch of stockier-than-stock characters are introduced. There's a tired subplot with one of the guys from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Big battles ensue. The good guys win. Granted, most folks are looking for stuff like Pacific Rim to be a combination of Mamet, Shakespeare and Steinbeck, but there's not a moment of alleged drama or comedy here you haven't seen many, many, many times before.

But del Toro can't even manage his clichés right. He spectacularly introduces his main hero, played by Charlie Hunnam, and sets up the character's personal challenge. Then del Toro relegates his hero to bystander while he elevates a series of secondary characters to the fore. That might have been bold if their stories were at all entertaining or original. Those secondary character arcs, however, are arbitrarily manufactured, introduced and mostly left unresolved. This could have been Hunnam's big shot at movie stardom. Instead, you'll barely remember he was in the movie.

By the standards of summer blockbusters, Pacific Rim is unexceptional but okay. Maybe if it bombs, folks will stop letting del Toro run wild and force him to marry his amazing vision to some cold, hard, practical thought.

Proves that Seth Rogan can act, but that's about it., 6 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Writer/director Sarah Polley makes things perfectly clear from the very beginning of Take This Waltz. As Michelle Williams and her feet shift in and out of focus while making blueberry muffins during the opening credits, I felt like Polley was speaking directly to me. She was saying "I have no interest in entertaining you. I made a film that satisfies my creative vision and if you enjoy it, great. If not, suck it".

I liked Polley's take on how the desire of the moment transforms into the reality of the rest of your life. Williams and Sarah Silverman get gratuitously naked, which is always welcome. Seth Rogan also demonstrates that he could be a pretty good dramatic actor if he worked at it. Everything else about this movie left me sucking it.

Margot (Williams" and Lou (Rogan) are a young married couple who are very much in love, but Lou no longer fulfills Margot's yearnings for passion and won't give her a child as compensation. Enter Daniel (Luke Kirby), a young artist/rickshaw driver who Margot meets and flirts with on and plane and then turns out to live right across the street. As Margot and Daniel slowly dance the dance of seduction around each other, the seams of Margot and Lou's marriage even more slowly split apart. Margot eventually leaves her husband and, in what is absolutely the best part of the story, we see that her "happily ever after" winds her up in exactly the same place she was before.

The montage where Polley shows us how the burning lust of soulmates turns inevitably into tedious domesticity is some great filmmaking. That sequence alone justifies her as an artist. Another montage where Rogan goes through 6 months of post-breakup emotions in one morning, however, shows that Polley has a long way to go as a craftsman. Take This Waltz is too long, too scattered and contains too much stuff that doesn't connect.

Take the Rogan montage, which could double as his screen test for any dramatic role for which he might ever audition. Rogan does a nice job handling the acting up to that scene, but the limits of his skill show through in the montage. What is obviously supposed to be a defining moment in the film falls flat and what makes it worse is that the montage is superfluous. There's no need to feature the character of Lou so prominently. This is overwhelmingly Margot's story. No other character really gets that kind of showcase moment against Lou and he already has a smaller bit that does everything necessary to tug on the audience's heart strings. The montage doesn't pay off anything we've seen of Lou leading up to it. It doesn't lead to any plot or character moments after it. It's isolated and arbitrary and may very well have been inserted into the script for the sole purpose of enticing a star like Rogan to take an otherwise meager part.

Another isolated and arbitrary scene is where Williams, Silverman and other women of various ages and shapes are showering together in a locker room. They're completely naked and there's nothing comedic or titillating about any of it. Polley is clearly trying to make some kind of statement about women's body types and the exploitation of female nudity in cinema. That statement has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else in Take This Waltz. The dialog from the scene could have been spoken in any other setting and neither female body issues nor meta-textual commentary of film are even vaguely alluded to in the rest of the motion picture.

And while Polley does a good job at making Margot and Lous into reasonably believable human beings, Daniel is a construct. He has not thoughts, emotions or existence beyond serving the plot. Additionally, there's a subplot about Silverman's character being an alcoholic where Polley doesn't appear to understand the difference between being a drunk and having a mental illness, like bipolar disorder. Either that or alcoholism is simply illegal in Canada.

Take This Waltz isn't a disaster. It did need someone to step in and persuade Polley to make it as a 40 minute long film festival entry. That didn't happen so I'd advise all but the most devoted lover of art house flicks to wait for the next dance.

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Why couldn't they have stopped at 2?, 1 July 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I can't characterize Rec 3: Genesis any better than by quoting The Dark Knight. "In this world, you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain". The original Rec was an outstanding piece of filmmaking and downright scary. The sequel, while not as striking, was an exciting and entertaining expansion on its predecessor. Rec 3 is not only garden variety crap, there's nothing in this movie to make you think the folks behind it had any intent of churning out anything more than that. Rec 1 and 2 were the sort of thing to which all cinema should aspire. They were smart, skillful and engaging. Rec 3 is far too much of what passes for cinema today. It's dumb, hackneyed and soulless.

Supposedly set in the same time frame as the first two films, though it could have been long before or long after for all the difference it would have made, this one sees an outbreak of Satanic Rabies during a wedding. The infection spreads, people get chomped and the always intrepid bride and groom (Leticia Dolera and Diego Martin) struggle to make it out alive. That's basically it for plot, which only illustrates how bad this thing is compared to 1 and 2. Those films took place in a well-defined environment which presented clear and believable challenges to their characters, facilitating logical and compelling stories. In this one, there's a bunch of drones in an amorphous setting and some bad stuff happens. The end.

The only halfway decent things about this flick are Leticia Dolera as the bride and Ismael Martinez as the groom's best friend. Dolera is quite attractive and conveys a real likability, even when the movie descends into virtual self-parody and turns the bride into a knockoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Martinez play a guy who appears to have been imported into this motion picture from the Spanish version of Swingers and gives and enjoyably different reaction to his horrific circumstances. I wouldn't say the rest of the cast do poor jobs but they're playing roles we've all seen time and time again.

There's one part that best encapsulates the quality and quantity of suckage in Rec 3: Genesis. This thing begins with the "found footage" approach with hand-held camera shots, then introduces a wedding videographer with a stedicam. When that happened, I anticipated something interesting that mixed the hand-held and stedicam shots. There's a bunch of contrasts and comparisons and other dramatic effects to be mined from such a combination. Instead, they ditch the "found footage" approach as soon as the Satantic Rabies shows up and switch to just being a normal movie.

That splendidly represents what's wrong with Rec 3 because it's obvious these filmmakers didn't give a single thought to what they were doing or why. They just began with "found footage" because that's was they thought Rec films should look like, didn't give a crap about what the style means or how to make use of it, then abandoned it to make something that looks and sounds just like another horror flick. Something that tried to take "found footage" in a new direction would have been admirable, even if it utterly failed. Rec 3 is just more of the same old schlock.

Oh, and instead of the rabid and rapid beasts of Rec 1 and 2, the infected here behave like Romero zombies most of the time. Why? Because that's how they need to behave so these filmmakers can tell their stupid story in the stupid way they want. It's almost like this thing was made by someone who never even saw the first two, just read the reviews and thought they were normal zombie pictures.

Rec 3: Genesis isn't merely bad. It's the kind of insultingly awful that taints the great stuff that came before it. Rec fans should definitely give this a pass.

Only watch it if you haven't seen the original, 19 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One of the worst things about modern, or postmodern, culture is the division between art and entertainment. Put simply, art is not expected to be entertaining and entertainment is not expected to be artistic. That's how we wind up with so many carefully crafted art house flicks that bore the pants off the general public and big budget blockbusters whose storytelling ranges from sub-mediocre to downright atrocious. There may be no better illustration of that than to compare this Conan movie to its Schwarzengger-starring predecessor. That film aspired to genuine artistic merit, which led it to become perhaps the greatest sword-n-sorcery epic of all time. This one aims no higher than basic competence and though it meets that mark, such a lack of ambition ultimately leaves the viewer unsatisfied.

A cinematic reboot of Robert E. Howard's greatest creation, this motion picture echoes the first in that it's all about Conan's quest to slay those who massacred his village when he was a child. In this one, Khalar Zyn (Stephen Lange) kills everyone in order to claim the final piece of a magical mask that he needs to revive his slain wife and, somehow, resurrect an ancient empire of evil. Conan survives the attack and grows up to be Jason Momoa, who crosses paths with Zym again 20 years later and must prevent him from ritually sacrificing a woman (Rachel Nichols) and completing the final part of his obviously long-delayed plan.

There are only a few things wrong with this movie. Both the beginning and end are way, way, waaaaaay too long. I mean, you're a half hour in before grown up Conan appears and the final battle against Zym is a meandering mess that goes at least 10 minutes longer than it should. There's also far too much time spent on Zym. He's essentially an equal to Conan as a main character on screen. It's one thing to do that when you're dealing with the Joker as played by Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger. Generic bad guy portrayed by veteran character actors should not be elevated to that status.

The rest is no worse and maybe a bit better than most sword-n-sorcery flicks, though Rose McGowan's hammy performance is a bit of an acquired taste. The problem is that these filmmakers had not intention or desire to try and make a great movie. They just wanted to come up with something good enough to score at the box office. The plot is okay. The music is okay. The cinematography is okay. The costumes are okay. The set design is okay. The action scenes are okay. There are no chances taken. There's no striving for the exceptional. It's nothing more than yet another genre film.

Such thinking didn't exist with the original. Though the subject matter may have been adolescent or melodramatic, the filmmaking and storytelling was still expected to try and be as good as anything else on screen. The writing needed to be sharp, subtle and memorable. The visuals had to stand up, in technique and style, to what the audience might see in more high class fair. And the music...goodness! The soundtrack of the original Conan the Barbarian is one of the greatest in Hollywood history.

I can give this film a bit of a break because it's traversing well-worn ground that was still somewhat fresh and new when Schwarzenegger donned loin cloth and blade. That doesn't obscure the truth that the best thing about it is how well the comparison of the two serves as a primer on the superiority of the filmmaking of previous generations.

16 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
So, is this reboot ever going to have a purpose other than making money?, 18 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I thought JJ Abrams' initial reboot of the franchise was fresh, exciting and not really much of a Star Trek movie. Into Darkness is still moderately exciting and slightly more Trekish, though more of the DS9 and Voyager variety than either Classic or Next Gen, but the freshness of Abrams' take expires long before this film is over. The story swaps out stunning scientific illiteracy for a senselessly elaborate plot that feels more like an overstuffed episode of Alias. The interior of the new Enterprise continues to make less sense than the TARDIS. And while the rest of the cast comes a bit closer to matching Karl Urban's great imitation of DeForest Kelley, the fact remains that the only reason any cares about Kirk is William Shatner, the only reason anyone cares about Spock is Leonard Nimoy and the only reason anyone cares about this motion picture is Gene Roddenberry.

Into Darkness stays true to the fanfic alt-history approach of Abrams and mashes up the first re-appearances of both Khan and the Klingons with a "lessons of 9/11" message that would have been bold 10 years ago but is now positively moldy, especially given that it follows the similarly "lessons of 9/11" themed Iron Man 3. There's a whole lot of running around, some decent action and comedy bits and Alice Eve joins the cast, which is good enough to raise anything at least one star on the ratings scale.

Remember when fans of the John Carter movie got all defensive over how badly it bombed at the box office? I remember because I was one of those fans and Star Trek: Into Darkness is a great example of why we tried to make so many excuses. This film isn't substantially better than John Carter. It inarguably isn't so much better that is deserves to make a couple hundred million dollars more in ticket sales. The power of the Trek brand, however, will get people into the theater and Abrams provides an adequate diversion for a couple of hours. If Disney hadn't almost entirely abandoned John Carter to the whims of fate, a sequel to that might have been just as unavoidable as this one.

There are a host of "Wait...what?" moments in this movie. Let me focus on just two of them. Wrath of Khan brilliantly handled the problem of how to credibly defeat an enemy who is smarter than you through the insight that intelligence is not the same as knowledge or wisdom. Classic Kirk and Spock whupped Khan's butt by taking advantage of his inexperience and emotional immaturity. Muppet Babies Spock is victorious because Muppet Babies Khan is an idiot who falls for a pretty obvious trick. And during Into Darkness' most notorious echoing of Star Trek II, can anyone explain what lesson is being learned and who is learning it? I don't think we need to get into the films' respective "KHAAAAAAN" screams and how Wrath's made perfect dramatic sense while Abrams' version is melodramatic tripe.

I am surely being too critical of this thing. Judged on the awesomely low standards of summer blockbusters, it's definitely above average. I'd just like to know when this rebooted franchise is going to offer something more than Roddenberry's reheated leftovers.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Yes, directors do indeed need writers., 11 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The worst thing about The Wicker Tree is that it's not even the worst attempt at exploiting the original horror classic. The remake of The Wicker Man starring Nicholas Cage is at least so awesomely point-and-laugh terrible that you can enjoy mocking it. This thing is merely another lame horror flick to throw on the ever-growing pile. Robin Hardy turns in a thoroughly pedestrian job as a director but came up with a stupid, shallow and simplistic script that works best as an unintentional love letter to Anthony Shaffer, writer of the first film. I hate to put it this way but The Wicker Tree looks, sounds and feels like the work of an old man who is well past his creative prime and no one had the decency to tell him. If this move had failed spectacularly, you could credit Hardy with perhaps trying to be bold and imaginative. As it is, it's hard to view this as anything more that a much delayed cash grab.

Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol) is a Christian country singer who, along with her cowboy fiancée Steve (Henry Garrett), travels from Texas to Scotland as a missionary to revive the faith of a small village. Let me stop right here and point something out because I think it gets at the heart of what's wrong with this film. Hardy was bright enough to realize that England has become such a religiously neutered society that he would have to go far afield to find representatives of Christianity to square off against the forces of paganism. However, he didn't bother to think about how that kind of cultural shift would affect anything else. Paganism in a post-Christian 21st century should not be at all the same thing as during the 1970s when church-going was still part of the established order of life in the UK.

Let me draw an analogy. Organized crime still exists in America but is, by all accounts, a shell of what is once was. If you made a movie about the Mafia today which didn't acknowledge that reality, that portrayed the Mob as the same sort of pervasive and powerful force it was in the 70s or during Prohibition, you'd end up with a silly and contrived bit of nonsense. Tony Soprano could not be Michael Corleone. Yet, other than bringing in Yanks as his designated Christian victims, Hardy didn't put any thought at all into how the passing of time and cultural and economic changes would require re-imagining the Wicker Man story.

The whole of The Wicker Tree is a constant reminder that Hardy didn't think things through when he wrote this screenplay. I mean, the original was set on an island that was physically cut off from civilization. That's the sort of detail that helps the viewer suspend disbelief and accept a pagan cult surviving in secrecy. The Wicker Tree not only takes place on the mainland, it's set in a village near a nuclear power plant. There's nothing isolated or secluded about such a location that would make avoiding public scrutiny easy. And while the original Wicker Man left open the question of what happens after the human sacrifice of a police officer and even hints that things aren't going to turn out well for the murderous cult, this flick ends with an epilogue that expects us to believe that not only can a minor celebrity vanish from a Scottish village with no one caring but that the gruesome death of the founder and leader of the cult would have absolutely no effect on anything. Oh, and it expects you to believe that a human being exposed to flame burns like gas-soaked tissue paper.

Anyway, Beth and Steve arrive in Scotland. The pagan villagers want to kill them. They do. The end. Believe me, I put as much thought into those four sentences and Hardy did with this script.

Topping it all is that while the original seemed like its pagan cult was at least based on some real and coherent religion, The evil faith in The Wicker Tree appears to be nothing more than horror movie tripe that Hardy just pulled out of his butt. I'm no expert and maybe it is drawn from historical truth, but it's presented so poorly and idiotically that it comes off like made up crap.

Now, Honeysuckle Weeks does take her top off and there a good bit of nudity at the end but it is mostly of the real world nudist variety where you kind of wish the folks had kept their clothes on. There isn't anything that's even inadvertently worth seeing here. Watch the original. Watch the remake and turn its awfulness into a drinking game with your friends. Don't waste your time on The Wicker Tree.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
You've got no right to bitch if you didn't like it, 11 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If nothing else, I've got to give writer/director Lars von Trier credit for being upfront with viewers. He kicks off Melancholia with a long, wordless montage of music and imagery which previews all that is to follow. If you sit through the film after that prologue, you've got no right to complain. Von Trier does everything but send up smoke signals to indicate that this movie is going to be slow, fancily stylized and plotted like a shambling zombie. To some, that sort of thing is the cat's pajamas. To others, they'd rather undergo a root canal with no anesthesia. Whichever you are, you'll know right away whether to keep watching.

Let me be as honest as von Trier. I only rented this flick to see Kirsten Dunst topless. As spectacular as she is, however, Dunst's bosom isn't the only appealing thing about Melancholia. I am not one who is usually a fan of this kind of ostentatious art house tedium, where being excessively quiet and taking forever to so or say anything is supposed to be a mark of quality. I believe any artistic endeavor should engage the audience, not demand its tolerance or indulgence. I don't need something to explode every 5 minutes but I'm also not impressed with a filmmaker trying to impress me with how deep and subtle he thinks he is. So if it weren't for Dunst's bare boobs, I'm one of those people who have turned this film off after the first 5 minutes.

I'm glad, though, that the lure of Dunst's nudity kept me watching. Don't get me wrong. I didn't enjoy the rest of Melancholia and certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone not already a fan of this type of cinema, but the visuals offered up are beautiful and while von Trier's storytelling could be accused of pretension, it's never aggravating. Throw in Dunst's nakedness and I'm glad I experienced this thing, though it felt more like I was watching von Trier trying to paint or sculpt through instead of making a movie.

If you're wondering about the dubious plot, it's like a sci-fi double feature. The first half is about Justine (Dunst), a woman who suffers from clinical depression in an alternate reality where psychiatry and psychology never existed and we watch as her medical condition destroys her wedding night. The second half is about Justine and her sister's (Charlotee Gainsbourg) family loitering around an English estate as a rogue planet approaches Earth.

Melancholia isn't for everyone and doesn't offer much, besides Dunst's breasts, for anyone. But if your significant other wants to subject you to some art house cinema, you could do a lot worse than this.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
And the point of this was?, 27 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I can't decide if watching Martha Marcy May Marlene is like falling into a black hole or like undergoing Chinese water torture. On the one hand, time seems to dilate while viewing it until a minute feels like a thousand years. After it ended, I checked the run time and was flabbergasted that it wasn't at least 4 hours long. On the other hand, there's no singe moment in this film I can point to as being legitimately terrible. The cumulative effect of one tedious scene after another, however, is will-breakingly awful. On two separate occasions, I had to pause the DVD until I recovered enough to continue.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a young woman who fell in with a cult after distancing herself from her family, only to flee the cult after two years and seek shelter with her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy's new husband Ted (Hugh Darcy). The movie bounces back and forth between Martha's experiences at the cult's communal farm and with its theoretically charismatic leader Patrick (John Hawkes) and Martha's struggle with the emotional and psychological aftermath at her sister's home. There are some clumsy attempts to connect the flashbacks at the farm with Martha's post-cult present, but there's nothing else to mention about the plot.

That's because writer/director Sean Durkin decided to make a movie about a young woman surviving a cult but didn't bother to come up with anything interesting, insightful or engaging to say about that premise. The cast all does a fine job and some of the interactions between characters, particularly Martha and Lucy, are well executed. The story itself is bereft of detail or depth and is told is such an ostentatiously slow and quiet way that it's impossible to really give a damn about any of it. Durkin fails to meet even the most basic narrative requirement and doesn't explain the nature of the cult. Is it religious? Ideological? Philosophical? Does it believe in primitivism? Transcendence? Post-material enlightenment? It is all a big scam or hopeful intentions gone astray? Why have these young people flocked to Patrick? Is it just because he can do a half-assed imitation of a folk singer? If the audience doesn't know any of those things, they can't know what attracted Martha to the cult. If we don't know what attracted her to the cult, we can't know why she stays. If we don't know why she stays, we can't know why she leaves or appreciate her trouble dealing with regular life when she does. If we don't understand any of that, how can we care about Martha or anything that happens to her. She's just an opaque figure morosely wandering across the screen.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of these art house flicks that people make and watch more as a cultural signifier than as true cinema. Creating or sitting through something like this and pretending you like it is supposed to prove that one's own intellect and taste are more advanced than that of the average yokel who floods the local multiplex for the latest Michael Bay fiasco. But if Bay made art house movies, he'd make stuff like Martha Marcy May Marlene. Excessive silence is the art house equivalent of excessive explosions. A meandering paucity of plot is the art house version of mechanical, overdetermined melodrama.

There's a lot of shockingly bad movies that come out of major Hollywood studios today. Sometimes I think the first step to fixing that is to stop fooling ourselves that twaddle like this is any better.

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