Friday, July 2, 2010

Director #1: Thomas Vinterberg

It's All Bout Love

As much of a train wreck as it is, this is the movie that got me back in to Thomas Vinterberg. Vinterberg's 2nd film starring Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes and Sean Penn is a strange one to say the least. This Stanley Kubrick inspired film takes place in the future, where the world is on the brink of the apocalypse. Its snowing in parts of Africa, clones are being made and people randomly dropping dead on the street has become a common thing, where everyone just walks over the collapsed dead bodies like they're not even there. Phoenix is in New York City to sign divorce papers with his famous ice skating wife played by Claire Danes. Phoenix hopes this is going to be a quick visit, but he ends up staying a lot longer than expected, when he realizes that not only does he still love his wife but she's in some kind of trouble and he must stay to protect her. Oh yeah (How could i forget this), through out the coarse of the film Phoenix's brother, played by Sean Penn, calls him from an airplane, talking random nonsense that I'm sure is supposed to have some kinda "deep" meaning. The first 10-15 minutes or so in to the film, everyone is speaking with American accents, then Phoenix and Danes start talking in these Russian, polish, french Canadian hybrid accents for the rest of the film which really throws you off. Halfway in to story we discover Claire Danes's has been cloned, and theres a bunch of evil Claire Danes cyborgs roaming around. Then for the rest of the movie they're just randomly running away from people who're trying to harm them. Seriously, I'm not making this shit up. This movie has to be seen to be believed.
When i first saw this back in '04, i remember thinking it was one of the worst movies I'd ever seen as you all could imagine. I was kind of in disbelief because i refused to believe the same man responsible for such a great film like his first feature; The Celebration made this pretentious shit. At one point i thought maybe it was me. Maybe I'm missing something, and I'm one of the few people that don't "get it". I mean i DO obviously get the point of the movie. Its a metaphor about love, and fighting against the forces that try to keep a relationship apart. I get that. But maybe there was more to it. Well, I did a little investigating, and found that damn near everyone who saw this movie hated it. In fact, it was supposedly one of the most laughed about movies at Sundance '03. Two years later in '06, i came across this movie again at TLA Video (r.i.p), and for some reason i gave it yet another shot, and i still ended up hating it.
About a month ago, i was at anther video store (one of the few left), and this dvd was in the 3 for $10 section. You know how whenever they have those deals, there's always only 2 movies you want and never a third? Well this was the third. I figured at least I'll have something to laugh at. I watched it again, and still the same outcome. I didn't like it. This is one of those bad movies that i always end up re-watching from time to time for reason, like Mary Antoinette. I mean like i said earlier, the film is clearly an homage to Kubrick, so its shot very well. Its pretty to look at, but that doesn't cut it. Now that i own this on dvd, I'm sure I'll come back to this movie in a year or so and still hate it.

The Celebration
After watching Its All About Love for a few days, i needed to remind myself that Vinterberg really is a brilliant director, so i watched his first feature; The Celebration. This is one of the best directorial debut's in the last 20 years. i seriously mean that. It did well at all of the big festivals, especially Cannes, where it won the special jury prize. One of the big hypes around it was that this was the first film made according to the rules of the "dogma 95" manifesto (created by vinterberg himself, lars von trier and a few other danish directors). The film tells the story of a wealthy Danish family celebrating the 60th birthday of their father, Helge. The first few minutes in to the film, we're introduced to the key characters. Helge's racist, hot tempered older son Michael, his somewhat unstable daughter Helene (who's boyfriend is black, which makes for a great meeting between him and her brother Micahel) and his younger son and main character of the movie; Christian, who's twin sister recently killed herself in the very same hotel where the birthday party is taking place. Christian is one of the speakers at the birthday, and plans to drop a huge bomb in his speech and expose his father Helge to all the guests for what he truly is. As it turns out, Helge molested Christian and his recently deceased sister when they were little kids, and that pretty much contributed to his sister eventually killing herself. He plans to tell all of this in the speech he's prepared for his father. When he finally gets up to speak, and actually delivers the shocking truth, all of the family members and guests take it as a bad joke, and no one takes him seriously (although there are a few family members who are actually hiding their denial, because they know the truth). After that, the party slowly starts to fall apart, and the family is forced to deal with the truth. As serious as this sounds, there are a lot of elements of this movie that make it a dark comedy. As you can see in the trailer below, the realistic look of the film (courtesy of the dogma 95 rules), really adds to the authenticity of the film. The handheld cameras are perfect, and makes a lot of the confrontational scenes seem even more chaotic. I always felt this was a movie that John Cassevettes (as well as John Cassettes fans) would've liked. The way the film is shot is obviously inspired by his films like; Husbands and Faces. Fans of other Dogam 95 films like; Von Trier's The Idiots, Harmony Korine's Julein Donkey Boy or Soren Jacobsen's Mifune, will probably love The Celebration. On a side note, if you haven't seen any of the movies I just mentioned, you should check 'em out.

Dear Wendy

The relationship between myself and his 3rd feature; Dear Wendy is similar to Its All About Love, except it his has a totally different outcome. When i first saw this in '06, i hated it. This film (written by vinterberg's friend and fellow danish director Lars Von Trier) is a comment on guns in America. This came out during the height of that"Lars Von Trier hates America" period, where he came out with films like Dogville and Manderlay. It honestly seemed like Von Trier got more press for this movie than Vinterberg did. In Dear Wendy, Jamie Bell (one of the few great young actors working today) plays the leader of a gang of pacifists called; The Dandies, who have an infatuation with guns. The strange thing is, one of their main rules is to never use their guns in public or flash them around. As Bell puts it in the film, they are to use the guns for "moral support". The group of young gun carriers is made up of the town losers, who slowly gain confidence in themselves thanks to the guns they carry on them at all times. Eventually, the obvious happens. One of the Dandies's senile grandmothers shots someone (a scene I'm still not too fond of, because it kinda comes out of nowhere), and they must protect her from the police (headed up by the police chief played by Bill Pullman). Then the movie turns in to a moder-day western, with a shoot out between the young Dandies and the Police.
Like i said earlier, i really didn't like this movie when it first came out. But a few of my friends who's opinions i hold highly when it comes to film loved it, and suggested i re-visit Dear Wendy. I never got around to doing that until a few weeks ago, when someone actually posted the entire movie on youtube (in 11 parts). I watched it for a few days in a row and my opinions slowly started to change. The symbolism and "message" of the movie is pretty obvious and heavy handed, but the movie does have a lot of style, its directed well and the music is great. And aside from Jamie Bell who not only does a GREAT job as the lead actor but provies great voice over narration, the entire cast is actually really great. Mark Weber (Bomb The System, Storytelling and Broken Flowers), who plays one of the Dandies, is slowly growing on me as an actor, and is great in his supporting role in Dear Wendy. So like i said earlier, if you're interested in checking this movie out, its still up on youtube. I recommend it.


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