Immortals (Capsule: Melancholia): CFQ Spotlight Podcast 2:44.1

Strike a Pose Before Striking Your Enemy: Henry Cavill (right) wages decorous war in IMMORTALS.
Strike a Pose Before Striking Your Enemy: Henry Cavill (right) wages decorous war in IMMORTALS.

It’s a good week for lush, exquisite cinematography and vividly stylized worlds; maybe not so good a week for compelling narratives. In IMMORTALS, director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar uses Greek mythology as the raw material upon which to invest his skill with staging beautiful, beautiful actors in elaborate tableaux, all in the service of the tale of a lowly peasant (Henry Cavil) who, with the blessings of the gods (including former Apollo Luke Evans), rallies the bedraggled forces of Greece against a sadistic warlord (Mickey Rourke, and are you surprised?). Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they admire the scenery and debate whether anything exists past the pretty facade.
Then, Larry and Dan briefly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Lars von Trier’s elegant science fiction drama, MELANCHOLIA, in which a despondent Kirsten Dunst must cope with her own sense of inertia and the threat of a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth. Plus: What’s coming in theaters.


'Melancholia'- Hurt Joins SF Disaster

X_Earth_FlareThere’s official confirmation that Lars von Trier’s (ANTICHRIST) disaster film MELANCHOLIA does indeed have a sci-fi angle — if there was any lingering doubt.
The Hollywood Reporter’s news from Cannes mentions that John Hurt (ALIEN) has joined a cast that includes 24’s Kiefer Sutherland, Kirsten Dunst (SPIDERMAN), Charlotte Rampling (ZARDOZ), gennre regular Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgard (EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING), his son Alexander Skarsgard (TRUE BLOOD) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (ANTICHRIST).

Executive Producer Peter A. Jensen revealed that the end of the world film does feature a “large object from outer space approaching Earth”.
If this is an asteroid or other natural body (such as the previously reported rogue planet) that imperiles the world, it’s been done many times before, from WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) to ARMAGEDDON (1998), and any number of TV movies.
However, I suspect Lars von Trier can probably be counted on to provide his own unique spin on an old tale.
Photo: Stock

Kirsten Dunst joins Von Trier's Melancholia

Kirste DunstMike Fleming at Deadline New York reports that Kirsten Dunst (SPIDER-MAN) will be taking the lead role in Danish director Lars Von Trier’s $7-million science-fiction disaster film, MELANCHOLIA, which is about a giant planet on a collision course with Earth. Dunst is replacing Penelope Cruz, who jumped ship to appear in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON THE STRANGER TIDES – which is good news for MELANCHOLIA and not so good news for the PIRATES sequel (although why anyone would expect anything good out of that overblown franchise at this point is anyone’s guess).
Von Trier – perhaps jokingly – promised “no…happy endings” for the film. His producer says:

 The film will be “a mix of spectacular, cinematic imagery with Dogme-style hand-held camerawork,” according to producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen. And “romantic, in a Lord Byron sort of way.”

Filming starts in July. The cast also includes Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling (of Von Trier’s ANTI-CHRIST), Alexander Skarsgaard, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Udo Keir.

Antichrist (2009)

Lars Von Trier’s 2009 film ANTICHRIST is quite a work of art but after hearing so much about the film; I am surprised to say it isn’t at all what I’d expected. In fact I’m not sure this is a horror film at all – more a drama with some horror elements. Certainly a great piece of eye-candy, ANTICHRIST is entertaining, whilst being rather slow, and somewhat confusing.
The film opens with a stunningly beautiful and perfectly directed scene of our unnamed couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) making love. The passion is captured in graphic, slow motion, black and white, and in spite of the odd close-up shot of real sex (which is over very quickly) this is very tastefully done. Unfortunately for our couple, whilst they have their moment of ecstasy, their young son is climbing on the window ledge and falling several stories to the ground below.
Following the death of their son, the woman feels like she’s losing her mind and her husband, a psychotherapist, in spite of his own reservations, decides to treat her himself, whilst hiding his own grief he struggles to help her deal with hers. He takes her to a cabin in the wood to face her fears, and it is here that things go from bad to worse. Nature itself seems to be against them; even the acorns which fall constantly from the trees seem to have malevolence about them. The woman’s grief spirals out of control and only violent sex seems to pacify her. Her husband tries to talk her down, but spends a lot of time thrashing around naked with her.
It eventually becomes apparent that there is a reason for her behaviour, but I wasn’t convinced by this. Because of the title alone I had anticipated a bit of devilish involvement and all hell breaking loose, and though there are strange visitations by a deer, a crow and a very absurd fox, the devil doesn’t seem to be involved – whatever is happening to this couple isn’t powerful enough for the finger of suspicion to point at ol’ Beelzebub.
Eventually the wife completely loses it, and in a scene reminiscent of Stephen King’s Misery we are witness to a very bad case of spousal abuse!
The story is told in four chapters, as well as a prologue and an epilogue and the beautiful colours change from blues, through greens and browns, and it is this stylish and striking look of Antichrist which makes it special. Yes, the very real sex scenes are a talking point, and yes, the horrific violence is also worth a mention; however, both of these things are over very quickly, and it’s the beauty of the film that will remain etched on your brain after everything else has paled.
The two actors held my attention very well. One reason may have been their unusual looks – we all know Dafoe is a funny-looking man, but oddly, when Gainsbourg contorts her face in sorrow and anguish, she looks very similar to Dafoe! Strange looking or not, both actors were equally convincingly as they embraced each scene unflinchingly. Without them, ANTICHRIST might have been too strange to enjoy, but with them it is quite a compelling watch.
ANTICHRIST (2009). Director-Writer: Lars Von Trier. Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Antichrist opens in NY & LA on October 23

IFC will release ANTICHRIST – the sexy, violent, controversial art house shocker from Lars Von Triers (KINGDOM) – on October 23. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe star; Gainsbourg won the best actress award at Cannes this year for her role. After the limited bow, IFC will expand to more venues, depending on how well the film does. Typically, the company offers simultaneous  Video on Demand releases for their titles (as with DEAD SNOW), and ANTICHRIST will be no exception, making its VOD debut on October 21.

Foreign horror heads to Hollywood from Cannes

Variety reports that IFC Films has picked up U.S. distribution rights for ANTICHRIST, Lars Von Triers’  symbolic shocker, which recently screened at Cannes. From advance descriptions, the film sounds as if it will easily fall into NC-17 territory, so we can only hope that IFC puts it out uncut (and probably unrated, as they most likely will want to avoid the NC-17 label).
Also attracting interest after appearing at Cannes is Park Chan-wook’s new vampire film THIRST. Unfortunately, in this case, Hollywood seems more interested in securing remake rights than in distributing the original film. Previous Park films are already scheduled for being Americanized (OLD BOY, LADY VENGEANCE and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE). Park – who is currently producing a new film from director Bong Joon-ho (whose THE HOST is scheduled to be remade by Gore Verbinski) – will not be involved with the remakes. He told Variety: “I want them to treat my films as if they were books and I was an 18th century writer who has long been dead.”

HR decribes Cannes' blood-soaked red carpet

Thirst (2009)Hollywood Reporter film critic Kirk Honeycutt thinks the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival is running red with blood, thanks to a series of violent flicks unspooling in competition, including Park Chan-wook’s vampire film THIRST and Lars Von Trier’s art house horror film ANTICHRIST.

In such cases as a razor-blade murder in Jacques Audiard’s finely wrought French prison drama “A Prophet” and the bullet-ridden bodies in Johnnie To’s enjoyable Hong Kong actioner “Vengeance,” the violence falls well within the expected parameters of genre filmmaking. Even the blood-soaked ghoulishness of Park Chan-wook’s Korean vampire movie “Thirst” is more campy than disturbing.

[…] Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” savors genital mutilation by rusty scissors, a drill grinding through a leg, an ejaculation of blood and strangulation.

Individually, each violent film save one has it merits. For all the graphic gore in its final act — and disturbing imagery and mental malpractice leading up to it — von Trier’s film is brimming with ideas and literary references. This is vigorous, fearless filmmaking — it just doesn’t work. The writer-director never pulls all his symbols and conceits into a coherent whole. It is, at once, his most ambitious and least successful film.
 Park’s “Thirst” provoked mixed reactions, but the view from here is that camp overwhelmed whatever serious themes he hoped to develop concerning the eroticism of violence. And its lengthy running time certainly drained whatever enthusiasm one has for vampires.

Advance Reviews of Lars Von Triers' "Antichrist"

Antichrist (2009)Hollywood Reporter’s Peter Brunette saw Lars Von Triers’ art house horror film ANTICHRIST at Cannes, but he didn’t much like what he saw.

With his latest offering, “Antichrist,” Danish bad-boy director Lars von Trier is in no danger of jeopardizing his reign as the most controversial major director working today. Visually gorgeous to a fault and teeming with grandiose if often fascinating ideas that overwhelm the modest story that serves as their vehicle, this may be the least artistically successful film von Trier has ever made. As such, commercial prospects appear slim, though many of the auteur’s most ardent fans will want to see the film anyway. And they should.

ANTICHRIST stars William Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a married couple who move to an isolated cabin in the woods to recover from grief after the death of their son. Mostly known for his art house features, director Lars Von Triers previously dipped into the horror genre for his 1990s television series KINGDOM, which inspired Stephen King’s short-lived THE KINGDOM.
UPDATE: Variety’s Todd McCarthy weighs in with a similar opinion:

Lars von Trier cuts a big fat art-film fart with “Antichrist.” As if deliberately courting critical abuse, the Danish bad boy densely packs this theological-psychological horror opus with grotesque, self-consciously provocative images that might have impressed even Hieronymus Bosch, as the director pursues personal demons of sexual, religious and esoteric bodily harm, as well as feelings about women that must be a comfort to those closest to him. Traveling deep into NC-17 territory, this may prove a great date movie for pain-is-pleasure couples. Otherwise, most of the director’s usual fans will find this outing risible, off-putting or both — derisive hoots were much in evidence during and after the Cannes press screening — while the artiness quotient is far too high for mainstream-gore groupies.


Kingdom, Parts 1 & 2 – Review

As mentioned in this week’s Laserblast, THE KINGDOM and THE KINGDOM 2 have been issued on Region 1 DVD in the U.S. (KINGDOM was previously available, but KINGDOM 2 was virtually MIA in the states.) Although these two titles (which have nothing to do with the 2007 film directed by Peter Berg) were released to American art houses, they are not really feature-length movies but mini-series strung together for theatrical presentation. “Lynchian” is the adjective that comes inevitably to mind: although series mastermind Lars Von Triers is not a fan of director David Lynch in general, he has cited TWIN PEAKS as a major influence for these 1990s efforts. Set in the hospital of the title, the soap-opera style-story includes a mix of melodrama, mysticism, and black comedy Lynch’s cult-fav TV show. The labyrinthine plot and subplots are too complicated to detail; suffice to say that the main threads involve an old woman who keeps getting herself admitted not because she is sick or a hypochondriac but because she is a medium who senses restless spirits at work in the hospital.
THE KINGDOM (“Riget,” 1995) introduces us to the setting and the cast of characters, including an angry Swedish doctor who resents working in Denmark (he periodically goes up to the rooftop where he can vent his rage in angry soliloquies). Many of the other characters also emphasize humor, but never so much that the sinister undertones are drowned out. The various comic threads lead a to a hilarious conclusion, as all the eccentric activities seem to be peaking just as a hospital inspection is taking place.

Perhaps the strongest (and most serious) plot-line involves the “hypochondriac” medium, who ends up investigating the restless ghost of a little girl. The gradual unraveling of this mystery helps hold together some of the other frivolous activities, leading to an absolutely horrifying climax (involving the ghastly rebirth – a la THE WITCHING HOUR – of the girl’s murderous father, played by Udo Kier) that leaves the door open for the subsequent series.
THE KINGDOM 2 (“Riget 2, 1997) picks up the story and plays it out with variations. (For example, the crabby Swedish doctor, instead of venting on the rooftop, lurks in the restroom, lamenting that his stools do not float in the toilet water.) The unnatural baby from the end of Part 1 is revealed not to be the evil father but a look-alike son, whose limbs grow at an abnormal rate; unable to support their own weight, these stick-like appendages end up in traction, as the unfortunate child begs its mother to end its life – not to put him out of his misery but to thwart the plans of his ghostly father.
Unfortunately, KINDGOM 2 is much more slack-paced than its predecessor. The comic sub-plots are not so interesting, and they grow frequently annoying as the pull us away from the parts of the story that we want to see. Still, there are couple of good horror scenes, and the story does take some unexpected twists. One previously sympathetic character, after being mistaken for dead and nearly cremated, emerges psychologically the worse for wear, ranting about sick people on artificial life support – he thinks the plug should be pulled on all of them. The script contrives to put at the controls of the hospital’s emergency power – during a blackout!
One of the advantages of the television-style structure is that both KINGDOM and KINGDOM 2 frequently build to bizarre climaxes, whose implications do not have to be fully resolved; a cutaway to the episode’s closing credits provides breathing room for the viewer to reset before next week’s events unfold. Thus, both mini-series are filled with bizarre vignettes, like the phantom ambulance that always arrives at a certain time of night but never actually enters the ambulance bay. (This apparently ghostly apparition is eventually revealed as a prank, wiht different members of the hospital staff taking turns at driving, but just when it seems that the supernatural element has been debunked, the latest driver is startled to find an unexpected passenger beside him – Death!)
Occasionally, the TV origins betray themselves, especially with two dishwasher characters (Vita Jensen and Morten Rotne Leffers) who never interact with the rest of the cast. They simply recount the goings-on, presumably to bring viewers up to date. This may have been useful when watching one-hour episodes on aweekly basis, but their function seems less important when viewing the entire storyline in one sitting. And the multi-story structure wears thin in KINGDOM 2, with new plot threads interrupting the continuing stories from the first mini-series. Even so, THE KINGDOM provides the kind of treatment that fans of cinefantastique will definitely enjoy.
On DVD, THE KINGDOM – Series One and THE KINGDOM – Series Two are available separately. The have also been packaged together as a set.
CREDITS. Directors: Morten Arnfred, Lars von Trier. Writers: Tomas Gislason, Niels Vorsel, Lars von Triers. Cast: Ernst-Hugo Jaresgard, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen, Soren Pilmark, Ghita Norby, Jens Okking, Otto Brandenburg, Annevig Schelde Ebbe, Baard Owe, Birgitte Raaberg, Peter Mygind, Udo Keir.