The Beguiled

June 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst
Directed by: Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”)
Written by: Sofia Coppola (“Marie Antoinette”)

I’ve never seen Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel, “The Beguiled,” and I imagine that there are plenty of fascinating and inevitable nuggets to be discovered in comparing it with Sofia Coppola’s new adaptation. You won’t find such critical comparisons here, which is for the best since everything should be judged on its own merit. The “is this movie really necessary” argument is already being thrown around, and to those simpletons I retort: is any?

Coppola’s film boasts an epic cast featuring the likes of Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice and many more. The story is simple enough. After finding a wounded Union soldier in the woods, a Confederate all-girl boarding school finds its repetitive, undisturbed routine upended by the presence of a man in the house. True to the title, Farrell plays his character with the perfect mix of charm and rot. Coppola slowly peels back the layers of all her characters, revealing the darkness that resides in some of her characters while shattering the innocence of others. It’s compelling storytelling, though if you’re not a fan of Coppola’s steady pacing you may not find much to enjoy here.

This is a very tense and suspenseful movie, but it is also laugh-out-loud darkly comedic. “The Beguiled” throws us into a world where order, restraint, reverence, and etiquette are just as if not more oppressive than the war that rages on just outside the house’s gate. The opening shot of the film follows a young girl through woods flooded with cannonball smoke as the sounds of war echo. It’s the perfect way to open a film about creeping evil, and Philippe Le Sourd peppers the film with similar images to amplify that mood. The costumes from Stacey Battat, Coppola’s regular collaborator, tell so much about each character, marking this film as a perfect fusion of elements behind and in front of the camera.

That subdued style of storytelling works great as buildup, and while the payoff in the final act is explosive and dark, it could have gone darker. This is an R-rated movie, but the only given reason is sexuality (there’s thrusting; shame!). Coppola doesn’t seem to have any interest in embracing her R-rating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it may have done “The Beguiled” some good if she had pushed the envelope a bit further.

Still, what remains is incredibly powerful and unforgettable. Part of what makes “The Beguiled” so entertaining is that it constantly changes what character you feel compelled to root for. I don’t really think there’s anything empowering about this movie. It’s a horrifying look into the complex intricacies of human nature. No matter how much of a front one tries to put on, there’s always insidious malevolency lurking beneath.

Bachelorette

September 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher
Written by: Leslye Headland (debut)
Directed by: Lesyle Headland (debut)

After spending a few weeks on the VOD circuit, the adult comedy “Bachelorette” finally makes its way into theaters.  In “Bachelorette,” old friends Regan, (Kirsten Dunst) Gena, (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher) are invited to be in the bridal party for their friend Becky’s (Rebel Wilson) wedding.  After derailing Becky’s low-key bachelorette party, Regan, Gena and Katie go out on the town and meet up with the guys and their bachelor party for Round Two.

As expected, the film delivers on its promise of debauchery with the bachelor/bachelorette party escalating into a night full of sex, drugs and bodily fluids.  Unfortunately, director Leslye Headland relies too heavily on trying to push the limits without a strong script and the film finds itself falling short on laughs.  One of the primary problems with “Bachelorette” is that most its characters are completely insufferable and irredeemable people.  Dunst’s character in particular is shrewd and grating, almost to the point where one might wonder how she has any friends to begin with.  The failure to create likeable characters is particularly disappointing considering the talent of the cast members.  The very funny Fisher is a complete waste in the film as she spends most of it being incoherently wasted in many unfunny scenes.  Though Caplan is the best and funniest member of the female cast, even she struggles to truly elevate the film from the constrictions of the material.

Due to its female-centered principal cast and taking place in the world of weddings,  “Bachelorette” will likely garner comparisons to “Bridesmaids.”  Where as “Bridesmaids” skillfully balanced gross-out humor with strong character relationships and great dramatic moments, “Bachelorette” is decidedly one-note.

Melancholia

December 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Directed by: Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”)
Written by: Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”)

“I’m trudging through this,” moans Justine (Kirsten Dunst) wearily to her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Justine is talking about her meticulously-planned wedding, owning up to the internal struggle she’s facing, wrestling with crippling depression on what is supposed to be the happiest day of her life. The same comment, however, could easily be made by the viewer in regard to the confusing, plodding first hour of the movie that focuses on said wedding. Like the art-house answer to “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” the wedding scene in “Melancholia” seems to unfold in real time, doing almost nothing to advance the plot and openly daring the viewer to just move along if they don’t want to stick around while the party full of sad people wraps up at its own leisurely pace. Unlike “Breaking Dawn,” there’s a reason to hang in there.

Written and directed by Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves”), “Melancholia” is the story of two sisters in the days before a planet hurtling through space threatens to smash into the Earth. Divided into two parts, one centered on each sister, the film is haunted by inescapable feeling of dread.

Part one of the movie, “Justine,” is entirely consumed by the aforementioned wedding and is peppered with things like morsels of back story and weird characters and incongruous shots of deep-space nebulae set to swelling Wagner symphonies that are orphaned by the time the second half begins. What’s the deal with Justine’s father (John Hurt) calling every woman “Betty,” or Justine’s boss (Stellan Skarsgård) and the odd cadence with which he says “onion soup?” Only Lars von Trier knows, and he’s already moved on to part two, “Claire.”

The second half nearly feels like a reward for enduring the first. Set an undetermined time after the wedding, it centers on Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) taking Justine into their home after her depression worsens, all while Claire grows apprehensive as a formerly unknown planet, Melancholia, is five days out from brushing past Earth. It’s intense and full of fear and only a tiny bit of indie abnormality, but most refreshingly its so divorced from the proceedings in part one that it feels like an entirely different movie, as if the first half were little more than deleted scenes from an abandoned plot line tacked on to the beginning.

Kirsten Dunst has never been better, even if she’s playing the well-worn trope of “mentally-unstable woman taken in by her sister and exasperated brother-in-law” and engaging in pretentious mumbo jumbo like basking naked in the woods under the glow of a rouge planet while her sister looks on and the music swells. The heavy-handedness of the message conjures a few eye rolls (Melancholia was hiding behind the sun all this time and is ultimately inescapable, get it?) and the more baffling stretches will be difficult for the average viewer to slog through, but in the end von Trier has crafted a sorrowful piece of sci-fi that you can’t turn away from, no matter how hard it tries to make you.