I hope you like depressing art movies, because that’s really the only thing worth seeing this week. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia might not be the biggest movie coming out this week, but sadly it’s the only one worth seeing.
The major studio releases are the Adam Sandler comedy Jack And Jill and the Clint Eastwood/Leonardo DiCaprio biopic J. Edgar. Both of those movies are terrible in very different ways, so you’ll want to watch the two and a half hour Danish apocalypse movie if you want to see something new and decent. I can understand if that sounds too intimidating for cinematic escape, so other than that it might be worth checking out A Very Harold And Kumar Christmas again. That stoner Christmas comedy is pretty damn funny and if you’re part of the target audience and viewed it properly prepared, you probably don’t remember much of it anyway.
The Good: Melancholia
Controversial Danish director Lars Von Trier returns with his latest exercise in misery, this time getting full-on apocalyptic with the most appropriately titled movie of his career, Melancholia. The film is an undeniably powerful and compelling work, but it’s oddly split down the middle into two very different movies that split at the halfway mark to sit awkwardly next to each other.
The first movie is almost a black comedy about an unbelievably awkward wedding that causes a family to snap and lay all of their awkward secrets bare. Think of it as a wedding video variation on Thomas Vinterberg’s (another Danish dogme veteran) Festen. The second movie cuts the sprawling cast down to four and focuses on a few days spent anticipating a possible apocalypse caused by the planet Melancholia crashing into earth (hmmm I wonder if there is any symbolism going on there).
The first film is excellent with Von Trier gleefully dismantling a seemingly idyllic wedding ceremony with sadistic comic glee and a large ensemble including the likes of Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard, and Udo Kier all delivering devilishly funny and raw performances. If Melancholia had ended there, it would have been one of Von Trier’s best films. Unfortunately he keeps going and the second movie is a relentlessly depressing and brooding apocalyptic fantasy that’s interesting, but feels a little easy and redundant for Von Trier.
The director is very good at metaphysical misery as he proved in Antichrist, but has done it so often now that the second half of Melancholia feels like he’s going through the motions rather than building on the incendiary family drama he slowly heat up to a boil in the first half. Melancholia is a strong effort worth seeking out for the performances alone, but it’s also sadly a schizophrenic project that would have worked better if Von Trier had focused on one of the two threads that tickled his imagination rather than trying to cram them both into the same epic tale of depression.
The Bad: Jack And Jill
Adam Sandler’s interminable bad comedy streak continues this week with Jack And Jill, a film in which he portrays a twin brother and sister. I suppose some people out there must still find the sight of a man in a dress funny, but at this point that’s really not enough of a gag to hinge a whole movie around.
It certainly doesn’t help that Sandler’s lady lead is possibly the most irritating character that he’s ever created, defined entirely by a whiny voice that should irritate the audience even more than the characters in the movie after a few minutes. As in all Sandler productions, the laziness and glorified stupidity of the project is supposed to be part of the joke. In the three-minute SNL sketch that might be funny, but stretched out to 90 minutes, it’s gag-inducing.
The closest thing the movie has to a saving grace is a ridiculously over-the-top performance from Al Pacino as himself. The film is about Sandler’s character Jack’s struggle to land Pacino in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial and how Pacino inexplicably falls for Jill, despite her distaste for the Oscar-winning thespian.
Pacino’s over-the-top performance offers the movie’s few laughs and it would be tempting to view it as a parody of the overacting he’s sadly become known for, but in a project this stupid that kind of satirical insight just can’t be assumed. The film is almost worth slugging through for the hilariously cheesy Dunkin Donuts rap that Pacino performs at the end. However, in the age of YouTube that’ll be online soon and that will save you $12 and an hour and a half of frustrated boredom.
It’s a shame Adam Sandler movies continue to make money despite how increasingly lazy he’s become as both a writer and performer. Grown Ups was not only Sandler’s worst film, but also by far his most financially successful. Audiences are encouraging him to make stale concepts by continuing to buy tickets for his comedy trash regardless of how awful it gets. If you want Sandler to be funny again then, for the love of god, do not go and see Jack And Jill.
Trust me, you don’t want to experience that comedic agony or encourage Sandler to continue to lower the bar for what passes as a mainstream Hollywood comedy. We all deserve better than this and Sandler is capable of more whenever he can bother to try.
The Hoover: J. Edgar
Film awards season ain’t too far away, so from now until New Year's we can expect to see the Hollywood studios release all of their overblown awards movies hoping for a shot at Oscar glory. This week we’re treated to this year’s inevitable superstar biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the crossing-dressing FBI pioneer J. Edgar Hoover under the direction of Hollywood royalty Clint Eastwood.
On paper, that sounds like a can’t-miss awards movie. Yet, despite all of the talent involved and the compelling subject matter, the movie misses the mark in a big bad way. It’s one of those biopics that tries to cram in as many events of the subject’s life as possible rather than attempting any insight into the character. You’ll come out of the movie with a less clear impression of the controversial Hoover than you had going in, with only dime store psychology and awkwardly hidden sexuality to chew on.
The movie skips nimbly throughout time to show as many events from Hoover’s life as possible, but any sense of the actual man is boiled down to two biopic clichés. Hoover had an overbearing mother who instilled a work ethic in her son, but no compassion, and he was a closeted homosexual with a longstanding unrequited lover in his assistant/confidant (Armie Hammer). The mother material amusingly plays like a toned down version of Psycho with political blackmail substituted for murder and tearful cross-dressing standing in for a psychotic personality swap.
It’s a far too simplistic psychological crutch to take seriously, but even worse is how Eastwood handled the closest thing the film has to a love story. Rather than showing a secret affair, Eastwood makes it seem as though the two men never actually consummated their love. They merely spent every waking our together without getting into that icky gay sex stuff. This aspect of the movie shows how conservative Clint Eastwood really is. He’s clearly willing to include the homosexual material for the sake of awards pandering, but can’t find it in himself to actually depict any happy gay love. I could understand taking that approach 30 years ago, but these days it’s distractingly old fashioned.
DiCaprio is decent in the central role, but he’s hampered by some of the worst old age makeup I’ve ever seen. Given all of the major names involved with the movie, it wouldn’t have been a challenge to get a decent makeup effects budget, but instead they lazily slapped a bunch of rubber onto the actor’s faces and said, “Good enough.” That ethos seems to define the approach to the movie as a whole. It’s professionally made, but slapped together without any personality or insight. It’s as if everyone involved made the movie because it sounded like a good idea, rather than committing to a project they were actually passionate about.
In the end, the project offers little more than awards pandering and should disappear into obscurity almost instantly. Don’t even bother giving it a shot even if you’re a major fan of DiCaprio and Eastwood or are fascinated with J. Edgar Hoover. No matter what you go into this movie expecting, I can assure you that you’ll be disappointed.