There was an opportunity to make something really… well, good here. Like an actual good movie, a piece of literature, something Hollywood hasn’t produced in seemingly decades. That’s what I felt like we were being promised anyway. But that opportunity was completely passed up to make an average Hollywood sci-fi action movie. (Albeit an above average one, sure.) Here’s what went wrong. Exposition and mysteries, and their resulting payoff and answers, are doled out at a steady, droning pace leaving no room for the viewer to use their imagination, or even think at all really. It’s like being led through a fun house at a brisk pace, never being offered the chance to stop and enjoy any of the cool stuff you’re seeing. Not that anything here is particularly worth lingering on- all the design work in the film appears to have gone through some sort of personality extraction device, retaining none of the visceral nature of their H.R. Giger-designed inspiration. (He gets a nice, big credit at the end though, which is nice.) Neither of the female leads makes a good Ripley, Elba makes a decent Harry Dean Stanton, Fassbender makes a great whatever Data’s evil brother’s name was, and the scientist with the glasses makes a flawless Damon Lindelof. (But can we never have hot, young genius scientists in a movie ever again please? How base and stupid do you think we are?) What this movie does have is some lovely shots, and a decent sense of being isolated in unknown territory, far away from home. But mostly? It’s like being spoon-fed gruel, loaded with empty calories. Sorry movie, it’s your own fault for being an Alien. But, as someone on the way out of the screening remarked, “It’s not as bad as George Lucas.” So, at least there’s that?
Bonus extended rant: Seriously, the exposition in this movie is so, so mind-numbing. They actually feel the need to tell the audience things like “You can’t go outside the ship without your spacesuit on,” and “These devices will give us readings about the environment.” Seriously? Do we need to be told these things? Were you worried people were going to be like “Why are they wearing those glass helmets all of a sudden?” and “I wonder what those devices that are giving them readings about the environment are for?” Give me something to think about for like a split-second, please. And the setups for later plot points are as subtle as an air horn. “Hey you guys, this room is an escape pod!” “Woah, check out this super special device!” Like, there was almost a sound effect indicating “You will be hearing about this again later.” Seriously movie. Just do your thing. We’ll catch up.
You know what you’re getting with a John Waters film, the formula never changes. Outrageous subject matter stiffly delivered by unusual character actors, with a thick glaze of original formula B Movie camp shellacked on it. Waters’ hallmarks are the specific style of performance he’s able to get from seemingly any actor, and the plethora of catchphrases they deliver throughout the course of any one of his films. But listen, even someone who’s really god at making a certain type of soup sometimes gets ingredients that are slightly off, and it doesn’t come together. Waters is a human being. So was Mickey Mantle, he struck out too. A Dirty Shame never came together for me. I was pretty bored. The only thing I’ll stand behind is a few catchphrases (“I’m Sylvia, and my clitoris is in crisis.”, “I seen you, Sylvia Stickles, showing your pubic patch to the bus driver.”, etc.) No biggie, we’ve still got Serial Mom. I’ll tell you something though, if I made this movie and the MPAA gave it a fucking NC-17, I’d quit making movies too. If merely talking about sex is considered taboo, and there’s barely any nudity and no sex acts depicted in this film (save for one, clearly faked bit of outrageousness), then fuck you all. You don’t get any more movies.
Yeah, so, if a movie is well-shot, has a grindingly slow pace and completely lacks exposition of any kind, I can’t be stopped from falling in love with it. It’s accessed my own personal cheat code. I can even recognize that the movie isn’t good, but still unabashedly love it (hello The Good Night). Sleeping Beaty is like that, and I almost hate to think too hard about the plot or themes (although I read about them briefly and they seem pretty solid) in favor of just wallowing in the power and allure of its mystery.
When I get to the end of one of these movies, where we follow around humble characters for a series of occasionally amusing incidents that only loosely resembles a traditional narrative, I often wonder “Why?”, even if I enjoyed it. But not at the end of this one. Here, I marveled at how fully Bong Joon-ho and his actors were able to realize their dull characters. It’s almost as if they chose character types they thought would be hardest for them to pull off, just so they could show how hard they could nail it. Films are made by ambitious, driven people, and the characters that populate them often are as well. It seems rare to see average people depicted so humanely and intricately. This is especially true of Bae Doona, the female lead. If I hadn’t seen her play starkly different roles in other films I would swear she wasn’t acting here at all, and they had just shoved some snot-nosed, empty-headed person they found on the street in front of a camera. When you look into her eyes you don’t see the actor, you don’t see her character, you just see a person. This may be true of some of the other actors as well, but with Bae she’s also so much fun to watch. And maybe that’s not fair and it’s because she’s adorable, but then again, in this case, that should be a hindrance. Which she handily shrugs off.
Blue Sunshine is a bad movie that sometimes ends up on people’s Best Cult Movies of All Time lists, provided those lists go up to like 100. It’s attained that status based on three strengths: 1) A brooding, distant and most of all weird performance by the lead actor, Red Shoe Diaries director Zalman King. It’s not clear to the layman whether his inappropriate staring or absurdly idiosyncratic yelling counts as acting or not, but I’m assured it’s a misguided attempt at trying to be Marlon Brando. 2) Typical bad movie stuff like baffling dialogue and strange people wandering around in the background. 3) Every now and then in the movie, someone gets their wig yanked off, and their eyebrows disappear, and they get super-strength, and they go on a killing spree.
I don’t really get the allure of the cool criminal movie. Sometimes when I read about one like this it turns out that the director based it on people he actually knew. So that seems legit, but having been raised in a culture soaked in Tarantino and his derivatives, that aspect of these films is kind of wasted on me. But that’s okay, because these things are usually so well done and absorbing, like slipping into a bubble bath, that by the end of it you don’t know if it lasted an hour or four. This one’s got some canny storytelling tricks, but occasionally jostles you awake with its overabundance of style. Unless there really is a time and place where women who look like that spend hours getting their hair and makeup to look like that and then wear those nylons just to lay around reading before tucking in for the night, because if that’s case sign me the fuck up. The only thing not to like here is that this movie, at its core, is about bro love, which is kind of annoying.
This thing has so many bad 80’s horror movie affects you’d almost think it was on purpose; it’s got the requisite group of horny kids (the slut, the bro, the underdog… although one of them managed to carve just a hint of dimension out for himself as a rare bro/ nerd hybrid), some supernatural mumbo-jumbo (the filmmakers had the reckless lack of regard to slap Lovecraft’s name at the top of the title), acting you could iron a shirt on, a plot you could lose in a bowl of rice and the budget-friendly pacing decision of being totally fucking boring for the first 90% of the movie. When you finally do get to see the big monster though it’s, surprisingly, worth it. The thing is insane, a white-pancake nightmare on an actor who’s either an excellent performer or tweaking from withdrawal. The director’s bizarre decision to shoot the creature totally straight, fully lit and completely in frame, somehow adds to it. This is happening. We don’t need no color gels to make this look fucking weird. And in the end, all the likable protagonists (who were the only ones to survive, of course) walk off into the distance with a giggle, their sexually promiscuous friends’ deaths a distant memory of almost an hour ago.
If you are someone who experiences chronic anxiety or depression, I do not recommend deciding on a whim to catch a late night screening of Melancholia solo. It’s kind of like an alcoholic leisurely deciding to take in a screening of Barfly. During my walk back to the car after the film I felt like a tube of toothpaste that was being squeezed empty, and I had to convulse slightly to try and get the feeling out. The first half of the film shows us Justine, whose viscous anxiety leads her to sabotage her own wedding. (Or perhaps, rather, to lead her into a wedding that had no chance for success in the first place). Then, the second half of the film flips the script, focusing on her sister Claire, who gets locked in a crippling depression upon finding out the world will end within the next few days. After their fates are sealed, Justine seems more confident and comfortable than in the entire rest of the film. The rest of the world now shares her intense sense of dread, and her extensive experience in this state of mind allows her to become a chaperone to those around her. The film, although played straight, might ultimately be mocking its subject. (This is von Trier we’re dealing with here.) Aside from the absurd bluntness of its title, the very plot of the movie highlights the illogical nature of Justine’s depression- an event of science-fiction would have to occur to justify it. I don’t share that view, however, and when Justine’s insecurities were eventually validated I shared in her relief.