Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist / image courtesy of Artificial Eye
Our weekly round-up of film reviews
Lars von Trier is weird. We get it. If there were an Oscar for weirdest filmmaking, Lars von Trier would win every single one. Years where he didn't have a film out would just recognise previously unabsorbed weirdness. In this vein, he gives us Antichrist. Willem Dafoe is He, Charlotte Gainsbourg is She, and together they are grieving parents recovering in a cabin in the woods, where they are menaced by their own sanity and some talking foxes. After the post-Cannes media hysteria about its content, the Times asks "the only question left unasked about a film that has been variously decried as hateful misogyny, celebrated as ironic torture-porn and derided as meaningless naval-gazing: is it worth the price of admission?" (4 stars). Absolutely not, says the Guardian, accusing it of being "a practical joke, an exquisitely malicious hoax... a smirking contraption of a film" (2 stars). Absolutely yes says Empire, claiming it "delivers enough beauty, terror and wonder to qualify as the strangest and most original horror movie of the year" (4 stars). Absolutely not says the Independent; "it's actually quite boring... Von Trier thinks he has secured a triumph if he can make viewers throw up, or faint, or walk out of the cinema" (2 stars). Absolutely yes says the Telegraph: "this is von Trier's biggest accomplishment. He has created a world that is true to its own ghastly, shifting logic" (4 stars). Who to believe? We recommend using your own personal barometer for tolerance of pretention and gruesomeness to decide.
"The trouble with romantic comedies like this one... is that you know exactly what's going to happen after about 15 minutes. They have to be better than simply competent to stop you walking out" is the Evening Standard's (2 stars) preamble to The Proposal. What happens is this: Sandra Bullock is a Canadian office bitch threatened with deportation; she forces wimpish assistant Ryan Reynolds to marry her. Will they soften and fall in love? What do you think? Empire (2 stars) thinks it "lacks both heart and humour", kind of key components for a romantic comedy, while the Guardian wonders if "the pure awfulness of the script has paralysed [the actors'] facial muscles" (1 star). The Times spots "a spark of spiky sexual tension" (3 stars) but all the Independent can see is "another dagger in the back of romantic comedy" (1 star).
Charles Dickens's England is a documentary that takes us round the locations that inspired the master, in the company of Derek Jacobi. Actually, the Times would like to take issue with that description: "it is as if the director, Julian Richards, has never seen a documentary before" (0 stars). Dickens's "life was full and fascinating, yet the banal interviews, the inept reaction shots and the clunky observations contrive to make it seem dull" wails the Independent (1 star). It's "so shambolic and tone-deaf it must be a joke? Surely, it's a joke" pleads the Telegraph (1 star), as the Evening Standard sighs that "even the best actor can be made uncomfortable by clumsy direction" (1 star).
The real-life tale of South African Sandra Laing is told in Skin. Laing was born to white parents under apartheid, but due to a genetic quirk, she is dark-skinned. Her parents fight to have her classified as white, but when she grows up and falls in love with a black man she faces difficulties again. It's a "quietly intelligent drama [that] finds a new way of dramatising race, class and society" says the Guardian (3 stars); the Times agrees it "is full of heart-wrenching tragedy... the trouble is, it feels quite small, more like a Movie of the Week than a fully fledged feature" (3 stars). The Independent (3 stars) praises Sophie Okonedo as Sandra who, "herself raised by white parents, devotes herself admirably to the part".
You could be forgiven for thinking Just Another Love Story sounds like a Danish While You Were Sleeping with violence. Unhappily married crime scene photographer Anders W. Berthelsen is mistaken for the boyfriend of a blind, amnesiac car crash victim while she's in a coma, not knowing that the real boyfriend is on his way back, bent on revenge. "This storyline is like something that could go into Seinfeld... absurd, but reasonably inventive" says the Guardian (2 stars). The Independent thinks the film has "Hitchcockian relish, and just when the plot seems to have gone quiet [the director] pulls another fiendish surprise to juice it up again" (3 stars), but Empire complains of "self-consciously dextrous visuals... contrivances and the unsympathetic characters" (2 stars). The Telegraph is unimpressed by such a "bombastic, overedited melodrama, with a side order of ghoulish cynicism about the physiology of love" (2 stars).
It's dark, and they're wearing sunglasses. The Blues Brothers is re-released: "essentially a series of musical and comedy sketches wrapped up in a road movie, the film... is formless, chaotic and lazy, and quite brilliant because of it" (Times, 4 stars). John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd are Jake and Elwood Blues, trying to raise cash to save the orphanage they grew up in. The Evening Standard has "never been quite sure why this $30 million comedy made by John Landis in 1980 became such a cult" (3 stars); to which we can only say Aretha Franklin, Carrie Fisher, Ray Charles, James Brown and "cop cars flying through the air and crashing in mounds" (Guardian, 4 stars). Everybody needs somebody to love, right?
Sergio Leone's classic Once Upon a Time in the West is restored and also re-released this week. "The movie is as mysterious and mesmeric as ever, with its grandiloquent panoramas and mad, melodramatic closeups on sweaty and malevolent faces" (Guardian, 4 stars). The Independent (5 stars) is lavish in its praise: "memory, desire, ruthlessness, revenge are all here, treated in the only way this director knew - incandescently", while the Times (5 stars) proclaims it as "drama at its most primitive and it unfolds like a Greek tragedy", but also picks up on the film's "glacial pace".
Next week: John Travolta and Denzel Washington rumble in The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 and Audrey Tautou is Coco Before Chanel.