Search This Blog

Monday, August 26, 2013

September Film Club

Thank you to everyone who was able to make it out for the documentaries this summer, we will now be returning to the original Film Club schedule of every third Thursday of the month at 6:15pm (unless otherwise specified).  For the month of September we will be watching the beautiful, moving, elegiac film by Lars Von Trier, Melancholia.

Melancholia is an apocalyptic drama written and directed by Lars Von Trier, starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd, and Kiefer Sutherland.  The narrative revolves around two sisters during and shortly after one's wedding, while Earth is about to collide with an approaching rogue planet.  The film prominently features music from the prelude to Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde.  The film begins with an introductory sequence involving the main characters and images from space and introducing many of the film's leitmotifs.  The film continues in two parts.  Part One:  "Justine" and Part Two: "Claire".  The first scene explores the events at the wedding reception, and the second part follows the sisters' lives after the reception.  Most of the film takes place at the home of Claire (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) and John (Kiefer Sutherland), Justine's (Kirsten Dunst) sister and brother-in-law.  The events in the second part lead up to the resolution of what is happening with the rogue planet, nicknamed "Melancholia".

This is probably the most commercial, polished film the director (Lars Von Trier) has every released.  He and another filmmaker were the pioneers of the Dogme 95 Manifesto (click link for more info) that rejected the polished look of modern films, favoring the more realistic, gritty look they limited themselves to.  While the films of the Dogme directors are very fine films that explored a more "bare-bones" style of film making, this film (Melancholia) is one of Von Trier's greatest triumphs.

The film has received mostly positive reviews; it maintains a 77% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus: "Melancholia's dramatic tricks are more obvious than they should be, but this is otherwise a showcase for Dunst's acting and for Lars Von Trier's profound, visceral vision of depression and destruction."

Roger Ebert awarded the film 3 1/2 out of 4 stars, saying of the film, "If I were choosing a director to make a film about the end of the world, Von Trier the gloomy Dane might be my first choice.  The only other name that comes to mind is Werner Herzog's.  Both understand that at such a time silly little romantic subplots take on a vast irrelevance.  In the cast of Von Trier's characters, impending doom seems to have created a mental state of dazed detachment.  They continue to act as if their personal concerns have the slightest relevance.  Von Trier has never made a more realistic domestic drama, depicting a family that is dysfunctional not in crazy ways but in ways showing a defiant streak of intelligent individualism."

We will be watching Melancholia on Thursday, September 19th at 6:15pm.  Hope to see you there!

Here's the trailer:

Monday, August 19, 2013

August Film Club: Documentary # 2

Alright everyone, thanks to those were able to make it to the last film.

For our second August documentary and also our final film of the summer documentary Series, we will be watching another film by acclaimed director Werner Herzog, and that film is the fascinating and compelling Grizzly Man.

The film is about Timothy Treadwell who spent 13 summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, living with bears.  Over time, he believed the bears trusted him and would allow him to approach them; sometimes he would even touch them.  Treadwell filmed his exploits, and used the films to raise public awareness of the problems faced by bears in North America.  In 2003, at the end of his 13th visit, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked, killed and partially eat by a bear; the events which led to the attack are unknown.

For Grizzly Man, Herzog used sequences extracted from more than 100 hours of video footage shot by Treadwell during his last five years of his life, and conducted interviews with Treadwell's family and friends, as well as bear and nature experts.  Park rangers and bear experts give counterpoints to statements and actions by Treadwell, such as his repeated claims that he is defending the bears from poachers.  Park rangers point out that while the bears may be subject to habitat loss and climate change, etc. there was never a recorded incident of poaching at this national park.  Treadwell had also convinced himself that he had gained the trust of certain bears, enough to walk up and pet them like dogs.  Park rangers again point out that bears are still wild and potentially dangerous animals, and that it was amazing that Treadwell survived as many years as he did without being mauled.  One park ranger is so astonished by Treadwell's actions that he thinks the bears themselves were so confused by Treadwell's direct casual contact that they weren't quite sure how to react at first.

Herzog also narrates, and offers his own interpretations of the events.  In his narration, he depicts Treadwell as a disturbed man who many have had a death wish toward the end of his life, but does not condemn him for this.

Upon its North American theatrical release, Grizzly Man received almost universal acclaim amongst critics.  The film has a score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.  David Denby of The New Yorker said, "Narrating in his extraordinary German-accented English, Herzog is fair-minded and properly respectful of Treadwell's manic self-invention.  He even praises Treadwell as a good filmmaker:  as Treadwell stands talking in the foreground of the frame, the bears play behind him or scoop up salmon in sparkling water; in other shots, a couple of foxes leap across the grass in the middle of a Treadwell monologue.  The footage is full of stunning incidental beauties."

The late Roger Ebert awarded the film 4/4 stars saying, "I have a certain admiration for his courage, recklessness, idealism, whatever you want to call it, but here is a man who managed to get himself and his girlfriend eaten, and you know what?  He deserves Werner Herzog."

Herzog is well known for his eccentric subjects who often border on, if not plunge headlong into, madness.  He finds these broken characters the most interesting and gives their lives the stories they deserve.  You will not want to miss this wonderfully mesmerizing portrait of man who walked that fine line between passion and insanity.  Hope to see you there!

Here's the trailer: