Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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In presenting such a radical and polarizing title, Lars Von Triers asks the central questions: Where does evil come from, and is man an inherently evil species.
Antichrist does not mean the "opposite" of Christ (defined as grace or goodness in this context), but opposed to. Of course it's a fine line, and "opposed" can have several interpretations, just as this film, a two person play of sorts, can leave you arguing about not only who is "good" and who "opposes good", but the aforementioned central question.
As I mentioned, this is a two person drama (with the exception of animals - one who speaks two prophetic words; and an infant who only appears in the film's prologue). Interestingly, the two characters don't use each other's name during the film (perhaps showing a lack of intimacy in spite of all their on screen lovemaking), so Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are simply "he and she".
Von Triers begins the film with a lovely black and white passage, shot in slow motion, of the pair making love, oblivious to their surroundings and unaware that their toddler is able to maneuver his way past the infant gate and is... well let's just say he's a bit curious about the snow outside their loft apartment. This is all beautifully filmed and could stand alone as a short subject. Unfortunately this sequence is only the setup for the film, which is presented in three acts, and in spite of some wondrous and inventive shots, suffers from some truly atrocious editing in its storytelling.
Essentially we're dealing with emotional trauma here, and the stages of getting through said trauma - grief, pain and despair, each given a "chapter" in the film. For its first half, the film manages to keep you involved and wondering where this is headed. There's an overtone of "evil" with a capital E, that may represent Satan or not (as one scene clearly indicates, when He (a psychiatrist) tries to break She from her "abnormal anxiety" by making a pyramid list of her fears - at one point he puts Satan at the top, but then scratches that out).
What begins as a possible treatise on trauma and grief (which would have been a fine film, as it presents how differently two people can deal with the same tragedy), the film makes a sudden turn, if not into the supernatural, then into the psychotic natural and the surreal - which, at least for a time also works, until the surreal clashes heads with the all too real, leaving the film obvious and far removed from better possibilities.
There was so much potential here, but sadly the motivations became trite and oversimplified, as if Von Triers was afraid to leave anything ambiguous, such as She's investigation into Genocide (i.e. the killing of witches), which leads her (and supposedly the viewer) to ponder upon the supposition that women are inherently evil (the spawn of Satan and all that). She is a representation of all womankind - a portrayal of the emotional part of humanity, where logic cannot find a foothold. It is said in the film that nature is the culprit (and nature being the Devil's playground), and that due to nature, women are not in control of their bodies (I suppose meaning the monthly thing). He is portrayed as logic; cold and distant, seeking finite answers to the infinite questions. Again, this is interesting, and perhaps in better hands could have been profound; but here, sadly, we end up with a brutal sadistic bit of film pretending to be "horror".
My final score is in the middle, due to the wonderful opening sequence, some imaginative imagery, an interesting concept and some powerful, raw acting - as opposed to the last half, with some serious wrong choices, and jarring editing. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Well, what did I expect? Will Ferrel has made a career out of a certain brand of low brow comedy, and he certainly isn't stretching here. Yes, there are a few pearls amongst the swine, but you'd expect that in using the scatter gun brand of comedy (throw a hundred jokes at the wall and see what sticks - or stinks as the case may be). Case in point; when bumpkin political nominee Zach Galifianikis asks his family for honesty, many a joke follows, with a couple of stinkers and only one nice one - it's such an obvious set up and chance for the writers to riff and show off their chops. Take this scene as a whole and you may mildly smile, which is my overall assessment of the film.
It is also easy to say that Zach isn't really stretching in this film either - so you end up with two antagonists who are exactly who you'd expect them to be, a plus I guess, if you were looking for exactly that. But for me, I expected more - perhaps a wicked commentary of our seriously broken political system... but there is nothing here that isn't over the top obvious - even the billionaire brothers trying to buy the campaign... hmmm, perhaps a send up of the Koch brothers - but to call them the Moch brothers... well, hopefully you see my point. Further, the talents of Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow are wasted as the two brothers. They are given very little to do or say, even though their greed first and only philosophy should have been ripe for lampooning.
Brian Cox is similarly wasted as Zach's father, an old time political war horse in the pocket of the Moch bros. Seriously, the only characters who are truly humorous are that of Cox's maid (a Chinese woman paid extra to talk like a plantation mammy), and Dylan McDermott as a slick (and slightly sinister) campaign "fixer".
The film has decent pacing and a few chuckles, but, for me at least, will be forgotten tomorrow.
I have to admit that I was never much of a fan of this franchise, feeling that it relied too much on special effects and a one trick pony gimmick. However, this 3rd installment tickled my funny bone, and while not perfect (some rather awkward moments to be sure), this one delivered the goods in a sort of offbeat, Twin Peaks sorta way (homage to the pie).
I thought that the time travel aspect of the film was serviceable and capably handled, and the entire enterprise has a certain gleam in its eye, managing to straddle the fence between farce and realism. The two stars work well together and Josh Brolin is just fine as the younger Tommy Lee Jones.
I'm not going to reveal much of the plot, other than to say that an arch villain has escaped from maximum security (a very nice beginning sequence) and gets access to a time machine, where he intends to go back to 1969 and warn his younger self that Jones is after him. As the two MIB hunt down clues to the villain's whereabouts in both present and past, we are led into several set pieces that range from mildly funny to hilarious - like a confrontation and shootout in a Chinese Restaurant. There's also a funny touch when a femme fatale brings a cake to the prison - said cake is wobbling, while her abundant cleavage is not - gotta love it!
Back in time they meet up with Andy Warhol - a scene that could use some salt, but paves the way to a meeting with a creature who can see a myriad of alternate realities. This leads to some truly funny and yet heartfelt moments, as this character holds the soul of the film and allows Jones and Will Smith the opportunity to do some male bonding that otherwise wouldn't play true to the characters. At film's end when Jones states in his usual flat tone "it was an honor", the words carry so much more than a film of this type has a right to expect - and yet it rings true and poignant; to be followed by a bit of hip levity that you'd expect from the brand, and yet was so sorely lacking in the 2nd installment.
Many a dollar was spent on this dark re-imagining of the classic fairy tale; and while entertaining to a point (love the CGI), ultimately the film is hampered by the fact that, well, it's a fairy tale.
The concept here is solid, taking the fairy tale and attempting to give it more heft by introducing more modern motivations. However the script and dialog are atrocious and the acting, particularly that of Kristen Stewart as the title character leaves much to be desired. I feel Stewart was a poor casting choice, as was Chris Hemsworth as the other title character as his thick accent is at times unintelligible (and unfortunately he is the "narrator" of the early parts of the film).
The film starts earnestly enough, and the introduction of the evil queen (in an oddly over the top, almost Bondsian villain type performance by Charlize Theron who certainly has the presence for the role) is first rate, but then the film begins to slide. It seems Theron has "man issues", complaining that men just use women for their folly and then caste them aside. OK, so she woos the king, Snow's father and after marrying him, shoves a knife in his chest, while at the same time having her legions of warriors attack the castle, thus ensuring her ascent to power. However, for no discernable reason, she spares the life of Snow, and instead of killing her, locks her in a dank tower. Let me repeat, there is no reason for her to do this, and really no need for the script to go there either, as the whole "mirror, mirror" thing hasn't happened yet.
The film then borrows heavily from the Arthurian legend wherein the state of the land is directly tied to the spirit of the king. Since Theron is evil, the land suffers under her rule. We then later discover that Snow is goodness incarnate, the antithesis of Theron - a fact driven home as Snow mumbles the lord's prayer (and what a mistake that bit of script is, as there is absolutely NO indication of the Church being present in this mythical realm). This further echoes the Arthurian legend, as the Church was introduced via the search for salvation via the holy relic The Grail.
I found it interesting that much later in the film, under a bit of religious zeal, Snow becomes a warrior for "good" (and you can read whatever you want into that one - pagan cult meets Christianity for starters) - so you can infer that the message is that it's ok to fight for what's right (even if "right" like "truth" is subjective - you can quote Pontius Pilot on that one). Somehow I'm reminded of the convenience of the Qoran, wherein the Prophet states that it is a sin to kill, especially another muslim - but once a fatwa has been declared, all bets are off.
Thus far I've spent a great deal of ink informing you what is wrong with this film, and to be fair, far too little about what's right. I should mention that the cinematography and CGI on display here are first rate. So many very powerful images, especially concerning the queen, but also the seamless CGI of the dwarves - making the John Ryse Davies dwarf in the ring trilogy look amateurish by comparison. Here we have a trio of great Brit actors playing 3 of the 7 dwarves - Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and particularly Bob Hoskins, who is so very sincere as the blind, seer dwarf. Otherwise, it is nice to see these Brit lions, but really, they aren't given much to do dramatically. And yet, the scenes in the fairy forest (and in truth the fairies themselves) are magical - if only the same could be said for the balance of the action (though I wonder why it was required for the dwarves to twice break into song - some odd kind of homage to Disney? Hi Ho - I don't think so!!!).
But, back to the missteps - why oh why do these types of films insist that the villains all take time out to gloat over their supremacy - thus giving the opposition the opportunity to turn the tables? When the queen's brother has been charged to find Snow and bring her back, he inexplicably looses sight of the goal and goes off the rails in some unexplained vendetta against the Huntsman. The same goes for queeny - she has what she wants in her grasp, and yet decides to toy with Snow - once again showing the dangers of extreme hubris; but her actions make no sense - nor does the final bit where Theron brags that she cannot be defeated - and that she has lived a dozen lifetimes and ruled as many countries.... Ok, if she is that powerful (and the cool CGI would indicate that yep, she's got the goods), then why is she not still ruling those many countries?
In closing I'd like to mention that while Theron is screaming this bit of braggadocio, she is standing within a fire that, while raging all around her, does not burn. I was immediately reminded of the Ursula Andress film from the 60's called She - if you've seen that film then you know what I mean.
The film closes with a bit of pomp and circumstance as Snow is crowned queen - in the back of the room, the huntsman gives her a knowing look... which conveys what??? Who knows?
From the nice opening sequence where the camera pans slowly from people goofily dancing at a wedding (and why is it that the scene is so depressing???), to the main character Abe, sitting at a table next to a stunningly depressed looking woman, you'd think that this film has serious potential. As the scene follows, Abe tells the woman that he, on principal, doesn't dance (which is an offhand, and very protective way of asking her if she wants to... for if she says she likes to dance then he can come off as a hero and, setting aside his principals, ask her. If she doesn't respond then no harm no foul).
This is the setting for a film about an eternal adolescent, Abe, well played by Jordan Gelber, who is stuck in his mid thirties life (one that he has chosen, by the way), where he lives at home and works (sorta) for his father. Said father, portrayed by Christopher Walken, is dismissive of his underachieving son, though he lets him live at home and provides him with every opportunity to help in the family business. But sonny boy just can't seem to get it together, and it's never his fault. You can perhaps blame the overprotective mother (so naturally played by Mia Farrow), but just once you'd like to see this type of character take a hold of his life and actually do something! It is this unsympathetic character that really holds the film back, and I suppose why so many critics have raved about the film, exhorting its realism, while the main viewing public has given it thumbs down (myself included).
There is pathos galore on display here, from not only Abe, but Miranda, the girl he decides to woo. Here is a woman clinically depressed, her existential viewpoint on life dripping defeat. At one point she asks Abe if he's real, as if she can't truly believe that anyone would be smitten by her. That she agrees when Abe impulsively asks for her hand is truly sad - and yet for some reason comes off on the screen as absurd.
The film holds many a surreal moment, and perhaps the viewer will begin to wonder what is real and what is not - or even if the entire enterprise is nothing more than a dream. This holds your interest for a time, but towards the end I found myself no longer caring, as I found the characters of both Abe and Miranda to be repulsive - two souls wallowing in their own self pity and, particularly in the case of Abe, blaming everyone but himself for his station in life. It seems that part of writer/director Todd Solondz's message is that we are victims of an uncaring world - one full of rules that make it hard for the everyman to cope; but I think that Solondz is playing too pat a hand, with too many clichés and typical whining to really show us anything revealing and unique, try as he might. The film is dark, certainly, but a "comedy" - hardly, as there is absolutely nothing funny to laugh about on the screen, dark or otherwise.
With multiple endings (if you want to see it that way), the film attempts to allow you to interpret and diagnose for yourself what it all means, and if any of it matters. Sadly for me, I had stopped caring about the characters so any potential depth of meaning held no impact.