Lars von Trier takes on the end of the world and shows that he can bring the art house into the multiplex, a trick that has been tried many times, but which has seldom succeeded. Whether or not Von Trier has pulled it off is arguable, but he has certainly wowed the critics with his Zen-like assurance and intellectual scope. The mind-blowingly massive cast, which spans Hollywood aristocracy such as Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland to art house eccentrics like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Charlotte Rampling, play at the top of their form. There are plenty of big set pieces, sumptuous costumes, and dense art references that include an eight-minute melody of surreal tableaux set to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and images referencing Shakespeare and echoing the dreamlike photos of Gregory Crewdson. This is cinema with a capital C.
Not to be confused with the excellent film The Zookeeper (2001) starring Sam Neill and set against the inhumanity of the Balkan conflict, Zookeeper is your standard Hollywood comedy that needs cute talking animals to make up for the fact that it doesn’t have any proper gags. Stars Kevin James, a B-list comedian probably best known for the forgettable TV series The King of Queens. He plays Griffin Keyes, a nice guy who can’t get the girl, Kate (Rosario Dawson), because he is a zookeeper. But then the animals step in and give all sorts of silly animal advice that gets Griffin into all kinds of “funny” situations. Only you saw them coming a mile away and when they happen, you forget to laugh.
Biopic about the life and suicide of the South African poet Ingrid Jonker (Carice van Houten), who found world recognition 30 years after her death when one of her poems was read by Nelson Mandela at the opening of parliament. As she is considered to be “a South African Sylvia Plath,” you know that this will not be a happy film. Director Paula van der Oest handles Jonker’s complex relationship with her father (who was South Africa’s minister for censorship, played here by Rutger Hauer) and her destructive relationship with fellow writer Jack Cope (Liam Cunningham) with considerable sensitivity, managing to avoid pigeonholing her as a glib stereotype of the highly strung poet.
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond
Released in 2008, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is a self-conscious and stagy production of a film script written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Jodie Markell. Williams skirts dangerously close to self-parody, spiced as the film is with lashings of overblown Southern Gothic. There’s the arrogant debutante, the studly suitor, the alcoholic father, the insane mother and a powerful spinster aunt who controls the family fortune. To make matters worse, the film, directed by TV actress-turned-director Markell, doesn’t have the production value to support its period drama pretensions.
Another product from the twisted but fecund mind of Japanese director Takashi Miike, though this time he takes his fantastic musings on Japanese samurai movies in a decidedly child-friendly direction, which is very much at odds with the ultra-violence of cult classics like Ichi the Killer. Ninja Kids!!! tells the story of a bunch of children studying at a ninja academy, and the rather chaotic film is made up of a relentless barrage of gags parodying genre cliches. There are delightful moments, but not quite enough to sustain the film’s 100 minutes.