The early months of the year are often considered a dead time at the multiplex yet, oddly enough, they've brought us films from two of our master craftsmen: Scorsese and Polanski. While I found Scorsese's Shutter Island (mostly) entertaining, it was too much of a jumble of genres for my taste. Polanski's The Ghost Writer, on the other hand, is a straightforward take on the paranoid thriller that manages to pin you to your seat with none of the usual action movie contrivances (well, I suppose there's one very slow car chase and a single gunshot) and while maintaining a rather light and breezy tone (much of the film is very funny). Sharply written and roundly well-acted by an odd cast (Pierce Brosnan? Kim Cattrall?), this is probably the most fun I've had at the movies this year. Then again, I haven't seen Hot Tub Time Machine (yet).
After making it through Dogville (and Dancer in the Dark, for that matter), I swore I'd had enough of Lars von Trier's shenanigans and pretentiousness. But then along comes Antichrist, a movie in which Willem Dafoe chats with a talking animatronic fox. Of course I had to watch it--and did so on Netflix, where you can stream it right now, if you dare.
The film's already-notorious final bursts of violence are largely matters of public knowledge at this point, but I'll still refrain from spoilers and just think, briefly, about some of the things von Trier seems to be getting at (as far as I understand them, which is not very far). Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (while making love, in black and white and in slow-motion and set to classical music, complete with pornographic penetration likely spliced in from some other source) suffer the loss of their son and retreat to a home in the woods (called Eden, but not quite paradise) where Dafoe believes he can coach Gainsbourg through her grief (the film is organized into chapters: grief, pain, despair, etc). In Eden, Gainsbourg goes increasingly off the rails (she is quite often naked and crying and screaming, which won her an award at Cannes) and retreats into a world influenced by her former academic gender/feminist research ("Gynocide!"), eventually proceeding to hurt Defoe and herself in unspeakable fashion (I had to look away a few times). A late-film revelation concerning the dead son adds a bit of (much-needed) depth to the film, dealing with ideas of unintentional (or unconscious?) "violence" that (may?) resonate with the themes of Gainsbourg's research, and the whole thing ends with a haunting, supernatural final image (and, indeed, much of the film has a wonderfully creepy look and feel that rivals any recent horror film). Also, did I mention that Dafoe chats with a talking fox? I won't say that the film is necessarily worth watching (although it might be, at least for some of you, Matthew!), but something about the intensity and intimate nature of watching via Netflix made me a little more tolerant than I might have been had I traveled to KC and paid ten bucks for this experience on the big-screen.