Tag Archives: Dakota Fanning

Review: Brimstone

Brimstone

Somewhere within Martin Koolhoven’s Brimstone is a film with a fiercely feminist slant. Set in front of a fairly typical 19th century western backdrop, the film follows Liz (Dakota Fanning), a young mother being terrorized by a sinister preacher (Guy Pearce) who has his sights set on her. Throughout its ample 148-minute runtime, Brimstone shows the injustice and abuse that women face, as well as the ways they seek revenge. But while that may sound interesting or even empowering in theory, where Brimstone flies woefully off the rails is in the leering, exploitative way it presents its presumably well-intentioned message.

This isn’t to say that a film can’t be shocking while still making its points. And indeed, in one way I respect Koolhoven’s commitment to brutality; his hand is unflinching and his vision clear. The problem, though, comes from the fact that his vision happens to be so unrelentingly nasty that Brimstone becomes a complete slog by the time it wheezes to the end of its four-chapter structure. The shock value wears off early on, leaving the viewer with a sort of grimness set at the same pitch throughout, rarely evolving after the film’s first half hour or so.

Some of the brutality comes with a side helping of Koolhoven’s pitch-black sense of humour, and it’s easy to see that a lot of Brimstone’s most debauched moments are meant to be very darkly satirical. However, it seems that satire serves no real purpose other than to slightly lessen the blow of the twisted things Koolhoven is presenting on screen. Some viewers will be offended by the crimes that are fairly graphically inflicted on women, children, and animals throughout the film. Others, like myself, will find them trying so hard to be “edgy” that they lose all impact.

Koolhoven is clearly going for an in-your-face brashness (as evidenced even by the film’s title card, which declares it “Koolhoven’s Brimstone”) and his style is not without its merits. Resting in some ethereal realm between arthouse and schlock, there’s an elegant griminess to Brimstone that there just might be a gap in the market for. Despite largely really disliking this film, I still wouldn’t be opposed to checking out what Koolhoven makes next.

Dakota Fanning makes the most of things, delivering a powerful, measured lead performance despite the lack of character development included in the script. As the film settles in and you start calculating exactly how many minutes are left in the runtime, she and the film’s moody, burnished cinematography become two bright spots amid the mire. It would be unfair to expect that to be enough to carry the whole bloated beast, but it does kind of justify the film’s existence, and that’s not nothing.

It’s unclear if the world really needed the creation of a “Dutch psychosexual western” film subgenre, but it’s probably safe to say that Koolhoven has now cornered the market. Unfortunately, Brimstone just never follows through on its sweeping vision. Koolhoven clearly has the visual flair and attitude to pull it off, but it’s yet to be seen if he has it in him to find the restraint and narrative thrust necessary to really get a bizarre film like Brimstone off the ground. It seems unlikely he’ll stop trying, though.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

Well, I saw it.

I’ll admit, I’ve read all the books. While I enjoy them, I think I have a decent perspective on what they are. Call it a guilty pleasure, if you want. It’s not great literature by any stretch, and anyone who says those books are well-written is delusional. But I won’t begrudge those who like the series and get excited for the movies. I thought the first movie, last year’s Twilight, was better than many people gave it credit for, but still a flawed movie. So I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, with their new director and bigger budget. Here’s what I thought:

The Twilight Saga: New Moon begins with Bella Swan brooding (as usual) on her 18th birthday because she is now officially older than her vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen (except that he’s actually 100+ years old and trapped in a 17-year-old boy’s body. Creepy? Yes.). At the birthday party that the Cullens coerce her into having, Bella gets a paper cut while opening a gift, and her blood sends the Cullens into something of a frenzy (side note: it seemed like an awful lot of blood for one tiny paper cut, didn’t it?). Shaken up by this close-call, Edward leads her deep into the forest and tells her that they can no longer be together, and that he is ostensibly leaving forever. A few months pass, and Bella apparently never moves from her perch by her bedroom window. She finally gets up the courage to face the world boyfriend-less (I’ll save my rant for another time), and finds a companion in her newly ripped friend, Jacob Black. Bella discovers that doing dangerous things causes ghostly apparitions of Edward to appear, and this causes her to do a number of incredibly idiotic, dangerous things in order to see his face. Meanwhile, Jacob’s going through some tough times himself, since he’s just now finding out that he happens to be a werewolf. Cue the budding romance, brooding gazes, abs, and suicide threats.

If you enjoyed the books, you probably won’t mind the sillyness of this movie. Anyone else will likely be really confused as to why this franchise is so popular. But as ridiculous as it all is, there is something there, obviously. I’m not going to go into some pseudo-psychological deconstruction of it all. I just know that it’s shamefully enjoyable. A lot of the fun comes from Robert Pattinson (who plays Edward, if you somehow weren’t aware). All of his theatrical brooding is beyond over-the-top, but he does have a weird magnetism on the screen. Am I saying this because I’m an 18-year-old girl who finds him attractive? Probably. But he does bring a boatload of charisma to the movie just by dopily gazing into space. He and Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella, have some decent onscreen chemistry, and while her stilted delivery is easy to mock, it works pretty well for the character.

Taylor Lautner (Jacob) may be one giant hunk of eye candy (there were a few cheers in my theatre when he made his debut), but he comes across as surprisingly bland. I doubt that many of the people going to see this movie really care about his acting, but any time the role called for an emotion that wasn’t “jovial”, things took a turn for the worst.

The special effects are also much better. Now, when Edward Cullen steps into the sunlight, the special effects are just laughably silly, rather than laughably silly AND awful. The werewolves (though rather underused) come across much better than the trailers suggested. That whole, weirdly aquatic atmosphere of the first film is still here somewhat, but new director Chris Weitz wisely tones it down a bit.

I really could have done without the three segments of the film that involved lengthy 360-degree camera shots revolving around the characters (two of which were only minutes apart). I get that Bella is disoriented in a world without Edward, but I don’t need to feel like I’m watching Cloverfield in order to understand that.

I always liked the Bella/Jacob bond in the book, yet I felt like the pacing of that section of the movie (which was the entire middle part of the film) was all over the place. Things got more interesting in the last half hour of the film, when Bella goes to Italy and meets the Volturi (some kind of law-enforcement vampires?). Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning are so much fun as two of the sinister vampires, and really elevate the film far beyond anything that happened in the first hour and a half.

It’s not by any stretch a good film, but you can have a lot of fun at New Moon, if you’re willing to go along with it. Even the audience at my screening, who seemed legitimately interested in the movie, burst into laughter at a random shot of Edward Cullen running through the woods in slow motion. I laughed at New Moon, but I did ultimate find myself getting absorbed in the story. Not as much as I did with the first one, but it was still an enjoyable, if not largely flawed, film.

5/10