This is a film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, whose credentials are mostly with the Dogme-95 crowd (his film 'Festen' is supposed to be one of the best, and one of the few to really attempt to follow the rules), and this is certainly not apart of that previous group of films and filmmaker. It's a dark-but-whimsical romantic fantasy made up of parts of science fiction and tragic romance, sort of like if Philip K. Dick tried his hand at doing soap opera. Indeed the word 'opera' is quite appropriate for this film. Much of Vinterberg's style here is operatic, such as sequences where one of the main characters (emphasis on 'characters') are ice skating to some very bombastic music, the lighting striking like out of a shadowy dream... indoors on an ice rink.
But what about the film you might ask? What makes it such a cult-film object to be discovered (as I did through a friend who wouldn't stop raving about it, how 'weird' it gets)? It seems a straightforward sort of sci-fi premise: a man is married to a woman (Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes respectively) and the former wants to divorce the other as they've been split apart for a while and he doesn't see the relationship going anywhere (this is mostly inferred, and mostly early on). But she won't sign, and so he goes to New York city to confront her, amid her ring of celebrity and media that surrounds her. A good lot of time he's just waiting in a TV studio looking at monitors, some of them about new in Africa of some devastation going on.
Oh, what kind of devastation? It's actually the future. That I neglected to mention is not entirely by accident. Vinterberg doles out information sparingly, and one can just grasp the ring of the plot by the end of the first half hour, and then it turns into a chase movie. Sort of. Nefarious figures, such as a "Mr. Morrison", are on their trail, or rather on Elena's trail as John tries to keep her safe. From what? Well, so it goes, she's a clone, or she has a bunch of clones made up from her. I would want to keep much of the surprises of the film spoiler-free, but then how much can be really spoiled here? Vinterberg's style is more concerned with the mood of the camera, how emotional the actors get, than with the story. He seems to almost be kindly (or just bizarrely) mocking storytelling in a sense, and by this he also has Sean Penn's entire role in the film being that of a guy on a plane, once close with John, speaking into a tape recorder he hopes for John to hear. Well, it's like poetry, it rhymes. So there.
There's also dead bodies here and there in the film. It takes having to look at the back of the video box (or sticking with the movie till the last shot, which is posted below) to fully understand that it is a post-apocalypse kind of environment. It doesn't appear to be. This and other little moments in the film, or even how Vinterberg's cameraman ace-Danny Boyle collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle go about making certain scenes disorientating with dutch angles and see-sawing in a scene with a shot, that make it such a bizarre item. But Vinterberg also trusts the audience to try and keep up with him, and for the most part he's successful. By the end it is moving, if sometimes a little silly (the many clones and how they're 'taken out' so to speak make for unintentional laughs), and it has been an experience. It will turn off people who may not expect such twists and turns and performances that go just *this* high (::puts fingers an inch apart::) from going over the top. He also has the trust of an actor like Phoenix, who does some of his most subtle and perfectly forceful work as Polish-emigre John, and Danes who gets some chances to be hammy but barely takes them.
It's All About Love is the kind of movie I would recommend only to certain people that I might know personally, or to those looking for a loopy art-film that is glad to be as sappy as it wants to be. Or those who will savor a closing shot like the one above. Or those who want to get a gauge on who their 'other' is on a first date.
Speaking of not for everyone:
Yep, this old chestnut from 1980. It was recently released on Blu-Ray DVD, though I watched it in a manner more fitting, on a friend's old VHS tape, the movie taped off of TV from an airing in the 1980's. It was fitting because it is one of those grandmasters of camp. It knows what it is, and doesn't hide it, and it's like discovering a box in the attic full of your old toys from when you were a kid. You dust em off, some of the wheels don't work right, some of the joints are broken off, and some of the toys you're not sure why you picked them up and played with them in the first way. But goddamnit, they're still so much FUN!
Fun is the operating word here. If you can't have it with such a bizarre cast put together - Max Von Sydow as the main villain, and Topol (yes, the guy from Fiddler on a Roof) as a Hawk-Man character, and Timothy Dalton as a supporting role as just another guy fighting 'the man' (or the Emperor really) - then you shouldn't watch these specifically campy 80's sci-fi action movies. It's a throwback to the era of 30's serials (or rather what Star Wars elevated to popular art), and the filmmaker Mike Hodges (of, get this, Get Carter (1971)), and all you need to know is Flash Gordon - his name on his t-shirt - gets involved with this other race out in space (he's a quarterback on Earth) and is the only savior around who can stop the evil Emperor (Sydow with the most awesomely comical eyebrows anywhere) from destroying our planet and/or marrying the girl of his momentary dreams.
But what about the artistry that should be involved, or like the respect for the genre? This actually has more respect for its source than ultimately other 80's action-sci-fi movies had for their sources. Where it may fall flat is that it is SO campy and SO up on its own bad special effects (and believe me, there are some BAD effects here, so cheesy that you can see every line of demarcation of actor with backdrop or set with painting). On top of this the actor 'playing' at Flash Gordon is not at all good at what he does, except looking fresh and bleached like a clean towel. He makes Luke Skywalker look gritty if you can catch my drift.
This movie is ultimately so hammy that Queen's music score has to keep blaring up every thirty seconds or so in the big climax to keep up with what else is going on - the flying monkey-hawkmen led by Topol, the man with the metal face and decidedly awesome British accent, Max von Sydow's eyebrows (sorry, I must mention them again for the sake of sanity), and the moments of outrageous fashion and silly fights and explosions. This isn't to say that some moments aren't meant to be taken completely campy. On the contrary, a few sequences, such as the scientist's "mind-wipe" as the editor goes through about 1,000 shots in a minute going through a man's memory files (some of these almost akin to a similar sequence in The Parallax View with Beatty's mind scanning through lots of images and messages). And it's actually more action-packed and sexual than one might expect out of a supposed "kids" movie, which is still basically is.
All of the morals are BIG and COMIC-BOOK like (must use bold there), and there doesn't have to be too much thought involved. That said, there can be some emotional connection, if only on that level like, again, you had as a child. Flash Gordon is a movie proud to be simple and crazy and with sets that look every bit expensive as they probably were for the time period, and it's best to enjoy it that way. I wished I had watched it as a kid; it's made for nostalgia nowadays, but it also hits aim at any kid who likes the goofy and wild and action-packed. And did I mention Queen does the soundtrack?