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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I was 18 years old in 1986 when the whole Chernobyl thing went down. If you think the anti-Russian sentiment in the United States is at a fever pitch today, it’s nothing compared to what it was in the mid-1980s—especially when the nightmare occurred.

I confess that my teenage self—worried about my first year in college and the fact that I had to drive a Volkswagen Rabbit through the Adirondacks—didn’t pay enough attention to what was going on in Russia. I knew that there was an accident, and that some radiation escaped. It wasn’t until years later that I started to understand what really happened: The planet was almost irreparably altered.

HBO’s excellent five-episode series about the Chernobyl disaster, which concludes tonight, does a heart-wrenching job of showing the human toll and sacrifice it took to keep Russia and the planet safe. Jared Harris is superb as a scientist sent in to figure the whole mess out, as is Stellan Skarsgard as the government stooge sent along with him. It’s grueling, scary stuff, and it’s educational.

I’m four episodes in, and I’m convinced TV will have a hard time topping this series this year.

Chernobyl is now airing on HBO, and is available on HBO’s streaming services.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A couple of weeks ago, I explained how much I hated the latest from Lars von Trier, his awful Nymphomaniac: Vol. I. As much as I hated it, I hoped that Vol. II, released just after the first film, might improve upon the first part and allow the whole mess to make sense.

Nope.

This one picks up where the first film left off—and it’s actually more tedious than the previous chapter. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues telling her story to the man who found her bloody body in an alley (Stellan Skarsgård)—a sordid tale about her crazy sex life and criminal activity.

The whole story basically leads up to the moment when Joe wound up in the gutter. Along the way in Vol. II, we discover that she had a baby, and she become a debt collector for a crime boss (Willem Dafoe) using S&M techniques instead of breaking arms. It is all so … incredibly … lame.

Both films play out like long, unfunny jokes told by a jerk with a lousy sense of humor. The punch line is both crass and uninspired.

Seriously: I want von Trier to retreat from provocation in his next venture, and perhaps make a film about puppies and ice cream.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

There’s no denying that writer-director Lars von Trier is a true talent. Melancholia, Antichrist and Dancer in the Dark represent some of the best bizarre cinema this side of David Lynch. His other offerings, Dogville and Breaking the Waves, are not favorites of mine, but they are still respectable.

Alas, now comes Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1, a despicably bad attempt at shock cinema that represents the very worst in sensationalistic, lazy filmmaking. Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is a confessed nymphomaniac who is found bleeding in the gutter by a kind soul (Stellan Skarsgård); he takes her back to his apartment. After a cup of tea, Joe starts telling her sad story (a boring framing device that rips off, among others,The Princess Bride). In flashback, we see Joe’s sad, humiliating story as she (played in her younger days by Stacy Martin) recounts her outrageous sexual escapades and supposed emotional problems.

This movie is hard to watch and features nothing that stands out as original or genuinely provocative. Instead, it comes off as desperate, with von Trier laboring to shock his audience—something that was never evident in his prior films.

Only Uma Thurman shines as a jilted wife; she blisters the screen in what feels like an improvised moment. The rest of the movie is just stuff like Christian Slater crapping himself and Shia LaBeouf getting naked.

This is a total piece of garbage—and it is only Part One of the saga: Part Two is coming out right on its heels, so God help us all.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews