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By Michael Calleri

Director Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" is a complex, demanding exercise about depression and boredom.

As an ominous and heretofore unknown planet called Melancholia heads toward a possible collision with Earth, threatening humankind, the actions of two sisters, Justine and Claire, are observed.

Kirsten Dunst (best actress winner at Cannes this year for her acting here) is Justine, who is getting married and is undergoing extreme psychological turmoil (not just because of the wedding). She also has visions of doom. She decides to take a bath during the wedding reception. She treats her husband, Michael, badly. She has sex during the party outside the reception hall, but it's not with Michael.

Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is more controlled and tries to cope with her sister's increasingly erratic behavior. There is immense tension between them.

The movie opens with a surreal eight-minute visual poem set to the music of Richard Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde." It then flows forward in two parts, entitled "Justine" and "Claire."

Other performers include Charlotte Rampling, Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt. Alexander Skarsgard plays Michael, and his real-life father Stellan is in it, although not as his cinematic father.

The superbly acted movie is truly beautiful to look at, thanks to cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro. I fully understand why some may find this work excruciating to sit through. It's not for the guns-and-bimbos crowd.

Von Trier is a man who clearly marches to his own drummer. He does what he wants, thinks what he thinks, and delivers works that will exasperate and irritate many, satisfy others. He has his fans as well as his detractors.

I like his "Breaking The Waves" and "Dancer In The Dark," which starred singer Bjork and Catherine Deneuve. Von Trier's "Antichrist" can antagonize people just by thinking about it. The least of his fey tricks regarding "Melancholia" is to cast Udo Kier as a wedding planner.

This is the fourth film this year to deal with an intelligent, visual interpretation of mental breakdown and emotional anguish. You may certainly compare "Melancholia" to "Tree Of Life," "Another Earth" and "Take Shelter."

Justine must cope with an emotional state that has the capacity to annihilate everything she has been taught, to make her question all of her beliefs, and to compel her to challenge every person with whom she has formed a bond. Her entire earthbound world takes the form of an enemy. Meanwhile, an actual other world dooms her very existence.

"Melancholia" is justifiably controversial. Von Trier's direction is intense and steady, and his screenplay is crafted as if it were a puzzle. I was never bored, and I do not believe that the film is an intellectual conceit.

Some do.

"New Year's Eve" comes apart even before you've been introduced to everyone in its "all-star" cast. Of course, this is if you believe Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele and Til Schweiger are all-stars. It's directed by Garry Marshall, who was once a solid comic director. He brought us the "all-star" and woefully tedious "Valentine's Day."

Marshall's new movie does star Halle Berry (sad), Hilary Swank (very sad), Michelle Pfeiffer (sadder), and Robert De Niro (saddest). Marshall would like you to think that the 30 or so "big names" in the cast make his messy effort important.

They don't. They make it scary, and not in a good way.

The cast also includes Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Carey Elwes, Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Jessica Biel, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zac Efron, Carla Cugino and Seth Meyers. They and many others show up, and "show up" is the operative phrase here. Nobody actually acts.

Cameo appearances abound. Marshall's sister Penny plays herself. De Niro's daughter Drena is in it.

Director Marshall seems to have forgotten what comedy is. His failed screenwriter, Katherine Fugate, certainly had no qualms about cashing her unearned paycheck.

More than a dozen separate stories are told in this leaden effort about New Year's Eve in Times Square, and none really mesh. Many of the story threads are dreary, some are unbelievable.

Pregnant parents battle each other in a rush to deliver the first baby of the new year to win a monetary jackpot. A famous rock and roller has issues. De Niro is an old man dying in a hospital who wants to see one more New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square. Berry is his nurse. Pfeiffer is an older woman (the horror!) who toys with the puppyish Efron and asks him to help her make a bucket list of things to before the New Year begins. Not before she dies, mind you, but before the ball drops.

Parker and Breslin are a bickering mother and daughter. It's excruciating to watch Parker play a complaining mom. Swank is the frantic woman in charge of solving technical problems in Times Square, but come on, has the ball ever not dropped at midnight in New York City?

But what may make you run screaming from the theater is having to suffer through watching Kutcher trapped in a broken elevator.

There's so much sub-plot that very few of the couples and duos get much screen time. What's worse is that the film has precious few laughs.

It also looks cheap. Background footage was shot at a previous New Year's Eve celebration in Manhattan. Everybody in the crowd wears silly blue hats promoting a skin care product.

Don't blame me if you waste your money on this.

"The Sitter" was not screened in advance for most of the country's press, which is always a bad sign. This means the studio has no faith in it.

My only comment is this: "The Sitter" is about a babysitter, played by the generally uninteresting Jonah Hill, and there are numerous children in it. The movie is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive swearing and vulgar language, illegal drugs, and gunplay violence. Not an unpromising mix if you're an adult.

I don't pay attention to ratings, but I just want you to know this if you're thinking of taking the kids.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Dec 13, 2011