Tag Archives: dane dehaan

Tulip Fever Dream

Gather ’round. Let me tell you a tale.

In the year 2000, Deborah Moggach wrote a novel. That novel was called Tulip Fever. Based on the true story of the Dutch Tulip Mania, a real and hilarious thing, the novel set a tale of class, lust, and tragedy (apparently) against one of the most truly bizarre economic collapses in European history.

But even before that book came out, it was ready to be a movie. Dreamworks bought it in the proof stage (meaning they knew the idea was primed for lurid prestige) with the eventual intention of direction by John Madden, somewhat hot off Shakespeare in Love, for a film starring Jude Law, Keira Knightley, and Jim Broadbent. This was gonna be a big budget (for the time) production at about 48 million. Remember, it’s Dreamworks, that means this thing once had Spielberg money.

However, in the first of many curses that would befall this project, the British government closed a tax loophole that helped the film’s funding. Production shut down, though not after planting 12,000 tulip bulbs for the film.

More than a decade after that initial attempt, interest remained. After all, Moggach had Hollywood connections (wrote the 2005 Pride and Prejudice and had another novel adapted into The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

Then, in about 2013, comes in Harvey Weinstein. A tighter budget, about 25 million, but it still managed to get a fairly deep cast with Alicia Vikander and Dane DeHaan starring and also featuring Oscar winners Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench! He also got a script from Tom Fuckin’ Stoppard and direction from Justin Chadwick, best known for The Other Boleyn Girl. Weinstein actually managed to get the film made and wrapped in 2014.

Which…would normally be the end of that.

After the release of Ex Machina, where Vikander’s jaw-dropper performance made her a huge commodity, Weinstein saw room to get Tulip Fever even more attention. So Tulip Fever was promoted at Cannes and slotted for a November release, up against The Danish Girl, another period prestige piece that would end up winning Vikander her Oscar.

It was then pulled and moved to July 2016 (signaling a lack of awards-season hopes). Then to February 24th, then August 25th, then finally to September 1st to capitalize on a totally empty Labor Day weekend, the only major wide release.

In the meantime, the film became something of a legend. The film was test screened for the first time in November 2014 and recut time and time and time and time again. Critics saw it at multiple stages and began doubt that they ever had and indeed, if the film actually existed. It was even pulled shortly before a WGA screening, only contributing o the legend.

The film industry only became sure of Death, Taxes, and that Tulip Fever would never come out. It took so long that star Dane DeHaan actually managed to shoot a massive space epic with Luc Besson alongside fellow eyebrow-endowed-American Cara Delevingne in the meantime.

Then, on September 1st, the film finally came out. The marketing had shifted from a prestige play to a steamy erotic thriller. Didn’t help the film, which ended up being the centerpiece of the worst holiday weekend since 1998.

So, what happened? Was the film really worth all that fuss?

Well, I tell you the story because it ultimately ends up being more interesting than Tulip Fever itself. This thing is ultimately more interesting as a legendary curio than an actual movie.

It’s not horribly campy enough or horrendously terrible to recommend for a hatewatch. It certainly doesn’t have the prestige to be good or the luridness to be entertaining. It’s just embarrassing for most of the people involved, this stack of moments cut to the bone from years of retooling and attempts to make worthwhile.

The actual story is reasonably bog standard. Set against the Dutch Tulip Mania, Sophia Sandvoort (Alicia Vikander) is an orphan married off to a wealthy Dutch businessman, Cornelis (Christoph Waltz).

Cornelis commissions a painting from artist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan), who quickly falls in love with Sophia. The two start a torrid affair and get into the tulip market in the hopes of being able to start a new life together.

Perhaps the biggest sin of this movie is its wasting of the backdrop. The Tulip Mania is truly one of history’s weirder incidents and the film seems largely uninterested in any of it besides functioning as a backdrop. Had this film been set in the 90s about Beanie Babies, it’s hard to imagine any appreciable difference, outside of perhaps wearing some stranger costumes.

I get it, it’s a hard thing to make a whole movie about. But when it’s the only notable thing in your movie and you don’t use it, it’s hard to overlook how bland the rest of the story is. You see where this movie tried over and over again to pull something lurid out of this story or even something entertaining and it just ends up in a bizarre tonal mishmash. Part screwball comedy, part sex thriller, yet none of it is compelling. None of this is funny, none of this is erotic.

Much of that is on its leads. Vikander is absolutely fine here, doing great silent work while reading the dialogue about as fine as anyone does in this movie. But Dane DeHaan is not a leading man. His nonexistent charisma and lack of chemistry with Vikander leaves me feeling that had the producers ended up drawing eyebrows on a plank of wood, the effect of having Vikander mime sweet tender love with it would have been functionally the same.

To be fair, DeHaan is really the only bad performance here, just not selling anything. Everyone else is totally fine, not rising past totally fine though. It’s just that they have almost no material to work with. Everything is telegraphed and everything is a slog to get through. No character is given any substance or motivation or anything short of action descriptions, so no drama means anything.

I found myself giggling more often than not, nothing feels appropriately pitched or placed right. It’s just a trainwreck, stacking up bad decision after premature moment. It’s the kind of film that reeks of excessive trimming, cleaving all the connective tissue in the hopes of creating a lean, mean sex movie machine. In the end, they just created a movie that can never live up to the legend surrounding it.

Grade: D

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Review Round-Up: Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planet and The Little Hours

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the sort of project birthed in the world to be an example of a high budget failure. After all, the whole thing:

  • Is starring two stars who have more name recognition than most, but less box office draw than almost all.
  • Is coming from a director who’s had huge successes and numerous flops.
  • Is based on a property that’s really big to a very small audience.
  • Looks really expensive because it is really expensive.
  • Has…some competition.
  • Has an entire advertising campaign based largely around hiding what the living fuck is happening in the movie.

It’s a shame because had this project been less blatantly thrown to the wolves, Valerian might have had something like a cult success. It’s rare to see a film this large feel this singular or bizarre or truly visually rich and there’s a lot going on here that is admirable. Yet it’s also not hard to see why this film is fated to do so poorly. It’s a total pacing and narrative mess and has so little charisma in and between the people leading its movie. It’s so good at things other major studio films are bad at, and so bad at things other major studio films are good at..

I’m not gonna bother summarizing all that much. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are agents working for the Human Government in the far-flung future. They look related but are not and Valerian has the hots for Laureline. They get sent on a mission to protect the Commander (Clive Owen) (whose actual political authority is ill-defined) and get wrapped up in a mystery involving a rat/frog that shits out pearls, colonialism, and various large set-pieces.

Let’s start with what it’s good at. Valerian is easily one of the most visually impressive movies to come out on a large scale in some time. Not necessarily speaking cinematographically or from an effects perspective, both qualities are strong if not necessarily over-the-top. I’m speaking from a design and imagination perspective.

Luc Besson has crafted a truly fantastic and alien world. Every frame is showing off something different or bizarre, every detail is creative. It’s just so much fun to pick through every moment and find something new, something that shows off the real power of cinema. There’s an actual inventiveness to the world-building, too rarely seen.

You’ve also got some great set-pieces. And by some great set-pieces, I’m talking very specifically about the Rihanna shape-shifting performance in the middle, which again all goes into the imagination that this film speeds with. It’s a movie that I can’t describe to you, you really have to see it to believe it.

It’s just hard to find the core of the movie here because the movie is deliberately distancing from the people pulling you through this world. Characters like Rihanna’s shapeshifter or Ethan Hawke’s space pimp (seriously) provide way more flavor than our leads, who have trouble ever sufficiently generating a belief that they like each other, much less that they’re madly in love. Delevingne is definitely at least the more interesting screen presence, but neither generate much more than a shrug.

It’s also that the movie around them maybe just never finds the momentum to pull things forward. Valerian is afflicted with a weirdly slack pacing, an already sprawling narrative never feels zippy enough to address everything that’s happening. And it’s a shame because there is some really strong material here. No spoilers, but Valerian gets essentially into an anti-colonialist message that demands empires take responsibility for their misdeeds. Good shit, but it’s a slog to get there.

Valerian is by no means as bad as its place in the landscape might tell you. It lacks the rapid clip that its contemporaries move at, as well as the often strong character work that populates the rest of the landscape. But a movie this bold and imaginative deserves some sort of consideration.

Grade: B-

The Little Hours

The Little Hours is perhaps one of the most literarily high-minded UCB improv shows ever. It’s not adapted from a particularly deep ASSSSCAT riff, but mostly improvised (by affiliated performers) and based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, it can’t escape the weird worlds it’s been pulled between.

Perhaps that’s why The Little Hours never fully comes together. The tale of three ribald nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Micucci), the officials who run their convent (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly), and the young man up shit creek who needs to hide out there (Dave Franco), The Little Hours seems poised to be a rollicking raunchy comedy with an unconventional setting.

Yet it’s also a surprisingly faithful retelling of that original Decameron story and plays into those dramatic beats. There’s plenty of time spent on the actual dramatic contours of these characters, poising the movie to be closer to something like a dramedy, a raunchy movie that actually wants to explore these characters.

Director/writer Jeff Baena has certainly set out for ambitious waters, and on that, I admire it. Yet I think it has troubles truly navigating what it needs to do to make it through the course it’s charted.

Much of it starts at this film’s pacing issues. It’s a weirdly slack, slow, low-energy film for the dirty, loud, raunchy jokes it’s trying to tell. You can perhaps see what the intention was. That you would break up this idyllic Italian landscape with these filthy jokes. But The Little Hours never gets up the energy to sell these jokes, delivering Andrew Dice Clay with the energy of Todd Barry, never feeling like it’s doing it on purpose.

That means from a comedy perspective, nothing is necessarily landing. It feels odd to say it, but I can literally see what they’re trying to do here and in theory I find it funny. But that pacing and the weird underplaying snuffs most of the jokes in the bed and The Little Hours never really gets more than a snort out of me. This movie is mostly improvised, and it kind of feels like talented improvisers who aren’t quite pulling things together.

Without the comedy working, the drama is mostly just hard to hook into. You care about characters and people who make you laugh, and when they don’t, the drama is just…there. Fine, I guess, nothing is bad. But not worth price of admission.

I wish I had more nice things to say, because I admire the ideas here. It’s a bold setting and it really does go off the rails in some interesting ways. But when the basic genre never feels like it works, it’s hard to recommend much about it.

Grade: C-