MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE: Sundance Darling, Spielblog Kindling

31 10 2011

To say what I really want to about Sean Durkin’s MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, I’ve got to reveal some SPOILERS. But for those who choose not to read on, let’s just say that the biggest problem with the film is that ultimately, it doesn’t reveal much.

MMMM jumps back and forth in the story of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen,) taken in by charismatic/monstrous Patrick (John Hawkes,) who keeps young women hostage on his dilapidated rural farm, renaming them as he sees fit – hence ‘Marcy May.’ (I won’t spoil ‘Marlene.’) After escaping Patrick’s cultish group and returning to her estranged family, Martha is forced to confront her demons, and we piece together just what happened on Patrick’s farm, as she does.

Elizabeth Olsen, the star of next week, this week

Martha’s sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson,) who hasn’t seen Martha in two years, doesn’t seem to think it’s fit to pry into where exactly she’s been since last they spoke. Martha claims to be getting over a rough break-up, and leaves it at that. Lucy, either too polite or too self-centered, doesn’t push Martha for details, even as Martha’s behavior turns increasingly bizarre. So while we the viewer watch the depraved conduct of Patrick’s brood in the past tense, every time we return to the present, Lucy fails us, as she fails to break Martha out of her shell.

Because the film opens with Martha fleeing Patrick’s hovel, we can only assume she has good reason to do so. As we jump back again and again, the menacing Patrick comes into focus – but what, with all these flashbacks, do we finally discover about him? Only that he’s a creep, and (surprise!) he has the capacity for violence. In other words, we really learn nothing about him that we can’t already infer from Martha’s escape in the first place. Her whole entire experience with Patrick’s group leads to a senseless murder in the midst of a home invasion. And it’s that violence, evidently, that spurs Martha to fly. But that’s it. If you’re going to construct your indie film on ominous flashbacks, kids, please, let them actually build to something interesting. How many times do I have to say it?!

John Hawkes (left) and members of his FULL HOUSE... Olsen Twins joke FTW!

After much portentous dawdling, the final scene in MMMM, the big twist, is that after two hours of ‘Non-Inquisitive Sister’ not asking ‘Obviously-Fucked-Up Sister’ where exactly she’s been, Lucy convinces Martha to go to a treatment center. And in the car on the way to rehab, we see Patrick’s SUV on the roadside. It pulls out behind Lucy’s car, begins tailing them – and just as Martha turns to look over her shoulder, panicked, we cut to black. The end. No doubt this is the reason MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE received distribution. It’s an anti-climax that will get people talking (even if it’s nothing you didn’t see in the final episode of THE SOPRANOS.) Perhaps the whole point of the film is that Martha’s refusal/inability to discuss what happened is what makes her vulnerable to the vengeance of Patrick; the act of retribution itself doesn’t matter, and so is withheld. If only Martha had told Lucy where she’d been, and what had happened to her, then they could have stayed safe. D’oh.

Except, of course, that Lucy – were she not a frustratingly thin character – would have gotten this information out of her sister already, if not in the moments immediately after picking up Martha in Upstate Nowhere, then certainly after the scene in which Martha curls up at the foot of her bed as she and her husband are mid-intercourse. I mean, if that doesn’t force you to shake the shit out of your kid sister until she comes clean, really, what will? It’s a funny scene – but in a film with zero sense of humor, should we assume it’s intentionally funny?

Sundance hype aside, Elizabeth Olsen, younger sib of Mary Kate & Ashley, turns in an outstanding debut performance as Martha. She’s so good, in fact, she almost makes you forgive her character for being so foolish; not just foolish enough to be taken in by such a foul creep in the first place, but foolish enough to keep her mouth shut for so long after the fact. The film then plays like a sort of indie/arthouse slasher flick, except instead of screaming at the screen “bitch, stay outta the attic!” you’ll find yourself screaming “bitch, seek counseling immediately!” To no avail. If MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a statement on psychic paralysis – the past is never dead, it’s not even past – then point taken. But it still doesn’t mean Martha isn’t a moron.


Festival Cinemas, Vancouver BC

Friday October 28, 1:45pm showing


THE IDES OF MARCH: Baby Goose Goes to Washington

27 10 2011

Did you know that politics is a corrupting force? No? Then the new George Clooney-penned Poli-Sci 120  essay THE IDES OF MARCH may shock you. Yes, apparently, not even the most hopeful and inspiring of Presidential candidates can make it into office without compromising their ethics. Apparently, (SPOILER ALERT!) American politics is a cynical enterprise – and even idealists have to learn this, sooner or later. Have I just blown your mind? Well then, you probably don’t watch – what’s that called? Oh yes. The news.

From left: Evan Rachel Wood, George Clooney, and Ryan Gosling in THE IDES OF MARCH

Forgive my cynicism, but to this wannabe-wonk, THE IDES OF MARCH seemed featherweight, especially for those of us weaned on the 24-hour news cycle, in which national topics are dropped in an acid bath and decomposed daily to make room for the next. To the CNN-initiated, IDES is bound to be metabolized as quickly as any given headline. The ubiquitous and chiseled Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers – no relation to Stephenie Meyer, sadly. Stephen’s a staffer on Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney’s) campaign to be the next yadda yadda of the yadda, and he’s an idealist, we’re told – until he becomes embroiled in some top-tier trickery that hurries his metamorphosis into the ruthless Machiavellian player he never intended to be.

"There's no easy way to say this, kid. You've got IDES."

IDES, which Clooney co-wrote and directed, is a morality play that for all its peppering of realpolitik bon mot, is simplified to the point of silliness. Case in point: towards the end of the film, Gosling, who begins as a charmer, is forced to wear a series of haunted, blank expressions to convey, apparently, that this campaign has taken his very sooouuuul. In the recent release DRIVE, the image of Gosling deadpan in a close-up tracking shot walking into a nightclub with leather gloves and a hammer to do some dirty business – that was in keeping with the heightened reality of that film. And lo, it was rad. Take the same deadpan, the same tracking shot, and leather gloves too, as Baby Goose walks into his rival’s campaign headquarters in IDES to talk tough to Paul Giamatti – it just comes off as needlessly theatrical. Yes, the film is based on a play, FARRAGUT NORTH by Beau Willimon, but in its condensation, (and it is mighty condensed; one of the best things about the film is its run-time,) Clooney hits the mark for succinctness, but falls short of authenticity. For that, you’d be better served watching 2009’s IN THE LOOP, a political film of a lot more substance. Plus, it gets bonus points for being fucking hilarious.

The staginess and predictability of IDES would be forgiven by the Spiel-gods if any of it felt like it were shedding the smallest sliver of light on the national discourse. Politics breeds politicians. Now that we’ve established that again, let’s talk.


The Park Theatre, Vancouver BC,

Wednesday September 26, 7:00pm showing


11 10 2011

Europe. Let that sink in. Europe. There is a place called Europe, and not only is it separate from the United States of America, (see?) but it was actually around for many hundreds of years before the USA was. I had never believed this until I finally visited Europe for the first time recently. Until I see something with my own eyes, I’m not going to go on my blog and vouch for it – that’s my aforementioned ‘Objective Truth Guarantee.’ But having been there now in person, I can say for a fact: Europe exists.

Not only does it exist, in some cases, it’s superior to the USA. For instance! We here in the States have to wait until Christmas to see Tomas Alfredson’s megastar-packed TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY – but in Europe? That motherfucker’s been out for weeks. And on my Euro-Trip, you’d best believe that rather than go see some “ancient rune” or “actual Magna Carta,” I had my ass parked in a cineplex so that I could get the jump on reviewing this potential awards season contender – and brag about it.

Ha ha ha, ha ha.

What's with all these 'people touching their glasses with their right hand' movies coming out all of a sudden?

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY is the second adaptation of John LeCarre’s seminal spy-versus-spy novel – but unlike the 1979 television miniseries, this new version actually attempts to pack the entire plotty thing into one feature film. It’s a steep condensation of material and, I’m literally the first to report, it’s not entirely successful. This TINKER moves fast, but for a film that sits squarely at two hours, it might have actually benefited from another twenty minutes. Blasphemy, yes. But when there’s so much to savor and the buffet’s already closing down for the night, that’s going to make for an unsatisfying evening, regardless of the quality of the beef & broccoli.

And the quality is high. Alfredson, whose LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is (not to oversell it) one of the best vampire films ever, is clearly in command of the chilly Cold War aesthetic of TINKER. Much of the film is shot from perspectives outside, looking in, through windows and doors, underlining a creeping, constant sense of l’espionaggge. Alfredson gets fine performances out of his first-rate cast as well. Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones, John Hurt, (my hands hurt from typing,) Ciaran Hinds and Colin Firth all contribute solid British-accented backing for Gary Oldman, who, as protagonist George Smiley, has begun to garner award buzz – at least in Europe. As a longtime Oldman freak, I’d love to see the man get him some statue don’t get me wrong, but I’m not holding my breath… Gary – and I call him Gary because he’s my new best friend – has long been one of cinema’s most gifted mimics.  His Smiley plays to his strengths in that it is largely indebted to Alec Guinness, who played Smiley in ’79. This is likely a calculation on Oldman’s part, consciously leaning into the Guinness legacy instead of running from it – but it still never adds up to a performance that feels wholly like Gary’s. (Not like his best and wildest.)

LITTLE KNOWN FACT: In England, all children are originally born with the name "Benedict Cumberbatch." (See: Benedict Cumberbatch, above.)

In spite of the seriousness with which this adaptation has clearly been handled, there’s one more underlying flaw – maybe the killer one. While the ‘79 miniseries drew out the mystery of discovering the mole in MI-6 – and back then, at the height of the Cold War, this was worthy of real suspense – the new TINKER is approached with a grayer, politically relativistic, outside-the-dog perspective. The hunt for the mole is treated, finally, as an unfortunate witch hunt – one that sadly tears apart friends and colleagues in MI-6. But when the whole witch hunt is being coolly condemned, well, that kind of takes the fun out of hunting witches, doesn’t it?


London England, 7:30pm showing