Friday, October 28, 2011

Martha Marcy May...

It's tough to say 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' quickly. It is also difficult to remember the title if you are hard pressed at a cocktail party. But the appeal of the movie resides in a bit of confusion - so the title is apt.
Elizabeth Olsen gives a terrific performance as a young women who gets swept into a Charlie Manson-like cult [lead by a wiry, appealing and at times scary John Hawkes]  but manages to escape and spend a few days trying to find her bearings with her uptight sister - who is the only family she has.

Besides the performances and quality direction [by first time director Sean Durkin], the film's form and editing is what makes it all work. It skips effortlessly back and forth in time from the first day Martha [Marcy May] enters the cult in the Catskill mountains of New York to her paranoid days living with her sister and [even more uptight] husband who are on vacation at a lake in Connecticut.

The film continually presents us psychological conflicts and interestingly tense situations that seem as though they will boil over but which, actually, smoothly role along giving the film an effectively slow creep.

Oh, yeah, and Elizabeth Olsen is really rather darn attractive. [At least to this reviewer]. She is in every scene and we often see many close-ups of her expressive eyes. She has a natural beauty that - in some ways - manages to distract from the plot; Especially when the tastefully done but obligatory indie-film nude scenes come along.

Nonetheless, all for authenticity!

If there is one weakness in the film it is the cult that Martha belongs to. The film asks us to believe in the character yet it wants us to believe she would belong to a cult that seems to have no reason for being other than to please the cult leader's sexual desires. If the audience is asked to believe in a full-fledged character you have to also make that which they believe in believable. I other words, the screenwriter should show us why Martha and the other women would want to belong to the cult. Especially because each of them have to endure the pain and humiliation of rape soon after they join. If the only reward is gardening and occasionally sneaking into rich people's homes then the motivation invites incredulity.


Some are confused or annoyed at the film's ending. But, if you think about it, it would be completely unsatisfactory for the film to end any other way. They would have had to tack on another 30 minutes at the end of the film and [most likely] find a way to kill the cult leader - which would make the movie a completely different one and, to my mind, an unrealistic one.

To those who don't get the movie's ending; It's called form following content; Martha is confused and paranoid and her own state-of-mind is precarious. Therefore, the movie puts us in that place as well. By the end, we don't what the heck is going to happen - and neither does she.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Netflix still pretty good

I know there were a lot of people who were upset when NetFlix switched up their model, splitting between streaming and DVD units thus raising the monthy subscription around 60%. [They lost 800,000 customers last quarter] However, I notice a lot of comments about how Netflix streaming content sucks. Let me just say if someone cannot find good movies to stream on NetFlix then they are either completely ignorant of what is actually offered or they only want brand new mainstream crap.

If they want the crap then let them toss their money over to Blockbuster and RedBox. Or let them pay $3.99 per movie at Amazon or iTunes rather than the still pretty inexpensive $7.99 a month offer.

But, seriously, people need to expand their horizon's beyond the latest Hollywood hits. Viewers willing to do that will find it very easy to build an extremely long queue from what NetFlix has to offer. I find great old movies, foreign language films and hidden gems all the time. True, they will lose some of the Criterion titles to Hulu-Plus soon but it's not like the average viewer cares about Criterion titles anyway so it is no loss for the mainstream Mike's and Mary's out there. For the rest of us - who appreciate non-mainstream films - it will be a loss - but then Hulu Plus offers the titles at $7.99 a month, which ain't bad.

Get out there and look for streaming titles. I see no reason for me to list the great films I have streamed on NetFlix. If you can't find them you probably don't care anyway.

Happy viewing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pale Skin

It's amazing that a movie by a gifted director with many intriguing ideas about identity topped with grisly thriller and sexual elements can ultimately be rather dull. The first half sort of lumbers along and the second half, while better, manages to be rather predictable even though it goes places few movies ever have.

Pedro Almodovar's early films had ways of shocking audiences even though the subject was as straightforward as homosexuality or sex. But 'The Skin I Live In' has multiple elements sure to offend even the most seasoned film goer, yet it never gets off the operating table.

All the pieces seem in place and the structure is very tight [maybe too tight] but it doesn't soar like Almodovar's best.

Thinking about it a day later it seems that it surely must have been better than I thought. After all, the main conceit of the film is a whopper. [Think 'Vertigo' and 'Frankenstein' dropped into a blender]  But the feeling I had as I sat in the theater watching it was rather underwhelming.