#cinefile: MMMM & the year so far …
so, corn poppers,
once more Oscar’s ceremony draws near, and i’m just about getting round to feeling appropriately underwhelmed. i will offer my usual thoughts on the runners and riders in a separate post, but before we get to that, i wanted to bring you up to speed with the films i’ve seen over the last few weeks that constitute the start of this calendar year.
it’s generally been a good few weeks of cinema, with only a couple of unbelievably bad/borderline racist offerings for me to get my teeth and claws into.
i will begin with a lengthy review of one film, and then run through some briefer opinions concerning others, in no particular order.
so, let’s go (spoilers, as ever, ahoy):
Martha Marcy May Marlene
MMMM (it so should have had the Crash Test Dummies on the soundtrack), or eminemineminem as i like to call it, is a small, artful movie from first-time director Sean Durkin.
i missed the previews, so i paid cold hard cash (well, actually i used one of the free tokens that came with my cinema membership) to see the first screening, at lunchtime three weeks ago yesterday.
just as it started, an old man arrived, sat behind me and proceeded to consume a seemingly endless supply of sandwiches, each drawn, carelessly, from a rustling plastic bag.
however, despite Captain Crinkle’s best attempts to annoy me, i found myself intrigued by this mellow yet compelling drama.
the ems all belong to the same and central character, played brilliantly by Mary-Kate (Trent, let’s not forget Trent) and Ashley’s younger and clearly more talented sister, Elizabeth, and each represents a name that she adopts or is given during the film.
we first meet her running away from someone or thing. she phones her sister, who comes to pick her up ‘somewhere up-State’. from the apparent ‘safety’ of her wealthy sister’s out-of-town (Manhattan) weekend retreat in leafy Connecticut, we learn, through flashbacks, how Martha (her given name) came to be running.
around two years earlier, she had followed a friend into the Catskill Mountains and was there introduced to and joined an ‘alternative community’ lead by ‘Patrick’, a brooding soul played superbly John Hawkes.
when she arrives, Patrick decides she ‘looks more like a Marcy May’, and so thereafter she is. the community has strict rules, strange ways and predictably abusive power-dynamics at its heart. when anyone answers the phone at the community house, if asked, they refer to themselves as Marlene Lewis. and so MMMM she and it is.
painted wide with greens, browns and crisp greys and (rather like Drive, but less successfully) edited to be curt in places and languid elsewhere, in essence, MMMM is a reflection on a woman trapped between two horrors; two realms where she is subject to different kinds of oppression.
in one setting she is forced to relinquish control over her self – it is a profound irony that one of the first things we hear Patrick say is “it’s your body”, a jibe directed at someone who has been ignoring his advice about the dangers of smoking.
the community indulges the ‘other’ American dream: the one about life without trappings or boundaries. as things progress, we witness not just the kind of closed internal (sexual) oppressions that we might naturally associate with weird ‘cults’, but also shocking, random and apparently cathartic acts of violence towards outsiders.
M’s sister, Lucy, and new husband, however, live a life which is both completely opposite and yet also (Durkin assures us) quite the same. returning to the mahogany and brushed steel ‘reality’ of her high-flying sister’s large lakeside bolt-hole, M flounders. what they see as her pathological weirdness and lack of regard for the mores of polite, middle class society, annoy buttoned-down, über-Manhattanite brother-in-law, Ted – “people can’t just do as they please, it’s against the rules” – and cause neurotic, would-be control-freak Lucy to despair.
Lucy and Ted are the epitome of the oppressive socialisation from which Patrick’s no-less middle-class community offers ‘liberation’. the evils of one are both the cause and result of the evils of the other – they are what René Girard might call mimetic twins.
Lucy, played by Sarah Paulson (Deadwood, Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip) is at once Patrick’s antipode – dependable, wholesome, sensible, married, wealthy, all-American – and yet also stiflingly and joy-crushingly conformist, fearful, self-obsessed, materialistic, all-American. Patrick is a radical, a sexual deviant, an abuser; a weak man – part Charles Manson, part Cinque Mtume. but, also part John the Baptist, he is authoritative and magnetic to those he leads and to whom he teaches ‘freedom’ and simplicity of life.
Hawkes is rough and grizzled; sometimes sage, sometimes wild. Paulson is perfect, porcelain and prim, top lip curled slightly over bottom – scrappy, yet vulnerable.
as we begin to worry that the community might be trying to track her down, M’s mind seems to begin to break. as she descends into what seems like madness, we are left with a conundrum: while there is no doubt that life in the community damaged her and she is better off away from it, there is no escaping the fact that it is the apparently normal world of luxurious Connecticut that finishes her off.
i guess the criticism to which Martha Marcy May Marlene is most vulnerable is that, perhaps, likely out of uncertainty concerning its audience and their powers of perception, it overplays its hand in places. at points, the juxtaposition of the two arenas feels overly crisp, and the ending is perhaps a little too conveniently ambiguous. having said this, i was engrossed by the performances and came out with plenty to ponder.
i saw a pre-Christmas preview of Shame, but went again in January when it hits the cinemas. given that every reviewer and her dog have written profuse amounts how great it is, you hardly need me to chip in my penny. so, let’s just say it’s great. it is great.
A Dangerous Method
there are few things that can make me feel at ease when preparing to watch a film starring Kiera Knightley, but having the words ‘David Cronenberg’, ‘Viggo Mortensen’, ‘Michael Fassbender’ and ‘Vincent Cassel’ near to her name on the poster is one of them. in short, she is the worst thing in ADM by a furlong, but her flailing efforts fail to ruin what remains a good movie.
besides Knightley, it’s not any of the people involved at their best, but it doesn’t have to be to make for a compelling watch. it offers less of an insight into psychoanalytical concepts than Eyes Wide Shut, but offers a far more interesting reflection on The Great War than (the not great) War Horse (zzzzzzz).
if you (like me) have been happily watching New Girl and (unlike me) have been wondering whether the idea of a thirty something woman who acts like a teenager could be a good premise for a film, here you have your answer. no. apparently Diablo Cody chose to respond to the question of whether she’d be able to do good and different work after Juno, by proving that no, she wouldn’t. either.
Young Adult is neurotic self-reflection (near M. Night in Lady In The Water territory) stretched thin over a canvas of writers’ block. yuck.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
i hate Tom Hanks. i hate his stupid face and his stupid career, and even despite the fact that his character dies near the start (a would-be cause for celebration), this is a particularly egregious entry into the ‘Hanks bank’. however, there is far more here to loathe than just a single awful man.
one danger in making a film about a real life (mass) disaster is that the need to focus on a small number of people (the ‘human interest’ imperative) can cause you to belittle the scale of the tragedy. another, is that Hollywood norms might cause genuine anger, fear and pathos to be replaced by cheap, bile-inducing melodrama.
i’ve not read JSF’s novel, but Stephen Daldry and Eric Roth’s film not only falls into both these traps, it seems to revel in them. and, what is more, rather like Titanic, ELaIC also chooses the blandest, most annoying and dislikable characters imaginable on which to lay all the emotional, and in this case politico-ideological, baggage.
even in an age of Transformers, it would be difficult to think of a more horrible, American-in-the-worst-kind-of-way, movie. yes, ‘stories’ can be uplifting; children are fragile, have powerful imaginations and charming innocence and can learn valuable life-lessons; everyday details can become bearers of special meaning; we get it. and it’s offensively saccharine.
there is a moment in this plane crash of a movie when an ‘incredibly close’ Hanks follows up the line “if things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding” by mugging straight down the lens ➔
i kid you not, i literally gagged.
it’s hardly worth saying, but the trouble is that in real life we have to battle the paradox that we experience both a crippling dearth and a huge excess of meaning.
neither of these makes every piece of old crap we find when our fathers die part of an elaborate and meaningful game. this film would have been far better if the audience had learned early on that the key this kid was so tenderly brushing on his face (who the fuck does that?) was something his dad had picked up in the street and forgotten to throw away, and if the kid had never learned anything.
i think little of most involved, but genuine shame on John Goodman and Max von Sydow (‘of those to whom much has been given …’ and so on).
i was glad that despite being in the trailer, Where The Streets Have No Name didn’t actually feature, although i can think of no more fitting a forum for it.
Ps. “My dad always said that I was different than everyone else” – you can’t be ‘different THAN’ something, you physically annoying, stupid-hatted, faltering voiced little moron, you have to be ‘different FROM’ it, and you are only that if the thing in question happens to be good.
Ps. the contents of the deposit box is … Osama Bin Laden.
The Iron Lady
there is no such film.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
given that racism persists among the old, and seems to be back in fashion among the young, i guess it was time for a British film to be made starring all our favourite screen crusties aimed at all our favourite normal crusties, designed to meet them and us where we’re at.
all (half)joking aside, apart from the one mentioned above that doesn’t exist and the one mentioned below that sadly does, you’d do well to find a more conservative Brit-flick made in the last twenty years.
although i liked Slumdog Millionaire, i thought Dev Patel was the worst thing in it, and i also think it’s by far his best work. i hated him in Skins, and The Last Airbender spoke for itself. here, seeing his annoyingly cheery face popping up everywhere to reassure, accept money from or run, shoelessly around Dame Judi or Bill Nighy every five seconds, was just horrible.
his (and everything else’s) Indian-ness is turned up to eleven, and it’s all too much for me.
let’s see: India – despite being obviously all noisy and dirty, it’s very colourful isn’t it?! such a vibrant culture, when you get passed it all. also, the food will give you the runs. but once you see, i mean really ‘see’, you will be tremendously enriched. spiritually. it’s basically Eat, Pray, Love for people who liked Calendar Girls. Orientalism and exoticism have rarely been more prominent since Kipling or It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. although …
ignoring the documentary about coffee from a few years back, there are two films currently kicking about called Black Gold. therefore, let us be clear: i mean this one, not the other one. the other one’s got Billy Zane and Mickey Rourke, whereas this one is set in the 1930s.
OK, so once we know what film we’re talking about, we’re good to say that it’s ‘epic’ (in a bad way), dull and overly long (see ‘epic, in a bad way’, and Seven Years in Tibet), politically and aesthetically exoticist (i know everyone’s saying it, but it really does look like the 70s, ‘Full of Eastern Promise’ Turkish Delight advert) and the accents are all crap.
it’s basically The English Patient meets Aladdin narrated by Puss In Boots.
if you want to watch a proper sand-based epic, rent Laurence of Arabia. if you want a brilliant movie about oil, greed and corruption with insightful contemporary resonances, watch There Will Be Blood. if you want turbans and silly voices try Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves.
however, i like Mark Strong (is what i repeated to myself on the bus on the way home).
co-written by James Ellroy and based on the fallout from the exposures surrounding the LAPD’s anti-gang Rampart Division in the late 90s, the film follows the un-inspiringly named, but quite superbly portrayed Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), a vile, vicious, violent and vindictive cop who having learned all of that at the academy, is now, thanks to political shifts, having to deal with becoming an anachronism.
there are few better established Hollywood clichés than the maverick cop – just dirty enough to get the job done – but rather like Training Day, Rampart is about the utter failure of marshall rule. here, however, the tone is quite different to, and the human element is pushed further than in, Fuqua’s (near) masterpiece. how does a violent, criminal cop care for his kids? here we are in territory more usually covered by sprawling dramas like The Wire and (more relevantly) The Shield.
Harrelson puts in a performance that makes you think of his very best work (Natural Born Killers, No Country For Old Men, A Scanner Darkly, Zombieland, Kingpin and NOT EDtv), and is aided by skillful turns from Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver and Anne Heche. what is more, the annoying, stary guy from Alpha Dog and Pandorum proves what he managed in 3:10 to Yuma wasn’t a fluke.
there’s a chance it might not be all it’s being heralded by some to be, but don’t hold that against it.