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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | letterboxd

 

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Monday
Oct102011

NYFF: "My Week With Marilyn" 

Poor Marilyn. The press hounded her. Fans would tear off pieces of her soul if they could. Co-stars and directors dissed her. Men wouldn't leave her alone (not that she wanted them to). And now Simon Curtis is holding yet another Monroe seance -- her soul will never rest in peace -- with his feature film debut My Week With Marilyn (2011),  a "true" story about the making of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).

True must come with quotes. The film is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, the third assistant director on the "lightest of comedies" directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Can we trust the awestruck account of a young movie dreamer's version of his friendship and quasi-romance with the world's most famous actress? My Week With Marilyn emphatically does despite the amusingly placcid (if repetitive) moonyness with which the talented Eddie Redmayne portrays him, as if he's just as doped up as Marilyn, but much smarter about his cocktails of choice.

"Surprise!" Marilyn escapes with Colin Clark, lowly third assistant directorClark was 23 going on 24 when he met the immortal bombshell while hustling into the movies, landing his first job on a set through the help of his father's connections, despite the fact that the father did not approve of him 'running off to the circus'. The details of Clark's adventure in the movies are both acted out and explained to us in voiceover in the film's inelegant screenplay, which prefers for the characters to state the obvious or speak their psychologies aloud. Sometimes they even speak Marilyn's aloud; in the great transitive powers of true celebrity, everyone on earth is her psycho-therapist. Sometimes this obviousness of speech has comic payoffs (the film works best as a comedic clash between proper British theatrical training and idiot-savant American stardom) and once it even pays off both dramatically and comedically in a sadly funny scene where Colin Clark tells it like it is, succinctly, to Marilyn. He understands Marilyn and Olivier's mirrored goals and prophesies the failure of the movie.

Thought Balloons as dialogue and Michelle's performance after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Oct092011

Box Office: Hugh Jackman Punches In At #1

I'm sorry I've been away today -- couldn't be helped -- but tomorrow I'll share my thoughts on My Week With Marilyn and update the Oscar charts.

For now, the weekend box office. It's unfortunate and bizarre to recall this or to type it out loud but the surprisingly solid opening to Hugh Jackman's ridiculous-looking Real Steel is actually not his top non-mutant opening weekend. That honor belongs to Van Helsing of all things. 

Box Office (U.S.) Baker's Dozen -actuals
01 REAL STEEL new $27.3 
02 IDES OF MARCH new [capsule] $10.4 
03 DOLPHIN TALE  $9.1 (cum $49)
04 MONEYBALL [review] $7.4 (cum $49.2)
05 50/50 [review]  $5.6 (cum $17.4)
06 COURAGEOUS  $4.8 (cum $16.1)
07 THE LION KING 3D [review] re-release $4.5 (cum $414.5... $85.9 of that in this rerelease)
08 DREAMHOUSE  $4.4 (cum $14.4)
09 WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? $3.1 (cum $10.3)
10 ABDUCTION [review] $2.8 (cum $23.3)
11 CONTAGION $2.9 (cum $69)
12 KILLER ELITE $2.2 (cum $21.6)
13 THE HELP [review$2.9 (cum $162.6)

King of the Box Office JungleTalking Points
The Help is on its last legs with a low per screen average now. But what strong legs those were. 

• You can tell it's October because the grosses are way down. Despite the typical fall dip family fare is still impervious to seasonal recessions; Real Steel opened big, Dolphin Tale is a hit, and wasn't this Lion King Redux only supposed to play for two weeks? 

Cowboys and Aliens is probably in agony over its gross. Even though the would be blockbuster was a failure in relation to its (very large) budget there's a certain general bragging-rights allowance for all films that crack the magic $100 million mark. C&A's gross currently stands at $99,766,000. But that $244,000 will be hard to bridge when it's only earning $17,000 on weekdays and down to 206 theaters already. Tragedy!

Drive crossed the $30 million mark so at least it doubled its production budget in theaters, despite not truly catching on. I'm not happy to say that we predicted this but at least the prediction came with a silver lining.

What did you see this weekend? I'm sort of dying to know if anyone of you went ringside for Hugh Jackman... or if most of you campaigned with Clooney & Co in the Oscar Primaries.

Sunday
Oct092011

NYFF: "Shame" 

Michael C. from Serious Film here with fresh dispatches from the New York Film Festival.

For all there is to chew over in director Steve McQueen's Shame, follow up to Hunger his stunning feature debut, my thoughts keep returning to Carey Mulligan's potent supporting work as Fassbender's irresponsible sister. She plays a drifter/lounge singer who disrupts his physically and emotionally empty life when she shows up to crash on his couch for an open-ended visit. For a film about walling yourself off from life until you're numb, Mulligan is at the opposite pole, a person so open to everything that she can't help leaving an emotional mess in her wake. It's a performance that is so unlike anything we've seen from her before it is hard not to get excited anticipating the long career of performances she has yet to give.

As for the film itself, even if I can't join in the chorus shouting "Masterpiece!", there is still much to recommend here. Mulligan plays Sissy, sibling to Michael Fassbender's Brandon, a slick New York City lady killer to the world and a joyless, self-abusing sex addict in private. We follow Brandon as his life begins to slip from its holding pattern and begin a rapid descent towards rock bottom. His work computer is hauled away teeming with viruses. He almost sabotages his chances at a healthy relationship with a beautiful coworker before it begins, and his sister's presence is a constant reminder of things he'd rather not think about. 

After giving a similarly glacial performance in Dangerous Method Fassbender is much more effective this time out, successfully suggesting the vast oceans of conflict churning beneath the placid surface. The performers are so electric, in fact, you could be forgiven for not noticing they are never much developed beyond being players in the familiar tale of addiction's downward spiral. 

Yet even if Shame isn't saying much about addiction that Billy Wilder didn't say sixty-five years ago in The Lost Weekend, it is worth riding that night train to Hell again just to experience it through McQueen's lens. The director once again shows a rare skill for pacing and composition. The film lingers over moments with far more patience and attention than most filmmakers are capable of. As a result, McQueen and company transform what could have been an attempt to liven up tired subject matter with lurid material into something vital and alive.

Saturday
Oct082011

10 Word Reviews: The Ides of Miss Pina Bala's March of Shame

I think you'll agree that we've had our best festival coverage ever with our NYFF write-ups (thanks to Kurt & Michael for their continued input) but even with the speedy pace of full reviews that we've been hitting, it's all too easy to fall behind. So here are super short notes on films seen recently during the festival and outside of it since we can't get to full reviews yet (or ever probably in some cases). After the ten word reviews I'm adding Oscar Thoughts since all four of these films have golden dreams.

Shame (Steve McQueen)
Fucked up siblings Michael Fassbender & Carey Mulligan self-destruct in New York through sex & despair.
10 WR: Brilliant sense of ghostly city, personal demons. But too obvious. B+ (B?)
Oscar?: Frighteningly committed acting but will voters see it? It'll surely be NC-17

Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo)
A beauty pageant contestant falls prey to drug cartel in escalating war.
10 WR: Easy indulgent nihilism elevated by smart construction and thematic visualizations. B-
Oscar?: The things it does very well are easy to see/love (or overpraise depending on how you see it). Will almost certainly make the pre-nomination finals in Best Foreign Language Film.
P.S. Michael reviewed this one and liked it much more than I did it

Pina (Wim Wenders)
A performed documentary on Pina Bausch, the late legendary German choreographer.
10 WR: 3D amplifies choreography's spatial genius. Bit noncommittal: Performance? Doc? Decide! B
Oscar?: Unless you count Waltz With Bashir, Oscar's foreign committee has never nominated a documentary. But this one is very very easy to enjoy (the dancing is like heaven) and could be a novelty exception to "rule". 

Ides of March (George Clooney)
Clooney adapts the stage play about dirty politics and betrayals of spirit, body, and ideals
10 WR: Involving and handsome but few great scenes. Weird "scene-change" pacing. B
Oscar?: Seems very likely on several fronts but particularly Supporting Actor (Clooney, Giamatti or Hoffman, though?) and score (Desplat's work gets a lot of "air time" if you will.) Though Evan Rachel Wood (major role) and Marisa Tomei (minor role) are both marvelous, Supporting Actress seems less likely for a wide variety of reasons.

Quick takes. Finis! In short it's been a good run of super enjoyable or at least interesting movies lately. Other than that Abduction fluke. Your turn in the comments.

 

 

Saturday
Oct082011

NYFF: "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

Her name is Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) but we first know her as Marcy when she slips quietly out of a crowded farmhouse where women much like her sleep in huddles, like a happy litter of puppies. Her absence is quickly noted by one of the men on the farm named Watts (Brady Corbett) and Marcy hides in the forest while her once slumbering sisters and their men search for her, continually calling out "Marcy May." Once Marcy has reached a neighboring town, she makes a trembling entirely inarticulate phone call. An unidentified woman answers:

Martha, is that you?" 

Marcy Doesn't Live Here Anymore

We know instinctively that she is, though we know little else in these first few minutes of writer/director Sean Durkin's feature debut Martha Marcy May Marlene

The woman on the phone is Martha's estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) who whisks the young woman away from the mountains to the even more idyllic river side landscape surrounding the far less crowded summer home Lucy shares with her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). What's comforting to us in their recognizable domesticity, is obviously alien to Martha. The narrative is all friction between the past (Marcy) and present (Martha) and shifts between them sometimes imperceptibly and other times forcefully. The past scenes become in essence an unlocking of the puzzle of Martha's life on the farm with the father/husband figure and shepherd (John Hawkes, Winter's Bone) and his free love flock (to the movie's credit the word "cult" is never uttered). These revelations about Martha's previous life have the pesky tendency to lead the moviegoer to yet more disturbing questions which will probably not have answers.

Patrick sings an entranced Marcy a song he wrote for her.

Martha... possibly hits a few of its scariest notes too obviously, but mostly it's a model of restraint and cool control. That's particularly true of Elizabeth Olsen's interiority as the title character. She's trusting that her blurry contradictory identity -- an uncomfortable mix of rigid thinking, moral confusion, and open physicality -- will be enough to sell this lost woman. The fine ensemble cast is also a boon: Hawkes brings his Winter's Bone friction of menacing stranger and filial protector and Corbett and the other cult members are a believable mix of old phantom selves fading into shadows of Patrick. In the present tense scenes, which could almost read as a satire of stories about obnovious in-laws if it had anything like a sense of humor, Paulson and Dancy sketch in a realistic background marriage that's challenged by the needy relative in the foreground. But it's the writer/director that's the movie's true star. Durkin's screenplay's rich subtext that neither Martha nor Marcy are anything like their own woman, no matter the surroundings, shines. He also makes several smart choices in the filmmaking, often eschewing the comfort of close-ups and traditional scoring, to build a quiet cumulative menace. The cinematography in particular by Jody Lee Lipes is just right with its diffuse earthy warmth as seductive blanketing for a story that's anything but.

Elizabeth Olsen and Sarah Paulson in "Martha Marcy May Marlene""What's in a name?" the doomed Juliet once asked, trying to argue their meaning of Romeo's away. But her efforts were in vain. None of us initially choose the names we're given but as we move through life, plenty of us make small adjustments, concessions, and shifts along the way to shore up our increasing ownership of self.

Before seeing Martha Marcy May Marlene, I liked its "name" a lot. Having now seen the film it's representing, the title vaults over into a thing of pure genius. Film titling is an undersung artform. You could theoretically call this movie about a somewhat nondescript girl haunted by her former life in a cult in New York's Catskills Mountains just about anything. But "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is the perfect, yet far from obvious, choice. It's a riddle, an incantation, a theme. What other name but a series of them could so accurately capture the mystery, simplicity, and loss of self, that's the haunted vacuum center of this stunning debut? A-


Previously on NYFF
The Kid With a Bike races into Kurt's hearts.
George Harrison: Living in the Material World is music to Michael's ears.
A Separation floors Nathaniel. A frontrunner for the Oscar?
The Student makes Nathaniel cram for quizzes that never come.
Carnage raises its voice at Nathaniel but doesn't quite scream.
Miss Bala wins the "must-see crown" from judge Michael.
Tahrir drops Michael right down in the titular Square.
A Dangerous Method excites Kurt... not in that way, perv!
The Loneliest Planet brushes against Nathaniel's skin.
Melancholia shows Michael the end of von Trier's world. 

Saturday
Oct082011

Ask Nathaniel...

It's that time again... if you have any pressing questions, now is the time to ask in the comments. Monday evening I'll answer ten of them in a new Q&A column.  Ready. Set. Go.

Saturday
Oct082011

Faces of Future Movies, The Men

In this week's column at Towleroad, I meant to just type up a few words about The Ides of March and continue the possibly tired 2011 motif of drooling all over Ryan Gosling as he completes his ascendance to alpha dog of Hollywood's new pack.

What 's your take on Hollywood's male talent pool (under 35 division)?

Instead I went hundreds of words overboard and it morphed into a substantial but by no means complete summary of the male acting talent under 35. I figured why not since the movies currently in theaters are all about the male stars: Gosling, Gordon-Levitt, Jackman, Clooney, Pitt, etcetera.

In the article you can read about whose work I'm most looking forward to and who may have already peaked (though I hope not). There's also a brief bit about the overvalued that still need to justify Hollywood's faith in them... and my personal pleas for the grossly undervalued.

It's an extension of the conversation we started here a month ago about whether Gos' and Fassy had any competition as "Future of the Movies". (Naturally, this made me want to do a similar longer piece on the actresses but that's so much more expected and will have to wait.)  

Answer me these questions three
1. Who are you rooting for in the next five years of the movies?
2. If you were a casting director which undervalued lesser known player would you go to bat for?
3. Would you dig more Film Experience digging into the depth of the young(er) talent pool?