Thursday, April 19, 2012

Martha's Certified Method

In this installment of DVD reviews we cover a multi-lingual relationship drama, a costume psycho-sexual drama and perhaps the year's best freshman directorial effort.  Let's jump in:

Martha Marcy Mae Marlene - Martha, etc. is another true indie drama like Bellflower that I discussed in my last post from another first time writer/director:  Drake Doremus.  Here, however, the craft is much more refined.  There is still a rawness to it, but the edits are more natural, the acting more engaging.  The basic premise is that a young woman escapes from a violent quasi-polygamist cult and has difficulty overcoming her brainwashing to mix back into society, all the while looking over her shoulder for signs of her former "family".  I did think that the script left a few too many pieces for the audience to fill in, particularly at the end, but it is an incredibly promising effort that leaves me anxiously awaiting Doremus's next project.
     You can't talk about this film without addressing the cast, primarily Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes.  Newcomer Elizabeth Olsen is the younger sister of Celebrity Apprentice 2014 fodder (just a smart next career move suggestion) the Olsen twins so you know she started training with an acting coach before she started toilet training.  However, so did her sisters, and the lessons didn't have nearly the same results.  Olsen was on the edge of the best actress race this year and she deserved to be:  a stunning debut.  John Hawkes, on the other hand, is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors.  I've appreciated his work since HBO's Deadwood, but with Winter's Bone, this film, and this year's Sundance darling The Surrogate it seems like there is now a "John Hawkes kind of movie" on the indie circuit.  His performances are understated, his characters are complex, and he elevates the quality of everything he's involved with.  Marcy is no different.
     Although Marcy was not a great film, it was a very good one that I would definitely recommend.  If for no other reason, see it so that you can say that you remember Doremus, Olsen, and Hawkes when.  Available on DVD  4 of 5*

Certified Copy - Writer/director Abbas Kiorastami is becoming one of the most celebrated international film makers and watching Certified Copy it is easy to see why.  It is a very simple film in many ways, consisting largely of conversation between the two main characters.  It is so cleverly executed, though, from the twist in the middle (which you do NOT see coming, at least I didn't), to the exploration of relationships and how they change over time, to the deeper themes of what makes something genuine, original, or valuable.  Of course, it never hurts to have a captivating and beautiful screen presence like Juliette Binoche who is her usual, charming, talented self:  a true original.  Co-star William Shimell is also excellent.  Together they create a captivating, believable little world set against the gorgeous backdrop of rural Italy.  It is also notable that this film follows the recent trend of many international films in that it is multi-lingual.  Both French and English speaking viewers will find themselves watching part of the film in their native tongue and part of it in subtitles (with a little Italian thrown in as well), making it more palatable to a larger audience.  I can't say a lot more without risking spoilers, but the film is well worth the time investment required to watch it.  Coming soon to DVD, available now on Netflix Instant Play.  4 1/2 of 5*

A Dangerous Method - I just expected something a little weirder.  This film is a biopic about the iconic psychoanalyst Carl Jung.  His life contains sexual scandal, insanity, sado-masochism, and a fascination with the paranormal.  It is directed by David Cronenberg the twisted genius behind such oddly inspired bits of originality as The Fly, The Naked Lunch, and A History of Violence.  So I expected it to be a little weirder.  I know the movie is an adaptation of the stage play "The Talking Cure" and therefor was expected to honour the source material in tone to an extent, but surely there was some middle ground that could have been reached.
     Instead, the picture is a "serious drama" costume piece, that is actually quite subdued.  The script suffers from too many unrealized subplots.  Jung's relationships with his wife and mentor Freud, the role of Jews in pre-World War European culture, Jung's own instability, and even the basic tenets of psychology are all subjects that are touched upon briefly, without much in-depth development. 
     The acting is quite good for the most part.  Keira Knightley is a little over the top in the film's most demonstrative role as Jung's patient turned mistress, but it could just seem that way set in contrast against the overall low key tone of the film.  Michael Fassbender is subtle but effective as Jung, and Vincent Cassell is quite good for the short time he is on screen.  The stand out, however, is Viggo Mortensen as Dr. Sigmund Freud.  He really disappears into the character, becoming almost unrecognizable and gives a very pleasantly wry delivery.
     A Dangerous Method is a pretty good movie with some very solid performances that you will probably enjoy if the subject matter piques your interest.  I just hoped it would be a little weirder.  Available on DVD.  3 1/2 of 5*

                                                                                           Watch out for diving turtles,

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