Martha Marcy May Marlene (5/19/12)

Martha Marcy May MarleneMovie One Hundred Twenty Five

Martha Marcy May Marlene takes us through the life of a young girl who escapes a cult and tries to fit back into society and forget her past.

Martha Marcy May Marlene begins with Martha/Marcy May/Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen) running away from an isolated farm. She ends up at a diner where a man (Brady Corbet) from the farm finds her and she is very visibly shaken by his presence. Then she calls her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), to come get her. After staying with Lucy and her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), it is clear that Marcy May (known to Lucy and Ted as Martha) has been sociologically damaged and has no bearing of how normal human interaction is. We learn through flashbacks and nightmares about the cult Martha escaped, led by Patrick (John Hawkes) as Martha struggles with running away from the only life she’s really known, despite how traumatic it was.

While the film itself is very slow and deliberate, it is also incredibly tense at times. While Martha’s paranoia ramps up, we are left to wonder what is happening as well as ponder her future. How can someone so visibly damaged ever normalize and function back in society? If nothing else, it should be readily agreeable that writer and director, Sean Durkin, took tremendous care in the subject matter and did his homework. While it would have been an easy topic to exploit, I found almost all of it to be entirely believable and realistic, which in turn makes Martha Marcy May Marlene that much more frightening.

I also must point out the tremendous acting force that is Elizabeth Olsen. While most of the world knows of her twin sisters, Elizabeth truly steps into her own for this role and plays it perfectly. Also worth mentioning is a favorite actor of mine, John Hawkes, a man who I am also pleased to watch on screen. Given the pacing and the vagueness of what is actually happening to the characters at times, I could see how some people would be turned off by Martha Marcy May Marlene, but I found it to be exciting to watch and was totally engrossed by it.

I give it 4 John Hawkes playing guitars out of 5.

Included on the DVD/Blu-Ray is a short film called Mary Last Seen, also by Durkin, that acts as a sort of prequel to Martha Marcy May Marlene that shows a young girl traveling with a young man (also played by Brady Corbet) and taken to the farm to be assimilated into the cult. I would recommend watching it after Martha Marcy May Marlene since there are a few sly nods to the film.

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Léon Morin, Priest (5/19/12)

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Léon Morin, Priest is the tale of a handsome, young priest living in Nazi-occupied France and his interactions with a non-practicing widow.

A young widow named Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) who lives with her half-Jewish daughter during Nazi occupation in France one day finds herself in a church. She convinces herself she is there to mock the Christian faith during confession and randomly chooses Léon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) as the priest. After seeing that Morin is not shaken by her confrontation and is, in fact, replying as if in an intelligent discussion, she slowly becomes taken with religion as the priest tries to mold her.

Through Léon Morin, Priest there is the constant question of whether Barny is truly practicing religion or if she is merely interested in Morin. At times, both seem plausible. Morin’s own intentions are not always entirely clear, despite remaining devout. The interactions between the characters are shown usually in brief scenes that build upon the story. While I found the characters in Léon Morin, Priest interesting, I was struggling to really care about them. Or perhaps I was having difficulty really understanding the conflict at hand. I never related to Barny or Morin on a personal level and since I’m not religious perhaps that caused the disconnect.

The writer/director, Jean-Pierre Melville, was quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites and this was the first time I’ve seen a film of his that was less than amazing. I enjoyed my time with Léon Morin, Priest, but was ultimately disappointed. While there was nothing technically wrong or missing from the film, ultimately I found myself not really caring about what happened to the characters. Perhaps that is no fault of the film’s but only the fault of the viewer.

I give it 3 confessions out of 5.

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The Godfather Part II (5/18/12)

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The Godfather Part II has been heralded as one of the best sequels ever to one of the best movies ever, continuing the story of Corleone mob family.

The Godfather Part II is an incredibly ambitious film, if nothing else since it is essentially two films in one, both prequel and sequel to the original Godfather. The film starts in the early 1900s with a young Vito Andolini (we find out his famous surname, Corleone, was given falsely at Ellis Island), whose father is killed by a mob boss, and the young boy is shipped to America. We are then brought into the mid 1950s with Michael (Al Pacino) in Nevada, attempting to spread the Corleone empire into Las Vegas casinos. The film then goes back and forth between Michael’s “present day” struggles as he also travels to Cuba and tries to find out who is trying to assassinate him, and a young Vito (Robert De Niro) as he rises to power some 40 years earlier, paving the way for Michael.

Clocking in at 200 minutes, I obviously gave an extremely abbreviated version of the film’s events. There are really two full movies here, both would be incredibly interesting on their own but the way they are intertwined makes The Godfather Part II an incredibly powerful film. The struggles that Michael faces both internally and externally are riveting, especially since family plays such a large role. While I love both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, they are not my favorite mafia movies, nor do I think they are Francis Ford Coppola’s strongest films either. For their part, however, they are incredibly well-made, superbly acted films that securely own their place in the top of innumerable “favorites” lists.

The Godfather films have a legacy about them, even if you don’t think they are the greatest films ever made, it should be easy to see their significance. The Godfather Part II is a film that builds upon the original film in every sense possible. While the pacing and length can be a bit of a bear at times, I would call none of the film superfluous. The Godfather Part II is a film I’ve only seen once before, it is an amazing film, but not one that I feel the urge to watch often. I can wholly appreciate everything about it, but I’m in the camp that prefers the original, perhaps due to the pacing. Still, The Godfather Part II is an amazing film that requires viewing at some point in one’s life.

I give it 5 Vito’s flaming towel silencers out of 5.

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Tokyo Story (5/18/12)

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Tokyo Story is a seemingly simple film about an elderly Japanese couple that travel to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children.

When the aging couple makes the trip from the county into Tokyo to visit their son and his family, we know nothing of what is to come. When the son and daughter have no time to spend with their parents, the daughter sends them off to a resort. Unhappy with that arrangement, the couple comes back and still find their children unable to make time for them. The widow of their dead son is the only one that can make time for them. Shortly after their return journey, the mother falls ill.

On the surface, Tokyo Story seems like a movie about nothing, but it’s actually an incredibly deep film about relationships, parenthood, adulthood, grief, joy, love, loss, and life. Each character is unique and relatable in their own way. I had two concerns going into Tokyo Story: the Japanese customs would muddle the plot and that the film wouldn’t really go anywhere. For the first half hour or so my concerns remained, especially the latter. Where Tokyo Story ends up is incredibly moving. Ozu has a tremendous talent for making very realistic situations and his style of camera work is unique and completely objective, almost sterile in viewing these relationships. The camera is completely non-manipulative in what is showing to you, allowing the actors to really shine.

When I started watching Tokyo Story I was skeptical. “How is this supposed to be such a great movie?” I thought to myself. By the end, I was a total wreck. Few films absolutely floor me emotionally, but Tokyo Story is possibly the most human, most endearing film I’ve ever seen. At first, what seems like an unremarkable film about a family becomes something truly beautiful.

I give it 5 sitting seasides out of 5.

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Goodfellas (5/16/12 and 7/15/12)

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Goodfellas is based on the true life story of Henry Hill, a former member of the New York mob.

Goodfellas starts with a young Henry (Ray Liotta) growing up working for mob boss Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), first as a porter and errand boy and eventually one of the leading members. We meet other mob members Tommy and Jimmy (Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, respectively) and the three have differing experiences with the mafia lifestyle. Life changes for all of them after a particularly large heist.

Some of the most dedicated followers may know that I consider Goodfellas my favorite movie of all time. My above plot synopsis doesn’t do the film much justice, it doesn’t touch on any of the characters, the humor, the dialogue, the violence, the allure of the mafia, the directing, the soundtrack, the acting…I could go on. Goodfellas is one of those films where everything just works and it is essential viewing for anyone that has heard the name, Martin Scorsese.

The legacy of Goodfellas has carried on through popular culture since it’s release in 1990. While some may argue The Godfather made mafia films “mainstream” but I would contend that Goodfellas played a bigger hand in our perception of the modern mob. It was even parodied on the children’s cartoon, Animaniacs and anyone that watched the HBO show Sopranos should recognize most of the cast from Goodfellas.

If I had my way, I could watch Goodfellas every week for the rest of my life. It’s one of those films that is just an absolute joy to watch and even though I’m trying to expand my viewing horizon this year, it has been a struggle to go five months without watching it.

I give it 5 Copacabana scenes out of 5.

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Testing out WordAds

I have a few reviews that I’d like to write today, but I wanted to take a second and let my followers know that I’m experimenting with the new WordAds service from WordPress. I’m not sure how I feel about having ads slathering my site and I didn’t start this blog for money, but if it’s non-intrusive I will leave it. There is an option to turn off visible ads to all logged in WordPress subscribers, which I am strongly considering.

If you could please take a second and let me know if the ads are an issue I would truly appreciate it.

-Andy

The Ides of March (5/16/12)

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The Ides of March is political drama about the both a running candidate for the presidency of the U.S. and his staff as things begin unfolding for the campaign.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, a young up-and-comer campaign adviser working alongside Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for their candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney). As the campaign heats up for Morris as he tries to win the democratic nod for presidency, things begin to fall apart for Stephen. The rival campaign manager meets with Stephen and the press finds out, leaving Stephen out of a job. Around the same time, Stephen learns a dark secret of Morris’ and he learns what politics is truly about.

George Clooney co-wrote and directed Ides of March and while the screenplay is smart and the direction is well done, something is missing here. Perhaps it’s the depressing message that politics are absolutely messed up that drives the movie. Evan Rachael Wood plays an intern on the campaign that gets involved with Stephen and I simply cannot stand her. When she is on screen it’s like a talentless black hole sucking all the life out of the picture, even including Gosling’s intense staring fits. I may not be in the majority with that slightly hyperbolic opinion, and it may not affect your viewing experience should you choose to see this film, but it marred Ides of March for me. Oh, and Marissa Tomei has a role as a reporter and they made her look like a crazy cat lady that never bathes, so why cast Marissa Tomei in that role?

The story is something the film does quite well, the characters all have their place and the entire thing is, sadly, believable. While the film focuses on democratic candidates, I didn’t notice any real political potshots taken at either party. If anything, it makes the entire two-party democratic system look bad. By the end of Ides of March I was left wanting a bit more. I enjoyed my time with The Ides of March and could watch Ryan Gosling stare intensely at a wall for 90 minutes. It’s certainly not a film I think everyone would enjoy, judging by some of the Amazon user reviews, lots of people hated it. While I had a positive experience with Ides of March, it seems like it’s the type of movie that needs to be experienced first-hand.

I give it 4 I’d vote for George Clooneys out of 5.

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Psycho (5/15/12)

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Psycho is considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films and to date stands as one of the best thrillers ever made.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from a client at her office and flees from Arizona to California to be with her lover. After being paranoid about the police after a brief run-in with an officer that follows her, Marion finds herself at the Bates Motel. She soon meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and before spending some time talking with him, hears Norman’s mother from the house behind the motel. While taking a shower, Marion is stabbed to death and the mystery of the Bates Motel begins to unwind as people begin looking for Marion and the stolen money.

Psycho is a timeless film and considering its age, holds up remarkably well considering the myriad of horror films that we have been inundated with since. Hitchcock builds a distinct level of tension and mystery very early on and holds it until the finale. While many of you are likely aware of the ending, don’t worry, I won’t spoil it.

As with other Hitchcock films there are many hidden layers that reward multiple viewings of Psycho. Things like all the references to birds or the shots through mirrors may not be picked up at first but are a delight. My grandparents went to see Psycho in the theaters and they still talk about how it was the only movie they’ve ever walked out of. Considering the shower scene alone, I’m not surprised. Even though it is fairly tame by some of today’s standards, it still evokes a heart-in-your-throat reaction for me. For fans of Psycho, I would also highly recommend Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, which came out about 5 years prior to Psycho and shares many similarities. In fact, Clouzot got the rights to Les Diaboliques as Hitchcock was trying to. Oh, and do not bother with the 1998 remake, it is awful.

For those who have not yet seen Psycho, it’s a must. Very few films come close and even fewer thrillers, including some of Hitchcock’s own, match it.

I give it 5 Bates Motels out of 5.

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Jaws (5/14/12) and (8/23/12)

JawsMovie One Hundred Eighteen and Movie One Hundred Ninety Six

Out of those of you that have seen Jaws, how many are still ill at ease for swimming in the ocean?

It’s the beginning of July on popular beach town of Amity Island in New England and there is monster lurking in the water. The town is whipped into a frenzy as people become victims of shark attacks and the mayor demands that the beaches stay open. When the shark attacks continue and they realize the problem will only get worse, police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) calls in a shark expert, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), charter a boat and its captain, Quinn (Robert Shaw).

To me, Jaws is the perfect monster movie. It’s believable but terrifying. Some may contest the view and argue that it doesn’t even qualify as a horror movie, but consider the shark itself. It doesn’t care who it kills, it’s not killing for any purpose (you could say that it’s feeding, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case) other than territoriality, it’s nearly invincible, it’s enormous, it’s unrelenting, and most of all, it’s a real animal that we can all know of. Considering Jaws is based loosely on a string of shark attacks that happened in an inland creek in Matawan, New Jersey, I think Jaws hits even harder.

Some of you may notice that in addition to watching movies I also enjoy reading and the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley is one I heartily recommend. There are actually quite a few differences, mostly in the character developments, but the soul of the novel gushes from the screen in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation. Considering the age of the film and the technical difficulties presented in the animatronic shark (dubbed “Bruce” by the crew), Jaws is truly a marvel, even today.

When I was younger, two movies left their impressions on me so deep that I am still very weary of the ocean, even though I love it. The first was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – the giant squid literally scared the crap out of me as a kid. The second was Jaws and to this day it remains one of my favorites.

I give it 5 comparing scars out of 5.

[Update]

I had the pleasure of watching the newly restored version of Jaws on the big screen and it was, in one word, stunning. The restoration done is subtle but brilliant. The colors are bright and vibrant and the sound was thunderous. Jaws has never looked or sounded better and the restored version is available on blu-ray too. Over the years, I have seen Jaws numerous times and seeing it as it was meant to be seen was a truly new experience for me. Knowing what was going to happen and when, had no effect on me. Every scare was fresh and I even jumped several times. The tension of the film was like I had never experienced and it made this rewatch of Jaws something I will never forget.

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West Side Story (5/12/12)

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West Side Story is a “modern day” take on Romeo and Juliet using New York City’s racial tension as the backdrop for two ill-fated lovers.

Recently re-released for its 50th anniversary, West Side Story has been hugely popular both on and off Broadway. The film takes a well-known story but throws in an urban setting and deals out the race card and then sets the whole thing to music.

Warring neighborhood gangs the Jets and the Sharks are frequently clashing in turf wars. The Sharks are a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants while the Jets are white. Eventually, one of the leading members of the Jets, Tony (Richard Beymer),  falls in love with the sister, Maria (Natalie Wood), of the leader of the Sharks. Alongside the gang fights, the two groups also have to deal with local law enforcement. As Maria and Tony’s love blossoms, tensions rise between the gangs and the city.

In general, I’m not a fan of musicals. Even the best of musicals cause me to check my watch often. It’s not that I dislike music, I love music, there’s just something about musicals that drains me. West Side Story is no different, and clocking in around 2 1/2 hours, it was a bear to get through. I had actually never seen it before, but I did know some of the songs from the soundtrack. My wife recently purchased the Blu-Ray and when I told her I had never seen it she practically strapped me to the sofa and peeled off my eyelids to watch it (not really).

While the songs and the message have both stood the test of time, some of the racial elements are quite jarring. Even though racism is a key component of the film’s plot, to hear the Sharks being called “spics” made me cringe. Some of the more eccentric parts of the musical numbers also made me roll my eyes, but I suppose the film is supposed to be mostly camp. Overall, West Side Story is likely essential viewing for all fans of musicals. While I was not taken with it on a whole, I can see the significance and merits of West Side Story.

I give it 3 Saturday Night Live spoofs out of 5.

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