At last, the long-awaited conclusion to my October movie recap! LET’S GO!
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE -- A haunting psychological thriller about a girl named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) who tries to regain some semblance of a normal life after escaping from a cult where she spent two years being brainwashed -- and worse -- by its charming leader (John Hawkes, so creepy). But her psyche has been so deeply damaged that even after she seeks refuge with her older sister & brother-in-law, she is unable to tell them what happened to her and constantly suffers from paranoid delusions. Writer/director Sean Durkin has crafted a remarkably effective story that jumps back and forth in time and blurs the line between fantasy and reality, not to mention sanity and madness. The film is shot in a way that makes it feel almost dreamlike. Details of Martha’s experiences are peeled away little by little as she tries desperately to cleanse herself of the cult’s far-reaching influence. There’s palpable, ominous tension throughout, culminating with an ending that left me absolutely breathless. It is a profoundly brilliant, deeply unsettling film... and it is the mesmerizing Elizabeth Olsen who binds it together. The younger sister of Mary-Kate & Ashley, she seemingly has more talent (not to mention beauty) in her little finger than her much-more-rich-and-famous siblings have have ever displayed. (She kind of reminds me of a GHOST WORLD-era Scarlett Johansson, which is not a bad thing.) It is one of the most potent, nuanced, vulnerable and remarkable performances I’ve seen this year; hopefully the Academy will agree when the time comes.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 -- Earlier this year, I declared that if the SAW series was this generation’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, then the FINAL DESTINATION series was FRIDAY THE 13th... so I guess that makes PARANORMAL ACTIVITY this generation’s HALLOWEEN? CHILD’S PLAY? HELLRAISER? Take your pick. All I know is that this found-footage haunted house series is now a solid three-for-three. What makes it so effective is not the scares so much as the ANTICIPATION of the scares. Loud noises, moving furniture and dark shadows in the background are all well and good. But sitting there in the dark, your eyes darting around the screen in a frantic attempt to figure out where the next scare is going to come from... that is some spine-tingling shit and these films have perfected the art. The third installment is a prequel that takes us back to the ‘80s, where, it seems, the oft-haunted sisters, Katie and Kristi, had some all-too-familiar scary experiences even as little girls. But there are some new twists: Kristi has an imaginary friend named Toby (an homage, I believe, to POLTERGEIST director Tobe Hooper) who may not be very nice. The girls’ bonehead dad devices a new oscillating-camera contraption that adds a new dimension of suspense as it moves back and forth. But mostly, the tried-and-true formula remains intact. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have already proven that they have a knack for suspense with the film CATFISH and they put those talents to good use here. That said, I think this series has now gone as far as it can (or should). I’d hate to see the powers-that-be run it into the ground with more installments... but then again, there have been seven SAW’s, five FINAL DESTINATION’s, nine NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’s, etc. So I guess the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY saga has some catching up to do.
THE SWELL SEASON -- Few movies have ever had such a profound effect on me as the 2007 indie hit, ONCE. It was cinematic love at first sight. I was struck by the thunderbolt, just as Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova’s characters were as they played “Falling Slowly” together in that piano shop. From there, I became obsessed with all things Glen & Mar. I’ve watched the movie countless times, seen the Swell Season three times (and the Frames once, and I’m seeing Marketa solo later this month). And of course, I took solace in their real-life relationship, which was magical in the sense that it was like the happy ending we didn’t get in the bittersweet film. Eventually, though, their fairytale relationship came to an end... and this documentary tells that story. It follows Glen & Mar after they were thrust into the worldwide spotlight (especially after winning the Oscar for Best Original Song). Hansard, who had been paying his dues since quitting school to become a busker on the streets of Dublin, relished the fame and playing before huge crowds. But this new life took its toll on shy, soft-spoken Marketa, barely 20 years old at the time, which in turn took its toll on them as a couple. Unsurprisingly, Hansard gets most of the attention in this doc -- presumably because he is the more open of the two. We spend a lot of time with his parents, including his late, emotionally-detached father, which gives us some real insight into where his raw performance power comes from. The film doesn’t delve as much into Marketa’s life, which is unfortunate because her story is pretty intriguing in its own right. But her discomfort at the Swell Season’s stardom, and her desire to spread the wings of her life & career, so to speak, is painfully evident. If you love them as much as I do, this film -- shot in soft black-and-white which gives it an even more intimate feel -- will both fill you with joy and break your heart.
GHOSTBUSTERS -- That’s right, I saw GHOSTBUSTERS on the big screen and it was awesome. I don’t think I need to tell you about the movie itself, but suffice to say that it is still awesome and absolutely holds up both as a sci-fi comedy masterpiece AND a slice of ‘80s New York nostalgia. (However, I am now even more convinced that GHOSTBUSTERS 3 would be a terrible idea.) What I want to talk about is where I saw it -- a magical, wonderful world called the Sony Wonder Technology Lab, located at 56th & Madison in NYC. The facility is kind of like a Hall of Science, where kids can go and play with all sorts of fun gadgets and gizmos and games and robotics and computer programs and interactive technology. It’s all free! And yes, they have a screening room where they show free movie screenings every Saturday afternoon. It’s a very nice little theatre: Stadium seating, plush seats and a decent-sized screen (equivalent to, say, a typical art house theatre; certainly a heck of a lot bigger than your TV at home) and a Blu-Ray projector that provides a clear picture and booming sound. Very nice indeed... and again, it’s free! All you have to do is RSVP at the beginning of the week and then show up. The theatre was barely half-full for GHOSTBUSTERS so clearly this is still a hidden NYC gem and I am revealing it here against my better judgment -- use this information wisely, my friends. For a list of upcoming screenings, CLICK HERE and bookmark the page. Looks like a bunch of family/holiday stuff through most of November and December, but I am intrigued by Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS on December 30th! Perhaps I’ll see you there.
THE WOMAN -- I have a confession to make: Though I’ve claimed to be a horror fan, I was not familiar with the works of Jack Ketchum before seeing this movie. But I now see that all of my experiences with the horror genre over the years were merely a tune-up for Ketchum’s madness. THE WOMAN is a story of perhaps the most dysfunctional family you will ever see. On the surface, the Cleeks seem nice and normal, like something out of a ‘50s sitcom (which the matter-of-fact dialogue also invokes). But under the surface simmers unspeakable horror. The patriarch, Roger, treats his wife and kids as his slaves, forcing them to do ridiculous chores and basically serve his every whim. One day, while on a hunting trip, he comes across a feral woman living in the woods (no explanation where she came from, but it’s beside the point). He decides to capture her, ties her up in the basement and plans to “civilize” her. He gets the whole family involved with the project. Mom and sis are appalled, but junior, who is just as twisted as his father, is into the idea. From there... I cannot begin to describe the brutality and degradation that takes place... increasingly disturbing and culminating in an astonishing final act bloodbath. I am typically as desensitized to extreme horror as anyone, but even I sat there completely aghast with what I was seeing. This is one of the very few horror movies to ever elicit such a reaction from me -- and for that, I must tip my cap to Jack Ketchum for coming up with such a tale and Lucky McKee for skillfully putting it on screen. Fine performances across the board, too, from the whole family. But special kudos to Sean Bridgers as Roger, one of the most twisted antagonists I’ve ever seen (perhaps topped only by Blanche Baker as Aunt Ruth in Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR... but I digress), and also to Pollyanna McIntosh who gives a fearless performance as the Woman. This movie is not for the faint of heart... but a must-see for fans of the genre.
LIKE CRAZY -- Based on the heartstring-tugging trailer, I had high hope that this movie would be this year’s great melancholy love story, following in the footsteps of such films as ONCE, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER and BLUE VALENTINE, all of which made my Top 10 in their respective years. Well, perhaps those expectations were a little too high. Indeed it is a melancholy love story, but it is in no way great. The story is simple enough: Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) meet in college and fall in love. But when Anna is deported back to the UK after screwing up her visa situation, they are forced to do the long-distance thing, which takes a toll on their relationship. There’s potential there because long distance relationships do indeed suck, but there’s one fundamental problem: I never once believed in their everlasting love. Seems like they could have pretty easily have made things work at any time; for example, why didn’t Jacob just move to England? Would have solved the problem right there. But he didn’t... perhaps because he wasn’t as invested in the relationship as he thought? Or perhaps because there wouldn’t have been a movie. Either way, it contradicts this supposed great love, because if it was really great, they would’ve done anything in their power to make it work. (Which also includes not being so stupid and letting the visa expire in the first place. I know all-too-well that the thunderbolt is powerful and can make you do dumb things... but that was pretty fucking dumb.) All that being said, the acting is very solid. Yelchin and Jones make a cute couple, and Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as a girl with whom Jacob tries to move on. Just wish they all had less-flawed material to work with.
Bring on Oscar season!