Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Reel 20

This Blogger was very pleased to attend his 20-year high school reunion recently, and as any good movie-based mind should do, turned his thoughts to the films that were entertaining us way back in 1991. A look back not only jolted some fond memories and nostalgia, but also revealed just how important ’91 was in film history; with a lot of benchmark films and classical performances.

Starting with the moolah, James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY was the biggest earner of the year; its $565 million at the box office is still good for no. 84 all-time in the worldwide rankings. The film was also a benchmark in CGI effects; ILM’s eye-popping work paved the way for a generation of digital wizardry. Other notable big-money makers were Oliver Stone’s controversial, yet Oscar-winning JFK, this Blogger’s favorite of the year in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, Steven Spielberg’s HOOK, Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST…which became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. BEAST’S nomination proved that animated films were not just for kids anymore; a trend that continues today with Disney’s collaborations with Pixar.

Speaking of the Oscars, ’91 was a competitive year, with LAMBS, BEAUTY, JFK, BUGSY and THE PRINCE OF TIDES duking it out for Academy gold. LAMBS wound up dominating the awards; pulling off the coveted sweep of the major categories, including Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins). Hopkins' chilling performance of Hannibal Lecter was a memorable one for the ages; he will always be remembered for it and movie-buffs quote the character daily. The ceremony was also memorable for Jack Palance’s set of celebratory one-handed pushups after winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in CITY SLICKERS.


Come to think of it, 1991 was one hell of a year.

What say you? What was your favorite of 1991?

Monday, November 28, 2011


As the title indicates, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is not a traditional biopic documenting the starlet’s entire life, and instead focuses on a nearly obscure timeframe in movie history. Still, the film manages to capture its main character, Marilyn Monroe completely; all thanks to sharp writing and a stunning performance by Michelle Williams that is guaranteed to take your breath away.

Marilyn Monroe (Williams) is off to London to film THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, which is being directed by Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who is married to Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond). Monroe struggles through the pressure of acting, and copes by leaning on countless of amounts of pills and booze; behavior that threatens to derail the entire production. Monroe finds solace and inspiration in the form of Colin (Eddie Redmayne); a young man who is on his very first job in the movie business.

MARILYN, for as much as it focuses on Monroe, is really a story about two lost souls coming together and finding meaning. Colin is a big-studio virgin; wide-eyed and innocent. Marilyn is the bigger-than-life movie and entertainment star; who wants only to be a regular girl and be a good wife to her husband, but must put on the act of Marilyn Monroe when the cameras are rolling. It is a fascinating watch to see Colin and Marilyn charm the hell out of each other before reality comes back to nail them both. Both characters are fleshed out perfectly, and the audience can’t help but to feel for, and love them both.

Marilyn Monroe absolutely rises from the dead in Michelle Williams’s outstanding performance. The mannerisms, facial expressions and body language are magic to see; it is as if the blonde beauty fell out of the screen and into our laps. She completely sells the character; she is the girl that we all want to hold tightly, even though we know she will eventually fly away.

Director Simon Curtis also gets excellent performances out of Redmayne, who never fails to convince us of the puppy-love innocence. Also astoundingly perfect is Branagh as Sir Laurence, who nails the screen legend’s vocal tone and even looks like the man. Curtis assembles a near-ensemble cast including Judi Dench, Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker, Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson…and gets sparkling performances out of them all. Curtis also succeeds in bringing the whimsy of 1950’s movie-making to life, packing things with a brisk magic that will have the audience smiling and laughing from beginning to end.

Despite the bitter sweetness of the ending, MARILYN manages to become one of the most feel-good movies of the year. It is funny and moody, entertaining and sad, and it is incredibly fitting that the most charming woman who ever lived is the subject of the most charming movie of 2011. If you don’t fall in love with Michelle Williams, you most certainly fall in love with Marilyn.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Reel Review: HUGO

Martin Scorsese’s HUGO is about a lot of different things; it’s a story about a boy’s love for his father, it is about childhood friendship and adventure, it is about redemption and self-forgiveness. On top of that, it is Scorsese’s statement to the world concerning the history and preservation of film. His first venture into the 3D world is the setting he chooses for telling all of these stories, and the blending is a stumble here, and a triumph there.

Hugo’s (Asa Butterfield) father (Jude Law) is killed in a museum fire, and the boy is sent to live with his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone), who maintains the inner-workings of all the clocks in a Paris train station. When the uncle disappears, Hugo is left alone to run the clocks by himself while avoiding capture from the stations chief inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). Hugo sort-of befriends George (Ben Kingsley), who has an interesting connection to movie history, and his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Hugo looks to repair an automaton; a mechanical man discovered by his father in the museum’s attic, which when operational may or may not reveal stunning secrets that involve all characters and their lives.

HUGO’s beginnings set up the film as a story all about a boy’s love for his father. Repairing the automaton is Hugo’s last connection to his dead pop, and his motivations are clearly spelled out and loaded with emotion. Once the automaton starts to click, the movie (literally) switches gears. The focus shifts from Hugo and his love for his dad and over to Isabelle’s god-father George. The switch, while necessary for Scorsese’s intentions for the film, drops the emotion from the overall story and relegates Hugo to a solve-the-mystery movie.

Most of HUGO seems scattered; spending a lot of time on the many characters, some of which feels unnecessary. But where HUGO really shines is when Scorsese switches gears for a third time and gets into a specific and important chapter in movie history. The recreations of historical movies such as A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902) are a joy to watch, and Scorsese pours his love of movie history all over the place. HUGO’s third switch is a history lesson in film, and it is an important one.

The 3D is hit or miss. It looks dazzling in some places, and un-noticeable in others. HUGO feels like it should be seen in 3D, as it is a story dealing with the magic of the movies. It’s a clever effort, but in the practical sense it’s an annoyance; the dimness of those blasted glasses dulls the vibrancy of the magnificent-looking world HUGO exists in.

Scorsese directs some great performances out of everyone, especially from his younger cast; younger audiences will connect right away with Hugo and Isabelle. Older audiences will be entertained as well, providing they can get by the slow pacing and switching storylines. HUGO succeeds a lot more than it stumbles.


Monday, November 21, 2011


FACT: With digital projection becoming more widespread, major studios have decided to get out of the business of renting out their original 35mm film prints to theatres for showing. This has put certain smaller movie theatres in great jeopardy. Houses such as the New Beverly Cinema in L.A., which runs only 35mm film, would eventually have nothing to show.

A passionate online petition is now circulating to try and save what they, and many others consider to be pieces of history. The archival 35mm film prints will be scanned into digital, and then destroyed. Countless cans of decades-old film will hit the incinerators. This is likely the first of many steps major studios will be taking to eventually switch to digital projection in full.

OPINION: For starters, let it be said that this Blogger has a deep love for film projection; having worked as a film (and eventually digital) film projectionist at a major theatre chain for nearly eight years. Reel Speak was born from that deep love; it’s what inspired the name.

However, that love for 35mm film has gradually become more of a nostalgic love than a practical one. This blogger has seen first-hand, both in and out of the booth, how fragile 35mm film can be. Now, a well-maintained projector when running a brand new print right out of the can will look spectacular. However, celluloid eventually will fade from the bulb, and let’s not forget that film projectors have many, many moving parts; all of which can lead to damaged prints, leading to defects on the screen. Defects like annoying black and green scratches, dust, and pictures that jump around and are out of focus are common symptoms. And then there are breakages, which can lead to film snapping in half and the spectacular image of the picture burning and melting on screen. The bottom line is an interrupted movie, which no one likes. Digital projection, while still evolving, avoids any of these defects in the picture and seldom break down. If you are paying good money to see a movie, you certainly deserve to see a perfect, uninterrupted presentation.

Studios know this, and they also know the cost of having to maintain thousands (hell, millions) of film prints over the years. From a practical sense, all of these 35mm film prints cost a lot just to store in a temperature-controlled climate and also take up a lot of space. Some years back, a fire at Universal Studios obliterated countless cans of film. How many original prints of DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTIEN (also 1931) were destroyed? No one knows. Digital can solve that problem; by scanning all of these films into data bits, they can be safely stored and preserved forever.

But what about all those 35mm film prints? Should they become ashes? It’s a sad thing to think so. If someone one day discovers a warehouse full of Beatles records on vinyl, should they be destroyed just because they already exist digitally? Hell no. Lots of people would want them, even if they never intend to play them.

This is where the passion of film lovers comes in, and where the studios need to listen. Undoubtedly, there are film collectors out there who would pay top dollar to own an original print of their favorite films. Yes they are space-consuming, but if they want it saved they might have to do it themselves. As for theatres such as the New Beverly, they are just going to have to get with the times. Their passion for 35mm film projection is admirable, but those 50-year old prints they are running have got to look like shit, and they will eventually have to deal with projector companies ceasing support of those old machines. They also must realize their contradiction: they want to preserve the prints so they can play them; but they must know that the more they are played, the more damaged they will be become. Want to preserve your original vinyl copy of LET IT BE? Don’t play it.

We are in an extremely important time in movie history; right smack-dab in the middle of two eras. Film projection has really not changed in a hundred years. That constant is about to end. It is with sad melancholy that this Blogger must side with the practical. By all means let’s save the film, but let’s save them for the right reasons.

What say you? Are movies meant to be viewed on film? Are we godless heathens for switching to digital? This may be the most important topic in “film” today…

If you are interested in signing the petition to aid in the New Beverly Cinema's effort, here is the link:

Friday, November 18, 2011


In directing his first film since the Oscar-darling SIDEWAYS, Alexander Payne does something to George Clooney that has never been done in the man’s successful and diverse career; he stuffs Clooney’s character full of emotional trials until it boils out, and the result is a redefining acting performance which is just one small part of a brilliant film.

Matt King (Clooney) is the owner of the last undeveloped land in the Hawaiian Islands which is worth a fortune, and must decide either to sell it or try to keep it while being pressured by his family. A month before the decision, Matt’s wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) is involved in an accident which puts her into a coma, where she will remain until Matt decides to honor his wife’s wishes to pull the plug. Matt, who was often an absent parent, must now act as a lone parent to his brat daughters Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alex (Shailene Woodley), with Alex finally telling her father his dying wife’s secrets.

THE DESCENDANTS is Matt’s story as he tries to bring what’s left of his family together. Pain and conflict are the themes throughout the film, and Payne positions them brilliantly like a chess master. In the early goings, the film feels like it would be another run-of-the mill family bonding story, but when Alex lets Matt know about his dying wife’s secrets, things change in a hurry. The daughters who were once Matt’s enemy are suddenly his allies as they charge into Elizabeth’s past; not to confront or cause trouble, but to find closure and try to get to know her better before she passes on. It is a very human story.

Payne does tremendous work in never letting the film become too dark and depressing; the film is very funny, but never gets carried away as it always remembers to bring things back to the dying wife and mom. Filming THE DESCENDANTS in Hawaii was a stroke of genius; it is a beautiful setting for a tragic tale.

Clooney is at his absolute best here, and anyone who thought they had the man completely figured out hasn’t seen anything yet. His character is burdened with emotion for the entire film, and when it finally boils over…whoa daddy. It’s a performance that a lot of people might not be ready for. Equally good is Shailene Woodley, who goes toe-to-toe with Clooney often and never misses a beat. Also surprising is a rare and well executed serious role by Matthew Lillard, and smaller parts by Beau Bridges, Judy Greer and Robert Forester are also directed and acted beautifully.

The finale has a bit of predictable turn, as the often-seen morality tale of what is really important in life is finally revealed. In this setting and with this execution, it really does work. THE DESCENDANTS is packed with real-world tragedy and drama, but never stuck too much in reality that we can’t enjoy it immensely.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Reel Opinion: Tim Burton Phones it in...

FACT: Tim Burton is in talks to develop a film adaptation of the Ransom Riggs novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” for 20th Century Fox. The book follows a 16 year old whose childhood was filled with stories from the orphanage, told to him by his grandfather.

OPINION: If this project does come into Burton’s hands, it will be the 4th film in a row for him that was an adaptation/remake, and the 7th in his last nine times out. Where oh where has the inspired mind that created BEETLEJUICE and EDWARD

Gone seem to be the days when the once-original genius of Burton gave us sights and stories that we had never seen before. Year after year it has been remake after remake after adaptation; all with the same predictable style over and over again that he tries to pass off on us as original. This is a classic case of a successful director getting too comfortable with himself and becoming reluctant to get his ass off the couch of originality.

Burton may want to consider his past as proof of his now lazy ass. In the past when he would become predictable, he would step outside of his own style and the results would be spectacular; ED WOOD and BIG FISH for example. Where is that guy now?

Now, his endless string of adaptations have been moderately successful, and they are entertaining and make enough moolah at the box office to keep the corporate studio stooges happy; but in an age where movie audiences are dying and screaming for something original, Tim Burton used to be the man people looked to for relief. Not anymore.

What say you?

Monday, November 14, 2011


It has been argued for decades that there are only two types of people who make movies: There are Directors (Singer, Cameron, Bay) and there are Filmmakers (Scorsese, Aronofsky, Malick). With the arrival of the stunning achievement that is MELANCHOLIA, Lars Von Trier may have created a new category all for his own; a film Composer. His MELANCHOLIA is like a beautifully composed piece of music, with soaring ups and downs on the way through an emotional journey.

Disguised as a movie about the end of the world, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) are celebrating their wedding at the swanky home of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). The wedding is a disaster, with family tensions and drama and Justine’s failure to be happy wrecking everything. Meanwhile, a wayward planet named Melancholia is on a path which may, or may not bring it to collision with Earth.

MELANCHOLIA is a film about the end of the world, but that is just the cover. It is really a film about depression and how the characters react to the pending disaster, which again may or may not happen. It is clear that both Justine and Claire suffer from depression, but in different ways; Justine is internally depressed and welcomes the possible disaster as a reprieve from this thing called life. Claire is externally depressed; fearing the absolute worst from that pesky planet. Adding more drama to the mix is John, who is impatient with Justine’s behavior, and as a scientist is excited and fascinated with Earth’s new neighbor. Von Trier does excellent work in throwing the characters into the mix and letting them react to the situation. There are character traits in Justine, Claire and John that everyone can relate to.

Von Trier composes a beautiful film here, with outstanding photography and tightly woven storylines; there is nothing redundant or unnecessary, as every long take and montage is important to the overall theme. The shaky-cam is used a lot, not to make confusing action but to create an unsettling feeling, and it works. Von Trier is not afraid to let the film unfold slowly with trudging pacing; and knows exactly when to wake the audience up using a few shocking visuals. One interesting choice Von Trier made is with the score; while it is magnificent and fitting, there seems to be only one short piece written for the entire film, and it is used about a million times. It’s a guarantee that the theme will be stuck in the audience’s head for days…

Kirsten Dunst won a Best Actress award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in this film, and it is well deserved. She sinks into herself so well there is never a doubt that her character is a deeply depressed person. Her maturity is evident here, and it is a role that will make many forget about the goofy films she’s made in her past. Her performance seems to rub off on everyone (except for Sutherland, who seems to be phoning it in), most especially Charlotte Gainsbourg who must counter her. Smaller roles by Stellan Skarsgard and the great John Hurt are also a joy to watch.

For a film that is dealing with the end of the world, MELANCHOLIA never shows the effect the possible disaster has in a world-wide scale; in fact, it never leaves the confines of Claire and John’s home. The possible Armageddon is not the focus as much as which of the two sisters has a firmer grip on reality. That approach brings the focus to the characters and the human side of tragedy, and brings MELANCHOLIA to the status of masterpiece.


Friday, November 11, 2011

A Reel Review: J. EDGAR

Clint Eastwood’s J. EDGAR is not only an attempt to tell the life story of the famed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, but to also offer a large slice of American history. With those two goals, J. EDGAR is a triumph; America of the past is vibrantly brought to life, and Mr. Hoover right along with it. Unfortunately for Clint and his film, J.EDGAR forgets to do one important thing: it forgets to give the audience a reason to care about any of it.

J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells his life story to agents assigned to pen his memoirs. Leaping backwards and forwards in time, J. Edgar’s rise to power in the newly founded FBI is documented, along with his personal life, which includes his long-time secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), overbearing mother (Judi Dench) and life-partner Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The film covers over 40 years of history as he battles through threats to the U.S. Government, his own agency, political scandals, and the historic kidnapping of the child of Charles Lindbergh (Josh Lucas).

Having the main character of a biopic dictate his own tale is an interesting, and mostly successful method. The story is being told through Hoover’s own eyes, and he exaggerates facts at will to build his own and the FBI’s legend. The fact that he is embellishing here and there is not known until the end, and can make the audience scratch their heads wondering exactly what it is they just witnessed in all the flashbacks.

Outside of that, the film is at its strongest going though important events in the FBI’s, and America’s history; History buffs would love this. But Eastwood always seems to be filming things at a distance; there is always the feeling that he could have, and should have gone a just a bit deeper. Hoover is there before us, and for the most part we can feel his motivations, but never given a reason to care.

DiCaprio is very good in the role. He manages to vanish underneath the ridiculous amount of old-age makeup and really sell the character; his old-man acting is more convincing than the makeup. Less successful is Armie Hammer, who in playing J. Edgar’s lover does little more than smile and look pretty, and he fails to act well enough through the awful mask-looking makeup he has to wear. The lovely Naomi Watts is underused, but at least she still looks good in her old-age getup.

Eastwood stocks the film with some well-cast celebrity look-alikes from history; everyone from Nixon to Shirley Temple. J. EDGAR is saturated in American lore, with endless monologues from its main character. But for as much as the film talks, it feels like not much is said. J. EDGAR is all glory, no guts.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reel Morons & Opinions

MORON: Director Brett Ratner, attending a screening to promote his new film TOWER HEIST, was asked in a Q & A session if he was the type of director who held rehearsals. His response: “rehearsing is for fags”. The backlash was nearly instantaneous, and pressured Ratner to resign his position as Producer of the 2011 Oscars telecast. Hot on his heels, comedian/actor Eddie Murphy announced that he would not appear as Host to the same telecast.

OPINION: Ratner’s directing credits have ranged from mediocre (X3, RED DRAGON, TOWER HEIST) to absolute shit (RUSH HOUR 1-3). His hiring as Producer of an Oscars telecast was a bit of a head scratcher, but nonetheless it would have given him a chance to grow up and place his name on the top-shelf; but then he had to go and open his mouth. His slur either exposed him as a homophobic bigot, or reminded us all that he doesn’t think much before speaking.

And then we have Eddie Murphy. The once, great R-rated comedian has turned in a slew of F-rated films as of late; ranging from mediocre (TOWER HEIST, HAUNTED MANSION), to absolute shit (PLUTO NASH, NORBIT). His hiring as Host of an Oscar telecast would not only have made a huge stride in resurrecting his career, but would also have injected some much-needed excitement back into the big show. He chose instead to fall on his sword for Ratner, an action that could possibly line up a sequel to PLUTO NASH in (goddamn) 3D.

Ratner’s comment would have skated by without a thought thirty years ago, and does sound like something Murphy would have said during his RAW era. However that way of thinking does not fly in these modern times. Ratner, who made the remark, and Murphy, who seems to be defending it by quitting the show… have just torpedoed their careers. Morons indeed.

What say you?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reel Facts & Opinions

FACT: Sony Pictures and video game-maker Ubisoft have inked a deal to bring the wildly successful Assassin’s Creed to the big screen. The major news here is that Ubisoft demanded, and won an unheard amount of control over the project; everything from budget, cast, script, and release date.

OPINION: This can set a dangerous precedent. If the film flops, Ubisoft will not only have ruined their own property, but they would have sabotaged themselves in any future negotiations. On the flip side, if the film is actually good, then studios are going to have to contend with a long line of geeky gamers wanting total control in future films.

Ubisoft is clearly being very protective of their beloved franchise, and do not want some studio hack to butcher their love into another B-level turd in the long line of B-level turds that video game films tend to become; SUPER MARIO BROS., RESIDENT EVIL, PRINCE OF PERSIA, BLOODRAYNE…to name a few. Ubisoft may know a lot about making great games, but do they know anything about making movies?

The answer may lay in history, history that opens up the bigger question: Who should have control over the property; The Creator, or the Filmmaker?

Theoretically, no one but The Creator knows the property better. The Creator has spent time with the characters, the world they live in, and the things that they face. No one knows the source material better than the Creator. However, it is The Filmmaker who knows what works on screen, and what doesn’t. What works in a video game (or a comic book, novel, etc.) will likely not work in a movie, which is a completely different medium.

When Creators and Filmmakers put their heads together in a healthy way, great things can happen. Director David Fincher made sure author Aaron Sorkin was on set for every day of shooting in the making of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and the results won Oscars. Author J.K. Rowling worked closely with Warner Bros.’ directors and producers in the HARRY POTTER adaptations, and the results were (mostly) spectacular. Reaching back a bit further, the late great Irvin Kershner directed a masterpiece in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but be assured that series creator George Lucas kept a watchful eye on things during production.

Again, when the two sides come together and stir up each other’s creative juices, great things can happen. When one side or the other wants more or all, shit can happen. Ubisoft way want to remember that, before they go ahead and slay their own baby.

What say you?

Friday, November 4, 2011


THE SKIN I LIVE IN will be a film that people will automatically compare to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; with its creepy atmosphere, detached skin, captive women and a brilliant but deranged doctor. The comparisons would be fair, but SKIN is a film that still manages to stand on its own; on its own as one of the most disturbing films ever made.

Doctor Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a brilliant surgeon who has lost his wife in a fiery car crash, and his two daughters to suicide. Using the loss of his family as motivation, the good doctor throws his life into helping burn victims reconstruct their faces with brilliant muscle and skin reformation. Robert perfects his technique on Vera (played by the stunningly beautiful Elena Anaya), a woman that he is keeping captive in his mansion. Robert’s humanitarian efforts are a cover, as he has reconstructed his dead wife out of the person that Vera used to be.

SKIN begins as Robert’s story, as he uses his pain and tragic loss to fuel his medical efforts. The story unfolds using a non-linear method, as the past and present constantly flip back and forth. As the movie moves forward, the story (literally) changes. The focus shifts from Robert’s motivations to who Vera used to be, and who she is now. Vera and Robert’s stories run parallel, with Vera’s carrying a heavy and relevant weight throughout. Who she is/was unfolds slowly, and when the realization sinks in…..whoa daddy….

Director Pedro Almodovar makes some brilliant and interesting stylistic choices here. Not only is the non-linear method perfect, but the tension and creepiness is constant thanks to some well-timed music and clever camerawork. His eye fills the frame with hints and nudges towards the doctor’s motivations and secrets, and the film overall has the look of a 1960’s Bond; it is chock full of beautiful women, hot cars, and gorgeous vistas. Almodovar also manages to make the viewer squirm over simple things like the snapping-on of surgical gloves.

SKIN is sub-titled, so it’s difficult to judge the acting as far as line-delivery. But besides that it is clear that Banderas is perfect. He is evil but in pain, and he lets the viewer know that all the time. The stunningly beautiful Elena Anaya (has this blogger mentioned she is stunningly beautiful?) is also convincing; so convincing that we almost don’t notice when she’s nude for half the film. Almost.

The identity of Vera is not revealed by way of a boom-bang twist with loud noises and over-orchestration, and is instead slowly revealed in bites. In fact, a clever viewer may be able to figure it out around the three-quarter mark, or earlier. But let’s be clear that’s not a flaw in the film, for the filmmakers obviously intended who Vera is/was to be subtlety let out. That way, the viewer will have to look at the character in a new light for the last quarter, and be disturbed enough to want a cleansing shower right away. It’s that type of fucked-up-ness that makes THE SKIN I LIVE IN an unsettling, but great movie.


Thursday, November 3, 2011


Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen) puts her name on the grown-up actress map with a powerful performance in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (or 4M for this lazy typist); a disturbing psychological thriller with more tension than a drum head.

Martha (Olsen) is seduced into living and working on a farm run by a Davidian-like cult. The cult is led by Patrick (John Hawkes), who has sex with all the women so they can father his many sons. The women exist only to serve the men, and they even take their given names away from them. Martha (or Marcy May, as she is renamed by the cult), runs away and begins a new life with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Martha is unwilling (or unable) to reveal where she has been for the last two years, and becomes increasingly paranoid that the cult is watching her.

4M is smartly intercut in-between Martha’s new life and her old one. Not so much flashbacks as they are interesting parallels to her two lives (similar to GODFATHER II), they unravel some great drama as her present situation is closely tied to events that happened to her at the cult. Things get very interesting when her reality lines become blurred, and she cannot figure out if her life at the farm was just a dream or if it really happened. Things also get interesting when she realizes that her new life of freedom has just as many limitations as the one she had in captivity.

Director Sean Durkin builds an incredible atmosphere of tension with some long, quiet takes in which the camera never moves. Scenes are played out in long, single takes with occasional SLOOOOOOW zooms and fades that keeps the viewer pinned on the edge of their seat.

Olsen really sells the film. She is convincing throughout, displaying pain, fear and joy with simple facial expressions. She lets the emotion build and then powerfully erupt. She even handles a disturbing rape scene well.

As great as the film is, the ending is a bit of a stinker; wrapping in a stupid abrupt manner that offers no closure or absolution and is nearly infuriating. It is clear that the filmmakers painted themselves into a corner; having put their character into such a desperate situation, they had no idea how to get her out of it…so they just ended the movie. It’s frustrating after such an emotional journey we spend with her, but at least they didn’t let the film become just another run-of-the-mill flick where there is always a girl being chased around by a guy with a knife. Still, the finale is a head-shaker, and almost enough to derail everything. Almost.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Reel Review: ANONYMOUS

The premise of Roland Emmerich’s ANONYMOUS is that William Shakespeare did not write a single word of all that he is credited for. It is not a brand new theory; scholars and researchers have been going around in circles over the possibility for decades. Smartly, ANONYMOUS does not seek to offer clear and definitive answers to the debate, and instead elects to expand on just one of many conspiracy theories surrounding The Bard.

It is the late 1500’s, and Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) is nearing the end of her life without a named successor. Her former illegitimate lover Edward (Rhys Ifans), who is a gifted writer of plays and poems, decides to use his talents to influence the Queen to name a successor of his choosing. Edward seeks out Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), a struggling writer and theatre owner to produce his plays without ever mentioning his name. While Johnson struggles with the ethics of the situation, a young half-illiterate actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) steps forward and takes the credit. Edward continues to write anonymously through endless political and royal turmoil, while Shakespeare benefits from the fame.

ANONYMOUS is less about Shakespeare and more about the thick and convoluted political maneuvering and scheming. In fact, Shakespeare is barely in the film. Emmerich focuses on the overall story loaded with illegitimate love affairs and backstabbing. That story is often confusing and convoluted, and makes for a frustrating watch. Emmerich throws a lot into the mix, including tons of flashbacks which serve to thicken the story and show the characters’ motivations. With so many storylines and so many different actors playing the same part, it is difficult, if not impossible to latch onto a single character, and root for them.

Emmerich has always had a great eye for visuals, and here he outdoes himself. The landscapes and sceneries are breathtaking, as is his cinematography. A lot of interesting choices are made, including a clever beginning and end; the film’s story is begun and ended in a stage production.

Acting is excellent throughout. Special credit needs to go to Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Queen Elizabeth in her elder years, and Joely Richardson, who plays Liz in her twenties. Both actresses keep the character consistent, and even produce echoes of Cate Blanchett’s iconic performance of the character.

Despite being heavy and complex on politics, ANONYMOUS still has a lot of Shakespeare elements to keep history and literary buffs happy. Seeing the famous stage productions come to life for the first time is a treat, and a lot of respect is given to the material. It is worth mentioning that many historical liberties have been taken, which makes the film feel like an alternate-universe type of yarn rather than a theoretical piece. By far, this is Emmerich’s most mature film (he must have been tempted to blow up the Sistine Chapel); he just tried too hard to make it complex.