Three Film Reviews by Robwrite--Marilyn, Melancholia and Martha/Marcie May/Marlene
Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe
Three film reviews for you movie fans
My Week with Marilyn (3.5 stars out of 5)
Marilyn Monroe is one of those stars who seems to have moved beyond us mere mortals and into the stuff of legends. Maybe it’s because she died so young, at the height of her fame, or maybe it is due to the rare combination of vibrant sexuality and sweet innocence she conveyed. Whatever the reason, there’s a mystique around Marilyn Monroe that makes every story about her seem more interesting.
Taking on the role of the iconic actress is Michelle Williams, who successfully channels Marilyn, right down to her soft, wispy voice. She gives a strong performance, displaying the massive insecurities and doubts that plagued the beautiful actress throughout of life and career. She doesn’t really look all that much like Marilyn Monroe but she does such a good imitation that you’ll start to believe she’s really Marilyn.
Supposedly based on a true story, recorded by Colin Clark in his diary at the time and later published as a best-selling memoir, the story revolves around Marilyn’s trip to England in 1956 to film The Prince & the Showgirl with the great Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). Marilyn’s insecurities get the better of her and she doesn’t make a very good impression, messing up her lines and hiding in her dressing room. She clings desperately to her acting teacher Pula Strasberg, wife of famous acting coach Lee Strasberg, as her guru. This infuriates Olivier, who hates the Strasberg method, thinking that acting is something which needs to be taught, not ‘felt’ as Strasberg coached.
Marilyn meets young third-assistant-director Colin (Eddie Redmayne) who gets the job with Olivier because of his wealthy family. He is sent to keep an eye on Marilyn and she sees something she likes in him. She clings to Colin for support, especially after her husband Arthur Miller returns to America, leaving her alone. She starts to spend time with Colin—much to the chagrin of her handlers--and romance blooms, even though they both know it can’t ever go anywhere.
Branagh, often called the successor to Olivier, is a great choice to portray the famous Shakespearean actor. He mixes his anger at Marilyn with his obvious attraction to her. He doesn’t like her and he resent the fate that he wants her. Judy Dench plays Dame Sybil Thorndike, who plays referee between the two stars and tries to keep the American actress clam.
Williams manages to carry the film and holds her own with Branagh and Dench. Redmayne is adequate as Colin but he often gets swallowed up by the stronger presences around him. Julia Ormond has a small role as Olivier’s wife Vivian Leigh, of Gone with the wind fame, who recognizes the threat Marilyn poses but accepts that she can’t compete with the screen Goddess.
My Week with Marilyn depicts Marilyn as a woman who had a huge amount of natural acting instinct but without the training and self-confidence to reach her potential as a great actress. She is smart enough to be aware of how damaged she is but too weak and frightened to fix herself. Marilyn became too big a world-wide phenomenon for someone so full of doubts to deal with. She comes across as a compelling character, making what could have been a mundane story into something more interesting.
Melancholia (3 stars out of 5)
When you think of end-of-the-world films, you probably think of epic special effects movies, like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow. You probably don’t think of a quiet, cerebral, character-oriented film about two sisters when you think of global apocalypse. But that’s just the track that director Lars Von Trier (Dogville, Anti-Christ) takes in this engrossing--albeit depressing—look at the last days of planet Earth.
The story is broken into two halves, with but with the same sense of doom-and-gloom hovering over both stories. We begin with Justine (Kirstin Dunst) in her wedding gown, walking through the woods and then drifting in a lake like Ophelia in Hamlet. Hovering menacingly over this scene is a blue planet. We cut to the wedding where Justin is marrying Jack (Alexander Skarsgard) and everyone is trying to be happy, but not succeeding. We meet other family members including Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the sisters estranged parents Dexter (John Hurt) and Gaby (Charlotte Rambling.) and there is a lot of dysfunctional drama within the family, which would be the crux of the story in another film, but here, something much more important is on the horizon and everyone is trying their best not to mention it. The viewer isn’t told at first what is happening but bit-by-bit, the news of the approaching planet Melancholia is relayed.
The second half of the film, which takes place a few weeks later, focuses on Gaby, in her large, fancy home, with her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) and their son. Gaby, who seemed to be the voice of sanity and reason in the first half of the film, is now falling apart. She can’t handle the coming doom. A planet dubbed Melancholia is due to collide with the Earth in mere days and the family is being stoic to the point of denial, but Gaby is slowly losing her cool as Melancholia looms larger in the sky. Justine, who seemed neurotic in the first half of the film, suddenly becomes the resigned, calm one. The two sisters (it’s never explained why Gaby has a French accent and Justine is American) seem to trade places as the end of civilization unveils their true faces.
The film resists the urge to show scenes of mass panic and clichéd news updates. The family is cut off from the world in John’s mansion on the hill, and the coming destruction is foreshadowed only by the ever-increasing size of Melancholia in the sky, and by the changes in the actions of the characters who struggle to meet the end with aplomb but most of them don’t succeed.
This is a very gripping, intense film, but the relentless sense of hopelessness and despair which permeates it can be a bit off-putting. The movie is very original in the way it reflects the end of everything in the lives of two normal women, instead of using expensive special effects. (Except for the moment of impact) This isn’t a great film but it’s unusual and involving.
Martha, Marcie May, Marlene (3.5 out of 5)
People may be amazed to find out that one of the Olsen sistesr can act. However, it’s not Mary Kate or Ashley. It’s their hitherto little-known sister Elizabeth, who gives a stunning debut performance in this haunting, intelligent film.
Our protagonist has many names, which is representative of the fact that this is a confused girl who is torn between two worlds. She was born Martha but renamed Marcie May by the hippie cult she gets involved with; and Marlene is the alias all the women in the cult use when they answer the phone. Does she know who she really is or who she wants to be?
The film starts out on a run-down commune/farm which immediately seems creepy. There are far more women than men. The men eat first while the females dutifully wait their turn and then clean up afterwards. This is a patriarchal society, and the highest authority of all is the chillingly charismatic cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) who acts as the loving father but reveals hints of the menace lurking below the surface. Martha/Marcie May flees the farm (we don’t know why at the beginning) and gets in touch with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) with whom she hasn’t spoken in years. Lucy is a bit distant but still relieved to hear from Martha after not knowing whether she was alive or dead for so long. Martha stays with Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Darcy) during their two week vacation in their upstate New York country home. Martha doesn’t tell anyone about the cult she escaped and covers up her absence by telling a lie about a guy she lived with for a while. But even though Martha has physically escaped the cult, mentally she is still tied to them.
The film jumps back-and-forth in time between Martha/Marci May’s two years in the cult and her two weeks with Lucy and Ted. The cuts are abrupt and deliberately confusing; often leaving the viewer initially unsure of which scenario is being shown. This technique cleverly reflects the confusion in Martha’s mind because her brainwashed mind is still trapped in the mindset of Patrick’s cult and she can’t adjust to living the way people outside of cults live. She does odd and disturbing things like crawling into bed with Lucy and Ted while they are having sex, or skinny-dipping in a public area. She can no longer wrap her head around the rules of society after living under Patrick’s rules for so long. Lucy knows something is badly wrong with Martha but there is so much unresolved conflict between the two from the past that Lucy doesn’t know how to connect with her younger sister, especially since Martha is so secretive about her lost years. Ted, on the other hand, quickly tires of Martha’s peculiarities and wants her gone so he can enjoy the rest of his vacation before going back to New York City. Martha is of the opinion that Ted and Lucy live “the wrong way” in their materialism. She thinks their house is too big for just two people and wonders who else lives there. Ted has no patience for this craziness.
The tension escalates in both storylines as we see in the past what drove Martha to escape the farm; while in the present, she is hearing noises outside her window at night and thinks that Patrick and the others may have found her. Are they stalking her, waiting for the right moment to drag her back and punish her for abandoning the cult, or is it all in her imagination?
Elizabeth Olsen is excellent as the confused, tormented Martha/Marcie May, proving that someone in the Olsen family has real talent after all. She puts her sisters to shame. She manages to portray the character as someone who is outwardly dispassionate but inwardly full of turmoil. She has a wonderfully emotive face. If this film is just her freshman effort, she’ll have a great future ahead of her.
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