Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’

Trivial Top Ten

In Film News, Film Reviews, Netflix Recommendations on December 27, 2011 at 12:05 am

As the year draws to a close, I feel the annual urge to post my own Trivial Top Ten–a list not exhaustive by any means, but more a private crib sheet of my personal favorites from the past 12 months.

My perpetual caveat: there are SO MANY films I haven’t yet seen, many of which would probably end up on a more professional, exhaustive list, so don’t hold that against me.  These are just the ten films I enjoyed the most/found the most interesting over the past year.  Notes as to how you can see each of them are included, as are links to my own reviews of each title, as applicable.  Enjoy!  🙂

  1. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE – Read my review here!  See the official site for screening locations.
  2. WEEKEND – Read my review here!  Now available on NETFLIX streaming!
  3. SHE MONKEYS – Read my review here!  See the official site here…so far, no distribution in the USA, but keep your fingers crossed.  Whet your appetite with the trailer (here)!
  4. SHAME – Read my review here!  Visit the official site here to find where it’s playing near you!  Beware, its NC-17 rating has made it difficult to find outside of major cities and art houses.  You may have to make a pilgrimage for this one, but it’s worth it, I promise.
  5. INSIDIOUS – Read my review here!  Ok, I know it technically came out last year, but it made such an impression on me–and I was so late in finally seeing it–that I felt it was worth adding to this list.  Plus, genuinely good horror films are so few and far between these days that one practically has to reach back a year or two to be able to recommend anything good.  Available on NETFLIX streaming!
  6. LAST NIGHT – Another Tribeca premiere that still made it to this list about 9 months later.  A truly excellent romantic drama starring Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington as a couple who married too young and are struggling with the consequences.  Great acting, tight direction and a fast pace keep the tension crackling in this sexy ensemble drama.  Available on NETFLIX streaming!
  7. DRIVE – Ok, I got to this one late as well, but it was so worth it.  Check out Kevin Bowen’s review over on Screen Comment for a full rundown, and the official site for screening locations near you.
  8. BUCK – Read my review here!  Now available on NETFLIX streaming!
  9. ANGELS CREST – Read my review here!  See the official site for release dates and screening venues.
  10. TROLLHUNTER – Read my review here!  Now available on NETFLIX streaming!

What were your favorite (or least favorite) films of 2011?  What were some that should have been on my list?  Let me know!


Martha Marcy May Marlene – NYFF 2011

In Film Reviews on October 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm


Director Sean Durkin and star Elizabeth Olsen at NYFF

For relative newbies to feature filmmaking, writer/director Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) seem like old pros. “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” their new thriller, is so tight and poised that it seems like the work of long-collaborating veterans. It may prove difficult for them to live up to this standard through the rest of their careers, but that’s a good problem (for them and us) to have.

The film, which nabbed a Best Director award at Sundance earlier this year, follows Olsen’s character, Martha, after she escapes from a cult in upstate New York and is taken in by her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their ritzy summer home in Connecticut. As she tries to reintegrate herself into “normal” life, Martha is continually troubled by recollections from her time in the cult; often she cannot distinguish memory from reality, and it’s similarly difficult for the viewer to be exactly sure whether a given scene is a dream, flashback, or what passes for reality.

This creates a huge amount of tension, both for the audience and between Martha and her sister. Lucy is constantly trying to find out what exactly happened to Martha, and why she behaves so abnormally (she seems to have forgotten her table manners, strips naked without warning, and sits on the couple’s bed while they’re having sex). Martha is so overwhelmed by her experience and her fear that the cult members will come after her that she can’t even tell Lucy where she’s been for the past two years; it seems she doesn’t really know herself.

The scenes of life in the cult are fascinating and mostly understated; there’s very little bloodletting and grandstanding, but we are shown scenes that detail the cult’s brainwashing strategies , which include renaming, food restriction and communal sex. (At the post-screening press conference, Durkin made a point of discussing his research into cults, and the fact that all these activities were drawn directly from real accounts of recent cult life in the Northeast.) John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone,” “Deadwood”) plays the Manson-esque leader, and the gaggle of other women who indoctrinate Martha (rechristened Marcy May) all do a good job of conveying the everydayness of their bizarre living arrangement.

Later on, we see Marcy May reprising this caretaker role with another new cult member; her transformation within the flashback sequences from ingenue to leader is a little scary, as she’s clearly taken the commune’s brainwashing to heart. However, her transformation back to Martha after she’s escaped is even more striking. She’s now world-weary enough to be cynical and cruel (she lectures Lucy and Ted on their materialistic lifestyle), but still a damaged teenager on the inside, capable at any moment of falling into debilitating hysterics.

Olsen’s performance is excellent, and the accolades she’s being showered with are well-deserved. Far from the self-absorbed performance style one could logically expect from someone with her celebrity upbringing, Olsen instead manages to be both damaged and pragmatic, mysterious yet ordinary. Her turn as Martha isn’t a put-on; it’s as genuine a piece of acting as anything you’ll see this year (or, at least, anything that I’ve seen so far).

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” will open in limited release on Oct 21st.