Friday, October 28, 2011

Quick thoughts on some recent releases

I've been so busy knocking horror classics off my to-watch list, I've been remiss (well, not completely, but more remiss than I'd like) with newer releases, particularly in writing about them. But here are some brief thoughts on some movies that are in theaters now.

The Ides of March - I love George Clooney as a director, but for me this movie falls short of Good Night and Good Luck and even Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The second half works more than the first, where everyone seems to be working too hard to be their characters, especially Evan Rachel Wood, who's trying way too hard to be the sexy intern. Ryan Gosling is quite good, and so is Clooney himself, but only once they're both allowed to get to the dark side of their characters. The most impressive work, though, comes from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as the head of the campaign. His final scene with Gosling is amazing, but it's not quite enough to overcome the first half. Again, for me. Your mileage may vary.

Take Shelter - I've been a fan of Michael Shannon's since his breakthrough performance in Revolutionary Road, so it's wonderful to see him take the lead here. His character is having visions and experiences that lead him to believe that an apocalyptic storm is coming. He's a modern day Noah, doing things that convince everyone else that he's crazy, but firmly believing that his actions are absolutely necessary. Jessica Chastain (in roughly her sixteenth movie role this year - I exaggerate, but she's been in a LOT this year) turns in another great performance as Shannon's long-suffering wife. Like Martha Marcy May Marlene below, I think I like the performances and the idea better than the film itself, but it's still pretty remarkable.

Footloose (2011) - Believe it or not, I had NEVER seen the original before a few weeks ago. I absolutely loved it, of course, and was really glad to see that John Lithgow's preacher character wasn't a caricature of religious fanatics. I really loved the relationship between him and Ariel, and that you could see that he was not in favor of all the morality measures. I was really struck by how much I loved the music (especially as I already knew all the songs). And I don't care if it's an unpopular opinion, I had a way bigger crush on Chris Penn in this movie than I did on Kevin Bacon. The remake is, in my opinion, REALLY good. One of the key changes that actually improves on the original is that they begin the film with the car wreck that we only hear about as backstory in the original. We see the pain it causes the community, and even though you know it's an overreaction, you can understand (especially in our 9/11 culture) why they put all the ridiculous laws in place. The tragedy hangs over the rest of the movie and gives it a bit more poignancy. I loved that they used so many of the original songs, albeit mostly new versions of them. The slowed down "Holding Out For A Hero" was a favorite of mine, and much more suited to the moment in which it was used than Bonnie Tyler's version was in the original. The one thing I thought was not quite as good as in the original movie was the relationship between Ariel and her father. It's still pretty good, but not as layered and not as warm. There were SO MANY nods to the original, though. The whole film begins with the original Kenny Loggins "Footloose," Ren drives the yellow bug, and he and Ariel even wear almost the exact same outfits to the dance that Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer wore in the original - the red jacket and the white ruffled dress!

The Woman - Even without the Sundance controversy (there's YouTube video of a guy sort of snapping at the screening there), I was interested in this because of its director, Lucky McKee. McKee's wonderful May played at my first BNAT and Sick Girl (his Masters of Horror entry) played BNAT 7. He's an interesting filmmaker and his films all seem to heavily revolve around women. This is kind of a revolting film, but not in a bad way. The plot centers around a man who finds a feral woman in the woods and brings her home, chains her up in the barn, and attempts to "domesticate" her. He recruits his family to help him, and the domestication inevitably involves him (as well as his son) taking sexual advantage of her. The climax is completely over the top and operatic, but fairly consistent with McKee's style. It's kind of a fable and not meant to be taken literally.

Martha Marcy May Marlene - I'd heard raves about this movie, but I'd say it's a good film (not a great one) with great performances, notably that of Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister to Mary Kate and Ashley), who plays the titular Martha (and Marcy May and, for one scene, Marlene). The film goes back and forth between Martha's refuge in her sister's home and her life in the commune from which she escaped. You're never quite sure why she joined the commune in the first place, nor at which precise point she decides that it's no longer somewhere she needs to be. That's probably by design, but it keeps the viewer at more of a distance than I like. Oscar nominee John Hawkes (I love typing that) is amazing as the commune/cult leader, and he's such a talented actor that he never comes off as creepy as characters like that often are, and you can totally see why Martha would have fallen under his spell. Sarah Paulson is the other great performance here, as Martha's sister, whose guilt and paranoia over her sister's circumstances slowly unravel her over the course of the movie.

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