Sunday, July 24, 2011

MIFF Blogathon: Day 3 (Cult Assassins)

This blogathon is an initiative of MIFF for their 60th anniversary year. I am one of six bloggers given the mission of seeing 60 films in 17 days and writing, reporting, reviewing and wrangling my way through the tiredness and hunger to bring the festival experience to your computer.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Dir. Sean Durkin
Running Time: 101mins

A deeply disturbing, haunting and enigmatic exploration of a disturbed young woman - a superb Elizabeth Olsen as all four titular names in one package - escaping an abusive cult-like commune. Martha Marcy May Marlene is an exceptionally well-made debut feature for writer/director Sean Durkin; an instant career maker for a man clearly already very much aware of his craft. He has been fortunate enough to cast the wildly talented Olsen - looking more like a mix between Miley Cyrus and Hilary Duff than her more famous sisters - whose face is a dizzying mix of need, desire, want and desperation. Her increasing paranoia is perfectly framed on either side of the film's non-linear storytelling method by supporting performances from the likes of John Hawkes, terrifying as the commune's leader, and Sarah Paulson as her worried sister.

Like the recent works of David Lynch, a superb example of how a film can be a horror movie without necessarily being full of blood or violence. One scene in particular at a garden party is amongst the scariest stuff I've seen all year, and another moment reminiscent of Michael Hanake's Funny Games (not least of all due to the presence of Brady Corbett) is the stuff of gun-churning nightmares. Cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes paints these worlds with Earthy greens, pearly beige, deep yellows and deep greys, with careful care taken to not present one part of Martha's story as more positive or hopeful. You can take the girl out of the cult, but you can't take the cult out of the girl and Durkin's fabulous screenplay wonderfully plays with the idea that these places do damage for far longer than just the time spent there. A / A-

I'm sure I'll have more to say on this film through the rest of year and awards season, where I hope it plays to success.

13 Assassins
Dir. Takeshi Miike
Running Time: 126mins

I will freely admit that I think, perhaps, this flu that I am currently trudging through got the best of me with Takeshi Miike's samurai film, 13 Assassins [十三人の刺客 Jūsannin no Shikaku]. In fact, I was willing to admit this mere seconds into it as a bunch of set-up text flew by on the screen so fast I was barely able to read or comprehend any of it. For the next 40 minutes or so I didn't have much of a clue as to what was going on. Daisuke Tengan's screenplay lacks character definition outside of two or three characters - and with a film of, basically, 16 notable characters, that's not a good start - and the production itself does little to set them apart.

Thankfully Miike's direction is fun, if a tad too familiar, and the climactic battle sequence that takes up the entire final act is a dazzling, intricate and humourous affair that warrants seeing on the big screen. Yuji Hayashida's art direction and Kazuhiro Sawataishi's costume design are particularly memorable, as is the performance by Gorô Inagaki as the villainous Lord Naritsugu. B-

I bit my tongue whilst waiting in the line for Martha Marcy May Marlene at ACMI when a couple just ahead of me asked each other "what do they use this place for during the rest of the year?" As someone who has such deep love for that place, I wanted to tap them on the shoulder and scream.

More humourous, however, was the man who yelled out during the closing credits for the ACMI staff to turn the lights on. For whatever reason the lights weren't raised at all during the credits, so most people just remained seated. This man obviously wanted to leave (oh, there was a walk out about half way through the film, too!) because, ya know, heaven forbid one should watch the closing credits of the movie you just spent 100 minutes of your life watching.

1 comment:

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

re: 13 Assassins

I'm not sure if your flu was the problem. I'm in decent health and I was even reasonably alert last night. But as soon as the names of samurai, clans and pronvinces started flying by (I swear there was like 47 of them in the first five minutes alone), I completely lost track and stopped worrying about it. I don't think this is the kind of film where you really need to stay on top of character and plot trajectories.

Basically, the bad man sneers [helpfully] throughout the film, so you know he's bad. He rapes and cuts off a woman's limbs. There are 13 or so good men who set out to kill him and his army. So [gasp: spoiler alert!] they kill him and his army. The end.

However, why this took 2hrs+ is beyond me.