MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
Dir: Sean Durkin - Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes.
OK, so it’s got the worst title of the year. I defy you to exactly remember it five minutes after reading this review. But behind a title that manages to be simultaneously memorable and impossible to remember lurks an engrossing little film, a creepy glimpse at life in and after a cult.
Star of the film is the previously un-noticed third Olsen sister and she’s terrific. My guess is Elizabeth will eclipse the twins pretty quickly in the acting stakes, if not clothing lines. We meet her as she arrives, traumatised, at her sister’s home and tries, without a huge amount of success, to return to normal life.
Slowly her recent time in a creepy pastoral cult is revealed, a very believable scenario made more real by Hawkes’ turn as the apparently mild but convincingly charismatic cult leader. The title comes from the names that cult members are given (first step in a cult’s ownership process) and the fake name that they use to answer the phone (paranoia’s always important), as well as her own name.
Olsen is superb and her off-kilter behaviour is constantly arresting. This is a film without huge bells and whistles but with a subtly building power as small scenes connect to each other and the cult’s understated menace grows.
Some may be disappointed in the ending, but this is more a character study than an action piece.
There’s been no shortage of Jonah Hill films recently and this week’s is The Sitter. In not the most original of scenarios, Hill’s reluctant slacker finds himself babysitting three grandstandingly strange kids; when his manipulative girlfriend calls offering sex he heads out, kids in tow, and a wild ride of a night ensues. With a story like that it’s all about how you tell ‘em and how convincing the unfeasibly eccentric characters are (Sam Rockwell’s gay coke dealer has to be seen to be believed). Mostly they get it right. Tonally, think Pineapple Express, with less dope smoke and more kids.
The Killer Elite - no connection to the Sam Peckinpah film - is pretty much yer standard Jason Statham action flick. This time Jase is a retired special ops hardman lured back to free an old hardman colleague (Robert De Niro) from a mysterious Middle Eastern billionaire. To do this he must assassinate three SAS blokes who killed said billionaire’s sons. Just another day at the office really but Clive Owen’s smart (and equally hard) SAS boss is on the trail. Supposedly a true story, even the director doubts its veracity, but it makes for a good solid yarn, if a bit long. And De Niro still looks great with an Uzi.
A Lonely Place to Die takes place up a mountain. The spectacularly filmed Scottish highlands to be precise, where a group of mountaineers (including gutsy Melissa George) happen upon a kidnapped girl. Getting her off the mountain proves somewhat tricky, what with alarmingly dangerous cliffs to scale and the subsequent arrival of two understandably miffed kidnappers. It’s a taut economical wilderness thriller, brutal but not gory, and only occasionally marred by the inevitable predictability of the situation.
Though we are now thoroughly drenched in reality TV, back in the seventies it was a new adventure.
Cinema Verité recreates the groundbreaking series An American Family, a seventies outing that really started the genre. The problem here is that despite good work from Tim Robbins and Diane Lane as the parents - dramatically caught on film as their relationship crumbles - and James Gandolfini as the manipulative producer, the most interesting bits are actually the snippets of the original programme. The docudrama approach here seems tame compared to the real moments of ‘cinema verité’.