Spookiness trumps substance in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'
Identity can be a fragile thing. In Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene, the heroine's sense of selfhood is as fractured as the film's title; a runaway from a cult and its hypnotic psycho leader, she's literally trying to find herself. Unfortunately, the film also suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It wants to be a thriller, a character study, and even a domestic family drama, but it never quite hits its marks in any department. There's plenty of menace to go around, mostly told in flashbacks, but because the character remains as elusive to the filmmaker (and the viewer) as she is to herself, there's little to anchor audience interest in her story.
Wages of fear explored in terrifying, yet insubstantial 'Take Shelter'
No one will deny that ours is a culture saturated with fear, from the bomb shelters and duck-and-cover drills of the '50s through the anti-anthrax duct tape follies of a few years ago, and on to the airline security checks of the present day. Every time you pick up the phone or turn on the radio, someone is trying to sell you a "home protection" plan or a CO2 monitor, or some other security device.In Take Shelter, filmmaker Jeff Nichols taps into this potent zeitgeist of fear. It's the story of a suburban young husband and father with a solid, happy life who's gradually crippled by his mounting terror of—well, whatever it is that's out there.
Spiritual trek becomes journey of self-discovery in 'The Way'
It's not just any old way. The title of Emilio Estevez's wistful road movie of self-discovery, The Way, refers to what has become the way for centuries of pilgrims—"El camino de Santiago," the way of St. James, the route across northern Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de la Compostela in Galicia. Writer-director Estevez launches a mismatched group of modern pilgrims along this sacred site, for a variety of reasons, none of them particularly religious. But for each character, the journey takes on a spiritual aspect in the human quest for connection and meaning in life.
It may sound touchy-feely, or just plain corny, and there are moments of both in the film. And yet the movie engages, not only as a glorious travelogue of ancient villages and folkways far off the beaten track (it was shot on location in France and Spain), but in the ways the characters make little discoveries about themselves and each other as they travel along. It also may have viewers itching to follow the route, just to see who they might discover within when they leave their familiar selves behind.
Enter a teeming Bruegel painting in audacious, exciting 'Mill and the Cross'
I don't know much about Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski, but he's made one wild, weird-ass movie about art and the artmaking process in The Mill and the Cross. It's a fairly awful title for such an edgy experiment. Yes, a mill and a cross figure prominently in the painting under construction in the film, but this title not only makes the film sound dull and plodding, it suggests none of the originality and sheer visual audacity that makes this movie so exciting.
In general, it's about the 16th Century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, caught in the act of creating his vast masterwork, "The Way To Calvary," in 1564. Majewski's film is inspired by a non-fiction book on the subject by art historian Michael Francis Gibson, but Majewski's approach is completely unconventional. We never see the artist actually painting; instead, Majewski creates an onscreen landscape that already looks like Bruegel's painting, especially the background, with its sky full of roiling clouds and the distant hills.