Martha Marcy May Marlene
After taking home the best director prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and featuring in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Martha Marcy Marlene comes complete with the plethora of expectations such success inevitably brings. Thankfully, writer / director Sean Durkin’s tense debut meets the standards set by its highly anticipated status, in a stunning psychological thriller that plays with perception and reality. Juxtaposing the exploits of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the Full House tots turned international entrepreneurs) in her initiation and entrenchment in, and then escape from, an cult-like commune led by the calculating Patrick (John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone), the film delves into her attempts to reconcile – and discern the difference between – her memories and dreams. Under the care of her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson, The Spirit) and arrogant husband Ted (Hugh Dancy, Confessions Of A Shopaholic), Martha journeys into the uncertainty left by her experiences, with her other monikers – Marcy May and Marlene – haunting her waking and sleeping moments. Driven by an impressive turn from the former The Adventures Of Mary-Kate & Ashley: The Case Of The Mystery Cruise talent, even alongside such formidable co-stars, Martha Marcy Marlene is powerful, piercing and simply phenomenal. Ambitiously framed, intricately written and ending with ambition and intrigue, the ambiguous, atmospheric and arresting feature demands and receives ample attention.
Since coming to fame in 2004 with his Academy Award-nominated anti-junk food polemic Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock has carved a considerable niche with his unique combination of amusement and issues. Reality television series 30 Days continued the trend in 2005, as did Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden? in 2008. After contributing a segment to the feature Freakonomics, Spurlock returns with this third film effort. Tackling the ubiquity of marketing in entertainment, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold examines selling out, selling up and buying in as Spurlock attempts to fashion the first feature financed solely by sponsor funding. Taking his standard approach of investigation and irreverence, Spurlock combines expert interviews with the experience of putting his entire film up for sale. As he secures linkages with a series of high-profile companies – including the movie’s naming rights sponsor, POM Wonderful – the entire process is examined, from cold calling to bending to corporate will. Weaved throughout is an explanation of how marketing works – from product placement in Iron Man to neuro-marketing to craft memorable trailers – that whilst humorous, is incredibly lightweight. Blurring the line between art and commerce as it ponders the very topic, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold offers an entertaining look at consumer and audience manipulation, but doesn’t tell us any more than we already know.
With indigenous stories in the midst of a cinematic renaissance started by the international applause and box office success of Samson And Delilah and continued by Mad Bastards and Here I Am, Ivan Sen’s third feature Toomelah (after Beneath Clouds and Dreamland) traverses familiar territory. Set in the titular Aboriginal mission in northern New South Wales near the Queensland border, the film centres on ten-year old Daniel (newcomer Daniel Conners) as he wanders aimlessly throughout the area, occupying the void between childhood and adulthood despite his few years. Inattentive at school, anti-social with his classmates, and ignored by his addiction afflicted parents, his guiding influence comes in the form of local drug dealer Linden (first-timer Christopher Edwards), who models the listless boy in his own image. When a turf war erupts with rival Bruce (Dean Daley-Jones, Mad Bastards), Daniel is caught in the middle of an increasingly violent and destructive tirade. In touching upon issues of cultural displacement and substance abuse, Sen imbues the film with an undeniable sense of naturalism that comes with casting locals from the area. However, despite going to great lengths to depict the hardships experienced by the community, there remains a sense of distance and disconnectedness that sits in contrast with the obvious attempts to elicit an emotional reaction.
Martin McDonagh’s debut feature In Bruges toured the festival circuit in 2008 to great acclaim, with its blackly comic hitman in hiding premise and pitch perfect cast of Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes making it a certified hit. His brother John Michael (screenwriter of Australian film Ned Kelly) now follows in his footsteps to take up residence behind the camera, with the somewhat similar yet distinctively different The Guard. Also starring the underrated Gleeson (last seen in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1), the classic odd couple comedy follows the efforts of an unorthodox Irish policeman and a visiting FBI agent (Don Cheadle, Iron Man 2) to eradicate an international drug smuggling ring. Contrasting the crimes committed by the crooks (including Harry Brown’s Liam Cunningham, King Arthur’s David Wilmot and The Way Back’s Mark Strong) with the opposing outlooks of the cantankerous yet charismatic protagonist and his serious, straight-laced offsider, the film combines the unconventional with the expected, whilst never failing to subvert convention. Profane and violent as well as eccentric and dynamic, The Guard marks the marriage of measured characters and magnificent performances, all buoyed by McDonagh’s biting wit. A crowd pleaser that, like its lead, is often underestimated, this is the one film from the 2011 Sydney Film Festival program that will leave the audience in stitches.
The Sydney Film Festival continues until June 19, 2011.