Pause / Rewind

Things have been pretty hectic at Focuspullr HQ in recent weeks, so I haven’t been able to get around to posting much lately. However, I have managed to catch a few films, so I thought I’d play a bit of catch-up and round them up here.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)

I know we’ve only just dipped our toes into 2012, and we’ve lots of goodies to come, but I’m going to go ahead and say that this is one of the strongest films I’ve seen thus far. Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, a troubled young woman who flees a remote Catskills commune, where she has spent two years disconnected from family and the outside world. Martha seeks solace with her sister Lucy (Sarah Poulson) and husband Ted in their gorgeous lake-side retreat, while she tries to process her time with the commune. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the life Martha (or Marcy May, as group leader Patrick “renames” her) had with the group; where personal identity and history is stripped away, individuality is subsumed into a group mentality and where civil and personal boundaries become dangerously blurred. A deeply immersive film with the feel of an extended dream, MMMM looks beautiful and features a wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack. A must see.

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)

Charlize Theron stars in this darkly comic drama as Mavis Gary, a writer of young adult fiction, who returns to her home town following an invite from ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade, on the occasion of the birth of his first child. Despite the fact that her life has devolved into an unhappy round of heavy drinking and one night stands, punctuated by filing copy for the teen fiction series she writes to order, Mavis sets out to show Buddy just what he’s been missing all these years. Theron is fantastic as the bitter, twisted, deluded but fundamentally decent Mavis, as she careen’s through her home town like the out of control wreck that she is. She also finds an unlikely ally in high-school loser Matt, wonderfully played by Patton Oswalt. As you’d expect from the team who brought you Juno (Jason Reitman & Diablo Cody) Young Adult is smart, ultra-sharp and caustically funny, and any film that features Teenage Fanclub on the soundtrack is ok in my book.

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)

Polanski follows his 2010 outing The Ghost (adapted from a Robert Harris novel) with another adaptation; this time from an acclaimed play, “Le Dieu du Carnage” by Yazmina Reza.  Here we have two pairs of parents who meet following an altercation involving their sons. One couple, the Longstreets (John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) invite the other, the Cowans (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) over to their Brooklyn apartment, to discuss the situation and to decide what punishment, if any, should be meted out to the offending Cowan boy. What follows, as social niceties slowly give way to sly digs, sarcastic slurs and personal insults, is nothing short of war.

Both couples quickly drop the veil of respectability to each fight their corner, hurling abuse at each other and finally, themselves. Polanski is no stranger to putting squabbling characters in a cramped setting and letting them slug it out (see also Cul-de-Sac and Knife in the Water) and with Carnage, as it’s adapted from a stage play, all the action takes place in the Longstreet’s Brooklyn apartment over the course of an afternoon.  The A List cast is terrific; Polanski’s direction is tight and unfussy and the whole thing zips by in a brief, but wonderfully entertaining 80 minutes.

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)

Alexander Payne hasn’t exactly been twiddling his thumbs since his 2004 feature Sideways – he has made a video short and contributed a segment to Paris, je t’aime since –  but The Descendants marks his welcome return to feature film directing. Set in Hawaii, the film stars George Clooney as Matt King, a lawyer and wealthy trustee of his family’s considerable real estate interests. King’s wife has had a boating accident and lies in a coma while Matt tries to cope with home life and his two daughters; ten-year old Scottie (Amara Miller) and teenage tearaway Alex (Shailene Woodley).

Things get complicated when Matt learns of his wife’s infidelity with a local Real Estate agent, just as the extended King family are on the verge of signing a monumental deal for the family land, which will set them all up financially. The Descendants is a fairly flimsy affair which coasts along at an agreeable pace. Clooney digs a little deeper emotionally than is usually required of him, and turns in an affecting portrait of a man who realises just how little he knows of his wife and daughters’ inner lives. Clooney is ably supported by the girls – foul-mouthed Scottie gets some choice lines –  but overall this is a slight confection which fails to get you to care too much about the central characters’ dilemma.

That’s all for now folks! Focuspullr will be busy over the coming week or so with the 10th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. I’ll be endevouring to post updates on the films I’ll be seeing, once my eyes readjust to daylight. Here are some of the films I’m most looking forward to –  Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia; not to mention a return to Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre and a restored classic in the form of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Phew!


The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011)

Well it’s been a hectic time over at focuspullr HQ of late, what with other commitments and illness keeping me away from the blogosphere, though I’ve still managed to see a few movies. Highlights of recent viewings have been Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive and the subject of this post, George Clooney’s The Ides of March.

Taking his title from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, signalling political intrigue and backstabbing, Clooney marshalls a superb ensemble cast for the second overtly political film of his career, after Good Night, And Good Luck. He stars as Mike Morris, a liberal, handsome governor of Pennsylvania, competing in the Democratic Primary elections, and aiming for the office of U.S. President. Heading up his campaign team is seasoned veteran Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) aided by hot new kid on the political block, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling).

Meyers is youthful, sharp and politically astute; hitting all the right buttons with his campaign speeches for the governor, and quietly confident that Morris is the man for the White House job. However, his ill-advised decision to attend a meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign manager for a rival Democratic Candidate, puts him in a compromising position with his employer and unwittingly leads to him becoming tangled up in a complex political web also involving the governor and a beautiful young intern, played by Evan Rachel Wood.

American Stars and Bars - George Clooney in The Ides of March

Though it lacks the serious analytical depth and complexity of 70s political drama’s such as All The President’s Men or The Candidate, which it calls to mind, The Ides of March soon turns into a cracking political thriller. Clooney and his co-writers Grant Heslov (who also worked with Clooney on Good Night and Good Luck) and Beau Willimon (on whose play, Farragut North, the film is based) keep a firm grip on the narrative tension as the backstabbing, bluffing and double-crossings gather pace. Gosling is excellent as the initially idealistic Meyers, who soon discovers that a career in politics is, in fact, not at all based on old-fashioned beliefs and ideals, but rather on who can best manipulate the state of play to his own ends. He is ably assisted by both Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, both heavy hitters in their own right, who bring great intelligence and subtlety to their respective supporting roles. Clooney also deserves a mention as the handsome, clean-cut governor, with a dangerous skeleton lurking in his campaign locker.

The 1970s feel of the film is apparent in the martial drumming which plays over the opening credits, and in the plain white lettering of the title, as well as in Clooney’s assured, non-showy direction. While he mostly lets the story do the talking, he also knows how to build visual suspense. The scene where Morris calls Seymour Hoffman’s character over to his jeep and leaves us and the camera outside is skilfull and unexpected. Clooney keeps the focus squarely on the character-driven narrative, which progresses logically, is always believable and concludes that even the most high-minded and morally robust of men can lay ideals aside to protect and further themselves, in pursuit of their own ambitions.

The Ides of March is on general release now.

Watch the trailer