LFF: Day 5 – A Dangerous Method, W.E., Martha Marcy May Marlene
My final day at the London Film Festival was certainly the most eclectic day of the event so far taking me through a wide range of subjects from spanking and masochism to royalty and cults within the space of mere hours. First up, I had the press screening of Cronenberg’s newest effort A Dangerous Method before I cynically hit Madonna’s widely hated W.E. and ended the day with the chilling Martha Marcy May Marlene.
So, let’s begin…
A Dangerous Method (3/5)
David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortenson have been an almost flawless combination of director and actor. From A History Of Violence to Eastern Promises, their collaborations are among the best modern cinema has offered us. It was with high expectations, therefore, that I entered this morning’s press screening of their latest effort called A Dangerous Method.
Switching violence and blood for character and dialogue, the film studies the complex relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud at the birth of psychoanalysis. However, while the subject of Cronenberg’s newest release sounds fascinating, it’s actually a surprisingly bland affair.
His vision of a repressed turn-of-the-century society is compelling and moments of the screenplay offer interest, but A Dangerous Method is mostly akin to a long monotonous hum that at no point escalates into anything more. Characters talk and situations moderately unfold, but it never sparks in a way that manages to really grab the viewer. With drama that isn’t all that dramatic, characters that aren’t all that charismatic and a tragic lack of any real story to tell here, A Dangerous Method is unfortunately very flat.
Viggo Mortenson plays Freud with commendable wit and intelligence that makes him interesting to watch on screen while Fassbender’s interpretation of Jung is adequate. However, with few opportunities to really show off their skill, the performances are hardly remarkable. Keira Knightley’s masochistic patient who is the catalyst of this story, futhermore, is truly horrendous. Over-acted and theatrical, her baboon like facial expressions and shouted delivery is often laughable.
A major disappointment, this is second tier filmmaking from Cronenberg who can and should do much better than this thin and unremarkable drama.
That, of course, didn’t stop me from attending the film’s press conference across the road to hear the director, writer and two stars discuss the movie!
The highlight of this fantastic conference was a hilarious comeback from Cronenberg which you can listen to or download below:
After that, I headed over to the Vue to catch the second festival screening of Madonna’s critically panned W.E.
Sharp objects were taken off customers as they walked into the screen for this one. Okay, maybe I’m joking, but after last night’s premiere left audience members tweeting their disgust and reviews from Venice were less than favorable, there was little doubt that this kind-of Wallis Simpson biopic would leave most of the audience contemplating suicide. But, even then, nothing could have prepared me for turgid, vile, dull, stupid pile of shit that would be propelled onto the big screen for the next two hours.
Essentially, this is a film about a privileged, rich white lady named Wally living in a classy New York apartment with the money to buy a $10,000 pair of gloves who obsesses over Wallis Simpson’s romance with the future King of England. She sees this romance between Wallis and Edward – which we flash back to as she reflects on their personal items at an auction – as a fairytale of true love; one that she herself desires because of her unhappy relationship. And why is their relationship unhappy, you ask? Well, mostly because her drunkard husband doesn’t want a baby and works so much that she suspects he’s having an affair.
I mean, who cares about third world poverty, the recession, homelessness, decreasing education, health care, AIDS, war and disease, right? Think of this poor rich woman whose husband won’t sleep with her! Boo fucking hoo.
As Wally, played by Abbie Cornish, wanders around touching items in this auction and reminiscing on moments of Wallis Simpson’s life – yes, it is as creepy and stalkery as it sounds – she receives advances from a Russian security guard there named Evgeny who falls in love with her. An intellectual who moved to the USA and can no longer find fulfilling employment, he might have been a likeable character if there was any purpose behind his love. Instead, however, his fascination with Wally, who only really acknowledges him when she has no home to go to, is inexplicable and baffling.
Also, though its blindingly obvious that they’ll get together, we have to endure scene after scene of his ‘humorous’ flirting – at one point he dresses as a palace guard – whilst Wally ignorantly treats him like dirt and goes home to her shitty husband.
You get where I’m going with this, don’t you? These characters are so hateful that it’ll make your blood boil with rage. Wally in particular a stuck-up, miserable and unfriendly bitch who needs to get a life and who frankly deserves little sympathy from a paying audience. It’s only when she is beaten by her husband that you honestly start to care about her situation, but this is near the movie’s finale and way too late to save the film for any right-minded viewer.
The supporting cast aren’t unlikeable so much as they redundant furthermore. An old friend of Wally’s has no purpose whatsoever, for example, while in the flashbacks of Wallis and her former husband we barely see anything that engages us to understand what made the prospect of marrying a future king so appealing to her.
These flashbacks of Wallis Simpson and Edward’s story are just as equally awful as the modern plot. At least they have some drama and conflict, I suppose, but it hardly goes anywhere insightful as Madonna rehashes the same old story that anyone who has opened a history book knows. And God help you if you don’t know it, because details are so poorly handled that confusion is certain to arise.
Similarly, Wallis and David are almost as hateful as the characters in the modern strand of W.E. too as they groan and weep about what newspaper has attacked them, how they feel worthless not serving their country and how the royal family don’t accept the romance. Let’s face it, these are hardly subjects that the paying audience are going to be relate to in any way, are they?
The director tries to compensate this lack of any compelling narrative or character by loading the film with style. From black and white footage and tracking shots to dream sequences and flashy editing, she throws everything but the kitchen sink at W.E. visually. However, nothing sticks because there is no substance for which to complement it. Consequently, Madonna’s film becomes nothing more than a feature length music video or perfume advert.
One step further and this would be a darkly comic satire about white America’s ridiculous obsession with British royals, but it’s not. It is, in fact, a straight-faced romantic drama from Madonna that is as clumsy, misguided and silly as it is infuriating. She’s an easy target for critics which is a shame, but there’s still no justification for a movie as bad as this one.
I think I’ve dignified this film far too much so let’s just leave it at that, shall we? If you’re interested in seeing a few more words about my thoughts on W.E. why not let the Online Thesaurus help you out in that department?
It could only go uphill from that point as I took the stairs up the Vue screen 7 for the showing of Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (4/5)
This story of a young female escapee from a bizarre American cult was the talk of Park City back in January. It played to rapturous reviews at the Sundance film festival with many viewers hailing it as 2011’s answer to Winter’s Bone.
The comparisons can certainly be made. Like the Debra Granik Oscar nominee, this is a film simple in story but rich in atmosphere. Through long, wide and still shots, its director Sean Durkin captures both Martha’s new life with her sister as an escapee and the flashbacks to what occurred on the cult’s compound with a chilling tension and foreboding.
Similarly, this is a film with a very strong central character; one whose haunting memories of her life at this cult will provoke strong thoughts as to what is reality and what is delusion. How Durkin handles this is one of Martha Marcy May Marlene’s strongest elements, absorbing you into the film as you try and figure out the mysteries what really occurred in the two years she went missing.
Elizabeth Olson, however, is the talking of this film. It’s a performance that is unlike anything you would expect from the sister of Mary Kate and Ashley, capturing Martha’s fear, paranoia, disillusionment and foreboding with aplomb. Even when surrounded by the likes of John Hawkes – whose ability to bring some serious intensity when its called for is stunning here – she is what ignites the screen.
It’s not brilliant by any means, but Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gripping independent drama. Plus, its title opens doors for excellent new drinking games…