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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Sundance 2012: An independent film, by way of Natalee Holloway

January 21, 2012 |  8:30 am


If you've surfed cable news over the last several years, you've probably had one of numerous reactions to the discussion of missing American blondes. Making a film probably wasn't one of them.

Not so, however, for Antonio Campos. Representing one third of the Brooklyn movie collective Borderline Films (which yielded the 2011 Sundance breakout "Martha Marcy May Marlene"),  Campos was moved to direct his new movie -- a story titled "Simon Killer," about an American tourist in Paris traveling down a dark path -- when he came across a group of stories about Joran van der Sloot. Van der Sloot is, of course, the Dutch citizen suspected in the murder of Alabama teenager Natallee Holloway in Aruba six years ago.

"[The] thing that struck us was of a guy who'd been in the news again and again," Campos said after the Park City, Utah, premiere of "Killer," referring to the accused Holloway killer who later confessed to the murder of a young woman in Peru.  (Holloway was pronounced legally dead last week after years of fruitless searching; the details of her death remain murky.)

Among the elements Campos noted was a quote from  Van der Sloot that "'If I had to describe myself as an animal I'd say I was a snake, but I'd like to be a lion, and a lion I will be one day.'" A variation of that line made it into the movie, and the disturbing nature of the Holloway case's generally informed Campos (who produced "Martha Marcy May Marlene") as he wrote and directed this script.

A tale of a man who inflicts harm on someone he (supposedly) loves, "Simon Killer" made its debut in Park City, Utah, Friday evening, where it is seeking distribution. In the film, the titular Simon (Brady Corbet) is wounded from a recent breakup when he arrives in Paris. But after striking up a sexual, then emotional, relationship with an escort named Victoria, the character soon finds himself in a complicated situation with several women. Lying and betrayal are the least of his sins.

Corbet acknowledged that he thought a great deal about Van der Sloot when making his movie. "I can't go through beat-by-beat telling you his intentions because I'm not sure he knows his intentions," Corbet said of his character.

But he also said that he had a specific take on the antihero's sort of reverse Pilgrim's Progress. "I've described the film] as a coming-of-age story of a guy who comes of age in a really terrible way," he said.

Though the movie focuses on a prostitute, "Simon" nonetheless follows a similar trajectory as the Holloway case: namely, how seemingly innocent partying can go wrong very fast.

Cable news hasn't exactly been considered a source of inspiration for a film feature, but it hardly seems out of place here. Independent filmmakers, after all, like dark, gritty stories. And cable-news producers seem to have them in spades.


Sundance 2012: 'Beasts' sparks a flood of strong reaction

Sundance 2012: Sony unit buys 'Searching for Sugar Man'

Sundance 2012: Magnolia gets 'Queen of Versailles' in 2nd fest deal

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Brady Corbet in Antonio Campos' "Simon Killer." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Oscar season: Some films let you make your own ending

January 2, 2012 |  2:25 pm

Woody Harrelson in Rampart
We live in an open-ended era with question marks hovering over our lives. So maybe it isn’t surprising that a quartet of current movies conclude ambiguously, leaving their characters’ fates not on the screen but in the minds of the audience.

We spoke recently to the filmmakers in question -- those behind "Rampart," "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" -- about their cryptic conclusions. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the movies (and, really, why haven’t you?), you’ll probably want to come back to this after you’ve first formed your own conclusions.


The ending: His personal life and career in tatters, Woody Harrelson’s LAPD officer Dave Brown drives silently through the night, lost in regret.

First choice or later decision: “Rampart” originally had a substantially different ending, centering on a now-removed subplot involving bad cops, gangbangers and Officer Brown. “There was a killing spree, followed by a getting-killed thing,” Harrelson says. “When [writer-director] Oren [Moverman] first showed me a rough cut, I was a little startled.”

“No. He was shocked,” Moverman says. Midway through filming, Moverman began to feel that the dynamics of Brown’s family life were becoming the core of the movie. The shootout ending, he says, felt too “routine.”

“I felt like we had the opportunity to go deeper and shed the things more familiar from genre movies and concentrate on the interior voyage we take with this character,” Moverman adds.

Leaving the door open: “That drive is clearly a metaphor for the purgatory that he’s going to be driving in for the rest of his life,” Moverman says, “no matter if the rest of his life is five minutes from now or the next 30 years.”

“Like Crazy”

The ending: Immigration issues resolved, young lovers Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) finally reunite. It’s not exactly magical. They take a tentative shower together at Jacob’s L.A. loft while the film flashes back to more innocent times. The final shot of Jacob indicates resignation but no resolution.

First choice or later decision: “We had an extra scene that was on top of that, kind of a double beat with Anna and Jacob in the loft space on opposite ends of the frame,” says writer-director Drake Doremus. “But the shower scene ended up being so strong that we just ended the film right there.”

Leaving the door open: “My favorite films have endings where the rug gets pulled from underneath you and you’re stuck dealing with your emotions,” Doremus says. “That’s what I wanted to do here. Love stories are too often tied up in a nice, neat bow, and that’s not my experience in relationships. Love is gray. They don’t have conclusive elements sometimes. This is my version of that.”

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

The ending: Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) believes that members of her old cult have found her. She's on the way to New York with her sister and brother-in-law when their car nearly hits a man walking across the street. Is it the same, familiar-looking man that Martha saw watching her swim earlier in the day? Martha looks back. The man is still there. She’s frozen in fear.

First choice or later decision: “We never talked about anything else,” says writer-director Sean Durkin. “I never thought it would be so discussed. People always ask me what happens. And it’s pretty equally divided. Half believe she’s paranoid. Half think they’re coming to get her. We tried to give as little information as possible. I was far more interested in creating the moment and having it feel true.”

Leaving the door open: “It’s the honest way to end the movie,” Durkin says. “It takes years to recover. She’s always going to be looking over her shoulder, thinking someone’s following her. The goal was to put you in her shoes.”


The ending: Brandon (Michael Fassbender) spies on the subway the same sexy redhead (Lucy Walters) he noticed on an earlier commute. They again lock eyes. She seems very open to the idea of cutting her subway ride short. Do they or don’t they?

First choice or later decision: “When I came to New York to start production, I had an ending, but I wasn’t happy with it,” says “Shame” writer-director Steve McQueen. “And it was one of those things. I was always riding the subway to work every morning, and the ending just came to me. It felt right to circle back to that woman he saw at the beginning of the film.”

Leaving the door open: “Does he change or does he stay on the train?” McQueen muses. “I’m not making a Disney film where he falls into the arms of his new love and lives happily ever after. That’s just not the way it is with addiction. It’s a struggle, and I hope that Brandon fights it in some form. But I don’t know if he’ll ever recover.”


'Shame': Michael Fassbender's chameleon power [Video]

'Like Crazy': Filmmaker Drake Doremus casts his leads [video]

Golden Globes: Funny Woody Harrelson was 'liberated from concern'

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Woody Harrelson in "Rampart." Credit: Millennium Entertainment

Are Elizabeth Olsen and Carey Mulligan paving way for new nudity?

October 27, 2011 |  2:43 pm

Elizabeth Olsen

For the last couple weeks, Carey Mulligan was making the rounds to help publicize her soon-to-be-released film "Shame" before heading off to Australia to work on Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby." In the NC-17 "Shame," directed by Steve McQueen, Mulligan plays the younger sister of a man (Michael Fassbender) with a crippling sex addiction, which seems to be the result of some shared trauma between them. In one particular scene, which audiences seem to respond to as equal parts disturbing and disarming, he discovers her in his apartment using his shower. Her bold refusal to cover up as he talks to her is a signature point in the film.

A few weeks back when Elizabeth Olsen was in Los Angeles for a whirlwind promotional tour for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the 22-year-old perked up when a conversation turned to the 26-year-old Mulligan. (It should perhaps be noted that both "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" are being distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.)

"I've loved the movies Carey Mulligan has been in in the last year and a half or two years," said Olsen. "She's made cool choices, especially this year with 'Drive' and 'Shame.' That's amazing. Those are two movies it would be great to be a part of. I saw 'Shame' at the [New York Film] Festival. I did like 'Shame.' My personal taste, it's a little too graphic for me. I understand why all of it was there, but..."

Her response naturally (honest!) brought up the issue of Olsen's own offhanded nudity in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." In the film, written and directed by Sean Durkin, Olsen plays a young woman who is in the first stages of regaining her identity after fleeing from a cult. Certain societal norms seem for the moment beyond her, such as when she curls up on the corner of a darkened bed where her sister and brother-in-law are making love, or the way she casually shucks her clothes to skinny-dip in a lake, or unabashedly changes into a dress right in front of her sister.

Whether these high-profile actresses baring themselves marks a shift in the attitudes of young performers to nudity in the movies remains to be seen. Perhaps things are swinging back the other way from the modesty of the past few years, itself a response to the era of ubiquitous screen-capture infamy, when a moment from a film can be decontextualized to its basest, barest essentials and live forever on the Internet. While the bra-in-bed sex scene has become an accepted norm for audiences, are these few performances pointing the way to a new candor?

Continue reading »

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Sean Durkin on researching cults [video]

October 20, 2011 |  3:42 pm

Elizabeth Olsen and Sean Durkin

In this latest clip from Friday's Envelope Screening Series Q&A for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," writer-director Sean Durkin gives some insight into how he envisioned the group from which Elizabeth Olsen's title character must escape -- the film dramatizes her struggle to shake herself loose from the emotional and psychological grip of a nameless cult.

In fact, the word "cult" is never used in the film, and actor John Hawkes, who plays the leader of the group, has said he preferred the term "community" to describe them. Picking up aimless young people and drawing them into an agrarian commune run on a darkly oppressive power dynamic and subtle mind games, the group preys upon lost souls such as Olsen's Martha.

Doing some research of his own, adding a bit of imagination and with a keen sense for human behavior, Durkin shows just enough of the group at work to create an unnerving disquiet that carries over to after Martha has reunited with her sister (Sarah Paulson), who has no idea what she is truly dealing with.


No sibling rivalry for Elizabeth Olsen

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Sean Durkin on casting Martha [video]

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Elizabeth Olsen on role prep [video]

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: Elizabeth Olsen and Sean Durkin. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times


'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Sean Durkin on creating Martha [video]

October 19, 2011 |  6:00 am

Elizabeth Olsen and Sarah Paulson in Martha Marcy May Marlene
In this clip from the Envelope Screening Series Q&A for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the film's writer-director, Sean Durkin, and breakout star Elizabeth Olsen discuss how together they created the enigmatic puzzle of the film's lead character.

The mouthful of a title comes from the three names Olsen's character goes by in the film (Martha, Marcy May and Marlene), creating a head-spinning confusion for her own sense of self, as once she breaks away from the cult she had fallen in with she struggles to rediscover who she really is inside. The film's buzzing, jangling power comes in no small part from Durkin and Olsen's ability to put the viewer right inside the young woman's head, making her interior struggles understood often without words. 



No sibling rivalry for Elizabeth Olsen

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': John Hawkes on playing 'evil' [video]

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Elizabeth Olsen on prepping for the role [Video]

-- Mark Olsen


Photo:  Elizabeth Olsen, left, and Sarah Paulson in a scene from "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

Credit: Associated Press

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': John Hawkes on playing 'evil' [video]

October 18, 2011 | 12:18 pm

John Hawkes as cult leader Patrick in Martha Marcy May Marlene
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Actor John Hawkes, an Oscar nominee this year for his role in "Winter's Bone," continues his streak of quietly authentic performances in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." In the new film, which opens Friday, Hawkes convincingly conveys a sense of still, inner menace to become a commanding presence as the leader of a self-styled agrarian community (most would call it a cult) that ensnares a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) by leaching away her sense of self.

Though he shows flashes of violence and a darker malevolence, Hawkes' character wields his power over his young charges largely through words and mindgames. Hawkes' performance of the obscure Jackson C. Frank folk tune "Marcy's Song," which was filmed live with the actor accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, is at once intimate and chilling. 

In this clip from last Friday night's Envelope Screening Series conversation, Hawkes talks about how he and writer-director Sean Durkin worked to keep his character from seeming like an overt villain.

[For the record, 2:13 p.m., Oct. 18: A previous version of this post had the title of the song Hawkes sings in the film as "Martha's Song."]


No sibling rivalry for Elizabeth Olsen

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Elizabeth Olsen on prepping for the role [Video]

Sundance 2011: "Martha Marcy May Marlene" breaks out -- and faces some obstacles

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: John Hawkes as cult leader Patrick in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." Credit: Jody Lee Lipes/20th Century Fox

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Elizabeth Olsen on role prep [Video]

October 17, 2011 | 12:57 pm

John Hawkes, Elizabeth Olsen, Louisa Krause and Christopher Abbott appear in "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
This year's Envelope Screening Series kicked off Friday night with a showing of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" followed by a Q&A with the film's writer-director, Sean Durkin, and three of its stars, Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson and John Hawkes. One of the breakout hits to emerge from the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the film has since accomplished the rare feat of also screening at the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals.

The film covers the initiation and aftermath of a young woman (Olsen) being inducted into and escaping from a small, back-to-nature cult (though that word is never used) overseen by a darkly charismatic leader (Hawkes). Once she makes her getaway, the woman lands with her long-estranged sister (Paulson), who has no idea what her sibling has been through.

Powerfully quiet and disconcerting for its nerve-jangling sense of unease, the film purposefully leaves viewers with questions as to just what has happened to the girl -- how and why did she end up there in the first place -- as well as whether she is now, or will ever be, truly free of her torments. In the clip below, Olsen and Paulson talk about how they grappled with the delicacies of crafting performances that would allow open spaces for viewers' own interpretations.


Elizabeth Olsen: Hollywood gets young women wrong

Elizabeth Olsen, sister of the Olsen twins: This year's Sundance "It" girl?

Sundance 2011: "Martha Marcy May Marlene" breaks out -- and faces some obstacles 

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: From left, John Hawkes, Elizabeth Olsen, Louisa Krause and Christopher Abbott in a scene from "Martha Marcy May Marlene." Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures


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