Category Archives: Billy

For Your Consideration: My Week with Marilyn

We, as a society, are obsessed with celebrity. It’s a systemic problem that is rooted in our belief that in America, anyone could be rich and famous, with hoards of people falling at your feet and succumbing to your every whim. For most people it’s seen as the easiest and most desirable route to the American Dream, one which takes the least amount of work and provides the most benefit. And while we all at one time have taken a shot at achieving that level of success, we are also obsessed with seeing those who have become rich and famous fail. We live in a 24 news cycle in which we populate countless websites and read hundreds of magazines looking for the latest gossip. These outlets report everything, free of remorse and regardless of how trivial it may be because they know the hunger for information is insatiable.

This is not a new development. For decades, hell, even longer than that, our desire to be close to the famous, to live vicariously through them has always been of interest. Never more clearly crystalized is our obsession with celebrity culture than in the case of Marilyn Monroe. There have been countless books, movies, Television specials, recounting the life, death and legacy of the late entertainer. There has never been a person more scrutinized, both in life and in death than Ms. Monroe. The film My Week with Marilyn attempts with great success to show the audience the effects of such scrutiny.

My Week with Marilyn is but a brief glimpse into the life of Monroe. It’s 1956 and she is already the most famous person in the world. Monroe, as portrayed by Michelle Williams, is a walking contradiction. She is all at once a confident sex symbol and shy, bewildered actress. She is both a steely tactician aware of her enormous power and and a walking open wound who just wants to love someone and be loved in return. The motives of the people she relies on the most are questionable at best and they seem comfortable to keep her guarded, propped up by lies and pills.

The story is told from the perspective of Colin Clark, a young man from an upper class family, who desperately wants to work on the pictures. Through sheer persistence, he gets a job as a third assistant director for Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Brannagh) for the film that would eventually become The Prince and the Showgirl. Olivier is a great actor and wants to be a movie star, Monroe is a great movie star that longs, perhaps more than anything else to be a great actress. The dynamic between Olivier and Monroe is cause for a belabored shoot and  a tense war of egos.

If her brilliant performance in last year’s Blue Valentine didn’t completely take Michelle William’s out of the shadow of Dawson’s Creek, then this movie most definitely will. This movie asks her to play Monroe as we’ve never seen before. She plays Monroe as woman teetering on the edge of a million emotions, hanging onto her sanity by mere thread. In the movie we fully grasp what it is like to not have any control on your life, to be at the mercy of an unstoppable machine. Furthermore, we come to understand why Ms. Monroe was so popular. Through the prism of today’s society, where people are famous for simply being famous, we come to understand what a star truly is: A representation, no matter how truthful he or she may be, of our best self. And most importantly, as entertainment.

For Your Consideration: Shame

The world as we know it has never been more crowded and information has never been more accessible. We live in a Facebook universe where its tentacles allow the entire world to be interconnected. Information, both the impactful and mundane, is broadcast instantly in 140 characters or less. The world is one society, never so close, yet as people we have never been so isolated. We have become world driven by “status updates” and “likes”. We’ve traded conversations for tweets and human interaction for “wall” posts. Human voices have become scary, it’s a lot easier to say “no” to someone from the safety of a well-timed text message. Conversation and conflict can be dirty, why not give your opinions under the umbrella of your latest blog post?

Nobody dies without any scars. What happens to us when we lose our best tool to cope with struggle inherent in living life? What happens when we can no longer truly communicate? The film Shame attempts to answer that question.

Meet Brandon (Michael Fassbender). It would be easy to describe him as a sex addict. For Brandon, sex is no longer an act of love, but a physical representation of his emotional pain. He is searching for an absolution that will never come. He is powerless to stop it and is left feeling empty in the absence of it.

From the outside looking in, Brandon is a well-adjusted man. He lives in a sterile apartment and works at a nameless company that produces nothing. He goes through the motions of his day-to-day life. He has no real attachment to anything but his compulsion. Everything in between is a cross to bear. His job, his friends and family are all hindrances. He has completely lost the ability to have a real relationship with someone, especially women. They are a means to an end and nothing more.

The film revolves around his relationship with his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Their pain is shared, but never communicated. Despite a blatantly intimate relationship, Brandon keeps Sissy at a distance. To him, she is merely a reminder of his condition and another problem to be discarded. Sissy, who is equally damaged and self destructive, wants a relationship with Brandon, only to be pushed away at every turn.

Michael Fassbender, quickly becoming the actor of his generation, is simply breathtaking. He smolders as a man whose demons are slowly eating away at him. It’s truly mesmerizing watching him as his carefully manicured veneer chips away and we see the pain that is festering underneath. Equal to the task is Mulligan, who is asked to display the same pain in a different way. She’s an open wound, crying out to the one person who understands her and could possibly help her.

Shame is a transcendent film, perhaps the first truly great film of the new decade.  It’s not an easy film to watch. In fact, I doubt I will ever be able to watch it again. It holds up a mirror to us all and asks us to look at our trajectory and in doing so, stays with us far longer than we’re comfortable with.

For Your Consideration: The Descendants

The Descendants is a film that should not work. From the outset, the audience is told that rich people have feelings too. That pain felt is pain felt. In addition, it takes place in Hawaii and yes, we’re then told that people who live in paradise have the same hardships as everyone else. While this is obviously true, the fact that the director felt the need to make explaining this the first order of business is essentially acknowledging the inherent problems with film. Making an audience care about rich people is a tall order. Misery set against the backdrop of such overwhelming geographical beauty is even taller.

In the hands of lesser filmmakers this film should have crumbled under the weight of its own pretentiousness. The film is directed by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways), who is no stranger to toeing that thin line between drama and melodrama, between comedy and farce. He hasn’t always produced the best results but he seems comfortable pushing the tone of his films in one direction or another, trying to create a delicate balance between laughter and tears. That task is made a lot easier when you have a big goddamn ace in the hole: George Clooney.

Clooney plays Matt King. To say Matt has a lot on his plate would be an understatement. He’s a husband, father and a practicing attorney. He is also the sole heir of his family’s very large estate and decision needs to made in regards to large parcel of land he is responsible for. In addition to that, his wife is currently on life support having suffered a devastating injury in a boat accident. The situation is further complicated when his eldest daughter confides to her Dad that his wife was having an affair.

The film plays out like a high wire act on the shoulders of Clooney’s performance. In a career full of winning, charismatic characters, this is his most fully realized portrayal to date. He effortlessly and in the end triumphantly travails the emotional minefields of this movie, taking it perilously close to edge of an all out disaster, but never going over it. In the end, the film is about the messiness of life. The sheer unpredictability of it. In hindsight, I suppose it makes sense that the film is a bit sloppy. In a film that’s about life itself,  what’s the point of making it neat?

For Your Consideration: Melancholia

The films of Lars von Trier are a mixed bag.  The majority of his cannon are exercises in provocation that are hindered by an exuberance of ideas or needless restrictions he would impose on himself. Whether it’s his hyper stylized early works (The Element of Crime, Europa) or his “Golden Heart” Trilogy (Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark) or the abandoned trilogy on the American Condition (Dogville, Manderlay) von Trier has a knack for making films that beg to be pondered and discussed, if not necessarily enjoyed. Relentless in pursuit of his vision, the director is both talented and infuriating. His last film, Antichrist, was a muddled, unsettling dissertation on grief, marriage, psycho-analysis and feminism all shrouded under the veil of a horror film.

His latest, Melancholia, brings us no closer to answering that question, but that’s not saying that the film is unsuccessful. In fact, this may be von Trier’s most controlled effort to date. It has been said that von Trier has on occasion  suffered from debilitating bouts of depression. If Antichrist was the filmmaker at war with himself, Melancholia is his catharsis. It’s the story of two sisters (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) that plays out in two parts.

The first half of the film takes place during the wedding reception of Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and Justine (Dunst). The reception is being held at the palatial estate of her sister Claire, her young son and her husband John (Keifer Sutherland.) They play hosts to a cavalcade of friends and family, of which include the sisters’ bitter, outspoken mother and their aloof father. Justine, who we quickly learn suffers from depression, lays to waste her own marriage, leaving the entire procession, especially her long-suffering sister in her wake.

The tone shifts in the second half of the film as we learn that a rogue planet, aptly named Melancholia, is possibly on a collision course with earth. The end of the world is coming and while there is hope that the planet will simply pass Earth by, the inevitable questions of hope and reason, of faith and science, of our very existence are pondered. Melancholia is disguised as many things. It is at times a family drama, a comedy of manners or a science-fiction film. At its core, this is a film about depression.  The planet, a metaphor for the affliction, bears down on everyone in the film.

Kirsten Dunst, a minor annoyance in many of her roles, a major one in her others, gives a fearless, emotionally naked performance worthy of the promise she showed over a decade ago. Never has the impact of depression, both on one’s self and on their surroundings been so clearly personified on film. Equal praise should be given to Gainsbourg and Sutherland, as a couple tasked with dealing with Justine’s depression and the end of the world.

In the end, Melancholia is more of what we’ve come to expect from von Trier – A film that is full of ideas, some of them explored with great depth, others merely skimmed over. What the film lacks in clarity, it more than makes up with beauty and passion. This is clearly a subject that von Trier has given a lot of thought to and it shows, particularly in its second half. Von Trier is excellent at asking questions, one only hopes that one day he will have some answers.

Because You Never Saw It: Beginners

It’s all but incomprehensible to me that Ewan McGregor continues to get roles in which he has to play an American. It’s the worst American accent in the history of motion pictures. It’s flat, nasal, horribly distracting and on more than one occasion has effected my enjoyment of the film. I suppose it’s ultimately a tribute to the quality of film “Beginners” is that, while I noticed McGregor’s accent, it did not deter me from enjoying this film immensely.

The movie simultaneously follows Oliver (McGregor) at two different points in his life. One period has Oliver as he takes care of his father who is dying from cancer. His father (Christopher Plummer), who just four years earlier, came out to his son, refuses to go quietly. He takes a lover, joins every gay-related group he can find and is intent on living his life to the fullest possible extent.

In the second period, Oliver’s father has just died. Oliver, dispondent and confused, meets Anna (Melanie Laurent) at a costume party. This part of the film unspools like a protracted meet-cute, with each subsequent scene intent on amping up the cleverness quotent. Courtship, conflict, resolution. You get the drill.

There are no slackers among the principles of the cast. McGregor holds his own, my problems with his accent notwithstanding. He’s a charismatic actor whose comedic and dramtic skills play on both fronts. Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent are absolutely fabulous. So spirited and against type is Plummer’s performance that had this film not been so readily ignored by filmgoers, I’d say he would be a shoe in for an Academy Award. I’m positive that at the very least a nomination will come in due time. Laurent, last scene in “Inglourious Basterds,” is a knockout. While the role of the quirky ingenue/genius/savior has been played before by the likes of Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, she adds a wonderful fragility to her character.

Ultimately, the film is about fathers and sons and the sacrifices we make throughout our lives. It’s about the imprints our parents leave on us and how they dictate, for better or worse, our lives going forward. In the end, we are never prepared. Our parents do the best they can, but they are only human. That may all sound like crappy pap, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Because You never Saw It: Bellflower

(Billy is our newest contributor here at Cinema Recon.  We are very excited to have his insight and perspective added to the site, so please help us welcome him to the CR family!)


The state of the financial system is precarious…

wars are being fought on all fronts…

People are confused and becoming more and more disenfranchised. Not a day goes by that groups of people, without so much as a clear message, are occupying somewhere.

In a world that seems to be spinning slightly off its axis, The film Bellflower tries and for the most part succeeds at creating a response by a disaffected youth culture to questions they are in no way prepared to answer. Over stimulated by the media and living lives that come too easily for them, the film follows two friends as they prepare for a world resembling the one that inhabits the film “Mad Max,” a world in which in which they are positive is inching ever closer.

Sun drenched and slightly out of focus, the film is unquestionably beautiful with a style that reminds one of the stylus of a turntable skipping and sliding over a record. However, in the film’s second half, its thesis ceases to drive the film and it devolves into a hyper kinetic hallucination that never quite gels.

Like Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” Bellflower is a little too aware of how cool it is. But the enthusiasm with which the film is made more than makes up for its self-consciousness. “Bellflower” is an extreme motion picture and doesn’t carry the burden of reality, but in the end is worth watching because of its technical proficiency and the all-in menatality of the filmmakers.

Bellflower exists in a world of its own, but given the trajectory of current events, it doesn’t seem that far away.

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