Posted in Uncategorized on March 14, 2012 by John Levy



The Pure Love of Martha Marcy May Marlene

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2011 by John Levy

When I walked out of the theater after seeing Sean Durkin’s directorial debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene I wondered to myself, “Where do I start to talk about this film and when I do, where do I stop?” It occurs to me now that that is the very nature of how the film is presented. Thankfully for us, there is too much that must be left for you to witness through the films natural unfolding.

Martha Marcy May Marlene takes hold of you within 60 seconds. And not with a shocking in your face thrill. But rather a quiet, unsettling, off feeling that you leave with. It’s about lost people. It’s about control of self and control of others. It’s about having a home. A family. Something to believe in. Someone to trust. It’s about identity. And it’s very real about it.

The film centers on the first title character of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen in an Oscar worthy debut performance) , who when the film opens is fleeing from the farm of a cult she has been living with, that on the surface appears to be along the lines of a granola-hippie-self-sufficient sort of commune arrangement. But you know off the bat it’s a cult just by the uneasy Children of The Corn vibe chilling your blood. When she’s caught up to by the cults second in command, a recruiter called Watts (Brady Corbet) she isn’t forced or threatened. Instead Watts expresses concern and affection with a subtle twist of lacking emotion. This is backed up by Martha’s behavior, which is fear to the bone. Yet, she is seemingly free to go and do whatever she pleases. Watts leaves her with a kiss to the forehead and a very manipulative under the radar departure. What follows is two weeks of Martha re-assimilating back to normal life with her only remaining family member who hasn’t seen her in two years, her sister Lucy (The always amazing Sarah Paulsen) and Lucy’s husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) paralleled with the possible year or more of Martha’s time with the cult. Between where the movie begins and where it ends there are shifts between past and present. By no means messy. But seamless. And by the time the paranoia sets in for Martha and the audience, we know our way around the cast of characters and locations. Unlike Martha, who is very mixed up about what she saw then and what she see’s now. What she believed then and what she believes now.

As Martha tries to re-adjust to “normalcy” at Lucy and Ted’s lake house she finds herself having a hard time shaking some of her traits and values of the farm. Though not very shocking, at first, as just out of sorts, Lucy and Ted, who are very “normal adults”, are not digging Martha’s behavior at all. But they give it the old collage try to help her and it doesn’t give them much of an edge that Martha won’t tell them anything as in nothing about where she’s been the last two years with the exception of a bogus boyfriend story. Lucy in particular expresses feelings of concern and guilt to Martha for not being there for Martha in the past and tries to be motherly more than sisterly toward her. More light is later shed on this behavior of Lucy’s when we learn she has a desire to be a mother, something Martha finds funny and can’t imagine Lucy being very good at. Ted on the other hand, is basically not having any of Martha’s shit from day one. And as much of a douche Ted may very well be, he makes himself very clear early on with “I get two weeks out of the year to come up here and relax.” But that’s really all Martha needs to do as well. She need to quiet her head down. Within 72 hours of escaping The farm Lucy and Ted are nagging her about this and that. Mostly about where she’s been for two years. She just needs to quiet it all down. And Lucy and Ted’s nagging doesn’t help her. Because Martha is haunted by a ghost. Haunted by Marcy May.

Martha’s time on the farm is seemingly serene at first. And her early times there are the most content we ever see her. A glowing radiance in her is present then that is absent from most of the film. She’s in the company of warm smiles, respect, and admirers. She discovers confidences in herself she may have never known. Later these confidences give way to her handling guns and babies (they go hand in hand, right?). One admirer is the leader of the cult, Patrick (The brilliant John Hawkes) who when meeting Martha for the first time gives her the name Marcy May. Patrick is the man who fathers the children on The Farm through several of the women and “He only has boys.” A line of dialogue that I find kind of disturbing. Does it just happen that way or what? We all know you can’t pick and choose the sex of your baby, so what happens when Patrick fathers a baby girl? This makes me nervous because of a scene where you see how the cult handle sick kittens. Patrick has a very inviting nature and has a very charismatic down to earth vibe about him when we first meet him and when told he has a nice place says things like, “It’s as much yours as it is mine.” Ya’ know… shit like that. And it’s shit like that at the core of the cults value system. ‘You shouldn’t be selfish’. ‘You shouldn’t be possessive and private’. ‘You should be more giving of your self’. And “Let us in”. There is nothing uncommon about hearing any of these requests in “normal” life, but in the context of a cult you can imagine what it means and if you can’t, the film does a hell of a job of showing you pretty fast. And it will stay with you.

As things deteriorate for Martha at Lucy and Ted’s in the present we return more and more to Marcy May’s increasing realization that The Farm is a raw deal. As she works her way up through the ranks among The Farms women or finds her “role” as they say, from Kings Whore to Handler to House Frau to “teacher and leader” Marcy May’s inner alarm, her conscience, has it’s tension tested and it’s only when she’s invited along on the mysterious late night excursions in The Farm blazer and witnesses a rather thoughtless and upsetting incident is that inner alarm tripped and Martha is awake again. It’s Martha’s presence at this incident and the cults reasoning behind it that gives Martha’s paranoia some serious validation. And makes it clear if it wasn’t clear already, why Martha escapes to the comfort and safety of her Sister.

But at Lucy and Ted’s Martha finds herself in another raw situation as tension between she and Lucy and Ted reaches critical mass. Martha uses the ideals of the cult in opposition of her sister and her husband. And what’s more, Martha’s paranoia is at a fever pitch and we are right there with her. And you begin to doubt it’s just paranoia. Whether it was or not, by the time the screen faded to black I had made up my mind.

It isn’t a fun film. But on a cinematic and character driven level it was incredibly satisfying. Durkin’s direction is focused and yet clearly seen through the cast, collaborative. And his palette and compositions executed by director of photography Jody Lee Lipes are stunningly shot in beautiful natural light with rich and smokey Blacks and various browns, accented by whites and greys. All corralled in the greenery of rural up state New York and Connecticut. The sound design and original music by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans play another vital role to great effect in transmitting the mystery and emotional turmoil of Martha/Marcy May’s story. And is crystallized by John Hawkes rendition of the Jackson C. Frank track “Marcy’s Song” performed hauntingly in the film. And a recording of Frank himself performing his song “Marlene” is also featured in the film.

But one of the final truly great strokes of penmanship is Zachery Stuart Pointer’s editing. Which weaves a beautifully seamless and clear parallel between Martha and Marcy May’s time in her two worlds.

And where the cast is concerned Olsen and Paulsen should be obvious Oscar noms. Particularly Olsen who makes one of the most outstanding debuts I’ve seen in years. The supporting cast of The Farm also deserve some recognition, particularly the young women of the cult led with great individual definition by Louisa Krause, Julie Garner, and Maria Dizzia. Another stand-out is Brady Corbet who plays the character of Watts and is also the star of Durkin’s lead-in short film “Mary Last Seen”.


Perhaps the real star here is BorderLine Films though. The production company formed by Durkin and co-Producers and fellow filmmakers Antonio Campos and Josh Mond. In the last five years BorderLine has produced a wealth of competent work consisting of short films, commercials, and music videos. The three filmmakers switching roles from one production to the next. Martha Marcy May Marlene was Durkins turn up to bat. That said, I anticipate many great things from BorderLine over this decade. And with Campos’ features and now Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene I expect they’ll be on a lot of peoples radar within a year.

Martha Marcy May Marlene may not be a commercial hit, but it’s great film that certainly ranks in my Top 5 of the year. And I will be looking at many times to come. It stays with you. And in spite of as much because of the fact that I have known people in cults and lost people to cults and witnessed the manipulations and charms of their leaders that I can say with total sincerity that there isn’t one false move in this entire film. I’m withholding some key things about the story (including the relevance of the name Marlene, which is a rather interesting discovery) that I prefer not to address this early in the films release as they are details the audience should discover and see unfold without knowing they are there. MMMM is never expository or over the top or littered with shaky cam that is so associated and sadly common in indie films today. It never tries to shock it’s audience nor does it treat them like idiots. It’s a lingering thoughtful portrait of a woman caught between two worlds and two selves. Who goes from being found to abandoned to found to abandoned again. All the while with a sense of being pursued or stalked. And you may leave the theater feeling that way yourself, for the final scene is an indelible moment. MMMM is a trail of bread crumbs you can’t help but follow. Wherever it may take you.  ~ Reviewed By John Levy


Posted in Uncategorized on February 13, 2011 by John Levy


ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA – up until the point where he rapes her, it’s rather nice.







ROYAL TENENBAUMS – clandestine rooftop rendevous









DOGFIGHT – the actual date

MINNIE & MOSKOWITZ – the one date



ALL THE REAL GIRLS – First hour of dates

And then there is the BEST and WORST movie dates EVER!!!



JILL CLAYBURGH (1944 ~ 2010) A Tribute In Pictures

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2010 by John Levy

The Spirit of ’77

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2010 by John Levy

Note to reader: As much as I love to read a beautifully bombastic review I don’t feel the need to contribute anymore of them. The best are out there and they cannot be contended with. What I will do is observe and report with a recommendation or warning in the most accessible way I can, without scene by scene breakdowns and revealing crucial moments that you are better off discovering on your own. I will do this more often than not from only the surface of my heart, a bit of dark humor, a twinge of bitterness, but ultimately with simple appreciation or disappointment.

I am thankful for the newer more integral directors present today, like Darren Aronofsky, John Hillcoat, P.T. and Wes (yes, I know they are not related). All too often I hear fans and filmmakers alike making excuses for why some older Director’s  now make films that suck or at least, are spineless or insulting to even the most minimal level of intelligence. They settle, get spaded or what not.  But some of them still got the stones to blow our minds without having to try. Without having to succumb to the idiotic taste of the masses and their crack whore addiction to sensory overload. One of these is Roman Polanski. And he proved this most recently with his beautifully detailed and darkly comical thriller Ghost Writer.

At 77 years old Polanski continues to craft a great visual story with all the perks. A cast recruited by Fiona Weir filled with great and underused all too frequently type casted character actors  such as Jim Belushi, Kim Cattrel, Tom Wilkenson, Timothy Hutton, Olivia Williams, and Eli Wallach (who in his mid 90’s still has incredible presence). A fantastic book to script adaptation by Polanski himself and author Robert Harris, based on his novel The Ghost. An unusual, unforgettable and highly effective score by Alexandre Desplat. The list goes on from cinematography to art direction to set decor and editing. The only quality it lacks that most Hollywood films possess in abundance, is mediocrity.

Polanski’s film manages a consistent sense of doom and dread always hovering overhead. You never know when or in what incarnation it will ultimately strike. And it doesn’t help you as much as it helps the film and story that there are these moments of wonderfully subtle humor that allow you to let your guard down before realizing that it isn’t safe to do such a thing, only increasing your sense of danger. A feeling that you share with Ewan Mcgregor’s protagonist (known only as ‘The Ghost’) and yet, together we cannot help but pursue the mystery in a fearful yet, relentless curiosity and need to know.

The film is marvelously crafted.  Beautiful in fact. And yes, clever. But not in that “Oooooh, I’m so fucking clever” kind of way every asshole is out there trying to do. I’m not going to use that fucking word “Hitchcockian” because NOTHING is “Hitchcockian” that isn’t made by Hitchcock. But the influence is clearly there in the writing as well as the execution.

The performances are equally outstanding.  Pierce Brosnan is perfectly cast as the former British Prime Minister ala Tony Blair, and beyond his “smooth muthafucka in a suit” look, he is at his most un-Brosnan.  Kim Cattral reminds us she was and still is much more than Samantha from Sex And The City. And Ewan Mcgregor, as always, is very easy to identify with and follow as The Ghost.  Mentally and emotionally we are completely simpatico with him from start to finish. But the sharpest and most enigmatic performance in the film is from Olivia Williams, who plays Brosnan’s cold and intelligent wife, Ruth.  You cannot figure her out,  she’s emotional yet cool.  Sexy yet prim.  Mystified yet, certainly sure of something. What hand does she exactly hold? This performance no doubt comes in part from novelist Robert Harris giving the actress a long list of very contradictory character traits to play off of, which she does without missing a beat.

After watching Ghost Writer the first time I was immediately struck with a realization. That it is in essence a 70’s film. Everything that made the 1970’s such a great period of film has been lacking in cinema ever since. For me, the key ingredient of films from the 70’s was character. Character is story. Thoughtful detail and specificity. People like to say, “Well, that was then and this is now. Films can never be that way anymore.”  Talk about making fucking excuses, it doesn’t matter ‘when’ we are. It’s ‘what’ we’re churning out. From time to time we see something that has that 70’s thing. Making it current. Particularly in dramas and thrillers. Heat, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton. All possess the quality I speak of. And other genres possess an enormous and obvious influence of 70’s films. From All The Real Girls to The Royal Tenanbaums there are shades of Malick to Ashby and yet a very clear individual and new voice.  It’s not period, it’s craft. It’s about making movies for grown ups instead of the disconnected tweens who determine the box office with there need for more of the same. I’m not saying we need this instead of the other, I’m saying we need more variety so that actual ‘cinema’ doesn’t get killed off by films with 3-dimensional visuals  with 1 dimensional characters that are all too easily forgettable. Maybe truly great films can’t break box-office records anymore, that’s just poor marketing and bad executive decisions though, backed up by lame, lame excuses.  In the end, what most box-office hits and the hairdresser’s that produce them will never have, is the very thing that director’s such as Polanski and films like Ghost Writer will.  Legacy.

Crucial Commentaries Part 1(in no particular order of cruciality)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2010 by John Levy

1.  THE PASSENGER (1975)  Commentary by  Jack Nicholson

Some actor commentaries can really really suck I’m very sad to say. Many can be humorous, but most are just boring. I really enjoyed this one mostly because you are basically watching an Antonioni film with Jack fucking Nicholson, in regards to one of his most interesting characters, David Locke, a man who happens onto a opprotunity to abandon his own identity for another, consequences follow for the now Gunrunner one time Professione: reporter, which also happens to be the title of the film in Italy, home to Director Michelangelo Antonioni. Jack gives insight about the Maestro, the role, and more, and actually appreciates the craft he works in and the people he works with, which makes him an informative commentator.

2. REPULSION (1965)  Commentary by Director Roman Polanski  &  Catherine Deneuve

Recorded in 1994 for the original Criterion Laserdisc release, this commentary features two separate commentaries on one track. Polanski mentions on this one that he and Deneuve were much closer before the films production and really didn’t reconnect after it wrapped. They of course see each other from time to time and Polanski also mentions he follows Deneuve’s work, but sadly were not reunited for this commentary. None the less, it is very interesting and a great insight into the process of the film and these two major icons on an early stage in their craft from amid the apex of their careers.

3.  POINT BLANK (1967)  Commentary by Director  John Boorman  &  Steven Soderbergh

This is simple…..any chance you have to hear someone talk about working with Lee Marvin. Do it. Not to mention Boorman and Soderbergh just do great commentaries to begin with, you can’t go wrong.

4.  SEPARATE TABLES  (1958)  Commentary by Director Delbert Mann

This is a real fuckin’ treat right here. There are a scarce amount of commentaries from the actual directors of many classic films. Mann gives great insight into the process of the day and working with the likes of Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Wendy Hiller and more. Mann is not exactly a household name director these days. Whatever video stores that are left likely didn’t have an R.I.P. section dedicated to his memory when he passed away in early 2010. Still, he was a real pro, and I for one am glad someone had the appreciation the make this commentary happen. Highly recommended.

5.  THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE  (2008) Commentary by Steven Soderbergh  &  Sasha Grey

Definitely one of the top  15 or 20 commentaries I’ve ever heard. The only thing that could have made it better was if the movie was longer so the commentary would have then also been longer, but alas, it is what it is and that’s still good. The two discuss everything from the changing of independent film to the changing of porn, the various levels of “the life” of a Call Girl, the economy, relationships, and even great film commentaries (Sasha Grey happens to be a huge fan of John Carpenter commentaries, which I agree are awesome! Particularly the commentary for The Thing). Regardless of how you feel about Soderbergh, Sasha Grey, Porn, or The Girlfriend Experience ….check this one out.

Aronofsky Cygnus Atratus Part 1: Anticipation

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2010 by John Levy

“Where the gap between what you know and what you think you know becomes dangerously wide.” ~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Taleb’s book has nothing to do with this film)

I don’t know much about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, The Black Swan. What I do know, is since Aronofsky’s debut of his first film, PI, his sophomore cult sensation Requiem For A Dream, to his brilliant and highly overlooked epic masterpiece, The Fountain, to finally, his relentlessly powerful character drama (featuring an indelible performance by Mickey Rourke) The Wrestler, he has never disappointed me. But rather exceeded my expectations. I can’t say that for many filmmakers today. This along with the poster, stills, and trailer for The Black Swan in addition to my consisting feeling that Aronofsky’s films don’t just attack the heart, but reach and grapple with the soul, mostly because we can’t help but not move or look away, give me confidence that The Black Swan will not disappoint, at least not myself.

I think this maybe the role I’ve waited since Leon: The Professional for, to see Natalie Portman step into. Up against the likes of Bab’s Hershey,  Vincent Cassel, and Winona Ryder, it’s ’bout time she show us those chops in full bite.

Something else I’ve responded strongly to from the stills and trailer are images and emotion that evoke visuals of Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes along with a supernatural transformational madness of an existence coming undone that just makes me think about Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession. That’s not to say that I expect The Black Swan to be like either of these films, but for the power of it’s images to instinctually revisit me to those two equally powerful images tells me one thing. Powerful Imagery.

Fox Searchlight’s official synopsis for the film reads,

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who exerts a suffocating control over her. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, Swan Lake, Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side – a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.”

Something tells me there will be a bit more to it than that…