Nadav Lapid: Policeman

Cops meet kids in the new Israel

Young Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s Policeman/Ha-shoter (in Hebrew, with English subtitles) is a first feature that boldly takes on two timely and controversial subjects in Israel: police brutality and social unrest. After two segments devoted separately to these elements, the film brings them together in a violent confrontation in which anti-terrorist special police sent in to stop the kidnapping of billionaires at a wedding party emerge as essentially terrorists themselves. Explosive material, and an exciting finale. Lapid knows how to bring scenes to life. But he still needs to improve in the writing and editing departments because the three segments do not interrelate smoothly and tellingly. In fact they barely go together at all.

The character we meet first and get closest to is Yaron (Yiftach Klein), the most macho of a macho unit of elite antiterrorist Israeli police. We see him at length exercising, then massaging his pregnant wife, then hanging out with his team. Their targets are usually Palestinians and there’s some sort of legal case in which they’re being held liable for collateral killings of Arab family members. One of the team members appears to have cancer, and Yaron asks him to take the rap, on the assumption that his treatments will exempt him from going on trial. Is it possible there’s the further assumption he may die and therefore is expendable?

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Simon Curtis: My Week with Marilyn

Chaperone, hand-holder, and would-be lover

In this lightweight but star-studded, touching, and richly produced British entertainment from a memoir (adapted by Adrian Hodges), Eddie Redmayne plays Colin Clark, a patrician young third assistant director (and the memoirist), son of the renowned art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, who has a brief romance with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams, again showing her range and skill). This happens during the 1957 Pinewood Studios shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl, which co-stars Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who also directs, and is embarrassed to have had to bring in Marilyn to replace his wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) — who played the role with great success on stage, but is too old, at 43, to reenact it on screen. The cast includes Dame Sybil Thorndyke — played here by another Dame, Judy Dench — who, having absolutely nothing to lose, is one of Marilyn’s warmest supporters. Also on hand for this film is Derek Jacobi, and a bevy of good younger English actors, including Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper, and even Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, as Lucy, a wardrobe girl Colin briefly dates until Marilyn sweeps him away.

Marilyn, of course, requires a great deal of attention, and that’s where Colin comes in. She drives Olivier nuts by always showing up very late on set, repeatedly blowing even simple lines, and rushing off the set in a tizzy. To reassure her, she has her very own Method coach, the master Lee Strasberg’s wife Paula (Zoë Wanamaker) on duty 24/7 to “coach” her. Olivier thinks little of Method acting. In his opinion, if Marilyn doesn’t “feel” her part, she should just buckle down and pretend. Paula’s coaching mainly means telling Marilyn over and over what a great actress she is. But that’s not enough. The blonde star’s brand new husband, the playright Arthur…

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Alexander Payne: The Descendants (2011)

Old money Hawaiian dad becomes mensch

Alexander Payne, returning to the big screen for the first time since Sideways seven years ago, has made a film even more intensely rooted in place than anything he’s done before. And it’s a film full of geniality and wisdom; funny, unpredictable, and sui generis — while seeming on the surface remarkably like mainstream entertainment. The source is a novel by a young Hawaiian-born women, Kaui Hart Hemmings, who narrates from the point of view of a middle-aged man, Matt King (George Clooney), who comes from Hawaiian royalty, literally, but is hapa haole — his family is a mixture of white (haole) and native Hawaiian. On the Hawaiian side, they are directly descended from King Kamehameha. And with that comes land and wealth. Matt is principal trustee of a particularly important property, 25,000 acres of unspoiled land on Kauai that the family is planning to sell.

But there are other threads in the story; Matt has a lot on his plate. Before even the titles comes a shot of his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) on a speedboat. She is in an accident in that boat and hits her head. She is lying in a hospital in a coma. Suddenly Matt, a lawyer in an office all the time managing property, escaping from everyday responsibility, must take charge of two unruly daughters, ten and 17. And shortly he must make the hardest decision of all, to follow his wife’s wishes when it turns out she won’t emerge from the coma. The property sale decision is looming. And then, a secret comes out about his wife that preoccupies all three of them.

The Descendants shows a new side to George Clooney, the arch charmer and megastar, a softer, more rumpled side, as his Matt approaches being a parent with…

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Sean Durkin: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Nowhere to run

This Sundance Institute-assisted film by the very talented young NYU Film School-trained director Sean Durkin begins with its protagonist’s dawn escape from the Catskills cult she’s been living with for two years. She’s followed and approached at a village diner where she’s having breakfast by a young cult member called Watts (Brady Corbet) but he lets her leave and she calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) on a pay phone. Corbet, of the Funny Games remake, is naturally creepy here; he plays a key minor role in Von Trier’sMelancholia. That call is all we need to see this young woman’s desperation and confusion. The title is a spread of names, because typically for a cult, its leader, Patrick (indie vet John Hawkes), gives new arrivals new names. She tells Patrick her name is Martha but he dubs her Marcy May. The skill of Durkin’s beautifully shot and well-acted psychological horror movie is in the way it delineates Martha/Marcy May/Marlene’s confusion in telling her story. When she is taken to stay with Lucy and her ambitious Brit architect husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) in their big rented lake house in Connecticut, she has no clear sense of space or time, and has lost her awareness of social and sexual boundaries as well.

Durkin conveys Martha’s blurry, disturbed sensibility by the seamless, sometimes deliberately confusing way the film slips back and forth between the present and the cult experience, in some parts of which she can’t distinguish memories from recalled dreams. The film’s sly paradox is that though Patrick’s commune had become nightmarish and dangerous enough for Martha to run away from it and it has left her fearful and paranoid, it was also seductive and pleasurable for her. Ironically, because Lucy’s and Martha’s family history is chilly and Lucy and Ted’s judgmental…

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Michel Hazanavincius: The Artist (2011)

Silent story

The Artist is another tour de force from Michel Hazanavicius, the French director known for the virtuoso tongue-in-cheek nostalgia of his James Bond-like spoofs based on a novel series and starring the droll and accomplished Jean Dujardin. This time Dujardin stars again, but in a black and white, “silent” film (it has a rich musical sound track, and some moments of talking and sound) that’s more nostalgic and touching than satirical, and is set not in the Sixties but the Twenties and Thirties this time. The film won Dujardin the Best Actor award at Cannes this year for his appealing mime performance. After all, doesn’t a lot of acting depend on facial and body gesture, rather than just dialogue? While Hazanavicius isn’t appealing to a niche audience like, say, Guy Madden, but to everybody, it remains to be seen how widely the American public will embrace such an odd movie. Nonetheless Dujardin is terrific, and so is his costar, Bérénice Bejo, playing a young talkie star who rescues the fading silent star George Valentin (Dujardin), who gave her her first start.

The Artist’s director and its two main stars are French (though, for the record, Bejo was born in Argentina), but the film concerns Hollywood and was made there. The film begins with the lavish 1927 premiere of a swashbuckling silent film starring George Valeentin, shown (to a glittering crowd in evening clothes) with full orchestra performing — the scene was shot at the Orpheum Theater in Hollywood. Everything about the setting is glamorous. Vaentin is a preening mustachioed Douglas Fairbanks type who likes to include his little trick-performing dog Uggi in his films.

Both films-within-the-film and The Artist itself successfully evoke, if not every aspect of the look, at least the emotional feel of silents, and they are interrupted with explanatory…

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