Martha Marcy May Marlene

Janis Joplin

Producer Peter Newman has wanted to get a Janis Joplin biopic together for quite a while now. For years it was at the top of his to-do list, but despite his efforts, actresses like Pink and Zooey Deschanel floated in and out of the project without it ever actually getting made. Things even got so bad that Newman gave up on the film for a while and pursued a career in academia; but two big developments have pulled him back into the world of film production and put this Joplin project back into development.

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This Week in DVD

Welcome back to This Week In DVD! Some fun titles are hitting shelves today, and not a single one of them rocked the box office. Of course, some of them never had the chance… but Tower Heist? Pretty sure that was intended to be a hit. Other releases this week include the Elizabeth Olsen stunner Martha Marcy May Marlene, the Korean action epic War of the Arrows, the bland Channing Tatum (redundancy alert!) thriller Son of No One, and more! As an added bonus one of the eleven entries below has been contributed by the highly educated and spry Landon Palmer! Can you guess which one? As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Retreat A couple dealing with marital issues heads to a remote island to save their relationship, but when a stranger washes up onshore with a fantastical tale of a worldwide plague the three of them enter into a deadly game of survival.This British thriller takes major cues from the superior Dead Calm, but it manages to create solid suspense, tension and uncertainty of its own. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Bell give strong, convincing performances as the husband and stranger, respectively, but Thandie Newton doesn’t fare as well. Still, this is the kind of thriller that deserves better than to get lost in the shuffle. Check out my full review here.

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Reel Sex

People were up in arms Tuesday after the announcement of nominees for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. So many seem to forget that every year they are disappointed with the nominees and every year there is some film or performer who was left off or included on the prestigious list. I may have spent the final weeks of 2011 lamenting my utter ennui with last year’s films, but I never in a million years expected some of the Oscar outcomes. No Supporting Actor nomination for Albert Brooks, whose performance in Drive unnerved audiences to the core? Or the blatant disregard for solid documentary filmmaking in The Interrupters, Buck, or Project Nim, three entries into filmmaking that will forever impact the way we view the world around us? No, the Academy seemed to forget the impressive and daring offerings in favor of an adorable dog in a silent film. What is this, 1920? Last I checked The Jazz Singer pushed us into the land of the talkies. I could spend all day gnawing my tongue over which films shouldn’t have been included in this year’s awards recognition, but just like arguing the virtues and evils of the MPAA, our time is better used talking about some of the sexy pieces of work that the Academy felt were too provocative to include (for reasons I have completely made up in my mind. Hey, they have their prerogative, I have mine.). Going along with the Academy’s new voodoo math rules of deciding the […]

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The Best Movie Trailers of 2011

They say it’s hard to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to world of cinema and movie marketing (and the plethora of films that hit theaters each weekend), it’s hard not to use a film’s three-minute long trailer to judge whether or not it will be something you’ll be interested in seeing (and with movie prices on the up and up, it’s hard to go in blind these days). The illustrious Jack Giroux and Allison Loring rounded up the top 11 trailers released over the past year. They’re both for films that came out in 2011 and either lived up to or fell short of their promise and for films due to be released next year that have begun teasing us early. Plus a few honorable mentions because Jack and I aren’t super great at math (we’re writers, and I’m pretty sure you can only be good at one or the other). From horror to action to comedy (and much discussion about the merits of underwear – you’ll see), our picks spanned the genres proving that it does not matter what type of film you are promoting, just whether or not you are able to grab people’s attention. Listed in no particular order, let us know in the comments if you agree, disagree or if there was a trailer you loved that we missed on our list.

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The Best Films of 2011: The Staff Picks

As you may have noticed, this final week of 2011 has been almost completely taken over by our third annual Year in Review. It was born in 2009 out of our love for lists and your thirst for reading, discussing and ultimately hating them. And each year the entire project gets a little bigger, a little bolder and slightly more absurd. With that in mind, I’m once again proud to present you with The Best Films of 2011: The Staff Picks. Each of our 14 regular staff writers, contributors and columnists, almost all of whom have been with us the entire year, were asked to present their top 5 films, in no particular order (although many of them placed their top film at the top, as logical people tend to do), each with an explanation. Some even included curse words as a bonus to you, the reader. Read: The Best Films of 2010: The Staff Picks | The Best Films of 2009: The Staff Picks Once again, the Staff Picks are a testament to the diversity we have here at Film School Rejects, with picks ranging from the likely suspects (Take Shelter, Hugo, Shame) to the slightly more nerdy (Attack the Block, Super 8, The Muppets) to several movies that may not yet be on your radar (see Landon Palmer’s list for those). And once again, it’s with a deep sense of pride that I publish such a list, the best of 2011 as seen through the eyes of the movie […]

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This year has given us films that have taken us to slightly darker places from living with sex addiction (Shame) to life within a cult (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sound of My Voice) to struggling with personal and sexual identity (The Beaver, Pariah), just to name a few. But even within these darker landscapes, these films have given us brilliant and captivating performances set against backgrounds and settings we may otherwise never experience. The music accompanying these various films help create their different tones and degrees of darkness from full soundtracks (as I looked into with Shame) to hardly any music at all in the stark and stripped down Sound of My Voice (I swear I’m starting a letter writing campaign to get this film released, like, yesterday). This week I wanted to call to attention a film that premiered back in January during the Sundance Film Festival and has stayed with me over the past twelve months – Pariah. The film tells the story of a young girl, Alike (Adepero Oduye), growing up in an environment that is repressing her true identity under the rule of strict mother Audrey (played with maddening intensity by Kim Wayans), passive father Arthur (Charles Parnell), apple of her mother’s eye sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse), and seemingly understanding best friend Laura (Pernell Walker). Alike wants to please her parents and fit in with her best friend, but it seems she has to deny who she truly is in order to do so.

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Reel Sex

If we assume the past twelve months in film reflect the time we’re living in now, then it would be easy to claim the year has been all about kinky sex and full-bodied sadness. Now, before you start preparing your arguments against my simple summation, let me clarify what I mean. On the surface the great films garnering attention (that masterpiece Jack and Jill aside) right now are in our consciousness more for the depiction of pretty people having crazy sex, rather than how the films are trying to expose the troubling nature and consequences of sex. Yes, we all know sex has consequences outside of disease and pregnancy, but the shear amount of filmmakers willing to show more than the grey, Hollywood sexual consequences (the above, plus violent Law and Order: SVU style stranger-rape) has been substantially small until this past year.

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Hugo

It is day four of awards season, and already some names are growing wearyingly familiar, and even the surprises don’t quite pop like they used to. On Monday evening, the Gothams announced their annual awards, followed swiftly by the Film Independent Spirit nominations announcement and the NYFCC’s winners, but director Martin Scorsese and his latest film, Hugo, were without some big awards love – until now. The National Board of Review has announced their best-of picks for the year, and Hugo has topped out as Best Film, with Scorsese grabbing Best Director. As the film opened just last week, here’s hoping that this NBR endorsement will pump up somewhat lackluster box office returns. Paired with a weekend box office free of new major releases, and maybe Hugo can swing up to the top of the heap. As for the rest of the Board’s awards, there’s a bevy of names here that already seem like old hat – picks like Christopher Plummer for Beginners and The Artist, The Descendants, and The Tree of Life as a “top” films for the year – but there are still a few eyebrow-raisers, as our friends over at /Film note, J.C. Chandor picking up another award for his debut, Margin Call, continues to be surprising. Where is Sean Durkin and his own Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene? And J. Edgar as one of the year’s best? And a Breakthrough to Felicity Jones and Rooney Mara, but no Elizabeth Olsen? Bizarre, really. But there are […]

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Remember all the way back to last night when the Gothams announced their annual awards and thus declared that awards season was like, so totally on? No? Really? It was just last night, come on. In that vein, the Film Independent Spirit Awards have just announced their nominations for their annual awards (held in February, on the beach, as ya do in Los Angeles), and their picks come with their own surprises. Remember (no, seriously, I need you to remember back less than twenty-four hours) how the Gothams didn’t give squat to Take Shelter or 50/50 or Martha Marcy May Marlene? Or Drive? Or The Descendants? Well, the Independent Spirit nominations are here to ease that pain. Leading the nominations pack are just those very films, along with Gotham darling Beginners and black and white sensation The Artist, with Take Shelter and The Artist tied for the most nominations, with five each. Following the lead, with four nominations each are Beginners, Drive, The Descendants, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, with 50/50 logging three noms. And, coincidentally, it’s those top nomination-getters (save MMMM) that are all nominated for Best Feature. Funny how that works out, right? Other nominations of note include Best First Feature (Another Earth, In the Family, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Natural Selection ), Best First Screenplay (Another Earth, Margin Call, Terri, Cedar Rapids, 50/50), and the John Cassavetes Award, which is given to the best feature made for under $500,000 (Bellflower, Circumstance, Hello Lonesome, Pariah, The […]

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The 21st Gotham Independent Film Awards kicked off awards season with their ceremony this evening, doling out a limited number of awards to some of the strongest independent voices and films of the year. The Gothams cover just seven categories, but they often signal big trends and name up-and-comers, what with awards named things like Breakthrough Director and Actor or Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. The final jury is made up of “distinguished filmmakers,” though you’d be hard-pressed to find a list of just who is on that jury this year. The Gothams turned in some real surprises tonight (big enough that, even as the first award show of the year, they are still considered shocks, that’s something), with the two biggest nomination-getters, The Descendants and Martha Marcy May Marlene, coming away without a thing. Martha Marcy May Marlene missing out on awards is certainly bizarre enough, but what may well be the biggest upset from that shut-out is lead actress Elizabeth Olsen losing out on Breakthrough Actor to Felicity Jones. Both ladies starred in Sundance hits (MMMM and Like Crazy, respectively), but back in January, I cannot imagine that anyone would have placed Jones’ performance above Olsen’s (including myself, and I quite liked both films and both performances). Other jaw-droppers? Mike Mills‘ Beginners taking home Best Feature – along with Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life, as the two productions tied for the honor. If this is a hint as to how unpredictable the coming season […]

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Elizabeth Olsen

Coming fresh off her head turning performance in the recently released Martha Marcy May Marlene, relative newcomer Elizabeth Olsen is now starting to line up future roles. The latest of which will be in a movie called Thérèse Raquin, which is an adaptation of an Émile Zola story that was first published as a novel in 1867 and then became a play in 1873. The story, set in Paris in 1867, centers on a young woman named Thérèse who is forced into a loveless marriage with her first cousin by her domineering aunt Madame Raquin. Raquin’s son Camille is sickly, weak, and something of a mama’s boy, so Thérèse is anything but happy with the marriage. Sexy affairs and scandalous murder plots follow.

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John Hawkes describes his cult leading character Patrick as if he “just came from outer space.” After you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that that description could not be more apt. Patrick is a walking and talking enigma with no past or future. He’s someone who lives in the moment and is only interested in feeling that moment. Does he have a greater agenda? Maybe. Are his intentions malicious? Possibly. Where does he come from, and what does he believe in? No idea. That’s Patrick: a mystery. The gentle and quietly frightening character is one of the many mysteries in Sean Durkin’s feature debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene. The Sundance hit raises far more questions than the answers it barely gives. Durkin’s psychological horror film trusts you to fill in the blanks, as does John Hawkes. Here’s what the actor had to say about the oddly and charming ways of Patrick, the walking mystery:

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The real-life experience of being seduced into a cult and dealing with its psychological ramifications is probably a lot like that undergone by Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) in Martha Marcy May Marlene. That’s the highest praise one could offer this engaging drama, which arrives in theaters after causing a mini sensation on the festival circuit, complete with an unfortunate title and a brand new Indie It Girl in Olsen. Writer/director Sean Durkin‘s feature filmmaking debut isn’t going to cure global hunger or cause world peace, despite what the frenzied hype might suggest. It is, however, an assured work that achieves the tricky feat of offering a finely-tuned window into the existential burdens of its protagonist while simultaneously keeping her at a distance. The picture’s split chronology parallels Martha’s introduction into the Upstate New York “family” led by the manipulative, charismatic Patrick (John Hawkes) and her re-integration into her real family two years later. Without launching into convoluted explanations for Martha’s actions, the film follows her experiences in the harrowing reclusive clan, which has a propensity for guns, austere clothing and psychological torture, as well as a general acceptance of vicious physical abuse. At the same time, she is shown adrift in the lavish lakefront Connecticut home of her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy).

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Very few films resemble the structure of Martha Marcy May Marlene. The story follows a young girl, Martha (Elizaebth Olsen), both when she was a part of a cult and when she leaves it to try to relive a normal life. The psychological drama doesn’t give you the introduction of how Martha made it into the cult, which one would expect to take up the first act, and the film also ends on a scene that would’ve been the beginning of any other story’s third act. Martha Marcy May Marlene features subverted conventions, bare-boned exposition, and a whole lot of ambiguity. However, writer/director Sean Durkin never approached his drama to deliberately “subvert conventions,” it just happened to turn out that way. Durkin confessed to never quite getting the lessons from screenwriting courses, and perhaps that was for the better. By avoiding expected screenwriting tropes, in his feature debut, Durkin made an anti-cliche cult film. There are no heroes. There is no third act bang. Plus, the moral compass of the film, Ted (Hugh Dancy), is almost as off-putting as the ambiguous cult leader, Patrick (John Hawkes). Clearly, not your regular “cult” film. Here’s what Sean Durkin had to say about cracking the structure of Martha Marcy May Marlene, approaching the story with a fresh perspective, despising lazy flashbacks, and the mysterious ways of the warm and scary community leader, Patrick:

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column that melts in your mouth, not in your hand. It also delivers a taste that doesn’t linger. Because we know you need to sleep soon, and we don’t want to disrupt such an important ritual. Lets be honest with ourselves for a moment. Even though we know that it will be a kindred spirit of Zack Snyder’s 300, we still can’t escape from the fact that Tarsem Singh’s The Immortals looks pretty badass. The evidence of this is all over the place, most notably in a new gallery of Immortals images over at Screen Rant. Tonight’s lead image features Theseus, the hero, vs. a Minotaur. I’ll watch that.

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As the temperatures turn just the slightest bit colder and the fall colors settle in the landscape (if you’re lucky enough to live near trees), we should start directing our film focus to the fall movie season. We love summer for its mind-numbing fun, but the last season of the year tends to offer some of the most vulnerable, honest, and captivating films (you know, just in time for that other “big O”). Fall supplies films meant to scandalize our minds and even our naughty bits, and there is nothing wrong with that. But with so many films and film festivals to choose from between now and December, it becomes overwhelming to sort through all the goodness being dispensed our way. Lucky for you, my love of highlighting full-frontal male nudity and questionable sexual conduct happens to pay off for a change. Below you’ll find a helpful collection of five sultry features sure to stimulate your brain and your nethers.

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Films about cults were all the rage at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with some of the buzziest titles all revolving around veritable innocents sucked into organizations that are far, far more terrifying than they first let on. Vera Farmiga starred in and directed the religious-tinged Higher Ground, Sundance It Girl Brit Marling haunted audiences in Sound of My Voice, but the only culty hit that captured my attention (and made it wear rags, sleep in a room with eight other people, and till a garden) was Sean Durkin‘s Martha Marcy May Marlene. The film starred another Sundance break-out talent, Elizabeth Olsen (sister to the twins) as the titular Martha (or is it Marcy May? or even Marlene?), a young woman who has recently escaped a cult, led by none other than the magnetic John Hawkes. The film follows Martha’s attempts to reintegrate herself into a “normal life” with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), both of whom have no idea what’s she been through to get back to them. The film flashes back frequently to show just what Olsen’s character has been through. It is, in one word, consuming. Fox Searchlight has released two new trailers today, both hidden in QR codes, but our pals over at The Film Stage went ahead and embedded them for your viewing pleasure (i.e. terror). Check them out after the break.

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Two of the most critically acclaimed films to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival feature the power and effect of cults and cult leaders as part of their story. The first is Sound Of My Voice, a film about a couple who willingly enter a small cult in Los Angeles in order to expose it but end up discovering some surprising truths about themselves. I had the chance to see at SXSW and can confirm it’s absolutely fantastic. The second is the odd but wonderfully titled Martha Marcy May Marlene. Writer/director Sean Durkin’s tale follows a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) who escapes a cult and the emotional and physical consequences that follow. Her sister and brother-in-law (Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy) take her in, but it soon becomes clear that memories of the cult’s leader (the always brilliant John Hawkes) will not be easily forgotten. Check out the trailer below and mark your calendars for the film’s October 7th theatrical release.

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Sundance ground trooper Benji Carver checks in for the first time from Park City with a very busy day, including reviews of Kevin Spacey’s latest political drama, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, a potential award winner about being black and gay in America, a movie with a lot of ladies whose names start with M and the highly anticipated film Hobo with a Shotgun…

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Sundance 2011 marks my first time at the festival, and the overwhelming task of having the chance to see literally hundreds of films and shorts makes it a daunting and exciting task to look forward to in my first adventure in snow-capped Park City. Many of these films will only be seen at this one time at the festival and then possibly never again due to various rights, distribution, unseen film politics, or just plain shoddy filmmaking (sad to say). So besides all of that hub-bub, here are the 11 films I can’t wait to see as the year’s festival kicks off from this Thursday, January 20th to the following Sunday of the 30th.

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