Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

MP here

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a tonally downbeat and ultimately evasive study of Martha (Elizabeth Olson), a young woman at odds enough with the social fabric around her to have once fallen for the intrigues of a cult physically and emotionally removed from it; with her inherently and increasingly disturbing time with the cult told in prompted flashbacks, the "present" unfolds as Martha spends time with sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their holiday home retreat, itself designed to defer and dilute the stresses of urban life. As such, the film presents its cult, led by manipulative loner Patrick (John Hawkes), as a kind of physical externalisation of Lucy and Ted, whose barely contained and socially informed aspirations to petty bourgeois values come with the cost of a palpable self-preserving tetchiness. This, I think, is of immediate conceptual interest; it's disappointing, then, that it isn't quite fulfilled.

The Descendants (2011)



To some extent, it seems redundant to criticise a film for not being something it didn't set out to be. But at some point, one must ask: in what ways could this work and its drama have been improved? Unfortunately for The Descendants, the answer is: many. Particularly for a film that has, as its potentially fruitful fundamentals, a familial - and familiar - drama foregrounded against the social transformations resulting from the selling of land inherited down the generations, Alexander Payne's latest work, co-adapted by him with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from Kaui Hart Hemmings's novel, though it is not without its moments or charms, seems finally to be an opportunity missed.