At The Movies

My Week with Marilyn
Directed by Simon Curtis
2000’s “Almost Famous” captured an almost perfect depiction of a boy caught up in the world of his dreams, surrounded by his idols – in that case in the music industry.  In “My Week with Marilyn,” that same vibe is captured in an equally wide-eyed and fresh, but not quite so young, newcomer to the movie industry.  

At 23, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) could rely on his well-to-do parents to support him but he’s determined to make his own way and camps out in the office of Lawrence Olivier’s London production company hoping for a job, any job, on the set of his next ‘picture.’  His perseverance pays off and he soon finds himself working on “The Prince and the Showgirl,” at Pinewood Studios, as third assistant director (a fancy name for an errand runner), not just with Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) but with movie star and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).  

It’s a wonderful cast, with Williams in particular shining as the often insecure (or simply drugged) but occasionally effervescent Monroe and Redmayne capturing the same sense of innocent amazement as Patrick Fugit did in “Almost Famous.”  In addition to Branagh who is solid as Olivier, they’re supported by Julia Ormond as Olivier’s wife (of that period) Vivian Leigh, Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike (demonstrating again how she managed to win an Oscar for 9 minutes of screentime in “Shakespeare in Love”), and Emma Watson as a young crew member in the wardrobe department.  Seeing Watson prove herself in a modest role after the excesses of the “Harry Potter” franchise is neat, especially as the relative wallflower alongside Wlliams’ Monroe who attracts crowds and paparazzi as Watson has from legions of young fans in real life.

The story itself is taken from the real Clark’s memoirs and along with the brief friendship between Clark and Monroe, the film depicts the difficult working relationship between Olivier and Monroe in what was a clash of cultures, work ethic, and acting style.  Monroe was accompanied by her method acting coach while Olivier, at various points in his career, was famously dismissive of the approach, saying here that it has no place on set.  

Director Simon Curtis, who normally works in TV, scores here with a winning combination of cast and the inherently intriguing true story that should appeal to fans of Monroe, Olivier, filmmaking, film history, and storytelling.  My 99 minutes with “My Week with Marilyn” was all pleasure.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Directed by Bill Condon
A Second Opinion by Malcolm Maclachlan
I enjoyed the heck out of the first three Twilight movies, forgiving their flaws (the main one being that they really weren’t all that good) for their strength (that I found them very entertaining).

Alas, the fourth installment takes the “un” out of “undead.” “Breaking Dawn” doesn’t deserve to have an adverb in its title. The formula so far was to have enough action to break up the soap opera silliness and barely hidden sexual angst. This time, there’s barely any action at all. There’s no outside threat, just the werewolves of color and the pallid bloodsucking fashion plates glaring at each other in a “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” style that got old a couple movies ago. Given that most of humanity would want to kill both groups off if they knew about them, you’d think they’d work together, but never mind.

The transparent symbolism that made the films so fun to dissect before is still there. But this time one of the major themes is actually consummating the act that bosoms have long heaved over. In other words, the addition of actual sex has the paradoxical effect of making everything really boring – though it is vaguely amusing to see Bella (Kristin Stewart) take hours of primping to get ready for the act, since it’s a microcosm of the entire series.

The angst is still there. Everything is about fear of sex, of death and pregnancy and all that scary adult stuff. The vampire fantasy has always been largely a Peter Pan-forever young kind of thing, and here it always had a huge dose of the simultaneous attraction-repellence that teens feel for adult life (before you grow up to realize the truth is far more mundane).
Perhaps the most interesting thing going on here is a whole theme about body image, with things heading off in a “Rosemary’s Baby” meets “Alien” theme halfway through. But I was bothered that Stewart, who was pleasingly human-shaped in the first three films, appears to have lost at least 10 pounds for this installment – then spends much of the film digitally altered even further down to Keira Knightly-like proportions.

With so little of entertainment value, you’re also left with the central head-scratcher of the series – why is everyone so obsessed with Bella? The answer, of course, is that the entire thing is a teen girl fantasy, with two gorgeous boys endlessly pursuing her, the artsy guy and the hunk, putting aside their differences and very justified jealousy because they love her so much. In the end, that starts to seem less realistic than the supernatural creatures themselves.

Arthur Christmas
Directed by Sarah Smith
Probably best known for the “Wallace and Gromit” films, the latest from Aardman Animation is more mainstream in appearance but equally delightful in its delivery.  And it’s all about delivery in this story of how the Christmas family has managed for generations to get to every child’s home in a single night.  

That system has evolved into a massive Starship Enterprise-style vehicle and battalions of Mission Impossible-esque elves – but possibly at risk to the underlying philosophy of the season.  Which is where the idealistic but klutzy young Arthur comes in, working in the North Pole’s mail room, without much prior hope or ambition to take part in the actual fieldwork.  All of which makes for a cute and funny riff on the holiday story that’s on a par with the winning re-introduction of the Muppet franchise – both of which are worth a trip to the theater, with or without small children.

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