Martha Marcy May Marlene: Sean Durkin’s generator of Sundance raves and awards buzz for the token talented Olsen could’ve turned into one of those no-frills character-sketch exercises in indie austerity, telling the concentrated story of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), just escaped from a creepy upstate New York cult. Olsen even looks like no-frills character-sketch mainstays Maggie Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga; they could be her sisters just as easily as the Full House twins—and probably more convincingly than Sarah Paulson, who plays Lucy, Martha’s sister who I vaguely assumed was an aunt or a cousin for a good half an hour of running time. The estrangement is probably the point; Durkin starts just before Martha’s reunion with Lucy, then flashing back as she remembers/dreams/hallucinates of her previous life under the spell of the charismatic Patrick (John Hawkes).
Durkin toggles between past and present with great fluidity and control, conjuring genuine dread from an atmosphere that he shoots to resemble a faded photograph. As a thriller, it’s tense and occasionally heart-stopping. As full-blooded drama, it’s less engaging, and a little repetitive: Martha zones out in Lucy’s isolated lakehouse; remembers something creepy from her cult days; freaks out; incites Lucy and her husband to frustration. Olsen makes an assured debut, but Martha is so fragmented that she’s more state of mind than character. The L’s Nicolas Rapold makes some good points about the movie considering its creepy trauma more or less the whole story—but I’m not sure that by virtue of having a cult in it, it’s the movie’s job to convey the experience of living in said cult. As its best, Martha Marcy May Marlene haunts with memories rather than exploring sociology.
Paranormal Activity 3: If Martha Marcy May Marlene promises chills that seem too quiet, and you’d rather have quiet creepiness punctuated by a bunch of BOO! moments, well, I haven’t seen Paranormal Activity 3, but I bet it has something like that. I actually quite liked the first one and even enjoyed the second one, although the prequel-y route this one is going threatens to over-explain previous scares on the way to diminished new ones. But we can all agree that this is a better Halloween tradition than Saw movies, right? At least it has ghosts or demons or whatever. Maybe after this franchise burns out, it can be replaced by something with like, werewolves or zombies or pumpkinheads or whatever.
The Three Musketeers: If you were reading a lot of nerdy movie-news sites back in the late 1990s, Paul W.S. Anderson seemed like a pretty major concern, the bane of the Ain’t It Cool crowd’s existence. Those concerns seem downright quaint now even within the rarified field of caring about nerdy sci-fi-fantasy-horror movies. I mean, Michael Bay runs shit these days. I know Bay is probably more “talented” than Anderson, but I’ll take Anderson’s videogames-turned-movies or just movies-that-seem-like-they-were-based-on-some-crappy-videogame over a lot of Bay’s work.
Here, the Other Paul Anderson gets all classy-like, awesomin’ up The Three Musketeers in a way of which a Bryan Adams/Rod Stewart duet could only dream back in 1993 [You forgot Sting. -Ed.]. Apparently there are flying machines and Milla Jovovich! And in a dire turn of events, Orlando Bloom doesn’t play a musketeer, but a bad guy. Good for him for stretching, but come on: what should Orlando Bloom be doing if not playing a musketeer? The good guys are instead played by every dude who was ever considered for a big superhero-y next-big-thing part but didn’t get it: Matthew Macfayden, Luke Evans, Logan Lerman… basically, a little army of tiny Orlando Bloomy also-rans who probably could’ve been Thor or Captain America or something if the fates smiled upon them, plus Ray Stevenson (when I saw his name, I thought Ray Winstone, and got super excited). This movie also has Christoph Waltz and Juno Temple, so I’m going to be pretty disappointed if it’s not gloriously stupid.
Johnny English Reborn: If the more delightfully titled Mr. Bean’s Holiday wasn’t a hit in these United States, I’m honestly a bit puzzled as to how the sequel to a $28 million-grossing (sub-Mr. Bean’s Holiday!) non-hit that came out over eight years ago scored a wide theatrical release. I know the first Johnny English was a big worldwide hit, and overseas box office for the sequel has already been quite decent, but in a month that sees a Nicolas Cage/Nicole Kidman thriller get dumped onto a handful of screens, with a Richard Gere/Topher Grace thriller following it a few weekends later, it’s a little mindblowing that a Rowan Atkinson thriller spoof will actually play at malls across the land. Universal Pictures, just leave America alone! We don’t want any Rowan Atkinson! Unless maybe he’s in a small part in a movie with Hugh Grant, or perhaps, if we’re in the right mood, if he’s playing Mr. Bean! And even then, you’re not getting more than $45 million out of us! So just drop it!