'My Week with Marilyn' shines, 'Shame' is raw, fascinating
Published Friday, December 2, 2011 8:35AM EST
"My Week with Marilyn"
Richard's Review: 3 1/2 stars
The Oscar battle of the biopics is in full swing with the release of "My Week with Marilyn." Michelle Williams hands in exactly the kind of performance the Academy loves. As Marilyn Monroe she turns the camera on Hollywood, playing one of its biggest stars at the peak of her career.
Based on two books by Colin Clark, "The Prince, The Showgirl and Me" and "My Week with Marilyn," the movie's main character isn't Munroe, but Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the third assistant director on "The Prince and the Showgirl" starring Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Munroe. It was the summer of 1956 and Clark was a twenty-three-year-old, who, like the rest of the planet, was smitten with Monroe. The two form a bond, and for a few days it looks like his love for her might actually be reciprocated. Perhaps this should have been titled "The Week I Almost Made It with Marilyn."
Everyone has been predicting Oscar success for Williams and rightly so, she's very good, but the bulk of the movie is carried by Redmayne. It is his coming of age story that really fuels the movie's dramatic arc and his youthful excitement at meeting and, possibly mating with, the movie star is infectious. Of course, he's playing against Williams and Branagh in much showier roles. I suspect he'll get the sort shrift attention wise.
Branagh shows two sides to Olivier, the flamboyantly theatrical public persona contrasted against his testy frustration of having to work overshadowed by the unprofessional movie star from America. "She's all instinct, no craft," he says.
Branagh is very good, but when placed against Williams's Monroe his work seems to lack the soul she brings to every frame of film. He does have many of the film's best lines, however. His delivery of lines like, "Trying to teach Marilyn to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger," is letter perfect and adds much to the movie.
Even almost fifty years after her death, Monroe is still one of the best-known actresses in the world. Her famous face adorns everything from wine bottles to Volkswagen commercials. Yet Williams manages to bring something new to someone we thought we knew so well. Her off-screen life, as dramatic as anything she ever did on screen, is tenderly portrayed here but the story isn't as interesting as the performance.
Williams plays Monroe as a coddled woman-child, crippled by nerves, insecurity, but long on instinct. She also goes beyond the little girl lost act so often associated with Monroe. She digs deep, cleaving the role into two parts -- the sex-bomb and the vulnerable real life counterpart.
"Shall I be her?" she asks Colin as a crowd descends on them in public. She then shifts effortlessly from the private to the public Marilyn, blowing kisses and turning the flirt up on high. But when she is behind closed doors the performance glows. While some of the dialogue is a bit too Psyche 101 -- "Why do the people I love always leave me?" she pouts at one point -- the complexity behind her eyes isn't.
Williams has perfected playing dour characters in movies like "Blue Valentine," so it is a bit of a revelation to see her smile here. But this is something else that is well rounded and revelatory.
"My Week with Marilyn" feels a little old-fashioned. The show biz story about, as they say in the film, "a great actor who wants to be a movie star and a movie star who wants to be a great actor," is overtly theatrical, but Williams brings real soul and heart, handing in the Oscar worthy performance that eluded Monroe in real life.
Richard's Review: 4 stars
Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen are not suffering from a sophomore slump. Following up their first brilliant collaboration "Hunger" -- the story of Irish republican Bobby Sands's hunger strike -- with "Shame," a story of sexual addiction with lots of movie star nudity, they prove there's no slump, sophomore or otherwise.
Fassbender plays Brandon, a New York high roller with all the trappings of a perfect life. His shame is also the thing that informs almost everything in his life -- he's a sex junkie. He's a functioning addict until his sister (Cary Mulligan) unexpectedly comes to stay with him and turns his life upside down.
"Shame" is rated NC17 and with good reason. There is a great deal of nudity, but bodies aren't the only things bared here. Playing polar personality opposites Fassbender and Mulligan each reveal enough neurosis to keep Psyche 101 textbook writers busy for years.
He's tightly wound, ordered in his addiction; a clean freak with control issues. She's a free spirited musician who, much to his horror, drinks OJ right out of the box. She's emotional, craving the kind of spiritual intimacy that he replaces with meaningless physical intimacy.
Still, despite their differences, they have a connection. At a nightclub he weeps as she sings a maudlin version of "New York, New York" and a late story development proves he loves her despite his apparent anger at her behavior and the effect she has on his life.
Fassbender uncovers the inner workings of Brandon, subtly portraying the change in his character as he becomes aware of the impact of his addiction on him and those around him. It's a completely physical performance in and out of the sack. Fassbender shows Brandon's slow decline through a carefully modulated physical performance that tells us more about the character than pages of dialogue could.
Mulligan is a raw nerve, as emotional as Brandon is detached. The two don't connect, but there is a bond between them that can't be broken.
"Shame" won't be for everyone. It's explicit and impressionistic, but as a character study it is fascinating, thought provoking filmmaking.
"Sarah's Key" DVD
Richard's Review: 3 stars
Near the end of "Sarah's Key" star Kristin Scott Thomas says, "When a story is told, it is not forgotten." The story she's referring to is the Vel' d'Hiv roundup, a 1942 mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police. To tell the tale "Sarah's Key" jumps between past and present.
Based on Tatiana De Rosnay's international best-seller, Scott Thomas plays Julie, an American writer in Paris working on an article about the little known incident which saw ten thousand Jews -- including 10-year-old Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) and her parents -- ripped from their homes and sent to internment camps. While researching the story she finds a connection between her French in-laws and the Starzynski family.
Overlooked on its theatrical release "Sarah's Key" is getting a well deserved second life on DVD. Although it has a tendency to dip into melodrama from time to time the movie's story of survival and guilt is buoyed by two remarkable performances.
Scott Thomas is at the center of the movie and delivers a beautifully restrained and natural performance as a woman in an unhappy marriage but it is Mélusine Mayance as young Sarah that brings fire to the movie. Her take on a young girl who escapes from a concentration camp humanizes an unimaginable atrocity.
"Sarah's Key" is a tearjerker that peters out in its final third, but is nonetheless a potent story of survival.