Daily Archives: December 5, 2011

My Week With Marilyn (UK/US 2011)

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl

We sat in a large Odeon screen with just two other couples to watch My Week With Marilyn on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon. What a shame there wasn’t a bigger audience for what is undoubtedly a superior entertainment. OK, director Simon Curtis is a veteran of TV series without a cinema track record, but this is a well-made film with good pacing and the sense to let its obvious attractions shine for the audience – a cast of generally well-known and well-loved actors, some rather touristy shots of Kent and Buckinghamshire dressed up as 1950s locations and a wonderful central performance by Michelle Williams which is alone worth the price of admission.

The story is based on the diary of Colin Clark, younger brother of the more feted diarist Alan Clark. In 1956 Colin used his family connections (as the son of the art historian Kenneth Clark) to wangle a job with Laurence Olivier’s film company and his first production role was ‘3rd’ (Assistant Director) on The Prince and the Showgirl in which Olivier attempted to adapt the successful West End play in which he played opposite his wife Vivienne Leigh. But Leigh was considered ‘too old’ (at 43) and Olivier made a deal to bring over Marilyn Monroe, recently married to Arthur Miller and seeking the opportunity to show that she could act opposite Olivier. The shoot was extremely difficult for all concerned and according to Clark’s diaries he befriended Marilyn and helped her through. This friendship is the focus of the film.

Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier and gives a delightful and convincing performance in terms of dialogue and facial expressions – even though he doesn’t look much like Olivier. Similarly Judi Dench presents herself as Sybil Thorndike. But it is Ms Williams who steals the show. We know she is one of the best female actors of her generation but my limited exposure to her skills has been through more downbeat roles in American Independents such as Brokeback Mountain and Meek’s Cutoff. Here she ‘acts’ rather than impersonates Marilyn, brilliantly handling the insecure off-set Marilyn, the warm companionable fun girl away from the film business and the flirty Marilyn in performance mode.

Here’s the trailer:

And the ‘original film’, The Prince and the Showgirl:

. . . Marilyn performing ‘That Old Black Magic’ in Bus Stop (1955) (the film is dubbed in French):

 

 

2011 End of Year Lists

It’s that time again and the lists of ‘best’ films. ‘favourite’ films etc. are appearing everywhere. Keith has already commented on the Sight and Sound list and here it is in the January 2012 issue (with links shown to our posts):

The Tree of Life, Terence Malick, US

A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The Kid With a Bike, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Melancholia, Lars von Trier, Den/Swe/Fra/Ger/Italy

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, France

6=  The Turin Horse, Bela Tarr, Hungary

6=  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Cylan, Turkey/Bosnia & Herzogovina

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, UK/US

Le quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino Italy/Ger/Switz

10=  This Is Not a Film, Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmash, Iran

10=  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson, UK/Fra/Ger

The list is based on the 5 top films nominated by 100 ‘international critics’ (although the selection of ‘critics’ seems skewed towards the UK and several of the UK names are unknown to me.) Titles are included if they have been seen this year. Several of the films selected have yet to be released in the UK (although some have appeared in festivals here). It’s interesting that between us we’ve covered all of the Top 11 that have received a UK release. S & S editor Nick James gives a brief summary of how the votes went. The most significant observation is perhaps that few European critics have much time for the Lynne Ramsay film which has been snubbed by the European Film Awards apart from the award for Best Actress to Tilda Swinton. We’ll no doubt return to Kevin, which Keith was less taken with than Rona and Roy, at some future date (Melancholia won Best Film) The other surprises were that Senna didn’t make the Top 10 nor Wim Wenders’ Pina. As an overall comment, it’s worth pointing out that the list has two Iranian films but nothing else from Asia. Latin America is also not mentioned though Las acacias, released in the UK this week is ‘bubbling under’ – having won many festival prizes over the last twelve months. Apart from Ramsay there are no other women as directors in the Top 11.

Here’s my selection of the 11 new films that have most impressed me over the last twelve months in UK cinemas (leaving out films that have only appeared in festivals). In no particular order:

A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, Iran

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, UK/US

Le quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino Italy/Ger/Switz

Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold, UK

Incendies, Denis Villeneuve, Canada-France

Poetry, Lee Chang-dong, South Korea

Bal, Semih Kaplanoglu, Turkey-Germany

Senna, Asif Kapadia, UK

A Screaming Man, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France/Belgium

Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichs, US

Mademoiselle Chambon, Stéphane Brizé, France

I should point out that it isn’t necessarily the story or the theme of these films that makes me want to single them out, but rather their cinematic qualities in terms of ideas and imagination, performance, cinematography, editing, direction, use of sound/music etc. A review of Senna will appear when I get time. This has been a particularly strong year for British Cinema and that is reflected in my choices. I haven’t watched as many Indian films as I would have liked and although I’ve seen several interesting Latin American films in festivals, few have got a UK release. I have seen four new Japanese films on release and I was tempted to include at least one. I realise that I’ve also left out Black Swan, which was released in the UK in January and is an astonishing film in many ways, but perhaps not so much in need of a boost.

Comments? Other suggestions?

Addendum: Just received the list of winners at the British Independent Film Awards and reminded that we haven’t mentioned Tyrannosaur. I haven’t seen the film – largely because I have seen the original short film which was extended by Paddy Considine to feature length. That was excellent but harrowing and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the full-length version. Here is the list of BIFA winners:

BEST BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM Tyrannosaur

BEST DIRECTOR Lynne Ramsay for We Need To Talk About Kevin

THE DOUGLAS HICKOX AWARD [BEST DEBUT DIRECTOR]Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur

BEST SCREENPLAY Richard Ayoade, Submarine

BEST ACTRESS Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur

BEST ACTOR Michael Fassbender, Shame

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Vanessa Redgrave,Coriolanus

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Michael Smiley, Kill List

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER Tom Cullen, Weekend

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION Weekend

THE RAINDANCE AWARD Leaving Baghdad

BEST TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Maria Djurkovic (Production Design)

BEST DOCUMENTARY Senna

BEST BRITISH SHORT Chalk

BEST FOREIGN INDEPENDENT FILM A Separation

THE RICHARD HARRIS AWARD (for outstanding contribution by an actor to British Film) Ralph Fiennes

THE VARIETY AWARD Kenneth Branagh

THE SPECIAL JURY PRIZE Graham Easton