EIFF 2011: Jack Goes Boating Movie Review 0 6

Philip Seymour Hoffman has long since solidified himself as one of the very best character actors working today, moving from role to role and genre to genre and fitting in just about every time. Whether he’s playing an adult film camera operator (Boogie Nights) or famous author Truman Capote (Capote), to name but a couple, Hoffman is consistently brilliant and always enjoyable to watch.

Adding another awkward yet likeable character to his resume in the awkward yet still somehow sweet Jack Goes Boating, Hoffman proves his acting talent once more (he also impresses as first-time director). Admittedly this film version isn’t exactly a stretch for him considering he has played the very same character many times in the Broadway play by Robert Glaudini. But still there’s something that feels freshly cinematic about the adaptation (a thing many film versions of plays don’t seem to accomplish), and Hoffman is essentially playing a character who acts/reacts in the realistic way most of us would in these kinds of social situations.

The film tells the story of the eponymous Jack who leads a perfectly normal but ultimately unfulfilling life as a limo driver. One day he meets Connie (played by the always wonderful Amy Ryan) and after a date or two they both make arrangements to go boating during the summer. The trouble is Jack doesn’t know how to swim and so gets his best friend to help him (who’s having relationship troubles if his own) while continuing to try and impress Connie.

Jack Goes Boating is one of those modern American comedies in the vein of Sideways and The Kids Are All Right which doesn’t really have much of a plot but relies heavily on character interactions and “everyday” dialogue. That type of film can produce varying degrees of success but Jack Goes Boating luckily is one of the better ones.

It’s not exactly Curb Your Enthusiasm level of situational discomfort (but really what is?), however it does keenly capture that feeling of public awkwardness that we’ve all felt at one time or another. For instance, on their first date Connie reveals that her father was in a coma but woke up suddenly supposedly (according to Connie) to help her mother who is in a nursing home. However, not long after waking up he fell in a hallway and hit his head and died. Hoffman’s uncomfortable reaction to this info is completely believable and relatable – just what the hell are you supposed to say in that kind of a situation? That’s just one example of the awkwardness which Jack Goes Boating achieves with aplomb.

Reminiscent of the work of directors such as Alexander Payne and Tom McCarthy (who coincidentally makes an appearance as Connie’s boss here), Jack Goes Boating is perhaps not the best example of this type of thing but it’s a solid effort. Hoffman continues to prove his worth as one of the best actors in the business and shows definite skill as a director with this well observed character study.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Man on a Ledge Movie Review 0 10

Man on a Ledge movie review

With a title as blunt and, quite frankly, stupid as Asger Leth’s Man on a Ledge, it’s right not to expect all that much. I wasn’t looking for an awards-worthy thriller with great acting or insanely witty dialogue. But I also wasn’t expecting it to mess up its quite brilliantly simple premise.

The film at least starts off well enough, delivering a premise that while outlandish is not totally unbelievable. We have a mysterious man (Sam Worthington) who appears to want to kill himself by jumping off a building. However, as we can easily guess, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

We have a man… on a ledge… who is he? why does he want to kill himself? Why does he appear to be stalling for time?… The trouble with Man on a Ledge is it starts well, at a competently intelligent level but as the thread is pulled more and more and the real story behind the false front is revealed it becomes increasingly ridiculous until any semblance of believability or relatability is thrown out the window (so to speak…). And the way it attempts to weasel its way into being an emotional story with a purpose makes it all the worse.

The film fails to merge together two duel, related storylines into an enjoyable complete package. The stuff with Worthington on the ledge, with Elizabeth Banks as the negotiator, is far more interesting and engaging than the Ocean’s Eleven wannabe antics happening elsewhere.

A cast of talented actors including Worthington, Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick and Titus Welliver is practically wasted here on half-hearted characterization, preposterous plot twists and trite, cliché-ridden character motivations. All this distracts from the already overly convoluted plot to the point where it’s hard to really care about anyone, even the guy who’s threatening to jump. Like the spectators below, I almost wished he would just do it and get it over with!

Minute-by-minute you can practically see the film’s IQ drop lower and lower until it finally descends into one of the most absurd, nonsensical endings to hit the screen in quite some time. And to add insult to injury it ultimately ties everything up far too conveniently for its own good, fumbling and stumbling on its way there, leaving an aftertaste of smugness in spite of its stupidity.

As a whole Man on a Ledge is not entirely devoid of entertainment as it at least keeps you guessing, even if one answer is as ridiculous as the last. Those willing to completely shut their brain off might get some dumb enjoyment out of it. But when you set everything up with an intriguing premise like this it’s all the more disappointing to see it turn out as dumb as you feared.

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This review was previously published at Blog Critics.

Martha Marcy May Marlene Movie Review 0 7

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a difficult film, both in its subject matter and how the viewer is asked to take in the events. But even in its more ambiguous moments, the film is undoubtedly powerful and haunting, helped largely by the lead performance of exceptional newcomer Elizabeth Olsen.

The film tells the story of Martha (Olsen), a young woman who escapes from a cult she was part of in the Catskill Mountains, led by the mysterious Patrick (John Hawkes). After escaping she is picked up and stays with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), and in flashbacks we see her experiences as part of the cult while she tries to return to a normal life.

This type of ambiguous storytelling can often backfire, creating confusion and frustration where fascination should go. Fortunately, for the most part anyway, Martha Marcy May Marlene handles that ambiguity very well, making for an experience that allows you to both to fill in the blanks and read what we do get presented with in any number of ways.

The film is anchored together, and perhaps even raised beyond what it otherwise would have been, by the stunning performance of newcomer Olsen. She is sister of famous twins Mary-Kate and Ashley… but don’t let that put you off! Olsen is a real find of an actress, giving an attention-grabbing debut performance (tragically overlooked by the Oscars) as a girl tormented and confused by her past experiences. It really is pretty difficult to take your eyes off her every time she’s on-screen, not just because of her looks but her vulnerable yet strangely enigmatic presence.

While clearly the stand out, Olsen isn’t the only performance of note here. The incomparable Hawkes, finally getting some of the spotlight and recognition he has deserved for years, is a terrifying character here, his weird and subtle charm making his actions and warped attitude all the more frightening. The likes of Brady Corbet and Sarah Paulson also give impressive performances.

This is tough subject matter we’re dealing with here and writer/director Sean Durkin certainly doesn’t pull any punches. There are indeed scenes which some viewers may find very disturbing – namely the cult leader’s “treatment” of the female members – but these scenes are there for a purpose and not just there for the sake of being provocative.

Nevertheless Martha Marcy is provocative but in the best of ways. Emulating the work of such directors as Michael Haneke (his Funny Games films in particular) and Lynne Ramsay, Durkin creates an uncomfortable and unsettling atmosphere, making for what could very well be described as a horror film. In the same fashion as Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, there might not be jump-scares or lots of gore but a chilling sense of fear and dread runs throughout the whole thing nonetheless.

Martha Marcy May Marlene doesn’t offer any easy answers, it’s not interested in spelling everything out for or making it easy to understand all the themes it’s aiming to get across. Through intelligent means the film allows us to read the events in a way that makes sense to us, and a terrifically vague ending is the ultimate embodiment of that. Quietly powerful, haunting and often downright disturbing, this is an impressively bold directorial debut with a mesmerizing performance at its centre.

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This review was previously published at Blog Critics.