At the Movies: Melancholia, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Puss in Boots

There are no big movies opening this weekend, so here’s a look at some films currently playing (at least in St. Louis) that I got around to seeing this week.

Melancholia

I liked this movie better when it was called “The Tree of Life.” They’re both long, tedious, pretentious, artsy and visually stylish — but at least “Tree” had dinosaurs.

Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” opens with a silent (other than the oftentimes blaring musical score) 8-minute segment of images of Kirsten Dunst juxtaposed with images from space. It all ends with a small planet crashing into the Earth. You’d think at least that last image would be exciting, but it’s not. Lars von Trier manages to make armageddon boring.

With the preliminaries out of the way, the movie begins in earnest. It’s divided into two parts — the first focusing on Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) wedding reception from hell. Justine appears to be suffering from depression and it’s easy to see why. Her parents are insufferable and her boss is trying to make her work at her own wedding reception.

While it only takes up an hour of film, this has to be the longest wedding reception in recorded history. During the course of the evening in addition to awkward speeches and cutting the wedding cake,  Justine manages to take a joyride in a golf cart, take a nap, take a bath, and have sex in a sand trap. Oh, and to top it off, the bride and groom were 2 hours late arriving. What were the guests doing all this time? You can only do the duck dance for so long.

The second half of the film switches the focus to Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Claire is fretting endlessly because the planet Melancholia may be on a collision course with Earth. Her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) assures her there is nothing to worry about. Justine offers little comfort, as she would be fine with the world ending. By the end of the film I was right there with her.

“Melancholia” is the kind of movie that critics flock to and regular people run away from as if they were being chased down by an asteroid. It is true that Kirsten Dunst gives a fine performance as the perpetually depressed Justine. The rest of the cast also do nice work. There is some intriguing imagery.

But it’s so slow and plodding and full of itself that it really didn’t work for me.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

This 4-M movie is an intriguing psychological drama with an abrupt ending that’s both surprising and infuriating.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Martha, a damaged woman trying to put her life back together after spending time in a cult. As the film opens Martha has fled the communal farm where she’s been living for a couple of years and calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) for help.

Lucy takes Martha back to the summer home where she and husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) go to get relief from their stressful lives. Living with Martha proves to be the opposite of stress relief.

The movie constantly slides back and fourth from Martha’s time at the commune to her current situation with Lucy and Ted. It’s clear she doesn’t fit in either world.

Martha is looking for purpose and acceptance when she hooks up with the free spirits living at a farm run by Patrick (John Hawkes), who bears a strong resemblance in looks and actions to Charles Manson. Martha — whom Patrick renames Marcy May — endures a number of degradations before she finally has enough and flees. But she’s been so sucked into Patrick’s worldview that she has trouble adjusting to life outside the commune.

Written and directed by T. Sean Durkin, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” moves a bit slow but it’s smart, compelling and cleverly put together. Newcomer Elizabeth Olsen gives a riveting performance.

And now for something completely different.

Puss in Boots

Any movie set in the Shrek universe that doesn’t have Donkey in it is already better than any other Shrek movie. I know many people love Donkey, but he gets on my last nerve. Donkey is the Tow Mater of the Shrek franchise.

Enough about Donkey. We’re here to talk about Puss in Boots, who ironically is my favorite character in the Shrek series (ironic due to my general dislike of cats). There’s just something about this swashbuckling rogue who is actually a cat — and a cat wearing boots, no less — that I find charming.

I’m sure a lot of that charm comes down to the voice work of Antonio Banderas, who brings Zorro-like enthusiasm and sex appeal to the character.

Like all Shrek films, “Puss in Boots” is a fractured fairy tale that takes beloved storybook characters and puts them in ridiculous situations. In this case, Puss and childhood pal Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) — with assistance from Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) — are out to steal magic beans from Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).

“Puss in Boots” isn’t as clever, or obviously as fresh, as the first Shrek film but it’s on par with the sequels. The animation is sharp, the vocal talent is fine and the story is smart but not as complex as the other Shrek movies. Not that a lack of complexity is a bad thing. Sometimes keeping it simple is good.

I did not see the 3D version so I cannot advise you on that.

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One response to “At the Movies: Melancholia, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Puss in Boots

  1. The critics have been praising “Melancholia” as they did “Tree of Life” but if they are similiar, then I’ll pass on it and save those hours of my life.

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