Judge Gordon Sullivan did this review as an Instagram photo comic.
Where do you go when unbreakable bonds become unspeakable?
On 12 April 12 2012, Facebook announced it had acquired Instagram for an insanely high price of 1 Billion dollars. For those not in the know, Instagram is a photo creation and sharing app that lets users take a picture with their smart phone, apply filters to it, and then share it on the web. Though pundits immediately saw value for Facebook in Instagram's 50 Million-plus users (since Facebook is at the time of this writing the world's largest photo-sharing platform), Instagram is also a model for how to make a great app in the twenty-first century. The whole experience thrives on the antagonism that Instagram harnesses. Its filters use the latest digital technology to recreate analog effects that were in vogue decades ago. It uses a device (at least when it was iPhone exclusive) that costs ten times as much as some of the cameras whose effects the app replicates. Though its dreamy look immediately made me think of Instagram, Mary Marie is an indie flick that embodies some of the same antagonisms that Instagram has harnessed.
Mary Marie is the story of two sisters who return to their childhood home after the death of their mother. They have a strangely close relationship, and the film follows the fallout when an attractive local handyman starts to poke around the sisters, putting their relationship to the test.
Mary Marie's first contradiction is its relationship to time. It's a gorgeous-looking film. Reading interviews with both the writer/director and the cinematographer reveals that the film essentially had no budget (and was saved, in the end, by Davy Jones of The Monkees). The fact that a film of this budget could look this good is a testament (of course) to its cinematographer, but also to the heights digital technology has released. A no-budget film even five years ago could not have hoped to look this good. On the flip side, there's nothing about Mary Marie that would have made it out of place in the early-'90s American Independent boom typified by the entrants at the Sundance festival. It's got the small cast (just the two sisters, really, plus some incidental guys), family dysfunction (those two sisters again), actors pulling double duty as writer and/or director, and not much happening on the level of plot. Locations are mostly borrowed from a single house and lots of shots of nature. There's quite a bit of nudity, and the erotic charge between the sisters offers that something "extra" that indie films can get away with.
Of course, despite its charm (and the $1B price tag), Instagram has its detractors. Many claim that the app's filters are just pre-packaged cool and the limited appeal of those filters starts to wear off very quickly. The same could be said for Mary Marie. Despite the gorgeous, lush cinematography, Mary Marie falls into many of the same paths that indie film has trodden in the past couple decades. The lead actresses (who are also co-writer/director and co-writer, respectively) can be a little bit wooden at times. The love triangle story has been done to death, and there's an overall feeling of preciousness hanging over the production that some will find a definite turnoff. The DVD does an effective job presenting the film. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is rich and warm, with strong colors and detail throughout. Black levels are appropriate, and no digital artifacts mar the image. Similarly, the 2.0 stereo track keeps the dialogue audible and well-balanced with the score. It's not particularly dazzling, but it gets the job done.
Bonus features start with a commentary featuring co-writer/director/actress Alexandra Roxo, co-writer/actress Alana Kearns-Green, and producer Rachel Ernest. The track contains a bit too much watching or describing what's on screen, but there are some interesting tidbits about making the film sprinkled throughout. We also get 6 minutes of deleted scenes as well as the film's trailer. I would have loved to hear something from the film's cinematographer about achieving the look of the film, but overall it's a decent package of extra for a release of this size.
Fans of American independent cinema will want to check out Mary Marie, even if it's unlikely the film travels far outside that circle. It does an effective job of announcing a new force to be reckoned with in the world of cinematography in the form of Magela Crosignani. The co-writer/director and co-writer also show promise, and one hopes that Mary Marie will lead to more fruitful collaboration between the pair in the future.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
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