I ORIGINS (2014)

July 19, 2014

i origins Greetings again from the darkness. The evening I saw this one, I tweeted “Mike Cahill is one of today’s most intriguing filmmakers“. After a few days to think about it, that belief remains so. A double feature of this and his previous film Another Earth could keep the conversation flowing for days and weeks.

Evolution vs Spirituality is the main theme here. Miohael Pitt plays molecular biologist Ian Gray, who is working diligently to prove that the evolution of the eye is the scientific proof debunking creationism and spirituality. Ian’s petri dish view of life is challenged when he meets free-spirited Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). This takes “opposites attract” to a whole new level … in fact, opposites actually detract … from the story and tone. While Sofi causes cracks in Ian’s convictions, their ultimate split is actually a turning point for the film. The second half is extremely entertaining and thought-provoking.

Leaping ahead a few years, we find Ian married to his previous lab assistant Karen (a terrific Brit Marling). These two have an intriguing bond, and the birth of their first child sends the two scientists back into research mode … including some globe trotting. Retina scanning technology plays a huge role here, and leads Ian to India where he searches for proof of this new theory.

This existential trip has an inordinate number of coincidences, lucky breaks, and philosophical discussions … not to mention a rainbow range of eye glass styles for Pitt and Marling. If you enjoy films that generate post-viewing discussions, Mr. Cahil is proving himself as the go-to filmmaker. Whether you fall on the side of science or spirituality, or somewhere in-between, this film seeks to prove the eyes have it.

watch the trailer:

 

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THE EAST (2013)

July 1, 2013

east1 Greetings again from the darkness. Co-writer and director Zal Batmanglij re-teams with his Sound of My Voice co-writer and actress Brit Marling (Another Earth) to deliver another cult-based story. This time they focus on big, bad corporations and the eco-terrorists who target them.

Ms. Marling’s character is hired by Patricia Clarkson’s Security Company that specializes in protecting big corporations from the terrorist attacks and acts of revenge that these cults of anarchists perpetuate. Marling goes undercover to learn the secrets of The East, one of the particularly aggressive cult-like groups. The leader of The East is played by Alexander Skarsgard, who works with an overly-zealous and bitter Ellen Page and former med student Toby Kebbell.

east3 Are these idealists, anarchists, eco-activists or eco-terrorists? Is their “eye for an eye” philosophy a form of retribution or is it meant to draw attention so that a wrong can be righted? Are there extremes to which they won’t go? This group doesn’t seem united in their answers to these questions, though their deep woods hangout draws comparisons to Charles Manson’s compound.

As Marling becomes part of the group, she participates in the “jams”, which are the actual strikes against the companies and the decision makers in charge. Specifically, they give a pharmaceutical giant a taste of their own medicine … getting the desired results, which they watch online. Of course, there is always the risk of prison and/or injury and things don’t always go according to plan.

east4 The cast is pretty talented and also includes Jason Ritter, Shiloh Fernandez and Julia Ormond. The story will remind a bit of Sound of My Voice, and also Martha Marcy May Marlene. In other words, the attraction of the cult and commitment to cause. The set-up to the story is very well done, and it’s no real surprise as opposing ideals and conflicts creep into a group of idealists. Is violence necessary or are there more effective methods to make one’s protest heard and spur change? While the movie lacks the edge of the best indies, it still makes for good movie discussion … and crosses into real life beliefs and, personal and political stances.

**NOTE: Brit Marling is one of those rare combinations of Writer/Actress, and she is talented at both. She would be a wise choice as a prediction of future Oscar winner at some point … the only question is whether that will come as a writer or actress.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Sound of My Voice and/or Martha Marcy May Marlene OR you’re in the mood for a intriguing story during this time of blockbuster summer releases OR you just want to see Alexander Skarsgard in full scraggily mode

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you refuse to believe big corporations would never put profit above public well-being OR you’re looking for a few good laughs (not sure this one has even one)

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oPoTrnHQ3I


ARBITRAGE (2012)

September 16, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Most of us don’t tread in the world of corporate greed, deceit and fraud that defines the now four years ago financial crisis. Twenty five years ago Gordon Gekko in Wall Street put a face to corporate greed. Writer/Director Nicholas Jarecki now gives us Robert Miller, as portrayed by Richard Gere, for the face of Wall Street fraud … the step beyond greed that Bernie Madoff made famous. Toss in a Chappaquiddick-type tragedy and it’s abundantly clear that Robert Miller is no modern day icon to be worshipped.  He does share with Gekko an overinflated ego and sense of importance.

No matter how much we would prefer it to be otherwise, there is something to the charisma and emotional power of the few who seize control as politicians, CEO’s and cult leaders … all subjects of recent films. During this film, we never once doubt that Gere’s Miller is a scam artist with power. A slick huckster if you will.  He is not a good guy, despite his warm smile as he says all the right things to his family and close circle of advisors. We are sickened that he is able to fool so many, and at the same time hopeful that we can avoid becoming another of his victims. Yet, the reason this story is so familiar is that it rings so true.

Watching Miller’s house of cards slowly crumble is both fascinating and nerve-racking. We aren’t rooting for him, but we still get caught up in his web of subtle deceit. His demented sense of “responsibilities” guide him down the path of betrayal … a path that stomps on his all-knowing wife, his ultra-trusting daughter, his sensitive mistress, and a young guy just trying to get his life in order.  And this doesn’t even count the faceless list of investors clueless to the white collar criminal wreaking havoc on their personal finances.

The strong supporting cast is led by Susan Sarandon as the wife, Brit Marling (Another Earth) as the daughter, and Tim Roth as the crusty NY Detective trying to catch the big fish. However, this is Gere’s film and he delivers his best in years. Gere has made a habit of playing guys that always seem to have something brewing beneath the surface.  Here, he actually gets to explode in full arrogant glory.  It’s also great to see Stuart Margolin, who was so entertaining as Angel in “The Rockford Files” back in the 70’s. Another interesting casting choice has long time “Vanity Fair” editor Graydon Carter as the head of the financial institution looking to purchase Miller’s company.

Again, the individual pieces of the story are all quite familiar, but filmmaker Jarecki does a nice job of assembling the pieces in a manner that keep us engaged. It also works as an example of how the rules are different for the rich, and show how the worst of them even think they can, and should, get away with murder!

** NOTE: Richard Gere took over the lead after Al Pacino dropped out.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see Richard Gere as the face of Wall Street greed OR you always enjoy a slick corporate thriller that offers up a villain to throw popcorn at (if movie popcorn wasn’t so expensive)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer to avoid any more thought concerning the financial crisis and those who stuck it to us (and still are)

watch the trailer:


ANOTHER EARTH

July 26, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. An award winning film at Sundance, this one seems to carry the same polarizing effect that Tree of Life does. The reviews and comments have been discordant and contentious. After sitting through a Q&A with Mike Cahill (co-writer, director) and Brit Marling (co-writer, star) I feel confident they are taking great pride in the love/hate responses. Their film was designed to take you deep … make you think and self-analyze. This is not a fluffy Owen Wilson rom-com. Explaining what it is, well, that’s a challenge.

The story begins with Rhoda (Brit Marling) out for a night of partying. We learn she has been accepted to M.I.T. and that she is quite the space and astronomy lover. Her very poor decision to drive home after drinking results in a horrific accident that changes her life and that of a young family. At the same time, scientists discover “another Earth” has been hiding on the other side of the sun. Flash forward four years as Rhoda is released from prison.

 She is a broken spirit whose bright future has been dashed. She tracks down the man who survived the crash she caused and has every intention of apologizing. Instead, she cleans his house. She discovers John (William Mapother) has dropped out of society and found numbness in the bottle.

I won’t say more about the story because it is really is a joy to watch it unfold. What I will say is that I found the trailer to be somewhat misleading. This is not a sci-fi film per se. Sure the second earth brings about numerous questions concerning the “other” us. What would we say? How would we react? Have I done better there than here? But that is actually an underlying element to this story … always present in our thoughts and those of Rhoda. Instead, this film is a psychological drama. And a dark one at that.
And a good one.

 You will recognize William Mapother (The Grudge, “Lost”), who plays John. He has a regular guy look to him and stretches well from happiness to depression to, once again, showing a spark of life. Brit Marling is one you don’t know, but will soon enough. She is an amazing presence on screen and avoids the Hollywood acting crutches. She plays Rhoda as the damaged, confused creature she is in the story. Very well done.

A couple of other interesting notes include Kumar Pallana (The Royal Tenenbaums)as Purdeep. With minimal screen time, his character provides Rhoda with a lesson she needs. There is also a scene where John plays a saw as a musical instrument. The sound is amazing and the music is actually from Natalia Paruz, who is known as the “saw lady”. Other music in the film is outstanding and courtesy of Fall on Your Sword. Very unique, but a perfect fit for the film.

Keep an open mind and enjoy low-budget independent filmmaking at its finest.  The special effects are a minimum, but the drama is full force.  The ending is open to interpretation … these aren’t the type of filmmakers who spoon feed the viewers. I believe we will see much more from Mr. Cahill and Ms. Marling. 

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you not only wonder what it would be like to face yourself in a parallel universe, but also enjoy the pyschology that goes with trying to forgive one’s self

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a hard core sci-fi exploration of Earth II and the complimentary personalities that are hinted at

Watch the trailer: