BLISS (2021)

February 5, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. We each have a vision of what our ideal world would look like. When we first meet Greg (Owen Wilson), he’s working on multiple sketches of his: a picturesque Mediterranean villa and a beautiful woman to share it with. Greg seems to be escaping from a world that isn’t so great. He’s recently divorced, estranged from his son, and evades his daughter’s attempt at reconciliation. He’s also taking some type of prescription drug that he’s clearly abused. On top of all that, Greg is supposed to be working his office job for a customer service company aptly named, “Technical Difficulties”. The phone bank of employees are trained to answer each call with, “I’m sorry”. At this early point, we aren’t certain if this is a parody of office life or the set up for something else. Our uncertainty remains even after Greg has a disastrous private meeting with his boss.

Things really get bizarre when Greg bolts from the office and into the local bar across the street. It’s here where he first encounters Isabel (Salma Hayek dressed like a witch), who introduces him to the idea that this world isn’t real. None of it … except him. She has created a computer simulation of life and there are two pills/crystals for escape (this should sound familiar to fans of THE MATRIX). The yellow one allows Greg and Isabel to bend the laws of physics, while the blue one jolts them to the world that magically matches Greg’s sketches. Like anyone with newly found superpowers, they head to the local roller rink, and take turns causing other skaters to fall until everyone else lay unconscious on the wooden floor. It’s at about this point where I’m fighting the urge to give up on the movie.

Writer-director Mike Cahill was behind two previous excellent movies that questioned our realties: ANOTHER EARTH (2011) and I ORIGINS (2014). However, this time out his approach is muddled and unstructured. It plays like a philosophical science fiction-romance, but we spend much of the movie trying to determine if the movie is too bizarre or not bizarre enough. A successful complex story will push us to buckle down and engage, but this one never allows us to connect with the characters, so we lose interest. It purposefully tries to trick us into choosing whether it’s a computer simulation, parallel universes, or making a statement on severe mental illness. We don’t have an answer until the end … which would be fine were the journey more enticing.

Asteroid mining, synthetic biology, and Isabel’s “Brain Box”, are given some credence thanks to cameos from Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Ms. Hayek and Mr. Wilson, both former Oscar nominees, have little chemistry between them, and the film’s best performance, albeit with limited screen time, comes from Nesta Cooper as Greg’s daughter. By the end, we realize this was a convoluted story line for what was really a pretty simple explanation, and somehow we feel a bit cheated with the whole thing.

Streaming on Amazon Prime beginning February 5, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


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:

 


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: