Remote Access

with George

Category: 3 1/2 Stars

Another Earth (2011) and Rabbit Hole (2010)

Today, we start a new chapter. New design, new content, new focus. I’ll explain it all later, but I thought I’d start this new era by reviewing one of my favorite films of all time.

Sometimes, I’ll be watching a film when I realize that I’ve been drawing comparisons to other films the entire time. This shouldn’t come as a shock to me; I know who I am and what my world/mind is made of. But, somehow, it always does. I love it when this happens, because I can spend days on comparisons like this. While I was watching Another Earth, I drew two comparisons, and I will explore one of them here.

The first was to Gattaca. Like Another Earth, it is a sci-fi film that has an extremely complex male-female relationship at its core. In Another Earth, a promising young astronomer-to-be named Rhoda (played brilliantly by Britta’s quasi-lesbian lover from Community, Brit Marling) drinks and drives after a party. She must deal with the consequences of this action (unlike Chelsea) when she kills the wife and kid of a composer named John (portrayed well by William Mapother). Gattaca’s plot is not even similar to Another Earth‘s until the end, despite various agreements in mood. I don’t want to spoil either film, but instead point out what an interesting pairing they make for because of this. In fact, if I had to see Another Earth back-to-back with another film, I would choose Gattaca immediately after…

Rabbit Hole. Rabbit Hole was a film I respected and really liked after my first viewing. Back in November, I had a chance to see it again, and this time, things were different. So many of the small, beautiful details had completely slipped my mind. After taking notes, I think I could go on at length about these details, and someday I hope I get the opportunity to. But a major part of Rabbit Hole was the rabbit hole theory; the idea that somewhere out there, in another dimension perhaps, you are happy… even if you aren’t happy right now. Those of you who have seen Another Earth are, for sure, nodding your heads, as you can see how it relates.

Nicole Kidman plays Becca, a woman whose son was run over by a car more than half a year before the film starts. She takes comfort in the idea of an alternate version of her, but that thought was not her own. It was brought to her attention by Jason (the young, talented Miles Teller), the boy whose car slain the child who wandered into the street. Going back the Another Earth, Rhoda and John both look for peace on Earth II, a near-replica of Earth I which finds itself within shuttle distance of their home planet.

Automobiles play subtle roles in both films, since both of their plots stem from car accidents. It’s incredible, now that I think about it, how similar the films are in terms of plot. Maybe I’m a sucker for this type of movie, but I doubt that’s the only reason I fell for both of these pictures.

Another Earth is, at its most basic level, a collection of images that Rhoda seals in her memory forever. Given complexity, it is a living and breathing museum through the life of a person who has no life. Rhoda herself is curating, and once the seal on this memory container is broken, there’s no going back. I wasn’t attracted to this story at first, but Brit Marling really drew me in with her stellar, nuanced performance as this troubled young adult. Additionally, the relationship between Rhoda and John is one of the most natural onscreen relationships in recent memory. Not a single moment in forced.

The voiceovers are the most annoying part of the film, but I only counted four of them, so they don’t breathe down your neck too often. In the early bits, you may feel it gets too art-house and too indie, but it redeems/earns these poetic pauses.

The performances of Kidman, Teller, Aaron Eckhart (Becca’s husband), and Dianne Weist (Becca’s mother) all bring emotional realism to Rabbit Hole, as well. Kidman’s performance, in particular, conveys a mixture of guilt, anger, and superiority that she doesn’t have to tell you about in order for you to understand. Each of her interactions with the other characters brings a new meaning to what we already know about her. It’s a brilliantly structured film, but how much would that matter if the players weren’t so perfectly in-tune with each other.

I’m scared I’ll write another seven paragraphs about Rabbit Hole here! Again, I appreciated the little things. I particularly enjoyed how all the characters called their support group simply “group,” allowing it to rule over them. The different, cold-light-of-day look of the kitchen at the end was a simple but effective touch. But the one thing, above all else, that makes Rabbit Hole work so well is its willingness to throw blame out the window. This isn’t a story about right and wrong. It’s the story of a family and what has to be done to maneuver life.

Additional notes, but no funny quotes:

  • Another Earth: ***½
  • The narration at the beginning of Another Earth reminded me of Beginners.
  • 1 hour and 10 minutes in: John’s smile is heartbreaking.
  • When Another Earth flashes back to the accident at that crucial time, it is simply brilliant.
  • I tried to explain the film to a friend, and I used the term “our Earth” while talking about Earth I, but do we really know that’s our Earth?
  • Another Earth has currently bumped Certified Copy from my list of best films of the year.
  • Rabbit Hole: ****
  • This Debbie character means a lot in the film, but we never see her. It was a nice touch.
  • This is the movie A Little Help wishes it were.

Attack the Block -2011- Hugo -2011-

I’m trying to fit all of my 2011 reviews in before the end of the year, so from now on, I’ll be doubling up on them. On the 8th, you can expect my reviews of Limitless and X-Men: First Class. Check back later for more (including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

My review of Attack the Block:

The film dazzled me from the start with its impressive editing. Some people might find it annoying that it cuts away from the monster a lot, but I thought it added to the action sequences. It also helps keep the pace fast. Technically, Attack the Block is very interesting. The fog scene in the 19th floor hallway disorients not only “Jerome” but us, as well. Its special effects are great for the budget it had. The decision to make the monsters pitch black (except for their mouths) was genius, as it made them more frightening and enigmatic.

Attack the Block employed some nice “call-backs.” A character claims he can jump a rail, and later he has to jump that rail or be eaten by the monster.

The characters are one of the strongest parts of this movie. Even though I didn’t commit their names to memory until the 45th minute, I cared for them throughout. It shows you their layers, their faults, and their development. Attack the Block is propelled by its characters more than anything else.

It bothered me a little that (and I’m stealing these words from the much more articulate Adam Kempenaar of Filmspotting) we got a triumphant ending, even after so many of these kids died, but I got a sense of community from all that cheering at the end. The community is initially divided, but this incident has brought them together, and I like that the film was able to express that without coming out and saying it.

My review of Hugo:

Imagine a film about the wonder of childhood. Imagine a film that’s a love-letter to cinema. Imagine a film that uses 3D better than any film ever has. Now combine those three films and fill it with great performances and production values. You guessed it… the movie we are talking about is Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo.

I don’t want to spoil the movie’s main reveal, so I won’t! Instead, I’ll talk about how great it is in vague terms! Going into Hugo, I was worried by the fact that its poster had a giant key in it. “Oh great,” I said. “More obvious symbolism.” Hugo is like a machine: many parts work well together and make it a success. The key, fortunately, played a surprisingly part in the film.

Instead of focusing on cold objects, it focused on warm humans. Hugo is incredibly mature for what’s been dubbed a “children’s film.” I suggest every human being, especially those with a penchant for cinema, see it.

It’s certainly too early to tell, but I would be neither shocked nor outraged should Scorsese take home an Oscar for Best Director next spring.

  • Ratings: 3.5/4 for Attack the Block and 4/4 for Hugo

Terri (2011)

***½

I immediately felt for Terri. The movie makes you feel for him from the very first shot. We find him, to put it bluntly, overflowing from a bath tub. He is huge. Soon after, we learn how much he has to deal with at home and at school. I’d say that the character doesn’t evolve, over the course of the movie, into a better person. The assistant principal of his high school thinks he’s good-hearted from the beginning, and I agree. Terri shows a boy acting with his good heart, and it hopes it may make you do the same.

Terri is a 15-year-old who could pass for a 25-year-old, if only because he is obese. He has no friends, at least none that we see or hear about. His parents are gone (I’ll get to this in a bit). Lately, he has taken joy in setting traps for mice in his backyard (I’ll get to this in a bit). He is constantly late for school, and his grades are dropping. The aforementioned assistant principal, a man named Mr. Fitzgerald played by John C. Reilly, begins worrying about him, and soon develops a bond with him.

After going under Mr. Fitzgerald’s wing, Terri finds friends. Two of them, to be exact. There is Chad, a “screw-up” who likes to pull out his own hair, and then there is Heather, who gets ridiculed after “Dirty Jack” touches her inappropriately during class (the class laughs at the couple, but Terri doesn’t… he knows what that’s like).

The acting in Terri is rather good. The moments between Terri and Fitzgerald are rich and authentic. Creed Bratton, known for his outrageous yet wonderful work on The Office, turns in a great, understated performance as Terri’s senile uncle, with whom Terri lives. Reilly, who has had a busy year, anchors this movie like few others could have. Reilly really is one of the best actors going right now. Jacob Wysocki does a pretty job as the title character, although I think his performance has been overrated by some critics.

Terri sneaks up on you. It’s very understated while being very powerful. The bad guy in Terri is society. It’s you. And it’s me.

The sunglasses that Heather awkwardly puts on during class existed only to make Terri a hero. And early on, I actually wrote down: “If Heather falls for Terri, I’m going to be mad at this movie.” (I bought their interactions, but having the good guy get the girl seems very unlikely in this scenario.) Spoiler alert. She does. And then the film takes a rather dark detour. The “dark detour” does allow for Terri to have a good guy moment without the help of Reilly/Fitzgerald, which I am thankful for. We are rewarded with a sobbing Terri refusing to take advantage of a near-unconscious Heather. Terri isn’t without his flaws (dead mice, peer pressure), as Terri isn’t without its flaws, either.

I like the way the film handles the fact that Terri’s parents left him (a fact, by the way, that I had completely forgotten about). It mentions it once and moves on.

Terri works on many levels. For example, he likes to feed dead mice to owls. Why? Because owls are beautiful and, to Terri, they seem pure. There are plenty of metaphoric owls (see: Dirty Jack, maybe even the new secretary) feeding on plenty of metaphoric mice (see: Terri, Heather, Chad, Fitzgerald, Ms. Hamish, etc.) in the world, but when Terri feeds the owl, he is in control, and he is doing a good thing for the owl.

Terri ends with Terri smiling. There are a lot of sad people out there, but Terri isn’t one of them.

“Why did you help me?” “Why not?”

This movie asks questions worth asking, which is why you should see it.

Notes:

  • Chad reminded me of the episode of Raising Hope in which we see Jimmy eating his own hair in flashbacks. Good stuff!
  • I love when a movie lingers in my brain because it was thought-provoking.
  • Don’t forget to vote in our 70s poll!
  • Terri is available now on Amazon Instant and iTunes.
  • If you see and enjoy Terri, you might also want to check out The Social Network and Taxi Driver.
  • As of November 8, Terri is the 3rd best film of 2011, in my opinion.
  • Coming soon: we finally get those 70s results, I talk about sex, and a “behind-the-scenes” here at The Movie Blog.

Guest Post: Attack the Block (2011)

This post is from Rohan Berry Crickmar, a very skilled writer who can be read at berryapercu.wordpress.com.

Dir:- Joe Cornish

Starr:- John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost

In amongst all the grandiose pronouncements that filmmakers tend to make it is rare to hear too much discussion of film as an entertainment, save amongst those individuals who are fronting up the marketing arms of the major Hollywoodstudios. Increasingly cinema is being treated as a box of pyrotechnic tricks, supposedly for the benefit of the hard-to-please modern teen (where do these demographics exist in reality?), or as a place in which a visual ‘artist’ can express themselves in all of their pompous, self-righteous and utterly incoherent glory, to the sound of cash registers remaining firmly shut. When your average multiplex choice boils down to an utterly unnecessary Fright Night remake, the latest Piranhas-derivative Shark Night (in 3D, of course), or a trawl through the vacuous portentousness of Lars Von Trier’s rectum (aka Melancholia), then what hope is there for the continuance of cinema as a viable medium of entertainment in the 21st century?

For any British filmgoer the moribund state of the domestic industry has long ago adjusted local tastes to the staple diets of Hollywood populism (the cinematic equivalent of fast-food) and the Eurocentric concerns of ‘Art’ cinema (something like as appetising and filling as nouvelle cuisine, all presentation but little substance). The British film industry is nothing more than a Yeti, infrequently mentioned (and occasionally sighted) by the clearly mentally deranged, thus endowing it with a certain mythic status, that not even the likes of Carol Reed, Michael Powell, David Lean and Mike Leigh can wholly justify. For the best part of a decade British film has plundered the literary corpus of one J.K. Rowling for the glorious riches her young wizard doth bestow, papering over the fact that most of the money was stumped up by American/Japanese investment concerns and Hollywood studios. Now that Harry is dead and gone, where is the money to be had and where, oh where, is the entertainment to be found?

Step forward Joe Cornish, forty-something comedian, performer and writer, who formed one half of the Adam & Joe Show. It is not hyperbole to suggest that Cornish is the saviour-hero of British film, not to mention the very idea of entertaining and inventive horror. Taking a little from the likes of John Sayles and Sam Raimi, Cornish has crafted a fantastically inventive horror-comedy, that devotes equal attention to both those elements and frequently confounds what can be expected of a British film on a shoestring budget. Back in his Adam & Joe heyday at the end of the nineties, Cornish frequently exhibited a geekish interest in science fiction and horror cinema, akin to peers such as Simon Pegg and Mark Gatiss. Now with his feature directorial debut much of that obsessive knowledge of the mechanics of genre cinema, in particular the way in which editing processes help to inform and give shape to both the comic and the horrific, is put to good use.

Attack the Block is a horror-comedy set on a South London council estate, which is all angular walkways, grim tower blocks and graffiti emblazoned lock-ups. At the centre of the plot are the residents of one particular block on the estate, mainly a group of hoodied multiracial teens, as well as their various broken families, a young recently qualified nurse, a nature-loving drug-dealer and a posh student pot-head. The movie opens with the gang, lead by Moses (an exceptional performance from newcomer John Boyega), attempting to mug the young nurse, played by Jodie Whittaker. As the kids intimidate her possessions from her an object falls out of the sky and crashes through a nearby parked car. In the mayhem the nurse manages to escape, whilst the arrogantly bold and territorial teenagers investigate the cause of the ruckus. It turns out that some creature has crash-landed on earth and the teenagers quickly decide to hunt the thing down and dish out their own punishment. Returning to the ‘Block’ the teens want to show their curious find to the local drug-dealer (played by Nick Frost), as well as hoping to impressive the local gang muscle Hi-Hatz (played by Jumayn Hunter). However, things quickly go awry when more of the creatures begin to show up, bigger, stronger and far more interested in getting revenge.

It seems appropriate that a cheeky character like Pest (an endearing turn by Alex Esmail) at one point tells Jodie Whittaker’s nurse “You’d be better off calling the Ghostbusters luv”, as Attack the Block has much of the same gleeful and exuberant comic energy about it. The fact that the glow-in-the-dark creatures are so obviously cheaply realised, just adds a little of the charm of wonderfully daft 80’s creature-features like Gremlins, or Alligator, to proceedings. The minimalism of both time and setting (one tower block, on one night) harks back to John Carpenter in his pomp, with much of the action playing out like a ‘knowing’ variant on the classic Assault on Precinct 13. The social satire that buoys much of the comedy throughout the movie has a bit of the sharpness and wit of John Sayles’ The Brother From Another Planet and despite some initially lazy ‘stereotyping’, does a good job of subverting those stereotypes (particular Treadaway’s posh student wigga and Esmail’s gobby, wisecracker).

What is most remarkable about this movie is the way in which it seamlessly navigates between the comic and the horrific. Having just been overrun by great big hulking alien monsters, the gang manage to repel them, killing one, and the first thing that one of the characters thinks of is that the alien is “blacker than my cousin Femi”. Cornish has been savvy enough to use the opening of the film to establish the streetwise credentials of this group of would-be hoods and this pays off with a degree of authenticity in the dialogue, that other films of a similar ilk (Shaun of the Dead, for example) wouldn’t have been able to mine. To accentuate just how much Cornish achieves here, he actually manages to make the cartoonish shenanigans of his gang of youths far more plausible than Menhaj Huda’s ponderously po-faced ‘keeping it real’ Kidulthood.

In another sequence toward the climax of the movie, Cornish resorts to a bit of claustrophobic and disorienting fog-machine usage to maximise both the tension and the horror of the moment. It is this technical ingenuity in the staging of scenes that makes the whole film seem far more slickly produced than its humble budget would otherwise indicate. It serves as an indicator of what a little ambition, imagination and a good script can achieve, with or without Hollywood. Ultimately this isn’t a movie that is attempting to dissect the social inequalities of inner-city England, but is rather a highly enjoyable and entertaining film, that doesn’t hold back on the gore, or the sick humour. Oddly enough that makes it a far more appealing movie for the diversionary pleasures of the cinema and for that alone it is well worth going along to see.

Rating:- ***1/2

Notes:-

  • Amongst the many priceless nuggets of diaogue, Nick Frost’s summation of the alien as something that “smells like a shit that did a shit”, and Pest’s exclamation that “It’s raining golems”, are truly magnificent.
  • The kitting up sequence is exquisitely rendered, with Pest once again proving fantastic in the way he hoodwinks a baseball bat past his grandmother.
  • Despite being a fun and enjoyable movie, this isn’t for the faint-hearted and might be a bit strong for young children.
  • The movie got a bit of free publicity on its UK release as the London riots were still newsworthy, making the feature seem slightly prophetic in its depiction of alienated, but tight-knit inner-city communities.
  • If you like this you might also want to watch The Brother From Another Planet, Gremlins or Four Lions.
  • Coming soon: reviews from The Movie Blogger (George/the person who runs this blog) on Red State and A Little Help, plus the results of our 70s vote. Stay tuned!

Moonstruck (1987)

***½

Wait… Nicolas Cage can act?

I did not enjoy Being John Malkovich (you can read all about that here). It tried some things and it failed at most of those things. I kept waiting for it to recover, but it never did.

(Okay… movie reviewing 101: If someone plants a different movie title in the beginning of a review, he/she/it is planning on relating the movie they are reviewing back to that film later, hopefully leaving you in awe.)

Let me sum up Moonstruck for you: Cher (character name Loretta) is in a restaurant. She gets proposed to by Danny Aiello (Johnny). They get engaged, but he leaves to tend to his dying mother in Italia. Loretta/Cher is tasked with asking Johnny/Aiello’s brother, Nicolas Cage‘s Ronny, to attend their wedding. You guessed it. Loretta and Ronny fall in love.

I completely bought Loretta and Ronny. The scene they have together in his apartment is so predictable, but in a sweet, funny, and comfortable way. And it was interesting how Johnny left before we got to know him too well. We end up liking Ronny more that way.

Being John Malkovich doesn’t really get character interactions right. John Malkovich is very funny with everybody, but the rest of the characters feel like they’re holding something back. It made me very uneasy. Moonstruck, on the other hand, is light and happy.

Moonstruck makes the darker comedy funny. Being John Malkovich makes it seem like the writers were on drugs while they wrote it. And not happy drugs. Bad drugs. Shoot yourself in the face drugs. It’s not that I only like happy movies, but Moonstruck has this joyful attitude, even in the face of adversity.

Notes:

  • “I don’t believe in curses.” “Neither do I.”
  • “That was so awful!” “Awful?” “Beautiful.”
  • “I don’t care if you burn in hell… I love you.”
  • “How much?” “Twenty-five.” “Dollars?!?!”
  • “A miracle? Well that’s news!”
  • “She ate a meal that could choke a pig.”
  • “I’ll say no more.” “You haven’t said anything!” “I know. And that’s the point.”
  • “We never suspected you!”
  • “Do you love him, Loretta?” “Ma, I love him awful.” “Ah, that’s too bad.”
  • “What’s the matter, Pa?” “I’m confused.”
  • I really liked the Cappomaggis.
  • At the end of the movie, all the characters and storylines converged at once at the breakfast table. At first, it felt a little forced and convenient, but then the humor began, and I really enjoyed it.
  • If you see and enjoy Moonstruck, you might also want to check out Bringing Up Baby and Up.
  • Next time: another 70s poll!

Moneyball (2011)

***½

I really like baseball. And I put a lot of stock in statistics in sports. So going into Moneyball, I was afraid of being let down by an overly dramatic film. I wasn’t let down by an overly dramatic film. I wasn’t let down at all.

The dialogue is a lot less sharp in Moneyball than in The Social Network, the other recent Aaron Sorkin creation. That’s because the people in baseball, like the game itself, are a lot more relaxed than the people in the technological world that Mark Zuckerberg inhabits. That doesn’t mean, however, that Moneyball isn’t compelling and it doesn’t flow.

Moneyball (no italics) is an idea… a game within a game, if you will. It’s about getting value. An $8M player may be way better than a $500K player, but would you rather be paying a great player $8M for great production or three good players $1.5M combined for almost the same production? That’s only one of the many questions posed to Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) by Johnny-come-lately stat-geek Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). They battle not only other teams, but also the old school way of thinking in baseball. Oh, also, Beane has a daughter that sings.

Almost all these characters have great emotional moments. Brad Pitt, or rather Billy Beane, has numerous natural moments with his daughter (Kerris Dorsey). The character interactions were especially believable. I loved how Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s manager got under the skin of Billy Beane, although Hoffman had nothing to do in this film. Jonah Hill was surprisingly good, though.

But why is Billy Beane divorced? The movie never touches that subject. Instead, it opts to show him throwing things and driving his car in circles on a dock. We get it. He’s frustrated. But the movie should have given us more emotion early on, instead of putting it all at the very end.

Adam Kempenaar of Filmspotting said in his review that he wanted the movie to give him “one big scene,” a scene like the chariot scene in Ben-Hur. I agree. I wasn’t fully invested in the “big game,” and what would have been the climax in any other movie was not that here (the playoff mini-scene). The movie brought me to this point, and I get that a loss is a loss, but I had hoped for something big.

The end of the movie was beautiful, though. It was fittingly intimate and small. I won’t give it away, but I will urge you to go see this movie, even if you aren’t a baseball fan.

Notes:

  • I know how simple and somewhat thought-less this is going to sound, but I’ll say it anyway: it had pretty colors.
  • No funny quotes this time because I saw it in a theater.
  • Brad Pitt was very good, but not as great as he was in The Tree of Life.
  • Moneyball is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.
  • If you see and enjoy Moneyball, you might also want to check out Man on Wire and The Band That Wouldn’t Die.
  • Coming up: more 1970s talk and my reviews of The Fighter, Moonstruck, and Pulp Fiction.