Remote Access

with George

Category: 4 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.
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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

Trust (2011)

****

Annie is just your average girl. The movie doesn’t have to feed us examples of this, thanks to the performances (especially Liana Liberato as Annie and Clive Owen as Will, her father). She just turned 15, and she got a cool new laptop to go along with her cool new phone. She’s giving the life.

That is, until she meets a “boy” named Charlie online. At first, he tells her he’s 16, but that soon become 20, then 25… do you see where this is going? Charlie asks to meet Annie, and when they do, we discover what we’ve known all along: he’s at least 35. At first, Annie is shocked, and Charlie has to try his hardest to calm her down. The movie somehow maintains suspense during all of this, even though it is thoroughly predictable.

There are two scenes that take place within a car; one setting up a comparison drawn in the second. The first involves Annie buying a bra, and talking to her mother about it. It’s light and shows that Annie’s mother truly cares about her. The other is with Charlie, and it is just awful. I can’t count the number of times I said “ugh” to something Charlie did or said in this movie.

I should have explained: Annie goes to lunch with Charlie, then gets in his car. He takes her exactly where you think.

The hotel scene is very creepy. The room is tight and claustrophobic. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be a part of filming that. The film adds another layer of creepy by showing a videotape, obviously made by Charlie. (During the credits, they show another tape of his; he is with his family at a fair. I don’t want to call it great, because of the subject matter, but the film gets a lot of things right.) That’s when he violates her.

Trust is one of the most tragic films I have ever seen. Early on in the movie, a middle-aged business partner of Will’s hits on a 19-year-old waitress. (You can see where the film was going with that.) Annie saying “we’re in love” gave me such a chill. “I don’t want to lie to him,” she later says. She also repeated refers to Charlie as her boyfriend. The film has tragic quotes such as these sprinkled throughout. And Annie doesn’t know who she can trust. She just wants her blanket. She’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She’s seen a lot of betrayal. The house Annie’s family lives in has a security system, something referenced and shown numerous times just for the sad irony.

Meanwhile, Will becomes obsessed with killing “Charlie.” He goes as far as posing at a teenage girl online in order to find him. Owen plays it perfectly… walking the line between caring and crazy with his character.

“I had a dream… I found him… I could taste his blood. I woke up. I had bitten my own lip. It was my own blood.”

Will becomes self-destructive in his search for Charlie. He’s acquired so much anger and hate, it becomes a struggle for him to live his life. This movie hit me where it hurts.

Late in the movie, the plot gets stuck in replay, however. It explores things it has already explored. The movie just kept piling on unnecessarily. These people had to go through one thing after the other. Every little glimmer of hope was squashed by another misfortune. I’m glad that it ended on a hopeful note, though.

Trust is a tragically emotional film that is a must see. And even though it is beautiful, I’m not sure I’ll ever revisit it.

Notes:

  • Clive Owen bawling didn’t do much for me. The words were important and powerful, but the way he looked when he spoke them wasn’t.
  • Annie’s has a little sister, which the movie could have used better.
  • This movie doesn’t blame Annie for some of her clumsier actions. It’s like her parents; it loves and supports her.
  • Thanks to Roger Ebert for mentioning it on At the Movies. I would never have looked it up without it.
  • Speaking of which, you can find Trust on Netflix Instant.
  • If you see and find beauty in Trust, you might also want to check out Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Fearless.
  • Coming soon: the best films of the year so far.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

****

What? Two and a half hours just went by? No way.

Pulp Fiction is about a group of people who engage in illegal activities. You have Vincent, the drug-addicted hitman (John Travolta). His partner is Jules, an assassin who quotes the Bible (Samuel L. Jackson). Their boss is Marsellus Wallace, and he does not look like a bitch (Ving Rhames). Wallace hired a boxer to throw a match, but instead of losing, that guy kills his opponent (Bruce Willis).

These are good people. They have consciences. They’re trying to do what they believe the right thing is. When the right thing changes because the character has been enlightened, they do whatever the new right thing is. They live by a strict moral code. Are there bad guys in this movie?

When Wallace’s wife (Uma Thurman) overdoses, Vincent drives her to his dealer’s house, parks on his lawn, and stabs her in the heart with adrenalin. Jules thinks the people he kills deserve it, but when Vincent accidentally shoots their assistant in the head, he begins to rethink things. (This of course, leads to the greatest final half-hour of a film I may have ever seen.) Marsellus and the boxer put aside their bloody feud to mutilate some hypocritical racist rapists. These characters manage to be very likable. And their interactions feel very real.

Even though the film is told in episodes, it flows, thanks to a nonlinear narrative. The death of one of the characters not only puts a time on everything, but also shows us the consequences of the games these people play. I’m being vague so as not to give away any secrets, but… the reason only one character dies at that point is because another character had his reversal. And the shifting timeline helps keep that at the end. It’s genius.

This movie was crazy. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Notes:

  • “What’s a ***** gonna do? He’s Samoan.”
  • “He gave her a foot massage.”
  • “Nobody kills anybody at my place of business except me or Zed.”
  • “What now? Lemme tell you what now.”
  • “Zed’s dead, baby.”
  • “Aww man, I shot Marvin in the face!”
  • “I’m the one that buys it. I know how good it is!”
  • “Lotsa cream, lotsa sugar.”
  • “Clean up all those pieces of skull.”
  • “A please would be nice.”
  • “So you decided to be a bum?”
  • “I didn’t hear you?” “Yeah you did.”
  • “What’s Fonzie like?”
  • “Yolanda! Point the gun at me!”
  • If you see and enjoy Pulp Fiction, you should also check out Double Indemnity and Gaslight.
  • Next time: my combined review of Win Win and The Fighter.

Citizen Kane (1941)

****

Citizen Kane is the definition of visually striking. The way it transitions between scenes is something I’ve never seen before. The visual tricks are stupefying.

The shadows and smoky atmosphere of the early newsroom scene are wonderful. Shadows are used in other scenes to emphasize other parts of the shot. But the reporter is always in the dark. This world is not about the people who write the news, it’s about the people who are the news.

Citizen Kane is the story of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), who is sent away from his home at a very early age. He soon becomes a newspaper tycoon, and has more power than he knows what to do with. His story is told through various flashbacks.

This giant character starts off in his place. He’s just another character in another movie. But then he derails (oh, don’t worry, that’s a good thing). He’s bigger than the movie. He’s bigger than news. He’s bigger than his own giant palace (demonstrated clearly when he destroys part of it).

There are so many things to see in each scene. You can’t even check Twitter for two seconds to see who won what Emmy. The way the film tells the story through imagery is amazing. It shows time passing by showing a sled that has gathered snow. It shows how big and frightening Mr. Thatcher is to a young Kane by comparing him visually to a Christmas tree (I loved the mirrored sequence much later in the film, too). We see the Inquirer men reflected through the Chronicle window, and we see how the circulation of the papers differ. (The movie in general makes good use of windows and mirrors.) We see the campaign headquarters from the ground, where streamers are laying in piles of major disappointment. I would love to go on and on, which I will, when I do my “Required Viewing” on it.

The dialogue is often chaotic (again, in a good way), but the foreshadowing lines carry gravitas. There appears to be a lot of drama in the newspaper business. In the incredible breakfast time-lapse scene, we see that all Kane and his new wife talk about is the newspaper. During that two minute-long scene, we see Kane go from good-humored to bitter.

His looks evolve as he becomes more and more obsessed with power, and it’s not just regular aging. There’s something more there. He doesn’t become more evil with age, just grumpier. The younger Kane uses media to fight corruption and help the average person. He’s very humble. The older Kane jumps outside of the media business altogether, seeking power elsewhere.

I never cease to be amazed by the power and beauty of cinema. I had heard how wonderful Citizen Kane was. Words can’t really describe the awe I felt while watching it. It is truly unique. Before I saw this, I wasn’t able to pick just one best picture of all time. And now I am. You must see this movie.

Notes:

  • “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a good man.”
  • “Don’t tell me you’re sorry.”
  • The second Mrs. Kane is overwhelmed.
  • I would like to mention the giant palace once again.
  • Citizen Kane is being re-released now in a 70th Anniversary version.
  • If you see and enjoy Citizen Kane, you might also enjoy Gone with the Wind and The Social Network.
  • Next time: my review of Moneyball

Double Indemnity (1944)

****

The screen is dark. A man, that we can barely see, is covering himself with his jacket. The music is mysterious. It makes us curious.

Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray as Neff (an insurance salesman) and Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson (a mysterious client Neff takes a liking to), is a narrative set in Los Angeles, much like the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. Both were made by the legend himself, Billy Wilder. The crazy back-and-forth between MacMurray and Stanwyck in their first scene together is aided by their chemistry (an idea, by the way, I don’t believe in while talking about basketball, but its existence here is irrefutable). Only a few scenes later, they’re kissing in his apartment.

Mrs. Dietrichson and Mr. Neff come up with a plot to kill Mr. Dietrichson and collect the insurance money. And then they follow through on it. The scene in which the Dietrichsons leave the house, not giving too much away, is very dark, just like the opening shot. After the deed is done, the getaway car doesn’t start for awhile. Neff panics. Dietrichson panics. I paniced along with them.

I really enjoyed these characters. Edward G. Robinson was right when he said, in the middle of the movie, that all these insurance claims have a story, a “drama.” This “accident” has an impact on everyone of them, but in different ways. Neff is portrayed incredibly well during the narration. His whole face is sweaty, he breathes heavily, and he’s shaking a little (I don’t think all of that was from the bullet). Phyllis is cool, but somehow passionate all the same, and I would never trust her entirely. If Neff had a choice, he shouldn’t have either.

The movie is genius. I can’t say more than that. The performances are so nuanced that there wasn’t a character I didn’t like. They were all deserving of my sympathy. The shots themselves are noir (French for black, if you didn’t know) and moody. And the humor has a bitter aftertaste that only Billy Wilder can pull off.

(Double Indemnity is available now on Netflix Instant. If you see and enjoy it, you might also want to check out Sunset Boulevard and Casablanca.)

Stray notes:

  • “Now get out of here before I throw my desk at you.” “I love you too.”
  • “We gotta have some of that pink wine that goes with it. The kind that bubbles.”
  • “What was his name?” “Jackson, probably still is.”