Remote Access

with George

Tag: drama

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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A Little Help (2011)

**

This was one long and expensive heart checkup PDA.

Jenna Fischer, the wonderful Pam from The Office, plays Laura, a woman in a dying marriage. Her husband is played by whoever and does whatever. It doesn’t matter because he dies of a heart attack rather soon after the film starts. (The circumstances, by the way, surrounding the death? Gimme a break.) Laura is left alone to deal with a son who tells lies (such as “my father died saving people during 9|11”) and a family which wants to control her life in every way. Laura’s family felt very real, each member having their own ticks and levels of harshness… except for Paul, her sister’s husband, who is played by Ron Benedict.

Paul, after noticing she’s been having difficulties lately because of a lawsuit her sister wants to pursue, drops a bombshell love secret admission on Laura. It was really bad. I didn’t buy Paul and Laura at all.

The movie tries to mix dramatic and comedic moments in the same scene, but it doesn’t work. Fart jokes and serious talk about death don’t go well together. Some of the dramatic dialogue is flat, and occasionally not even believable. The drama caused by the lawsuit wasn’t compelling at all. In addition, the movie tried to focus on too many family members, ultimately spreading itself too thin.

Jenna Fischer has some chops, but A Little Help offers her no help. It robs us of a good moment by having Fischer permit her son to tell people his father was a 9|11 hero via keyboard, a decision I don’t really understand. This film didn’t really make me interested in any of it, aside from Jenna Fischer’s character. It had potential, but failed to really hold me, despite a pretty good performance from Fischer.

The movie keeps beating up on Laura, and I didn’t enjoy watching that. It started with little things, like Laura’s sister calling her insane for wanting to drop the lawsuit. But then it grew. The whole “Ginger the dog” sequence of events was somewhat pathetic. It felt like the movie was giving up, just repeating old mantas and hoping that it would work. But it didn’t. Neither Laura nor her son, the two involved in the scene, went anywhere.

And the discriminating viewer will see the 9|11 lie sitcomy gas-station fiasco stuff coming from a mile away, and they will hope it ends tastefully. I’m sorry to have to inform you that it doesn’t.

I felt sorry for Laura Pehlke, but there was nothing I could do. The film was afraid if it gave her an inch, she would take the whole film. That would have been an improvement.

Notes:

  • “The ex wants to take them to Pakistan”
  • “Nothing with like… ropes…”
  • “As I told you before, I was a little intoxicated”
  • I really like where the title of the film came from: Paul hitting tennis balls near Laura in high school.
  • I wanted that kid to continue explaining the hidden ball trick in baseball.
  • While I thought it was a rather bad film, I would rather watch A Little Help 100 more times than see the soon-to-be-reviewed Bleeding House just once more.
  • A Little Help is available now on Netflix Instant.
  • If you see A Little Help and are left wanting more, I suggest An Education and World’s Greatest Dad.
  • As of November 12, A Little Help is the 25th best/3rd worst film of 2011, in my humble opinion.
  • Coming soon: Talk of food and a top 10 list.

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.

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