Another Earth

Another Earth

Brit Marling checks out a different point of view.

(2011) Science Fiction (Fox Searchlight) Brit Marling, William Mapother, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor, Flint Beverage, Diane Ciesla, Bruce Winant, Natalie Carter, Meggan Lennon, AJ Diana, Kumar Pallana, Ana Kayne, Matthew-Lee Erlbach. Directed by Mike Cahill

From time to time, we all do something wrong – either through our actions or inaction, we cause others pain and/or suffering. It is our human nature to want to make amends. However sometimes the things we do are so unforgivable that no amends are possible.

Rhoda Williams (Marling), a high school senior at West Haven High School in New Haven, Connecticut has just been accepted to MIT in the field of astrophysics. She goes out with friends to celebrate and winds up celebrating a bit too much, getting herself well and truly hammered. While driving home, she hears  a news report about the discovery of a new Earth-like planet visible in the night sky. As she cranes her head to take a look, she runs a stop sign and her car slams into another car, putting its driver into a coma and killing his pregnant wife and son instantly. Rhoda is sentenced to prison although because she’s a minor, her name is never released.

Flash-forward four years. A guilt-wracked Rhoda has just been released from prison. Even though she qualifies for better positions, she takes  a job as a janitor at her old high school. The new Earth is large in the night sky now, visible as a beautiful blue moon. It is coming closer and will soon be close enough for a manned mission to be possible. An Australian entrepreneur comes up with  the scheme to fly civilians to the new world and launches an essay contest for worthy participants in this adventure. Rhoda, still fascinated by other worlds, decides impulsively to enter.

Her crime gnaws at her however and eventually she makes her way to the home of the surviving victim who came out of his coma while she was in jail. John Burroughs (Mapother) was a noted composer before the accident; now he mostly is a hermit, uncaring and uncared for. She wants to apologize but is unable to bring herself to do it. Instead, she offers him a free trial housecleaning. After some reluctance, John accepts.

A one day free trial turns into a weekly housecleaning. A relationship begins to form. John begins to awaken from his life coma. Boundaries are crossed. And in the sky another Earth, an exact duplicate to this one inhabited by doppelgangers of the inhabitants of this Earth, becomes large and majestic, a serene, unblinking witness to events on our world.

This was an independent movie that became quite a sensation at this year’s Sundance, prompting a bidding war among distributors. It’s easy to see why. While ostensibly science fiction, this is actually more of a drama about atonement and moving on. However, it can easily also be interpreted about having several other themes, from rebirth to individual uniqueness to personal growth. Pick one; pick ’em all. You won’t be wrong.

The movie is underlit for the most part and sometimes grainy, with a lot of it being shot in the handheld style rather than on a tripod. This gives it a sort of kinetic energy while lending it an almost intimate “home movie” feel. For my own personal taste, a little of that is more effective and too much comes off as pretentious and too self-aware. Fortunately, the filmmakers don’t quite achieve those undesirable qualities.

Mapother is a respected character actor whose face you’ll probably recognize before the name (he is perhaps best known for his recurring character Ethan Rom on the much-missed TV show “Lost”). Here he is the romantic lead, a role that is certainly not one associated with him (even if he is Tom Cruise’s cousin and shares the same amazing smile) in his career to date. He is professorial here – a good thing since his character is a teacher – and vulnerable, obviously marinating in pain. As hope begins as an ember within him, we witness a bit of a transformation – subtle but undeniable.

Marling, who co-wrote the script and also garnered a production credit here has a far more difficult role in many ways and doesn’t quite hit all the right notes, but enough of them to make it a compelling performance. Her Rhoda is drowning in guilt, reaching out for the life preserver of forgiveness and instead finding herself holding on to the anchor of penance. Rhoda is brilliant but as young people are wont to do, makes some egregious mistakes. She becomes obsessed with the consequences of her accident and that obsession leads her to doing things I don’t think most of us would ever consider doing.

There are some beautiful shots of big blue planet Earth 2 hanging in the sky, growing gradually bigger as the movie goes on until it is a presence in the sky bigger than the moon. I like that the movie presented scientific debate on the nature of Earth 2 and asked a number of philosophical questions about the nature of our existence and how it would change if we knew there were doubles of ourselves running around somewhere.

Don’t trouble yourself overly much with questions about the science – asking what the presence of a planet the size of our own in such close proximity would do to our own world (one suspects the tidal forces of the gravity between the two planets would eventually tear both planets apart) or where this previously unknown world came from is not what this movie is all about. Rather, it is about questioning ourselves. Could we ask forgiveness? Could we forgive? Are we truly unique? All questions worth asking.

The final shot is ambiguous enough to remind you that a good filmmaker doesn’t answer your questions; they just inspire you to ask them in the first place. While I might have appreciated a little bit tighter on the editing (shots of Rhoda wringing her hands and looking soulful are only necessary once for a brief moment of time to indicate her anguish), this is nonetheless a very strong effort and indicates to me that we’ll be hearing much more in the future from Cahill, Marling and Mapother.

REASONS TO GO: The story can be interpreted in a whole lot of different ways. Mapother does a great job here.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally submits to “Look, Ma, I’m directing” syndrome. Also has moments of pretentiousness.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of foul language, a little bit of nudity, some drug use and a somewhat disturbing accident sequence..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cahill used his own childhood home in New Haven, Connecticut to double as the Williams home; Rhoda’s bedroom was actually his own.

HOME OR THEATER: While this is out in limited release, some of the vistas of the new planet are spectacular and worth seeing on a big screen.


TOMORROW: Big Momma’s House


New Releases for the Week of August 12, 2011

August 12, 2011


(New Line) Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escapreta, David Koechner, Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance, P.J. Byrne, Ellen Wroe. Directed by Steven Quale

When a suspension bridge collapses, several young people are saved from certain doom by the premonition one young man has about the impending disaster. The survivors are then picked off one by one in various elaborate and gruesome ways. Note to self: this summary can be used for any Final Destination movie past present or future, substituting only the specific disasters; speedway crash, bus crash, roller coaster crash, airplane explosion. See how easy a preview summary can be?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for strong violence/gruesome accidents, and some language)

30 Minutes or Less

(Columbia) Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Michael Pena. The follow-up from the director of Zombieland concerns a couple of bumbling criminals who concoct a crazy scheme to get others to rob banks for them. They simply strap a bomb to their chest and tell them they have 30 minutes to rob a bank or they’ll get blowed up real good. They choose a hapless stoner of a pizza delivery guy as their pigeon, but things go way out of control from there.

See the trailers, interviews, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence)

Another Earth

(Fox Searchlight) Brit Marling, William Mapother, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor. The lives of an aspiring astrophysicist and a brilliant composer are linked by a terrible tragedy on the eve of the most amazing discovery in the history of the planet. A duplicate Earth has been discovered and the lives of these two people – and everyone else on the planet – are about to be irrevocably changed.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, some sexuality, nudity and brief drug use)

Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

(Sony Classics) Common, Ludacris, Q-Tip, Mos Def. One of the most acclaimed and influential hip hop groups ever was A Tribe Called Quest. Although their members have gone on to other careers and the group broke up far too soon in the minds of some, their music remains a testament to how innovative and cutting edge rap can be. This Michael Rappaport-directed documentary goes backstage with the band and explores the drama that surrounded them (and eventually broke them apart) as well as the creative process behind some of the greatest hip hop songs ever.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: R (for language)

The Devil’s Double

(Lionsgate) Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Philip Quast. A simple soldier is chosen to be the body double for the notorious son of Saddam Hussein, the Black Prince Uday Hussein. Forced into this service in order to keep his family safe, the young soldier is thrust into a glamorous world of drugs, sex and brutality as he is witness to the depravity of a modern-day monster.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and torture, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language)

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie

(20th Century Fox) Lea Michele, Corey Monteith, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley. Gleeks everywhere are getting an emotional chubby knowing that their time is finally here. The hit television show has spawned a multi-city tour which has been in turn made into a 3D concert movie. You can be there, right onstage as the kids from “Glee” belt out vapid covers of songs from the last 30 years. I’m not sure which would be worse torture, this or the Justin Bieber concert movie. It’s a toss-up.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG (for some rude and suggestive humor, and language)

The Help

(Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer. When a young journalist fresh out of college decides to write a feature on the lives of the household servants in Jackson, Mississippi in the mid-1960s she puts all of them at grave risk. Based on a best-selling novel, the story unfolds into an unlikely but deep abiding friendship that shows how the power of the truth can cause changes in even the most entrenched behavior (Opening Wednesday August 10).

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material)

Four-Warned: July 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.


3. SARAH’S KEY (1.9)
4. RAPT (2.0)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JULY 1, 2011

CRIME AFTER CRIME (OWN Documentary Club) Genre: Documentary. The story of Debbie Paigler, a woman who murdered her abusive boyfriend and was railroaded by the legal system – and of the two decade long fight to set her free. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles July 8). RATING: 2.8 Sounds like it could be compelling but trailer didn’t impress.
DELHI BELLY (UTV) Genre: Crime Comedy. A trio of flat mates get in trouble with a vicious crime boss…with comic results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Bollywood is beginning to invade mainstream cinemas about which I couldn’t be happier – although this one didn’t really float my boat based on the trailer.
LARRY CROWNE (Universal) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A recently unemployed man goes back to college to improve his employment chances only to fall for the charms of the teacher. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts? Say no more!
LOVE ETC. (Paladin) Genre: Documentary. Love in all its forms shown during the course of a New York City day. Release Strategy: New York City and Los Angeles. RATING: 3.4 The concept doesn’t excite me much; seems a bit talky and over-analytical.
MONTE CARLO (20th Century Fox) Genre: Preteen Romantic Comedy. A trio of recent high school graduates on tour in Europe gets mistaken for a rich bad girl, changing their vacation – and their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Eccch…
THE PERFECT HOST (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. A bank robber masquerades as a guest at a dinner party, unaware that the host has some secret of his own. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 David Hyde Pierce is ideally cast.
SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS (Monterey Media) Genre: Thriller. A cop haunted by his past investigates a small town’s first murder in decades, only to discover his past catching up with him – and entwining with his investigation. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 The trailer looked interesting but not compelling.
TERRI (ATO) Genre: Dramedy. A husky teenage misfit is taken under the wing of a well-meaning but often overly talkative principal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Missed it at the Florida Film Festival, but John C. Reilly stars so it’s gotta be at least half-decent.

JULY 6, 2011

RAPT (Lorber) Genre: Thriller. When a French industrialist is kidnapped, ugly details of his sordid affairs come out, making his family wonder whether the ransom should be paid. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 A very taut-looking suspense film from the trailer.
SEPTIEN (IFC) Genre: Mystery. After an 18-year-disappearance, a former football hero returns to his rural home to find that things have changed – and are not so different either. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 Looks a bit Southern gothic – in a good way.

JULY 8, 2011

BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Sony Classics) Genre: Musical Documentary. A documentary that follows one of the most innovative bands in hip-hop from their beginnings until now, more than a decade after their highly publicized break-up. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 I’m just not a rap guy.
THE CHAMELEON (Cinema Epoch) Genre: Thriller. The return of a kidnapped boy to his home brings more questions than answers and opens up a deeper mystery. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A great cast (including Ellen Barkin) and the extra added attraction of a true story.
FADING OF THE CRIES (Eammon) Genre: Fantasy. A young girl is chased by a hideous wizard who wants an ancient necklace. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Looks a little cheesy but I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies.
HORRIBLE BOSSES (New Line) Genre: Comedy. A group of much put-upon cubicle cowboys plot to rid themselves of their nemeses. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 This could be the water cooler comedy of the summer.
IRONCLAD (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Historical Action. King John attempts to retake complete control of England after signing the Magna Carta with one small group of rebels standing in his way. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks good, but Paul Giamatti in a medieval period piece? Not so sure about that one.
JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Horror. A young girl with no memory finds herself in a mental institution in the 60s being stalked by strange and terrifying visions. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Carpenter’s first feature film in more than a decade – reason enough to go see this one.
THE LEDGE (IFC) Genre: Suspense. A cuckolded Evangelical forces his wife’s lover out onto the edge of a high rise and forces him to choose between his love and his life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Great cast, terrific concept and a decent trailer.
PROJECT NIM (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Documentary. The attempts to train a chimpanzee in sign language back in the ‘70s are documented. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Missed this at the Florida Film Festival and is wishing I hadn’t.
ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH (Self-Released) Genre: Not Sure How to Classify This. The Bard’s classic play, set in modern New York City and told in Yiddish. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 4.0 Oy.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY (Strand) Genre: Fantasy. A French deconstruction of the classic fairy tale that spans several centuries. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Visually inventive and quite erotic judging on the trailer.
ZOOKEEPER (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. The animals of a zoo get together to help their zookeeper get the woman of his dreams when they find out he’s leaving the zoo because his profession gets in the way of getting women. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 Blowing hot and cold on this one – I like Kevin James but it does look a little cheesy.

JULY 15, 2011

GIRLFRIEND (Paradigm) Genre: Drama. A romantic triangle between a girl, her abusive ex and a young man with Down’s syndrome turns into a game of cat and mouse. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Looks dark and sweet all at once.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 (Warner Brothers) Genre: Fantasy. The franchise comes to a conclusion here. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 It all comes down to this.
LIFE, ABOVE ALL (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A young South African girl faces fear and suspicion when members of her family die mysteriously. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 The trailer for this didn’t shed a lot of light on the plot, which might be a good thing.
LUCKY (Phase 4) Genre: Comedy. The winner of the Iowa State Lotto is a serial killer. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.2 As Artie Johnson might have said, “Verrrrry interesting…”
SALVATION BOULEVARD (IFC) Genre: Comedy Thriller. When a devout follower of a corrupt televangelist witnesses a sinful act, he goes on the run and into a series of romantic entanglements. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Stunning cast, great premise and a nifty trailer make me eager to check this out.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Drama. Two pairs of women, separated by generations in China, struggle to maintain friendship in a world hostile to it. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 The latest from director Wayne Wang explores female friendship, a subject not often tackled by the movies.
TABLOID (Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. The 1977 “Case of the Manacled Mormon” is the subject of the latest by master documentarian Errol Morris. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 This one has it all – sex, scandal and comedy.
WINNIE THE POOH (Disney) Genre: Animated Feature. The creatures of the 100-Acre Wood set out to find Eeyore a tail. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Anyone who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh was never a child.

JULY 18, 2011

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (Giant Flick) Genre: Adventure. Sinbad must travel to dangerous distant lands to rescue the sultan’s daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 If it is as imaginative as the old Ray Harryhausen versions, this could be a winner.

JULY 20, 2011

THE WOMAN WITH THE 5 ELEPHANTS (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. A look at the foremost translator of Russian literature into German who survived both Stalinist and Nazi persecution. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 The trailer makes the film look awfully dry.

JULY 22, 2011

A LITTLE HELP (Freestyle) Genre: Drama. A woman whose husband dies suddenly is comforted and aided by her mother and sister – and finds herself being drawn to her sister’s husband. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Sounds a bit soap opera-esque on the surface but the trailer looked pretty interesting.
ANOTHER EARTH (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Science Fiction. The discovery of a duplicate Earth sends the lives of those on this Earth into a tizzy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Looks pretty good from the trailer.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (Paramount) Genre: Superhero. A 98-lb. weakling is turned into a super-soldier by a mysterious formula. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.1 Marvel’s movies have been nearly universally high quality.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Screen Gems) Genre: Comedy. Two friends decide to add sex to their mix, with inevitable chaos. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Really? I mean, really?
MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (IFC) Genre: Drama. Four teenagers on the last day of summer try to find some magic before school starts. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.4 Really haven’t seen the trailer, so not sure about this one.
SARAH’S KEY (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. A journalist investigating the Holocaust in France discovers an unexpected personal connection to the story. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Great cast and an interesting background story make for a must-see movie.
THE TREE (Zeitgeist) Genre: Drama. A young family copes with the death of the father while relocated in the Australian outback. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks a little bit maudlin but the beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg makes up for it.

JULY 27, 2011

LIFE IN A DAY (National Geographic) Genre: Documentary. The results of a worldwide solicitation of home video to document a single day on Planet Earth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 An interesting concept but I’m not sure it will translate to an entertaining film.

JULY 29, 2011

ALL IN (4th Row) Genre: Documentary. The surge in popularity of poker is examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 I don’t find poker to be a particularly interesting film to watch on television; I can’t imagine an hour and a half of it in a theater.
ATTACK THE BLOCK (Screen Gems) Genre: Science Fiction. A teen gang defends a London tower block from an alien attack. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Received rave reviews on the festival circuit.
COWBOYS AND ALIENS (Universal) Genre: Science Fiction Western. A gunslinger without any memory may be the key to defeating an alien invasion in the Old West. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 The trailers look pretty nifty.
CRAZY STUPID LOVE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy. A man whose wife asked him for a divorce looks for dating advice from a lady killer friend. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 It’s Steve Carrell…gotta be good, right?
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE (Lionsgate) Genre: Biographical Drama. A young Iraqi army lieutenant becomes the double of Uday Hussein, entering a world of corruption and debauchery. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks fascinating, a real-life version of a fairy tale turned nightmare.
THE FUTURE (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Dramedy. The adoption of a kitten changes the course of time. No, really. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 One of the Sundance Festival’s marquee films.
GOOD NEIGHBORS (Magnolia) Genre: Crime Thriller. Apartment dwellers bond over a string of vicious murders in their community, never realizing how close to home the killer really is. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 This seems to me like it’s been done before.
THE GUARD (Sony Classics) Genre: Crime Comedy. A by-the-book FBI officer must team up with a diffident Irish cop to nab a vicious cocaine smuggling ring in Ireland. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Teaming up Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle is inspired casting.
POINT BLANK (Magnolia) Genre: Action. A male nurse is forced to get a captured criminal out of police custody in the hospital in order to save his wife and unborn child. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 It looks pretty intense.
THE SMURFS (Columbia) Genre: Family. An evil wizard magically transports the beloved blue-skinned figures to New York City. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 Has its nostalgia value and from what I can tell not much more.

Larry Crowne, Horrible Bosses, Project Nim, Zookeeper, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Winnie the Pooh, Captain America: The First Avenger, Friends with Benefits, Cowboys and Aliens, Crazy Stupid Love