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I Origins (2014)

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The cleverness of Mike Cahill’s latest, “I Origins” stretches way beyond the title itself, but it’s as good a place to start as any. Presenting the fairly new prospect of cataloging the entire human race through iris recognition, “I Origins” takes a fantastical twist into much more profound philosophical territory. An arduous trek for validation to all that we consider hallow and priceless. A search for individual definition and a unanimous understanding of our universe, both spiritually and scientifically.

Looking through a lens of such broad, unfathomable depth, it feels down-right irresponsible to define “I Origins” by the placement of this witty, otherwise utterly precise homophone, but if the contact fits… Regardless, I’m sure this relative synopsis of “I Origins” will only further discourage those intimidated by the sheer magnitude of what Cahill proposed with “Another Earth,” from ever seeing it. You know, alternate universes, tears in the very fabric of space and what not. If these topics flabbergast and frighten you, what’s beyond will surely send you into fits of cardiac-arrest, as I assure you the scale of “I Origins'” grasp couldn’t possibly reach any further.

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It’s difficult to break-down what Cahill is proposing with “I Origins” into manageable portions while trying simultaneously not to get caught up in their scope. I mean, we’re literally left to decipher the direction of our compass as a conscious being. That being said, one can’t help but become transfixed by what’s on display here. The science of it all is enough on its own to discombobulate and overwhelm, like a virus. And that’s a mere superficial blemish compared to where “I Origins” delves. A place where belief and fact collide like charged particles in an acceloator. Leaving us aware of our predetermined doom, scattered about desperately searching for answers to unanswerable questions. Yet, perhaps what’s most engaging, conversely infuriating about “I Origins” is that it doesn’t exactly provide a formidable solution. However, much like the things we cling to for meaningless solace during our brief existence, it does act as a sedative, a distraction, a numbing agent.

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This war between religion and science is nothing new and as a result, predictably so, “I Origins” offers nothing imperative to its resolution. “I Origins” simply explores where either road will lead you. That said, one must invest genuinely to reap its benefits. If there’s been one thing consistent about Mike Cahill’s body of work it’s that the viewer must be willing, at any given moment, to entrust their experience entirely to Cahill and his vision. We might be asked to skip a few steps along the way, forgive the occasional absence of slight details or the probability of suspect coincidences. In the end however, our reward outweighs the risk.

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The performances aren’t imperative to a successful experience here. One can’t help but feel that “I Origins” would’ve been better off as a documentary rather than a romantic drama infused with frequently incomprehensible elements of sci-fi. But, each character does come off as believable, creating the right amount of sympathy and intrigue. Michael Pitt keeps getting stronger, Brit Marling is as entrancing as ever, Steven Yeun will have to settle for ‘Walking Dead’ fame at the moment, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey is surprisingly memorable. Most importantly though, it’s clear that each cast member understood the insignificance and subtlety that defined their respective characters. Yes, they’re to represent humanity, but buy and large, they’re a progressing agent.

Without question, “I Origins” is Mike Cahill’s most visually impressive picture to date. Where his previous efforts, such as “Another Earth” tackled the macro universe, “I Origins” is a veritable microscope. Cahill has really solidified his delicate touch and flaunts it. Some might find the visual contrasts too dissonant, ranging from cringe-worthy dismemberment to angelic symbolism, but there’s no denying the stimulation that accompanies it. Yet, perhaps the biggest surprise of Cahill’s latest is the musical accompaniment composed by Will Bates and Phil Mossman. A film that can barely keep grounded is lifted to even dizzier heights by a soundtrack of such epic proportions.

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I choose to believe that too much ambition is never a bad thing. I applaud Mike Cahill endlessly for the leaps of faith and fact he took to arrive at his fully formed vision and will never condemn him for exercising it. It’s a cloudy, often beautiful, yet oddly empty vision, but something to marvel nonetheless. Unfortunately, we live within the bounds of reality, so at its core, “I Origins” is mere assumptions and hypothesis. There’s a lot of material to digest split by merit and belief. Coincidentally, what this concoction of opposites accomplishes is a hollow victory. Easy on the eyes rather than thought-provoking fodder. However, it’s occasional spurts of brilliance rooted in research and passion makes “I Origins” noteworthy, watchable. Nevertheless, tackling the human eye’s ‘Irreducible Complexity’ head on is admirable no matter which way you slice it.

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I ORIGINS: 8 OUT OF 10

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The East (2013)

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Deftly paced, emotionally gripping, and psychologically advancing. “The East” is a socio-political thriller that never mistakes revenge for a lack of heart. Piling on the tension to an almost unbearable extent and performed with graceful precision and a relentless thirst for justice. Co-writers Brit Marling and Zat Batmanglij have once again created a taut character-study oozing with conscientious-awareness and founded upon eco-friendly tendencies. While parts of “The East” may feel somewhat like a retread of the duo’s previous effort “The Sound of my Voice,” any correlation between the two is soon disparaged. Yes, it may deal with similar themes such as infiltration, self-realization, and influence. Nonetheless, “The East” is Marling and Batmanglij’s most complete offering to date and sees their potential continue its rise to an even brighter future.

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Sarah moss (Marling), a former FBI agent, is a high-level operative for the private intelligence firm Hiller-Brood. She is commissioned to infiltrate a terrorist organization called The East and report back with the groups next targets. Upon gaining the trust of the charismatic leader Benji (Skarsgard) and next in command Izzy (Page), Sarah begins to unveil intel to her boss. As time passes, Sarah becomes infatuated with the group’s members and ideals.

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The first few moments of “The East” strike a strong note of consciousness that resonates throughout the entire film and never disperses or weakens. It is followed with wave upon wave of allegory that inflicts an ocean of inward assessment regarding environmental duty and industrial intoxication. It may leave a bitter taste with its blatancy, unorthodox approach, and alarming nature. Nevertheless, it is a controversial wake-up call that is extremely difficult to look away from. Ultimately, “The East” isn’t easily dismissed upon completion. It acts much like a splinter, stinging and constantly drawing your attention and ire until it is dealt with. I’m not implying that it will force you to drop sanity and necessity to go and save the world. Yet, it will enlighten your point of view and illuminate these troubling matters at hand so one day we can make better, more informed decisions about the planet, and more importantly, our future.

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Amongst these immense matters, it would be easy to lose sight of the human element. After all, the safety of our environment directly affects our longevity and its security. It might seem a bit selfish, but the concern about our habitat is based in majority on our dominance of this planet. Amazingly, Marling and Batmanglij have managed to bottle these enormously important topics and infused them with our heart and soul. What good would the preservation of Earth be if we weren’t around to enjoy it? While we are treated to an abundance of vantage points, each one is unique and connects with different people on vastly different levels. Which, evidently makes “The East” an outstanding experience for all involved, cast, crew, and audience.

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Perhaps the most beautiful thing about “The East” is its dissection of every facet that compiles our existence. It doesn’t solely focus on saving and bettering our planet. It tackles industry, poverty, indifference, humanity, etc… Everything is entangled and attached in this metaphorical web and each aspect is torn down until its roots are bare. There are a lot of wrongs that need to be righted in our current state and awareness is a huge step that seemingly the majority of us are afraid or unwilling to take. I’m not trying to preach as I am just as clueless and motionless as the next when it comes to eco-preservation. It is simply gratifying to know that some are taking the initiative to better our world. It might sound cliche or corny, nonetheless, it is something that needs to be dealt with in order to fortify our existence and evolution.

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I think that is enough of a disembowelment towards our humanity, existence, and the film itself in general. I’ll move on to the technical aspects of the film and its performances. “The East” stars the aforementioned Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, and Ellen Page. The biggest surprise, well, at least for me anyway, was Alexander Skarsgard’s performance, he easily dominated the entire film. Page and Marling were also incredibly impressive, but not on the same scale. Possibly because I expected them to be terrific and I had no idea what to expect from Skarsgard. Considering the significance of the film, overshadowing the star-power was a concern entering the theatre. However, this turned out to be a wasted worry as the cast, in its entirety, matched the story’s intensity, subtlety, and brilliance. As for Zat Batmanglij, he continues to perfect his craft as “The East” holds, without question his best work from behind the camera.

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Tremendously acted, superbly filmed, and just impeccably solid all the way through. “The East” is an immaculate depiction of our society, its flaws, and how we can ultimately correct them.

The East: 8.5 out of 10.

Sound of My Voice (2011)

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Despite an ending that leaves a bit too much for the imagination to chew on. “Sound of My Voice” is an entrancing thriller with a pair of phenomenal performances from its two leads. Rising above its restricted budget with hauntingly beautiful content and an unsettling hypnotic effect. What is most disturbingly scary about “Sound of my Voice” is the impending vulnerability that is near impossible to resist. As the story progresses, we are forced to abandon this initial feeling of invincibility until it completely trails off into unfamiliarity. Ultimately, we are forced to accept that there are things that we do not know, that we don’t have an answer for. It’s a bittersweet, tingling experience. While the thrilling factor does tail off slightly. It is efficiently replaced with an undistinguishable yearning for answers to the unknown.

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Peter (Denham) is a substitue teacher living in Los Angeles with his girlfriend Lorna (Vicius). The two are embarking on their first undercover journalism project. The target is a small cult run by the mysterious and beautifully striking Maggie (Marling). After Peter and Lorna finish the long and excruciating initiation tests, the cult deems them ready to finally meet Maggie. Upon stripping, showering, changing clothes, and being blindfolded. Peter and Lorna are taken in a van with other new recruits to an undisclosed location. Upon completing the final test, which is a secret handshake, Peter and Lorna come face to face with Maggie. She claims to have woken up naked, in a bathtub, with no memories or knowledge of who she is. Eventually regaining her strength and some mental imagery, Maggie concludes she is a time-traveler from the year 2054.

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Directed and co-written by Zal Batmanglij. Who appears to have finally broken through after his directorial debut, The Recordist, was slightly subpar. Now, he has arguably one of the most anticipated films of 2013 in “The East” and seems well on his way to making a name for himself. The same can be said for the radiant and mesmerizing Brit Marling. Who not only stars in the film, but co-wrote it as well. Marling is that rare breed of beauty, brains, and brawn and is slowly emerging as one of the top actresses in the business. Marling, best known for her multi-faceted role in “Another Earth,” is garnering more attention from high-profile gigs. After starring alongside Robert Redford and Shia LaBeouf in the recently released, “The Company You Keep.” Marling is set to co-star Batmanglij’s “The East” with Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard.

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Apart from a jittery, premature, seemingly non-existent final act. “Sound of my Voice” almost plays its indie, low budget characteristics perfectly. Nevertheless, by the time the climax roles around, it’s exceedingly hard to stay mad at Batmanglij and Marling. In the end, these tiny inconsistencies are translucent and easily forgiven. One thing that Marling and company know definitively is that there is a vast difference between seductive and sedating. Which is why they’re able to exploit these exceptional traits. Using them to lure the viewer in and then begin lulling us into a state of defencelessness. Concluding in the audiences inability to conjure up individualistic thoughts and ideals, effectively simulating the main objective of a cult. “Sound of my Voice” and its creators not only know what they’re doing, but are able to do it astoundingly well.

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Besides Marling, the cast features Christopher Denham, who is absolutely skyrocketing and the diverse Nicole Vicius. Without question, Marling gives the most illuminated performance as a devious and immaculate cult leader from the future. Her voice carries a depth filled with harmony and pleasure, and for such a transience thing, it has remarkable ambience. Nearly matching Marling’s exquisite portrayal is Denham. His pretentiousness and anger, however misinformed, is totally believable. Heading under cover to infiltrate a dangerous cult. Denham delivers the steady-handed, emotionally vacant goods. Lost in the charisma of Marling and Denham’s performances is Vicius, who does a terrific job in her supporting role. Without her as somewhat of a foundation, the film would helplessly falter.

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Unbearably tense and at times vividly horrific. “Sound of My Voice” is an outstanding thriller filled with resonating performances from the entire cast.

Sound of My Voice: 8 out of 10.

Another Earth (2011)

I will be posting my review for “The East” this upcoming week, so I thought I’d prepare you guys for it by doing a Brit Marling weekend! Today’s review will be “Another Earth” and tomorrow’s will be “Sound of My Voice.” Hope you enjoy, have a great weekend!

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A down-to-earth drama told on the grand-scale of science-fiction. “Another Earth” is an epic, gloomy, provocative tale about probability, loss and perseverance…While it may take a little light-reading and a second viewing to fully comprehend and appreciate the material, “Another Earth” is worth the effort. Offering an elegant, unnerving solution to the age-old paradox of questioning the duplicate or parallel of oneself about lifestyle and choices. Director and co-writer Mike Cahill manages to turn a simplistic, promising life into a dooming circumstance with rewarding capabilities. Capturing surreal moments that are sure to provoke chills and striking imagery that fill the story with wonder and ambience. Cahill has emerged on the scene and tore through the fabric of space-time in order to deliver this truly unique picture.

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Rhoda Williams (Marling) is a seventeen-year-old high-school student who has received an acceptance letter from MIT. That night, she celebrates with her friends. Simultaneously, another planet that has just emerged is discovered near Earth, the planet is eventually dubbed “Earth 2.” After the party, Rhoda is driving home, while also searching for “Earth 2” in the sky. Accidentally crashing into another car carrying a man, his wife, and baby son. The crash kills the man’s wife and child and Rhoda is sentenced to four years in prison. When Rhoda is released from prison, she takes residence at her parents house before trying to commit suicide some time after, but fails. Soon after, Rhoda picks up a small job and obsesses over “Earth 2,” until it is all she can think about.

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What co-writers Mike Cahill and the resplendent Brit Marling have created with “Another Earth” is a brilliant, almost unbearable contrast. To have such a humbling and sullen story punctured at numerous points by this gleaming hope almost seems cruel. Yet, we all wish at some point in our existence to take something back, a moment, a mistake, an error. At one point or another, we all contemplate a decision and whether it was the correct one. We ponder endlessly about the notion of the opposite and what our lives would be like had we made a different choice. Cahill and Marling have simply taken this regret and expanded it, mirrored it. The blend of these uncertainties and the addition of a parallel earth allows us to explore these hypotheses. By doing so, we now have a cinematic experience that transcends the screen and personally connects to each and every viewer.

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This atypical, symmetrical earth has feasible science behind it, not fact, rather, plausibility. To those trying to find its significance, don’t get bogged down in genre labelling. Think of it as a tool, like rhetoric. It’s relevance is in direct correlation with the thesis surrounding “Another Earth.” It doesn’t exist to add a fantastical element to the film. It’s presence is merely an enhancer for the overall ideal of the film. If it were up to me, this picture wouldn’t even be categorized under science-fiction. While it undoubtedly has sci-fi features and visuals, it isn’t meant to overpower the dramatic story at Another Earth’s core. As previously mentioned, we all want to know what it would be like if we made different choices, well, this other earth somewhat allows us to see what it would might be like.

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“Another Earth” centres around two main characters played by the aforementioned Brit Marling and William Mapother. Without question, Marling gives the better performance of the two. That being said, Mapother isn’t far behind in his portrayal. Mapother perfectly captures the listlessness and emotional vacancy that comes with a man who has had everything taken from him. As he tries to recuperate and move forward, he is constantly weighed down by this unrecoverable anchor. Mapother, although sparsely used, certainly has the chops to hang with up-and-comer Brit Marling. Speaking of Marling, the argument can be made that Another Earth was her breakthrough performance. Living a life, once filled with unlimited potential, constantly suffering the consequences of her reckless youth. Marling is immaculate in this psychologically complex and emotional diverse role.

Visually stunning, powerfully acted, and firmly directed. “Another Earth” is a staggering piece of cinema and proves to be quite the game-changer. Brit Marling is a force not to be trifled with.

Another Earth: 8 out of 10.

The Company You Keep (2012)

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Usually, a script is the foundation, the jumping off point for any picture. Now, when this screenplay, charged with the task of holding your film steady, is flimsy to begin with. Everything that follows, camerawork and acting and so on, can be nothing but disappointingly weak due to the faulty skeletal structure baring a majority of the weight. This neatly sums up what is essentially wrong with The Company You Keep. Apart from some good, albeit typical performances from a few of its cast members, The Company You Keep really has nothing new or captivating to offer, which can be said for a lot of Robert Redford directed pictures since the year 2000. I have nothing against Mr. Redford. I thoroughly appreciate his acting prowess and directing skills. However, it appears that since the new millennium, his artistic choices have severely dropped off.

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Jim Grant (Redford) is a recently widowed single father. Formerly part of the Weather Underground militant wanted for a 1970’s bank robbery and the murder of one of the security guards. Ben Shepard (LaBeouf) decides to make a name for himself by creating a national story from the recently arrested Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon), also a member of Weather Underground. Ben visits his ex-girlfriend Diana (Kendrick), an FBI agent, and urges her to hand him information on the case. While Jim continues to evade the law, Ben keeps pushing for his story, intervening in issues beyond his control. When Ben meets up with a retired cop named Henry Osbourne (Brendan Gleeson) after harassing Jim’s brother Daniel (Cooper) for information, he is taken with Henry’s daughter Rebecca (Marling). As the situation progresses, Jim and Ben find themselves in life altering predicaments.

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This was by far the most disappointing film I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival this past year. Upon reading up before hand on the plot, director, and cast, it was fair to say I was readily looking forward to its premiere. Starring the likes of Brit Marling, Shia LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick, Chris Cooper, and of course Robert Redford, amongst countless others with proven track records, it seemed implausible that The Company You Keep would let me down. However, by the time we reached the summit of its two hour runtime, the story and its characters were worn out. Even though it was plenty underwhelming from the get go. The Company You Keep arguably suffered from simplicity, irrelevance, and unsympathetic characters at a time when self preservation is on a decline.

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Based on Neil Gordon’s novel of the same title, Redford had his hands full adapting The Company You Keep to the big screen. In a year that saw history come alive with films like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and to an extent Django Unchained. The Company You Keep didn’t harness any of the retro nostalgia or tension that made all of those films effective. The performing aspect of the film was something I thought I’d never question going into the premiere. What I mean by typical performance is, for example, Marling, Cooper, LaBeouf, and Kendrick, to name a few, made it look effortless as usual. The root of the issue stems from the limitations brought on by the tedious nature of the script. There is no room for these fine actors to evolve their roles. They aren’t allowed to make these characters their own due to the suffocating similarities in their roles.

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Suffering from a bloated run time, stretched out story, and unlikable characters. The Company You Keep is a meek offering forcing its all star cast to under-perform and appear timid.

The Company You Keep: 5 out of 10.