Posts Tagged ‘brit marling’

Left to right: Hailee Steinfeld, ** and Britt Marling

Left to right: Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru and Brit Marling

“THE KEEPING ROOM” My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 30 at the Alamo Drafthouse)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Civil War drama “The Keeping Room” opens with a quote from Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to the effect that war is cruel — and that the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.

Not a happy thought. Not a happy movie.

But despite a tendency toward preciousness, Daniel Bart’s period drama  effectively conveys the desperation, ugliness and moral vacuum of war — not by depicting the chaos of battle but by describing the plight of unfortunate civilians in its path.

Augusta and Louise (Britt Marling, Hailee Steinfeld) are sisters living on their once-prosperous family farm.  But all the men are off fighting for the Confederacy and things are slowly falling apart.  Their only companion is the slave woman, Mad (Muna Otaru).

In better days the sisters no doubt lived pampered lives — Louise, the younger, still exudes the attitude of a spoiled aristocrat — but the war has turned everything topsy turvey.  Now all three women must work the fields if they’re to keep eating.

Meanwhile a pair of  soldiers, Moses and Henry (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) are marauding their way around the countryside — raping, stealing and murdering with impunity. They claim they were sent by the Union Army to soften resistance, though it’s difficult to believe their murderous excesses are sanctioned.  Their clothing is a mishmash of civilian items and those scavenged from the dead of both armies. They may simply be deserters out to indulge their worst instincts.

A confrontation between the three women and the killers is inevitable — especially after Moses casts eyes on Augusta at a general store, determines to have her, and tracks her back to the homestead.


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I-origins-2“I ORIGINS” My rating: C (Opening July 25 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The temptation is to dismiss “I Origins” as an inscrutable mess. Except that it has been made with enough care and intelligence to make a reasonable viewer wonder if he/she hasn’t somehow missed the point.

At least  I certainly missed the point.

The latest from Mike Cahill — who in 2011 gave us a small classic of thinking-person’s sci-fi in “Another Earth” — is a sort of metaphysical science story. It seems initially like one of those yarns in which an atheistic scientist finds his beliefs (or lack thereof) rocked by his discoveries. But the film is so emotionally remote that the payoff never materializes.

Michael Pitt (HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) is Ian, a molecular biologist  doing research on the origins of the human eye.  Ian has little use for religion and is irritated by the argument offered by some Christian apologists that evolution cannot account for the complexity of the human eye, that this can only be explained by a creator.

To that end Ian and his nerdy/hot research assistant, Karen (regular Cahill collaborator Brit Marling), are trying to identify some species of blind animal — probably a worm or other primitive — which they can subject to gene therapy.  The idea is to grow functioning eyes where there were none.

As mad scientist plots go, this is pretty low keyed…and it doesn’t help that Cahill’s dialogue is crammed with long, scientific ruminations.

Happily, there is more going on in Ian’s life than just research.  Not only are eyes the focus of his work, they’re a longtime personal passion. For years he has been photographing close-ups of people’s eyes. He has books full of these snapshots.

One night at a Halloween party he falls for a masked woman. She won’t reveal her face, but does allow Ian to photograph her eyes.

*** and Michael Pitt

*** and Michael Pitt

And then he’s thrown for a loop when he spots those very same eyes on a huge billboard — this discovery takes place in a single complex zoom/tracking shot right out of Hitchcock or Spielberg. The eyes belong to a gamine-ish young model, Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and, by happy coincidence (or divine intervention), Ian spots her on the subway.  Despite Sofi’s loopy metaphysical pronouncements — hey, did you know that white peacocks embody the universal soul? — they become lovers. They plan to wed.

And then…let’s just say it doesn’t work out.

Years pass.  Now Ian is married to his former assistant Karen. They have an infant son, and when the kid is put through eye recognition registration, it is revealed that his eyes are virtually identical to the late operator of  cattle ranch Out West as well as to a homeless child in India.

Brit Marling

Brit Marling

Are we talking reincarnation?  Damned if I know. The movie is so muddled that it’s impossible to draw a straight line from A to B.

In any case, Ian goes to India to search out the child, a little girl (Kashish) with eyes as deep and old as the ocean. Haven’t you heard? The eyes are the window to the soul.

Along the way we’re treated to appearances by Archie Panjabi (of TV’s “The Good Wife”) as an Indian welfare worker and William Mapother (the co-star of “Another Earth”) as a vaguely sinister Christian business man Ian encounters in his hotel.

Cahill does some very interesting stuff with reflections — in windows, in eyes, on the surfaces of cars. And he even drops a reference to the famous National Geographic cover photo of beautiful blue-eyed Afghan girl that is echoed in Ian’s discovery of the Indian child..

But in the end “I Origins”  (think “Eye Origins”) is a kitchen sink movie, with so many ideas being furiously thrown at us that nothing is able to stick.

| Robert W. Butler



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“ANOTHER EARTH”  My rating: B+  (Opening Aug. 12 at the Tivoli and Glenwood)

92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The unassuming, modestly budgeted “Another Earth” offers the best of both worlds.

It works wonderfully as a piece of speculative fantasy fiction;  it’s equally effective as a moving human drama.

Here we’ve a film that grabs you while you’re watching it and keeps you talking about it long after the lights come up.

Basically we have two stories, one playing out in the public arena and the other in the intensely private.


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