Mike Cahill

Michael Pitt and Britt Marling in I Origins

[Rob's note: Fair warning, this trailer and post contain 2nd/3rd act spoilers that Fox Searchlight should have known better than to include in their marketing.] There’s a point that we get to in movie trailers where fantastical and awe-inspiring story becomes maybe a little too hokey and we’re left with the cheesy pieces. It’s hard to say if there’s one singular problem causing this phenomenon to happen or if attempting to cram every crazy event that happens in the film into a little over two minutes just makes it seem extra ridiculous. Such is the case with the trailer for I Origins, a film that will probably be perfectly enjoyable once it hits theaters. But packed in pint-sized form, things seem to be getting out of hand for this team of scientists and their host of crazed ideas. The story follows Michael Pitt as a biologist who spends his time studying the function and mapping of the human eye. In his time outside the lab, he’s falling deeply in love with Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), a girl with beautiful, mesmerizing eyes — “the eyes that changed this world.” After some sort of tragedy befalls the couple, Sofi is out of the picture, but her eyes are still the focus of his strange life, especially when his pretty lab assistant (Brit Marling) points out that a child in India has the exact same eye mapping as his beloved. What that means is beyond me (and hopefully you; I don’t like feeling dumb), but it’s […]

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review i origins

Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) is a molecular biologist primarily interested in the function, capability, and evolution of the human eye. He’s worked on curing color blindness and takes photos of people’s eyes in his free time, but it’s his latest project that sets him on a spectacular course. Hoping to eliminate the sharpest arrow from creationists’ quiver of arguments against evolution (and for intelligent design), he sets out to map the various stages of human eye evolution. Karen (Brit Marling), a first-year student assigned to his lab, excitedly assists the project by searching for a currently sightless species that nonetheless feature the genetic material needed to create even the simplest eye. Running parallel to Ian’s work in the lab is his newly blossomed love life with Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), a girl he meets at a Halloween party. The mask she wears prevents him from seeing her face, but some quality time spent bumping and grinding together atop a toilet combined with her memorable eyes makes the experience unforgettable for him. His quest to find her is aided by a seemingly predestined series of numbers, and soon the two are deep in love. He’s a pragmatic scientist, and she’s a believer in spirituality and fate, but after tragedy strikes those two worlds come together in unexpected fashion.

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Cahill and Marling

There are few films that I’ve come around on as much as I’ve come around on Mike Cahill‘s Another Earth. When the film bowed at Sundance 2011, it was as one half of the buzzed-about “arrival” of star and co-writer Brit Marling, who quite memorably debuted yet another film at the festival that she also co-wrote and starred in (the still far superior Sound of My Voice). While SOMV instantly captivated me (and continues to do so), Another Earth frustrated and, quite frankly, angered me. Its unique plot – a twin Earth is discovered heading towards our own Earth, and it soon becomes obvious that said twin Earth also contains a twin of everything else, including Marling’s unlucky Rhoda Williams – seemed utterly wasted, with Cahill and Marling more concerned with mining the non-drama of Marling’s inappropriate relationship with a guy whose family she accidentally killed. Another Earth only came, well, down to Earth in its final scene, and that scene’s masterful use of mystery and revelation made the rest of it all the more frustrating. We knew what the film could have been, and it simply wasn’t that. (Then again, the film did win both a Special Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the festival, so what do I know.) And yet. Over the years, my disdain for Another Earth has given way to curiosity and respect. If it’s on TV, I am going to watch it. I want more from Cahill, even if I am not sure if I actually liked his first film (I think I […]

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Culture Warrior

Usually I’m quite cynical about end-of-year lists, as they demand a forced encapsulation of an arbitrary block of time that is not yet over into something simplified. I typically find end-of-year lists fun, but rarely useful. But 2011 is different. As Scott Tobias pointed out, while “quiet,” this was a surprisingly strong year for interesting and risk-taking films. What’s most interesting has been the variety: barely anything has emerged as a leading contender that tops either critics’ lists or dominates awards buzz. Quite honestly, at the end of 2010 I struggled to find compelling topics, trends, and events to define the year in cinema. The final days of 2011 brought a quite opposite struggle, for this year’s surprising glut of interesting and disparate films spoke to one another in a way that makes it difficult to isolate any of the year’s significant works. Arguments in the critical community actually led to insightful points as they addressed essential questions of what it means to be a filmgoer and a cinephile. Mainstream Hollywood machine-work and limited release arthouse fare defied expectations in several directions. New stars arose. Tired Hollywood rituals and ostensibly reliable technologies both met new breaking points. “2011” hangs over this year in cinema, and the interaction between the films – and the events and conversations that surrounded them – makes this year’s offerings particular to their time and subject to their context. This is what I took away from this surprising year:

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Since busting on to the scene with her work in two of Sundance 2011’s biggest hits, Brit Marling’s next roles have been the source of constant speculation and chatter. But the multi-hyphenate’s skills go far beyond just acting, and one move was always for sure – she would be reteaming with Zal Batmanglij for another film, titled The East. With Marling serving as female lead and co-writer with director Batmanglij, the film was in need of strong male lead to play against Marling. They may have gotten that with Alexander Skarsgård, who is in talks to join the film. We don’t know much about the film (and I don’t expect that to change, considering that the little we do know seems so intriguing and not in need of any sort of big elaboration), but we do know that it will revolve “around a female agent who infiltrates an eco-terrorist group. The title of the movie refers to the group’s name.” Marling will play the agent, with Skarsgård in talks to take on the role of the group’s leader. The East will chronicle the type of fringe group not normally seen on cinema screens. It brings to mind the documentary If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which opened this year. That film focused on true stories of some of the ELF’s members, a number of which are certainly interesting enough to go the big feature route. The East should play as an interesting counterpoint to Marling […]

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Another Earth isn’t a sci-fi film. It’s a drama. While this idea may disappoint some of you, the sci-fi backdrop for the film is purely there for symbolism. Blending the science-fiction element with the core drama, on a structural and tonal level, must not have been an easy task. As director and co-writer Mike Cahill discusses, it wasn’t. It’s difficult to really talk about Another Earth fully without going into spoiler territory, so the conversation I had with Cahill was a revealing one. Once you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know why the ending can’t go un-discussed. Another Earth asks a handful of questions, and the ending raises the biggest and most divisive one. So, of course, beware of Spoiler-y hints. Here’s what Mike Cahill had to say about end theories, finding a cohesive structure, and the similarities between the star and co-writer Brit Marling‘s other feature, Sound of My Voice:

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Maybe going in blind to this movie is the best option, because going in blind worked brilliantly for the trailer. I knew nothing about Another Earth until scoping out these few minutes, but those minutes are built to cause goosebumps. The less said the better. Check it out for yourself:

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Editor’s Note: In a fevered rush to get straight to the movies he loved, intrepid reviewer Robert Levin didn’t write an intro. In fact, he might not even believe in them. Maybe he believes you’d rather dig into the movies than read one. So without any ado, here’s Robert’s list of the best movies he saw at Sundance. Look out for a few of them coming to a theater near New York and LA and On Demand throughout the year.

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