REVIEW: The East

23 07 2013

In 2012, I wrote a piece for a class entitled “Bad Apples Up on Top” that looked at trends in cinematic portrayals of corporations and wealth in the wake of the Great Recession.  If I were to update that post in 2013, “The East” would definitely mandate the addition of a new paragraph.  Along with films like “The Bling Ring,” “Arbitrage,” and even “The Purge,” writer/director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling tap into a growing sense of militarism towards the rich and powerful.

Marling’s Sarah infiltrates the titular anarchist group for the government, attempting to protect her firm’s corporate clients from The East’s attacks.  She quickly finds that blurred lines are not just the things of scintillating Robin Thicke summer singles; moral complexities abound everywhere.  Sarah quickly finds herself wondering if she’s working for the right side in this game – if such a side exists.

The East, as savage as their attacks might be, are not your average criminals.  They want to hold executives’ feet to the fire and jolt them out of complicity, forcing them to feel the pain they inflict on others.  Their jams are highly symbolic, coordinated by members of The East to send a powerful message to the corporations and the public as well.

While all this ambiguity and relativism is fascinating, “The East” is a film that is great at raising questions but not particularly good at answering them.  Films don’t have to force-feed you their message, nor do they have to make them patently obvious.  But Batmanglij and Marling should not have wasted their time bringing up issues they were not prepared to, or incapable of, resolving.  If you don’t stand for anything, it’s entirely possible you could wind up standing for nothing.

“The East” poises itself for a killer finale, yet it brings up far more than it’s prepared to wrap up.  As a result, the film feels like a bunch of stumper interview questions loosely wrangled together into a story.  It’s interesting enough, but “The East” gives us fairly little new evidence with which to reinterpret these ethical quandaries.  B2halfstars

REVIEW: Sound of My Voice

3 10 2012

It’s curious that of the three films Fox Searchlight acquired at 2011’s Sundance Film Festival, two happened to star Brit Marling and two happened to be about the religious occult … and of those three, “Sound of My Voice” saw domestic release last.  It feels like a rather unfortunate afterthought after “Martha Marcy May Marlene” tantalized with its brilliant ambiguity and “Another Earth” provided a much more showy showcase for Marling.

“It’s a lonely road if a momma don’t think their child is pretty,” remarked Abileen in “The Help,” and “Sound of My Voice” sure feels like a forgotten stepchild for Fox Searchlight.  It’s evident right away from what’s on the screen.  As the leader of a strange religious movement, Brit Marling seems to be walking eggshells as she treads familiar ground as Maggie, the bizarre and disturbed leader of the cult.  She claims to be from the future – 2054, to be exact – and is allergic to everything in the current time.

Opportunistic documentary filmmakers Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) get word of Maggie’s magnetism and plan an infiltration … and a subsequent movie.  But – SHOCKER – they start to lose track of their objectivity as they grow closer to Maggie and get deeper inside the world of the cult, leading to a rift between the filmmaking (and romantic) couple.

Debut director Zal Batmanglij, who also co-wrote the film with star Brit Marling, does a half-decent job of keeping taut suspense throughout the film.  That’s largely due to the structure of their script; the content, however, is what makes the film second fiddle to “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”  The peculiarities of Maggie and the basement cult, ranging from a bizarre handshake to growing her own fruit, add nothing to the story.  Rather than drawing you in, they pull you out of the film, forcing you to wonder who the heck even thought of that.  The film leaves us to solve a puzzle without all the pieces, but it also leaves you so apathetic that it’s a puzzle you are all too happy not to extend the mental effort to solve.

That essentially concludes my “review” of the film, but before I end, I do have one more thing to say.  While I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but giggle at the uninentional comedy of the film.  That’s nothing new for me as I often use humor as a tool to break a monotonous viewing experience, yet this was different.  The more I giggled, the more I realized that “Sound of My Voice” has some serious potential as the first major comedy to explore occult religion.

Thus, I propose a remake of “Sound of My Voice,” only this time as a comedy.  It’s the kind of movie we SHOULD be remaking: one that is perfectible, not already perfect.  So to Fox Searchlight (or whoever is looking at providing finance for the film), I will even do you the favor of casting the remake.  You’re welcome.

Amy Poehler as Maggie:

Charlie Day as Peter:

Aubrey Plaza as Lorna:

Christopher Walken as Klaus, Maggie’s old and creepy keeper:

Thank me later.  B-