Mini Reviews (July 2011)
Horrible Bosses, Another Earth, Sarah's Key
Horrible Bosses (July 16/11)
An affable, entertaining comedy, Horrible Bosses follows three friends (Jason Bateman's Nick, Charlie Day's Dale, and Jason Sudeikis' Kurt) as they conspire to kill their unpleasant employers (Kevin Spacey's Dave Harken, Jennifer Aniston's Julia Harris, and Colin Farrell's Bobby Pellitt) - with the trio's failed efforts at hiring a hitman forcing the men to murder their bosses themselves. (Wackiness, of course, ensues.) Director Seth Gordon has infused Horrible Bosses with a lighthearted, briskly-paced sensibility that proves instrumental in immediately capturing the viewer's interest, with the charismatic performances - Bateman and Sudeikis are especially personable here - going a long way towards perpetuating the film's pervasively watchable feel. The movie also benefits substantially from the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud gags and comedic set pieces, although it's clear virtually instantly that the movie is at its best in its smaller, subtler moments (eg Nick attempts to feign an illness by inducing vomiting). There's little doubt, however, that Horrible Bosses' momentum is sporadically affected by the needless inclusion of aggressively over-the-top elements, with almost everything involving Aniston's character emblematic of the screenplay's periodic penchant for unreasonably broad shenanigans. This is admittedly a rather minor complaint for what is otherwise a consistently engaging piece of work, and it ultimately goes without saying that Horrible Bosses fares much, much better than many recent so-called comedies (eg Bad Teacher, Bridesmaids, etc, etc).
Another Earth (July 26/11)
It's certainly not difficult to envision certain viewers walking away from Another Earth frustrated and annoyed, as the movie, which is essentially being marketed as a sci-fi fantasy, primarily comes off as a low-key drama revolving around two thoroughly damaged characters. Brit Marling, in a revelatory performance, stars as Rhoda Williams, an aspiring scientist whose life changes drastically after she's sent to prison for vehicular manslaughter - with the film subsequently detailing Rhoda's efforts at atoning for the deaths by helping William Mapother's John Burroughs, who lost his wife and child in the crash, get his life back together. (There is, of course, also a subplot revolving around the discovery of a second, seemingly identical Earth in our atmosphere.) It's clear right from the outset that director Mike Cahill, working from a script co-written with Marling, has virtually no interest in exploring the narrative's science-fiction-oriented elements, as the filmmaker places a predominant (and continuous) emphasis on Rhoda's almost extraordinarily subdued exploits - from her day job as a high-school janitor to her ongoing visits with Mapother's unbalanced character. There's little doubt, then, that Another Earth owes its mild success primarily to the riveting performances from its two leads, as both Marling and Mapother manage to transform their admittedly familiar characters into fully-developed and consistently-compelling figures. The sporadic inclusion of otherworldly elements - eg an engrossing, goosebump-inducing sequence involving first contact with the title locale - goes a long way towards compensating for the screenplay's pervasively uneventful sensibilities, and though the payoff for the Earth 2 subplot is, to put it mildly, far from spectacular (ie what does that final shot mean, exactly?), Another Earth ultimately establishes itself as a perfectly watchable indie that benefits from the stellar efforts of its stars.
Sarah's Key (July 26/11)
Based on the superb novel by Tatiana De Rosnay, Sarah's Key follows intrepid reporter Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) as she begins looking into the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of the Second World War - with the film also detailing the WWII-era exploits of a young Jewish girl (Mélusine Mayance's Sarah) who is taken from her family home in Paris and sent to a concentration camp. There's little doubt that, like its literary predecessor, Sarah's Key initially requires a fair bit of patience from the viewer, as the time-shifting narrative does, at the outset, prevent one from wholeheartedly embracing either storyline - although it's just as clear that the device works a whole lot better here than it did in De Rosnay's book (ie the stuff in the present proves a welcome respite from the relentlessly grim nature of the WWII-era scenes). There quickly reaches a point, however, at which the two timelines become equally engrossing, with the inherently (and increasingly) compelling nature of Julia's ongoing investigation into the past certainly matched by Sarah's continued efforts at staying alive. (It doesn't hurt, either, that both Scott Thomas and Mayance are absolutely spellbinding in their respective roles.) The end result is a stirring, emotionally wrenching drama that more than lives up to its source material, with Aidan Quinn's captivating last-minute appearance as Sarah's adult son only confirming the movie's place as an exceptional piece of work.