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The Films of Mike Cahill

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.

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I Origins (July 18/14)

Written and directed by Mike Cahill, I Origins follows molecular biologist Ian Gray as he and his lab partner (Brit Marling's Karen) stumble upon a discovery that could possibly change the world. There's little doubt that I Origins takes a good long while to wholeheartedly grab the viewer's interest and attention, as filmmaker Cahill has infused the early part of the proceedings with a decidedly muddled feel that's both off-putting and exasperating - with one's efforts at connecting to the protagonist, as a result, falling flat for much of the movie's opening half hour. (It doesn't help, either, that Ian, in a seemingly key early sequence, engages in an unintelligible conversation with a masked figure.) The film's arms-length feel is compounded by an initial emphasis on Ian's relationship with Astrid Bergès-Frisbey's Sofi, while the almost excessively deliberate pace ensures that one can't help but wonder just where Cahill is going with all this. It's equally clear, however, that I Origins improves substantially as it passes the midway point, as Cahill takes the narrative into a fascinating, entirely unpredictable direction that grows more and more compelling as time progresses - with the writer/director spending much of the film's latter half grappling with impressively big ideas and themes. The periodic inclusion of intriguing elements - eg what's the deal with William Mapother's mysterious character? - perpetuates the increasingly absorbing atmosphere, and it's ultimately clear that I Origins, despite a shaky beginning, establishes itself as one of the most fascinating sci-fi-infused dramas to come around in quite some time. (It's worth noting, too, that the film, which rattles around in one's brain for hours after the credits have rolled, virtually demands a post-screening discussion/debate.)

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