This time around we will be covering one of 2011's best sci-fi offerings, a very dark comedy, and a documentary that is essential viewing for any animal lovers. No need to delay....
Project Nim - Director James Marsh is best known for 2008's Man On A Wire, considered by many to be one of the best documentaries of all time. His follow up documentary feature, Project Nim may well have been the best documentary of 2011 and its exclusion from even a nomination at this year's academy awards was considered an ill advised snub by the majority of critics. In fact, critics circles awarded it documentary of the year almost unanimously. Which is an awful lot for a little ape to live up to: unless it is one extraordinary chimpanzee.
This film tells the story of Nim, the first chimp taught sign language in order to communicate with humans, and the teachers, scientists, and other people who played significant parts in his life. Nim is shuttled from one living situation to another: living as a sibling in a human family, as the center of attention at an estate surrounded by a "family" of volunteers living in the house in order to teach him, and finally sent to live with others of his own kind. Marsh does an excellent job of remaining dispassionate as he tells the story. If you can remain detached watching it, you are made of MUCH sterner stuff than this little Movie Frog.
Project Nim is rich in subtext, and leaves you with much to ponder. How much of who we are is inherent nature compared to the nurture of experience? What is the nature of true language versus more rudimentary forms of communication? What is the nature of cruelty? How much IS humanity set apart from the rest of Kingdom Animalia? Leading of course to....What is the true nature of humanity?
This movie is captivating to watch, no real lulls. I found it educational and thought provoking. Most impressive of all (for a doc), it engaged me emotionally without even advocating. Those are pretty much all the things that I look for in a documentary, so of course I'm giving it...Available on DVD. 5 of 5*
Young Adult - The reunion of the writer/director team behind Juno (Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman respectively) was likely to be a little bit of a dark comedy. This was NOT a LITTLE bit of a dark comedy. It was funny, and very entertaining for the vast majority of the picture. I was gearing up to really love this film, but somehow in the last few minutes it...well...I still really liked the film.
The problem, for me, lies with the main character, Mavis. She is the divorced ghost writer of a cancelled Young Adult book series who returns to her home town for the first time in years to resque her high school boyfriend from the life of being a new husband and father. This is all set up. I LOVED to hate her at this point, and for most of rest of the running time. By the end of the film, I hated her. Just hated her. Was glad the movie was over so I didn't have to spend any more time with her.
Which should in no way tarnish the flawless acting job done by Charlize Theron. She was magnificent at making me unable to resist seeing what this deplorable human being was going to say or do next. Playing a character like this in a comedy would have been an invitation to "wink" at the audience for a lesser actress. Miss Theron fully commits, playing it so straight, never for a second indicating that Mavis has any idea just how self-centered she really is. She is backed up capably by Patton Oswalt (who I know best from the excellent television show The United States of Tara) who proves himself more than able to hold his own with such a talented co-star.
I didn't want a happy ending. That would have invalidated the movie. Just a glimmer of hope somewhere. One moment where Mavis took someone else's feelings into the slightest account. I left the film feeling a little dirty for having been so entranced with her. I'm not sure how repeat viewings of the film would affect my opinion here. Available on DVD. 4 of 5*
Another Earth - This film is an unusual blend of science fiction and drama in which a mysterious new planet reveals itself that appears to be identitcal to the earth, down to other versions of every man, woman and child living on it. A young student of astronomy, Rhoda, becomes distracted looking for it in the night sky and makes a mistake that will change and define her young life. The movie is short on lengthy psuedo-scientific explanations that make fan boys salivate which will probably hurt its reception with some members of that community. As a human drama, however, it works very well, exploring themes of identity, loss, and atonement with great sensitivity and insight.
Another Earth is director Mike Cahill's debut narrative feature and he handles the chair impressively. The film flows well and the acting (particularly Brett Marling's) is subtle but strong. The characters ring true. The film's greatest asset, however, is the creative script (which must also be credited to the young Miss Marling). I will be anxious to see what the future holds for this writer/director team.
This movie was well worth my time. It should appeal to both fans of serious dramas that don't mind a hint of fantasy and sci-fi enthusiasts who don't need a lot of explosions. Available on DVD. 4 of 5*
Three very good movies this time around. I've gotten a little behind my viewing in my reviews. To catch up, I should be posting a little more frequently in the next week or so. I'm rushing to finish out the last handfull of 2011 films by the end of the month, so we can be ready to tackle 2012 in earnest come June. So we'll be seeing a lot of each other the next couple of months. I hope you are ready.