Weekend Viewing Roundup: Margin Call and Another Earth

It’s been almost a month since I’ve last been to the cinema, but it’s customary for January as the new releases don’t interest me. I’m quite surprised to see the raves for The Grey however, Dan over @ FogsMovieReviews gave it a solid A, though Terrence @ The Focus Filmographer wasn’t as enthused about it. In any case, it proves to be quite popular this weekend as it took the number 1 spot with $20 million!

Well, for me it’s a weekend to catch up on recent DVD releases that I’ve been curious about. One of them actually nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. So let’s start with that one, shall we?

MARGIN CALL

Now, this film can be fittingly called ’24′ as the plot takes place over a 24-hour period during the early stages of financial meltdown a few years ago. The story can’t be more timely with the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement that continue to spread all over the country.

The key players work at a nameless investment bank in New York City. It begins with the lay-off of a veteran risk management executive named Eric Dale (the always excellent Stanley Tucci). As he’s escorted out of the building, he hands over a flash drive to his subordinate Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) with a word of caution, ‘be careful.’

If I were Peter, I’d do exactly what he did, which is find out just what the heck is on that drive. The severe reaction written on Peter’s face after he’s done processing the data that Dale started clues us in to just how significant his boss’ warning really is. What this data tells us is that the firm has been sitting on a large pile of liquid assets that are worth less than they ought to, which means the firm will owe far more than what they own, what they’ll do with that predicament not only threatens the markets stability but also triggers financial meltdown.

I’m glad I rented this movie as I don’t think I’d be able to get all the trading jargons here without using subtitles, though I think the filmmaker did a decent job in presenting them in layman’s terms. At the heart of this film isn’t the financial crisis itself, but how each player in question reacts to this given situation. I think writer/director J.C. Chandor is able to capture the moral compass if you will, of the main characters, which is the main strength of this film.

I’m truly impressed by Chandor’s direction and primarily the shrewd script, considering this is his first feature film. He’s also assembled a top notch cast: Oscar winners Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey and nominee Stanley Tucci are all superb in their roles. Spacey is a perfect fit in displaying a range of emotions his character goes through. Irons and Tucci’s screen time is considerably less than Spacey’s but both turn in memorable performance. Irons’ line that’s used as the tagline for this film, “Be first. Be smarter. Or cheat.” is such a chilling reminder just how ruthless and heartless these Wall Street folks are.

The younger cast are equally compelling. Most notably Zachary Quinto (in his signature stolid but sympathetic demeanor) as the rocket scientist (literally) who becomes a trader as the money is too good to pass up, and Paul Bettany as the senior trader who gives us a glimpse of the kind of life these yuppy bankers lead. He tells his colleague on the building rooftops as they’re waiting for the big honcho to arrive just what he spend his $2.5 millions he made in a given year. It’s disheartening to see just how removed these kids are from the real world — they’re so occupied with numbers that sincere connection with fellow human beings has no place in their lives. In fact, money is nothing more than means of pleasure or a measure of worth — Penn Badgley’s character’s obsession with how much people make is an obvious sign of that.

Margin Call a solid thriller that relies on a clever script and nuanced performances in place of special effects. The fact that this film had a paltry $3 million budget and was shot within 17 days is all the more impressive. I do think it merits the Best Original Screenplay nod, I’m curious to see how it’d fare come Oscar time.

4 out of 5 reels


ANOTHER EARTH

This is another small-budget film that delivers a sizable impact. What draws me in about this film isn’t the cast but the unique, implausible-yet-thought-provoking plot.

In a single day, the life of the protagonist Rhoda Williams, a bright high school graduate on her way to MIT,  is turned upside down by a tragic accident that kills a woman and child, and leaves the husband/father in a coma.

Though alcohol is certainly a factor as Rhoda just came home from a party, she’s actually distracted by the appearance of a new planet resembling earth that has moved into our solar system. Earth 2 as it’s called, supposedly contain a duplicate version of ourselves and its inhabitants mirror our earthly existence.

The film then jumps to the time when Rhoda leaves prison after serving her four-year sentence. Before long her path crosses to that of the Yale music professor John Burroughs who lost his family that very night. He’s recovered from his coma but understandably his life is never the same again. Clearly having lost his zest for life, his existence now consists of slouching in his sofa watching TV or playing video games. It’s inevitable that these two broken people end up being involved despite the unorthodox circumstances of their connection.

This is a sci-fi film done as a meditative human drama… there’s no CGI or technical mumbo jumbo, so don’t expect to see an extra-terrestrial creature of any kind, it’s just not that kind of sci-fi movie. The central themes are those of atonement and second chances. Reminiscent to the theme of Joe Wright Atonement, guilt-ridden and suicidal Rhoda has been hoping for a way to atone for her sins. By pretending to be a cleaning lady for John, she hopes that one day, that opportunity will finally come. The fact that she likes to clean is also a metaphor for her attempt to ‘clean up her mess’ if you will.

The film not-so-subtly asks the beguiling question of ‘if you get the chance to see yourself as a third person, how would you feel or expect to see?’  It may not offer a satisfactory answer and the ‘whoa’ conclusion is more of a head-scratcher than anything else, but it certainly is an intriguing concept worth exploring.

Like Margin Call, this film also marks the directorial debut of its director Mike Cahill. It’s certainly a worthy first-time effort though his rather barren style is perhaps an acquired taste. The visuals does have a low-budget quality to it but it’s not exactly a detriment, in fact, the simplicity and starkness adds to its indie charm.

Relative newcomer Brit Marling who also co-wrote the script with Cahill, turns in a pretty affecting performance as Rhoda. She is beautiful in an earthly kind of way, her naturally tousled hair almost becomes a character in itself here along with her melancholy gaze. Character actor William Mapother (Tom Cruise’s cousin) is pretty effective in displaying believable transformation from being morose to one who’s full of hope once again. The scene of him playing the solo musical saw to an audience of one is deeply moving. Thanks to SawLady who plays the saw in the soundtrack for sending me a link to this page, it’s definitely a soulful piece of music with a haunting quality about it.

I highly recommend this if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten path feature film. It’s a slow-burn story done in a mind-numbingly quiet way that makes even The Artist seems deafening. But if you can get past its stillness and allegorical quirks, it certainly is worth a watch.

4 out of 5 reels


So what did you see this weekend, my friends? Any thought on either one of these films, do share them in the comments.

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31 thoughts on “Weekend Viewing Roundup: Margin Call and Another Earth

  1. I saw Margin Call and gave it a fine review. You know what I thought was most interesting about the film – the fact that with next higher level of management they went to -they seem to less and less – I guess ‘hands on’ management is/was a thing of the past. The expression plausible deniability – most often used in politics – was at play in this film.

    And what did you think about the plight of Demi Moore’s character?

    Thanks for the fine read.

    • Yeah, it’s alarming isn’t it that Iron’s character, the big honcho, really didn’t really have a clue what the heck is going on. But once they do, all they cared about is saving their own ass.

      I think it’s ironic about Demi’s character, who didn’t seem to care who the firm would sacrifice until it happens to her! She was ok in this movie but definitely was drown by the other great performances of the others.

  2. Totally forgot about Margin Call, it pretty much went under the radar this awards season. I’ll probably give it rent soon.

    As for Another Earth, I didn’t care for it. In fact, it’s on my list of worst films of 2011. I love the concept and was really looking forward to see it but the execution just wasn’t there. I think Cahill and Marling took on an idea that’s too big for their experience. Had a more talented/experienced director and writer made the film, it could’ve been great. But I seem to be in the minority since many people really enjoyed it.

    • I hear ya Ted, I think a more experienced director would make it Another Earth to another level but I found it surprisingly poignant and moving, so I was generous with my marks there despite some flaws. But then again I like sci-fi films that are not necessarily science-fiction-y, you know what I mean? It’s definitely a genre I think Hollywood should explore more of.

    • Let me know what you think, Iba. Seems to be quite a polarizing film so I’m not sure if people are going to enjoy it as much as I did.

  3. Great reviews Ruth!

    I still need to see Margin Call.

    Ah, more praise for Another Earth. While there were things I really liked about it, I think I was just in the wrong mood when I saw it. It straight up depressed me, and I wasn’t ready for it lol.

    • Oh yeah, I can see Another Earth being viewed as depressing. It does have that forlorn feel to it, the isolation that the characters feel can be unbearable to watch. But I think there is a message of hope in there that I find to be quite moving.

  4. yaii…I am glad you enjoyed Margin Call and even gave it the same rating. I didnt understand the broker talks either, it took me second viewing to quite understand the problem.

    Spacey was great…in fact all actors were great here.

    So…how do you take it over 50/50?

    • The broker talks is really challenging for me as I’m horrible w/ numbers, that’s why we opted to rent it instead of seeing it on the big screen. But the main point of the film is in the characters’ reaction to it, not so much the event itself, which we can all relate with to a degree.

      Hmmm, good question there about comparing it w/ 50/50. Well, I think both of them deserve a nom, I really can’t say which one is better as they’re such different subject matters and genre, but both are impressive. At least I’m glad that one of them gets recognized.

      • I agree 100%…the characters are the best part of the movie…do you think I will go for second viewing if I don’t enjoy the characters ;)

        Now, i am curious with 50/50!

  5. Had a pretty good weekend myself with some movie watching (Max & Mary, “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” and Our Idiot Brother). Saw Margin Call a while back and quite enjoyed it (especially Jeremy Irons) and I’m currently watching Another Earth :)

    • What did you think of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring? What an interesting title! I had to IMDb-ed it to find out what it’s about… http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0374546/

      Jeremy Irons was good though I thought his accent was terrible, it’s like why didn’t they just make him be a Brit instead of American?? He pretty much didn’t bother altering his accent towards the end anyway :) Curious to hear what you think about Another Earth.

      • Really loved it. It’s a pretty slow moving film, but it captivated me as it looks beautiful and it really is a metaphore for the stages in life. Review will probably be up next week.

        I really liked Another Earth, although I had hoped to actually see what happens on that other Earth! Solid movie though…

  6. I am glad you saw these this weekend. I highly enjoyed both the features. Probably Another Earth more than Margin Call, but both were enjoyable to watch!

    Nice reviews my friend

    • Yeah Another Earth is not a perfect film, but I think to me, if I’m able to connect with the film somehow and appreciate it for what it is, then I am willing to overlook the flaws. I certainly think it’s a commendable effort for Marling and Cahill though like Ted said, they may not have the experience to create a truly compelling piece.

  7. Saw The Constant Gardner and Taken, so am now in dire need of a fluffy, light-hearted comedy! Margin Call is now on my radar, but no surprise here – Another Earth is not.

    • Oh those are both good movies but yeah I can see how you want something light hearted after Constant Gardener! Hope you enjoyed the two Gregory movies I lent you :D

      • I’ve yet to see both Yellow Sky and TKAM, since I was so engrossed with the Conversation with Gregory Peck documentary and the making of TKAM, but certainly looking forward to them both those films.

  8. I watched a little bit of Margin Call and it was a little slow. Not sure I’m that eager to finish it. Another Earth on the other hand was a great low budget Sci-fi film.

    Over the weekend I re-watched Warrior and Moneyball. Sport Movies for the win.

    • I didn’t think Margin Call was slow but then again I wasn’t expecting a fast-paced thriller :) Interesting that you didn’t say Another Earth was slow as that is definitely much slower than Margin Call, ahah. I probably won’t mind watching Warrior again but not too enthused about watching Pitt in a baseball movie.

  9. Glad you liked Another Earth. Definitely made on the cheap (like $12,000 I believe) so it looks better than I expected. Very eerie and lyrical (almost reminds me of a music video at times) in tone and Brit Marling gives a solid first-time performance.

    And that ending shot, wow! What did you think about that?

    • That is quite impressive indeed Cas, that’s why I gave it high marks even though surely it could’ve been much more impressive visually if they had more money.

      The ending was quite a head-scratcher, it was certainly one of those ‘whoa’ moment, I don’t know if they had made it open for a sequel maybe? But the thing that makes me wonder is that, if that happens to Rhoda, then what will the John in Earth 2 thinks when the earthly John gets there??

  10. both films with scores I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t really have any interest in Margin Call (glad to know Quinto did well). And I tried to watch Another Earth but it was late at night so I decided to wait until I could pay it proper attention.

    Your reviews make me curious to give them both a second chance. Glad you liked them.

    and thank you for the link love there! :)

    • No interest in Margin Call eh? I think the cast makes it a worthwhile watch T. As for Another Earth, yeah I suppose you should be in the right mood to watch it or else you might hate it or be depressed afterwards.

  11. I’ll have to watch Margin Call now! I’ve been bummed about 50/50′s Will Reiser missing out on an Oscar nom for his script, but it’s interesting to hear good praise for Margin Call’s. Sounds like it has a great cast too! I enjoyed reading your reviews of both films. I’ve also heard/read about Another Earth considerably, and only positive things at that. Looking forward to checking out some new films!

  12. Nice reviews, Ruth! I am looking forward to seeing both of these, and nearly rented Margin Call when it was doing that pre-threatrical VOD run. Can’t go wrong with that cast either, so many big names!

  13. I’m amazed that Margin Call was made for only three million- there are a LOT of big names in that cast for such a small price tag.

    The one thing I found questionable about Margin Call was that I was never sure who the real protagonist was- either Zachary Quinto or Kevin Spacey. Both actors did a tremendous job, but I felt like at the beginning of the film we focus more on Quinto, but by the end everything transfers over to Spacey and Quinto is largely left behind.

    Great reviews!

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