FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #11: “Littlerock” (SIFF review)

Poster for "Littlerock"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel head for the Seattle International Film Festival to review Littlerock, the story of a pair of Japanese siblings finding their way through a desert town in California. Glenn’s lovely fiancee Megan jumps in to expound on the nature of a “nice guy” and offer her unique perspective as a fluent Japanese speaker. Click below to listen to our discussion of this surprise cross-cultural gem [may contain some NSFW language] (19:09).

FilmWonk ratings: 8.5/10 (Glenn), 9/10 (Megan), 8.5/10 (Daniel)

Show notes:

  • The actor in attendance at the screening was Ryan Dillon, who plays Brody in the film.
  • Music for this episode is the track “Bramble“, by The Cave Singers, from the film’s original soundtrack.

Listen above, or download: Littlerock (right-click, save as).

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SIFF Roundup: “Another Earth”, “Kosmos”


Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Brit Marling and Mike Cahill

Another Earth is an ambitious film, to be sure. It depicts the sudden appearance of another planet, seemingly identical to our own, in perfect view in the skies above New Haven, CT. The planet appears in nearly every outdoor shot of the film, which made me momentarily wonder if a planet that is visibly larger and closer than the moon in geostationary orbit might be catastrophic for our planet’s tides, tectonic plates, continued human existence, and so forth.

While the film doesn’t directly address these issues, it’s possible that similar worries are flowing through the head of Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a 17-year-old student who has recently been accepted to MIT. On the night that Earth Two appears, she is driving under the influence and gazing up at the new planet, and the distraction is sufficient to send her careening into the family station wagon of music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother from “Lost”), putting him into a coma and instantly killing his wife and son. At this point, the film skips ahead 4 years, as Rhoda emerges from prison and gets it into her head to reconnect with John (who has since awoken) to apologize, and because she was a minor at the time of the accident, her name was sealed in the court records, and he has no idea who she is. At this point, the film effectively ditches its sci-fi premise and becomes an exploration of an extremely ill-advised relationship between the two, as well as a study of grief and regret. Earth Two becomes a cipher – an ever-present reminder of what Rhoda has done that could have been replaced with virtually anything else – a photograph? A roadside memorial?

It was in that sense that the film was disappointing. As Rhoda enters a contest with a private space agency (in a nice bit of worldbuilding) for the first commercial flight to Earth Two, we’re meant to believe it’s something she desperately wants for herself, but the film never quite sells this idea. Instead, it just ends up comparing unfavorably to a film like Gattaca, in which the romance of spaceflight and the unrelenting desire to achieve it make up an ever-present and thoroughly convincing backdrop. This film gives us Rhoda’s prior interest in astronomy, as well as the occasional gaze through a telescope (in broad daylight, through a window), but we’re never sure if she really wants to go to Earth Two, or if she simply no longer wishes to live on Earth One, where she’s caused so much pain and suffering.

The film has an undeniably effective sci-fi premise (on-the-nose metaphors notwithstanding), but it never quite succeeded in portraying a world in which such a mindbending event has occurred. All the fascinating bits of hard sci-fi are relegated to momentary snippets from talking heads on radio and TV, and the few everyday people that we meet never quite seem like their lives have been altered significantly. A sudden third-act revelation about the occupants of Earth Two is also not explored in sufficient detail, particularly by those who are considering making the trip.

Nonetheless, Marling and Mapother’s performances are convincing, and effectively sell the increasing stakes of their relationship as Rhoda continues to hide her true identity. While Another Earth doesn’t succeed as a piece of science fiction, it is at least somewhat effective as an exploration of grief and regret.

FilmWonk rating: 5.5 out of 10


Written/directed by Reha Erdem

As a general rule, I will not seek out writer/director interviews in order to increase my understanding of a film that I intend to write about. Since this film was followed by a director Q&A, I was not expecting to write a review – but for Kosmos, I will make an exception. First, because there is enough inexplicable weirdness in this film to make David Lynch blush. And second, because the Q&A only illuminated the extent to which a shit-eating grin transcends language barriers, as Erdem’s good-natured amusement at the audience’s befuddled response (and refusal to answer any questions in detail) was apparent even via translator.

The film begins with the titular Kosmos (Sermet Yasil) appearing outside a Turkish mountain village and immediately saving the life of a boy drowning in the river. The boy is ostensibly frozen to death when Kosmos plucks him from the water, but walks away nonetheless, the first of many to be aided by Kosmos’ ability to cure all manner of ailments, both physical and mental. He also speaks in very formal, almost scriptural language, expounding in broad strokes about the nature of God, man, good and evil, and so forth. He also breaks into a cheese shop and steals money from the cash drawer. And he also courts the girl of his dreams, Neptün (Türkü Turan), via a giddy, animalistic call-and-response game, in which the two chase each other around the village while blasting high-pitched, ornithic love-screams.

While Kosmos is a bizarrely fascinating character – equal parts Doctor Who, Jesus Christ, and psychotic hobo – he is but a small component of this densely packed film. Old men in a tea shop debate a petition to open up the border to trade, even as their wary attitudes about outsiders become readily apparent. The army conducts some kind of exercise nearby, giving the town a constant rumble of distant munitions explosions. A satellite is also poised to crash, and we hear snippets of its failing radio signal throughout the film. And what’s more, the townsfolk complain about this as if it’s a common occurrence.

I don’t dare summarize any more plot (I’ve omitted a story lifted wholesale from Weekend at Bernie’s), but suffice to say, there’s a lot going on in this film, and I was completely taken in by it. Kosmos is an incredibly rich (and beautifully shot) experience that I suspect will become even richer on subsequent viewings. While its weirdness for weirdness’ sake wore on my patience a bit by the third act, I’ve still found myself pondering the lives and interactions of this small-town slice of life every day since I saw the film. From the politicos in the tea shop to the random flocks of geese, I would gladly spend more time with all of them – even Kosmos with his migraine-inducing bird calls.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #10: Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor”

This week, Nick returns to throw down the gauntlet and help Glenn review Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, the latest entry in the Avengers saga. Will it be a worthy standalone film, or merely a S.H.I.E.L.D.-infused trailer for what’s to come? Listen below to find out [may will contain some NSFW language] (24:21).

(Part 1 – 10:01)
(Part 2 – 14:20)

FilmWonk ratings: 5/10 (Glenn), 4/10 (Nick)

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode is from Patrick Doyle’s original score for the film (track: “Sons of Odin”).

Listen above, or download: Thor Part 1, Part 2 (right-click, save as).

Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver” – Everyone loves a trainwreck – but there are limits

Poster for "The Beaver"

Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a severely depressed, self-hating individual who pulls himself back from the brink of suicide and starts talking through a stuffed beaver puppet he finds in a dumpster. This performance may be hard to write about, but it was even harder to watch. The beaver persona strikes a comedic note at first, but these beats seem increasingly out of place as the film descends further and further into Walter’s insanity. Whenever Walter is forced to speak in his own voice (without the jaunty British accent), Gibson conveys such intractable discomfort and crippling hopelessness with every syllable that you wonder how Walter has managed to stave off suicide thusfar. His mere existence is a punishing chore. At the beginning of the film, I wondered if I would be able to judge this film without pondering Gibson’s real-life persona. By the end, I forgot Gibson entirely and found myself nearly weeping for the increasingly pitiful creature that is Walter Black. This performance may be unpleasant to watch, but it is certainly one of Gibson’s finest.

Did I mention Walter has a teenage son? When Porter Black (Anton Yelchin) isn’t selling term papers to his high school classmates or romancing one of his clients (Jennifer Lawrence), he spends his time writing down Post-Its of every one of his similarities to his father, no matter how minute (“Rubs eyebrows”), in staunch determination to eliminate every last one of them before he heads off to college. To this end, he is also planning a contrived roadtrip worthy of Elizabethtown, wherein he will visit locations around the country where “everything changed forever” (such as the balcony where Martin Luther King was shot), in a desperate effort to find himself.

I’ll be blunt – I hated this character. He felt like the worst sort of indie cliché, and I found every moment of his screentime excruciating. By the end of the film, we’re seemingly meant to draw parallels between Porter and his father, but they never quite landed. Apart from some apparent OCD, Porter seems a great deal more high-functioning, intelligent, and capable than Walter. While it’s certainly possible that he might slip into a depressed and self-destructive state, the film never really shakes the feeling that no matter what happens, this kid will be just fine. Yelchin’s performance is acceptable, but the character just feels sloppily and unbelievably written.

Still from "The Beaver"

In fact, suspension of disbelief is one of the hardest things about watching The Beaver – this story never quite feels like it could take place in the real world. Porter’s subplot took up nearly half of the film and felt like a complete distraction, and Walter’s story also felt unfocused. While I could accept the absurd degree to which Walter’s family and colleagues accepted his newfound puppetry, his rapid ascendence to fame over a nationwide craze of…children’s woodchopping kits (?) was just too much of a stretch, and felt completely out of place amid the dark family drama that was brewing.

Jodie Foster (also the film’s director) gives a heartbreaking performance as Walter’s wife Meredith – she and Gibson have always had impressive chemistry together, and this film tests it to destruction. In one of the film’s best scenes, the couple goes out to dinner for their 20th anniversary – without spoiling how it ends, I will say that it was physically uncomfortable to watch, and that it was an impressive showcase of both acting and direction.

Porter’s love interest, Norah (Lawrence) gives a rather unsettling speech near the end of the film, ostensibly spelling out its message – maybe everything’s not going to be okay, but at least we’ve got each other. The tone of this speech was as dark as the rest of the film, but as a moral of this somber tale, it somehow works. The Beaver is a deeply flawed, but profoundly affecting film. I can’t say I especially welcomed its effects, but it may be a fascinating character piece for those who have suffered from depression (or their loved ones) – those who know the loneliness that can engulf these individuals even when they’re surrounded by people who desperately want to help.

The Beaver may strain credulity, but its raw sentiment feels real and tragic. That said, it’s not a film I would comfortably recommend to anyone.

FilmWonk rating: 4 out of 10