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Quendrith Johnson


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Going Their Way? Brit Marling, Ellen Page, and Zal Batmanglij & THE EAST

 

by Quendrith Johnson

 

When Ellen Page tells you she "was playing it cool on the inside" meeting with Brit Marling ("Arbitrage") and Sundance darling director Zal Batmanglij, you have to wonder what all the fuss is about. 

To hear Zal tell it, "when I heard Ellen Page wanted to meet with us..." The movie in question, "The East," premiered last night in Hollywood at the ArcLight to an adoring hometown crowd, uh, hometown of Hollywood, that is. 

Nancy Utley, the gifted President of Fox Searchlight Pictures introduced this picture with "we knew we wanted to make movies with him," meaning Zal. Thank god for Nancy Utley because she restores your faith in 'the suits.' But this is an unusual executive. Standing there in a red carpet-ready yellow cocktail dress, before a packed audience that included folks like Jason Reitman, Bryce Dallas Howard, Catherine Hardwicke,  Billy Idol (!), and other regulars, Utley glows. You can tell she truly loves this guy, this creative team actually. 

 

Co-written with Brit Marling, whom Zal is real life long-time (not romantic) pals with, "The East" can be log-lined as an eco-terroist romance that includes gut-wrenching moments of bad corporate citizenship where the jeopardy just feels real. Real not only for the characters, but for you watching, and the planet. Don't worry, it's not a weepy go-go Green Peace finger-wagger.

 

If there was an additional soundtrack for when a filmmaker team is minted, you would have heard the delicate clicking of a beautifully shot and plotted, nicely scored (by Halli Cauthery), finely engineered, piece of cinema coming into being.

 

Zal, who brought his mom and dad to the screening and the afterparty, mentioned the following right up front" "I think Brit and I used to come here, to the ArcLight, to see movies, but we could never have imagined we would be showing a movie here." Brit Marling, who looks like a cross between Veronica Lake and Lillian Gish, is so unassuming off-camera, it is hard to believe she is the powerhouse writer, producer, actor that she is. A lot of her sentences start with "Oh, I don't know..." Marling does know, though.

 

But Zal is opener, "I can't tell you what it is like to go to work with my best friend every day," he says of Brit.

Later at the party they are locked in a BFF embrace with Alexander Skarsgard, who plays culty collective ringleader "Benji," looking on. Alex is jazzed to be in this movie, somebody says "You were awesome," and his head tilts back, mocking the whole celebrity nod. "Yeah, I know," he jokes. Even as he, Brit, Ellen, Hillary Baack, Shiloh Fernandez, Aldis Hodge ("Leverage"), and Patricia Clarkson are actually awesome.

 

"I play this evil CEO," Patricia smiles, then waltzes by in a red dress that should have its own theme music. Clarkson is one of those actors that actors love, and diehard fans, as well as rational adults. She exudes authority in "The East" as the chief executive of a clandestine organization that protects Fortune 100 companies from pesky problems like human rights' activists, eco-terrorists, and does just about anything for these multi-nationals.

 

Zal barks out that Clarkson used to be a Louisiana football team cheerleader, asks her to do a kick. She holds the bottom of her superhot dress like 'are you kidding?' Julia Ormond is in this movie, though not here tonight, also Jason Ritter. The supercharged feeling on screen extends to those here tonight at the LA premiere.

 

The chemistry between the cast is like that too. In some gritty scenes, there are these grubby-appropriate eco-survivalist rituals that include masks (hey, it's a plot point), open bon fires, and hippie bonding -- oh, and triage on the kitchen table with renegade doctor who got brain damage from a Big Pharma product. Amazing that this melange of messages and mystery works as well as it does.

 

Sponsored by Piaget, Fox Searchlight's afterparty at No Vacancy in Hollywood somehow works too. (Like, how do you throw a party after 30 ft. high images of oil-soaked cormorants, real dead poisoned sea turtles, and shoreline run amok with a nautical-miles wide oil slick?)

 

Ellen Page is the life of the party, that's how the party worked. On her feet, shoes off, on the bricks, Page just lit the place up. And this is what they are hoping "The East" will do. On May 31 watch for it. The roll-out will be on the coasts and selectively in other markets. You have to wave a flag for this one, because message aside, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have a collective gift as storytellers.

 

Clearly they have a lot to say, a lot more in store for us. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of beautiful friendship" in cinematic terms.

 

Find it in the theaters May 31, or at www.theeastmovie.com

 

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith
LA Correspondent for fest21.com & filmfestivals.com

United States



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