Double Indie Film Reviews: Disconnect + Unfinished Song

This past week, I had the chance to watch a couple of indie films through MSPIFF and press screening. It would’ve been three films but the blizzard last Thursday kept me from going to the MUD screening. Yes it’s such a bummer but really, in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to what’s going on in other parts of the world, it’s really not that big a deal to miss a single movie, I’ll just catch it when it’s released in the cinema. In any case, here are my mini reviews I was fortunate to see:

Disconnect

DisconnectPosterA hard-working lawyer, attached to his cell phone, can’t find the time to communicate with his family. A couple is drawn into a dangerous situation when their secrets are exposed online. A widowed ex-cop struggles to raise a mischievous son who cyber-bullies a classmate. An ambitious journalist sees a career-making story in a teen that performs on an adult-only site. They are strangers, neighbors and colleagues and their stories collide in this riveting dramatic thriller about ordinary people struggling to connect in today’s wired world.

Right from the trailer, it’s easy to just regard this as a cautionary tale for the internet age, but as the story unfolds, it’s really about more than that. And at some point, we’ve either read about or even have a personal connection with the real life tragedies that happen to the characters in the film. Something that’s seemingly trivial like being constantly on one’s cell phone, something I definitely could relate to, can have dire consequences if it actually mean we’ve become ‘disconnected’ from the world and people around us. All three loosely-interconnected stories seem like something ripped from the headlines and director Henry Alex Rubin doesn’t pull any punches in showing the truly ugly side of humanity, the kind of hurt and tragedy that can happen when we think of everything as simply fun and frivolity. The most heart-breaking story involves the cyber-bullying by a couple of mindless teenagers posing as a female admirer on Facebook to trick a particularly forlorn fellow classmate. The eerie part is I was just reading about a teen driven to suicide for similar reasons just a day before I saw this film. You know that the ‘fun and games’ would not end well, but it still makes your skin crawl watching the situation culminating into that harrowing moment. A friend of mine warned me that this film contain a lot of nudity, which I sort of expected given the subject matter. I still question whether it’s necessary to portray teen nudity even if it’s integral to the story, but fortunately this film doesn’t dwell on it and the script did its part in conveying the painful message across. At times I feel that the buildup is a bit too drawn-out though, I think a more careful editing might’ve made this a more taut and efficient thriller.

Disconnect_Andrea_Jason

A couple of performances jump out at me right away, one is Andrea Riseborough who pulls a ‘Jessica Chastain’ on me as I had no idea who she was a few weeks ago and this week I happen to see two of her films playing two very different roles! Here she plays an ambitious reporter who runs a career-making story on teenage sex-cam prostitution who ended up being drawn to one of the male prostitute, Kyle (Max Thieriot, whom I have never heard before either but was quite good here). Oh it’s interesting to see designer Marc Jacobs playing the sex-cam pimp, I had no idea he’s got acting aspirations but I recognize him right away from the fashion magazines. The other standout performance is Jason Bateman in a rare serious role as the overworked father who’s trying to put the pieces together after almost losing his son. He’s believable as a dad who’s ravaged with guilt, but then became too obsessed with the case he risk of losing his whole family.

I also want to mention Frank Grillo who impressed me in Warrior as Joel Edgerton’s trainer. I find him to be a compelling but underrated actor, I wish he’d get more prominent role as he’s got quite a leading man charisma. Not overly impressed with Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård as the married couple, I mean they’re ok but aren’t as memorable as the rest. This is quite a tough film to watch, in fact I feel drained at the end of the film as there’s barely any humor injected here to break up the intensity. But it’s one of those films that is definitely worth a watch as it makes you think about the seemingly-trivial things one does in life. As the tagline says: Real life is on the line, it certainly makes me appreciate those close to me and remind me not to take the time we have with them for granted.


4 out of 5 reels


Unfinished Song [Song for Marion]

Grumpy pensioner Arthur honors his recently deceased wife’s passion for performing by joining the unconventional local choir to which she used to belong, a process that helps him build bridges with his estranged son, James. SongForMarionPoster

I don’t know why they changed the title to Unfinished Song as it’s not as appealing as Song for Marion to me. The film is really about a ‘song’ for Marion, a terminally-ill woman who’s loved by the community choir class she attends to regularly. Now, her curmudgeon husband Arthur obliges in taking her to these classes but he never pretends to enjoy it. In fact, at some moment of the film, Arthur really struggles in simply enjoying life, such a contrast to his wife’s sunny disposition even in her darkest moments when her cancer came back and she only had weeks to live. The main draw of this film for me is the cast, especially Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave as an elderly couple Arthur and Marion who love each other despite their major differences. It’s also nice to see an uplifting film amidst the mostly dark premise of the films I’ve signed up for at MSPIFF. There’s also something enchanting about seeing the lives of seniors, and the musical aspect reminds me a bit of Quartet with Maggie Smith as a retired opera singer. Though Marion is in the title, the film is really more about Arthur and how the last days of his wife’s life ends up being a life-transforming moment, in more ways than one. It’s never fully explained why Arthur is so grumpy, but Terrence Stamp seems fittingly-cast here as he has this inherently icy aura. He’s the kind of actor who’s amusing to watch even if you aren’t fond of the character he’s playing. I guess that’s what one would expect from an actor who’s famous for playing bad guys. Gemma Arterton takes a break from being a femme-fatale type and plays a sweet music teacher Elizabeth spends most of the time either with the young students at her school or with her more um, mature students in her spare time. Other than that, there’s no depth in her character however, the film never tells us why she has no friends her own age. There’s a friendship that develops between her and Arthur, but it seems rather forced at times despite the actors’ best effort. UnfinishedSong_Pics Now, I wish I could say I LOVE this film but I feel that the predictable premise is made worse by the overly emotionally-manipulative direction which prevents it from being truly engaging. I think the main issue is the script as director/writer Paul Andrew Williams obviously has a stellar cast at their disposal. The family dynamics between Arthur and his estranged son (Christopher Eccleston) isn’t as compellingly-handled as it could’ve been, either. That said, there are some tender and warm moments that end in a feel-good finale. The musical aspect is definitely amusing, and Mr. Stamp wowed me with his vocal chops in more than one occasions. I think this one is worth a rental if you’re a fan of the cast and you’re willing to tolerate the sentimental stuff. It’s moving enough to appreciate and enjoy, one thing for sure its heart is in the right place.


3 out of 5 reels

Thoughts on either one of these films/cast? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

FlixChatter Review: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

It’s been a while since the last time I was excited to see a Tom Cruise movie. I was intrigued when the first trailer came out, but it’s this featurette that got me hooked! Yes, The Dark Knight Rises prologue was a major factor of course (more on that on tomorrow’s Weekend Roundup), so those two combined is enough to get my hubby and I to shell out $16 bucks a piece to see this in IMAX!

Unlike the convoluted story of the first Mission Impossible movie, this time around the plot is pretty easy to follow, albeit predictable:

The IMF (which apparently stands for Impossible Missions Force, NOT International Monetary Fund) is shut down when it’s framed by a terrorist group in the bombing of the Kremlin, propelling Ethan Hunt and his new team to go rogue to clear their organization’s name.

I have to admit, I thought the story reminds me of a Sean Connery/Roger Moore era Bond movies, what with the stereotypical Russian villains, nuclear war threats, etc., but what makes the film works is the execution. Pixar director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) in his first foray into live action film confidently packed this movie with bombastic action sequences that thrills from start to finish!

Cruise is in top form as the super-spy/bionic man (how else do you explain him surviving multiple high-rise falls & car crashes with barely a scratch??), and his death-defying stunts are really the reason we go see a Mission Impossible movie! The Burj Khalifa scene is truly the highlight of this movie, it’s pure adrenaline-rush seeing ’em on those huge IMAX screens! If you have vertigo, you might already passed out at this point as the camera pans down vertically to make you feel as if you were right on top of the building along with Cruise. Even my palms got a bit sweaty seeing this whole scene, but just like a fun roller coaster ride, seeing him perched 2000+ feet above the ground is absolutely thrilling to watch. When that scene is over, I wish I could rewind it and see it over again! I tell you, this scene alone alone is worth the IMAX admission price for me.

Fortunately, the level of excitement doesn’t go downhill after that. The sandstorm chase scene and the suspense inside the Burj Khalifa hotel itself are pretty engaging. Each high-octane action sequence advances the storyline instead of simply being there as crowd-pleasers. Ethan and his team work well together, thanks to a talented crew of actors. Jeremy Renner is obviously a capable actor, and he’s quite likable here (I wasn’t too keen on him in The Town). I’m starting to warm up slightly to the idea of him taking over the franchise. This scene of him hanging with his hands spread wide is a classic Mission Impossible shot, so perhaps this is the producers’ way of signaling the audience that he’s the next Ethan Hunt??

This movie also seems a lot more whimsical than before. Even though Simon Pegg was also in the previous installment, the script calls for even more comic relief all around. Even the beginning prison scene and the one inside the Kremlin is quite hilarious. I think it’s wise that the screenwriters didn’t take a movie like this too seriously, I mean the title alone should warn you NOT to expect a profound espionage thriller.

Paula Patton brings on the sex appeal in droves as the bad ass agent Carter. This mission is more of a personal vendetta for her as the intro indicates, so her role is more than just the sexy agent, though of course there is a time when her sensuality is crucial to the mission. In the scene of her wearing the green dress with slit up-to-there, she has a similar grand entrance out of the sports car like Maggie Q did in MI3. Well, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? Slumdog Millionaire‘s Anil Kapoor brings on the sleaze as the Indian rich guy Carter has to seduce, and Patton does it with aplomb.

Ghost Protocol plays like a popcorn Summer blockbuster, I’m surprised this movie didn’t open in July as I’d think it’d still fare pretty well against the competition. As I said before, the story is pretty generic with the villain by the name Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist) hellbent on starting WWIII for seemingly no particular reason. I’ve never seen the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film, but I’d think Nyqvist was more effective in that one. That’s just one of the things that keep this from being a GREAT movie.

That said, Brad Bird’s confident direction and the inventive actions scenes makes this movie work. Just like in 007 movies, the iconic theme song for the MI franchise is also used to great effect here and complement the robust scenes perfectly. By the end you’d be willing to forgive quibbles such as Hunt being indestructible as if he were injected with adamantium, and even that darn ‘mission accomplished’ line.
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4 out of 5 reels

So what do you think of this movie? Are you a fan of the MI franchise? I’d love to hear what you think.