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:
A 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.
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.
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. 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!