Somewhere Between

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011

This documentary profiles the lives of 4 American teenagers, all of whom are girls who were adopted from China.  The filmmaker was inspired to make this film after adopting her own daughter from China, and wondering how her daughter will fare in her new life.

The girls discuss some profound issues, like identity and their sense of abandonment, with moving candour.  All 4 girls are quite articulate and thoughtful and come from diverse adoptive families.  The filmmaker also follows two of the girls as they go back to China to search for their birth parents.

Highly recommended – and get your tissues ready.

Fish Tank

2 stars (out of 4)

Released 2009

This independent film, set in a housing project on the outskirts of London, is a portrait of a troubled 15-year old named Mia and shows how she is affected by the arrival of her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (played by Michael Fassbender).

Because of the film’s slow and deliberate pace, we watch Mia’s ill-advised actions (picking fights, trying to steal a horse, breaking and entering) with the expectation that she has some grander plan that we don’t yet know.

Unfortunately, it seems the movie’s only purpose is a character study of a not-too-bright teen and the disadvantaged circumstances that she is all-too-predictably unable to rise above.

Young Victoria

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2009

After being impressed with Emily Blunt’s performance in The Jane Austen Book Club, I followed Netflix’s suggestion that I try this movie.

This film focuses on the few years around Queen Victoria’s coronation, including how she chooses her husband and how she learns to hold on to power.  The story is at times told from the perspective of her suitor, Prince Albert, who faces pressure from his uncle, the king of Belgium, to win Victoria over.

Although it’s a fairly straightforward story, I was impressed by the ability of the two lead actors to convince us of their genuine attraction, despite the unromantic fact that their match was strategically convenient.  (And after some Wikipedia surfing, it seems the story is fairly historically accurate.)

The Jane Austen Club

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2007

The concept of this film is that a group of women, plus one lone guy, form a book club dedicated to reading Austen’s novels, and the conceit is that each member’s life mirrors one of the characters in her books.  It’s a cute idea, but because there are so many separate stories to tell, there’s not enough time to properly develop most of them.

Frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve read most of Austen’s novels and I couldn’t remember some of the plotlines well enough to see the parallels with the present-day characters (not that familiarity with the books is needed to follow the movie).  Of the three novels I know well, the parallels were superficial enough that I did not feel that they added any depth to our understanding of the movie characters.

I would have rated this film 2 stars, were it not for Emily Blunt’s performance.  Her character starts out annoying, in a cartoonish sense almost out of sync with the rest of the film, but gradually becomes more and more relatable and sympathetic.

CHRONICLE

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2012

Three teenagers stumble upon an underground cave and encounter something which mysteriously gives them the power of telekinesis.  These are regular boys, not superheroes, and they do not have any exceptional maturity or mental stability to help them handle their newfound “great power”.  We follow them as they experiment with and learn to use their abilities and eventually see the effect they have on the outside world.

There’s the added gimmick of the movie being seen through the lens of a home-video camera and it’s mostly effective and creatively-used, and doesn’t detract from the story.

Coincidentally, CHRONICLE can function as an origin story for the ongoing anime series Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World), which imagines what the world will be like hundreds of years after some of the population acquire telekinesis and become a threat to humanity.  More on that later, maybe…

 

The Descendants

3 stars (maybe 3.25 stars?)

(released 2011)

George Clooney stars as a man dealing with the imminent death of his wife, trying to reconnect with his two young daughters and make peace with the the shortcomings of his marriage.

Featuring a thoughtful script which slowly reveals the true (and somewhat surprising) natures of each of the main characters, the film starts off with a refreshingly unsentimental depiction of a family dealing with loss, but by the end, earns its emotional final scene.

I think this film deserves to be called “inspired” (which would earn it 3.5 stars) but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s amazing or inventive enough that I would want to re-watch it (which means it only rates 3 stars).  Maybe I will have to start using an intermediate 3.25 star rating after all.

Happy-Go-Lucky

 

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2008

Essentially a character study of a cheerful, single, British schoolteacher as she encounters various situations/characters which test her mettle.  Not a whole lot happens in this movie, but the main character does have an interesting and unique take on life.  Directed by Mike Leigh.

Easy A

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2010

I actually watched this movie about a year ago, but recently re-watched it and thought I would post a rating on it since my recent reviews have been so uniformly negative.

Emma Stone is winning and full of personality in this perfect vehicle for her talents.  Excellent, witty script where even the minor characters (her parents, her best friend) are interesting.

Carnage

2 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011

I knew I wouldn’t like this movie, based on a scathing review I read when it was first released, but, hey, it was on Netflix, and I was curious to see how bad it could be, given its all-star cast (Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly) and director (Roman Polanski).

Well, I finished watching it, but only just barely – I thought about turning it off several times mid-movie.  The story was adapted from a play and is about two couples whose meeting over a fight between their sons quickly descends from stilted courtesy to yelling and hysterics.  The whole thing unfolds in the living room of one of the couples, mainly because at every reasonable opportunity to end the increasingly useless meeting, the characters decide to keep talking.  I might have forgiven that narrative device, if the dialogue had felt more real and if there were more interesting revelations about the characters.