First Position

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011

This documentary chronicles the lives of several adolescents (aged 10-17) as they prepare for the World Grand Prix, a prestigious ballet competition with awards that include scholarships to international schools and job offers.

I would have no interest in actually watching a full ballet production, but I have to admit, it was riveting to watch these talented young people.  I actually had to rewatch some of their performances, they were so good.  Maybe the short snippets are more compelling than a full production – it’s more like watching ice skating, which I do like.  Also, seeing the effort that goes into the art and seeing how young some of them are adds to the sense of wonder.

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.