Film Review | Contracorriente (Undertow) by Javier Fuentes-Leon

film poster for undertow contracorrienteSet in a Peruvian fishing village, Contracorriente tells the story of Miguel, a beautiful man with a wife and child on the way and how he deals with the abrupt death of his secret lover Santiago. Miguel is a local with family ties who works on a fishing boat. Santiago is an artist who lives temporarily in the village and is a societal outcast because of his lifestyle. The two meet only in secret and no one knows of their relationship. After a fight, something unexpected happens, which causes Miguel to reevaluate his choices and values.

This film was the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time. I wasn’t expecting the depth and emotional waves that came. If you’re willing to relate to the characters, have a handkerchief nearby. The acting was top notch and the story was completely realistic. I didn’t want this movie to end. It’s no surprise that this film was featured at multiple film festivals and won the 2010 Sundance World Cinema Audience Award. If you loved Julian Schnabel’s film Before Night Falls based on the novel by Reinaldo Arenas, this movie is worth buying. If you want to try it out first, check a library near you. The trailer is also available on the film’s website.


Film Review | Short Term 12 by Destin Cretton

short term 12 dvd coverShort Term 12 is an independent film that focuses on a couple, Grace and Mason, and their work in a foster care facility for at-risk / troubled teens. After being introduced to the facility, staff and residents, a new girl, Jayden, is thrown into the mix. She keeps her distance from the other kids and seems to have a darker side. As Grace attempts to befriend Jayden, she finds Jayden’s current situation to have more in common with her troubled past and abusive father than she is comfortable with. Spurred into action by her father’s upcoming release from prison and an unplanned pregnancy, Grace embarks on a new course that pushes the limits of what has become her reality to try to save herself and Jayden.

This was a great movie. It’s hard to praise a film that deals with child abuse, but Cretton and cast capture all of the emotion without the graphic physical violence. This film shows palpable struggle, not just for Grace and Jayden, but for other characters as well. It presents a very realistic view of what living facilities for at-risk teens can be like, and some of their problems. It’s very clear to me why this film has won awards and been well received by both critics and audiences. If you’re looking for a down-to-earth film with great acting that does a terrific job covering a difficult topic, check out Short Term 12.


Film Review | Una Noche (One Night) by Lucy Mulloy

una noche dvd coverInspired by a true story, Una Noche is a beautiful and moving film that takes place in Havana. Elio and Lila are twins and best friends. Their relationship changes when Elio meets Raul while working in a hotel kitchen. Lila sees Elio less often and suspects he may be up to something. When she follows him, she discovers that he is building a raft to head for Miami. Shocked that he would leave her, she convinces him to let her join. Sailing at first is smooth, but of course the winds change course.

Featuring Cuban rhythms and music and shots of Havana, Una Noche offers a view into present day life in Cuba. While the main event of the film is the escape on the raft, many other parts of day to day life and struggle are shown before departure. Lila mentions that the stores may be empty, but that everything in Havana is for sale if you just know where to get it. The acting is good, the relationships are realistic and the tension is palpable. It’s a good movie (only a few slow spots) that lets you visit Havana despite the travel ban.

Film Review | Key of Life (Kagi-dorobô no mesoddo) by Kenji Uchida

key of life dvd coverI had been waiting for months for this DVD to be released in the US after having seen it in the line up from the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival. Key of Life is a Japanese film that focuses on two men who essentially trade lives. Sakai‘s character is down and out living alone with no money and unable to find acting work. After a failed suicide attempt, he heads to the public bath where he witnesses an accident. A rich hitman (Kagawa) slips and hits his head which lands him in the hospital with amnesia. Sakai assumes the hitman’s identity and Kagawa gives his hand at acting while he tries to regain his memory. A relationship with a magazine editor (Hirosue) ensues and ultimately propels him back on track as Sakai gets in over his head crime-wise.

It was refreshing to see Teruyuki Kagawa in a more serious role than in Tokyo Sonata. He performed solidly as both the dangerous fix-it man and the struggling actor. Sakai and Hirosue seemed to be a bit flatter, but this may just be in comparison. The film itself was entertaining and easy to follow. Dialogue kept the film flowing and the plot was not overly obvious. It showed various settings in Yokohama and glimpses into otherwise unfilmed areas. Look for Key of Life at your local library or watch the streaming version online from Film Movement.

Film Review | Thanks for Sharing by Stuart Blumberg

thanks for sharing dvd coverI was really looking forward to watching this movie after seeing the trailer, but my enthusiasm just about stops there. Though I am a big fan of both Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow, their performances and presence were not enough to off put the irritation I felt as a result of Josh Gad and Alecia Moore. These four people should not be in the same film. Gad is not funny as Ruffalo’s character dutifully points out in the film.

Thanks for Sharing is about a few sex addicts who admit they have problems and join an addicts group to fight their disease. Adam (Ruffalo) has been ‘sober’ for five years when he meets Phoebe (Paltrow) at a party and they hit it off. However, certain character flaws make their relationship spiral out of control causing Adam to have a relapse. Neil (Gad) is fired from his hospital job for gross (sexual) misconduct. He finds a friend in Dede (Moore) and they help each other stay strong. The most interesting and well developed storyline was that of Mike (Tim Robbins), his wife (Joely Richardson) and their recovering drug addict son (Patrick Fugit). Overall, I don’t recommend this movie. I’d have enjoyed Paltrow and Ruffalo together much more with a different plot.

Film Review | All Is Lost starring Robert Redford

movie poster for all is lostAfter watching the trailer for All Is Lost, the title went directly onto my list of upcoming films to see. I enjoy films about sailing and the ocean and have nothing against Robert Redford, though this movie did sound a bit like Life of Pi. While the premise of being stuck at sea is the same, these movies are very different. Plot: Redford is solo sailing the Indian Ocean. His boat sustains damage/ a hole to the hull when it crashes into a shipping container. He attempts repair, but is unable to weather the coming storms which turtle his vessel and snap the mast. The film chronicles his fight to survive.

From the opening scene, I was rapt. I stopped eating my popcorn and stared at the screen. The shots were brilliant with a great color balance. The large picture and surround sound of the theatre really enhanced the experience as sounds on a boat do come from every direction. Redford is the only character and he rarely speaks. Generally the lack of speech would be an issue for me, but it really worked in this instance, giving the viewer the ability to process all of the information about what’s going on without superfluous words. Though some parts were a bit unrealistic and I wasn’t particularly fond of the ending, I would definitely say I enjoyed the film and recommend it to others with similar interests.

Film Review | A Teacher by Hannah Fidell

a teacher I was fortunate enough to attend the Loft Film Fest in Tucson, AZ this past weekend for their screening of A Teacher with writer/director Hannah Fidell. This was Fidell’s first feature length film and in addition to being screened at various international film festivals, it won the SXSW Film Festival‘s 2013 Emergent Narrative Woman Director Award. I had seen a trailer for A Teacher and was really looking forward to it. It was not entirely what I was hoping for, but the film was fairly well done.

There were some well executed shots and sequences, but overuse of ‘jumpy camera’ took away from the overall picture. The music for this film was excellent. It matched the scenes really well and helped to strengthen the moods. When the film began, the teacher and student were already romantically involved. I would have liked to see more of the development of that relationship, which was fairly realistic, but somewhat flat – as were other characters. Lindsay Burdge (the teacher) did a great job with some really heartfelt scenes and was definitely the highlight of the show. She has already been in a few other independent films and has several currently in post-production that I’ll be checking up on. Overall, this movie was fair – I’d buy the soundtrack instead of the film. This independent film is available to rent or buy digitally on Amazon, but does not yet seem to be available on DVD. For more info, read Tucson Weekly’s article: An Interview with ‘A Teacher’ Director Hannah Fidell.