Category Archives: 2011/12 USA Movies

Starlet (2012) – USA / UK

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 12th March 2014

Directed by: Sean Baker
Starring: Dree Hemingway, Besedka Johnson

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“Starlet” is one of those films that waits for you to embrace it, before totally overwhelming the audience with strong emotions and a thought-provoking finale. I really enjoyed this film and the best thing about it, is the manner director / writer Sean Baker goes about his business, without being flashy, pretentious, but simply creating the right moments for the actors to shine. Baker constantly allows and lingers on the actor’s facial expressions, their detail interactions and especially a sweet little story focusing on the young Dree Hemingway and the old granny Besedka Johnson. Despite the fact that Dree Hemingway works in the porn industry and scream out during explicit sex scene, nothing is ever over-done or over-cooked. In fact, Dree is able present a multi-facet performance, where she is able separate her work as a porn star and going about every life with her beloved puppy dog “Starlet” and her “sort-of” redemption of being indirectly being in possession of Besedka Johnson’s long lost money. “Starlet” is a beautiful little film that is able to capture the youth, the drugs, the sex, the life, the relationships and ultimately a story about two very different people, from a huge generation gap and how they grew closer. This is a wonderful film for the ages.

Considering this is a debut performance from the late Besedka Johnson, who shot the film when she was 85 years old. Johnson is simply wonderful and never over-acts. Her fragile figure belies a story to tell and her interactions with Dree Hemingway essentially made the film a success. Dree Hemingway is light-hearted and despite being around her best friend Stella Maeve who is totally drugged up and used up in the porn industry, Hemingway comes off rather loving and in fact, the most realistic character. Everyone have their struggles and the way she wants to discover the life of an unknown old granny is fascinating and believable to watch. Soon, we almost forgotten about the cash that she that took from the garage sale and instead we enjoy the performances of the two.

All in all, “Starlet” is wonderful little film that never fails to grow onto the audience. Like Dree, we are fascinated by Besedka Johnson’s old age and going her everyday life. The dog “Starlet” adds to the humor and some cute giggles and moments, but ultimately it is the relationship between the two different characters that made the film a joy to endure. “Starlet” succeeds in exploring the notion of humanity, friendship, redemption as well as perhaps suggesting a 2nd chance. A film for all ages and one that easily stays with you. (Neo 2014)

I rated it 8/10

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Spring Breakers 狂野青春 (2012) – USA

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 12th August 2013

Directed by: Harmony Korine
Produced by: Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Jordan Gertner, Chris Hanley, David Zander
Written by: Harmony Korine

Starring: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco

Film Distributed by Golden Scene
In cinemas Hong Kong from 15 August 2013.

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The movie begins outrageously showing precisely what is young and dangerous. “Spring Breakers” does go to the excess, but sometimes overdoing something may not be a good thing. When the best thing in the movie is James Franco uncanny performance as the bad-ass drug dealer who brings in hot babes and plenty of cash. Let’s put it as that, “Spring Breakers” is not a bad movie, as it doesn’t qualify as an cinematic experience. Surely there are plenty of visual for the candy coated eyes, but the story, the acting and direction provides more question marks than not.

The trio of girls played by Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, simply cannot put together a convincing performance. None of the three provides enough character or depth for the audience to even recognise them. Selena Gomez appears in a few scenes and despite being the best of the girls, she simply disappears and never come, literally. However, the key to the show is an excellent supporting and scene stealing performance from James Franco, who is almost unrecognisable. Franco is able to channel the spirit of the party and almost instantly capture the audience attention. This is a good performance from a bad movie.

All in all, “Spring Breakers” is able to portray the party scene in spontaneous moments, however, a few moments does not make a film. It is difficult to assess this movie when nothing seems to make any sense and padding on the almost ridiculous ending certainly does not help. Apart from James Franco who is simply above the cast and the film, everything is done below meritocracy and that is terrible. Looks great on the poster, but the film is entirely something else. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 3.5/10

Mud 爛泥 (2012) – USA

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 11th August 2013

Directed by Jeff Nichols
Produced by Lisa Maria Falcone, Sarah Green, Aaron Ryder
Written by Jeff Nichols

Starring: Matthew McConaughey as Mud, Reese Witherspoon as Juniper, Tye Sheridan as Ellis, Jacob Lofland as Neckbone, Sam Shepard as Tom Blankenship, Ray McKinnon as Senior, Sarah Paulson as Mary Lee, Michael Shannon as Galen

Film Distributed by Golden Scene
In cinemas Hong Kong from 15 August 2013.

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“Mud” is one of those amazing film that takes you on a journey of discovery and keeps you on your toes till the finish line. It is a rare quality that is not often seen and director Jeff Nichols excels in this by creating characters and grows with the audience as the film progresses. In fact you are never entirely sure what the next move the character will take and how they will come about a certain decision. Movies about love is never something new, therefore it is manner that the film goes about it that makes it so interesting and intriguing to endure. The star of the show is Tye Sheridan who plays a 14 year old kid who essentially witness everything you need to know about love, from his parents on the brink of divorce, to the teenager puppy love games playing to Matthew McConaughey undying love for Reese Witherspoon and Witherspoon’s own inability to appreciate love to himself blindly going after a girl that simply doesn’t like him.

Tye Sheridan carries the film with a certain level of realism and passion for life and people that essentially evaluates the film to a different level. He is ably supported a indifferent Matthew McConaughey who simply shines and steal every scene he is involved within. There is depth in McConaughey despite his limited screen and by the end of the film, he remains one of the more memorable characters. Reese Witherspoon appears in nothing more than a glorify cameo and does an adequate job within the allocated slots.

What I really enjoyed about “Mud” is that it never tries to be pretentious, forcefully involving, but rather relying on a well structured script and extremely relevant human issues about life and love. While it does not break any grounds, the film suddenly reaches crescendo at the right time near the end. The film seemed to just go about life and moves at a steady pace, while letting the audience to understand a bit more about its characters one step at a time. All in all, “Mud” is not a classic, but it is well worth the journey taken. After-all, life is never perfect and therefore even within a pile of mud, we can still find a silver lining. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 8.5/10

Disconnect 斷了線 (2012) – USA

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 18th July 2013

Director: Henry Alex Rubin
Cast: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgard, Max Thieriot
Writers: Andrew Stern

Film Distributed by Golden Scene
In cinemas Hong Kong from 25 July 2013.

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When a film have numerous lines of events linking them together, it is never easy and at most times, the resolution remains more corny than overwhelmingly emotional. So it is entirely refreshing to see “Disconnect” manages to connect to the audience from the get-go and link everything together till the inevitable dramatic finale. Not unlike Danny Boyle’s “Trance”, the film deals with difficult issues of underage pornography, crime, ethics, media and the consequences of our own actions. Director Henry Alex Rubin is every bit competent in linking all these very different, but important themes to tell a powerful message, even if it all seems far too over the top by the end. It is a highly commendable effort that is likely to engage and affect.

What makes “Disconnect” work so well is its ability to use the show-not-tell principle, thus allowing the audience to remain focused at the source on hand. The internet and technology has essentially changed the way we live and the manner we go about our lives. Internet dating has now become the norm and indeed cybersex is always going to be part of the fun. The film shows exactly how dangerous technology can really be and the terrible aftermath and consequences when it is misused. Pretending to be a girl on Facebook and flirting with a schoolmate may seem harmless and even funny to a certain degree, but when it goes over the top, cyber bullying has just as much impact, if not more consequences as old school bullying. Credit card fraud is also far scarier than you realize as the impact on one’s life can be enormous. This film succeeds in telling the audience about all these relevant and existing issues without being pretentious.

Jason Bateman takes on a serious role as the concerned father who takes a big hit in life, after his son (Jonah Bobo) got caught in the loop of cyber bullying and the resulting consequences that ensues. While, Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton plays a couple whose life is totally destroyed by their loss of child, before falling victim to stolen identity that ironically restore that their lifeless relationship. Another central story goes the route of exploring the underage cybersex industry as Andrea Riseborough plays a reporter who befriends a cybersex worker Max Thieriot and even attempting to save him, only to realize that she is only saving herself.

All in all, “Disconnect” is a good film that ties all loose ends and is clinically effective in depicting how technology has changed us both emotionally, mentally and physically. First time film writer Andrew Stern does a credible job in depicting and connecting all the personal stories together. Combining with steadfast direction from Henry Alex Rubin, the film is able to relate to the audience, striking the right chords and in the process providing the audience with a smart thriller to think about. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 8/10

HKIFF Review: To the Wonder / À la Merveille 愛是神奇 (2012) – USA

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 25th March 2013

Directed by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Amy Adams

Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013

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Ben Affleck can’t act in romantic dramas and “To the Wonder” all but confirmed this. Affleck showed zero presence as he mug his way through the film, showing none of the qualities that made his intense appearance in “Argo” so effective. Still, the fault cannot be all blamed on Affleck shoulders as director Terrence Malick is clearly inept, as the film suffers from poor pacing, cheesy dialogue and piss poor lighting and cinematography. It is okay to be pretentious, if you connect with the audience and when the director in one crucial scene unashamedly attempts to clone Wong Kar Wai’s technique and soundtrack, it is not exactly inspiring. This is a terrible mess of a film that the audience can’t wait for the credit to roll and it makes me wonder why any of the actors even came on board to this humiliation of a film.

The core of the problem lies with Ben Affleck as he lacks any chemistry with any of his co-stars, not to mention, so little is known about him, I felt as though he will murder someone at any instance. Luckily, no bloodthirsty moments occurred. Olga Kurylenko shines in the leading role as the French single mother looking for love and finding love. Kurylenko is able to show the difficulty of adjusting to a new culture, environment and the act of giving up everything for the name of love. Kurylenko is probably as human as the film intends to be and there are times, when her frustrations clearly connects with the audience. There are moments when she stare into space that almost convinces the audience her own shortcomings and lack of life goals. Amy Adams is beautiful in a short cameo, but overacts in most of her interactions with Affleck. Javier Bardem flairs well as priest, but details into his underlying passion is never explored. It is a shame as the film might have worked if Javier Bardem took on the leading role instead.

All in all, “To the Wonder” tries hard to look good and all “laffy fluffy”, but ultimately suffers from a poor script, over pretentious execution, bad lighting and some questionable performances. What set Wong Kar Wai films apart is its unique ability to connect to the utmost inner souls and gel those experiences and memories together. “To the Wonder” tries and fail miserably in the process. (Neo 2013, Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013)

I rated it 4/10