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Recent Movies: Kon-Tiki; Frances Ha; The Sapphires; Upstream Color

July 24, 2013

Recent Movies

Kon-Tiki

This Norwegian film (mostly in English) is a fictionalized story of the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition on a large raft lead by Thor Heyerdahl.  The raft departs from Peru in the hope it reaches Polynesia in order to prove the likelihood that Polynesians descended from Peruvian natives.

The film loses some authenticity when Norwegians are speaking to each other in English though this happens in only a few scenes.  There’s some Hollywood cheeziness with loud music intended to manipulate the viewers’ emotions during high moments.  But the film still provides solid entertainment with some well executed suspense during the journey.

Scenes involving sharks and whales are especially memorable.  The inevitable personality differences among the crew also bring out the right tension.

While this is not the greatest adventure drama, it’s still entertaining enough.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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Frances Ha

This modern comedy-drama centres mostly around young New York adults who have their ups and downs around work,  money, status, sex, and love.  The main character, Frances Hadley, is played by Greta Gerwig who co-wrote the screenplay with the film’s director, Noah Baumbach.

Baumbach does fine work as a director as most scenes are short and energetic.  It is tempting at times to compare his style and subject matter (neurotic New Yorkers) with those of Woody Allen.  He is well aided by a very good cast highlighted by Gerwig.

Around the second half of the film, it’s difficult to empathize.  The main character gets lost in a series of lies and compulsive debting for the purpose of keeping up appearances and social climbing.  Such a character would be interesting in a story as a supporting character – someone who could provide laughter and insight while displaying their obnoxious behaviour.  But this doesn’t bode well when it is the main character which takes potential away from what seemed like a promising film.  It even gets painful to constantly watch someone self-destruct.

Rating:   * * 1/2

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The Sapphires

The film is based on a true story of four teenaged girls from an Australian aboriginal community who have great singing talent.  They are recruited to perform for U.S. troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s.

This is an ambitious film that covers many interesting topics:  the Vietnam war, the volatile times of the 1960s, and racial prejudice in Australia particularly the evil government policy (now defunct) of stealing white-appearing aboriginals (the Stolen Generation) away from their communities and forcing them to  integrate into the white mainstream.

The musical numbers (and great singing voices) are grand and help create nostalgia for the cultural side of the 1960s.  The film is good overall but it seems that the directing by Wayne Blair doesn’t fully live up to the excitement of the story’s various elements.

The side story of the Stolen Generation reminded me of another Australian film on that subject, Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), a better film where tension and suspense are concerned.  But The Sapphires is still insightful and well worth seeing.

Rating:   * * *

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Upstream Color

Through an odd scientific experiment, a woman in an unnamed U.S. city is brainwashed and manipulated.  She later hooks up with others who’ve been manipulated the same way.

I could only understand the majority of the plot by checking Wikipedia – one of the Internet’s greatest blessings.  Otherwise, I was lost for most of this film.

Shane Carruth directed, wrote, and starred in the film.  His directing style is bizarre enough to give the viewer a feeling of having had a drug high without paying the price of a hangover.  This could be taken as both an insult and a compliment.  It’s an accomplishment to take the viewer on such a wild trip.  But without giving the average viewer better clues of what’s happening in the story, the overall result is less than satisfactory,

Rating:   * *

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