Here are my reviews from Real Movie News
Well, here is the first part of the reviews that I have published on other sites and which never made it here. Follow the link for the gory details, or just look to NoirCat for a quick opinion.
Reviews on Santa Barabara City College review site
Well, as you may have noticed, I’ve been rather remiss in updating my little corner of the web. After suitable chastisement from NoirCat I agreed to be a little more active here, along with making a few changes.
First of all I’ve given the design a bit of a spring clean. That means a new layout and some new adverts over to your right.
Secondly I’ve decided to use this as a hub to my content, rather than an echo of things that can be found elsewhere on the web. What I intend to post from now on are quick comments and links to the sites which host my reviews. These sites are Santa Barbara City College Film Reviews where I am proud to be Graduate Advisor to the film reviewers and Real Movie News where I post as CineRik. There will also be mini-reviews of films that I don’t get time to give the full treatment to. Those of you who really want to keep tabs on me can either subscribe to the RSS feed up in the top right corner of this page, or follow me on Twitter where you’ll be able to benefit from my pearls on wisdon in 144 character bites!
So, these are the changes! Over the next day or so I’ll be publishing links to the reviews I’ve posted since I last updated this page. Enjoy the show!
Well, I’ve written about the best of the festival (in my opinion) and now I fear I must turn to the worst. This isn’t out of some perverse pleasure I might take from wielding my pen (which is far from being mightier than any sword) against a hapless victim, but as a warning to you. Avoid Frozen River as it, I’m sure, wings its way towards a Lifetime channel near you.
Ray (Melissa Leo) is a mother struggling to keep her sons fed and housed as Christmas races towards them as fast as her gambling addict husband races away with the deposit for their new trailer. When she finds her abandoned car has been claimed by Native American woman Lila (Misty Upham), the two form an unlikely relationship at opposite ends of a gun. From this unlikely and incongruous start, they bond as they smuggle illegal immigrants across the border from Canada into New York, using the Mohawk reservation as a cover from the State Troopers.
This film begins with much in its favor. It is female dominated movie, from a female writer/director in a world where that is unfortunately rare. It offers an uncommon opportunity for a Native American woman to take a lead role. It gives us a point to start a discussion of the plight of the poor in America, as well as those so desperate that they offer up years of servitude in order to be smuggled onto its no-longer-welcoming shores. But, for the purposes of this review, none of this matters to me. I couldn’t care less. All I am interested in is the final product, and with that there are problems.
In the Q&A after the screening that I attended, the audience congratulated the director on producing a film so lacking in sentimentality. Perhaps my callous nature has left me more sensitive to it than that very vocal part of the audience, but I saw nothing but sentimentality. The film exists in a world without consequences, or consequences so trivial as to be, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. Ray’s children are forced to exist on a diet of popcorn and soda, but their health seems none the worse for it. Crimes are committed, but where punishment might be meted out, it borders on the ridiculous. No one really suffers – at least on screen, and that is something I’ll come to in a moment. In this world there is no need to hold your breath or flinch when a gun is drawn, nor worry as another group of immigrants is driven across the titular expanse of treacherous ice, because there is nothing to fear, and so you cease to care.
I spoke of unseen suffering and this is where the film really lets itself down. The plight of those who fund Ray and Lila’s little enterprise is given no more than a cursory mention, a throw away line quickly forgotten as we return to the task of getting the required presents under the Christmas tree. Whatever these two women do, we are told, is to be celebrated as it is for their children, their families. As they stuff two young Chinese women into the trunk of their car, we should not worry ourselves with the fate that awaits the immigrant women, for after all what is a few years of indentured labor or even forced prostitution when compared to getting that double-wide and the look on your son’s face when he sees that Santa has brought him his Hot-Wheels.
In the films defense, the Leo is stunning in the lead. She is as rough and gritty as the arctic wasteland that her character inhabits and is not afraid to be shown at her very worst, deliberately burying her attractiveness and providing a very believable character. If the rest of the film had been up to her high standard then my review would have been very, very different. Sadly it does not come close.
When the BBC’s Mark Kermode reviewed Rambo, he admonished the creators for producing a film which was morally bankrupt. Here we have that, combined with dull, safe predictability and a sugar frosted world hidden only by the thinnest crust of darkness, which on closer inspection proves to be no more than chocolate sprinkles. Avoid.
Addendum – since I wrote this review I’ve noticed that this film will not only be released in theaters on August 1st, but was the recipient of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. The world never ceases to amaze me.
So, I’m off to the L.A. International Film Festival in an hour or so. The festival organisers have graciously provided press passes for myself and three others from SBCC, which, combined with the hospitality of friends Raphaello and Victoria, is the only way I could afford to attend! I aim to post one full review per day, along with 100 word mini-reviews of all the other films and presentations I manage to catch. This is going to be a hot, hectic week – wish me luck!