Monday, August 31, 2015

Review of TRAINWRECK: Frank and Funny

August 31, 2015

Amy Schumer is a name I saw in American entertainment websites, but I did not know who she was. She gained her fame in TV comedies and I do not watch much TV. This film starring Amy Schumer is getting a lot of positive buzz. So when Ayala Cinemas gave it an exclusive screening this week, I decided to check it out to finally find out for myself what the fuss is all about.

Thanks to her father, Amy Townsend has long held the impression that monogamy does not exist. She is afraid of commitment and would rather go for one night stands or non-exclusive relationships. In her job as a writer for a men's magazine, Amy was assigned to interview Dr. Aaron Connors, an up-and-coming sports surgeon. Despite her aversion for sports, Amy finds herself actually falling for Dr. Aaron, but she cannot admit it to herself.

From the start of the film, you can immediately see why Amy Schumer is controversial. She does not the typical movie star beauty or body, which was actually refreshing. She is like a younger Melissa McCarthy, a street-smart modern woman unafraid to speak her mind, sexy talk and profanities included. Despite her wanton attitude to life, I actually liked this character she portrayed. I liked her sentimental devotion to her father in spite of his shortcomings, and this shows that her heart is in the right place. However unlikely that final dance scene was, I found it totally delightful and showed Amy at her most vulnerable and beautiful. 

Amy has a fine ensemble of actors behind her. I am also not familiar as to who Bill Hader was very much because I do not get to see "Saturday Night Live". This is my first film to see him in a prominent featured role. He was very likable, sincere and charming in his wry portrayal of a doctor in love with the most unlikely girl. Tilda Swinton was not immediately recognizable as Amy's boss at the magazine Dianna. Brie Larson played Amy's sister Kim, with whom she was constantly at odds when it comes to matters about their father. Colin Quinn's few scenes as their father Gordon were quite well-played as well. 

I was actually more pleasantly surprised with the performances of the star athletes who got to play extended cameo roles in this film. They actually upstaged the real actors. Pro wrestling superstar John Cena played Steven, Amy's sentimental muscle-bound boyfriend who loves indie films. Cena pulls off his caricature of a character and gives it a sensitive soul. Even more remarkable was basketball superstar LeBron James, who played himself as a close friend of Dr. Connors. Based on prior times I have seen him act, I was expecting him to be wooden. However, James' performance turned out to be very effective and affecting, he was very good here.

Director Judd Apatow is right in his niche of relationship comedies, although this is the first time he is directing something he did not write himself. Amy Schumer wrote this script to reverse the usual tropes, showing how women can also be commitment-phobes and insensitive jerks. The novelty was certainly interesting.

On the surface, "Trainwreck" may seem like just another raunchy sex comedy. Yes, this is rated R-18, so some sexually-explicit scenes and language may not sit well with more conservative audiences. However, as you are watching it, you will definitely feel the heart that beats within it. 7/10.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review of THE GIFT: Bringing Back Bygones

August 21, 2015

Simon Callen and his wife Robyn have just moved to Los Angeles from Chicago. While in the mall shopping for home supplies, Simon runs into an old classmate from high school, Gordon "Gordo" Moseley. Seemingly overeager to be friends, Gordo begins sending them little gifts and visiting at odd times during the day. Even if Robyn tries to be understanding, Simon gets very uncomfortable with the situation and confronts Gordo about his behavior.

Rebecca Hall has that unconventional beauty whom I first noticed as Vicky in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008). She would also make a mark in the gritty film "The Town" (2010) and was arguably the best part of the unfortunate film "Transcendence" (2014). Again, she makes the most of her role here as Robyn, a wife caught between a bitter contest of wills between two men. She is a flawed character, but she has a decisive will of her own. Ms. Hall possesses a smart no-nonsense aura about her which makes her ideal for these strong women characters.

We know Jason Bateman more as a comedian, with his roles on TV and recent films like "Horrible Bosses" (2011). This sense of goodwill he has as an engaging actor makes him an ideal casting choice for a role like Simon in a film like this.   His double-edged performance works to create more confusion among the audience while they are watching, adding further thrill and suspense as the film went along.

Joel Edgerton is an Australian actor whose excellence in acting I first noted in the boxing film "Warrior" (2011). For his latest film "The Gift", Edgerton not only acts in a lead role, he is also the writer and, for the first time in a feature film, director. As an actor, Edgerton imbues his character Gordo with subtle yet very effective tension. His mere presence on the screen as the sadsack loser will give goosebumps.  As writer and director, Edgerton effectively tells his story of interpersonal terror, with moments which can unnerve even the most steadfast. This for sure is an auspicious feature film directorial debut for Edgerton.

The film makes use of situations familiar to many people to create a nightmare which may actually happen in real life, adding to the feeling of dread we feel as audiences. Haven't we all experienced that feeling of awkwardness around old acquaintances who become intrusively nosy or overly familiar? Don't we all have those unpleasant childhood memories we would rather bury into our subconscious? Even though the events in "The Gift" may be a bit extreme to be entirely realistic, its twisted tale will involve you and creep you out. 7/10.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review of INSIDE OUT: Mixing Up Mirth and Melancholy

August 19, 2015

Ever since the trailer of this latest Pixar film was shown early this year, we knew this will not be a typical kiddie romp. After "Wall-E" and "Up", Pixar has again dares to tackle a relatively mature topic that is not exactly for young viewers. This is always quite a gamble, but if there was a company that could pull it off, it will be Pixar.

Riley is an 11-year old girl from Minnesota who has been brought by her parents to live in a small cramped house in San Francisco. While she was adjusting to life in a new city, we will see a "Headquarters" within Riley's mind, where her five "emotions" of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger determine how she will react to specific events. 

The ever-chipper and positive Joy does her dominating best to keep Riley's mood up, even when Sadness seems to be making her presence felt. A major emotional crisis arises when some vital core memories accidentally gets sucked into Riley's long term memory together with Joy and Sadness themselves, pushing Riley into a constant state of angry confusion. Can Joy figure out how to bring happiness back into Riley's life?

Co-writers/directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen had triumphed in making very abstract concepts come to life and turning them into amusing characters in a generally entertaining animated film. "Inside Out" is an imaginative take on the human state of mind and how it works. 

The Pixar people had turned our limbic system into a colorful headquarters with the five emotions vying to get the upper hand. More than that, we also get an entirely creative visualization of our memories as glass balls, stored in complex maze-like libraries with tall shelves. They introduce mechanisms on why we forget things, on our dreams at night, on our imaginary friends as children. In true Pixar fashion, all these are very rendered with delightful imagery.

Amy Poehler brings her infectious effervescence as Joy. Other comedians like Phyllis Smith (as Sadness), Mindy Kaling (as Disgust) and Bill Hader (as Fear) bring their A-game in their voice work. Veteran actors Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan lend their voices as Riley's parents. Adults will enjoy getting a peek inside emotional control center of the parents, also with their own five-color emotion characters.

While everything may look fun, it is safe to surmise that most of these Psych 101 concepts underlying the cute characters would just fly over the heads of most children in the audience. Emotion and memory, with all its Islands of Personality, Trains of Thought, Abstract Reasoning, Deja Vu, Subconscious, Memory Dumps -- these are not exactly easy ideas to grasp all at once. Even adults may not immediately comprehend the full meaning of the multi-layered script after a single viewing because of the frenetic pace of the jargon exchange among the characters. If not for the bright color and lively music, some parts may feel too long or even boring for some audiences.

This film isn't exactly all fun and games though. There are some confusing messages for kids which I am not completely in favor of, from the shallow (why broccoli is supposed to be disgusting) to the deep (why kids throw tantrums or steal or run away from home). I understand this is a totally original envelope Pixar is pushing here and I am all for that. However, as this film is still for impressionable young audiences, more care should be taken in delivering sensitive messages about behavior and morality. Parental guidance is definitely a must here. 7/10.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review of ATTACK ON TITAN: Grisly Gratification

August 16, 2015

I did not even plan to watch this film when I saw ads that it was going to be shown. However, I was surprised when a lot of young people were actually very excited to see it. Apparently it was a very famous manga turned anime series. They wanted to see how the story would be translated into a film with live actors. The film was locally rated R-16 and this actually got me curious as to what could be so adult about it. As the film started, I would not have to wait too long to find out why.

The film is about a dystopian world when what is left of humanity has been confined inside a huge walled city. The tall concrete walls were built to protect them from huge monsters they called Titans who ate human beings for fun. That has been the status quo for 100 years until one day when one particularly gigantic Titan suddenly showed up and kicked a hole through the ancient wall. This enabled the naked bloodthirsty humanoid giants to gain entrance and ravage the town. 

The film follows the story of three teenage friends (the rebellious Eren, the mousy Mikasa and the smart Armin) as they first experienced first hand the horror of this new scourge, and two years later when they become soldiers to fight an impossible battle against the insatiable monsters. During one heated battle when he rescued a friend from certain death, Eren gets swallowed down by one Titan. However, it was also then that fortune began to favor the humans when a new, different and more powerful kind of Titan emerged whose enraged fighting was directed against the other Titans.

The film felt like a Japanese "Hunger Games" or "Maze Runner" with its young adult lead characters and dystopian setting. The special effects of the Titans were rather crude and unimpressive. There was perverse sense of excitement in seeing the Titans chomping down humans, but this eventually wore off after witnessing the first few bites. 

The pace of the storytelling stalled somewhere in the middle such that the film became tiresome to watch. It was only until the action picked up again by the climactic battle in the end that the film became truly exciting. The way the main characters were portrayed was unlikeable, especially Eren and Mikasa. Something felt off about their characterizations. The story may be interesting, but the execution by director Shinji Higuchi was not entirely satisfactory. 

My curiosity sparked, I decided to watch the original 2013 anime "Shingeki-no-Kyojin" online. The events in this first film were only in the first eight of the 25 episodes in the series. (The sequel is already set to be released by next month on Sept. 19 in Japan.) Even in the first two episodes alone, I already saw how much the filmmakers changed the way the anime told the story. I could understand why the filmmakers may changed the European setting (though the Western names for Japanese actors could be puzzling) or why they made the characters older. I also understand how it would be impossible to get all the backstory of the characters in more detail due to time constraints, but I felt they should not have totally ignored this very important aspect.

Eren in the film, as played by Haruma Miura, was immediately introduced as a cocky slacker who could not hold a job more than a few days. We do not know anything more about him at all. So the events that will happen to him in the course of the film would be totally head-scratching for the uninitiated. The painfully awkward Mikasa of the film, as played by Kiku Mizuhara, is really very different from the cool and confident Mikasa of the anime. This character was really very poorly portrayed in the film, even in the second act when she was already supposed to be an elite soldier. 

Watching the excellent anime made me even more disappointed with the film version. The film was a dreary version, from the dim color palette to the cheesy special effects. The lacking character development in the film was even more blatant when placed beside the rich backstories in the anime. The voice acting in the animated version was even more compelling and moving than the rather lame live acting in the film version. That the film even took time to inject unnecessary scenes of a sexual nature (not in the anime) felt pathetic.

When I initially watched the film without having seen the anime yet, I already felt the film was not able to deliver the best from what could have been a very potent story.  After watching the anime, I am even more disappointed with how the film missed to capture the interesting stories of the characters. It went for the obvious audience draw -- the visually gory thrill of seeing mighty Titans pulling apart or biting the head off puny humans -- without developing its main characters properly. When the novelty of those grim spectacles soon passed, the characters were left without enough heart for audiences to root for in the end.  5/10. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review of DARK PLACES: Squalor and Suspense

August 14, 2016

Libby Day was only seven years old when she survived a massacre in her farmhouse in Kansas. Her mom and two older sisters were not as fortunate. Based on Libby's shaky testimony, her older brother Ben was convicted of this most heinous crime and has been serving prison for 25 years. 

Forced by dire financial need, Libby grudgingly accepted an invitation to appear before the Kill Club, a group of detective-wannabes who looked into controversial murder cases. Doubting that Ben did the crimes, they wanted Libby to look into the the circumstances of these ghastly murders again so that true justice can be served.

Charlize Theron can do whatever she wants with her look but she will remain still elegant. In this film, she was a miserable woman with loose dirty t-shirt, with her short-cropped hair hidden under an ugly baseball cap. She looked stunning nevertheless. She was very effective as the troubled Libby who was trapped in her own little prison since the crimes that decimated her family. We completely latch on and sympathize with her character despite her obnoxious attitudes. 

Tye Sheridan was impressive as young Ben Day. The role was written to be a stereotype of a bad teenager who was known to dabble in drugs, fornication and satanism. Sheridan rises above the cheesy material to come up with a stirring performance of the disturbed teenager. 

Corey Stoll is really good as the incarcerated adult Ben Day. He can certainly send chills down your spine despite his kindly demeanor. The way he was portrayed, you never know what this man is really feeling or thinking, perfect for a mystery like this. This is already the third time I have seen Stoll in a film this year after "Ant-Man" and "The Good Lie", and I believe we will be seeing more of this charming character actor.

Chloe Grace Moretz, wow, what can this talented young actress not do! Her performance as young Diondra, the hysterical girlfriend of young Ben, was crazy and disturbing. I completely did not recognize Moretz as she transformed herself into this trashy selfish girl, successfully making a relatively small but pivotal role stand out.

Christina Hendricks paints the perfect portrait of a desperate woman pushed to the brink as Libby's mother Patty. You could really feel her pain and depression as she dealt with bringing up four kids, while an ex-husband who still mulcted money from her even as her farm was going bankrupt. 

The source material of this film is a 2009 novel by author Gillian Flynn, written before her more famous novel Gone Girl. Written and directed by Frenchman Gilles Paquet-Brenner, I thought the film had effective pacing, even as the story shifted from the present to the past and then back. Despite having a multitude of different actors portraying the same unlikable characters twenty five years apart, the storytelling was clear and engaging

This film was interesting, like a book you cannot put down. It was as much about the squalid poverty in America's heartland, as it was a suspenseful murder mystery. This, for me, made for a compelling movie to watch. 8/10.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: Suave and Stylish

August 13. 2015

2015 has been a great year for espionage films. From the beginning of the year, there was "Kingsmen: Secret Service". Just this past summer, there was "Spy" followed by "Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation." All of these were very successful, both commercially and critically. And now, another spy film is gunning to join that illustrious list. 

'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was originally a TV series from the mid-1960s developed by Sam Rolfe. It starred Robert Vaughn (as American agent Napoleon Solo) and David McCallum (as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin).  U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a secret international counter-espionage organization, aiming to maintain worldwide political and legal order. This series lasted for four years from 1964 to 68, becoming a cultural icon of sorts at that time with its audacious theme of US-Russian cooperation at the height of the Cold War.

This reboot of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." for the modern generation retained the Cold War setting. American agent Napoleon Solo and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin are forced to work together to prevent the nefarious plans of glamorous but ruthless arms dealer Victoria Vinciguerra.  They connect with Gaby Teller, the daughter of a kidnapped German nuclear scientist, as a means of getting closer on Victoria's tail. But it would appear that Gaby also is not all she seemed to be, or is she?

Henry Cavill carries the film as Napoleon Solo. With his elegant chiseled looks, Cavill credibly portrayed the cool and capable spy Solo, as much as he was able to credibly portray Superman last year. He also succeeded in pulling off the smart-alecky personality of Solo, a man with a bristling sense of humor -- something we would not have expected from his deadly serious Superman performance. Henry Cavill was suave personified here. Considering George Clooney and Tom Cruise were the first choices for the role of Solo, I'd say Cavill did not do badly at all in this lead role.

Armie Hammer is quite a handsome actor himself, but he could not really lift his career off the ground after his breakthrough role as the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network." Forgettable films like "Mirror Mirror" and worse "The Lone Ranger" did not do his career any favors. Here in U.N.C.L.E., Hammer was able to hold his own against the charismatic Cavill in the charm and action fronts. However, since he is basically the straight man here as the "aloof and serious" Russian stereotype, he often found himself behind Cavill's shadow. 

I have been looking forward for the next big project of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander since I first saw her in "A Royal Affair" three years ago. Her Hollywood career is picking up with her turn as the enigmatic automaton Ava in the acclaimed "Ex-Machina" released just earlier this year. Now with her role as the mysterious Gaby Teller, she finally gets her biggest break. It is just too bad that she did not get as many slambang action scenes like that other Swedish babe, Rebecca Ferguson, did in "M:I Rogue Nation."

Elizabeth Debicki makes a good impression as the main villain Victoria, with her towering beehive, striking haute couture and naked ambition. Luca Calvani also registered well onscreen as Victoria's husband, the debonair playboy Alexander. It was also great to see Hugh Grant again, playing British agent Waverley. I am thinking that if a franchise was ever made out of this film, we would see more of Grant since this character Waverly was the officer in charge of Solo and Kuryakin in the TV series.

Compared to "Kingsman", the technical hardware we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less spectacular. Compared to "Spy", the wit we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less riotous. Compared to "M:I Rogue Nation", the stunts we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less breathtaking. However judged on its own, this film version of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." as directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie is not at all bad. The 60s-inspired production design, hair and costumes were so fab. (Those huge yellow subtitles can be distracting and hard to read though.) Despite having tentative pacing in some scenes, it was still fun and entertaining to watch overall.

But do I dare say it, after Superhero fatigue, could it be that there may also be Spy fatigue setting in? But no, there is still the new James Bond film "Spectre" coming this November, and I doubt if anyone will be giving that a miss. 7/10. 

Review of FANTASTIC FOUR (2015): Dull Disappointment

August 12, 2015

It has already been a week since this reboot film of "Fantastic Four" played in movie houses. Almost instantly as it was released, there had been a steady stream of scathing bad reviews about it. Truth to tell, for me, the bad news started with the trailer. You can already see everything wrong about the whole film in that trailer alone. Initially, I did not want to watch it. But later, I did. At first, I did not even want to write about it anymore. But finally I thought otherwise, and here it is.

This reboot starts with the childhood of Reed, where he was already trying to build a teleportation machine, despite the discouragement of his Science teacher. His classmate Ben, who shared his interest, befriends Reed and worked with him on his pet project. Reed's work catches the attention of Prof. Franklin Storm, who recruits him to be part of the Baxter Foundation for young science prodigies. Together with Storm's son Johnny and adopted daughter Sue, Reed helps complete the "Quantum Gate" project of controversial young genius Victor Von Doom to access a parallel dimension called "Planet Zero".

When the initial tests prove successful, the team decides to go on an unsanctioned trip to "Planet Zero" themselves. Reed brings his friend Ben along for the expedition, along with Johnny and Victor, with Sue manning the controls at the lab. However, as they gather samples, the planet seemed to be imploding on itself. As they were scrambling to their machine, Victor falls into the green goo coming out of the ground. When Reed, Johnny and Ben successfully teleport back to the lab, the whole machine explodes exposing the three and Sue to molecule-altering radiant energy, giving each of them superhuman abilities we all know them for.

The cast seemed all miscast in their roles. Miles Teller was very disappointing in the role of Reed Richards, not projecting any leadership confidence. Kate Mara is so dour and constipated as Sue Storm. I'd take the Jessica Alba version anytime. Jamie Bell cannot do much about his short role as Ben Grimm, as the character was treated like an afterthought here. Ironically, Michael B. Jordan, the actor whose casting was most talked about because of his race, seemed best fit for his role as the cool Johnny Storm. The four do not have much chemistry with each other. This movie ended without showing them act as a real team.

Director Josh Trank obviously really tried very hard to make this reboot very different from the previous Fantastic Four incarnation ten years ago. That 2005 version was really very campy and colorful. The actors Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis attacked their roles in a very hammy style. It felt like a unintentional comedy, light-hearted and uncomplicated. This new retelling took all of that fun away. It is relentlessly dark and dull from beginning to end. 

With all the faults of the 2005 version, it was entertaining. This 2015 version is NOT entertaining at all. The poor production values and rushed climax certainly did not help. 4/10. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Review of ABOVE THE CLOUDS: Endearing Eccentricity

August 8, 2015

The sold-out screening of "Above the Clouds" at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines this afternoon during this year's Cinemalaya film festival (under the Indie Nation set) is an emotional homecoming for this film. It had already been shown in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Germany and France before it was publicly shown here locally today. It has already been five years since writer-director Pepe Diokno's much acclaimed debut film project "Engkwentro."

15-year old Andy is recently orphaned and has to live with his grandfather in Baguio City. Since they hardly knew each other, their whole first week together was a disaster, no connection made at all. To break the thick ice between them, the grandfather thought of bringing the ever-withdrawn Andy along with him to hike up the mountain his parents loved. However, as they encounter bad weather, dangerous accidents and their respective personal issues, their hike may not be as good an idea as the grandfather had intended.

The story about two relatives forced to live together despite their differences is not exactly new. We have seen this story told in various films before. "Above the Clouds" has two novel ingredients that set it apart from the others. First it boasts of the breathtaking scenery of the Cordilleras where the story takes place. Second, it so fortuitously cast the most unexpected actor to play the eccentric grandfather -- Mr. Joey "Pepe" Smith.

Although they are hundreds of kilometers apart in real life, director Pepe Diokno merged into one long hike various scenic spots in Sagada (including the coffins of Lumiang Burial Cave) and Mt. Pulag (including its awe-inspiring sea of clouds). Too bad the picture quality of the projector in the CCP Main Theater tended to be dim, an injustice to the camera work by Carlo Mendoza certainly brought out the best in the majestic landscape with creative angles. 

While recognizing the production difficulties with regards their shooting locations, sometimes the hike felt aimless, like they were going nowhere. The editing of the various parts of the hike at times felt random and not logically connected to each other. The thing that really bothered me most though was the blatant display of wanton desecration of nature by human litter and graffiti. I felt though that this may have been purposely done by Diokno perhaps to rally against the cavalier attitude of humans on nature. On the other hand, it may give the wrong signals to future tourists who visit those places.

Ruru Madrid did not really look like a 15 year old boy, nor did he act like one. He seemed like he did not have much to do for most of the film but be the aloof, miserable and ill-mannered grandson Andy. However, despite what may look like a one-note performance marked with rudeness and disrespect, he was actually subtly brimming with inner bitterness within. Thankfully towards the end, Madrid was given a chance to actually display some memorable and genuinely-moving acting moments that will linger with audiences.

For Filipinos though, the true joy of watching this film is seeing the Pinoy Rock and Roll icon Pepe Smith in action as the grandfather. It is not exactly that Smith gave a award-winning acting performance, though he did have his effective moments in this, his first lead role. Every time Smith so much as utters a line the audience reacts audibly. His screen presence is simply so strong and riveting that he is the one that brings the whole film to vibrant life. What an auspicious, audacious and inspired casting choice this was! 7/10.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review of THE GOOD LIE: Affecting Authenticity

August 3, 2015

In the 1980s there was a major civil war in the Sudan causing several children to lose their families. Left on their own devices, these kids had to travel hundreds of miles in order to reach safe haven beyond the border. This film follows the story of one such set of displaced and orphaned children, dubbed by aid workers and media as "The Lost Boys of Sudan". 

After their eldest brother Theo sacrificed himself to be captured by soldiers, Mamere and his sister Abital were able to reach the refugee camp in Kenya on their own, together with another set of brothers they met along the way, Jeremiah and Paul. Several years later, all four of them, now young adults, were luckily picked to be among those to be relocated to the United States. 

In Kansas City, Missouri, the boys met employment counselor Carrie Davis, who helped them settle in their new home and find jobs. There, they discovered not only new comforts of life and new opportunities, but also new challenges they had to face. While Mamere worked hard to go to medical school, he constantly worried about his sister Abital who was separated from him at the airport and sent to live in Boston with a foster family. Deeper down, he also continued to be haunted by the sacrifice his brother Theo did for them to live.

Reese Witherspoon gets top billing, but she is not the main character of the film at all. Her Carrie goes out of her way to help the Sudanese boys get settled into their new lives. She helps them solve various problems by pulling some bureaucratic strings. But it is still the boys themselves, particularly Mamere, who make the big decisions in their lives. Despite her star status, Witherspoon never drew attention to herself in this role. She gracefully gives her African co-stars the spotlight they deserved.

Arnold Oceng plays the lead character Mamere with dignified restraint. It is his performance upon which the whole movie revolved around. He was able to gain our sympathy towards his plight and the various demons he had to face. The actors who played Abital (a radiant Kuoth Wiel), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) all suffered through the Sudanese Civil War in real life, thus accounting for the affecting authenticity in their performances. The young actors who played these characters as child refugees were similarly very effective in their portrayals. 

Honestly I was not too excited to see this film thinking it would be another one of those "White Savior" films like "The Blind Side" or "Dangerous Minds", where a white man saves a poor person of color out of his miserable condition. At the end though, my fears were unfounded. This turned out to be quite engaging despite its very serious topic. 

Aside from some awkward moment of humor in the middle as the brothers were adjusting to American life which felt forced, the rest of the film with its theme of brotherly devotion was heartwarming and inspirational. While its overwhelming positivity is wonderful, it may also be seen by some as its main drawback. 7/10.