Disconnect Review (Dustin SanVido)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Disconnect (2012)

Starring Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Frank Grillo, Hope Davis, Max Theriot, Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Nyqvist, Colin Ford, Andrea Riseborough and Jonah Bobo

Written by Andrew Stern

Directed by Henry Alex Rubin

The subject of social media and its positive and negative effects have never been explored successfully on film with the exception of The Social Network presenting a more focused and loosely based biography of Mark Zuckerberg. While I did enjoy The Social Network for its decision to tell the story of the creation of Facebook as a pseudo-super-villain’s rise to power, 2010’s lackluster Catfish is the only other ‘social-network’ film that comes to mind. Like Catfish, Disconnect is a story of the negative effects and darker side of social media, told through the course of three separate storylines that begin to intersect in a similar mold and structure of the Academy Award winning Crash. I did like Disconnect for its message, acting, and most of the story, but an underwhelming climax stopped all forward momentum which had been building rather splendidly for the majority of the film.

The three stories in Disconnect are that of a still-grieving couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) who must deal with online identity-theft, a news journalist (Andrea Riseborough) writing a story involving the online sexual exploitation of a group of youths, and a high-school outcast (Jonah Bobo) who is cyber-bullied and the severe ramifications that echo through the family of the victim (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) and that of the bully’s (Frank Grillo). These three storylines are so well-crafted and spend ample time developing so many characters, one might presume the story could feel a bit bloated. Thankfully that’s not the case, as Rubin shifts seamlessly from thread to thread allowing all of the actors’ individual moments to really get the point of the film across: as technology advances more and more our lives become more online-dependent and thus, some of our humanity is lost in the process and the growing isolation we feel in today’s society leaves us disconnected from one another.

The acting is the real standout of Disconnect. All of the actors give fantastic performances that help drive the narrative and really pull you into the turmoil, sadness, frustration and anger that permeates throughout the script. Frank Grillo and Paula Patton are the best of the bunch, turning in career best performances as struggling parents, broken in their own individual ways, and are by far the standouts of the film. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Alexander Skarsgard has also delivered a career performance here, much like his memorable turn as Model #3 from Zoolander. All joking aside, there are zero weak points to this film from an acting stand-point, and one can’t help but be fully invested in the well-being of every character represented, good or bad. I applaud Rubin for getting the most out of his actors and delivering a technically proficient look into unexplored subject matter, albeit with one small caveat.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

So much of Disconnect hinges on the climax where all of the interwoven stories CRASH into one another, and this is where the film regrettably comes up short. Due to the emotional moments that escalate toward the third act of the film, unlike Crash, the end resolutions just can’t deliver on the strong buildup that preceded it. I won’t spoil any of them, but they’re just so pedestrian and safe that the tension and suspense drawing out lands with a thud. This may have been a decision by the writers to keep the film from becoming a bleak and depressing vantage point from which to view the social media world, but if you’re going to send a bus full of children careening off a cliff-side with no hope of survival, I’d rather the bus hit the ground and explode than become caught in a large tree leaving the children to look at one another and think “aw shucks”. A poor choice of analogy, perhaps. But in the case of Disconnect, I’d say a poor choice of ending.

I still enjoyed the film quite a bit, but I would’ve lauded the filmmaker if he had been daring enough to go all the way with what his script was driving towards. In the end we’re left with an almost-great and very insightful look into the darker side of social media that stumbles slightly at the end, and as a result is ultimately satisfying.

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The Grey Review (Matt Hodgson)

The Grey (2011)

Starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, and Frank Grillo

Screenplay by Joe Carnahan

Directed by Joe Carnahan

I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that since Taken (2008), Liam Neeson has a special place as one of the baddest men on the planet and I mean that in a good way. Let me try to explain how bad he is. If Liam Neeson wanted my last fruit cup, I would give it to him. If he picked a fight with me, I would punch myself in the face repeatedly, while also apologizing profusely for the un-Neeson-like strength of my punches. If I heard a rumour from a friend of mine who was notorious for making up rumours, and the rumour was that Liam Neeson didn’t like my review of The Grey…then I’d probably look into personal funeral options, immediately. Anyone know the number of a good undertaker?

MINOR SPOILERS

The plot of The Grey is quite simple and potentially very effective. A group of men contracted to work in Alaska are on their way back home for a two-week vacation. All that’s left between them and their destination is a plane ride that turns bumpy and eventually crashes in the great white middle of bloody nowhere. Most of the passengers have perished in the crash, but a small group of men find themselves in the unwelcoming position of having to collect what few mental marbles they have left and think of a plan that could lead them out of this wintery hell. A troubled but knowledgeable man named Ottway (Neeson) proves to be the best leader out of the group of survivors. However, even if they follow Ottway and listen to his every order, there is still no guarantee that these men will survive to see their families again, let alone the morning. If the cold doesn’t kill them, then a pack of bloodthirsty predators pursuing them will certainly try. It seems like these tired and hungry humans are a poor combative match-up against these deadly beasts.

I thought that The Grey started out perfectly. Neeson’s character is cold, hardened, mysterious, and deadly, just like the environment that the group of survivors find themselves in. The film gets right to the point as it feels like the plane crash happens within the first 15 minutes of the film. Also, there are some excellent dream sequences which effectively utilize the common intrusion of sensory experience on our dreams. I can’t believe I’m actually praising dream sequences as they are usually one of my least favourite narrative devices, but at the beginning of The Grey they really are quite impressive. Unfortunately, this pretty much sums up what I think are the positive elements of the film.

I’ve heard complaints about The Grey regarding the story’s believability, but I don’t find this to be a very valid criticism. Sure, a lot of what happens in The Grey is pretty outlandish, but it could happen, and it’s also not a discovery channel survival documentary…it’s a movie. My personal problem with The Grey is that I didn’t care about the fate of the characters after about twenty minutes. This was mainly due to some very questionable plot decisions that may leave you scratching your head. I think The Grey uses a different type of logic than the one I’m familiar with. So often throughout the film, obvious decisions for the characters were anything but obvious to me. A particular scene on the edge of a cliff really made me wonder if the characters had smoked some exceptionally powerful crack before arriving at their conclusions.

Finally, the editing during the action sequences derailed much of the excitement for me as I tried to figure out who or what I was looking at. From what I could tell it seemed like the filmmakers used a combination or CGI and puppets for the predators. It was nice to see something besides CGI being used, but unfortunately it wasn’t very effective as the most often used puppet seemed to be a head with sharp teeth that would literally fill the screen during many of the attack sequences, adding to the confusion of these scenes as it was impossible to see anything else.

I wish I could have written a more positive review for this film; I was very excited for its release and as I have said, I’m a big Liam Neeson fan, but some questionable decisions with the script and some confusing editing during the action sequences make it difficult to be very excited to watch this one again.

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