Film Review: THE FAREWELL (USA 2019) ***

The Farewell Poster
Trailer

A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.

Director:

Lulu Wang

Writer:

Lulu Wang

Awkwafina (last seen in CRAZY RICH ASIANS) gets a starring role as Billi, a Chinese American who learns that her beloved grandmother aka Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) still living in China has three months to live after being diagnosed with cancer.  The family decide not to tell Nai Nai of her illness. Instead the family organize a wedding so that the entire family will travel back to China to spend time with her before she passes away.  Hence the film title THE FAREWELL. Billi was not invited to the wedding/farewell as the family fear that she cannot hide her feelings but she shows up in China unannounced from New York City.

The titles cleverly state at the start of the film; “Based on an actual lie.”  THE FAREWELL starts off a little humorously as director Wang introduces the somewhat dysfunctional family who aim to do good.  The idea is that the family takes on the emotional burden off the grandmother if she does not know.  Half way through the movie, it will hit (as it did me) whether what transpires is legal. i.e. will the doctors allow that illness be kept for the patient as requested by the family.  The answer is supplied right outwards – a good thing – in the middle of the movie.  It is not allowed in America but is allowed in China.

Director Wang is more serious that light in her treatment of the material.  Though there are always laughs on the horizon of every scene, the sombre mood is also pressing.  Despite the simple story which is suspense less, Wang keeps her film running at a good pace.  It is more the family interaction at play than the knowledge of whether Nai Nai will discover the truth at the end.  At the end of the matter, whether Nai Nai finds out or who tells her is immaterial to the plot.

Wang captures the behavioural  mores typical Chinese family.  Important are the big meals,  the obsessive ‘fussy’ care over the young and old, the need to keep a stiff upper lip among others.  Other issues the are also important include the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law.  Billi’s mother complains that Nai Nai was always boss in the home when she married her son, which implies the probable reason they left China for America.

The farewell is not the perfect drama as the film contains many glaring flaws including the tacked on happy ending.  Still THE FAREWELL is a sincere drama aided by a solid dramatic performance by Awkwafina who previously only has been seen in comedic roles.  The film is entertaining and sheds light on the difference of cultures, in a good way, and also of respect and the difficulty a family to get along. There is nothing forced in the film, and the story unfolds smoothly that should leave the audience not only satisfied but with a  warm fuzzy feeling.

Chinese American films have always done well and have been well made like this one (and with a strong feminine protagonist too), the recent Netflix original, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE and of course, CRAZY RICH ASIANS.  There is a large target audience of North American Chinese and hopefully, there will be more films to cater towards this group.

Trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RofpAjqwMa8

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Film Review: MARIANNE & LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE (USA 2019) ***

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love Poster
Trailer

An in-depth look at the relationship between the late musician Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.

Director:

Nick Broomfield

MARIANNE & LEONARD is the in depth look of the stormy relationship between author/poet/singer/so writer Canadian Leonard Coen and his muse and love, Norwegian Marianne Ehlen.  Those who love Cohen’s music will be pleased to note that the doc is interspersed with hissings include g the famous one, So, Long Marianne which he wrote for her.

Documentarian Nick Broomfield is an award winning filmmaker well known for his serial killer docs and his most famous THE LEADER, HIS DRIVER AND THE DRIVER’S WIFE.  He is a filmmaker who knows how to capture the audience’s attention with his sect and he does the same with MARIANNE & LEONARD.  The segment of how Leonard competed one concerti  Jerusalem after shaving on acid illustrates this fact.  another part was the partaking of ‘desert dust’ with a tip of a needle dipped in it not he tongue to get high for a full 23 hours.

The first third of he film shows Cohen’s early life during the hippie ‘flower people’ days.  Marianne anthem experimented with LSD which serves as an inspiration for his work.  It is amazing the amount of archive footage that is available and on display on film.  It is a wonder why Cohen was not  filmmaker himself.

Broomfield’s most entertaining interviewee is the wife of Cohen’s contemporary, Aviva Layton.  Not only does she provide insight on Cohen’s genius, but she talks about other taboos like her husband perhaps having slept with Cohen’s mother.  Cohen’s Jewish roots are also discussed as well as its influence brought into the picture.

Director Broomfield also brings out the human side of the artist with all his faults.  Cohen went into depression mode after his novel “Beautiful Losers’ failed to sell.  Leonard’s downfall was his depression which was quite bad at one point.  As in the recent Ari Aster’s horror film MIDSOMMAR, MARIANNE & LEONARD is also a break-up film.  Broomfield illustrated that as much a muse and lover to Leonard Marianne was, they were not meant to be with each other.  Marianne had to make up her mind to break up.  One of them was always angry and destructive.  The film also looked at Marianne’s son, Axel from her first husband.  There were quite a lot of casualties.  Axel had to be institutionalized.  Marianne had an abortion when pregnant with Leonard’s child.  Another tragedy was the Johnsons, the family they stayed with at Hydra one of the Greek islands.  The parents both died and the children also died one by one from suicide, drugs and drink with only one of them surviving.  For all that is worth, tMarianne and Leonard’s relationship can be described as bittersweet while it lasted, with a last declaration of love t Marianne’s hospital death bedside.

The film also looks at the flower, hippie and acids culture.  Despite the peace and love the culture was supposed to propagate.  Just like the island of Hydra, people from there cannot function int he real world.

Broomfeld proves that there is much to be learnt from his doc on Leonard and Marianne providing an insight on life based on the experiences of failed humans.  Other lessons from the film include the need to solve ones problems besides being in love.  The film is shot in both English and Swedish.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB6nIzPf9r8&feature=youtu.be

Film Review: STUBER (USA 2019) ***

Stuber Poster
Trailer

A detective recruits his Uber driver into an unexpected night of adventure.

Director:

Michael Dowse

STUBER is an action buddy comedy involving a blind cop and a Uber driver that the L.A. cop hijacked in order to take down some drug Kung-fu fighting villain.  It is not a high brow film project.  For the promo screening, I could not get anyone to come see the free movie because of its theme.  But if one goes with the lowest of expectations, STUBER will turn put to be surprisingly entertaining.

One would not think of filmmakers like Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorcese directing  STUBER.  But a good choice is London (London, Ontario that is) born Michael Dowse who made the Canadian cult-hit FUBAR and the impressive British feature about a DJ gone blind called IT’S ALL GONE PETE TONG.  Coincidentally, the L.A. cop, Vic (Dave Bautista, THE AVENGERS movies) is also going blind.  The Uber driver Stu (Kumail Nanjiani, THE BIG SICK) acts as his eyes.  If all this sounds pretty corny, it all is.  But the fact that this would pose a challenge to the scriptwriter, Tripper Clancy and director.  It would seem all to easy to dismiss the film as a wasted exercise, but given the fact, Dowse and his scriptwriter has risen above the dauntless task.

The film’s first 15 minutes is all edge of the seat excitement as Vic and his partner, Sara (Karen Gillan) attempt to take down an escaping Korean drug Lord, Oka Teijo (Indonesian Martial-Arts star, Iko Uwais, THE RAID, THE RAID 2, STAR WAR: THE FORCE AWAKENS)

On the negative side, the buddy buddy stuff has been seen before and done better in other buddy cop films.  The difference in characters – Stu is so mild mannered that he cannot express hi love towards his girlfriend while Vic is so stone-hearted cannot communicate with his artistic daughter.  The Ryan Gosling gay joke where Stu believes in brain over brawn is the typical homophobic shit that goes round in male chauvinistic films.  The film is also too male dominated, where females are given just a token nod.  Vic’s female partner is killed off in the film’s first 15 minute, the daughter has to struggle to become a sculptor while the chief villain turns out female.  Stu’s girlfriend is finally revealed as a real bitch who not only not now what she wants but a really floozy.

The buddy chemistry between Bautista and Nanjiani works well.  Their fight in the warehouse looks so similar to the Jonathan Winters garage destruction scene in Stanley Kramer’s IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD that I could almost be certain Dowse took his inspiration there. 

The film ends in the Christmas season where the film delivers a few neat surprises.  But the film has so far obtained mixed reviews from critics.  And understandably why as the film is a mixed bag of tricks.  Go see STUBER with as little expectations as possible and you won’t get disappointed.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5l6a5RiR1E

Film Review: POINT BLANK (USA 2019) ***

Point Blank Poster
To save his pregnant wife, an emergency room nurse teams up with an injured murder suspect in a race against time, rival criminals and renegade cops.

Director:

Joe Lynch

Writers:

Fred Cavayé (characters), Adam G. Simon (screenplay)

The Netflix original movie which opens this week is an action thriller not to be confused with the John Boorman 1967 classic crime-noir of the same title POINT BLANK that starred Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson.  1967 POINT BLANK was one of the most well reviewed films of the year, a very violent and unforgettable piece of art.  But the Netflix POINT BLANK written by Adam G. Simon and directed by Joe Lynch (who makes B-movies like the little heard MAYHEM) is a remake of 2010 French actionthriller Gaumont film directed by Fred Cavaye which most people would have not seen.  Actually, Lynch shows promise.  This one has a male nurse played by hunk Anthony Mackie whose pregnant wife (Teyonah Parris) is kidnapped by thugs – a sort of Netflix TAKEN.

The film begins with an apparent hit and murder of a D.A.   The apparent intruder (Frank Grillo) is hit by a car while escaping and ends up in hospital where the protagonist an emergency room male nurse, Paul (Anthony Mackie) is working.  The intruder’s brother (Christian Cooke)  kidnaps the male nurse’s pregnant wife in order for the intruder to be kept alive.

A few action setups are worthy of mention.  One is a fight while the two are on a conveyor going through an automatic car wash.  It sounds silly but it works.  The film contains a few well executed car chases, with good continuity.

Good too that the film offers a black actor well deserving of a leading white role in an action flick.  Anthony Mackie should attract a large African American audience as well.

The script also offers the kidnappers a bit of sympathy, a tactic seldom tried.  The script also pays homage to the homeless, with one scene where a homeless man helps out the hero. 

Lynch’s film is not without humour.   One has to love it when out of the blue, the film pays homage to LES SALAIRES DE LA PEUR (THE WAGES OF FEAR), Henri-Georges Clouzot’s suspense classic.  The thugs watch this movie when one of them say, “When I becomes a director, I want to make this kind of shit.”

The soundtrack is impressive (Music is by Mitch Lee) ranging from rap to yes, Motown.  ABC’s “The Look of Love” is played while the baby is delivered.

Two good performances to watch  – Anthony Mackie’s and Oscar Winner Marcia Gay Harden’s, the latter who steals the show.  To say more of her role would only spoil a plot twist.  The buddy buddy nurse/ bad guy interplay works well too.

“You think killing me would make any difference?  You have no idea how high this goes.” is the only defence the villain can use.  But there is a good rebuttal (not mentioned in the review).

POINT BLANK is an entertaining enough action thriller, slick, fast and occasionally cliched that should keep not too demanding Netflix viewers satisfied.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa-D9GbWEWw

Film Review: THE LION KING (USA 2019) ***

The Lion King Poster
After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.

Director:

Jon Favreau

Writers:

Jeff Nathanson (screenplay by), Brenda Chapman(story) | 3 more credits »

Not only a large portion of moviegoers familiar with the story of THE LION KING (from not only the original animated feature but from the hit musical) but the songs as well.  Disney needs something fresh.  So with the new live-action animated version, new songs have also been added, written by Sir Elton John and sung by Beyonce.

As in the original animated feature, THE LION KING 2019 is set in Africa where a pride of lions rule over the animal kingdom of Pride Rock.  When the film opens, King Mufasa’s (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi’s (Alfre Woodard) newborn son, Simba (Danny Glover), is presented to the gathering animals by Rafiki (John Kani) the mandrill, the kingdom’s shaman and advisor. Mufasa shows Simba the Pride Lands and explains to him the responsibilities of kingship and the “circle of life”, which connects all living things.  This is, of course, the cue for the “Circle of life” song reminding audiences that they are watching Disney.

As far as animal eats animal in the wild, the violence of the jungle is toned down several notches.  The only animals that get eaten on screen are the disgusting maggots and worms, being at the bottom of the food chain.  Plants are victims too.

THE LION KING is a magnificent looking CGI feature with all the animals and background looking so real that one can hardly tell that it is special effects.  Simba can be made cute as a cub and fierce like a lion king with all the details like face frowns, fur movements and tail wags.  But its is almost a compete copy from the hit animated feature of the same title. It is fortunate that quite a few years have lapsed since, so that audiences can only vaguely remember all the scenes from the original.  Still, entertaining and stunning that the CGI LION KING is and looks, originality is clearly absent.  Racism is present in the form of hyenas who are looked down by the lions and seen with no redeeming qualities.  All this is hidden by Disney’s seemingly innocent portrayal of nature as evident in the film’s initial scenes – a morning sunrise in the African continent; a flight of birds rising from the trees and a horde of elephants making their path through the plains.

Regarding voice characterizations, James Earl Jones with his signature deep voice is the obvious choice for King Mufasa while Chiwetel Ejiofor does a menacing villain, Scar.  Comic relief is provided by Seth Rogen who steals the show as the common slow-witted warthog.  Yes, and there are fart jokes from him.  Pop star Beyonce provides the voice of Nala, Simba’s love interest.

Despite the familiarity of the material, Disney’s hard work shows and proves that old material can still be entertaining given a a few fresh twists.  And this is the strength of Disney.  Disney always uses tested formula in their film projects.  Expect record box-office takings in the opening weekend.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TavVZMewpY

Film Review: THE FAREWELL (USA 2019) ***

The Farewell Poster
Trailer

A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.

Director:

Lulu Wang

Writer:

Lulu Wang

Awkwafina (last seen in CRAZY RICH ASIANS) gets a starring role as Billi, a Chinese American who learns that her beloved grandmother aka Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) still living in China has three months to live after being diagnosed with cancer.  The family decide not to tell Nai Nai of her illness. Instead the family organize a wedding so that the entire family will travel back to China to spend time with her before she passes away.  Hence the film title THE FAREWELL. Billi was not invited to the wedding/farewell as the family fear that she cannot hide her feelings but she shows up in China unannounced from New York City.

The titles cleverly state at the start of the film; “Based on an actual lie.”  THE FAREWELL starts off a little humorously as director Wang introduces the somewhat dysfunctional family who aim to do good.  The idea is that the family takes on the emotional burden off the grandmother if she does not know.  Half way through the movie, it will hit (as it did me) whether what transpires is legal. i.e. will the doctors allow that illness be kept for the patient as requested by the family.  The answer is supplied right outwards – a good thing – in the middle of the movie.  It is not allowed in America but is allowed in China.

Director Wang is more serious that light in her treatment of the material.  Though there are always laughs on the horizon of every scene, the sombre mood is also pressing.  Despite the simple story which is suspense less, Wang keeps her film running at a good pace.  It is more the family interaction at play than the knowledge of whether Nai Nai will discover the truth at the end.  At the end of the matter, whether Nai Nai finds out or who tells her is immaterial to the plot.

Wang captures the behavioural  mores typical Chinese family.  Important are the big meals,  the obsessive ‘fussy’ care over the young and old, the need to keep a stiff upper lip among others.  Other issues the are also important include the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law.  Billi’s mother complains that Nai Nai was always boss in the home when she married her son, which implies the probable reason they left China for America.

The farewell is not the perfect drama as the film contains many glaring flaws including the tacked on happy ending.  Still THE FAREWELL is a sincere drama aided by a solid dramatic performance by Awkwafina who previously only has been seen in comedic roles.  The film is entertaining and sheds light on the difference of cultures, in a good way, and also of respect and the difficulty a family to get along. There is nothing forced in the film, and the story unfolds smoothly that should leave the audience not only satisfied but with a  warm fuzzy feeling.

Chinese American films have always done well and have been well made like this one (and with a strong feminine protagonist too), the recent Netflix original, ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE and of course, CRAZY RICH ASIANS.  There is a large target audience of North American Chinese and hopefully, there will be more films to cater towards this group.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8iDwb12RdE

Film Review: TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (USA 2019) ***

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am Poster
Trailer

This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.

This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary story- teller, TONI MORRISON examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career.

For those unfamiliar with the literary world of Toni Morrison, Toni is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel Beloved and also the recipient of the the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 with four novels in Oprah’s Book Club.  She is at present 88 years of age, and still as spritely as a young author, evident during her interviews captured on film.  She has been described more accurately as a legendary storyteller whose books are written from the black perspective. 

There cannot be enough praise for Toni Morrison.  Morrison has accomplished monumental orgs in her lifetime.  Besides her literary works, she also did the biography of Mohammad Ali.  On camera, she does not blow her own horn. But the other interviewees on camera like Oprah Winfrey, Toni’s friends and author Fran Lebowitz, author/activist Angela Davis, poet Sonia Sanchez, long-time editor Robert Gottlieb are others singing her praises.

Toni’s life, career and achievements are actually available for a good read on Wikipedia and one can learn just as much reading Wikipedia as it traces Toni’s lifelong journey from child to the present and how her life influenced her works.  But Greenfield-Saunders brings her life to the screen with lots of archival footage, such as grainy black and white film of black folk riding horse carriages in the old towns in America.  The film also puts her work and black folk into perspective.  It is revealed in voiceover that blacks were not allowed to be taught to read not even by the white folk.  Toni, who grew up in Loraine, Ohio, went to school and eventually to college.  She attended the historically black Howard University (where she faced segregation within the black community), to her stint as an editor at Random House (where she did ’70s-era book tours with Muhammad Ali).  She was also a single mother with two sons, rising at 5:00 am to write.

The film is directed by photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who met Morrison in 1981 when he did a cover shoot with her.  For this film, he has Morrison looking directly into the camera, while he shoots the others in an “over the shoulder style.”  As a director, he’s known for his “identity” documentaries such as The Black List (inspired by Morrison).

The best part of the doc is Toni’s books been described on film as well as the reactions of the books when first published.  Mention is given of her works like Beloved.  Another book “The Bluest Eye” is described in detail.  This is the book she wrote every morning up at 5 am while bringing up her two children.   Oprah interviewed, described how she got and called Toni on the telephone, ending up making a film of BELOVED directed by Jonathan Demme.  There is no mention, however that the film was a box-office flop.

Though it is pointed out in the film that Toni has both the respect and readership worldwide of Mexicans and Asians, the film would be more directed towards Americans (both black and white).  After all, the black American is half and an important part of American history.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8sUwXTWb4M