THE FAREWELL REVIEW

The Farewell is a beautiful movie. From the artful cinematography to the cultural introspetion, Lulu Wang and co. will take you on an emotional journey.

The story revolves around Billi, who discovers her Nai Nai (grandmother, or more specifically “mother’s father”) is dying of cancer.

Billi is ethnically Chinese but has lived most of her life in New York. She speaks pretty good Mandarin, but with an American accent and a few semantic lapses. Though she grew up in China till she was 8, she definitely embodies the American mindset.

Her family, apart from immediate, has all stayed in East Asia. Mostly China, with the exception of her father’s brother (and his family), an artist who moved to Japan, but still considers himself Chinese before all.

Here’s where she differs from the rest of her family: THE LIE.


THE LIE

The lie is that the family has decided to not tell the grandmother that she is terminally ill (stage IV lung cancer) and instead, they will bear the burden of knowledge and try to keep her spirits up while she is alive.

They have gathered the family under the guise of a snappy wedding with Billi’s cousin and his girlfriend of 3 months. This serves as the explanation of why the family is all coming together at the same time.

Billi cannot grasp the concept of why her family would outwardly lie about the situation and the purpose of their visit, and, in her mind, this comes into conflict with all she knows (read: her more Western/US mindset). Her need to tell her grandmother seems to be more important than the family’s wish to tell keep the secret.

This clashing of mentality is central to the film. Throughout the feature, Billi has to not only come to terms with her family’s decision, but also respect it (and most importantly not judge it.) She seems to be navigating on her tip toes between trying to please her mother, father et. al and staying true to herself.

We don’t understand why Billi is so reticent to take on her family’s mindset and that isn’t explored much. She prefers to argue that this isn’t a good decision and doesn’t seem curious to know why they take care of matters that way. Most of the explanation of the why comes from her uncle (the artist in Japan).

There’s a comedically ironic moment when her uncle warns Billi repeatedly not to tell her grandmother about her condition. And yet, at the wedding, that same uncle gives an over the top emotional speech, almost spilling the beans. Oopsie..

However, there is never a scene where Billi bawls and breaks down crying as her character suggests she might, being portrayed with a reactive personality. She never cries about her Nai Nai and privately expresses her impending grief. The struggle and difficulty to understand the family lie is only verbal – speaking English to the doctor and going over her family to ask if this is unethical, the doctor responding that most families in China deal with cancer diagnoses this way. Though you could argue that inner struggle is not very cinematic, and more something suitable to a novel, The Farewell does parcels in moments where we see her hesitating before speaking, finally coming to terms with lying to her grandmother and not communicating in the same way as the culture where she spent most of her life.


FINAL VERDICT

All in all, this was an interesting exploration of cultural mindsets at-0dds with each other and a journey with emotional intensity and grace.

The acting was superb, my favorite being the Nai-Nai. She had a big range of emotions and all were believable. Whether it was showing her being scared at the hospital, and silly when playing games at the table, arguing about the wedding menu, worrying as grandmother’s do about everyone’s food intake, and being inspirational when teaching her granddaughter the beneficial practice of tai-chi. She was a well rounded character acted out beautifully.

The cinematography was also pleasant, seeing wide shots of the whole family walking together as a unit to the close-ups when the cousin starts to tear up, to juggling the round table debate – informational and sharp.

Life is not just about what you do. It’s more about how you do it.

Nai Nai

I’ll leave you with that. Well acted, interesting storyline, a good drama with moments of humor⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SPIDERMAN: FAR FROM HOME REVIEW

This is an easy to watch film. It hits all the notes we want it to and has something for everyone: action, emotion and humor – it is worth the trip.

In “Spider-Man: Far From Home”, Peter Parker deals with the death of his mentor and father figure, awkwardly chases after his high school crush and saves the world, albeit reluctantly.

As with “Homecoming”, the Tom Holland era of Spider-Man is light, funny and good entertainment. It is closer to the more comedic and down to earth character portrayed in the original Marvel comic books.

In this one, Peter is back in high school and goes on a trip to Europe with his fellow classmates and bumbling idiot teachers.

It is very clear he wants to get some breathing space from superhero duties and just be a normal kid. An anti: “With great power comes great responsibility” if you will.

Instead, he is focused on THE PLAN.

THE PLAN = getting the girl he likes to notice him, read: MJ (played sharply by Zendaya). This plays out as a sweet an innocent unfolding of two teenagers who are still learning how to process their feelings and each want to communicate but can’t quite get there. The characters are treated with respect and their emotions and limitations are not played for laughs – as is sometimes the case when dealing with teenage romance.

Peter has no intentions of saving the day in this edition. He just wants to enjoy some down-time in picturesque cities and finds himself somehow roped into saving the day.

There is a twist in the movie for those who haven’t read the comics or know that much about the canon of Spider-Man, so if plot points are important to you, don’t read any more!!

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!!

ACTION

The twist is Mysterio. Good ol’ Mysterio, one of the CLASSIC Spider-Man villains and most iconic of the whole œuvre.

As a master manipulator and illusionist, Mysterio makes Nick Fury, Spider-Man and the whole world believe that the Elementals (a group of 4 ravaging monsters based on the elements of fire, water, earth and air) are out to destroy the world, and only he can destroy them, with a little help of Spider-Man of course. His explanation includes a multiverse where his earth was destroyed by the Elementals so he travels to this one to stop them in time.

But even though he projects himself as the hero in the beginning of the movie, all the comic book fans knew it was for nefarious purposes, to manipulate the masses into believing he could be the next great big thing. He has patiently waited to fill the vacuum that Iron Man left with his death and sets to become the hero of the world. All from the comfort of a VR headset.

Since he operates drones that project a simulated reality, Mysterio choreographs quite stunning fight sequences ripe with insults, overwhelming villainy power, and starring him as a swashbuckling savior in the middle of it all.

One thing that is lacking is the motive for Mysterio’s take over of the world. It seems rushed in the movie and condensed into a melodramatic Black & White flashback and a throwaway line of: “I want the world to know the truth”. It does not feel strong enough and is the only part of the movie that seems underdeveloped.

The fight sequences, however, are very well done. The cinematography is active but not dizzying, jumping along with Spider-man and changing POVs quickly, but with ease.

The VR (virtual reality) illusion is timely and is used quite well, which also brings us to the emotional aspects of the film.

EMOTION

Though the tone is light, “Far From Home” tackles some poignant issues. A major one is the death of Iron Man in “Endgame”. Peter struggles with losing his faux father and questions whether the world depends on his shoulders now.

This is addressed quite frankly and directly throughout the film where we see Tony Stark’s legacy (on murals and statues) and his memory (with EDITH, the powerful glasses that can do almost anything), but also his absence and the psychological implications it has on Peter. No moment might be more disturbing in the movie than when Peter sees a zombie version of Iron Man creeping towards him in the dreamlike sequence Mysterio concocted to toy with Peter’s fears — and make him question what is real. Chilling and visually impressive, the dreamlike sequences serve as fight scenes but also internal struggle scenes.

A sweet moment occurs when Happy comes to rescue Peter in a Stark Industries plane and Peter builds a new suit in the back. Seeing Peter tinker with the machinery and get passionate serves as a reminder that Iron Man lives on forever and his ingenuity will continue to inspire the next generation of superheroes.

HUMOR

Finally, the comedy! This movie is packed with jokes, from Ned’s incredulity to all the cool things that come with being a superhero, and to Peter’s classmates for looking up to Spider-Man and not giving a second thought to Peter. But none might be as effective as MJ’s deadpan delivery and smart-aleck personality. Zendaya toes the line perfectly and plays off of Tom Holland’s discomfort beautifully. Well written and well executed.

Peter Parker: You look really pretty.
MJ: Therefore I have value?
Peter Parker: No…that’s not what…
MJ: I’m just messing with you. You look pretty too.”

It was weird to see a Spider-Man movie not take place in New York, but it worked and we were able to get a taste of it in the satisfying final scene. A bookending to an entertaining ride backed with a punchy 80s post-punk end credits song.

Fun, exciting and packed with jokes. The blockbuster of the summer – ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ½

Classic films: The Red Balloon

In this fantastical short, a young boy in postwar Paris befriends a big red balloon with a mind of its own. Treated as something precious that needs protection (cleverly passing from umbrella under umbrella) but also faces rejection (like the child’s mom at first, who throws it out the window). But the beauty of this movie is that the red balloon can mean anything. As with all great art, the creators allow us to interpret it as we wish, holding our hand along the way. Is it a metaphor for childhood innocence, for hope in a gray and gritty post-wast city, or our hopes and dreams, collectively fraught with society? That is for us to decide.

Like a painting, color is very important in this movie. The boy is wearing gray at all times, the backdrop of the buildings and streets are gray and most characters sport muted tones in the same conformity. The red balloon is cartoonishly big and a bright scarlet red. It’s almost poetic how whimsical it is amongst a sea of faded colors. Goes to show how much a little thing like color can go a long way, if used with a purpose. In this case, to make it stand out (red balloon is the title after all, and the central focus). It is worth noting that the effects of the balloon moving in its sentience hold up today. We truly believe it listens to the child when asked to stay put; while also purposely coming close and cheekily turning away at times when the child tries to grab its string, ever-so-slightly out of reach.

As this movie is mostly silent, the storytelling is mainly visual; but we do get a gentle soundtrack that enhances the sweetness of certain moments as well as the roughness of others. It is a constant, ever-impactful background.

The cinematography is simple and effective as well. Each aspect contributing to the larger atmosphere. Succinctly echoing the simplicity of the storytelling. There are moments of innocent humor, like when the boy steps into a house to hide and the camera stays on the street waiting just long enough to see the boy kicked out. Or the scene with the girl with the blue balloon, brimming with insouciance.

French cinema seems to be good at portraying childhood, in all its complexity, ringing true to its heroes and getting into the kids perspective (more on that in future classic film reviews). The Red Balloon, moreover, serves as a discourse on childhood, affectionately unfolding true emotions from children without dipping into the melodramatic. It shows childhood’s whimsy and innocence but also its intolerance and cruelty.

But just like in the movie, there is a world of hope, joy and color beyond any temporary loss or ephemeral sadness which serves as a reminder that through its ups and downs, bobbing like an inflated balloon, life is beautiful. 

It’s concision and execution is worth striving for, so I will take a lesson from it and stop here. You can make the red balloon whatever you want, so I’m making it five stars. 

A beautiful movie with artful visual storytelling and an engaging emotional reflection on life, childhood and hope – 🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈 (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

YESTERDAY REVIEW

Lighthearted idea but confused in its execution. Be prepared to be disappointed if you are a fan of the Beatles.

Yesterday is one of those movies that feels as though it was thought up by a child in a daydream. “What would the world be like without the most famous band of the 20th century?”, this kid muses to themselves as they look through the window during a particular boring class. This movie is the fruition of that thought and much like a child’s story, with all its sweetness and innocence also comes the blurry trappings of unconscious storytelling with an incoherent tonal structure.

It feels as though Yesterday was built from the dictionary of other movies, asking a lot of questions but not following through with many answers.

Let’s explore some of these unanswered questions.

WHAT GENRE IS THIS?

Is this a romantic comedy or a revealing insight about the ownership and authenticity of art? The trailers would have you believe it’s the latter.

Why then does there need to be a love interest? This shoehorned love story seems a little melodramatic, bordering on the hardly believable. In one instance Ellie tells Jack: “I’ve been waiting 20 years for you to wake up and love me.” She may be British and possibly reserved, but why won’t she shoot her shot then? If she likes him so much, ask him out. It’s 2019, you don’t need to wait for anything anymore. Lily James plays Ellie as best she can, but her character is severely underdeveloped and is only in service to Jack’s character, being his forever cheerleader.

The authenticity of art idea could have dissected Jack’s fame and his guilt for taking credit of the songs. Instead, the film goes another direction and decides to pin him against modern day UK superstar musician, Ed Sheeran. While Mr. Sheeran certainly acted his part well, it was confusing to see why he was there. The only expositional line being: “You’re Mozart and I’m Salieri”. But would that REALLY have been the case?

THE BEATLES – WOULD THEY WORK NOWADAYS ?

The thing Yesterday missed about the Beatles is that they were a product of their time. They were the breath of fresh air English teens needed in post-war Britain. They changed the game for rock music and paved the way for UK artists to be taken seriously overseas.

Their songs are undeniably great, and that’s why they’ve stood the test of time. But the reason they shot to superstardom was also a result of the band’s aura and the era they were in. The later drug albums worked because it became more acceptable to do drugs in the late 1960s and the psychedelic phase was in full effect.

How would the music industry treat The Beatles like musicians nowadays? Now THAT would have been an interesting exploration. Sadly that avenue was not pursued much. If this movie were a little more curious about the inner-workings of the music industry, the thought process behind marketing the band like todays artist could have served up some moments of humor. A teaser for “Eleanor Rigby” on an Instagram story, perhaps?

WHY IS JACK SO POPULAR?

One thing that bothered me is that it doesn’t look like our protagonist is having fun performing the songs. A big reason the Beatles became so popular was their personalities. Offstage they were cheeky in interviews, their legendary “roles” were cemented in movies like “A Hard Days Night”, (Paul was romantic, John was a rebel, George was quiet and Ringo was always down to party) and onstage it just seemed they were having fun! Many subsequent musicians claimed the main reason they chose that career path was because of seeing the Fab Four making music fun. The oohs and aahs went a long way and without the fun of the whole band our lone protagonist seems a little bereft of enthusiasm.

Furthermore, I did not get to hear some of my favorite Beatles tracks like “All my Loving” “Here, There, Everywhere” “Blackbird” and the list goes on …. but they played “Back in the USSR” twice. Did they not have the rights to the whole catalog??

Why would “Back in the USSR” work in modern times? It cleverly lampoons 60s era Beach Boys surf songs with the California sound bassline and the back up harmonies. Mixing American sounds with Soviet Union references (see: “Georgia on my my my mind” refers to the Ray Charles song and Georgia the country). And all this in the midst of the cold war. It was very much a product of its time and don’t think people would relate so much to it now.

Also the Beatles evolved. To my understanding, Jack is releasing old Beatles song and new Beatles songs mixed together on a double album which is at most, what, 50 songs? What happened to other 150? Not worth saving? I don’t think mixing old and new material would work but I would’ve loved to see an explanation for him trying to justify “Revolution 9”, “Lovely Rita” or “Happiness is a Warm Gun” to studio execs, along with the other more experimental or controversial songs. Though it’s not a fan favorite, “Why don’t we do it in the road” is just as much the Beatles as “Here Comes the Sun” is. And The Beatles could get away with that because they were already iconic musicians when they did more experimental songs whereas Jack is barely breaking onto the international scene in this alternate world, which in itself is also quite confusing.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!

Jack: This was my last gig. If it hasn’t by now, it’ll take a miracle.
Ellie: Miracles happen.”

RULES OF THE ALTERNATE REALITY

One thing that is nice is seeing what an old John Lennon would would like. It actually made me emotional. Thinking of all the life experiences he would’ve had if had hadn’t been tragically murdered and also all the music we would have enjoyed.

However, the old John Lennon did not seem to be quite musical. It seems that in this other world the Beatles members still lived, just didn’t make music. We don’t see why they didn’t get together. Did they try and fail? Did Johnny and the Moondogs or the Silver Beatles never happen? It’s hard to believe some of the most accomplished pop songwriters of the 20th century wouldn’t have had an aching to create music in this alternate universe.

For music nerds: would someone else have introduced stuff Beatles introduced to pop music? Would bands borrow from the parallel minor key, a Beatles staple very clearly heard in songs like “I’ll Be back” or tried unusual time signatures like the 7/8 of “All you need is Love”? Or going to 3/8 in “Here Comes the Sun”?

Does Charles Manson not commit murder because he never heard “Helter Skelter” and think of it as a call to action and a sign of the end of days?

We find out Harry Potter and Coca-Cola aren’t in this world either. Is Jack going to reproduce JK Rowling’s opus and remember all seven Harry Potter books as best he can? Will he somehow re-invent the secret Coke recipe for the good of the world or will he stick to what he knows? Is this his life mission now? Give the world what they lost?

Yesterday does not answer any of the questions above and there are no real-life consequences for him playing Beatles songs: he’s never taken to task for it. At one point, Jack thinks he will be arrested before the big beach concert, but instead is greeted by the only other people who remember the Beatles. The only reason he decides to tell the world of his fraudulent act is not out of artistic merit but instead in an attempt to “get the girl”. We do not see his inner qualms, which, arguably is not very cinematic.

Apart from all these unanswered questions, some characters shine through. Rocky, the bumbling roadie, provides much needed comic relief to Jack’s confusing seriousness. And Kate McKinnon does a good performance as she delivers lines with sly confidence and hyper-overexplaination, such as “We’ll take most of your money”, which her character says as she asks to sign on Jack as a new artist. Americans never seem to be too bright in Richard Curtis’ films.

One thing is for sure, though, I really wouldn’t want to live in a world without the Beatles and this movie confirms that.

Entertaining premise but don’t go in wanting to feel more connected to the Beatles once the movie is over. – ⭐⭐

MIB INTERNATIONAL REVIEW

I SO wanted to love this movie. It was a reboot that was not unwelcome from a franchise that was so entertaining and easy to like, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the movie we all hoped for.

BEST PARTS IN THE TRAILER

It was one of those movies where all the best parts get used for the trailer and the rest seems like plot devices to get from one scene shown in the trailer to another. But props to whoever put their trailer together. I have to say, the trailer was REALLY well developed. Credit where credit is due. Fast-paced, fresh, funny and showing off the lead actors’ charisma. Backed with Missy Elliot’s upbeat: “WTF”- what’s not to like?

The lead duo’s chemistry was undeniable in “Thor: Ragnarok” (incidentally, one of my favorites of the Marvel Universe) but in this one, it kind of fell flat.

CHARACTER COMPARISON

What worked in the first series was how the characters played by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith were at odds with each other. K’s stone cold faced always provided a laugh and K’s confidence met with his alien learning-curve gave us that audience insight. We were learning the world with him.

In MIB: International, it is less stark of a contrast. M and H seems to operate *slightly* differently. M is prepared, H is go-with-the-flow. But deep down, they like each other. Even awkwardly hinting at a romantic interest, which was confusing. Either make it a strictly professional relationship or make it a love story about a badass couple saving the world. The in-between did not work and came out of nowhere. Which begs the question: why? and: who was this for?

As for the audience perspective, I believe they tried to fit Tessa Thompson’s M into the role J once had, allowing us to see the world through her eyes. M is a noobie (sure) but knows SO much more than J ever did about the alien world going in, so a lot of the comedy about the novelty of the alien world is lost. Even though her “zero chill” attitude was funny at times.

“We are the Men in Black… the men AND women in black”

There were A FEW MOMENTS of laughs. Kumail Nanjiani’s “Pawny” brings about some genuine laughs but not enough to justify him as a character. Agent C seems like a useless character as well, a plot device for us not to be sure who to trust. There just to make things harder for our hero, without much of a personality apart from “stickler nerd”.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!

CONFUSING NOT INTRIGUING

The whole movie we are led to believe The Hive is back, a supposedly defeated enemy that can take on other people’s appearance, much like the Lara Flynn Boyle character in MIB II. We get hints that Chris Hemsworth’s character is probably part of The Hive. Everyone says he “acts differently” and is “not the same” since his battle to defeat The Hive a couple years earlier. Then, at arguably the crux of the whole movie, we found out that Chris Hemsworth’s character, H, has been neuralyzed. Thus the logical conclusion being that that’s why he’s not his former self, and that his British mentor (pun-supreme-named “High-T”) and head of MIB London had to be the one to neuralyze him, therefore making High-T the villain, as they two were the only ones who fought The Hive. This was not an ending I particularly cared about because I didn’t care much for H and High-T’s relationship to begin with.

RUSHED, RUSHED, RUSHED

With that said, they build up this epiphanous moment up for the whole movie and then gloss over it in two seconds. The realization happens as a new action sequence starts. H discovers he’s been neuralyzed, that his mentor was the villain all along and then.. the scene immediately cuts to an action sequence. There is no time to breathe or connect, no time to realize the depth of just what that realization entails, no time to care.

And then that fight scene with Liam Neeson’s High-T didn’t make much sense either. H proclaims halfway through seeing the face of his once-mentor change into an aggressively monster-looking creature that “I believe he’s still in there” as if the alien was a poltergeist demon inhabiting High-T’s body, which only confused me even more about the mechanics of The Hive and made me question what little I knew.

Seemed to rely too much on the cast and not enough on the script. A disappointment, sure, but one I probably will be made to forget when SONY and COLUMBIA PICTURES neuralyze me.

Confused and rushed. The best part was the trailer. – ⭐ ½

ROCKETMAN REVIEW

This fast-paced ode to Elton John’s life and career till the 80s (roughly) is a rollercoaster of a good time.

First off, this movie had laughs, electric musical numbers, the songs we know and love and some new/ lesser know ones.

This movie focuses somewhat on Elton John’s drug life. The over the top parties, coping with newfound fame and dealing with the absence of love, which left a hole Sir Elton Hercules needed to fill, and alas, found his solace in drugs.

Fittingly, this movie is just as crazy. From the fast pace splicing and experimental camera work on musical numbers to the beautiful recreations of Sir Elton’s stage wear, this movie felt like it was on drugs. Fantasy moments arose, like when he took the stage at the Troubadour to the eyes of his first, unsuspecting, American audience and floats in the air with the audience for a slowed-down, surreal amount of time. These kind of scenes work in Rocketman because they ring true emotionally and feel like we are getting a glimpse of how it feels like from the performer’s perspective, which is one thing Rocketman in good at portraying. Slowed down we could feel the magic of being onstage, the thrill of performing to people who love your music, dancing along. The over-the-top-ness and the fast and loose take on reality don’t matter much because we care about the character and all his quirks. The way he comes out to his mother, just before a show, the suicide attempt days before his famous Dodgers stadium concert, blowing up at his co-writer, Bernie Taupin, and immediately apologizing. We see the veneer behind the performer and can connect to those moments. To him as a child replaying exactly what his piano teacher was performing, to being too embarrassed to play in front of “America’s greatest” rock & rollers (aka Beach Boys) Rocketman paints the man as a humble, endearing – albeit cheeky -personality.

And my god the costumes! If the costume department doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for this film I will be surprised. Some famous looks were recreated while others invented for Rocketman. As for the songs, the story behind “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” is close to what actually happened. Legend has it they Elton and Bernie wrote “Your Song” in a few hours one morning, over breakfast. “I Want Love” however, takes on a different context – but it makes sense in the story!

People don’t pay to see Reg Dwight! They pay to see ELTON JOHN!

Elton, before going onstage

Though I paid to see the Elton John’s story, I was just as delighted to see the Reg Dwight story. By the end of Rocketman, you’ll fall in love with both.

You gotta kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be.” –Rocketman (uttered by Murphy)

Also, what a villain! Wow! I’ll be surprised if anyone will ever have anything nice to say about John’s manager (John Reid) after watching this movie. A cruel character and if an ounce of it is true, seems like Elton got his revenge on him by showing him as such despicable person in this film.

There were some emotional moments, in fact I teared up 3 times. This film doesn’t shy away from his issues coming to terms with his own sexuality. Which makes this movie so easy to feel for. Seeing how he is rejected by his father and his mother to some degree- though she at least stays in his life and makes an effort to follow his career- make for poignant scenes. His grandmother seems to have been the only supportive presence in his life and is always a delight to see in the movie.

Other emotional moments are when fantasy meets reality. When Reg the kid imagines conducting an orchestra, when Elton the adult sees his kid self at the bottom of the pool in a spacesuit, indicating he needs to jet back to the surface where he can breath. These touches of magic are made possible because of believable relationships and honest dialogue.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

The final emotional moment was the card at the end. I read in an article than when Elton John was at the height of his bingeing days, he did cocaine once every 4 minutes. Which means if he sat in his own film with us, he would’ve done 30 lines of coke in that timeframe. To go from that to 28 years sober is TRULY an inspiration.

Watch it for: Taron Egerton’ s show stopping performance, the ever-so-sweet grandmother character, the music.

This film is as glam, camp and iconic as the man himself. I felt truly connected to it and felt re-invigorated in the artist in addition to the man. – ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ½