What To Watch Next (OCT 2018)?

Colette (now playing in limited release) starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, & Eleanor Tomlinson

After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. -Summary from Bleecker Street 

First Man (opening OCT 12th) starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber & Ciaran Hinds

This is a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling), a Midwestern family man and former pilot, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon. Though it’s directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, there are NO songs or dances (no worries- LOL)! Critics are suggesting that you watch this in IMAX (if possible). 

Museo (now playing) starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Two 30-something slacker pals (living w/ parents in Mexico City) decide to pull an art heist. This is based on a true story- WOW! This film has been getting good buzz, and I’m a big fan of GGB.

The Hate U Give (opening OCT 19th) starring Amandla Stenberg, Common, Regina Hall, Issa Rae & Russell Hornsby

This looks to be an unique twist on the coming-of-age story (already being praised highly by critics). It was based on best-selling novel by a young black woman, Angie Thomas. A working-class black teen girl from the inner-city, Starr (attending a mostly white private school), experiences the awakening of her racial consciousness after witnessing the killing of her childhood best friend, a black boy, by a police officer.

Venom (opening OCT 5th) starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Woody Harrelson, & Jenny Slate

I learned that Venom was in Spider-Man 3, though this movie is considered to be outside the Marvel universe. Mild-mannered investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy), uncovers a secret government experiment and eventually merges w/ a symbiote called Venom. I’m curious to see it mainly for Riz Ahmed (who plays villainous scientist Carlton Drake).

Advertisements

Mile 22 (NOW PLAYING) starring Mark Wahlberg

Lea Carpenter (novelist and 1st-time screenwriter) talked re: this fast-paced/fast-talking action movie at the International Spy Museum. She is a former English major (like me). After her father died, Carpenter learned that he was in the Special Forces (after serving in Vietnam). She became interested in the spy thriller genre. Director Peter Berg read her first book and was impressed w/ it; he reached out and asked if she wanted to work on a screenplay (w/ Mark Wahlberg attached to the project.

Intensity, tension, violence, fighting and chase scenes are jam-packed into a relatively short run time (close to 90 mins). The opening sequence was done quite well.  The team sets up a raid on a group of Russian spies who have a safe house in the ‘burbs. The film then jumps ahead 2 years to the top-secret CIA team (Overwatch) reassembling in Southeast Asia. James Silva (Wahlberg), aided by his command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer, Li Noor (Iko Uwais- an Indonesian actor/martial artist) w/ sensitive information on a dirty bomb out of the country. Uwais (who briefly appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) has the potential to be the next Jet Li or Jackie Chan, as many reviewers commented.

Ronda Rousey (who is best known for MMA) does a good job in her minor role of tough operative; I didn’t know she was pursuing acting. Lauren Cohan, another operative who is going through a tough divorce/custody battle, brings some heart (and realism) to this movie.  Cohan has appeared on various TV shows; she is best known for The Walking Dead. John Malkovich (w/ a flat-top hairpiece) didn’t have much to do, mainly sitting behind large computer monitors. His code name is “Mother,” as he is overseeing this operation. I’m guessing that the production companies wanted a well-known veteran actor attached and Malkovich was available. I know that he has worked in South America; this film was shot in Bogota, Colombia (which was an affordable location, as opposed to Southeast Asia).

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. -Silva quotes English author George Orwell

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, & Michelle Yeoh

NOTE: This post contains SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in theaters).

…to see the clash between Asian culture and Asian-American culture on the screen makes me feel like I am finally being seen and heard. – @tinidornkutsara

I’d expected it to be meaningful, fun, joyful, but I hadn’t at all expected what amounted to a lifetime of sorrow & longing, an onslaught of feelings I hadn’t even known I was suppressing. – @rokwan

No othering or tokenization. For once, I felt we were the default. Must be how white people feel most of the time. Beauty, romance, fantasies, & laughs made for us. Wow. More please! – @jessicaunlee

A triumph for representation? Maybe for Asian-Americans but certainly not for #Singapore #CrazyRichAsiansMovie -Nicholas Yong

We can love, support AND criticize something at the same time. #CrazyRichAsians is ground-breaking for representation in Hollywood. FACT.  “Asians” does not mean ALL Asians. FACT. The movie does not cover the often oppressed brown & non-Chinese people of Singapore. FACT. – @jennyyangtv

These are some tweets from young Asian-Americans that were featured in an article on the importance of Crazy Rich Asians. 25 years after The Joy Luck Club, there is a (mainstream) Hollywood rom com w/ an all-Asian cast. Fans of indies (like myself) have also noted that Better Luck Tomorrow and The Namesake (which is focused on an Indian- American family) were predominantly Asian-American. This movie (based on the book by Kevin Kwan) is a hit w/ audiences and critics; we know that NO color means more in Hollywood than green! 

I’m so Chinese. I’m an econ professor that’s lactose intolerant. -Rachel comments 

NYU Econ professor, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu from Fresh Off the Boat), experiences culture shock (and a LOT more) when she travels w/ her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding- a British TV presenter in his debut role) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. We can see that Nick is crazy about her; they share a love of food. Rachel discovers that Nick (who she’s been dating for 1 yr) is part of the elite of his country and heir to an empire. (In MANY Asian cultures, bringing someone to a family, or close friend’s, wedding is a huge deal.) When they reach JFK Airport, someone quickly takes their luggage, then they’re led to a spacious first class cabin on their plane. Nick’s old friends, Colin (Chris Pang) and fiancée Araminta (Sonaya Mizuno from Ex Machina), pick them up at the airport and take the couple to an outdoor food market. FYI: Food is a big part of this movie!

Let me get this straight. You both went to the same school. Yet someone came back with a degree that’s useful, and the other one came back as Asian Ellen. -Mr. Goh laments

Before Rachel meets the Youngs, she reunites w/ college roommie, Peik Lin Goh (Nora Lum, AKA Awkwafina- actress/rapper from Queens). Peik Lin sports short blond-dyed hair, dresses colorfully, and speaks like Miley Cyrus meets hip hop (as Awkawfina described it). The choice to use the black accent, or African-American vernacular (AAV), was NOT funny to everyone (as I observed from my audience- young and diverse). Peik Lin’s family lives in a huge house decorated to resemble The Palace at Versaille and Trump’s golden bathroom (LOL)! Her family includes eccentric/American-educated dad (Ken Jeong of Dr. Ken/guest star on Fresh Off the Boat).

God forbid we lose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children. -Astrid comments (during the dumpling making scene)

At the welcome back party for Nick, his elegant/graceful mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), meets Rachel and sizes her up quickly. She politely disapproves of her son’s choice; Eleanor considers Americans too independent. Rachel is ethnically Chinese, speaks Mandarin fluently, BUT her heart and mind are American (as her mom pointed out). Nick’s grandma (who raised him until he was sent to a British boarding school) and his favorite cousin, Astrid (British actress Gemma Young), think differently. Astrid even shares concerns re: her marriage to Rachel at Araminta’s bachelorette weekend. The other women who grew up w/ Nick, incl. his ex, shun or try to scare away Rachel, seeing her as NOT good enough. 

Nick’s obnoxious/hard-partying cousin, Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang of Silicon Valley), flies the men out (in helicopters) to international waters. He has a surprise for Colin- the bachelor party will be on a huge cargo ship! (One reviewer considered this to be the MOST unrealistic element of the film.) When they get on board, there are beauty pageant contestants, dancing, music, bazookas, and LOTS of booze. After some time, and hearing rude comments re: his relationship from other cousins, incl. finance bro Eddie (Ronny Chieng of The Daily Show), Nick and Colin escape, thanks to Colin’s pilot’s license). They end up on a little/secluded island where Nick shows Colin the engagement ring he has picked out for Rachel. He plans to propose soon, BUT doesn’t want to draw attention away from the wedding. Colin is happy for Nick, yet also concerned; Rachel is NOT used to this type of life. (It’s NOT everyday that you get to see handsome, shirtless Asian men talking about their feelings!)

Before the wedding, Peik Lin and another of the Young cousins- Oliver (“the rainbow sheep of the family”)- help Rachel get ready. We see the typical rom com scenes of Rachel getting a facial, picking out a formal dress, etc. Though this film is breaking new ground (w/ regard to cast and setting), it’s also traditional in MANY ways. At the church, everyone looks her way when Rachel enters wearing a chic up-do and diaphanous pale blue gown (by Marchesa). There is no room in the Young family pew (no shocker), so Rachel walks up to the front of the church and sits next to a posh older woman (who is BOTH a princess and pioneer in micro-lending). Nick notices this, pleasantly surprised, and also awed by how beautiful she looks. Though the elders don’t approve of all the greenery, the wedding ceremony is unique and gorgeous. Araminta walks down an aisle (like a ballerina) flowing w/ water wearing stockings w/ gold designs. 

At the reception, Eleanor (w/ grandma by her side), reveals that Rachel will NEVER be a part of their family- she’s a liar. She hired a PI who discovered that Rachel’s father is NOT dead, BUT living in Hong Kong! Nick wonders why Rachel lied, BUT she didn’t know anything about this. She starts crying and runs away from Nick, navigating through a maze-like path (like you’d expect in a fairy tale). At the Goh’s house, Rachel is so heartbroken that she stays in bed for days, not eating or speaking. Nick keeps calling, but Rachel doesn’t speak to him. (It’s so sweet how ALL of the Goh family tries to make her feel better.)

Finally, we see that Rachel has a visitor- her mom, Kerry (Khen Hua Tan)! She consoles her daughter and explains why she hid the truth. Her husband was abusive, so an old schoolmate helped her escape, and they fell in love. Rachel asks why they NEVER went back to see her father; her mom thought it’d be too dangerous. In the US, she started fresh w/ her baby girl; she eventually became a real estate agent. This scene is quite well-acted, well-written, and VERY touching! 

There is a Hokkien phrase ‘kaki lang’. It means: our own kind of people, and you’re not our own kind. -Eleanor explains

Because I’m not rich? Because I didn’t go to a British boarding school, or wasn’t born into a wealthy family? -Rachel asks

You’re a foreigner. American – and all Americans think about is their own happiness. -Eleanor replies

Rachel decides that it’s unfair to Nick to have to choose between her and his family (esp. his mother) in the pivotal mahjong scene. (FYI: This was not in the book, BUT added as a nod to The Joy Luck Club). The 8-bamboo tile Rachel discards to give Eleanor the winning  hand also was a winning tile for Rachel; that is why Eleanor looks shocked when Rachel turns over her hand. As some critics from Slate noted, this film’s third act is even better than its first (rare for a rom com). I think that the relationships between women, incl. their conflicts, are the best things about Crazy Rich Asians.

Yes, it is a romantic comedy – but this has such intriguing social and cultural undercurrents that it tempts even the fairly observant watcher away from taking the “Cinderella” story at its glitzy face value. While the numerous characters had to have their backstories compressed to fit into just two hours, we are given enough great dialogue, effervescent or slightly evil portrayals, and sumptuous visual clues to make the friends and family members in Singapore come alive. -Excerpt from IMDB review

As Rachel and her mom board their plane (coach this time), Nick is also there; he decided to fly home w/ her. What ensues is an (expected) cute rom com scene; Nick sidesteps several people, helps stow away luggage, and… finally pulls out a little black box to propose. Rachel is surprised when the ring he offers her is the the large emerald one worn by Eleanor! This is the feel-good ending you’d expect from such a film, yet w/ an added bonus; Rachel has won BOTH Nick’s heart and the approval of his mother. For Asians (even in today’s modern/individualistic world), this MAY be an especially poignant moment. I’ve known several South Asian American women, who live in the US, who were rejected by (potential) mother-in-laws. The reasons they were rejected ranged from height/looks to having been divorced or raised in a different religion. Their boyfriends/fiances didn’t stand up for them (unlike Nick). 

BlacKkKlansman (2018) starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, & Topher Grace

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in theaters).

It’s relevant. It’s not a relic of the past. This is happening today. -Spike Lee re: the racism shown in his latest film

No film has channeled the hateful pulse of our moment… -Variety magazine (@Variety)

I thought it was one of Spike Lee’s most cogent films. I also thought it was the film with the most white gaze ever, and that’s not a complaint. -Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet)

There’s a moment… where Ron Stallworth, the protagonist, says we could never have a President like David Duke. It hits you like a ton of bricks because we now have something even worse: a President who thinks like Duke, only he camouflages it more effectively. -Adam Best (@adamcbest)

I’m a pretty big fan of Spike Lee; he has made some of my favorite (and also arguably, most socially relevant) films of the past three decades. As fans/critics have noted, his films ignore or minimize the “white gaze,” meaning characters behave as themselves, not responding only to “mainstream” American society. Since this is a based-on-real-events movie, his style is more subdued (though there are interesting touches that we’ve come to expect). The music (composed by Terence Blanchard) is very well-suited to the events and tone of the film. It deals w/ quite serious topics, yet has pops of (dark) humor that my audience really enjoyed. 

“We have to support Denzel’s son,” I emailed to my gal pal (a few days before we went to see this movie on opening weekend). John David (who plays Ron Stallworth, the first black policeman in Colorado Springs) speaks and moves like Denzel, yet has the face of  his mother, Pauletta. J.D. (as he is known) is 33 y.o. and a former NFL player who appeared on HBO’s Ballers. There is something fresh, wide-eyed (naive), yet also confident in his performance. He gets some really cool outfits as his “street clothes;” it’s the late ’70s after all. 

Adam Driver (now 35 y.o.) can be a polarizing figure, but after this role- I’m a fan! The lanky former Marine gives a very strong, yet subtle performance as Flip (Ron’s more experienced/skeptical undercover partner). In time, Flip comes to terms w/ his identity. I need to watch more of Driver’s indie films on Netflix. No offense to Star Wars fans, BUT franchises don’t give actors much room to stretch.

Topher Grace, who plays a young David Duke, wasn’t my favorite part of the film. He said that he had a tough time getting into the mindset of such a hateful man. The important thing to remember re: Duke is that he sought to change the image of the KKK- make it more mainstream. He was polite, well-spoken, usually wore suits and- eventually- reached a high level of politics. The other members of “The Organization” were a mixed bag, ranging from a low IQ hillbilly to gun nut, and a relaxed/friendly guy (who wants to grow local membership). One man’s wife yearns to play a bigger role to support the cause, so white women aren’t solely victims in this movie.

Corey Hawkins, an up and coming actor from this (DC) area, has a great speech near the start of the film. I’m excited also to see what he does next! Ron’s love interest, President of the Black Student Union at a local university, Patrice (Laura Harrier), also did a fine job. Some critics of Lee have (rightly) commented on his not-so-fully developed women characters in the past. He has addressed the (touchy, yet serious) topic, explaining how having matured (nearly 30 yrs in film-making)  and becoming a husband and father have helped w/ this issue. 

Fans of TV cop dramas will be in for an extra treat. Robert John Burke (Law & Order: SVU) plays the head of the Intelligence Division. Frederick Weller (In Plain Sight) plays a patrolman. Nicholas Turturro (NYPD Blue) has a brief, yet crucial role; his older brother (John) is a mainstay in many Spike Lee films. There are more surprises in this film- don’t want to give too much away.

SPOILER-FREE Review: Killing Eve – Season 1 (BBC America)

Based on the novellas by Luke Jennings [published in 2017] and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Killing Eve centers on two women; Eve (Sandra Oh) is a bored, whip-smart, pay-grade MI-5 security officer whose desk-bound job doesn’t fulfill her fantasies of being a spy; Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. -Summary from BBC America

Remember Det. Bobby Goren’s pursuit of the literate/world-traveling serial killer- Nicole Wallace- on several eps/seasons of Law and Order: Criminal Intent? Bobby and Nicole shared a strong connection (chemistry), though they were on different sides of the law. Now you’ve got a hint of this (unique) thriller, which is mostly a character-based drama centered on a  married/middle-aged MI-5 security officer, Eve Polastri (Canadian actress of Korean heritage- Sandra Oh- best known for Sideways and Gray’s Anatomy) and multi-lingual/sociopath killer, Villanelle (Jodie Comer, a Brit from Liverpool). Oh’s character is a Brit, though raised in the US (so has an American accent).  

Though this is a drama, there is (dark) humor laced throughout each of the 8 eps, thanks to Waller-Bridge, a multi-talented Brit in her early 30s. Yes, women are at the forefront (and behind-the-scenes) of Killing Eve! I was esp. pleased to see veteran actress Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, Eve’s superior officer. The man who acts as a sort of handler/manager for Villanelle is called Konstantin (Kim Bodnia, a Danish actor). Both he and Shaw have strong onscreen presences, toughness, and some (unexpected) moments of lightness/fun. Eve’s easygoing husband (a teacher) is Niko (Owen McDonnell, an Irish actor who works mainly in theater); he and Oh have the type of natural chemistry you’d see in a long-married couple. Their marriage is put under strain as Eve goes into fieldwork, dangers escalate, keeps secrets, and becomes obsessed w/ Villanelle.  

As some critics have noted, the breakout star of Killing Eve is Jodie Comer. She’s young, tall, blue-eyed, (conventionally) pretty, yet NOT skinny (athletic figure). What sets her apart are her big/bright blue eyes and luminous face (which she twists into many expressions). I see a LOT of potential in this actress. Vilanelle, like MANY real women, likes real food (ice cream, fresh bruschetta, champagne, etc.) And she has a keen eye for fashion, too. How good is this show? Well, it was picked up for a second season (even before the pilot aired), then Oh was nominated for a Best Actress Emmy (the first for an Asian-American woman). Check it out ASAP (I saw it last week at the BBC America web site)!