The Hate U Give (NOW PLAYING) starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae & Common

It’s not everyday that you watch a film re: the development of an individual’s race consciousness! This isn’t just for fans of the YA book (which many adults also read); it’s for anyone who has had to  deal w/ unfairness, violence, and/or navigate two worlds (cultures, languages, etc.) and come out resilient on the other side. In my audience a week ago, there were viewers of ALL ages, incl. several families (black, Latino, Asian) w/ pre-teens and teens. It’s realistic, emotional, intelligent, and still hopeful re: our future (and that of the protagonist- Starr). Like ALL good films, it takes the viewer on a journey (BUT this time it’s through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive, and curious 16 y.o. black girl). After the film ended, a black woman in her 50s commented (in a pleasantly surprised tone) to her gal pal: “This is what happens when there’s a black writer, producer, and director.” You don’t need to be black (or in a minority group) to appreciate this film (of course), BUT it does speak esp. to a modern, American, black audience. 

I was impressed by all the actors, esp. Stenberg (who is already quite experienced for a 20 y.o. in Hollywood) and Hornsby (who I saw on Broadway several years ago in Fences). The Carter family (which is blended) is such a strong and loving unit- this is VERY rare to see in modern film! Hall gets a few moments to shine; she’s NOT just the one-note wife/mom. Common (known for his music) does pretty well w/ his role as Starr’s uncle (and cop). It’s good to see Issa Rae getting more exposure (on big screen). The chemistry between the kids and parents was really good. The costumes, music, settings, and extras ALL contribute to giving this film its authenticity. Don’t miss this film- it has its pulse on what’s (sadly) going on now in our society! 

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National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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).

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).