Southern Nice (Film Thoughts: The Peanut Butter Falcon)

pbfTyler Nilson and Mark Schwartz’s ‘the Peanut Butter Falcon’ is earning raves from critics. At the screening I attended, the audience burst out in applause when the credits started to roll. But I hate to say this, but all I felt saying was “it was nice.” It’s earnest, it means well, and it is certainly a crowd pleaser, but I found myself not connecting deeply with the film or any of its characters. Its genteel Southern charm is a tad too sleepy for my taste, and I found myself getting bored a couple of times. Plus,  it is not lacking from good performances. The center character, Zak, is played by Zack Gottsagen, and I bet the real life actor has a lot of similarities with the character (I read that the filmmakers wrote the script specifically for him) Plus, I had forgotten how Shia LaBeouf is such a natural and charismatic actor (Dakota Johnson, too, for that matter)  To be honest, I kind of feel bad that I don’t love this as much as everyone else, but really, the heart loves what it loves.

That’s How He Became The Manny (Film Thoughts: Cubby)

cubbyI have a lot of mixed feelings towards ‘Cubby,’ which was written, co-directed and stars Mark Blane. On one hand, I applaud it for its uniqueness – there’s an authenticity there that is hard to resist, but at the same time, it has a main character who is unlikable for most of the film, though I admit I warmed up to it by the end of the film. The film also about all over the place and suffers from too many ideas that most times it doesn’t really gel. But there’s quite a bit of smarts in the script, and the message is delivered in a not-too-obvious manner when it could have been. Blane, who plays Mark, is a natural and I have to applaud him for playing the character with no apology, even if the consequence is that it alienates the audience. He will do better things,

Everybody Comes to Hollywood (Film Thoughts: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood)

large_8j58iEBw9pOXFD2L0nt0ZXeHviBI can’t remember the last time a film made me so conflicted about whether I liked it or not. Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ is definitely a head-scratcher for me. I will acknowledge that it is well-made, and has that Tarantino stamp. I have never been a fan of his films – they are fine, for sure, but all of them are just too “bro” for my taste. There’s a certain tenderness in OUATIH that makes me like it a little more than the others.

The film is a love letter to a certain time; Los Angeles in the late 60s. The production values are top notch – you really do feel like you are transported to that specific era – Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth listens to the radio and you can even hear the commercials of the time, and of course I was fascinated by the perfume ones. I think I liked that a little more now that I love in Los Angeles – it was interesting for me to physically see how certain streets and monuments looked then – I say it’s a shoo-in for a Production Design nomination at the very least.

But the screenplay was just not enough for me to really get into – an episodic hodge podge of points in Rick Dalton’s life. Rick is an aging actor, played by Leonardo di Caprio, who has maybe seen better days – he has now been relegated to playing bad guys on television shows, even as he is offered leads in Spaghetti Westerns. He has a sidekick of sorts, Cliff Booth, who serves as a paid friend/driver.  We see them go from gig to gig, as they live their showbiz lives. And they live next door to Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, a rising actress who starred in ‘Valley Of The Dolls.’ And just when you think you know where the story is going with those details, Tarantino gives you a surprise ending.

I don’t know how I felt about that. On one hand, I don’t know if I want another movie about the Manson murders (Didn’t I just see one, ‘Charlie Says?’) yet I also got where QT was going here, as this is a fairy tale of Los Angeles in that specific time. All in all, this movie is ultimately not really for me, even if I enjoyed some specific parts of it.  I gotta give it credit for making me think, and making me feel differently.

Maid In Hong Kong (Movie Thoughts: Still Human)

MV5BNzY1MDU4ODYtNzcwMC00Njg1LTk3ZGMtZGUwNWYzMzg4MDU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_UY1200_CR112,0,630,1200_AL_The plot of Oliver Chan Siu-Kuen’s ‘Still Human’ is pure formula.  So when this is the case, it is up to the actors to make the story come alive. Will  the characters feel true and authentic? In this film, Anthony Wong and Crisel Consunji will make you believe. The screenplay can sometimes too rote, but the actors are still able to let the emotions feel believable.

It’s a well-worn story of a fussy boss and the maid with the heart of gold. They come from different worlds, but finsssssssssd commonality – a all human beings do.  What I liked most about the film is its local flavour. Although it is set in Hong Kong, it eschews all the tourist places and places you in the heart of the housing projects, where you can feel how the locals love, feel, and breathe. It felt like someone put a window in their world and we are watching them as they lived their lives. I liked how they how the differences multi-culturally – I especially liked the scenes wherein Evelyn interacted with her friends: all Filipino maids working in Hong Kong.  With that said, I wish there was a little deviation from the formula – a little surprise would have been welcome. Plus, that melancholy piano score started to grate after a while – it felt like they were playing from the exact same album that they play at my local Chinese massage place.

Losing His Mind (Movie Thoughts: Head Full of Honey)

p16106534_p_v8_aaOne of my company’s clients has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The situation has gotten so difficult that his partner has now made a decision to put him in a special facility, as the disease has made it impossible for him to continue living at home. This is of course a very sad development as I knew the gentleman from when he was still healthy. I just kept thinking of him while I was watching ‘Head Full Of Honey,’ which is the English language remake done by Til Schweiger from his original film. Nick Nolte is Amadeus, who starts suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Amadeus the character is not given any dignity by the story, and it felt mean-spirited. Of course if we were Amadeus’s family member, we would not have subjected him to what his loved ones did to him here. His son (Matt Dillon) uproots him to England and we get to see Emily Mortimer (as Sarah) treat him so poorly. I got hives just seeing what he had to go through. And then his grand daughter takes him to Venice, and I know we are supposed to suspend disbelief, but where the story goes is just plain ludicrous. All of thi left such a bad taste in my mouth and I couldn’t really enjoy the film.

The Scottish Country (Movie Thoughts: Wild Rose)

img_1425Jessie Buckley gives a star-making performance in ‘Wild Rose,’ and this is one of those moments when you say to yourself, ‘Wow, this is a star.’ She is funny and vulnerable and heartbreaking, and she can sing.  And Director Tom Harper showcases her vividly: she light up the screen whenever she is on, and frames her with a classic underdog story of a woman from Glasgow who wants to be a country singer, and dreams of going to Nashville. But even though the story is familiar, the screenplay isn’t, as it takes you to some unexpected twists and turns.  I wish I could say that I was mesmerized by the film – it has all the elements of what would make me happy – but I am not really a big fan of country music so I can just only like this. I like it enough but I have already forgotten about it.

Don’t Say Zài Jià (Film Thoughts: The Farewell)

farewell1One of the things I love most about independent cinema is that it tells all these small interesting stories, and a lot of times it makes you think about what would you do if you were in the same situation. I am so Americanized now that the concept of what happens in Lulu Wang’ ‘The Farewell’ seems so foreign to me, but really, it shouldn’t. In the film, a young lady’s grandmother is diagnosed with cancer (Stage 4, lung) but her family has decided not to tell her about it. (I mean, can you imagine that happening int he United States, with our strange HIPAA laws?)  As a result, her family organizes a fake wedding, so they could all be together to say goodbye to her.

Awkwafina plays BIlli, the granddaughter, and for the most part, she essays the role. Billy is required to be both stoic and empathetic, as she cannot be transparent that her grandmother cam figure out the truth. Awkwafina is fine, but her plain face can sometimes come across as brittle, even petulant, which is the opposite of what she should be delivering. It doesn’t help that the part is underwritten, as we do not get proper context as to what these relationships mean to her life.

I loved the dinner scene where the family volleys ideas about how Chinese people are still Chinese even as they leave for other countries. I cannot help but identify with some of the points being thrown around.

In this summer of sequels and tepid blockbusters, ‘The Farewell’ i fantastic counter programming. It brings you to another world, presents other ideas that would challenge your own, and the characters are till human beings that one is able to connect with. Go see this.