From Seoul to Soul (Film Thoughts: Minari)

I immigrated to the United State with my mom and dad in 1984 so I cannot help but feel a certain affinity for Lee Isaac Chung’s ‘Minari,’ an immigrant story of sorts set around the same era. In the film, a Korean family moves to Arkansas from California. But you need not have that same back stpry to appreciate the film – anyone can relate and feel for the characters in this wonderful film. This is one of my favorite films of 2020, a healing tonic to everything we’ve gone through the past year. It’s a film that aches and soothes at the same time.

And it is driven by wonderful performances. Steven Yeun is magnificent as Jacob, the father who has a classic American dream – he wants to succeed in something and wants his kid to witness it. And Yeri Han as Monica gives a quiet and gorgeous performance as his wife – who goes along for the ride and sees what it does for her family. A lesser actress could have easily given a shrill performance in the same role.

The film is named after a Korean herb that stubbornly grows anywhere – it’s obviously a metaphor for the family. There is a persistence in the American dream experience, and this film tells an effective variance of that. story. Our stories all have the same framework, but wonderful storytellers infuse them with specific that make each one unique. This film is exceptional in telling.

You’re Toxic, I’m Slippin’ Under (Film Thoughts: Promising Young Woman)

Let’s start the year off with an interesting film, one I had been looking forward to seeing since I saw its trailer months ago: Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman.’ Initially, OI had mistaken that this was going to be a comedy, but from articles I have read since I surmised that it was also some kind of thriller. Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie, a young woman who ‘traps’ men while at the bars, going home with them, and teasing them, and when they act on her come ons, gives them some kind of lesson. She has a notebook with numbers of her conquests – some are labeled in black, others in red (we never really know what this actually means, we guess the red ones are when the encounters turn violent)

It turns out that Cassie is out for revenge. She quit medical school years ago, around the same time when her friend Nina was raped, and we find out that she had such potential – she was doing well, and had to bow out. Cassie is on a revenge rampage, and from these we piece together what happened to her.

There are some loopholes in the story, and the characterizations seem hollow, but Mulligan gets into the role it kind of does not matter – we see her intent anyway. I don’t know if I really agree with some of her later actions – I am usually on the camp where wrongs do not make a right but the story handles that for me later on. I also have reservations about the tome of the film – in the middle of it all there seems to be some kind of romantic comedy thing happening between Cassie meeting Ryan (played by Bo Burnham) and then the the films turns very dark towards the end. But all of this can be overlooked because you will be engrossed by Mulligan, and the film, for the most part. This film will probably cause you to think about boundaries, mental health, and falling in love, and all at the same time. And it has the best use of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Something Wonderful’ outside of ‘The King & I.’

Martial Love (Film Thoughts: Your Name Engraved Herein)

It’s 1987, and Martial Law has jiust been lifted in Taiwan. The setting is an all-boys Catholic school, and this is where we first see Birdy (Jing-Hua Tseng) and Jia Han (Edward Chen) as high schoolers. One os an outcast, the other is popular. And against all odds, they fall in love, but this love is never spoken, and not really acted upon. Such is the premise of ‘Your Name Engraved Herein,’ the most successful LGBT film in Taiwan’s history. I guess nowadays they call the genre BL (boy love) and it’s so accepted now that the film broke box office records even in the midst of the pandemic.

I thought I had already gone wary of gay films where one character is long-suffering, and the story consists of one-sided unrequited love affairs (really, it has become so tiring for me) but director Kuang-Hui Lui focuses on the love story that you cannot help but be swept by it. It is set at a different time of course, where this love is still a love that dare not speak its name. I cannot help but be touched by it, and I am probably around the same age at the time as these characters were. The film felt true, even if at times the melodrama is so pronounced it feels screechy. So cue in the melancholy music and I am there. And I bet you will be too. So go fire this up on Netflix and have a good cry.

Some Life (Movie Thoughts: All My Life)

I knew that ‘All My Life’ was promised to be a weepy – it’s a love story ravaged by cancer. there’s even an added texture to it by it being based on a true story (we see the real-life characters in the end via their wedding video) And the actors, played by Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr look great together so it’s a pleasant watch. But can I ask for a little depth. There was nothing for me in the film to hold on to. The actors try their damndest but their charm wasn’t enough for me to care. Plus, there was a tiny bit of white people entitlement aspect in the film that was just a little bit disturbing for me. So, no I didn’t care enough to cry.

The Yuletide Gay (Movie Thoughts: The Christmas Setup/Dashing in December)

Much has been said about the fact that there are LGBTQ Christmas movies this year, and that is probably a good thing. Right? There’s the most popular, Hulu’s ‘The Happiest Season,’ and there are some that are just as significant. Lifetime has been making these types of movies year after year, and guess what? they have included the gays this year round through ‘The Christmas Set Up,’ which stars Fran Drescher no less. She stars as one of those ‘meddling’ moms who tries to set up her son with a nice guy while he is home for Christmas. Real life couple Blake Lee and Ben Lewis star as the young gay couple who are tried to put together. The two of them have great chemistry – you can see in both their eyes the way they affectionately look at each other. In these types of movies, chemistry is everything – and theirs definitely created the sparks needed for the movie.

And sure, the movie is pure Cheez Whiz but they got me line, hook, and sinker. I laughed at every joke, And cried on cue when I was told to. As I always say, even if this movie isn’t Citizen Kane, I was entertained by it more than any other thing this Holiday season and I give it all the thumbs up I could give.

Funny that Paramount’s ‘Dashing In December’ has an almost identical storyline. In this case gay New Yorker Wyatt (Peter Porte) goes home to the ranch where he grew up with the intent of convincing his mom, played by Andie McDowell, to finally settle the property so it can be turned into a race track. Of course, when he gets home, he meets the new ranch hand, Heath (Juan Pablo di Pace) and well, you can kind of guess where this is all headed.

I liked this film less, because it is taking itself as little too seriously. Gay cowboys are almost a cliche now (they are not even shy at naming one of the characters Heath) but if you are still into that kind of thing, this has all the bells and whistles.

The chemistry between the two leads here are more wanting, but I can’t deny that they both look good – apart and together.

Southern Kim (Movie Thoughts: Yellow Rose)

I was rooting for Diane Paragas’ ‘Yellow Rose’ because it stars two former Kims – Eva Noblezada and Lea Salonga – and you knwo how muich I love Miss Saigon. But I maybe I expected too much from the film. This coming of age Filipino country western drama (in itself a unique combination) tries to tell a genuine story, but takes a lot of short cuts it misses the mark.

But it has a lot of strengths – Noblezada is great as Rose Garcia, an undocumented teen living in Texas who has dreams of becoming a country singer. On stage, she is a luminous actress and singer, and on film she exudes an unmistakable presence even if the screenplay doesn’t help her much. Some ofd the characters are so flimsy – I never got how people just went in and out of her life out of the blue. For example, her character has one conversation with Dale Watson the country singer and before we know it, she is living at his trailer?

Also, as scary as ICE raids are (and probably more prevalent under the cruel Trump administration) it was used a couple fo times just to move the story forward, making for lazy story telling. I am not a big country music fan bit found the music here engaging, probably helped by Noblezada’s singing. She will be back in a better film, hopefully.

Tipsy (Film Thoughts: Druk)

Sometimes you just don’t ‘get’ a film. Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘Druk’ (Another Round) is about a group of four high school teachers, and in the name of science, does some experimental ‘research’ – by drinking a certain. level of alcohol WHILE ON THE JOB, and see is that would help their performance. Call me a prude, but that to me is the dumbest idea since the CATS movie.

So of course, I couldn’t take the rest of the film seriously. What did these people expect? Is this a straight people thing> I cannot empathize or sympathize with any of these characters, and when bad things start to happen to them, all I could do is mutter ‘I told you so.’

Coming Home (Film Thoughts: Farewell Amor)

Ekwa Msangi’s ‘Farewell Amor,’ on the surface seems to be just another immigrant story. It’s of a family reunited after seventeen years – the father, Walter is an Angolan refugee living in New York, and after seventeen years of red tape, his wife and teenage daughter have now arrived. What happens after can sometimes be described as familiar, but Msangi finds nuance in these familiar themes, and this film ends up much more touching,

The film is framed by three points of view – from the father, the mother, and the daughter. The father had to break up with his lover – one who was with him all these years while he waited for his family. The mother adjusts to American life as she reconciled with her religion, and the teenage daughter has to find her footing in her new environment.

There is an air of authenticity in the performances, and you can’t help but be swept by their plights.

No Laughing Matter (Film Thoughts: Funny Boy)

Deepa Mehta’s ‘Funny Boy’ is Canada’s entry to the Oscars Foreign Language film category (Post script: It was rejected by the Academy because English is spoken in the film for more than half the running time) and it is good to see the film streaming on Netflix where it can capture a wide audience. It is a noteworthy film on paper, based on a best selling novel about a gay nan growing up in Sri Lanka during the country’s civil war unrest. He is also Tamil, who have been discriminated against in the country because of ethnic cleansing, so it is kind of a double whammy for Arjie, the main character in the film.

The film is beautifully shot, and is a joy to watch. But most of the characters are cardboard. The actors aren’t given much depth so we get over-the-top melodramatic performances. The political storyline that serves as a backdrop to the coming-of-age story felt half-baked and muddled. I wish the focus was more on Arjie, which was the more interesting narrative here. But this is a story worth telling.

To Glee or not To Glee (Film Thoughts: The Prom)

Since I am a big musicals fan, I was overjoyed when I heard that Ryan Murphy was doing a film version of the show for Netflix. But, I was also quite petrified – I championed that show from the beginning. I have always gravitated towards smaller heart-filled musicals, and you bet I was rooting for this show against Hadestown. You see, I can be a Brodsway purist when it comes to these things, and I am scared of what Murphy would do to my small, intimate gem of a musical.

Well, the movie is finally here. And for starters, do we really need this cast? A friend of mine called it ‘stacked,’ and yes that sure is an apt description – Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden – these are big names. But in my world, they fill bigger shoes: Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmankas, who both to me are close to perfection in these roles. And yes, I have just got to get this off my chest: Streep underwhelmed me here. I know she is a goddess, but I felt she was off here – she strained to hit notes (Dee Dee’s songs were made for a belter) and they even made her look like Beth Leavel, so I ask: why didn’t they just hire Leavel (I know, tiny violins for me) As for Corden, much has been said for his ‘offensive’ characterization of a gay man, but to be honest, I thought he would be worse. Was I offended by his performance? No. But surely he was just following Murphy’s direction (or non direction, perhaps) And did we really need Nicole Kidman for Angie Dickinson – it’s a small-ish role for someone of her stature, And Angie Schworer is someone who lived that role (was probably even named after her)

But I have to say, though, I was thrilled to see this (I wish I had seen it on a big theatrical screen) because everything looked great amplified. The fuller orchestrations has made the score soar, though ti sometimes also highlighted deficiencies in Matthew Sklar’s music and Chade Beguelin’s lyrics. I cannot complain about Jo Ellen Pellman’s Emma, who is utterly charming here and sings her songs perfectly (she may be a bit perfect for the role, but who cares) and Arian Dubose just whet my appetite for her Maria in. Spielberg’s West Side Story. And of course, it is glorious that the message of the show is there for all to see and absorb, and on Netflix it will sure to reach millions.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the film. I just have to set aside all my bias, and just accept that this version is a different one from the stage version. It’s surely not the worst thing in the world.

I’ll just leave this right here: