One 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.
What business do I have watching ‘Spiderman: Far From Home?” I mean, I don’t follow these comic book movie, and I didn’t even see that mega hit Avengers. (Thank God by the way for that sequence int he beginning explaining major plot points from Avengers) But there are some compelling reasons that made me want to see this film. First of all, Tom Holland. I just have this major crush on him, and it doesn’t hurt that he has stage roots, playing Billy Elliott on the West End (have you guys checked out his dancing videos?) Add to this the fact that I will never resist a European vacation movie – and this is set in various cities, like Venice, Prague and London (among my top five favorites, by the way) And just to make it even more attractive, the film has Jake Gylenhaal, who is always a draw for me. So screw continuity problems, no one could stop me from seeing this opening weekend.
And I am glad I did. Holland is great, with that perfect mix of teen vulnerability and superhero presence, and of course, what drew me in the story is the romance angel. I am not the biggest fan of Zendaya, but sure she kind of won me over here, and I am just so there for her the MJ-Peter Parker pairing. The action scenes kind of flew over my head (I used one of the major ones for a bathroom break) but all in all, it is a very entertaining commercial film, and I enjoyed it much more than I expected to.
‘The Chambermaid’ (La Camarista) is a character study of Eve (pronounced E-ve) a young woman who works for housekeeping of a major luxury hotel in Mexico City. We know little about her except for the fact that she has a young child who she speaks to while using the phone at the corridors of the hotel. The film follows her as she cleans these rooms, and is heavy on the details, like scrubbing the tub or brushing the curtains. We see her as aspiring to be more – she caresses the books of the hotel’s visitors, and goes to GED classes provided by the Union. We see sadness in her, but also boredom, as she interacts with co-workers – although it is not explicitly stated, a lesbian tries to woo her, even as she plays with the window washer guy who peeps at her as she cleans rooms. By the end of the film, we feel like we got to know a real person (Gabriela Cartol who plays Eve is a natural) and I bet we will look at hotel housekeeping staff a little differently.
‘Yesterday’ is an imperfect film. There were a lot of things in it that bothered me, but still, I was thoroughly entertained by it. The unique premise – imagine waking up in a world where The Beatles has ceased to exist – is a great hook, and even though the screenplay never really lived up to that premise, the film has multitudes of charms that you cannot help but go along for the ride. Just like any Summer blockbuster, it asks you to suspend disbelief. There is a star-making performance here by Himesh Patel as Jack Malik, the man who ‘introduces’ the songs to the public, and his sweet disposition makes for a great acting debut. Lilly James matches his sweetness, and even though their chemistry barely simmers, they actors make it work. It doesn’t help that the rom-com part of the film is strained, but we get the gist. This film is great counter-programming in the endless parade of sequels and big-budgeted familiars – as a matter of fact, director Danny Boyle treats this similarly. You will still feel the escape here, and it is just as glorious, if more amusing.
I meant to see ‘After’ when it was out in the theaters. It was at my local AMC and since I have the A-List, it would have been ‘free.’ But I never got around to it. For some reason, and I am only basing on the poster, I thought the movie had a Latin flair. I should have known not to judge any movie by its poster. This film couldn’t be blander if you poured vanilla ice cream all over it. Everything about it is a cliche, and sure, I am probably not the target market for it, but I should have been. The film, directed by Jenny Gage from YA novels by Anna Todd (and adapted by Susan McMartin) is so tepid that it feels like tap water. The ‘story’ doesn’t generate any heat, and you get more plot from your Monday morning water cooler gossip. It casts attractive young actors (Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes Tiffin) that talk like robots, and their conflict is as thin I have more dramatic friction choosing my lunch. It looks like this is just the beginning of a ‘series’ and the only good thing I can see here is Selma Blair getting more work (she plays the heroine’s mother)
In Bani Koshnoudi’s ‘Fireflies’ (Luciernagas) Arash Marandi plays Ramin, who is from Iran. He somehow ends up in the port town of Veracruz, Mexico after stowing away in a ship (We find out later he has exiled from Iranian jail) In the beginning scenes, we see him negotiating to try to get on another ship, and he says he wants to go to Greece or Turkey. We later find out he is gay, and ha a boyfriend from home he talks to on video. His life is in some kind of limbo- he is staying at a hotel, and is working odd jobs. The film is more slice of life than narrative, as we see his day to day existence, navigating a foreign country and trying to get by as he learns the language and customs. The film could be slow-moving, and shows its indie leanings, but I gave it a little patience and found it rewarding. I was able to see a lot of the hurdles he is facing, and will be facing (we never get a resolution on his plight) and I was glad to see a film about a gay man looking for validation in different facets of relationships.
‘Wigstock’ was born to prove that drag queens can show themselves during the day, and not just at midnight shows at The Pyramid, across from Tompkins Square Park, where the festival was heard. Part of the fun was that the people in the audience were encouraged to wear a wig, in solidarity with the performers. I wasn’t there the very first year, but I was there when the event still felt like a family thing. Now, of course, drag via ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race,’ is as mainstream as one gets, and drag nowadays is so commercial and finessed. During those time, drag was more about personality, and uniqueness – each queen had something intelligent and witty to say.
That, of course, is what ‘Wig’ tries to say. This documentary is as big as one can get – it is on HBO. and produced by a whole slew of people (Neil Patrick Harris and his husband among the eight listed) and has interviews with the OGs, like Lady Bunny and Linda Simpson. Sure, the message is repeatedly reminded, and shown (the archival footage from the 90s is special to watch) but the film is a bit all over the place. Did we really need all the footage of the new last Woodstock that seems so commercial and corporate? I guess they needed to prove their original point. But still, there are a lot of things that can be taken away from the film, and the children should be able to learn a thing or two from the ‘old queens’ who paved the way for them, so they can shamelessly watch ‘Drag Race’ now in the comfort of their couches.