When You Look At Me (Film Thoughts: Never Look Away)

never_look_awayI have seen all of the nominees for Best Foreign Film this year, except for one: Germany’s Never Look Away.  I have to admit, there is one thing about it that scares me: its three and a half hour running time. But of course, beauty comes in all forms and sizes, and I am glad I braved it, because that same running time flew by – it certainly deserves a spot on the best foreign films of last year,

The film is about a lot of things and spans decades, but it ultimately is about art – about how it is influential in forming what we are a society, and how it is indispensable. The film, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is the story of Kurt Barnett, and int he beginning we see him as a young boy at an art exhibit denouncing modern art. The exhibit is used as propaganda, of course, against free thinking, and featured works by Picasso and Mondrian. We see this boy grow up to be an accomplished painter (it is supposed to be based on Gerhard Richter) and we see his art grow and try to adapt with times, only for it to evolve back artistically – and that’s when he gets his biggest acclaim. Never_Look_Away_(film)But there’s more to his life, which is mostly told in melodrama. That made it more interesting for me, on how the woman he falls in love with is connected to his own family. Schilling is fine as Barnett, and he is fine-looking so my interest is never waned. In the end, there’s a lot to take away from this film, and one comes out enriched.

Then Came A Small Sweet (Movie Thoughts: Then Came You)

ltrPeter Hutching’s Then Came You’ was a nice surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting much, and I was only on board for Asa Butterfield who I think is a cute and charming actor (he is getting buzz for his Netflix series ‘Sex Education’) but I found the movie engaging even though I shouldn’t – the story is predictable, and no twists or turn was unexpected. But it has some great acting – not only from Butterfield, who delivered, but also from Maisie Williams, who plays Skye, a young woman who has been diagnosed with cancer. She enlists Calvin to help her finish her to-do list, and well, yadda yadda we kind of know that they both learn from each other and end up being better people because of knowing each other. Williams has a more formidable task, as her character isn’t written as the most sympathetic, but she more than overcomes that and you end  up loving Skye more than you probably should. All in all, I think this is the tcyperfect ‘rainy day’ movie (it was when I saw it)  If you don’t expect too much from it, you will get properly rewarded. And Asa Butterfield – I bet he becomes a big star very shortly. I will be watching.

Super Serene (Movie Thoughts: Serenity)

serenity-ka-1I probably would not have paid any attention to ‘Serenity’ had I not read that there was a surprise ‘life-changing’ twist in the middle of the film that everyone is saying is so insane it had to be seen to be believed.  And of course, since I hate surprises, I went along and searched the internet for this ‘twist.’ Well, it turns out that this twist is the only interesting thing in this movie – which is essentially just a generic thriller/potboiler that we all have seen before. I cannot believe Matthew McConnaughey, Anne Hathaway and Diane Lane all got attached tho this piece of crap. I mean, I probably will watch Hathaway read the phone book (and she will make it interesting) but here they are not able to save the flimsy plot and tepid direction, utilizing some of the stupidest cinematic cliches (mysterious woman wears a wide brimmed hat)  Perhaps I should not have read up on the twist – because it made my experience more boring – there was nothing else there for me to be excited about. I am giving it two stars, one star just for the gall of the ‘twist.’

To The Girl I Loved Before (Film Thoughts, Dear Ex, Netflix)

MV5BNTY3NjIxZjktODRlYS00MTMyLWJjMmItY2NjN2ZlM2ZkNjQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjg0MTI5NzQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,678,1000_AL_On May 2017, same-sex marriage was legalized in Taiwan, and I honestly did not realize that the country was that progressive. But I was pleasantly surprised by that, and when I saw that Netflix had acquired the LGBT film ‘Dear Ex,’ I wanted to see it right away. I had read some glowing reviews of the film, saying it was touching and heartbreaking. After seeing it, I wish I could say the same. I really wanted to love the movie, but I barely like it. Directed by Hsu Chin-Yeh, it is just so overwrought and loud, and the performances are same – screechy, and they hit you like a blunt instrument – making all the characters unlikable I didn’t want to spend any time with any of them. Worst is Ying-Xuan Hsieh, who plays the wife/mother who gets short shifted her husband’s Life Insurance payment. She starts the movie screaming, and never lets up – I have never seen such a shrill performance that is so noisy and it’s all hollow noise. By the time the character does something nice at the end, I have long checked out on it. All in all, this was supposed to be a feel-good movie, but I just got so tired of it about half-way through that I felt the film unredeemable at that point. Still, I am glad that Netflix is supporting these kinds of films so I won’t really put it down. I am glad this film exists on this platform and hope more will come. And maybe my reaction is isolated – I see a lot of people connecting with this film, and that’s good.

Hot Mess Mama (Film Thoughts: Figlia Mia/Daughter of Mine)

mini_magick20180419-4790-1dr7avyFrom Sardinia comes ‘Daughter of Mine,’ written and directed by Laura Bispuri. Albra Rohrwacher plays Angelica, who years ago, gave her daughter to Tina (Valeria Golino)  Angelica is the town hot mess — she sleeps around in exchange for drinks. Now she is bei g evicted from her house, and asks Tina to help, and int he process meets her daughter, Vittoria, again. They get along – her carefree energy tantalizes the young girl, and for some reason the girl knows that Angelica is her mother.

This film could be an exasperating watch – it’s slow and it is sometimes hard to see characters making themselves priority over the child’s benefit. And the story is a bit flimsy, making the film more character studies than anything else. The problem with that is that these people aren’t as fleshed out in the writing. Is the film worth a watch? I didn’t really get into the film until the last third of it, and some people may not have the patience.

Fighting Fyre with Fyre (Film Thoughts: Fyre Fraud/Fyre)

fyre-fyre-fraud-posters

We have two competing documentaries on the failed Fyre Music Festival from 2017, and I have seen them both. So which one did I like better. I will give it to Hulu’s ‘Fyre Fraud’ by a small margin. It’s also a little lighter, and has a broader thing to say than Netflix’s ‘Fyre,’ which I thought was a little drier. I also saw ‘Fyre Fraud’ first and perhaos the Netflix one suffered because of that?

‘Fyre Fraud’ has an edge by having Billy McFarland interviewed – their competitors say that Hulu paid $250,000 for that, and if that’s is true, that would be disgusting. ‘Fyre,’ on the other hand has its own demons – it was produced by the media people who worked on the festival, and of course, it made the media company look good and less culapble for what happened. But for me, who cares? These rich people got scammed – boo hoo – and the social influencers got scammed boo hoo again. It’s not the end of the world for them, but how about the Bahamanian workers who shelled out money and never got repaid back. Why can’t Netflix or Hulu shell out some money for these people? In the end, I didn’t really have a lot of sympathy for some of these white entitled privileged people who got scammed.

Set To Destroy (Film Thoughts: Destroyer)

destroyerNicole Kidman is one of my favorite actresses because I think she is so fearless – nothing stops her from making any of her characters authentic. She does whatever she needs to do, she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to get the job done. On Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer,’ a lot of people have commented on how she altered her looks to make herself look unattractive – mousy brown wig, unclear skin. But that is just the beginning of how she transformed into the character of Erin Bell. Ever the thinking actress, there’s a lot more to the character – the low voice, the ticks and mannerisms. And Kidman is tough and convincing, both badass and vulnerable, and is fascinating to watch.Erin Bell is never a non-three dimensional character – it lives and breathes right before our eyes. As a detective who was burned years ago in an operation, Bell struggles to find her way when shady characters from the past come back into her life.

The story is pretty simple, but Kusama gives the film a specific feel that it never feels stale. We are transported in a  world of sun-drenched and lived-in Los Angeles, and for me it feels familiar and foreign at the same time.  That said, I wish I was into it more – this just isn’t my kind of story, and the film did not engage me as much as it should have. And while I commend Kidman and her performance (probably one of the best in her career) I just wasn’t in love with the film.