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REVIEW: The Farewell Gets to the Heart of Being Asian-American

As much as I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, the treatment of the film as a triumph of representation gave me pause. Sure, an all-Asian cast in a Hollywood production is something to celebrate, but the characters are obscenely wealthy and the audience-surrogate is well on her way to become a one-percenter. In short, they are hard to relate.

The infinitely more modest The Farewell is more successful at bring the Asian-American experience to the big screen. Not only that, it transcends culture clash shenanigans to depict the very real melancholy that accompanies immigrants through their entire lives. Trust me, I know.

There is a connecting vessel between Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell: Awkwafina. The rapper-turned-actor who played Constance Wu’s best friend in CRA delivers a compelling dramatic performance as Billi, a burnt-out millennial with more debts than prospects. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Farewell Gets to the Heart of Being Asian-American”

Sunday Matinee: The Leopard Man

At a time when streaming video is the dominant format for home video its awesome to see companies like Shout Factory, Kino, Criterion, Arrow and more putting out older awesome movies in high definition on Blu-ray.

If the big studios have zero interest in maintaining their library of films at least these companies will pick up the slack.
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Sunday Matinee: Raw Deal

Dennis O’Keefe is Joe Sullivan,a crook who is serving time for a robbery. He meets with Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt) in prison. Ann is Joe’s legal case worker and she wants him to reform. Joe has another visitor, Pat Regan (Claire Trevor), Joe’s girlfriend. She tells Joe that he’s being broken of prison that night.

Joe is prison because he’s taken the fall for his boss Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr). Rick though doesn’t want to share the $50,000 from the robbery and has now orchestrated the jail break hopping that Joe gets killed.
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Sunday Matinee: T-Men

Anthony Mann directed this film noir about two undercover treasury agents trying bust up a counterfeiting ring.

Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder star as two treasury agents who are assigned to go undercover and try and infiltrate a counterfeiting gang. They start in Detroit where they join local crime boss Carlo Vantucci’s gang. From there they get wind of big player named The Schemer who works out of Los Angeles. O’Keefe goes to L.A. while Ryder stays in Detroit.
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Sunday Matinee: The Hitch-Hiker

Ida Lupino started her career in 1930s as an actress but by the 1950s she changed gears and became a director. She became the first woman to direct a film noir with 1953 The Hitch-Hiker.

Loosely based on the true story of convicted serial killer Billy Cook, this tense thriller follows two men on a fishing trip who make the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker.
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Sunday Matinee: On Dangerous Ground

Robert Ryan is brutal cop who beats his suspects and finds himself in trouble with his superiors.

After ignoring a warning from his boss Ryan beats another suspect for information. The suspect threatens to sue the department and Ryan’s boss has had enough. He sends Ryan up North to help in the investigation of a murdered girl.
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Sunday Matinee: The Mysterious Island

There have been many adaptations of Jules Verne’s classic novel L’Île mystérieuse aka The Mysterious Island. The novel was originally a kind of sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways.

The original story had to do with five Americans fleeing the American Civil War and crashing on a mysterious island. They survive thanks to a mysterious benefactor and along the why meet one of the characters from In Search of the Castaways and fight off pirates before meeting their benefactor who turns out to be Captain Nemo who survived the end of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and has spent his old age on the island.
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REVIEW: The Tomorrow Man Is a Bit Stale

About three years ago, a mediocre action flick made it to Canadian cinemas for no discernible reason. It was called Precious Cargo and featured noted muscle-head Mark-Paul Gosselaar. The former Saved by the Bell star had to go head-to-head against a villainous Bruce Willis, noticeably bored out of his mind. The movie was perfunctory and ended with a collection of bloopers (none of them funny), weird for a thriller. At least Willis got his paycheck.

What has Precious Cargo got to do with The Tomorrow Man? Both are labors of love by people too attached to material that’s not nearly as good as they believe it to be. If nothing else, there is a modicum of humanism in The Tomorrow Man thoroughly absent from the Gosselaar-Willis “romp”.

Written, directed and shot by Noble Jones —who has done videos for Taylor Swift and OneRepublic— The Tomorrow Man is the kind of movie you would take your parents to. At the center of the film is Ed (John Lithgow), a lonely retiree that spends his time in chatrooms and his money on a bomb shelter. Ed is not deranged but he is rigid and prone to rants (so, close). Continue reading “REVIEW: The Tomorrow Man Is a Bit Stale”

Sunday Matinee: The Burglar

Nat Harbin (Dan Duryea) sees a newsreel that tells how a spiritualist named Sister Sarah (Phoebe Mackay) has inherited a priceless necklace. Nat sends Gladden (Jayne Mansfield) to case the joint and pose as an admirer.

Gladden tells the gang where the necklace is and Sister Sarah’s evening habits. They plan a heist to steal the necklace.
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Sunday Matinee: Drive A Crooked Road

Richard Quine was an actor who starred in variety of movies from the 1930s and 40s. He moved into directing movies in the 1950s. His first films were musicals and he collaborated with screenwriter Blake Edwards with a couple of them.

In 1954 the two shifted gears and made a gritty film noir film Drive A Crooked Road.
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REVIEW: The Biggest Little Farm Is Hipster Heaven

It’s an all too common pipedream: Trading the rat race for the simpler life, one in which you cultivate your own food, grow your own eggs and work your patch of land from sunrise to sundown. Nobody follows through because, as delightful as it sounds, we know farming is a lot harder than this hipster visualization of heaven. Heck, I can’t even grow basil on my balcony.

The Biggest Little Farm chronicles seven years in the life of a couple who actually did it. Inspired by their rescue dog —too loud for apartment living— John and Molly Chester traded their L.A. apartment for 200 all-but-abandoned acres not far from the city. It wasn’t a blind bet: John turned this move into a project open to investors and people who want to learn how to farm.

With the support of a “farming guru”, John and Molly go through every stage of the process. From generating soil to animal husbandry. Sooner than later they discover the number of factors involved in having a successful farm is too high to have them under control, but also that the solution to most challenges lies in the interaction between existing components. The most difficult task is not a practical one, but to overcome the disillusionment of their earnest intent. There is only so many pests one can eradicate.

For someone with zero farming knowledge, The Biggest Little Farm is fascinating. John Chester, who doubles as director and cinematographer, manages to cram seven years of ebbs and flows into one coherent package, without depriving the audience of the small joys and heartbreaks of country life. It even dispenses some pearls of wisdom, like the advantages of taking a step back and solving a problem with existing resources, as opposed to introducing a new variable.

One issue that’s never tackled is the sustainability of the farm. We see the Chesters pivot constantly to maintain a prosperous biodiversity, but whether the project is profitable or not, we’re never told. Similarly, the presence of investors is mentioned in the beginning and never again. It doesn’t detract from the experience, but it would be useful to know if this is just a hipster camp or an example worth replicating. Three prairie dogs that probably wouldn’t be welcome at the farm (out of five).

The Biggest Little Farm opens tomorrow Friday 31st at the Rainbow (Studio 7).

Sunday Matinee: Arabian Adventure

In the 1970s, producer John Dark and director Kevin Connor made a series of lower budget fantasy films. Most of the films were in the lost world category with the first three being adaptions of Edgar Rice Burroughs works.

The last two were original stories, Warlords of Atlantis in 1978 and the last was this 1979 adventure film, Arabian Adventure.
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REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover

Given all the revenue Disney is generating by turning animated classics as live-action features, it’s very unlikely the House of Mouse will stop doing it any time soon. Even the so-so Dumbo made over 340 million dollars worldwide.

While I would prefer Disney to take risks as opposed to mine the back catalogue, there is some joy to be found in these remakes: The breeziness of Cinderella, the underlying melancholy of Pete’s Dragon, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera in The Jungle Book. The one thing you won’t find: Freshness. These movies have been fussed over within an inch of their lives. They are expected to hit all four demographic quadrants and please everybody. Not hair is out of place and most scenes seem airless.

Aladdin has problems but at least is light on its feet, thanks to director Guy Ritchie’s anything-goes approach and Will Smith leaning hard on his charm. Continue reading “REVIEW: Aladdin Gets a PC Makeover”

REVIEW: High Life, Dubious Rewards

I first saw High Life last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. It made no impact on me. How much so? Am I so jaded a thoughtful study about human nature doesn’t even register? I had to see it again because I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I wasn’t sure if it was the movie to blame or the fact I was sleep-deprived after a week of watching three to four features a day (plus a couple of parties).

Surprise. It was the movie.

I would be the first one to advocate for more 2001 or Solaris-type films, but High Life is somehow more unwilling to explain itself. Continue reading “REVIEW: High Life, Dubious Rewards”

Sunday Matinee: Nightfall

At a bus stop a man named Jim (Aldo Ray) gives a light to a man named Ben (James Gregory). Ben leaves on a bus and Jim goes to a bar where he meets Marie (Anne Bancroft), a model who borrows five dollars from Jim.

They make a date and Marie gives Jim her name and address. Jim runs into two men John (Brian Keith) and Red (Rudy Bond). They want their money – $350,000 and Jim claims he doesn’t know where it is.
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DVD REVIEW: The Discomfort of Dragged Across Concrete

There was a period during the 70’s in which nihilistic, misogynistic violence was a box office draw. One could argue not much has changed, but if you have seen movies by Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs), Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) or Michael Winner (Death Wish), you know there is something uniquely nasty about these flicks: A disregard for every perceived minority, naked belief in white privilege and a sense that violence is necessary to preserve the status quo are the predominant characteristics.

It would be easy to discard these movies if they weren’t as captivating as they are. Narratively sound, these 70’s action thrillers were misguided, but had a clarity of purpose that’s lacking in today’s cinema. Watching them today, there’s something sickly refreshing about a feature that hasn’t endured three rounds of sanitization by the way of focus groups and executive notes.

Enter S. Craig Zahler.

Early on a horror specialist (I was a champion of the terrifying Asylum Blackout), Zahler has evolved into the single representative of this trend at work today. Not a single one of his movies (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99) has had a significative theatrical release, yet if you’ve seen them, they’re probably engraved in your brain.

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REVIEW: Girls of the Sun, Doing It for Themselves

While the devastation in Syria is the most covered aspect of the ISIS offensive in the Middle East, the Kurdistan has suffered enormously at hands of the terrorist organization. Following the systematic killing of the male population, an increasing number of Kurdish women has joined the resistance, despite the fact the top rank treats them as cannon fodder.

Girls of the Sun follows the story of Bahar (a terrific Golshifteh Farahani, Patterson), a lawyer-turned-freedom fighter for whom personal trauma is the fuel that makes her a fearsome warrior. Her travails are covered by Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a journalist modeled after Marie Colvin for whom objectivity has long stopped being feasible.

While an undoubtedly compelling story, the film is broad and relies heavily in sentimentality, coming short often . Director Eva Husson does succeed at conjuring some stunning visuals, but the final outcome feels disjointed.

To no fault of its own, Girls of the Sun could have benefited from not having the (official) Marie Colvin movie A Private War in such close proximity . Still, the Kurdistan deserves more attention and the film sheds an unforgiving light on this underreported humanitarian tragedy. Three prairie dogs.

Girls of the Sun opens Friday, May 3rd, at the Rainbow Theatre.

Sunday Matinee: My Name Is Julia Ross

The Criterion Channel debuted this week and it’s an amazing streaming service. It’s everything that I want from a streaming service. Classic cinema, behind the scenes features and so much more. My watch list has enough to keep me busy for the next three years.

While the service is home to Criterion’s stable of cinema they also have special films available for limited time. This month’s is Columbia’s film noir collection. 11 dark and gritty film noirs to watch. I’ve watched the first on the list My Name Is Julia Ross.
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