Victoria Jelinek


Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy_Rich_Asians_posterWhen Nick invites Rachel to a wedding in Singapore, she views it as an opportunity to meet Nick’s family and see where he came from. Upon arrival, however, Rachel discovers that Nick has been keeping a secret: his family are the richest people in the entire country, and Nick is the heir to the fortune and something of a national celebrity.

The film and the book it’s adapted from are derivative – Pride & Prejudice meets Cinderella – cleverly infused with modern elements, such as the Asian locale and the private lives of the jet-setting-hyper-rich. And the film delivers on its title – every one of the characters based in Asia has a huge bank account and shows it off as garishly as they possible can. Even so, Crazy Rich Asians does introduce some real world topics into the conversation, amidst its being audaciously charming and fun.

While the political and cultural implications of a studio film* having an all-Asian cast are noteworthy, Crazy Rich Asians takes this mantle lightly, gracefully, humorously, and with a dazzling array of sequins. The film is completely over-the-top, but it’s grounded in sympathetic characters. The story begins in a very jolly tone, with jokes that often make you laugh out loud, but it gets funnier and more poignant as we see beneath the expensive surfaces of the film’s characters to their true insecurities.

Clever, funny, lavish and topical, a sequel is already underway!

* It was financed and produced independently to ensure creative freedom, which included the desire for an all-Asian cast, and then WB picked up the theatrical distribution.

 

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Bohemian Rhapsody
November 28, 2018, 11:34 am
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BohemianRhapsody_POSTERThe movie begins in 1970 when Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), an audacious youth with a mouth full of too many teeth, works as a baggage handler at Heathrow and lives at home with his parents. One night, he meets, and then joins, the college rock band, Smile, and together they become Queen, one of the biggest bands in rock history. The film chronicles their rise to fame and ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Critical reviews have been lukewarm. In the interest of being judicious, I’ll cover primary complaints. Changing direction midway through production – from Bryan Singer to Dexter Fletcher – results in the subject of Queen and Freddie Mercury being realized in a safe, by-the-numbers manner, even as it’s depicting a man and a band who were anything but ‘safe’ and predictable. Queen’s ‘path to glory’ is fundamentally free of any road bumps, progressing smoothly from student gigs to sold-out stadiums within a few years. The film’s focus on Freddie’s relationship to Mary Austin, rather than any real time on a happy, gay relationship, undermines who he was. This part of his identity is further injured by the discovery of his HIV status being revealed in a quiet montage. Finally, ending the film at Live Aid in 1985, rather than covering the story of Freddie’s last six years, undermines the work he did during this time.

There is reason to these assertions, but the film couldn’t cover it all, despite its tagline, without seeming underdeveloped. Yes, Freddie Mercury is an utterly fascinating and deeply moving subject, and Rami Malek, who plays Freddie, is absolutely spectacular – he’s a strutting, bodacious peacock who’s also incredibly affecting, providing visual excitement on screen at every turn, just as the charismatic Freddie once did. However, I feel this is more about the story of Queen than its  frontman, so perhaps a criticism could be that the script didn’t fully realize its stated goal? And, it’s not about their, or Freddie’s, struggle to fame, it’s about their struggle to remain true to themselves, and each other, and relevant to their fans. I realized while watching the film how unwittingly omnipresent the band had been throughout my youth (and I sang Bohemian Rhapsody to my infant son as a lullaby), but I had stupidly not realized how collaborative they essentially were. From the moment the film starts, we see the set up for a large concert, from the roadies, to the technicians, to the ticket sellers, to the artists, setting the stage – literally – for the film, which accentuates the mechanics of creating the music. In my opinion, this isn’t a light journey through the hits that some declare, or the story of Mercury’s complicated life, but, rather, some insight into how those hits were created and developed by the band. Their relationship, for better and for worse. It’s compelling material. On top of that, one revisits one’s own youth through the music they created together. Ending the film on the Live Aid show simply creates a focused arc, a ‘bookend,’ if you will, that provides dramatic tension. As for not focusing on Freddie’s homosexuality, I think that’s tripe. The entire story arc for his character is about realizing his ‘true’ identity, who he is ‘meant to be,’ as he struggles with the role he has within his family, his sexual propensities, and the effects of fame. Mary Austin wasn’t an aside or an act of curiosity – she embraced Freddie’s flamboyance before anyone else did and was a consistent friend and lover for years (he left his entire estate to her) despite the fact that she was not male and consequently does not fit into the general assessment of who he was. If one is to be truly liberal, one should account for the possibilities inherent in human sexuality, and not be so dogmatic about how one “usually” fits into a category or not.

In fact, this film illustrates that things are not always what they seem, through its minor exploration of Freddie’s sexual awakening and consequent proclivities, yes, but also in its insight into the band’s marriage, if you will, and Freddie’s realization of his power as a performer. Ultimately, I found the film interesting, joyful, humorous, and poignant–fantastic entertainment that made me forget everything else whilst watching it.



A Star is Born
November 3, 2018, 1:09 pm
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A Star is Born movie posterJackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a country music star that falls in love with wannabe singer Ally (Lady Gaga). With his help, her star ascends while his stardom, hindered by long time tinnitus, emotional trauma, and alcoholism, slowly falls.

I found myself haunted after watching this latest version of A Star is Born. I was pensive as a stillness settled over me when I left the cinema, and this film was the first thing I considered when I woke up the next morning. Bradley Cooper’s character is utterly compelling and terribly sad. Despite what his childhood may have been like, the story effectively conveys that his perspective and behavior are the product of mental illness. He can’t help feeling unhappy, insecure, or his being self-destructive because he doesn’t know how to get help, or, indeed, what, exactly, to get help for. He is charming, kind and talented, yet he is also isolated, reactive, and full of self-loathing even as his life contains so much bounty. And he implicitly realizes this type of ungratefulness, which exacerbates his self-hatred. The plot is still a love story, as the other adaptations of this film have been, however, this version stresses the theme of mental illness and its vulnerability more than the theme of ambition and compromise.

A Star is Born (2018) is unequivocally worth seeing. And, it’s evidence of Bradley Cooper’s directorial sensitivity and ‘acting chops’ – he’s not just a pretty boy as he goes hand held and gets up close and personal even when the subject isn’t easy or attractive. Lady Gaga, too, is believable – tender, tough, and charismatic – and absolutely holds her own in the acting arena.



WALL-E
September 17, 2018, 12:36 pm
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Wall-E-Movie-PosterHumanity has abandoned planet earth, leaving behind them a fleet of robots to clean up their mess. When the movie opens, however, the only one of these robots remaining is WALL-E who is fascinated by garbage, cleaning it up each day, as he’s programmed to, and taking various ‘treasures’ he finds back to his home. His enchantment switches to a new target when a super-robot EVE touches down, looking for signs of life on earth.

Released ten years ago, I watched this again recently with my young son after seeing a small robot that cleaned a pool at a hotel we stayed at – day in, day out, without stopping – that reminded me of WALL-E. It was in this re-watching, though, with our ever-growing global behavior of consumption and waste, that I truly appreciated the ambition, charm, and visual wit of Pixar’s film. The story can only be the result of inspiration and passion rather than marketing meetings and focus groups, ‘cause WALL-E brings a message about being nice to our planet and the evils of big corporations (ironic, yes, given Disney owns Pixar, but hey ho, this film was made). The setting, a future earth composed of great skyscrapers of trash reaching toward a permanently overcast sky, is prescient. As are the signs for a mega corporation, “Buy and Large,” dotting the nihilistic landscape. While our hero speaks maybe four words – and he has no mouth, no eyebrows, no thumbs – everything WALL-E feels is perfectly palpable and authentic. He is one of the most expressive characters developed in animation. It’s in the nervousness of his gesticulations, the tilt of one of his lamp-like eyes, and his emotive sounds (designed by Ben Burtt, the man who gave us R2-D2’s beeps and tremors) that he is empathetic and believable. Meanwhile, the humans have been reduced to fat toddlers living in Lazy-Boy-type electronic recliners in space, whose every need is met with a touch of the screen that is perpetually in front of them. Enter WALL-E, who reminds us all what is important in life.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do, with or without children. WALL-E is, arguably, Pixar’s most brilliant film in a canon of excellent films produced by the studio. It’s a hopeful film that reminds us of what it is to feel joy.

 



I Am Not An Easy Man (Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile) (2018)
July 15, 2018, 11:17 am
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I Am Not An Easy Man movie poster USADamien (Vincent Elbaz) is a ‘player’ in modern Paris. He develops content for an apps company by day, and seduces women when not at his job. Alexandra (Marie-Sophie Ferdane) is Damien’s best friend’s assistant. Damien tries to pick her up at a book-signing event to no avail, then leaves and bumps his head on a pole he runs into while ogling women passing by on the other side of the road. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a world where women hold the societal position that men have held historically to present day. While there is much in this film directed and co-written by Eleonore Pourriat that is arguably cliché and flat-footedly drives home a point, it’s ultimately a diverting film that one considers after watching it.

A hackneyed element is the idea that men in the alterative world who are not married at a certain point are sad and likely to live with a cat. I also found it rather wearisome that men in their role of stereotypical women in the alternate world are effeminate in their mannerisms, actions, and behaviors, such as swinging one’s hips, flipping one’s wrists, using ‘up talk’, etc. Would this actually happen with testosterone flowing through their veins? Is this type of behavior truly just environmental influence rather than biology? Conversely, women in the alternate world strut and burp, have their babies holding on to a hanging exercise bar, then turn the care of the babe over to the male nurse or their husband – would this happen with all the hormones raging through our bodies that (generally) work to bond us to the process of pregnancy, birth, and infant

Fundamentally, however, I found the concept good and was rather unsettled by how the reversal of gender is depicted, which prompted me to consider my own attitudes to roles men and women have in modern life. For example, women don’t shave their legs or armpits in the alternate world, but men must shave all of their body hair or risk being seen as disgusting hippy apes by potential seducers; women bare their chests while running or walking around, whereas men attempt to accentuate any cleavage and play coy with their titties; professional women wear dark suits, and men wear something colorful that, ideally, displays their legs; men are dismissed when they proffer a serious opinion, while women are respected and listened to; and men are the objects of lust in films; when Damien is ‘picked up’ by a woman and they have sex – they struggle for dominance and when she’s finished, she rolls over and leaves.

Even as I didn’t find this to be a comedic film, which has, perhaps, a cultural element to it, I did find it droll (derived from the French “drôle” meaning humorous or peculiar). For example, classic literature and philosophy has been re considered, with books written by George Sand (a woman in fact) becoming Georgia Sand. Additionally, I closely considered both my uncomfortable response to what was being shown as gender behavior in the alternative society, as well as why (exactly) it might be that men have dominated the cultural, political, economic, and personal lives of everyone since the beginning of time…has it all been so arbitrary?



Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-posterI recently read an article in Aeon Magazine, which investigates the scientific possibilities and implications of purging one’s “bad” memories. * Haunted by news stories and images of traumatized children in the Middle East, and as a teacher to troubled adolescents, I find my opinion is conflicted: memories construct who we are, for-better-or-for-worse, but there are such horrible things that happen…Hungry for more insight into the subject (and a film buff) I decided to re-watch the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In it, introvert Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) meets outgoing Clementine (Kate Winslet) and they start a tumultuous relationship. Then one day, Clementine doesn’t recognize Joel and he finds out that she had all of her memories of him removed. Angry and hurt, Joel decides to undergo the same procedure, but in the process of it he finds that he has second thoughts.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is ingenious. His films Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are also high concept ideas that explore neurosis and the possibilities of the mind scientifically and perceptually. The movie begins slowly, as we experience the confusion Joel feels because his girlfriend suddenly doesn’t know him, with him. However, once Joel discovers she has had her memories of him wiped out and decides to have the same procedure done on himself, the bulk of the action takes place over one night in his rapidly disintegrating memory. When Joel’s subconscious decides that the procedure is a bad idea and he enlists the ‘memory’ of Clementine to help him escape, the film moves at a rapid pace. Here, director Michel Gondry showcases true visual verve (and most of the effects are created in camera!) as we delve into repressed memories, teenage humiliation, and childhood helplessness. But then a miracle happens — just as Joel’s situation seems most hopeless, the tone of the film becomes more hopeful. We travel through Joel’s mind back to those initial, profoundly romantic first days with Clementine, and we are able to view both the beginning and the end of a relationship at the exact same time. It’s poignant and beautiful. At this moment, Kaufman’s objective comes into sharp focus, and we, the viewer, are left to ponder what we’ve just seen, and to consider whether we would, indeed, purge our minds of painful memories if given the chance. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a relevant and weird and wonderful film with genuine heart and a thoughtful mind.

*Aeon Magazine, Aug. 1, 2016, Would You Purge Bad Memories From Your Brain If you Could by Lauren Gravitz. https://aeon.co/essays/would-you-purge-bad-memories-from-your-brain-if-you-could



The Lobster

MV5BNDQ1NDE5NzQ1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA5OTM2NTE@._V1_UY1200_CR108,0,630,1200_AL_The film takes place in a dystopian world where single people are sent to a hotel and given 45 days to find a romantic match or they will be turned into the animal of their choice. Ostensibly, as an animal, they are given a “second chance” to find love. Our hero, Colin Farrell’s desolate architect David, is dumped by his wife and immediately sent to the hotel in the company of his brother, who is now a border collie, having failed the 45 day time limit to find a match earlier.

There are several elements that make this film worth seeing: the Kafkaesque meditation on modern society’s preoccupation with coupling, as well as its increasing desensitization, is much appreciated, fresh and noble; there is dark humor; our hero’s reasoning behind his choice to be a lobster is interesting; and the ensemble cast is very good, inclusive of Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Lea Seydoux. Moreover, a few of the incidents in the film will haunt me for a long time, which is arguably a good thing because the images were vivid enough to sear themselves into my cerebral cortex. However, there is absolutely no relief for the viewer in what is an exhaustingly morose take on humanity in some alternative reality, or in some not-so-distant future world.