The Farewell Fondly Remembered…

…just not by me.

The Farewell is one of those indies that seems to have legs, still showing in first-run theaters for the eleventh week as of this post date.  Legs always get me to see movies that I otherwise would skip — I feel if a movie is going to have staying power, there’s a reason for it. A 100% Tomatometer score among Top Critics and the amiable, energetic charm of Awkwafina sealed the deal.  As a bonus, I got to finally see a film at the local art-film screening/media center known as the Digital Gym.

There’s obviously a lot of heart in The Farewell. Naturally, with the whole death theme, there was some poignancy that ran throughout. This was not missed on me. Sadly, the story is mostly non-existent.  It’s basically Awkwafina moping around for an hour and a half. Her spirited presence in Crazy Rich Asians has been left far behind, forgotten on a distant continent.

The tone is off too. I thought about how much better Woody Allen handled material like this. Even the comic moments mostly played very flat. There’s no spark here.  Shame on those who think the art and hard work of thousands upon thousands of people involved over the decades in Woody Allen projects should be thrown in the toilet.

IT’S BASICALLY AWKWAFINA MOPING AROUND FOR 90 MINUTES

The Farewell is not without a bright moment or two, but this true story is a yawner. A documentary, as hinted at upon the conclusion, would have been more enlightening. More lecturing about the differences between Chinese and American culture, ideas I’ve already heard a million times, does not move me. 4/10

Comparison Notes: The Big Sick, Crazy Rich Asians, Terms of Endearment, the incredibly tragic documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, shown as a Frontline episode.

Feign-Fighting with My Family

Fighting with My Family may have heart, but the mind and the soul are nowhere to be found.  It’s a yawner, both pedestrian and trite, obviously designed as an extended promotional video for WWE.

The movie is handicapped from the outset by being based on a true story — normally a good thing — which by all appearances is itself not particularly interesting.  One wonders whether a documentary on the subject would have been even less compelling.  Certainly, embellishment of the story via more adept filmmaking would have resulted in an improved product.

The film’s star, Florence Pugh, is good, of course, but she was a lot more interesting in Lady Macbeth.  And despite her performance, the whole thing felt artificial.  I never felt like “Paige” had nowhere else to turn.  A far cry from The Wrestler, or even Patti Cake$.  Her claimed passion was not conveyed.

At one brief moment near the end, Fighting with My Family did strike me on an emotional level, but by then it was too late.  An easy skip; two weeks later and I had completely forgotten watching this one.  3/10

Comparison Notes: (all much better): The Wrestler, Patti Cake$, Honey, 8 Mile, The Fighter, Flashdance, The Pursuit of Happyness; not recommended or better: Soul Surfer

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PS on RT:  Fighting with My Family has a preposterous Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%.  So — another broken meter incident.  Anyone who thinks this is a good movie should not be wasting their time looking at my blog.  And they should definitely not be a movie critic, professional or otherwise.

Innocence Lost: Making a Murderer Part 2

FOR FANS OF TRUE CRIME, THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote: “Making a Murderer on Netflix is a magnificently compelling, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking series.”  Part 2, released in October last year, doubles down on being among the most riveting television ever aired.  And where Part 1 might have been shortened by a couple episodes, that is not at all the case in Part 2 — every minute is used to its full value.  For fans of true crime, this is as good as it gets.

SPOILER ALERT! — Referring back to my previous spoiler comments, I will add that the Avery case, in the absence of anything to contradict the evidence raised by Kathleen Zellner —  is even more solidly, and clearly, on the side of his innocence.  Zellner is in a different league than the original defense; we will see where she can take it.  Does this mean a Part 3 is in the offing?

[End of Spoilers]

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So I never was able to produce a TV 2018 part 2 post as intended.  Those items, including Roseanne without Roseanne, are hereby tabled for a future post.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? struck a chord with me — it brought back those times being down-and-out and/or drunk in New York City.  I wanted a little more plot-wise with this true-life story, but then it is a true-life story.  I would have welcomed more about the earlier parts of our heroine’s life and career.  Still: this is one of the better movies of 2018, on the high end of 7/10.

PS Kudos again to Fox Searchlight.

Comparison Notes: Norman, The Visitor (2007)

Film Brief: American Animals

American Animals mixes actors and the real-life characters they portray in a sometimes very effective and other times distracting suboptimal way.  On top of that, the movie dragged out too much.  There’s no reason for it not to have been 30 minutes more compact.  But the performances were good and compelling, and the movie redeemed itself at the end.  The climax and immediate aftermath swung American Animals back into positive territory.  6/10

Comparison Notes: every heist film ever, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Bernie, Donnie Darko

I, Tonya Will Kick Your Ass. Literally.

Sometimes it takes a true story to make the best movie of the year.  This is one of those times.  The first half absolutely soars.  Once the movie shifts to “the incident,” it gets a little off track and bogs down, but is redeemed by the end.

I, Tonya opens with the following blurb:

Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly

Like a Michener account, and the disclaimer above speaks to this, there is a sense that this is not necessarily the verbatim truth of everything exactly the way it happened — but boy it sure feels like it is.  It really puts you there — and it’s highly compelling.

Propelling I, Tonya is a glorious tour de force by Margot Robbie — clearly the best female performance of the year.  Allison Janney as her mother is utter perfection as well.  Both should be winning Oscars on March 4th — but sadly won’t.

With the Winter Olympics next month, the timing could not be better.  You’ll definitely come away with an understanding of the tricky triple axel that you didn’t have before.  And one final note: make sure to stay for the end credits.

Best of the year, but shy of a ‘perfect 9’.  8/10

Film Brief: Jackie

jackie-poster

I am hardly a Jackie Kennedy scholar, but there seemed something a bit odd in Natalie Portman’s performance, something where I wasn’t sure if it was dead-on or off in a bizarre direction — one of my initial thoughts was, of all people, Marilyn Monroe.  And there was a certain detachment.  However, a brief look at Mrs. Kennedy’s White House tour (highlighted in the film) makes me think Natalie Portman might well have nailed it.

Jackie raises the obvious comparison to Sofia Coppola’s much superior Marie Antoinette.  Tragedy, we know, is in the offing.  I was severely disappointed by Jackie, but I admit the film held me, and that goes a long way.  I kept waiting for the film to reveal itself, to show me a door I had not previously known.  By the end of the film, that door was yet to be found.  6/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Frost/Nixon

Lion Does Not Roar

My opinion of Lion is colored by the 60 Minutes report on the story.  The CBS treatment was much tighter, obviously — filling in a 14-minute segment length.  The overly drawn-out film suffers in comparison to the concise and dynamic presentation by CBS.

A question that comes to mind about the evaluation of a film based on a true story that I am more or less familiar with ahead of time is “How can I fairly criticize this movie when the dramatic punch, especially as the film reaches towards its climax, has necessarily been diminished by my knowledge of the events herein?”  All I can answer is that I do my best to wash out preconceived ideas, and go with the flow of the film the best I can.  Knowing the outcome did not diminish my feelings toward the great Bernie (one day I’ll post on that one), Sully, Captain Phillips, The Theory of Everything, or last year’s best movie, The Walk.  You can click on my “true story” tag and look at other examples for yourself.

Back to Lion.  I enjoyed the first part, when our subject Saroo Brierley was a boy lost in India.  But the longer adult stage lost me — it’s the much less interesting part of the story, yet the film spends an inordinate amount of time on it.  Still, the performances and production values were good — I especially enjoyed Rooney Mara and the consummate Nicole Kidman.  So I offer a marginal recommendation, with a more vigorous advocacy instead for the 60 Minutes segment.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a subscription requirement for that.  6/10