If Beale Street could talk (2018)

If Beale Street Could Talk

Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James)

There is so much rarity that oozes out of If Beale Street could talk that at times it is hard to describe. Here is a romantic drama that does not rely on fantasies or hopes but on the pluses and minuses of reality. No other tag line has rung more true for a 2018 film: “Trust love all the way”.

Based off the book (which I am hoping to read soon) by James Baldwin and written for the screen by director Barry Jenkins (whose last film, Moonlight, won the Oscar for Best Picture), we meet the young lovers Tish (Kiki Layne) and Alfonso (Stephan James), or “Fonny”. She is 19. He is 22. They have known each other since they could take their first bath together as kids. Their lives in  New York are marred with troubles, but they remain faithful, even when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Things get a little more complicated when we find out that Tish is pregnant. While her family is supportive, his family is…well, to say they are against it is putting it very mildly. The scene between the two families sets the absolute mood of the film.

The movie is told sometimes in flashback (as told by Tish), showing her relationship with Fonny before his arrest. The rest shows their attempts to get Fonny out of jail, but certain complications arise (and they don’t come cheap). Thankfully, Tish has very supporting parents. While her  dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) is there for his daughter, it is clearly the mother, Sharon (Regina King) who is the should Tish leans on the most. Every scene King is in explodes with talent, proving she is a strong contender for best supporting actress in the next few months. That would not be the films only nomination, as it also has possibly the best musical score I have heard in 2018.

The film also supplies other strong performances, but the crystal clear heart of the film is the chemistry between the two young leads. Layne plays Tish as soft-spoken, but not one who will let you step on her toes. James allows us to see Fonny (as Tish hopes all call him) as a young man who knows the hardships of life, but still is kind-hearted.

Parents, the movie is rated R, and should be. While there is a lot of swearing (including racial slurs), there is not much violence. There is, however, one of the more longer sex scenes (nearly five to seven minutes) that occurs and has nudity. Mature High Schoolers and up.

There are some parts of the movie that seem a little off (I am not sure yet how I feel about the trip that Tish’s mother makes, despite how undoubtably heartfelt it is), and the outcome of the movie may not be for everyone. I was fine with it. The message was simple: Even in the worst of circumstances, you must, in all honesty, trust love. All the way.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I've loved before

There is palpable chemistry between Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo)

There are a good number of rarities that occur in director Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018). Such include teenagers that act like actual teenagers,  well talented acting youths, and a Netflix original that is actually enjoyable (unlike their recent film The Kissing Booth, which I would review if I could ever power myself through the thing).

But back to this film. Based off of a book of the same name by Jenny Han, the movie introduces us to Lara Jean (an extremely lovable Lana Condor). She is entering her Junior year of High School after her sister Margot (Janel Parrish) has left for college, leaving Lara Jean with her widowed dad (the always wonderful John Corbett), her little sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart), and next door neighbor/former best friend Josh (Israel Broussard). I say former not because they grew apart, but because he was the former boyfriend of Margot, so a friendship would be difficult at best.

Since about the pre-teen years, we learn that Lara Jean has kept letters she has written to certain boys she has had crushes on over the years (Josh being one of them). Kitty finds out about the letters and mails them out. This is not because of Kitty being a mean, bratty little sibling. It is because she loves her sister and that love trumps over Kitty not knowing her sister will have a hard time for the near future.

While some recipients are no longer on the table (such as her freshman year homecoming date Greg who is gay, played by Andrew Bachelor), the main drama comes with Peter (Noah Centineo). He was Lara Jean’s first “kiss” during a spin the bottle game in seventh grade, and has just recently broken up with one of Lara Jean’s former friends Gen (Emilija Baranac).  Peter and Lara Jean therefore come up with an idea: pretend to be dating so that it makes Gen jealous enough to take him back. Of course, a couple of ground rules must be put in order (such as no kissing).

While one of the keys of the film is Condor’s screen presence, another is her chemistry with Centineo’s Peter. The main scene for me was in the local diner, where they actually stop “pretending” and have a serious talk (we learn Peter’s dad had left him and has a new family now). That scene made me realize how this movie was going to be much better than anticipated.

One thing that threw me off was I realized there was more romance in this romantic comedy than there would be comedy. That is not to say I did not laugh: much of the comedic lines comes from Lara Jean’s best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur), who is a strong personality to say the least. There is also a great deal of coming of age ness that made me feel some shades of John Hughes. The movie truly digs deep into the realism of those first few stages we feel when it is not just us falling in love, but the other falling in love with us.

Parents, there is some swearing (not sure if I counted any F bombs), and talk of sex. While there is no sex in the film, there is a hot tub scene where two characters are making out and is (minor spoiler) mistaken as sex. I would say High School and above, but maybe Middle School. Maybe.

I am still not sure I like the title of the film. I know it is based on a book (which is in a series), but I just felt the title seems off-putting. Nevertheless, when you consider some of the bad original films that Netflix has (like the awful Irreplaceable You), it makes it all the more reason to state that To All the Boys I Loved Before is truly a diamond in the rough.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Crazy Rich Asians

(From left) Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is introduced to her son Nick’s (Henry Golding) new girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu)

Was I the only one confused by a title like Crazy Rich Asians? I am not sure. It was about a fourth or a third of the way into director Jon M. Chu’s film that I realized how perfect the title truly is. Are they crazy and rich or just “crazy rich”? The answer is a resounding yes. The words can also describe the film as well. Afterall, it is crazy that this is the first film western film in a quarter century to have an all Asian cast (the last was 1993’s The Joy Luck Club). It is rich in comedy, romance, and all out heart.

Also, it is Crazy how the lead actor Henry Golding is able to make his first film performance here so memorable. He plays Nick Young, who has been dating Rachel Chu (an instantly lovable Constance Wu) for over a year. His best friend Colin (Chris Pang) is getting married in one of the biggest weddings ever (more on that later). It is on the plane ride to Singapore that Nick breaks the news that his family is rich (which is a vast understatement).

As anyone (such as myself) who has a big family knows, this is truly one of the biggest steps in the relationship. Of all the family members, it is Nick’s mother (an impeccable Michelle Yeoh) who is the most critical. Their first meeting does go over well (sorta), though Rachel does tend to strike a better relationship with Nick grandmother Ah Ma (Lisa Lu, who also starred in The Joy Luck Club).

What makes the film most endearing is how every cast member embraces their individual roles close to their hearts. One of the first characters we meet in Singapore is Rachel’s old college friend Peik (Awkwafina), who still lives at home with her dad (Ken Jeong). Jeong may be the only person who can tell his kids who refuse to eat that “there are starving kids in America”. Nico Santos also has a lot of scene stealing as Nick’s cousin Oliver, who is as theatrical as they come. Constance Wu is also quite convincing in the lead female role. She knows she is in a predicament (to say the least), but still approaches it with class, courage, and good humor (“I’m so Chinese, I’m an econ professor that’s lactose intolerant.”)

Parents, the PG-13 rating is mainly for language (I think I heard one F bomb) and suggestive material. There is no nudity or anything, yet there is a good amount of partying that brings a lot of suggestive material. I would say middle school and up.

If asked how rich these people are, the best I could say would be it would make Charles Foster Kane feel a little envious (only a little). Just look at the food (which will make you hungry) and the clothes and the decorations to see what I mean. I left the theater sad, feeling I wanted to know more about these characters and what happened after. Thankfully, I found out that the book the film is based on is part one of a trilogy, so there is more to come.

Simply put, Crazy Rich Asians is the film equivalent of a heartwarming hug.

 

Overall:  Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

Irreplaceable You (2018)

Irreplaceable You

Abbie(Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman)

” I enjoy hanging with you. It’s interesting. You’re like a slow-moving car crash” – Myron (Christopher Walken) to Abbie.

No, this dialogue from Irreplaceable You is not between the main couple of Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman), which is all that can be said positive about the dialogue. It was at this point in the 1 hour and 36 minute film that I realized it was the best way I could describe this tear-jerker (a Netflix original) that does not generate any tears it so badly wishes we in the audience will supply them.

For the record, the movie does tell us what will happen at the end of the film in the first few minutes (even before the credits role). Therefore, a SPOILER WARNING  as we find out right away that Abbie will have died by the end of the film. END SPOILER.

The film is narrated by Abbie, who has been dating Sam since she sunk her teeth into him on a field trip to the aquarium when they were about 8 years old. So….love at first bite? We learn off the bat that Sam and Abbie plan to be married, since they are about to get the final word from the doctor of what is almost assuredly Abbie being pregnant. Turns out, it is not a pregnancy, but a cancerous tumor.

Ok, I understand that people can face cancer in many different ways (I have seen my share of this with friends and family in my life). I say this because Abbie tries to take it with a smile, still trying desperately to be optimistic. What confuses me is how almost everyone else in the movie is doing the same thing. One such person is the nurse (Timothy Simons)  Abbie talks to while getting chemotherapy. The support group (where she meets Myron) is not much better, as leader Mitch (Steve Coogan) is trying to make all seem relaxed yet allowing members to speak their minds (and a lot of crocheting.)

The movie really goes downhill, though, when we learn what Abbie’s coping mechanism is: Try to find a right girl for Sam to be with after Abbie has died. Again, I understand that a lot of people have their own ways of dealing with tragedy like this, but I could not help thinking that this just seems too wrong and out-of-place. While I felt bad for most of the talented cast, none got more sympathy from me than Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She is truly a talented actor, in dire need of better material than this.

Parents, there is not anything too terrible here for kids middle school and up (besides the obvious melodrama). No real sexual content (aside from kissing in bed, but the characters are clothed). There is a good amount of swearing, however, including a few F bombs.

It is always refreshing to have great movies about romance sooth the hopeless romantic in me. That being said, I am confident I can think of a dozen films off the top of my head that make Irreplaceable You completely replaceable.

 

Overall: One and a Half Stars 1 1/2 *

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread

“Whatever you do”, Alma (Vicky Krieps) says to Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis), “do it carefully”.

 

About twenty minutes or so into Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Phantom Thread, I was remembering what Hitchcock said about the audience needing to be played “like a piano”. Of course, the fact that the musical score is nearly all piano helps, but this movie about a dress-maker is made with such care and precision that there is no better way to describe it.

Taking place in the post war era of 1950s London, we meet Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dress-maker. He is beyond passionate to his work, showing artistry skills with dresses like Van Gogh did with colors. He runs his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) with a very firm but gentle hand, though it is clear he does better with dresses than he does those who wear them.

One day he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is smitten by more than just the dresses he makes her. She is a waitress, but is perfect at being a muse for Reynolds (“no one can stand still longer than I can”, she claims). When she moves in with him, it is clear that routine is essential to his daily life (even breakfast becomes a hassle).

I will not go on more with the story for fear of giving it away. I will say that (though this should not shock anyone) this is yet another film that reminds us how precious it is to have an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. His performances are not many (and has said this would be his last), but what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. We know how dedicated (which does not seem like a strong enough word) he gets into character. Even though his normal voice is english, his voice here seems so in character that it does not seem like his own. Props also should be given to Krieps, Manville, and the rest of the cast. To hold your own against DDL is something one should be proud of.

Like clothing, Anderson (who also did the cinematography) directs in such a delicate matter you feel bad if one stitch were to come undone. The beauty of the whole film also cannot be overstated. Every frame uses the lighting and shadow so well it is almost like an Edward Hopper painting.

Parents, the movie is a rather minor R rating. There is very minor nudity (seen through dresses), but none of it is sexual. There is swearing (mainly F bombs), but that is it. If your kids were to be interested, I would say mature middle schooler and above.

While I am holding against all hope that this is not the last time I will see him on the big screen, Daniel Day-Lewis does truly give a wonderful swan song. So great is his performance that I did wait till the end credits, just to see if he was also the costume designer.

While it was Mark Bridges who did the costumes, I still feel like DDL helped in some way.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Bringing up Baby (1938)

Bringing up baby.jpg

Hepburn and Grant have more shenanigans to deal with than just the leopard…

Nearly eight decades after it was released, Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby is still as fresh and hilarious and romantic and chaotic as it was when it was released. Parents, if you want to introduce your kids to classic Hollywood at an early age, here is a perfect candidate (and to get them to meet two of the biggest stars the movies has ever had).

In a nutshell, the film stars Cary Grant as David, a paleontologist who is hoping to get an offer of a million dollars for his museum. The problem is, he keeps running into the ever happy-go-lucky Susan, played by Katharine Hepburn. She has inherited a leopard named Baby from her brother in Africa. The situations in this movie are too complicated to explain in words, let alone worthless to try, since they are better to be experienced.

Grant performs effortlessly as David, who is undoubtably the cautious type. Still, it is clearly Hepburn who steals the spotlight (as she did in almost every single one of her movies). Her performance is dazzling. You wonder why it is she is not frightened (most of the time) of the awkward situations she gets into (my favorite is when she is thrown into jail). Perhaps the best answer would be that the role is so like Hepburn in real life that very little acting was required, if any at all.

Parents, there is really nothing to worry about at all for the kids (despite one character saying they went “gay all of a sudden”, but it is mainly played for laughs). Any age is fine with this movie.

I admit some of the parts did confuse me a bit, but they were far outweighed by my laughter, which occurred a lot.

Is this the best movie for Cary Grant or Katharine Hepburn? Hard to say. They each made a trunk load of classics that will be around as long as movie goers search for them. Still, as stated before, it is one that is perfect to start with if you want to see some of the early days of classic comedy.
Overall: Five Stars *****

The Big Sick (2017)

The BIg SIck

Emily (Zoe Kazan) and Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) in The Big Sick

Wow, what a breath of fresh air is The Big Sick. It is truly unlike any romantic movie I have seen in some time, probably the best since 2009’s 500 Days of Summer. I sat there watching the movie, realizing I had no idea where it would lead me, because it does not follow the cliché plot points of other movies in the genre. True, part of it could be because it is based on the true story of how Kumail Nanjiani met his wife Emily V. Gordon, but since they both wrote the script (and what a script!), it is clear it was close to their hearts.
Kumail plays himself, a struggling wannabe stand up comedian in downtown Chicago. We get some great looks at what stand-ups are like moments before they go on stage (one being described as “Daniel-Day Lewis, except he sucks”. In the audience, he gets a heckle from a member, who is Emily (Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia). To say that they have great chemistry is a gross understatement.
The problem is that Kumail’s family is from Pakistan, so it is custom for him to marry a girl of his race. Every night at dinner, his mother (Zenobia Shroff) has to answer the door, because she has “casually” invited a woman over for dinner who happened to be walking by (Kumail keeps a box full of the woman his mother has tried to set her up with). He is also reminded by his brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) that their mother and father (Anupam Kher) will kick Kumail out of the family if he decides to marry a girl from another race.
Not long after an argument between Kumail and Emily, Kumail gets a call that Emily is in the hospital with an unknown disease that forces Emily to be put into a medical induced coma. During that time, Kumail meets Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (the perfectly cast Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.) Beth is clearly a bit more high-strung than Terry (who keeps notes at every meeting and discussion they have with Emily’s doctors). I will let you find out how outrageous Terry’s advice on love is that he tells Kumail.
The relationships that Kumail makes with all the characters in the movie is one of the best things about the film. Still, the strong point is the relationship he has with Emily’s parents. There is one scene where, in the hospital cafeteria, Terry invites Kumail to sit with him and his wife. The conversation they have is one I will not mention a word of, except to say it still has me laughing days after I saw the movie. Some may find the dialogue in that scene to be a little too risky for humor, but that is not why we laugh at it. We laugh at it because of the awkwardness of the situation.
Parents, the R rating is clearly justified. There is no nudity or sex scenes (some making out and characters waking up in bed after sex), but the film is rated R mainly for swearing. A lot of swearing (some sexual). Mature High School and above only.
Something that is very clear about The Big Sick is the fact that it clearly has a lot of scenes that tug at the heart. It is not just the fact that we fear for certain characters, but that we have sensed they have grown as people over the course of the events of the movie. That alone is essential to any film genre.
Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

The Space Between Us (2017)

The Space between us

The chemistry between Butterfield and Robertson is rather good…

Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson have rather great chemistry in The Space Between Us, but even that chemistry is bombarded by a very unstable script that does not know what the audience wants to see.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who does not like an actor like Gary Oldman, but his scenes in the beginning go far too long. The movie tells the story of how Gardener Elliot (Butterfield), the first person born on Mars, comes to visit Earth. I can understand needing to know a little of how he got to be born on Mars, but the movie spends far too much time telling us about his mother (Janet Montgomery) leads the first mission to make a colony on Mars known as East Texas. His birth is supposed to be a secret, but he has managed to make a friendship with a girl on earth named Tulsa (Robertson), who has been in and out of foster care. Gardner mentions he is confided to home, due to an illness (which is technically true, since the gravity of Earth would mess up with his genetics).

After Gardner gets to Earth, and manages to make it to Tulsa (through uninteresting scenarios), we finally get to something worth watching. I am always a fan of good romance films (and am a proud sucker for “puppy love”), and the chemistry that Butterfield and Robertson has is the highlight of the film. Both work off each other with the skills of talented thespians (though both will get better with more work in the years to come). Neither are (in a sense) highly attractive, but are (oddly enough) much more down to earth.

Sadly, the other characters (including a mother like character played by Carla Gugino) reenter the film and bring the story down. I kept wishing the movie would have had a point of view, either from Gardner or Tulsa. Instead, we see them as outsiders.

Parents, there is some sensuality in the film (both leads are sleeping together in sleeping bags), and some swearing. Still, I would think the PG-13 rating is ok for those in Middle School and above.

Now a memo to my young readers. Please don’t be mad if I seem unaware of what a good romance movie can be. I want to say that you as young people can find far much better movies than this one. Films like Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, City Lights, Before Sunrise, It Happened One Night, Singin’ in the RainMoonrise Kingdom, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Princess Bride, A Walk to Remember, and even the High School Musical movies (though I would guess you have seen them).

Those were some I admit I was thinking of wanting to re watch while watching The Space Between Us.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

 

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

adventures of robin hood

Errol Flynn is still the definitive Robin Hood.

For the life of me, I still find it hard to believe that the original choice for Robin Hood was James Cagney. While he was undoubtably talented and remains one of Hollywood’s greatest legendary stars, The Adventures of Robin Hood would have been a totally different movie. Fortunately, he walked out, and in stepped the pinnacle of swashbucklers, Errol Flynn.

While I have not seen all of the films based off of the mythical archer, I still say this film is the best. True, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  (1991) did at least have a great villain played by Alan Rickman (which almost overshadowed the horrible accent by Kevin Costner in the title role), the Disney film from 1973 is still very underrated, and I have heard ok things about the 2010 film with Russel Crowe. Still, no one could have brought the swashbuckling charm like Flynn did back in the day (besides, who else could enter the castle by beating up the guards with a deer carcass? Exactly.)

The story is virtually known to everyone: Robin Hood (Flynn) is an outlaw after King Richard (Ian Hunter) is out on his crusade and his brother Prince John (Claude Rains, one of the best supporting actors of the golden age) is put in charge. His taxation of the people knows no bounds. Helped by Sir Guy of Gisboure (Basil Rathbone, of course), only Robin Hood (and the merry men) of Sherwood stand in their way.

In the scene where Robin Hood enters with the deer to the dining hall, Flynn’s charisma is on full display. He owns the entire room, carrying for no one in the room. That is, of course, until he meets Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland, who, at the time of this review, is still alive at the ripe age of 100). That they fall for each other goes without question.

Most film buffs (myself included) agree that the best year in movies was 1939, giving us such films as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, both landmarks in progressing color films. The Adventures of Robin Hood was made a year earlier and in Technicolor. It is truly a glorious film to behold even before you consider the story. The colors of the film jump out at you as much as the action on-screen.

Parents, this film is ok for any kid who can sit through a movie. There is action, some characters die, but there is no blood. It might also be a bit educational in a way: you get to see a film where the actors are actually doing the action themselves.

Originally, a sequel was going to be planned, but World War Two occurred, and by the end, the actors were no longer members at Warner Brothers. The only true problem with the film is that I wanted more. Directed by Michael Curtiz (who would later go on to do classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca), it truly is too short of a film. When it comes to great action, wonderful visuals, stellar performances, and grand storytelling, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a bullseye every time you watch it.

As the man himself might say, “Fluently”.

Overall: Five Stars *****

A Walk to Remember (2002)

a walk to remember

GASP! A teenage romantic flick with wit and chemistry!

I will take the stand of Mandy Moore’s character Jaime, and not care what you think of me. I came across this movie back in 8th grade, and despite a girl at my lunch table named Mary who ruined the ending (which I will not), I found myself to really like A Walk to Remember. Even over a decade later, it is still enchanting to me, and even gets the tears flowing.

For those who don’t know, it tells the story of Lance (Shane West), a high schooler who is put on many punishments for a prank gone wrong (being in a school play, tutoring, etc). At all these places he finds Jaime (Mandy Moore), who is there because that is the type of girl she is: the daughter of a Reverend (played by Peter Coyote), who does not mind wearing the same sweater every day.

That they eventually fall in love is obvious. It is the way they get there that is the core of this nearly forgotten film. Lance is a popular kid, but the shell around his heart eventually starts to wither away. Jaime is as kind as she seems, but won’t take disloyalty sitting down either. Moore and West do very nice work together.

Another thing I like about the film is, unlike many other movies based off of books by Nicholas Sparks, the characters don’t seem to find a need to sleep together. I doubt I am ruining anything, for the movie is rated PG (and should be fine for most kids middle school and up). After all, Casablanca did not have any scenes of sexuality, did it?

Recently, I saw the disappointing Me before you, in which the film ends with the characters not standing up for what they want to, and letting others make the choices for them. In A Walk to Remember, the characters seem real, and we feel for their triumphs and their failures. Those they can control, and those they cannot.

A Walk to Remember is one of the most underrated films I can think of.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****