Saturday, September 17, 2022

Everything Everywhere All At Once

 

Image credit: A24

We all know that art imitates life and becomes ok or not depending on the social and cultural trends of the time. The fascinations of the day are explored in many mediums and it’s particularly interesting to watch how filmmakers tackle them, especially in a strange cultural climate where trends are changing so rapidly and people are consuming more and more media at such high speeds and volumes. For a little while I have been concerned that the cinema has been suffering; not keeping up, or clinging to a bygone vibe and formula, but last night I watched a film that changed my mind and restored my faith: Everything Everywhere All At Once

The film follows Evelyn (Michelle Yoh) and her chaotic and unfulfilling life running a Laundromat with her husband. While struggling to gain her father’s approval, accepting her daughter’s homosexuality, and overcoming the language barrier as her business gets audited, she is visited by a version of her husband from an alternate universe, who warns her that there is a great evil threatening the multiverse, one that only she can stop. Suddenly thrust into a quest to save her world and her family by jumping between various forms of herself within various universes, Evelyn goes on an insane journey of space and self to find love, strength, and method in madness. 

A combination of martial arts, inter-dimensional action thriller, and pop-culture comedy, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a real assault on the senses in the absolute best way. Underneath the inter-dimensional verse-jumping story is a really lovely message about the importance of love, family, and acceptance with the central ‘villain’ being the difference in generational views regarding family and culture. 

The rapid shifts in language between English, Mandarin, and Cantonese best convey this underlying drama with the older generations speaking in their first language while conversations between parents and daughter are in fragmented English, highlighting the familial disconnect as well as the cultural divides between immigrant and first-generation Asian-Americans. 

Image credit: A24

The film is a high-octane visual treat with all the weirdness inspired by the pop-culture theories of the multiverse literally being thrown at you with great gusto, matching the rapid-fire pace of the martial arts fight sequences as well as the sound design. The performances are all incredible, the story –despite its complex nature- is actually not too tricky to follow, and there’s a fantastic continuous thread of comedy that runs all the way through, heightening all the other emotional strings that are being tugged. 

I’m not sure if any of this made sense to read, it’s a very hard to film to write about, but I would absolutely recommend that you watch Everything Everywhere All At Once. It's delightfully strange, original, and brilliant. 

Director: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert, 2022

Cast: Michelle Yoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel, Harry Shum Jr., & James Hong

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Lightyear

 

Image credit: Event Cinemas

“In 1995, Andy got a toy from his favourite movie… this is that movie.” This is the opening line to Pixar’s latest film, Lightyear, and sparked an interesting theological discussion between partner and I on the car ride home after seeing said film. So, Lightyear is animated in the style of Toy Story, in that the people in the former look like the real people in the latter. Partner’s question was; in this animated world, is Lightyear a live-action movie or an animated movie? And we actually had an interesting chat looking at both possible arguments. I can’t remember what we decided on, probably that that it was a non-animated movie. However if that’s the case, then young Andy was watching some seriously mature dramas for a boy young enough to be playing with dolls…

Lightyear tells the story of Space Ranger, Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) whose team gets marooned on an alien planet when they take a small detour during a mission. While trying to find a way back home, Buzz goes through numerous time jumps, with each failed attempt taking years away from his teams’ lives. Until one day, when he returns from another attempt, he discovers that his camp and his friends are gone, the planet taken over by an army of robots, and the grandchildren of his original team are the only ones left trying to survive. With the robots trying to steal his precious fuel supply, Buzz must set aside his past guilt and work as a team if there is any hope of returning to Star Command. 

Time travel, guilt complexes, trauma, are just some of the complex themes that get explored in Lightyear, and if this was young Andy’s favourite movie when he was, what, 10(?), then I have questions. Reminiscent of space-themed dramas such as The Martian, Lightyear is definitely a more mature, but nevertheless all-ages inclusive film in Pixar’s repertoire. The central themes of friendship and teamwork clashing with the mental evils of solitude and self-isolation take the front seat, forming a predictable story, but one that still piques emotional attachments and empathy towards the characters. 

I particularly enjoyed the limited colour palette, with dusk oranges, night purples, and rust reds making up the majority of the world, giving the film its space-drama vibe that I mentioned before. 

Image credit: Roger Ebert

There are some solid characters journeys, a healthy smattering of comedy amidst all the drama and mind-melting existential crises that are running rampant, and a ‘twist’ (which we did see coming) that no kid of 10 should have been able to wrap their brain around. Maybe Andy was a ridiculously smart kid…

Lightyear is a fun and visually impressive movie that doesn’t scale the heights of some of Pixar’s other films, but certainly holds something for the whole family. 

Director: Angus MacLane, 2022

Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Uzo Aduba, Darby Soules, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Bill Hader, & James Brolin

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

 

Image creditL IMDb

Well, the new Doctor Strange movie is out and for partner and I that means date night! So last night we catapulted ourselves back into the MCU with Disney’s latest venture into the Marvelverse: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. And believe me ‘catapult’ is absolutely the word to describe this experience!

Awakened from a horrible dream in which he dies, Stephen Strange goes to Christine’s wedding a little conflicted and on edge: a feeling that’s validated when a giant monster attacks the city in pursuit of a young girl named America, who also featured in Stephen's dream. Strange and Wong learn that this girl has the ability to travel the multiverse and that some demon is after her power. Their only clue to the demon’s identity is strange mystical runes that surrounded the monster, so Strange tracks down Wanda Maximoff for help. However this doesn’t really go as planned, as he quickly discovers that Wanda is the one after America’s powers and will stop at absolutely nothing to get them. Soon Stephen and America are racing through the multiverse in search of an ancient book that will give them to the power to save America and the infinite number of worlds from the reign of Scarlet Witch.  

It goes without saying that one can expect a whole lot of crazy, psychedelic, fractured, and visually intense experiences with this movie because it’s a Doctor Strange flick. But where the film stands aloft from the other Marvel films is that Sam Raimi has been called in to direct and has ingeniously taken Multiverse of Madness into the realms of horror. I mean, with a Lovecraftian title like that, how can you not? While there are many typical awesome Marvel action sequences reminiscent of the other MCU films, there is a lot in Multiverse of Madness that is reminds us of The Evil Dead (not to mention the signature Bruce Campbell appearance) and I was absolutely here for it! 

Considering the emotionally complex characters of both Strange and Wanda; especially after Wandavision, which I recommend watching before this otherwise you might struggle with what’s going on, going for a more horrific rather than actiony-sci-fi film was a really good choice and it perfectly brings the darker side of the MCU and its various stories into the light. Seriously, people in control of all this power is hells scary!

Image credit: Slash Film

Visually the movie is another triumph, with the multiverse-jumping scenes being very trippy and very cool. The film also features one of the most original magical combat scenes, which I’m sure composer Danny Elfman had a lot of fun with, watch out for that one. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sits firmly in the MCU’s awesome filmic canon and is absolutely a good, albeit dark and creepy, time. 

Director: Sam Raimi, 2022

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hayley Atwell, Michael Stuhlbarg, Anson Mount, Lashana Lynch, John Krasinski, Charlize Theron, and Patrick Stewart

Friday, April 1, 2022

Becoming Jane

Image credit: Posterazzi
 There is something so comforting and inspiring about a crisp, autumn morning. The warmth of summer has certainly left Sydney this Saturday morn, and when I woke up to the warm embraces of my partner, I was gripped with the desire for a scene: a picturesque, English country scene. And so I have just finished watching Becoming Jane

Based on the romantic portion of the life of one of my all-time favourite authors, the film follows young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway), a penniless woman with an independent mind and a talent with the pen. Confined by social duties and norms concerning everything from family to fortune, Jane’s world gets turned upside down when she meets and falls for the handsome upcoming lawyer, Thomas LeFroy. A passionate romance ensues, but can love without fortune possibly be enough to ensure a prolonged life of happiness?

This film does not have the feel of a biopic, rather a biographic romantic comedy. The story itself is something straight out of one of Austen’s novels, and we can see characteristics recognisable in Austen’s famous characters in all the people involved. I suppose that the main purpose of the film is to illustrate a singular point that is brought up early on: that experience is needed to write great fiction, and the entire film is definitely a journey of identity.

The performances are all very good, though nothing particularly incredible. Indeed the strongest attraction for me was the beautiful cinematography: the breathtaking scenes of the English countryside. Rolling hills, pretty wildernesses, woods and rivers
abound with a crisp, cool air. 

Image credit: Hanway Films

While I adore Jane Austen, I am the type of fan who reads and revels in her novels, but does not extend myself to learn about the woman who wrote them. I should. Because if I did, then I would be better able to ascertain whether the narrative of this film was close or loose in relation to the truth. Regardless, as I mentioned before this film does not feel like a biopic and therefore I can’t label it as one. It’s a very pretty film nonetheless and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this sort of period piece. 

Director: Julian Jarrold, 2007

Cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu, Laurence Fox, Ian Richardson, Leo Bill, Joe Anderson, Jessica Ashworth & Maggie Smith

Monday, March 14, 2022

Turning Red

 

Image credit: Carousell

Coming-of-age stories have always been a pretty solid and relatively foolproof flavour of cinema: relatable, funny, heart-warming/breaking, and guaranteeing a healthy, mixed audience. Over the years coming-of-age cinema has seen all sorts of interpretations and depictions of the adolescent gear change, from Puberty Blues to Stand By Me. For tonight’s movie, partner and I curled up on the couch and enjoyed Pixar’s latest foray into the coming-of-age genre: Turning Red.

The film centres on Meilin, a seemingly normal 13-year-old just starting to develop her own tastes and sense of identity. At school she’s an over-achiever with a passion for boy bands and at home, she strives to be the perfect daughter. When a harmless doodle turns into a dramatic confrontation with her mum, it triggers a genetic ‘gift’ where Meilin turns into a red panda whenever she experiences strong emotions.

Turning Red is a clever little film in a number of ways. Firstly, the title works on a multitude of levels, as the trigger for the genetic trait is shame and embarrassment as well as a borderline outward reference to what marks a girl’s entrance into womanhood. The red panda is both a funny and dramatic metaphor for puberty, illustrating both the cute side and the significantly less cute side. 

On a deeper level, the film is an exploration into familial relationships and how much they influence identity. Similar to Encanto the central drama of the film stems from the relationship between Meilin and her overprotective mother, as well as nod to the familial structures and cultural attitudes of multi-generational immigrant families. 

Image credit: Rotten Tomatoes

The animation is signature Pixar with a bright colour palette and gorgeous lighting, however I can’t say that the art style is my favourite to come out of the studio. Quite a few of the characters were giving me Aardman vibes, which work for the claymation likes of Wallace and Gromit, but no so much for the studio that brought us Wall-E and Toy Story

This singular negative aside, Turning Red is a very cute and heart-warming coming-of-age tale that has a little something for everyone. There are plenty of funny moments and just as many tearjerker moments; overall a perfectly good film.

Director: Domee Shi, 2022

Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Wai Ching Ho, Lori Tan Chinn, Tristan Allerick Chen, Orion Lee, Sandra Oh, & James Hong


Friday, February 11, 2022

Les Vampires

Image credit: IMDb

It’s most interesting to go back in time and pinpoint where certain trends and fashions began, especially in cinema. With films being churned out faster and faster nowadays thanks to the pandemic and the need for new and original streaming service content, the industry has been put into a somewhat higher gear. But it’s important to remember that even though the world is moving so fast in terms of producing content for us to consume, we can always choose to slow down and go at out own pace: like I did with Louis Feuillade’s fascinating 1915 movie serial, Les Vampires.

This long film, segmented into ten chapters of varying lengths, tells the story of a Parisian crime gang called the Vampires and their eventual takedown by an ambitious journalist (Edouard Mathe) and his comedic sidekick (Marcel Levesque). Kidnapping, murder, and mayhem abound with each chapter telling a different, smaller story that makes up a grand, epic vendetta. 

Les Vampires is an original in so many ways. Definitely not a film you can do in one sitting, its segmented form is perfect for a balanced cinematic experience of intermissions and breathers in which to catch up on what’s just happened. This also gives us time to appreciate just how influential a historical piece it is. It’s the first thriller, the first example of cinematic noir and the surrealist movement, as well as the first moving picture that delivers the exciting detective story (a la Sherlock Holmes) experience. Watching it is a bit like reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales of the great detective, with the audience being privy to the tricks and traps of the villains while the hero is not. 

As a representation of society and culture, Les Vampires is mightily clever, as it makes a point to show that good and evil is not always clear and distinct. While the Vampires themselves are merciless and manipulative with brutal means of executing their plans, they are not without their own system of law and government and indeed, at many points during the film the heroes plot and scheme in much the same fashion. This bleeding of the boundaries between good and evil is what makes the film so fascinating, more so considering the fact that the villains name themselves after the most celebrated of evil monsters. 

Image credit: IMDb

We then have the superb visual aspect of the film. While the footage itself is grainy and definitely dated, it does not take away from the fact that there are so many exciting visual treats, mostly to do with the more action-y sequences and sinister stealth plots. Considering this was made in 1915, the set designs are incredible with elaborate trap doors, tricks walls, and sliding panels that would put the castle of Otranto to shame! At one point an entire canon comes sliding out of a wall to fire at a nearby cabaret! Then there are some of the greatest chase sequences I’ve ever seen. The Vampires main mode of travel is shimmying up and down drainpipes, scaling walls, and darting from rooftop to rooftop, which makes for very exciting chases when the good guys get on their tail. We’ve got people being thrown from rooftops into moving cars, people spinning down Cirque du Soleil style to make quick getaways, and enough many nooks and hidey-holes to turn Parisian apartments into Swiss cheese. 

Les Vampires is a stretch, admittedly to sit down and commit to, but one that it worth the investment, especially if you’re as interesting in film history as I am.

Director: Louis Feuillade, 1915

Cast: Edouard Mathe, Musidora, Marcel Levesque, Jean Ayme, Fernand Herrmann & Stacia Napierkowska

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Luca

Image credit: Wikipedia

Continuing on with catching up on new films from Disney, the other night partner and I curled up on the couch for to check out Pixar’s newest film: Luca.

A little reminiscent of The Little Mermaid meets The Fox and the Hound, Luca tells the story of a shy sea monster who develops a curiosity for the surface and the humans (‘land monsters’) that live there. When he befriends a reclusive fellow sea monster named Alberto, the two decide to run away together to escape the deep-sea exile that Luca’s over-protective family determines will keep him safe. Undercover in a small fishing village on the Italian Riviera, the two become friends with a human girl and learn more about the world above water. 

This is a very sweet movie and a bit of a dramatic change for Pixar in that it explores themes that are less abstract, complicated, and adult. Centred on friendship and identity, Luca tells a recognisable story that’s made fresh by its unconventional characters. Where Ariel is headstrong and reckless, Luca is shy and super-cautious. Alberto as the best friend character begins the story as arrogant and manipulative, transforming into a true friend midway through. The token female character is an outsider and underdog: loud, a little odd, and not ‘typically pretty’. This fresh filter of such recognisable characters, particularly in previous Disney films, is what gives the film the edge that makes it stand out. 

The story itself is quite easy to follow and predict what’s going to happen, but because the characters are different, it doesn’t become boring or a hindrance. The animation is gorgeous with the use of light and a cool colour palette really giving the feel of an Italian holiday and the casual blend between English and Italian adds to the experience. 

Image credit: Pink News

It’s not Pixar’s most beautiful or groundbreaking movie, but it’s a sweet one that reminds us that it’s ok to enjoy films that are just entertaining and not thought provoking or intellectual. 

Director: Enrico Casarosa, 2021

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Marina Massironi, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci & Sasha Baron Cohen