Friday, June 17, 2016
Even though Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) cannot remember much, she can recall her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). With the help from Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Nemo's dad Marlin (Albert Brooks), Dory goes on a quest to reunite with her parents.
That certainly sounds like a mission impossible. Luckily, Dory gets plenty of help, particularly from an elusive octopus Hank (Ed O'Neill). In return, Hank wants the tracking tag placed on Dory by the staff of Marine Life Institute in California. That tag is the ticket for Hank to go to an aquarium in Cleveland, because he doesn't want to be released back to the ocean upon rehabilitation. Strangely, it seems every creature in the water as well as on the land knows where Dory's parents are. Finally, joining the forces of a near-sighted shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and a white whale Bailey (Ty Burrell), an over-the-top climax concludes a predictable happy ending for this fairy tale.
The film's plot is basically set at the comprehension level of a toddler, so if you are out of that age group, you have to look elsewhere to be entertained by this film. Fortunately, Pixar animation has plenty of cuteness to offer, including in this film. No matter how much you get bored by the unconvincing story, you may forgive the movie when you are charmed by the expressive big fish eyes and when you hear the laughter from children in the theater. How can you not to be delighted with the "stop the traffic" scene toward to the end of the movie?
Occasionally, the humor in the film works both for children and grownups, and Ellen DeGeneres is excellent in delivering timely comedy. However, this sequel is nowhere near the high bar set by "Finding Nemo" and it stimulates little thought as other Pixar films. This film may stay in our memory as briefly as Dory counts the numbers at the beginning of the film, and that's not due to short-term memory loss.
Monday, June 6, 2016
The 40th San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival (Frameline40)
The 40th edition of the annual San Francisco LGBTQ film festival, Frameline40 takes place June 16-26, 2016 in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland. It showcases 155 films, including 72 features, from 24 countries with two foci: "Social Justice & Identity" and "Fresh Perspectives on Youth & Teens."
Here are some highlights of this year's festival:
The recipient of this year's Teddy Award for best documentary, "Kiki" (USA 2016 | 94 min. | Documentary) opens the festival on Thursday, June 16. It tells the story about a group of LGBT youth of color who makes a splash in the ballroom dancing scene in New York City.
Picking up from the end of season 2 of the HBO series "Looking" (USA 2014-2015) about three gay friends living in San Francisco, the writer-director Andrew Haigh's new film "Looking: The Movie" (USA 2016 | 85 min.) closes the festival on Sunday, June 26, and perhaps once for all, closes the TV series.
There are three centerpiece presentations in the middle of the festival.
The veteran French director André Téchiné, who made "Wild Reeds" (Les roseaux sauvages | France 1994) more than two decades ago, returns to the festival with his new film "Being 17" (Quand on a 17 ans | France 2016 | in French | 116 min.) which captivatingly captures the complex desire between two adolescent classmates.
The director Deborah Esquenazi's "Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four" (USA 2016 | 91 min. | Documentary) follows the effort by the Innocence Project that tries to clear the names of four Latina lesbian women in San Antonio, Texas, who were convicted a sex crime in 1994.
For 30 years, the Frameline Award is given annually to recognize major contributions to LGBTQ representation in film, television, or the media arts. This year's Frameline Award recipient is Robert Hawk. Following the award presentation, there is a screening of "Film Hawk" (USA 2016 | 75 min. | Documentary) directed by JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet that highlights Hawk's contribution.
Ten films are presented as showcase films including Andrew Ahn's superb feature directorial debut "Spa Night" (USA 2016 | in Korean | 93 min.) and a nostalgic "Strike a Pose" (Netherlands 2016 | 83 min. | Documentary) about the dancers in Madonna's Blond Ambition World Tour in the '90s.
The festival presents additional 15 additional US feature narratives that are not in the previous sections.
In addition to foreign films presented in the previous sections, the festival picks another 15 foreign narrative features that "engage, challenge, and entertain on a global scale."
The festival presents 25 additional documentaries around the globe that tells LGBTQ stories.
Frameline would not be complete without its strong and extensive shorts program year after year. Besides the traditional crowd pleasing comedies in "Fun in Boys Shorts" and "Fun in Girls Shorts," and the artistic "Worldly Affairs" in foreign languages, the festival continues its " Only in San Francisco" program to enhance the local flavor.
The following are my reviews (or capsule review if a title is under hold review status) of a few feature films at the festival. As always, each film's title is linked to the festival program which has the showtime and venue information. Each film's still image is linked to a film's official Web site if it's available. In random order:
- Spa Night (USA 2016 | in Korean | 93 min.)
- Front Cover (USA 2015 | 87 min.)
- Strike a Pose (Netherlands/Belgium 2016 | 83 min. | Documentary)
- Inside the Chinese Closet (Netherlands/China 2015 | in Mandarin | 72 min. | Documentary)
Spa Night (USA 2016 | in Korean | 93 min.)
One film that you should not miss at this year's festival is the writer-director Andrew Ahn's superb feature directorial debut "Spa Night." Set in the Los Angeles area, the film tells an engaging story about an introvert Korean American teenager David (Joe Seo). David struggles with his sexuality while fulfilling his obligation to help out his parents by working at a Korean style public bath house. With a deep understanding of Korean culture in the immigration community, Andrew Ahn terrifically creates several arresting characters, and Joe Seo gave a mesmerizing performance as the sensitive David.
No trailers is available.
Front Cover (USA 2015 | 87 min.)
The New York Times recently published an article about the fight for visibility for Asian-American actors. It seems writer-director Ray Yeung understands the issue well. In the dialogue of his sophomore feature "Front Cover," he jabs at the stereotype treatments several times. Yet, it's disappointing to see him falling into the same formulaic trap and creating stereotypical characters in an unconvincing plot.
While Jake Choi did a great job as Ryan, a New York City stylist for a fashion magazine, James Chen appeared awkward when he was directed to speak in a fake accent playing Ning, a closeted actor in China. Despite the two characters having no chemistry and getting on each others' nerves when they first met, they become romantically involved like in a fairy tale while delivering some corny lines.
Strike a Pose (Netherlands/Belgium 2016 | 83 min. | Documentary)
It has been 25 years since the provocative documentary "Madonna: Truth or Dare" (1991) chronicled Madonna's Blond Ambition World Tour and revealed the intimate relationship between Madonna and her seven stage dancers. How are those dancers now? The new documentary "Strike a Pose," directed by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, revisits these dancers who have matured not only physically, but more so mentally.
Combing footage and candid on-camera interviews, these dancers reflect back to the experience during the tour, the growth after the tour, the struggle with their own secrets, and the grief and survival over the AIDS crisis. Although the reunion appears to contain more pretentious acting for the camera than sincere catching up with each other, the nostalgic sentiment cannot be more genuine.
the Chinese Closet (Netherlands/China
2015 | in Mandarin | 72 min. | Documentary)
"I am very popular," winking at the camera, Andy claims confidently with a beer bottle in hand. A young gay architect in Shanghai, stocky Andy is one of the two main subjects in Dutch director Sophia Luvara's intriguing documentary "Inside the Chinese Closet." Her other subject is a tomboy lesbian Cherry who is equally outgoing and self-assured.
Although it has come a long way in today's China since Ruby Yang's portrait about gay youth in "Tongzi in Love" (彼岸浮生 2008), gays and lesbians in China continue to face the stigma that is uniquely in Chinese culture influenced by the teaching of Confucius (儒家)—"Among the three major offenses against filial piety, not producing an heir is the worst." (不孝有三无后为大.)
Despite young people like Andy and Cherry who have come out of the closet to their parents, their parents' generation cannot always embrace the reality, and some parents end up going into the closet themselves. They coax their gay children to enter into sham marriages so that they can have grandchildren and save face in front of relatives and friends.
While Andy seems popular and has no problem finding guys, it's not easy for him to find a lesbian to marry. Under the coaching of his father, he "interviews" lesbian candidates for the possibility of forging a marriage. Meanwhile, Cherry is already married to a gay guy, but she is desperately trying to find a way to give her parents a grandchild, including through adoption. This film intimately follows each subject's persistent quest and provides us a rare snapshot of gay lives and their struggle in China today.
It might have gotten better, but the light at the end of the tunnel is yet to be seen, especially in China.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
The film is written by the three members of The Lonely Island—Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, who have been making comedy together since high school. While Andy Samberg took the center stage performing, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone co-directed the film.
Conner (Andy Samberg), a.k.a. Conner4real, used to be the lead singer in a boy band called The Style Boyz, with childhood friends Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) as the song writer and Owen (Jorma Taccone) as the DJ. When Conner's first single wins a top music award, he takes all the credits himself. This upsets Lawrence, who leaves the band to become a farmer. That doesn't concern Conner at all. With his manager Harry (Tim Meadows), his publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman), his cook (Justin Timberlake), and screaming fans by his side, Conner indulges himself in a lifestyle of a super star and poises to release his second single.
Not surprisingly, the second single is a disaster. Conner slips into the lowest point of his music career. To make a comeback, Owen tries to bring the trio back together.
It's both impressive and amusing to see how the film assembles so many musicians and celebrities to appear on camera, either as performers or as talking heads as if they are indeed in a documentary: Mariah Carey, Seal, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Simon Cowell, Michael Bolton, to name a few. When these celebrities talk with a straight face, the comical effect is absolutely right on the buck. It is much funnier than the typical physical comedies that you often see in standard SNL skits.
The reconciliation plot among the trio may be the weakest part of the film, but obviously no one comes to this movie for a dramatic narrative. In addition, some of the mocking music performances, although meant to be mocking in nature, are energetic and catchy enough to make you wonder if songs like "Not Gay" or "Mona Lisa" truly exist.
When it comes to shock value in the name of comedy, the film seems to hold back nothing. For example, the scene of Conner signing autographs is similar to the shocking level in "Borat" (2006). However, Conner's silly performance on stage and the mockery interviews are what make this film an enjoyable piece of slapstick entertainment.
Friday, May 20, 2016
The Nice Guys
When the film's title appears in a similar typeface as the one used in "Boogie Nights" (1997), you are clued in that the story is set in 1977, and the location is in Los Angeles which is blanketed with smog, pornography, and celebrities. Scruffy Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) gets paid by his clients for beating up people. When he first meets the alcoholic and not-so-bright private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling), he mercilessly breaks Holland's arm.
Then after the spectacular death of a porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), for far-fetched reasons, Jackson teams up with Holland to search for a missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who is the daughter of the impeccably pampered Head of the California Department of Justice (Kim Basinger). Jackson and Holland certainly don't appear to have the chemistry to get along, especially after they had a pretty bad start. But it doesn't matter. The movie must go on regardless of how preposterous the story becomes. Unfunny jokes must be delivered even though they are poorly written and provide little dividend to the film's entertaining value. And Jackson and Holland must become buddies no matter how ridiculous the motivation might be.
Why do they have to run amok between bullets to find Amelia? Good luck in figuring that out.
The director Shane Black seems to be aware of the difficulty in making sense of the over-stretched story, as well as the challenge in turning the two big-name actors into a reasonably convincing and likable couple. In order to distract the audience, he adds irrelevant jokes or lame physical comedies that often feel out of the place. When jokes fail to be amusing, he throws in the towel and begins to turn the film into an action flick—people start to be smashed against windshields toward to the end of the film.
Individually, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have played many (often melancholy) characters terrifically, such as the ones in in "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) and "Blue Valentine" (2010). So the idea of bringing them together to make a comedy is definitely intriguing. However, this film takes no time to convince you that it's actually a bad idea. The two should not have made this farce.
Oh, no sequel please.