Friday, September 13, 2019


The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch official site If you have read Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, you would probably feel unsatisfied to say the least by its much anticipated motion picture adaptation "The Goldfinch" (USA 2019 | 149 min.), directed by John Crowley. Despite the fine performances and the lush production for an extraordinary story, the film doesn't quite convey the emotions of its guilt-stricken protagonist. That being said, if you have not read the book, then you may enjoy the storytelling about a young man's incredible coming-of-age journey.

The film's title refers to a painting with the same name painted by Carel Fabritius in 1654. Even though the painting is hanging in the Mauritshuis in real life, for the sake of this story it's displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York City.

When 13-year-old Theo (Oakes Fegley) and his mom visit the Met, a terrorist sets off a bomb and Theo's mom is killed along with many others. Covered in white ash and disoriented, Theo arrives at his classmate Andy's (Ryan Foust) home. Appearing in a perfectly tailored and gorgeous, but always different, outfit in every scene, Andy's mom Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman) takes Theo in as part of the family. Gradually, Theo seems to be getting back to normal hanging out with Andy in their daily routines, but he is hiding his grief for losing his mother. Something else he is hiding is the masterpiece The Goldfinch which he walked out of the Met with in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.

But Theo's life takes another sharp turn when his absent father Larry (Luke Wilson) and his girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) show up. Larry decides to take Theo to the outskirts of Las Vegas where they live in a home surrounded by foreclosed houses. Theo soon forms a bond with a Russian-born Ukrainian boy Boris (Finn Wolfhard) who lives with his abusive father and is probably the only other kid around the neighborhood. The street-smart Boris teaches Theo things ranging from smoking and drinking to sniffing crushed pills. The painting seems to have been forgotten while hidden under Theo's bed.

Before long, this neglected and idle desert life takes another turn for Theo and he comes back to New York City and finds a safe harbor in Hobie's (Jeffrey Wright) antique shop. Years later, under Hobie's mentorship, and adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) becomes a sleek sales-person for Hobie and reconnects with the Barbour family. But his grief and guilt from that fatal day at the Met never goes away. That long forgotten painting which reminds him of his mom's death also comes back to haunt him.

The Goldfinch Official Site
Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort in The Goldfinch. Photo: Macall Polay/Warner Bros.

The teenage and adult Theo's odyssey is intertwined by constant flashbacks. But despite the voiceover confession, how the guilt and grief shaped his mental state and his actions never becomes clear. Even more cloudy is how the painting plays a significant role in his coming-of-age, because the painting could have been easily replaced by a piece of his mom's belongings. It's also puzzling that even though the film uses the painting as its title, it never gives the masterpiece a close-up, nor does it explains why Theo decides to hide it instead of returning it to the Met after he became an adult.

The performance from the fine ensemble cast, however, is quite pleasant to watch throughout the film. Jeffrey Wright is particularly impressive as the knowledgeable and philosophical guardian for Theo. Finn Wolfhard is equally impressive, and even amusing, as the eccentric and resourceful bad boy Boris.

Even though the film may not be a perfect adaptation of the novel, it might serve as a two-and-a-half-hour trailer, so you can go back and read Donna Tartt's best-selling book to fill in the blanks left by the film.

"The Goldfinch" opens on Friday, September 13, 2019.

Friday, September 6, 2019


It Chapter Two

It Chapter Two official site If you come to a movie based on a Stephen King novel, you expect that you will be scared, or even terrified. Will that expectation be satisfied by the director Andy Muschietti's "It Chapter Two" (USA 2019 | 169 min.)? Probably not. The film's horror scenes are more gross and icky than scary, and not funny enough despite a few amusing moments. Although the film is a sequel of the director's "It" (2017) and is set 27 years later, it uses enough flashbacks to reference the previous film's story so that you should be able to follow the plot even if you have forgotten or never seen the previous chapter.

In the first movie "It," seven outcast teenagers in Derry, Maine band together as the "Losers Club" to fend off a monstrous clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) in 1989. They take an oath to reunite again if they need to defend themselves against Pennywise in the future.

The calling comes upon them in 2016 when a horrific homophobic attack takes place at a carnival fair and Pennywise resurfaces. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who is the only one still staying in Derry after 27 years, begins to summon each of the members of the Losers Club back to town.

Now around their 40s, they have not been in contact with each other for 27 years. Yet, as soon as they get the call from Mike, they keep their promises and come back to Derry, except Stanley (Andy Bean) who is the only one that fails to return. Those who returned, gathering at a Chinese restaurant, are a Hollywood writer Bill (James McAvoy), a fast-talking comedian Richie (Bill Hader), a domestic violence survivor Beverley (Jessica Chastain), a no longer chubby Ben (Jay Ryan), and a risk analyst Eddie (James Ransone).

The reunion isn't a fun time for catching-up or a nostalgic remembrance of their friendship in Chapter One. They must fight back the attacks from the evil clown Pennywise and many other creatures in Derry where people don't really die.

It Chapter Two Official Site
From left, James McAvoy, James Ransone, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, and Jay Ryan in It Chapter Two. Credit: Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros.

Like most horror films which tell Stephen King's stories, jump-scare tactics is a given like ketchup at a burger joint. But its frequent usage in this film is a bit too excessive. After a few times, the effect of a monstrous figure's sudden appearance on screen begins to wear off, as if you are revisiting a haunted house in which you already know where something will jump out to you.

It's disappointing that the director Andy Muschietti seems to run out of tricks to use to scare us. So, he starts to take another route by creating a grisly environment that often involves sticky yucky looking fluid to gross us out.

He also failed to establish the bond among these adult characters besides flashing back to their younger days. If they still cherish their old time, how come they haven't had any contact with each other in the past 27 years, and if they are no longer close, home come they suddenly risk their lives in front of the monsters for one another? The repetitive nightmares drag on for almost three hours while we can all predict how the story is going to end.

Like all the characters in the film, you will be glad when it's finally over.

"It Chapter Two" opens on Friday, September 6, 2019.

Friday, August 16, 2019


Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette official site As the creator of brilliant films such as the Before Trilogy and "Boyhood" (2014), the writer-director Richard Linklater has told many compelling, original, and mesmerizing stories in his previous films. In comparison, his latest meager drama "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" (USA 2019 | 120 min.) looks like an odd outlier. Based on a novel by Maria Semple, the film tells the struggle and rediscovery of a self-exiled architect. It's hard to believe that the film is actually made by Richard Linklater, because the conventional and predictable story flows like a made-for-TV movie that is only good for killing some time during a long flight on a tiny screen.

Used to be a rising star, architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) now lives in a big mansion in disrepair in Seattle with his husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and their 15-year-old daughter Bee (Emma Nelson). You don't need psychotherapy training to notice her issues. She constantly dictates to her phone in order to send super long text messages to her online assistance (wait, why doesn't she send voice messages instead?); she compulsively shops online; she gets nervous around people; she hoards prescription drugs; she despises her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig); and she is jealous of Elgie's assistance Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao). In other words, She is a mess.

Bee persuades her parents to go on a family trip to Antarctica, but Bernadette is anxious about it because she dreads being surrounded by hundreds of people in a clustered environment. Slowly, Elgie begins to realize that his work at Microsoft has been keeping him away from his family, especially from helping Bernadette to deal with her issues.

Elgie decides to help Bernadette by bringing in a psychologist, but soon Bernadette disappears from the bathroom window. Elgie and Bee go on a quest to find Bernadette who is actually on a journey of self-discovery, without telling her family.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Official Site
Cate Blanchett in Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Wilson Webb/Annapurna Pictures)

The unconvincing humdrum story drags through the entire movie one cliché after another. Bernadette is a character that is hard for us to sympathize with, because the film never successfully elaborates the reasons for her behavior. Despite the capable Cate Blanchett who put on her best effort playing the unappreciated architect, it's quite clear on screen that she doesn't believe in her character either.

Almost all the characters in the film love to talk. They indeed talk a lot and there is hardly a quiet moment during the entire film. But no matter how much they talk, even during the psychotherapy sessions, they cannot plausibly explain themselves. Sometimes, the film just quits trying. For example, the reconciliation between Bernadette and her neighbor Audrey after their falling-out is simply preposterous. It might be a typical scene on TV, but it's hard to believe it's under the direction of Richard Linklater.

So, where'd Bernadette go? The movie didn't give us a reason to care.

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" opens on Friday, August 16, 2019.

Friday, July 26, 2019


Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood official site It's probably hard to find another avid cinephile as passionate as the writer-director Quentin Tarantino. In his latest (the 9th if you lost count) film "Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood" (USA 2019 | 161 min.), he put his love and nostalgic sentiment for cinema on full display with warm colors and vintage props. The film is a spectacle of the old-school filmmaking and an affectionate tribute to the '60s Hollywood.

When the film opens in 1969, we are introduced to the film's protagonists Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), interviewed by a TV-host on a movie set in Hollywood. Rick is a fading actor who is known for his role in a popular TV western series as well as for other Nazi-fighting roles in films (a nod to the director's previous films). Although the chain-smoking Rick looks tough and macho outside, he is quite sensitive and emotional at times. Because of his alcohol problem, his laid-back buddy Cliff also works as his chauffeur off the movie set.

To live in the center of Hollywood and be among the rich and famous, Rick rents a place on Cielo Drive, next door to the mansion where the film director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) live. Cliff, however, happily lives in a trailer with his dog next to a Drive-In theater, and eyeing at hippie girls on the streets when he cruises in Rick's bulky car.

One of the girls is Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), a flirtatious jailbait hitchhiking at a bus stop. When she finally gets into Cliff's car, she leads him to the Spahn Movie Ranch, where the notorious Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and his followers live.

While Cliff crosses paths with the hippies on the ranch, Rick struggles with his alcoholic addiction and playing his role on the movie set. As his stardom begins to collapse, his agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) tries to get Rick and Cliff over to Italy to make Spaghetti Westerns films. The rest of the story steadily unfolds revolving around the daily lives of Rick and Cliff, both on and off the movie set.

Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood Official Site
Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Al Pacino in Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

As if a kid showing off his favorite toy collection, Quentin Tarantino makes sure that every piece of B-movie posters, neon signs, vintage cars and clothes, even women's feet are gorgeously captured in his frames and projected to the big screen. He takes his time to proceed with each scene and jams in as many references about cinema and filmmaking as possible. It's a nostalgic feast for cinephiles and a sharp contrast to the more and more common CGI productions.

The film is often tongue-in-cheek funny, but it also contains scenes that are terrifying and suspenseful, which make you appreciate Quentin Tarantino's playfulness and ingenuity as a filmmaker. Of course, violence is never a side dish in his films. Yet, this film just offers the right dose of violence as his signature.

Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are fantastic in their roles. It's enormously entertaining to see them going back in time to be a movie star or a stunt double in the film business. Despite the six-minute standing ovation received when the film premiered at this year's Festival de Cannes, it came home empty handed without receiving any award. But that will surely change during the upcoming award season. Without a doubt, the film will be a strong contender in many categories, including recognizing the outstanding performances by these two accomplished actors.

"Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood" opens on Friday, July 26, 2019.

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