The Farewell

Billi (Awkwafina) and her parents return to China to visit her dying grandmother, who knows nothing of her terminal illness which her entire family is keeping a secret.

The Farewell is big-screen storytelling at is most raw and personal. Every moment of The Farewell feels genuine and nothing about it feels dramatized to feel like a Hollywood movie. Awkwafina completely flips the “annoying side character” perception that I’ve felt from her in past roles, like Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, to deliver a stunning performance. Every emotion she delivers lands because feels authentic enough to not be too dramatic but still be a realistic reaction to a situation. She plays an interesting character who doesn’t have lines that feel scripted or forced for the sake of humor, and when she finally arrives at the “Give me an Oscar” monologue, it really delivers because everything she shows throughout the film really leads up to that very moment where it feels like Billi’s arc naturally needs to come here. Zhao Shuzhen also does excellent in the role of Nai Nai, with such great on-screen chemistry with Awkwafina that for the runtime I was able to believe they were actually grandmother and grandaughter. The family relationships are all portrayed very realistically and some of the characters may even remind viewers of their own family members.

I must warn you, however, because I also found The Farewell to be very saddening at times. The dilemma that’s raised throughout the film about whether or not to tell the grandmother that she has mere months to live is always compelling and it’s so sad to imagine this lead character having to say goodbye to her grandma while the grandma doesn’t even know that it’s goodbye. Yes, it is a really sad movie but there’s also the positive side to it, which is to embrace your family and to love every moment with them, and of life in general. This movie was also able to hit me on a personal level like no film has in a long time. As the son of a mother and a father who immigrated from the other side of the world, I too have been felt torn between two cultures and felt conflicted about my identity. The idea of “east vs. west cultures” has always been in my life as the atmosphere in America and my family’s home country aren’t completely the same, though it’s more dramatic in the context of this film. But I too, like Billi, live very far away from my grandparents and the rest of my family and I visit them every summer. It hurts every time I leave because though I was raised American, the people I love the most have always been distant from me, which is why I’m so grateful whenever I’m with┬áthem. This movie, despite its tear-jerking premise, is also able to connect with audiences and raise the theme of embracing the relationship with your family and the ones close to you and enjoy every moment you have with them.

The Farewell is beautifully heartfelt, sad, funny, and impactful and will grab onto your heart, not letting go for a moment until the credits roll. It never feels overly Hollywood-ized and all the characters feel real, thanks to fantastic writing and performances that knock it out of the park. Even though it is a PG-rated movie, I do think the emotional weight of the story fits more for a 15+ age range, but I’m sure most teens and definitely all adults will love this film with ideas that speak to all cultures and families.

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Frenemies Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw must reteam two years after The Fate of the Furious in order to stop a genetically enhanced criminal mastermind from unleashing a deadly virus onto humanity.

I’m normally quite an admirer of this franchise; their storylines aren’t always amazing but they’re ridiculously fun and something that I can’t miss on the big screen. These kinds of huge action movies bring audiences together and normally put a smile on my face. So while I wasn’t expected to be moved by Hobbs & Shaw or see something particularly unique, I was at least expecting more than what I ended up getting. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw lacks the energy and personality that makes this series exciting and memorable. Fast & Furious is about people using cars to pull of unbelievable stunts and going on impossible missions. Meanwhile, Hobbs & Shaw is just another action movie. Is The Fate of the Furious necessarily a great movie with masterclass choreography or some sort of strong message? No. But what makes these movies work so well for what they are is moments like Dwayne Johnson pushing a torpedo with his bare hands or Vin Diesel flying his car through different skyscrapers in Furious 7 that allow the past movies to indulge in the ridiculousness that it is and find merit through crazy popcorn action and likable characters and dialogue. Nothing about the action in this movie has any of that personality that makes the rest of the series’ action, while ridiculous, ultimately entertaining. It’s only in the climactic final battle where the movie allows itself to up the ante, get over-the-top, and actually have somewhat lively fight scenes. The cinematography and editing are also sometimes poor and either too choppy or just not consistent or interesting. The humor, despite some good moments, also falls flat many times and gets tiring. Dwayne Johnson still breathes light and liveliness into his role but after a while him and Jason Statham roasting each other gets old. Also, they made amends at the end of the last film so it’s not even clear why they still hate each other. Another thing that really bugged me is the villain, played by Idris Elba. His character is nonsensical and laughable (I mean you can expect that from this series but can we also ask for a villain that isn’t so absurd you want to laugh at it?). I mean, that’s what this movie is, absurd, and that’s what its supposed to be. But the movie tries to make Elba’s character deep and motivated but it really is hard when his evil organization feels like something out of a bad Ninja Turtles show. His purpose is questionable and his motive is nearly the same as another big villain this year from the film Avengers: Endgame. His antagonist was probably even as bad as Charlize Theron’s character in the last movie. Fortunately, the movie does make up for it with some awesome and unexpected celebrity cameos that are perfectly utilized.

I’m a fan of David Leitch’s directing for Deadpool 2, as well as some spectacular action for an otherwise mediocre debut film Atomic Blonde, and while sometimes the lighting and settings are well selected, the action feels either too quickly edited so it’s hard to take in what’s happening, or just too dull and boringly choreographed. Like I said, Hobbs & Shaw‘s action lacks personality so it feels like this could’ve been out of any standard spy action film worth passing over. The plot has a somewhat cool device involving a virus, but really nothing interesting is done with the story until Hobbs is forced to confront his past and his family in Samoa. The scenes where we see Hobbs’ family and culture being embraced are some of the best parts of the film story-wise, and every other attempt to craft a compelling story fails and there are some lines that don’t really belong. Like I said, I’m not looking for an incredible script with these movies, but at least the past movies were able to make their themes of family and friendship work. Hobbs & Shaw aims for this but it only really lands towards the end, like I said. It feels like writer Chris Morgan, who has worked on this franchise for seven films, has started to lose grip on how to make effective humor and conflict to craft a truly worthwhile blockbuster like he has several times before. When the final act utilizes a unique setting and culture, it becomes amusing, but Hobbs & Shaw unfortunately takes many of the wrong things too seriously and when it does go for comedy, it sometimes doesn’t hit the mark. There’s also a very forced hinting at a romance that thankfully never happens but the writers felt they had to push it into there just to check off a studio box. There’s also an ending that’s pretty abrupt and for some reason the movie decides to tell its entire epilogue through the credits. Believe me, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is quite ridiculous, but it doesn’t succeed in having that personality that makes everyone enjoy the hell out of this franchise, and lacks that energy that got me pumped while watching Fast 5, 6, 7, and 8. Instead this movie feels tiring and doesn’t allow the audience to indulge in the lack of believability, instead it takes the plot too seriously and the humorous banter doesn’t always succeed either. Perhaps this movie would’ve worked better if it was marketed as some sort of parody rather than a real spin-off to a franchise I’ve had better times with. I’m glad next time we’re getting a different director and writer, and some more of Dom, Roman, and Tej. If you want to watch an action comedy where Dwayne Johnson fights people, well, this movie has that. But what I was also hoping for was that spark of energy and exhilaration that has always made the absolute insanity of the Fast & Furious franchise worth it.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

In the golden age of Hollywood in the late 1960s, actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth seek to breathe new light into their careers in an ever-changing industry, while a dangerous cult led by the infamous Charles Manson plans to strike at the heart of Hollywood.

By simply putting the name “Quentin Tarantino” on a film poster, your film is guaranteed to generate excitement and audiences. As a huge fan, I’ve seen all his filmography and wouldn’t say he’s made a bad film yet. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is both the least like Tarantino’s other films, but also the most Tarantino-y of them all. It has less violence than his past movies but it’s also identifiable as a film of his because nobody has more of an attachment to old cinema than Tarantino. Firstly, Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent in his welcomed first role in over three years as an actor trying to revitalize his career and pushing himself to become the best. Brad Pitt is a standout as one of his best characters in years, a hilarious and skilled stuntsman who does questionable things but also takes on challenges head-on and just loves to drive. And did I mention the dialogue for his character is incredible? There’s also plenty of Tarantino frequents like Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen as well as other famous actors such as Al Pacino, Damian Lewis, and the late Luke Perry. Margot Robbie’s presence as Sharon Tate has lots of energy and is fun to watch although her character plays a rather minor part in the story.

Tarantino writes many entertaining scenes with funny dialogue as well as a great soundtrack, with outstanding production design and strong cinematography to support the film. However, there are some scenes that unfortunately drag, like an extended scene involving the filming of a fictional movie that’s only there to build up one great moment at the end, and a long scene in the desert that has some tension — until it leads nowhere. The movie is 161 minutes but it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a storyline — I don’t expect a linear narrative or formidable character development when it comes to Tarantino, but it ultimately does feel like too little stretched too thin, unlike Inglorious Basterds and Pulp Fiction where the all-over-the-place stories and long sequences actually led to more going on with something rewarding and unpredictable happening. The real reward here comes at the very end — the climax of the film is pure Tarantino. Violence, laughs, and pure insanity and entertainment make one of the best film sequences of the year — I just wish there was a little more of an interesting buildup to make the rest more rewatchable as well. Tarantino does an excellent job with world-building, and a phenomenal job directing and adding eye-catching production. However, I was surprised when the movie ended because sometimes it felt like he relied on witty dialogue and awesome world-building than plot. There are some very entertaining sequences but some of the long runtime is wasted on scenes that go on too long or weird conversations like an underage girl trying to make it work with a much older man.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a love letter to the golden age of cinema. It has fascinating direction like always, with so much passion from Tarantino who takes an unorthodox approach to writing a screenplay like no other modern film, and delivers with extremely memorable characters and dialogue. However, some scenes feel a bit stretched or don’t serve much of a point to the overall idea of the film and there could’ve been a bit more to make the film feel worthy of its long runtime, though there’s an awesome and fulfilling climactic final scene that’s Tarantino at his best. It may be one of his lesser films to me but it’s still worth going to see because there’s enough originality and style to make it interesting, even though some scenes don’t have strong pacing or merit like the genius filmmakers’ other masterpieces which felt more worthy of their extended lengths.

The Lion King (2019)

Disney has been dominating the decade with Marvel, Star Wars, animation (both Pixar and their titular studio), but their series that has divided people the most is their live-action remakes of animated classics. So people were most excited but also nervous when it came to the photoreal-but-actually-still-animated remake of their defining animated feature from the 20th century, The Lion King. First off, on a visual standpoint, this movie is an achievement. It follows the same reign of The Jungle Book in recreating iconic characters and setting to look as real as possible, and it really delivers. All the animals and sets look like an actual picture, even though not a single frame was actually there. It’s amazing to see how far visuals have gone these days, and Disney has been headliner these last few years in consistently breaking the boundaries of what can be done with a computer, whether it’s the amazing action in Avengers and Star Wars films or breathtaking animation in films like Toy Story and Incredibles — but the feats of the CGI completely pay off here in making the illusion unnoticable and making it feel like a more immersive journey. The film is perfectly casted with Donald Glover shining and making something of his own out of Simba’s role here, and it helps that he’s experienced in both acting and singing. Also huge standouts are Timon and Pumbaa, who are scene-stealing and Seth Rogen’s voice espeically fit for Pumbaa. Also worth pointing out is John Oliver who is hysterical as Zazu. However, for some characters, like Scar for example, it’s sometimes hard not to make comparisons to superior versions, like Jeremy Irons who was perfect in the 1994 version. Perhaps neither he nor James Earl Jones needed recasting (the latter of which was thankfully able to return as Mufasa). Speaking of roles from the original, Rafiki’s role was unfortuantely reduced this time around so he feels like less of a mentor to Simba and barely even has dialogue.

The musical numbers are still very fun, espeically the classic “Hakuna Matata”, and the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” gag is extended and made even funnier. The shame is that they shortened the Scar’s menacing anthem “Be Prepared” to be much slower but as a result feels more like a whispered spoken word poem than a song. The Lion King is stuck in a loophole in terms of delivering for fans because people want a remake to somehow reinvent the story but at the same time poeple get angry as soon as something major is changed. Unfortuantely, some of the changes made in this remake are for the worse, and other than that, a lot of sequences in the film or a shot-for-shot copy-paste of what we’ve already seen. A lot of the dialogue is the same as well, and I just wish they had added some more story to what we already know because the fact that we recognize every scene and line so well will eventually make things boring. On the bright side, it manages to retain some of the soul that reminds us why we love the original so much (themes like confronting your past or lines from Mufasa about the truth of being a wise king). The problem is that once these characters are animated to look photorealistic, they can no longer exaggerate emotions like the original iterations do — Scar is no longer a charismatic Shakespearean character, and every character just looks like an animal talking. This movie has incredible visual technology that deserves plenty of praise for Jon Favreau, maybe next time he could have used it to make original content rather than remaking known stories, or just added a little more that we haven’t seen before to do something new with the story.

The Lion King is a visual marvel and filled with nostaliga, but it’s greatest strength and weakness is that it’s almost exactly the same as the original. If the original Lion King was so perfect, why change anything? But why do we want to see the same movie over again? That’s the problem that this new remake finds itself in which is why despite being nice to look at, the script is beat for beat the same, which is why the only way this movie can really be appreciated is in 3D and on the biggest movie screen you can find. Does it offer much new? Not really, or even at all to be honest. But in terms of recommendation for the theaters I have to say go for the visuals and for the story which still stays strong, but the emotional expressions that came through the original versions of the characters (which didn’t need to feel photoreal and therefore could be exaggerated for animals) is exactly what will make the original Lion King forever superior.

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Yesterday

Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, until a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, after which Jack wakes up to discover that nobody except him can remember The Beatles. Soon Jack makes a life-altering decision that sends him to fame as he starts taking credit for the band’s forgotten songs.

Yesterday is a movie with a fantastically original premise, compared to the same recycled formulas in a lot of genres. Though it does sometimes get stuck in mediocre rom-com tropes, like a cheesy romance in the second act that doesn’t know where it’s going until the very end, this movie takes advantage of its genius idea and makes for a fun, humorous, and interesting two hours. Himesh Patel is not only fun and charming but also sings really well and was well-cast — he hasn’t been in much before but may soon make a name for himself after his starring role here — and also entertaining are Lily James as his best friend, and Ed Sheeran as himself — the singer who helps Jack skyrocket to stardom. However, one character I found to be annoying was his manager played by Kate McKinnon, whose comedic turns I usually enjoy on Saturday Night Live, but here her character was simply irritating and unlikable. It’s no surprise the music is so enjoyable — they chose the best band to make this movie about, and as a huge Beatles fan myself, it’s great to hear them all through the film, and luckily they cast a great actor who can sing as well. There’s also plenty of humorous moments I didn’t expect and the jokes almost always land. Like I said, the second half does lose a little bit of steam but once you see where it all ends up, you get to take in some of the themes the movie is going for. There’s also another sweet theme about how the most iconic of pop culture is what touches people’s hearts and should be kept alive. As one character says, “A world without the Beatles is a world infinitely worse.” So I have to applaud director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curits for creating one of the most original films of the year that sometimes doesn’t avoid genre tropes but the fresh plotline makes for some truly great moments, and there’s also plenty of excellent musical moments as well. When everything that’s out has to do with killer toys, superheroes, and animated animals, why not try something new for a change and support this one-of-a-kind film I bet you won’t regret seeing in theaters.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker goes on a school trip to Europe with his friends, only to be recruited by Nick Fury to take on the Spider-Man mantle once again and team up with interdimensional hero Mysterio to fight new threats known as the Elementals.

Spider-Man: Far From Home marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had a lot of expectations to fill consider it not only has to follow the grand phenomenon that was Endgame but also follow up on the story of Spider-Man: Homecoming and make a story that still feels new and exciting. Well not only does Spider-Man: Far From Home live up to the expectations for a good Homecoming sequel but it also introduces new concepts and unexpected turns even after 23 Marvel films, proving that they haven’t yet lost their steam. Tom Holland still carries the film wonderfully and continues to convince me that he’s the best Spider-Man yet. Peter is now trying to hold onto his youth and is afraid to accept new and bigger responsibilites after losing an important figure in his life. Peter must learn to mature and step up throughout the film which makes for a strong arc in the film. Also great is his chemistry with Zendaya, who is also really great in her role as MJ, who we didn’t see enough of in Homecoming but is a leading part here. Watching their connection blossom throughout the film is really sweet and was done well by the writers and actors. Also really fun parts of the film are Jacob Batalon as Peter’s hysterical best friend Ned, and Jon Favreau as Tony Stark’s assistant Happy who is still played with plenty of charm, and he and Peter once again have great scenes together.

What director Jon Watts is once again able to do with this sequel is maintain that “high school movie” tone with Peter facing issues like bullies, crushes, etc., but Watts also makes sure to bring us a high-stakes superhero movie with threats and responsibilites that Peter must face as Spider-Man. He keeps the tone light and adds plenty of humor as we’re used to seeing from Marvel, and keeps the signature Marvel hero, villain, and conflict tropes. However, one thing I was underwhelemed by was the visual look of the film. Marvel has always impressed me with the production design, cienamtography, and visuals in their films, espeically lately with the gorgeous Captain Marvel and Avengers movies, but here the movie feels very boringly shot and there is no color scheme or visual style that will keep your eyes in awe like the past Marvel movies this year have. The battles often feel well-realized but the green screen also sometimes doesn’t blend in and the design for the Elementals villains as well as the final battle are also less impressive visually. Also, the fact that Sony oversees these Spider-Man MCU films while Disney controls all the others leads to some questionable or unexplained references to the bigger universe, which are sometimes welcome but sometimes a bit much or raise unneeded questions rather than serve as world-building. While Homecoming had fun small appearances from Iron Man and Captain America, here some of the connections to the rest of the MCU feel like Sony trying to constantly remind the world that their property is part of Disney’s Marvel universe as well. Other than the obvious impact Infinity War and Endgame have on the main character, some of this world-building raises more questions than it needs to and possibly tampers with the consistency Disney has been keeping so smoothly through its MCU films. I feel like there were also some underdeveloped plot points throughout the film, and they could have extended the runtime by only 5 minutes to help establish these more, like we don’t see much of how the world is readjusting after Thanos’ actions shook the universe, and we also hear peoople repeadetly mention a large character from Endgame but I think we needed a bit more about how Peter is affected by that character’s loss. Also, the timing of the release was way too soon (only 2 months) after Endgame, which was the big conclusion to many years of MCU films — so why not wait a bit longer and let us take in the first big chapter instead of diving right into the next one? Hopefully this won’t undermine the effect of Endgame as a finale as time goes by, because both these films are still great on their own. What Spider-Man: Far From Home does best, however, is remind us why we love this incarnation of the character and why he resonates with audiences, as well as provide new challenges and growth for the character as well deliver on the tone of a film that has to feel large-scaled on small-sclaed at the same time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a satisfying sequel that ups the scale and stakes for Spidey with more locations and more cdhallenging foes than before, even though it’s visually dull compared to the other big Marvel movies this year, and the pacing could’ve been slightly improved. However, the performances, storyline, and humor all deliver as expected and there’s an awesome mid-credits scene that changes the game for the future of Spider-Man.

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Toy Story 4

When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy. Soon, Woody runs into an old friend and must rediscover his own purpose as a toy as well.

After the marvelous ending of Toy Story 3, the saga felt over. It was as if a terrific 3-part story had come to a close so perfectly and should never be touched. So it was a surprise to hear that the franchise would continue for one more film, but what was even more surprising was how well everything in Toy Story 4 delivered. Rather than feeling unnecessary, Toy Story 4 crafts an intriguing story of its own that makes it feel exciting yet still deep. Tom Hanks is always perfect as Woody. Over the last four films he’s helped bring to life such a brilliant character who first must commit to being Andy’s toy, then gets passed on to a new kid, and now he questions if his purpose as a child’s toy has already been fulfilled. Also really enjoyable are comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Ducky and Bunny, as well as Keanu Reeves as the sensational Duke Kaboom. Another element of the film I loved is the score. Randy Newman has done a spectacular job of composing catchy themes that are beautiful to the ear and unifying them over four films and he lets the music grow and develop just as the story does. I’ve always loved the music in these films but here it always stands out and almost feels like a character of its own. One thing I noticed is that the film has significantly lower stakes than the last film — in the third film the toys were hold hostage in a daycare and then nearly burnt to death but here they just have to get toys out of an antique shop and get back to an RV. Thing is, this film is less about “good guy vs bad guy” or “will they make it” — instead of that kind of suspense, this movie is more about Woody’s internal dilemmas that he must resolve. Also, I feel like the animation was less impressive this time around but there are still some sequences I thought were very visually pleasing — just not as much as Inside Out, Finding Dory, Coco, Incredibles 2, or most of Pixar’s recent outings. That’s pretty underwhelming considering I found Toy Story 3 to be one of the most beautifully animated films of all time — and that’s not saying the work of hundreds of Pixar animators over five years didn’t pay off, it’s just saying that there are less eye-popping or breathtaking moments than its gorgeous predecessor. And finally, the ending was a very emotional moment that brings a 25-year arc to a close — hopefully for real this time — and reminds us why we care so much about Woody, Buzz, and the entire gang.

I thought Toy Story 4 would be very unnecessary but instead it’s a welcome follow-up and (probably) conclusion, with some deep moments that remind us why Pixar is so great at crafting stories that audiences of all ages can be equally moved by. So go watch Toy Story 4 and let Pixar take you and your family on another adventure — well, you know where this is going — to infinity, and beyond.

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