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.