‘Blue Bayou’ Tells a Tender and Painful Tale of Deportation Limbo

1 Comment

Blue Bayou (CREDIT: Focus Features)

Starring: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Linh Dan Pham, Sydney Kowalske, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Emory Cohen

Director: Justin Chon

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Adult Language and Up-Close Violence

Release Date: September 17, 2021 (Theaters)

Blue Bayou should spur many people to a very specific action: if you were born outside the United States and adopted by an American family, check your citizenship status as soon as you can! I doubt that you’re in as much danger as tattoo artist Atonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon, also the writer and director), but that’s not a risk worth taking.

As a message delivery system, Blue Bayou is clear and effective. But how does it work as an experience to be viewed and digested for a couple of hours? Well, that’s what I’m here to write about, isn’t it? I can tell you this for sure: Chon is a compelling screen presence. He’s been doing his thing on movies and TV for about a decade and a half, but I’m pretty sure this is my first time encountering him (save for a guest spot on an episode of New Girl, apparently). And it’s not hard to care about Antonio’s predicament, considering how blatantly unfair it is. He was adopted from Korea when he was three years old, making Louisiana very much the only home he’s ever known. But because of a quirk in American law, he’s not actually a citizen, and that combined with his criminal record suddenly makes him a target for deportation, thereby threatening to tear him apart from his pregnant wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and beloved stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske).

A lot of Blue Bayou is powerfully painful, as Antonio is tortured not just by a racist bureaucracy, but also by the scars of his abusive foster childhood. Then there are also the other everyday stressors like a mother-in-law who thinks he’s too much of a burden for her daughter, as well as Sydney’s police officer dad Ace (Mark O’Brien), who’s trying to sneak his way back into the picture against everyone’s wishes. And on top of all that is Ace’s violently unpredictable partner Denny (Emory Cohen), who may just be the biggest threat of all.

Amidst all the instability (and humidity), some moments of the random beauty of everyday life manage to shine through. That’s certainly clear in Antonio’s tender relationship with Jesse, which is filled with motorcycle rides and traversing swampland. But what ultimately sets Blue Bayou apart as something truly unique are Antonio’s encounters with Parker (Linh Dan Pham), a woman dying of cancer who becomes an unlikely customer and confidant. She comes from a family of Vietnam War refugees, and she has plenty to teach Antonio about accepting his fate by virtue of simply being her openhearted self. To sum it all up, there’s a lot of empathy being generated by this movie, and that makes for a fulfilling viewing experience.

Blue Bayou is Recommended If You Like: The personal meeting the political

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Tattoos

Wow, ‘The Green Knight’ Sure Might Knock Your Head Loose

1 Comment

The Green Knight (CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/A24)

Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson, Erin Kellyman

Director: David Lowery

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for Violence and a Little Bit of Sex Within a Fantastical Swirl

Release Date: July 30, 2021 (Theaters)

My experience of watching The Green Knight was just moment after moment that had me going, “I was not expecting THAT.” It starts off pretty quickly that way: Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) beheads the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), but the Green Knight keeps right on talking. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. If you’re familiar with the source material, this inciting incident won’t be surprising at all, but for the rest of us, it won’t exactly feel telegraphed. Then there’s the fact that this tale takes place around Christmas, which certainly surprised me as well. Although perhaps it shouldn’t have, considering that “green” is in the title and much of the poster is bright red. But other than that, this movie doesn’t feel very Christmas-y. Though I suppose that centuries ago the holiday was celebrated differently. (“Why not have a release date in December instead of July?,” I wonder out loud.)

The poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight sits at a weird place in terms of cultural recognizability. It’s part of Arthurian legend, which is among the most enduringly popular mythologies in the English language. But this particular tale isn’t typically told in the most well-known adaptations. If you’re a fan of the likes of Camelot, The Sword in the Stone, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you might be familiar with the name “Gawain,” but his encounter with a tricky tree-man hybrid could be totally undiscovered. It’s a trip to first encounter it via David Lowery’s highly stylized and uncompromising vision.

I’m willing to bet my sword that anyone who has read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight before seeing this movie also found themselves saying multiple times, “I was not expecting THAT.” (But they would have been saying it while reading.) There’s no way in Camelot that Lowery can take all the credit for every fantastical twist of gamesmanship and illogic. What is the Green Knight’s deal anyway? When he gets beheaded, he insists that Gawain must come find him one year hence to meet a similar fate. Is this a test of honor, and if so, how? I was not expecting that much confusion.

But it kept coming! Was Alicia Vikander playing two different characters? She must have been, as her personalities were so vastly different. I was not expecting such vagueness with her identity. Nor was I expecting an up-close shot of a very intimate moment. The mature themes and capriciousness in a medieval fantasy aren’t surprises in and of themselves, but their presentation in this version were a lot more surreal than I was prepared for. I’m still processing what I’ve witnessed, and I’m not sure that process will ever be complete, but I appreciate the singularity of the vision.

The Green Knight is Recommended If You Like: Embracing the weirdest and most inscrutable elements of mythology

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Beheadings

‘The Glorias’ Shows Off Some Good and Some Bad Habits of Biopic Filmmaking

Leave a comment

Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Gloria Steinem, and Director Julie Taymor behind the scenes of “The Glorias” (CREDIT: Dan McFadden/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

Starring: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Timothy Hutton, Janelle Monáe, Bella Abzug, Lorraine Toussaint, Enid Graham, Kimberly Guerrero, Monica Sanchez, Margo Moorer

Director: Julie Taymor

Running Time: 139 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Language and a Nude Image

Release Date: September 30, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

I’m of the mind that biopics – that most staid of movie genres – ought to be a little bit wacky. Or A LOT wacky. And the Julia Taymor-directed The Glorias is undoubtedly wacky. Or maybe, it’s exactly as it should be, and it’s everything else that’s askew. The subject is Gloria Steinem, one of the most famous activists in American history, so I’m sure she can appreciate an approach that breaks the mold. Taymor ditches a strictly chronological approach by having all four of the actors playing Gloria frequently interact with each other. Ryan Kiera Armstrong (young Gloria), Lulu Wilson (teen Gloria), Alicia Vikander (young adult Gloria), and Julianne Moore (older adult Gloria) are all presented as passengers on a ride heading to the promise of Steinem’s life’s work. It’s a journey that’s still ongoing as conversations between the past and present remain passionate and relevant.

Taymor fills The Glorias with occasional flights of fantastical whimsy that reminded me a fair bit of Rocketman, the most exuberant biopic in recent memory. These include a sexist interview that turns into an encounter with all four Glorias as witches, and a moment of frustration leading to Gloria running along a series of seemingly endless M.C. Escher-style roads. These moments are fascinating on their own, but they’re a bit too scattered throughout to really pack as powerful a punch as they possibly could.

The Glorias also has plenty of much more prosaic moments, and that mix of straightforward and roundabout results in a running time that clocks in thickly at nearly two and a half hours. Some of the episodes in the 1970s section, like the founding of Ms. Magazine, were also recently covered more excitingly in the FX on Hulu miniseries Mrs. America. Taymor has bitten off plenty (which is what happens when you try to cover the entire arc of someone who’s lived for nearly 90 years), and she chews as much of it as she can. When she manages to really dig in, it’s a fine fiesta to behold. You just have to deal with the messier edges if you want to find the fun.

The Glorias is Recommended If You Like: Filmmaking that’s plenty ambitious but also a little messy

Grade: 3 out of 5 Marches

Best Film Performances of the 2010s

1 Comment

CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

More

This Is a Movie Review: The New ‘Tomb Raider’ is the Old Everything Else

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Ilzek Kitshoff/Warner Bros.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas

Director: Roar Uthaug

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Bloody Violence in Which the Camera Cuts Away Before You See the Worst of It, and Indiana Jones-Style Skin Decomposition

Release Date: March 16, 2018

The latest big screen version of Tomb Raider supposedly justifies its existence by positioning itself as Lara Croft’s origin story, but it could hardly be considered untold, as it is fundamentally derivative of every other entry in the globetrotting action-adventure genre. Even if you have not seen the Angelina Jolie TR films or never played any of the video games (like myself), chances are you will still feel like you have already seen this “new” one. This is basically a video game transferred to a different medium, but without actually adapting it into cinematic form. To wit, Alicia Vikander’s Lara spends most of her time solving puzzles (like arranging rocks to open a cave door) or jumping across platforms (like bouncing around all the boats in a crowded dock to escape some baddies). Again, the conclusion to be drawn is: you’ve seen this all before, better and elsewhere.

The mythology that kicks Tomb Raider’s plot into motion is fairly fascinating: Himiko, Queen of Yamatai, is said to have had power over life and death, with the ability to kill people just by touching them. Lara’s father Richard (Dominic West) has spent much of his life tracking her down. After disappearing for years during his search, he is presumed dead, and an absentee dad is only the first classic genre trope TR makes sure to give us. We also get the timeless purity-vs-profitability conflict, as naturally enough the villain is Richard’s rival archaeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who only cares about getting rich off Himiko’s remains. Furthermore, the climax is essentially Indiana Jones-lite, with giant rolling rocks and unwise choices resulting in consequences akin to drinking from the wrong grail.

But despite all these shortcomings, I must accept that a fundamental aspect of my criticism (and all good criticism, I would argue) is identifying whether or not a film is exciting or boring. And on that score, Tomb Raider kept me engaged enough to feel like it was not a complete waste of time. Plus, it has a decently satisfying feminist bent, as any skin displayed by Lara primarily emphasizes Vikander’s athleticism, and at the moment when she thinks her father is being his most patronizing, he instead compliments her bravery. These are welcome elements, but they are mostly surface level. That shallowness prevents true terribleness, but it also leaves some uncomfortable implications less-than-fully addressed. Like, what is Mathias’ deal with wrangling up slave labor? There could have been an opportunity here for indelible villainy, but instead Tomb Raider plays it thoroughly safe.

Tomb Raider is Recommended If You Like: Every Indiana Jones knockoff, Watching someone else play a platform-jumping video game

Grade: 2.25 out of 5 Tank Tops

This Is a Movie Review: Tulip Fever

1 Comment

At the end of Tulip Fever, I thought, “Oh, that’s what that was all about.” It ultimately becomes clear that there is an incredible amount of kindness inherent to the main characters. They struggle because they find themselves in situations that are far from ideal and beyond their control, but they ultimately find a way out. That is a fine bit of satisfaction. But for the first 95%, the floral mania is totally confounding and there is little in the way of enjoyability beyond the (not-that-out-of-place) comedic relief from Zach Galifianakis and Christoph Waltz’s nicknames for his penis.

I give Tulip Fever 1 Bulb Just Barely in Bloom.