Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Oscars 2022: My Coda to CODA’s Best Picture Win

CODA (c) Apple TV+

My Initial Reactions to the Best Picture Win of "CODA" at the 94th Academy Awards 

Congratulations to “CODA” for its historic and record-breaking Oscar win for Best Picture. It tied as the nominee with the least number of nominations and eventually won all three. The odd thing is that if the Oscars still had its five nominees for Best Picture, I am almost sure CODA would not have made the cut in February. So, good job, “CODA.”

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Reviews: Asian Mothers and their American Children Deal With Everything (Bagels) in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Turning Red” and “7 Days”

Everything Everywhere All at Once (c) A24

Film: Everything Everywhere All at Once 
In Cinemas 

“Everywhere” is the easiest part to explain in the wacky and highly enjoyable “Everything Everywhere All at Once”: It’s the multiverse. And if you think that’s hard enough to understand (the new Marvel movies' storylines help a little), just imagine it’s your immigrant Chinese mother you have to explain it to.  And that’s the case with Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). who is a laundromat owner dealing with the IRS when a variant version of her husband (a sympathetic Ke Huy Quan, yes from “The Goonies”) tells her the world is about to end. And like explaining how not to hit the phone screen with your finger but glide it to my own mother, Evelyn has to have it explained to her many times before she gets the hang of it (my mother, not so much). “Everything” is harder to characterize without spoiling the fun (the less you know, the better), but just imagine if life was an everything bagel, which is yummy except for the garlic. Well, how you deal with the garlic is how one will enjoy the bagel (and thus life).  Told you it was hard. But, “All at Once” is what makes the film by directors Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert, who made “Swiss Army Men”) a bit overwhelming during your initial viewing. Like “Donnie Darko” and “The Matrix,” Daniels probably expects fans (and there will be many) to keep rewatching and try to figure out the meanings of the googly eyes stickers, the fanny pack or the raccoon. But, even when the running time wears you down, you will still enjoy the audacity of the film’s spirit, its fearlessness of imagery and its joy in referencing other movies like “Ratatouille,” “In the Mood for Love” and every Jackie Chan movie in which he plays twins. This movie would not work if Michelle Yoeh wasn’t game for this journey, and she is magnificently badass in, dare I say, her best performance ever. She plays many versions of herself, including a variation of the movie star Michelle Yoeh we know, even seen in a montage at the “Crazy Rich Asian” premiere. But the whole cast is having a grand time, including Stephanie Hsu, who I know from Broadway’s “Be More Chill,” the legendary veteran actor James Hong and a deglamorized Jamie Lee Curtis. It all heads towards a rather sentimental ending that might be a bit much for such a genre movie, but it ultimately works. You have to see this crazy movie on the big screen to get the full effect. This film is “The Matrix” on crack. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Interested Bystander’s "Win Your Office Oscar Pool" Predictions

(c) Interested Bystander

"We Come to This Place for Magic"

It has come to this: My final 2021-2022 Oscar Predictions 

CODA (c) Apple TV+


LONGSHOT: The Power of the Dog 
TIB’S PERSONAL PICKS: The Power of the Dog 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

GALECA Names "Power of the Dog" Best Film; Kristen Stewart & Ariana DeBose Win Performance Awards

(c) The Interested Bystander / Netflix


The Critics Group that I am a part of has announced our film winners for 2021.

GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics announced the winners of its 13th Dorian Film Awards, again honoring movie content from mainstream to LGBTQIA+. To perhaps Sam Elliott’s chagrin, Netlix’s noirish western The Power of the Dog lassoed three major prizes, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay, the latter two Dorians going to auteur Jane Campion. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Reviews: “Out of Time,” “The Baker’s Wife” and ‘On Sugarland” All Shine With Diverse and Talented Acting Ensembles

Theater Reviews: Out of Time, The Baker's Wife and On Sugarland

Out of Time (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Out of Time 
Public Theater (closed) 

A few New York theater shows reopened in August 2021 after the pandemic shutdown with most Broadway and nonprofit Off-Broadway companies really revving up around October. And now here we are in March 2022, eight months later, and we get “Out of Time,” the first play written by and starring Asian-American theater artists. Thank goodness for the Public Theater, who co-produced “Out of Time” with the National Asian American Theater Company, and is also producing “The Chinese Lady” this month with the Ma-Yi Theater Company, for giving these smaller but vital theater companies much needed exposure. And of course, the need for representation was reiterated earlier this month when a Chinese dancer on his way to the Public to celebrate “The Chinese Lady” was beaten on the Lower East Side (and still wanted to perform!). Just add this incident to the countless other attacks and murders of Asian people in the last two years in New York City alone, not to mention all the unreported microaggressions (which I too have experienced on the R Train recently). So, while I enjoyed “Out of Time” enough, I was happier to finally be in the company of Asian-American actors with more than the usual number of AAPI audience members. “Out of Time” was an evening of five monologues written by five different playwrights for five over-60-year-old actors. And like most evenings of one-acts, some were more enjoyable than others, but all five plays have something important to say about the human experience. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Film Review: “The Batman” Is Again Overshadowed by a Cat

The Batman (c) Warner Bros

Film:  The Batman
In Cinemas 

Premise: Two years into his young crime fighting (or as he likes to call it “VENGEANCE!!”) career, The Batman (emphasis on the “The”) faces his biggest mystery yet. People elected or hired to protect Gotham City are ending up gruesomely killed, and always with a greeting card for The Batman with a riddle (could the villain be the Hallmark Killer? No spoilers here). The only one who trusts The Batman (played with more growl than bite by Robert Pattinson) is Police Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). His search for the killer leads to many suspects, including shady bar owner Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), best known as The Penguin (emphasis on the Jared Leto-style prosthetics, which should be a warning sign that handsome Hollywood Stars are taking jobs away from real Italian actors who could play offensive Italian stereotypes); mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro); amateur cat burglar Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), as well as a host of other seedy Gotham City types played by the likes of Peter Sarsgaard (whose real-life wife was a previous Batman damsel) and Paul Dano. Also making what amounts to a cameo appearance is Bruce Wayne (played with a throwback Edward Cullen emo veneer by Pattinson), the young, bang-challenged, orphan billionaire who has essentially been in hiding since his parents’ deaths with his trusty butler Alfred (Andy Serkis). 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Oscar Nominees’ Other Performances

The Power of the Dog (c) Netflix / Paranorman (c) Laika

Here's a guide to where you can stream all the Oscar Performance and Directing nominees as well as a suggestion to other performances and movies from that actor or director.   Remember, the Oscars will air on Sunday, March 27.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Reviews: Three Victims Try to Escape a Horror Not of Their Making in “Great Freedom,” “Fresh” and “No Exit”

Great Freedom (c) Mubi

Reviews:  Great Freedom, Fresh, No Exit

Film: Great Freedom 
In Cinemas 

It is a stretch to call Sebastian Meise’s “Great Freedom” a horror movie, but ask Hans (a terrific Frans Rogowski), who was thrown in a concentration camp during World War II for being gay (per the Paragraph 175 law), and when liberated was thrown in jail to serve the rest of his sentence. “Great Freedom” won the Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2021 and was Austria’s submission for Oscar’s Best International Feature – it made the shortlist but didn’t get nominated. Based on the synopsis alone, I really didn’t want to see another gay prison drama, but the movie is so much more. It jumps between three periods: 1945, when Hans first arrives in prison and shares a cell with the angry and very straight Viktor (Georg Friedrich); 1957, when they meet again with some hostility; and 1968, as older men who have been through way too much. The evolution of their relationship is at the heart of this film, which is both a story of survival and the pains of living in a homophobic society. “Great Freedom” goes through the usual prison tropes of violence and solitary confinement, but it is more interested in the sad life of Hans than addressing prison atrocities. Rogowski’s heartbreaking performance will stay with you long after the film is over. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

Review: Excellent "After Yang" Explores the Memories of an Absent Brother

After Yang (c) A24 / Showtime

Film: After Yang 
In Cinemas and Showtime 

Premise: Two questions. First, who is Yang (Justin H. Min)? That’s the easy one. He’s the android brother purchased for Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrwidajazu), the adopted Chinese daughter of Jake and Kyra (Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith) to teach her Chinese culture. The second, much more difficult question: Who was Yang? When Yang stops working, the couple discovers that fixing him is going to be a difficult task and will probably be very expensive, if they can find a way to do it. Of course, this is made more difficult because their daughter has grown up with this AI as if he was her brother and she is not easily assuaged by grown-up logic. A small subplot regarding this futuristic society is if these androids are actually spying on the families they are placed with. So, when Jake is asked to watch Yang’s stored memories to see if this is the case (in 15 seconds blasts), he realizes he may not have known how complex and inquisitive Yang really was. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Reviews: "English" and "The Daughter-in-Law" Play with Culture and Language while "Hollywood/Ukraine" is Old-Fashioned fun.

Reviews: English, The Daughter-in-Law, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine 

English (c) Ahron R. Foster

Theater: English 
At Atlantic Theater Company with Roundabout Theatre 

In Sanaz Toossi’s chamber play “English,” the drama is evident to anyone who has gone through what four of the five characters are trying to do: learn a foreign language. Unfortunately, like all good playwrights, Tossi tries to create a drama within this world for the audience, and it does feel like the most artificial part of the proceedings. The class in question takes place in Iran, in the city Karaj in 2008, and the four students are taking an Advanced English class to take the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Among the students are a young girl (Ava Lalezarzadeh), who feels English might be helpful down the line; a scientist (Tala Ashe) hoping to do research in Australia; Roya (Pooya Mohseni), a grandmother hoping to be proficient enough to talk to her Canadian grandchild; and the lone male, Omid (Hadi Tabbal), who seems to speak English remarkably well. His presence in the class is the mystery and drama that, of no fault of Tabbal, is the most extraneous and least believable in a production that is nothing but honest yearnings of a group whose fate is tied to their success. Their teacher is Marjan (Marjan Neshat), who lived in England for 12 years and insists that the only way to learn English is to only speak English in her class. Tossi uses the convention that when the characters are speaking English, it’s broken, but when they speak Farsi, it’s fluent English. The acting is the best thing about the production, even if Mohseni, who is otherwise wonderful, seems a bit young to be a grandmother. Seeing these characters in and out of the classroom setting is so believable and relatable that even with the unnecessary storyline, I felt immersed enough to learn about a culture that is as foreign to me as English is to the students.