Romance

Always Be My Maybe

First Hit: This film had wonderfully funny moments and pointed scenes about discovering love right next door.

Childhood friends and neighbors Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park) spent all their spare time together growing up. Sasha’s parents were rarely home as they were tending to the family store, so Sasha spent time at Marcus’ house. Marcus’ mother cooked a lot and taught Sasha how to cook great original Asian recipes.

After the sudden accidental loss of his mother, Marcus and Sasha were in his car and in processing his grief, he attempts to kiss Sasha. At first, it was awkward, but she eventually responds, and after a funny make-out session they end up having car sex, and anyone who has had car sex knows how passion filled, intimate, and ridiculous it can be.

However, those two events build a wall between them, and they grow apart. Marcus gives up his plans for a future as a musician to take care of his father Harry (James Saito) who is a heating and air-conditioning specialist.

Marcus starts dating Jenny (Vivian Bang) a dreadlocked Asian woman while working with his dad. Although he continues to play in his band, they’ve not tried to expand their music into new venues. Marcus’ world has become small while supporting his dad. 

Sasha, on the other hand, has become a well-known celebrity chef who is used to walking red carpets and opens restaurants around the country. She’s engaged to her manager Brandon Choi (Daniel Dae Kim). Although at first, Brandon wants to marry Sasha, he changes his mind and heads off to open another restaurant overseas and tells Sasha they are on a break. Meanwhile, after opening a restaurant in LA, Sasha heads home to San Francisco to open another previously planned restaurant.

At a chance, or not so chance, meeting set up by Sasha’s assistant Veronica (Michelle Buteau), Sasha and Marcus reunite. One evening Sasha has a meeting and date with Keanu Reeves which, in her mind, was unbelievably fantastic.

Double dating with Jenny and Marcus, Sasha and Keanu meet for dinner at an exclusive and expensive restaurant where Keanu, arrives fashionably late, greets tables of well-wishers and admirers before sitting down. The food is pretentious and so is Keanu when he picks up the bill for 6,400 dollars, and we learn, that for Reeves, it is merely a residual check amount for the film Speed.

They head to Keanu’s hotel room to play a game and it ends up Marcus punches Keanu after Reeves rudeness hits a high point. Sasha and Marcus leave, star-struck Jenny stays.

This reuniting of Marcus and Sasha grows until she presses him to go to New York with her to open another restaurant. Marcus passes until his dad straightens him out about his life.

The film was well paced and not once, did it lag. The comedic moments were sprinkled throughout the movie, and these specific moments were not sight gags, but natural human moments to which the audience can relate.

Wong was excellent as Sasha. She was both sparklingly funny and sensitive. Loved that her character wasn’t going to sacrifice her love of her work. Kim was terrific as Marcus. Although, I didn’t think the transition from interesting young man to a basic recluse after his mother’s death was well understood or presented. However, his song about punching Keanu was delightful and a highlight. Saito as Marcus’ dad was outstanding. As the film went on, his wisdom grew, as did his presence in the movie. Buteau, as Sasha’s assistant, was lightheartedly enjoyable. Her role really worked at moving the story and film along. Reeves, as himself, was funny as all get out. He did all the things we might expect a self-important star might unabashedly do. Michael Golamco and Randall Park wrote a well-blended script of comedy and romance. Nahnatchka Khan did a great job of keeping this film focused, funny and poignant.

Overall: This film was fun, lighthearted and very entertaining.

The Souvenir

First Hit: A languid slow-paced film that bordered on torturous to watch.

This is either a good film about how a bad relationship can screw up your life, or it’s a bad film about how long the audience can watch someone live with their poor choices.

After seeing this film, I decided to peek at what some other reviewers said about this film. I’m surprised at how many reviewers liked this film when, while watching it, I wanted to get up and leave at least three times.

I believe I understood the point of the film; when someone is in love, that love can seep into, and drastically affect, every part of their life. My issue is why did this supposedly smart woman stay with this drug-laden man.

Here we have Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a budding young filmmaker, being allowed to become a student in a prestigious film school. The scenes during class sessions are mostly long and uninformative, unlike the underlying philosophy espoused by the instructors. This film wouldn’t have passed the instructor’s criteria.

At one point after Julie explains her film’s subject, the interviewers state that it is usually better to make a film about topics the director has some experience and knowledge about. It’s obvious Julie knew little or nothing about her subject of a boy losing a parent they love.

Julie’s family is wealthy. Her mom Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) and father live life well on a large English country estate. But the scenes where Julie asks for money are incredibly disheartening and remind me of someone entitled and never really having worked for a living.

Julie meets an older man, Anthony (Tom Burke), who is supposed to be a diplomat, but we never really know for whom or what. He doesn’t want to be questioned about anything. This set-up allows him far too much freedom to not share where he goes and what he’s doing. The reality is that he’s addicted to heroin and when he’s out he out scoring drugs.

Although he’s always dressed nicely, he never pays for anything, and watching Julie ever reaching for her purse made me ill. His arrogance and air of superiority were not attractive, and I don’t know what Julie saw in him. These scenes were often followed up by another plea, by Julie, for money from her mom. When he robs Julie’s apartment, the act was only believable from an addicts point of view. Her response was almost benign.

I never saw or felt much chemistry between Julie and Anthony and saw no reason for them being together, except he needed her money to pay for his habit. Just like when two of her film friends come over for dinner, and the man says to Julie when Anthony leaves the room; I don’t understand you two, how do you handle him being drugged all the time? Julie has no response and the shock on her face would make you believe she will pursue this with Anthony, but she doesn’t, she just goes along for the ride.

There are long scenes where nothing happens and no setup too long, languid scenes to gain insight into the characters, let alone the film. The multiple shots of the four trees with a voice-over worked once, but that’s it.

Byrne has an attractive and unusual look, like her mom, but her actions in this role seemed juxtaposed to what I sense to be an intelligent person. This is either poor acting or weak script and direction. Burke was an excellent addict, and his behavior of using his system of excuses was typical addict oriented. Swinton was superb as Julie’s mom. Being her real mom probably helped. Joanna Hogg wrote and directed this film.

Overall: Despite reviews saying that Joanna is in charge of her craft, I can only say this film was uninteresting and forgetful.

Red Joan

First Hit: Laborious story of a woman who gave away British state secrets.

My intuition told me this film would be a shot in the dark, not the Peter Sellers kind, and it was.

Although, based on the true story of Melita Norwood, here her name is Joan Stanley (Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson as the young Joan).

This movie begins with an eighty plus-year-old Joan (Dench) sitting at home alone when there’s a knock on the door. It’s a special branch of the police and she’s taken away to be questioned.

It’s an okay opener, but the story rises and falls and eventually peters out at the end.

What happened? Why does an eighty plus-year-old woman get arrested? It’s interesting, in that she’s being detained because she’s accused of giving Britain’s atomic bomb secrets away to the Russians during WWII. Was it true? And if so, why did she do this?

These are the questions we hoped would be answered as the investigators probe her for answers while her lawyer son Nick (Ben Miles) sits shocked next to her in the interrogation room. It’s apparent that he knows nothing about his mother’s past.

To develop the story, the film slips back in time when young Joan (played by Cookson), is entering college to get a physics degree. Back in the late 1930s, this was almost unheard of, and throughout the film, there are numerous scenes where she gets mistaken as a coffee or tea server.

Graduating she gets a job as an assistant for Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore) one of Britain’s lead researchers for developing the atomic bomb. He hires her because she’s smart and knows she’ll contribute to Britain’s success. The scenes where she proves him right are lovely.

While in college Joan became friends with Sonya Galich (Tereza Srbova) who happened to be linked with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. While socializing with Sonya, she meets Sonya’s brother Leo (Tom Hughes) who is gregarious, smart, handsome, and very active in the party.

When Leo and Sonya learn that Joan is working for Davis on in a project to figure out how to make an atomic bomb, they begin to pressure Joan to share the secrets with them so that they can pass them on to the Russian government.

What put Joan over the top and start supplying the secrets was either her love for Leo or that she really believed that if Russia has the bomb as well as the United States, there would be peace, a stalemate in warlike aggression in the world.

This is where the film falls apart. Neither story was convincing. It wasn’t that these arguments weren’t or couldn’t be valid, I just didn’t believe Joan’s attraction to Leo, and I didn’t think she was credible about the case about a stalemate. I wasn’t convinced.

Dench was OK as the slightly surprised and shaken older Joan for being arrested for a crime some fifty years earlier. Being discovered that she was the person who leaked these secrets and why she leaked them could have been more exciting. Cookson was good as young Joan, but it was either her acting ability, the script or direction that didn’t have me believe Joan was really in love with Leo. Nor, did I think she was anxious about the destruction and death of war. Yes, there were shots of results of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I didn’t get an impassioned sense from Cookson. Moore was beautiful as Britain’s lead researcher on their own atomic bomb project. I believed he really loved Joan. Srbova was strong as one of Russia’s conduits to obtain secrets. She was alluring and stealthy. I didn’t like Hughes’ character Leo, and that was purposeful. He was a user, and Hughes was excellent as that. Miles was okay as Joan’s son who didn’t seem shocked enough that he knew so little about his mom and dad. Lindsay Shapero wrote an uninspired screenplay. Trevor Nunn didn’t get a lot out of this story and his actors.

Overall: This is a great story that lacked inspiration on the screen.

Long Shot

First Hit: Although there some hilarious bits, I didn’t buy the premise of these two being their characters.

The storyline is for the audience to believe that Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the current Secretary of State for President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). The President is more interested in a movie career than being President, and so his staff is really running the country. Although the film makes attempts, Fields character as Secretary, isn’t quite established well enough for me. Something was slightly missing.

On the other side of the story, we have Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) who is supposed to be an independent journalist writing for an online publication. He only cares about what he perceives to be the truth and because he writes well and is willing to put himself in awkward positions, there is a self-righteousness to his character that comes across as a bit snarky.

To set up Flarsky as indeed someone willing to do anything to get the story, we find him in the process of becoming a member of a white supremacist group. In the induction meeting, he’s supposed to pledge hatred for Jews (although he’s sitting there - obviously a Jew) and gets goaded into getting a swastika tattoo. While getting the tattoo, one of the members finds out he’s really a journalist and is impersonating wanting to become part of the group. He escapes. This set-up is filled with both funny and vile setups and statements of hatred.

Fields is beautiful, smart, and powerful while Flarsky is schlubby, somewhat full of himself – regarding the truth as he sees it, and ill-mannered. Because of his self-aggrandizing ways, he quits his job when a tasteless publication company buys out the publication he works.

In his sadness and anger, he contacts Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) his longtime best friend who consoles him by inviting him to an upscale gathering after taking him to a few bars to imbibe him.

There Flarsky sees Field who he recognized as his old baby sitter when he was 12 years old. They liked each other then, but the storyline has him recall getting an erection when they kissed. The film spends a bit too much time talking about this and in the end, I’m sure it wasn’t needed for the overall story.

Fields hires him as a speechwriter (first to punch up her humor quotient) and as they work together, he becomes more of her full-time writer. As they work together, they grow to know each other, just as they did as children.

The other side of the slightly overdone plot was the President who spends his time running lines in his office and watching his past performances as a President on a television program. The flippant way in which the President, Secretary of State and the people who work for them acted became something that, in the end, didn’t work for me.

Many of the political aspects and situations portrayed in this movie were pointedly reflective of today’s political environment and current office holders. The story also points out how exploitive publishers act.

Some of the amusing bits include when Fields team discusses her strengths and weaknesses. Also what happens to the tattoo Flarsky got at the suprematist meeting. Another hilarious scene was when the Prime Minister of Canada James Steward (Alexander Skarsgard) shares with Fields how he’s had to learn how to laugh.

As everyone in the audience knows that having Flarsky and Fields falling in love is a Long Shot, the story does end up in its prescribed ending.

Theron is solid as a comedic actress in this role and is absolutely stunning on the screen. Rogen is Rogen. He’s the same character in every film, and my general dislike of his character or personality continues here. June Diane Raphael (as Fields assistant Maggie) is strong. I liked how she pushed her agenda on to Fields. Ravi Patel (as Tom, another Fields assistant) is good. His subservient nature to Maggie was funny. Skarsgard was really funny, especially when he’s showing Fields how he learned how to laugh properly. Jackson Jr. was solid as Flarsky’s black conservative motivational friend. Odenkirk was silly and hilarious as a President who wanted to be a film star. Tristan D. Lalla as Agent M, Fields bodyguard, was outstanding. His sly looks while doing his job were precious. Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah wrote this screenplay. It pushed the edge of being overtly gross more than it needed to be. Jonathan Levine directed the film. I thought many of the scenes were clever, but then when they are pushed towards being overtly overdone, it made me wonder.

Overall: The amusing bits outweighed the overtly unpolished parts.

After

First Hit: Good girl and bad boy, a predictable sappy story of young romance.

This film is made for young teen girls as witnessed by the number that showed up for the early Friday afternoon showing I attended. Cell phones screens lit the anticipatory faces of these young audience members and unfortunately, they kept looking at them during the film.

The Story: Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) is headed to college. Her mother Carol (Selma Blair) has worked hard to create this opportunity for her daughter. Tessa is smart, pretty, and wholesome. Her boyfriend Noah (Dylan Arnold) is a senior in high school and a year behind her in school. He’s wholesome and is liked by Carol.

Arriving at her dorm room, both Carol and Noah are taken aback by Tessa’s roommate Tristan (Pia Mia). She’s hanging out with another fellow girl on the bed, and she’s pulling on an electronic cigarette while dressed in a very skimpy outfit.

Carol immediately wants to go to the housing authority to find her daughter another room. Pulling her mother off the ledge of embarrassing her, Tessa tells her mom, “let me figure this out on my own.”

Getting to know Tristan loosens Tessa up a little and when she goes to a party Tristan knows about; she’s out of her element. At the party she meets the bad boy, Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). During a truth or dare, Tessa is asked to kiss Hardin, she is lulled into getting close, but pulls away at the last second. Walking through the party’s house, she stumbles into Hardin’s room and sees all the books on his shelves. He comes in, she’s interested to follow through with the kiss, but she also wants to honor her relationship with Noah and pulls away again.

The stage is set because they both have had absentee fathers. We learn more about why Hardin has such a sad view of love and relationships through his upbringing which is demonstrated through a classroom discussion. We also see Tessa’s cautiousness towards intimacy because her father walked out when she was very young.

The story goes back and forth with Tessa and Hardin getting together and then splitting up. She’s naïve to some of the life that Hardin has lived. There are moments of wonderful tenderness between the two and then there are moments of coldness by them.

The pacing of this story is slow, and it isn’t difficult to know where the movie is going and why. I’m not sure how well it held the audience it was meant for, because a whole row of young girls got up and left two thirds into the film. Additionally, two others in the row in front of me left in the last fifteen minutes.

Langford was okay in this role. There was nothing outstanding about her performance and it was believable. It was good to see Blair again, it has been some time since she’s been in a film role and she was good. Tiffin was mediocre as the bad boy. It was predictable and there was nothing that really made his performance stand out. I didn’t think there was much chemistry between him and Langford. Arnold was good as the, wise beyond his years, high school boyfriend. Mia was strong as the slightly edgy fun lesbian roommate. Jennifer Beals and Peter Gallagher were good as Hardin’s new mother-in-law and father. It was a pleasant surprise to see Beals again. Susan McMartin wrote a slow-moving predictable story. Jenny Gage directed in a way that ended up feeling compromised and mediocre.

Overall: I patiently waited for this film to end and left knowing it wasn’t worth the cost of making it.