Movie Review (FLOWER DRUM SONG)

I finally watched FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961) on dvd. I felt inspired to sing and dance right along with some of the songs in the first half to two thirds of the film; it was that fun and dynamic. I appreciated the brief bit of queer gender bending by Filipino actor Patrick Adiarte, who plays the adorable teenaged younger brother (Wang San) of the leading man Wang Ta (James Shigeta). This seemed very daring for a big Hollywood production in 1961.

There were some moments of cringe-worthy datedness that inevitably flawed the film. But, the sets were lushly colorful, the score lovely, and the dancing crisp and joyful.

Nancy Kwan, who deservedly has top billing, was fabulously beautiful in every way, playing an Americanized young Chinese night club singer and dancer. She seemed to have the most fun in the movie, with her single song (“I Enjoy Being a Girl”) and dance number in front of three full length mirrors being the biggest highlight of the show, and there were a handful of highlights. She was also terrific in a dance scene more towards the end of the movie, where she does something particularly creative with folding fans over her breasts. I thought, “You go, girl!” I could relate to her in these particular moments of fabulosity. Celebrating oneself is good to do.

I found leading man James Shigeta dashing and charismatic. I did not believe in his romantic choice, however, which came across as undeveloped and pat. For me, there was a seemingly better fit between he and another woman in the story which went nowhere, sadly. I would have liked some better closure for her character.

I watched all five or so of the “extras” commentary segments, which were informative and interesting. However, people interviewed in them repeatedly, inaccurately referred to the movie’s “all Asian” cast. Well, all Asian except for a pretty important supporting member, Juanita Hall, who was African American but playing a Chinese woman. She was wonderful, but I can only imagine her being cast contributed to the controversy about the non-Chinese casting choices, which mainly centered on having Japanese actors play some of the parts. The commentators did not discuss this controversy, other than in a sweeping, positive way, emphasizing how the movie was such a great opportunity for Asian performers, which it was, yes, but limiting and still not enough, of course, to sufficiently help erode racism in Hollywood, let alone America. Understandably, Chinese, Japanese, and Black people do not appreciate being conflated or seen as interchangeable. In the voiceover movie commentary, Nancy Kwan, herself half Chinese and half British, did not discuss this issue either and she glossed over Ms. Hall’s being cast as a Chinese person.

In 2002, there was a very much updated Broadway revival of this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, written by the Tony winning, Chinese American playwright David Henry Hwang. I wonder if a video recording of it exists to view? I take some comfort in knowing that this production was revamped for the early 21st century, with an intention, I imagine, of being reclaimed by the very community the show is meant to represent.

Mini Movie Review (KILL YOUR DARLINGS)

I had been meaning to watch KILL YOUR DARLINGS (2013) for a long time. What a psychologically interesting drama, based on a true story about some of the main Beatnik writers in 1940s New York City. One of them (Lucien Carr, compellingly played here by Dane DeHaan) brutally kills his older, long-time lover, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall of DEXTER fame), from out of a place of self hatred/internalized homophobia.

I thought everyone was well cast except for Jack Huston, who plays Jack Kerouac but doesn’t sufficiently look the part. Nonetheless, I was drawn in by the good script writing, intimate camera work, and powerful acting.

Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg (who I saw perform in late 1975 or early 1976 and then again in 1985) was the poignant moral center of this movie. I have a deeper respect for him as an actor now.

This is a must-see film about a piece of American history and ongoing cultural and human tensions. I imagine many would say it’s also about other assorted deep themes and the struggles of being human. I feel a bit enriched inside for seeing this excellent screenplay.

Mini Movie Review (FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE)

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE was so-so. Most of the time, the actors seemed to sleep walk through the movie, their emotional expressions competent but shallow. I think this was largely due to a mostly tedious, vapid script. The CGI effects (including interesting make believe animals) were fun and imaginative. And some moments elicited a chuckle from me. But, I largely didn’t care much about the characters or the good witches and wizards vs. evil witches and wizards storyline. The villain was clearly a Trump-like character, trying to cheat his way into having absolute power. What else is new?

I hope this series is done, but the end of this movie left open the possibility of yet another sequel. Enough already.

Mini Movie Review (DORIAN GRAY)

The 2009 movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY was very good. Simply titled DORIAN GRAY, the production diverges from the book in places but the overall essence of Wilde’s story is retained. Ben Barnes superbly portrays the hedonistic Dorian Gray. Colin Firth as Lord Henry Wotton seems to believably savor the role of Dorian’s cynical, bad influence mentor. The entire British cast is, not surprisingly, excellent.

The beautiful cinematography, period piece costumes, haunting lighting and camera filtering made me feel like I was entering a different world and time. Well-thought-out and crafted films, such as this, have such an intended effect.

I appreciated the overt homoeroticism in places. This probably at least somewhat reflects the more recently published, unexpurgated version of Wilde’s 1890 masterpiece. I have yet to read this more complete one the author had originally written and now very much want to. Despite the somewhat needlessly heavy-handed, clunky climax, overall, I was emotionally moved at times and effectively low-grade creeped out by this generally enthralling work of cinema. 

Movie Review (THE BATMAN)

Earlier this past week, I watched THE BATMAN, released a few months ago, for free at home. This was a pleasant surprise. HBO Max made it available this way for a brief promotional period, or so it seemed. Now, the movie appears to be permanently available to stream for free. I don’t know what factors into certain blockbusters becoming free to view far sooner than others. I thought I’d be having to wait for a good while longer before maybe paying $5.99 to view this impressive, engrossing production, a price I would have gladly paid.

I did not at all care for Ben Affleck’s anemic, tired-looking corporate executive portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne in a recent handful of DC Films, so the more elegant and mysterious Pattinson stepping into this superhero role was welcomed by me. THE BATMAN takes place relatively early in the Caped-crusader’s masked vigilante career. Pattinson plays dark and brooding extremely well, so he is excellent as the title character, a billionaire traumatized as a child from losing his parents during a violent robbery. I appreciated how this seminal event is not shown in flashback on screen, but simply referenced in dialogue and print. Batman’s origin story has already been well covered in earlier movies.

Zoe Kravitz plays Selina Kyle, who does not yet go by Catwoman in this screenplay. She is effectively written as sympathetic yet morally vague/gray, which I found believable. And she is svelte and beautiful. However, Kravitz is no match to Pattinson’s gritty gravitas, coming across as rather girlish in tone of voice and lacking in rough depth next to him. Perhaps that is intended. I grew up with watching the witty and mature-sounding Julie Newmar portraying Catwoman for two seasons of the 1960s campy show BATMAN, followed then by Eartha Kitt in that iconic role for the show’s third and final season. And while I think Julie Newmar reigns as the best on-screen portrayal of Catwoman ever, Eartha Kitt comes in as a close second, with her own unique feline moves and sultry woman’s voice. Alas, dear Ms. Kravitz had big shoes to fill, at least for myself and probably many other viewers who are, say, at least over forty. And while, perhaps, Kravitz plays a younger, less seasoned/roughed up by life Catwoman (to be) than her lovely predecessors, I have a hard time imagining Kravitz evolving to someone with a deeper, more nuanced voice, even more slinky and seductive moves, and a jaded yet humorous perspective on life. It is hard to believe that Kravitz and Newmar were pretty close in age while portraying Catwoman in their respective eras. Kravitz comes across as, well, an annoyed adolescent rather than smoldering, dangerous, and seductive like Catwoman should naturally be and Newmar and Kitt conveyed so well. But, enough with these comparisons. I’ll wait and see if Kravitz can bring more edgy maturity to the archetypal part, even though she likely will still not quite measure up to Newmar or Kitt.

Paul Dano plays the Riddler, a long-time arch villain of Batman’s. He is completely unlike Jim Carrey’s sexy and hilariously campy portrayal of this previously seen character in 1995’s very fun BATMAN FOREVER. In THE BATMAN, Dano and screenwriters Matt Reeves and Peter Craig make Riddler a comparatively more realistic obsessed and hyper sociopath. He posts on the Internet, garnering a devoted following, as he kills off Gotham City’s corrupt government leaders. Dano brings much thought and passion into the role. He effectively matches Pattinson’s quiet, often seething intensity.

The rest of the cast is generally stellar, with the exception of Andy Serkis as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s devoted butler and assistant. He is solidly competent in the role but lacking a seasoned British elegance that others, namely Alan Napier, Michael Gough, and Jeremy Irons all brought to the part in previous incarnations. I think the creators were going for a younger Michael Caine kind of portrayal, with Caine and Serkis having a more working class English accent and style, which is fine, of course, but not the Alfred I grew up watching. To me, Alfred’s calm, measured, dignified demeanor adds a beautiful juxtaposition and complementarity to Batman’s more physical, hard-edged presence. This dynamic is lost between Serkis’ more earthy version of Alfred and Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne. Ah, well, ’tis a relatively minor area of lack in an otherwise solidly good work of cinema.

Batman is in ruthless, tough detective mode against a backdrop of a dark and dreary, crime-ridden metropolis, very much clearly inspired by 1930s through 1950s film noir genre productions. The sets, often enhanced by LED backgrounds, are largely made up of impressively high, foreboding buildings from a bygone era, influenced by the Art Deco style, still in fashion when the BATMAN comic debuted in 1939. Like Batman and Selina Kyle themselves, many of the sets are darkly beautiful, intermittently placed against expansive skylines, high rooflines, and claustrophobic interiors and exteriors (such as an outdoor train station). Much of the movie takes place at night, though daytime scenes are dimly lit or filtered. One cannot help but to feel a mix of overwhelm, constraint, and isolation that the characters experience in this grim world of THE BATMAN. Rain is initially used to set up the movie’s dreary mood while Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne/Batman dourly narrates an introduction. Kurt Cobain’s haunting recording of “Something in the Way” is effectively used twice in the movie, which boasts an incredible original musical score that I can only describe as powerfully suspenseful and beautifully intense.

The story of long-time political corruption and massive citizen neglect, which the Riddler destructively works at uncovering in Gotham and Batman comes to discover there, fits America’s and much of the world’s current political situation. Things are falling apart and new vision and leadership are desperately needed. As depressed as Pattison’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is, he holds onto hope and steadily begins to heal from his past, a human work in progress like, hopefully, we all should strive to be.

Movie Review (SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME)

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (released in December of 2021) is the latest installment of Marvel Studios’ and Columbia Pictures’ Spider-Man series, within and part of a larger arc of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The movie has been one of the most financially successful (make of that what you will) mainstream studio productions to date. British pretty boy actor Tom Holland continues to portray American high school student Peter Parker/Spider-Man with a sunny disposition and wholesome sincerity that I appreciate. His enthusiasm, emotional sensitivity, and well-meaning naivete come through again, with the actress Zendaya (Holland’s real life girlfriend) affirming these qualities of his through her role as Michelle Jones-Watson (mainly called MJ), Parker’s love interest. For my taste, the on-hand funny quips to criminals and police officers could have been laid on even thicker by Holland’s Parker to better match Stan Lee’s comic book character creation’s way of speaking that I remember fondly reading while a child in the 1970s. But, I’m not complaining. Holland is so naturally adorable, offering up the lightest movie portrayal of the daring web-slinger in comparison to his two predecessors, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. And in such a historical time of social upheaval and chaos, this unique screen presence of grounded, sincere, yet bubbly lightness is exactly what I need for good, fun cinematic escape. Let other tights-wearing crimefighters, such as Batman and Wolverine, be the dark tortured souls. Spidey is a likable, innocent-hearted, fun-loving kid– even though and in spite of experiencing more than his share of loss and alienation. Refreshing.

This latest Spider-Man story, which picks up right where its 2019 prequel SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME leaves off, is largely unremarkable and formulaic. In order to clear his name from being both exposed to the world as Spider-Man and wrongly slandered for murder and other misdeeds by the recently defeated criminal Quentin Beck (Jacob Gyllenhaal), Peter Parker enlists the help of the mighty sorcerer superhero Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). As has occurred in many science fiction/fantasy films and TV shows, the big plot device is to change the past somehow so that the present and future are different for the protagonist and, by extension, everyone else. Often, for example, a time machine of some sort is used or a divine being, such as an angel (think of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, which still gets aired on TV around Christmastime, I imagine), steps in and uses magic. In this case, it’s the impatient and authority-wielding Dr. Strange who is to be that convenient change agent via having all people forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man– with a few exceptions. The spell Dr. Strange casts gets bungled because of Peter’s repeatedly interrupting him to fine-tune/modify his request. There are some cute, mildly amusing exchanges between Spidey and Dr. Strange, eliciting associations in our own lives so many of us viewers have of witnessing an older, condescending authority figure chastising a younger underling. In any case, this bungling mysteriously opens portals of two other universes between them and the one in which Tom Holland’s Peter Parker exists, thereby introducing us the audience to the “multiverse.” That’s where the fun begins, particularly when the two other Peter Parkers/Spider-Mans show up.

I had vaguely heard that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would reprise their roles in this movie, but, honestly, I wasn’t sure. Five actors also reprise their super villain roles from earlier Spider-Man movies, making this latest show a reunion fest of sorts. Maguire’s quiet and pensive Peter Parker of three Spider-Man movies between 2002 and 2007 gets to dialogue with Garfield’s especially insecure and comparatively less defined but more overtly sorrowful Parker. These two men’s brief exchange shortly before the final fight scenes against the powerful antagonists had me smiling and laughing, such as when Maguire’s Parker repeatedly tells Garfield’s that he is “amazing,” a blatant reference to the latter actor’s starring in two “Amazing Spider-Man” films in 2012 and 2014. Such self consciousness of writing whereby a movie acknowledges and jokes about itself can be witty and clever or fall flat. Fortunately, the decent script writing in this instance and terrific, tongue-in-cheek delivery by Maguire and Garfield make for great entertainment and some moments of uniqueness in an otherwise cliche-filled story. Those handful of minutes– along with other brief, funny bits of dialogue and warm affection expressed between the three Peters — wonderfully stand out within a nearly two-and-a half-hour film. However, and in addition, the sweet, heart-felt chemistry between Tom Holland and Zendaya elicited my inner romantic, which cast a pleasant feel-good mood over this generally routine spectacle of action cinema. Finally, worth mentioning among the mind-numbing handful of CGI-enhanced super villains, Willem Dafoe adds a big dose of fun camp as the sinister, over-the-top Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. His demonic, dramatic face is fabulously Medieval.

I’m glad I waited to rent the movie to stream on my TV instead of needlessly raising my anxiety over risking Covid-19 exposure to watch it on a big screen. This was not that great a movie by any means. But, then, no movie is worth me going through such extra stress these days. Besides, I paused it often to take assorted breaks. As I age, I more appreciate the practical control that comes with having a remote on hand over passively watching moving pictures on a large screen, all encompassing that that so often is. For something lost, there’s something else gained.

Mini Movie Review (GERONTOPHILIA)

Queer filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s quirky and sexy indie movie GERONTOPHILIA (2013) stars the beautiful, sensual Pier-Gabriel Lajoie as Lake, a French Canadian in his late teens who is sexually attracted to elderly men. I was not expecting much, so felt pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this cinema gem of sweetness. Lake and his stylin’, old queen love interest, Marvin Peabody (Walter Borden), meet in a nursing home. They soon exude a believable emotional chemistry. I cared for both of them.

There is one disturbing dream sequence that left me wondering what LaBruce and his cowriter of the screenplay (Daniel Allen Cox) were thinking, but it did not taint my feelings for the characters.

The acting quality by many of the supporting cast members leaves much to be desired. However, this did not damage the production’s overall effectiveness for me, thanks to the sincere and compelling portrayals by Lajoie and Borden and the mostly succinct, riveting storyline.

If you like off-beat films about love and the human condition, this might be of interest to watch.

Mini Movie Review (THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS)

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (or what I’ve renamed THE MATRIX NON-ERECTIONS) was ridiculous and progressively lame with its self consciously making fun of itself unevenly mixed in with an often earnest narrative. Keanu Reeves as Neo, the protagonist, looked tired and miserable, which mirrored my own sense of weariness over this emotionally hollow, pointlessly action-packed movie. I could not help but wonder if, like his character, Reeves felt reluctant to be in such a nonsensical drama.

Neil Patrick Harris was increasingly annoying as a deceitful, smug psychiatrist, the Analyst, who controls much of what goes on in the Matrix.

I found myself not caring about the characters and overproduced CGI visuals of the film’s portrayal of a heavily mechanized dystopian future, from out of which the computer created world of illusion, the Matrix, exists. I can see why one of the two Wachowski sisters, both of who wrote and created the first three MATRIX movies, had nothing to do with making this fourth— and hopefully final— installment. The series ran its creative course by the third movie. I suppose this is ultimately an infomercial for the latest MATRIX video game. Ah, what still gets made anyway in hopes of squeezing out more profit from an idea and concept run dry.