Pali Road (2016)
With Michelle Chen, Sun Kang, Jackson Rathbone, and Henry Ian Cusick. Directed by Jonathan Lim. Written by Doc Pedrolie and Victoria Arch.
Lily is a young physician doing her residency at a hospital on Oahu. Her boyfriend Neil is a very nice teacher who wants to marry her; her ex-boyfriend Mitch is a slimy doctor she works for, who also seems to want to marry her. When Lily wakes up in the hospital after a bad car accident, she’s shocked to learn that she’s married to Mitch, she has a six-year-old son, and Neil doesn’t exist. Her parents, her best friend, and Mitch are supportive and understanding as she recovers from the crash, but they have no memory of Neil. According to everyone around her, this life in this enormous house with this family is the life she’s been living, but who’s Neil? Lily begins to doubt her own memories, and to question her sanity as real-world evidence of her relationship with Neil eludes her.
It’s a pretty good idea for a story, and the relationships established between the principal characters in early scenes makes it easy to root for Neil and to despise Mitch, whose every utterance sounds insincere and disingenuous. Mitch is that guy you knew in school who had all the teachers and parents fooled into thinking he was a golden boy, but whom none of the kids could stand because he was such a fraud. You almost don’t care how things work out in this film, as long as Mitch doesn’t end up with Lily.
A promising first act is followed by a slog of a second act, and most of it is the fault of director Jonathan Lim. The pacing is awful, the dialog is slow and drawn out, and the tension is cheapened by an overly dramatic, unnecessary score. Edits and visual effects are strange and distracting, and everything just takes too long to get where it’s going. Lily experiences some genuinely intriguing stuff as she struggles to find some connection between her memory and her reality, and the story elements are suspenseful enough without manipulative camera work, cheap effects, and an unexplainable police officer who, without any explanation, does things no officer except some stock character from a 1950s B-movie would ever do.
I hate to say this, because I would love it if everyone would see Pali Road and help it make tons of money so more films would be produced in my home state, but while the resolution is thoughtful and somewhat satisfying, the pivot on which it turns is so cheap that I never considered it as a possibility. That’s right: the explanation is predictable to the point of unpredictability, because who would think they could get away with it?
See it anyway, because Michelle Chen’s acting is pretty good, because the Hawaii scenery is exactly what you’d expect and then not exactly what you’d expect, and because it’s fun to see what Lily has to go through. Just go in with low expectations and comfortable shoes.
- What’s your favorite dancing scene in a movie?
John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” just edges out Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain.”
- What’s your favorite chase scene in a movie?
I’m not a fan of chase scenes, but maybe that one in Star Wars with the Millennium Falcon. Don’t ask me which one, ’cause I don’t know it well enough to say. You know the one where they turn sideways to pass through that narrow opening? Or does that describe them all?
- What’s your favorite courtroom scene in a movie?
Joe Pesci’s “grit-eating world” scene in My Cousin Vinny.” That movie is nothing but great courtroom scenes and beautiful Marisa Tomei (who won an Oscar).
- What’s your favorite kissing scene in a movie?
I’m also not much of a fan of kissing in movies. I mean, that should be me kissing that beautiful woman on the screen, not that loser of an actor, right? However, one I find most memorable is the smoking hot scene in To Have and Have Not.
Bogart: Whadja do that for?
Bacall: I was wondering whether I’d like it.
Bogart: What’s the decision?
Bacall: I don’t know yet.
- What’s your favorite scene in a non-musical movie where the characters spontaneously break into song?
It’s not singing, but the whistling scene in The Breakfast Club has to be near the top of the list. Second place: the “Tiny Dancer” scene in Almost Famous. Bonus: has a camera ever loved any actress as much as it loves Kate Hudson in Almost Famous?
Betsy Russell, Kristi Somers. Directed by Herbert Freed.
I’m not proud of having watched this, but in my years-long quest to see movies I wanted to watch but didn’t get to when I was a kid, there are going to be at least a few films that appealed to my baser instincts. Those instincts are still there, stronger in my memory than in my current, diminished-libido reality, and in some ways, I’m glad I crossed this one off my list, and I look forward to crossing off several more.
You’ve probably seen Betsy Russell before: she was the topless horseback rider in Private School (the Phoebe Cates film), and so when you see her name first on the movie poster, you kind of know why you’re paying to see the movie. She’s going to take her shirt off, and it’s going to be glorious, although she’s been in five of the Saw movies, and I don’t think this is true of those films. In any case, hats off to her for the length of her career. She’s earned any success she has.
In Tomboy, which may be her only starring vehicle, Russell plays Tommy, a mechanic who plays basketball with the boys, rides her dirt bike with the boys, and fixes cars better than any of the boys. She may be a tomboy in her interests, but she’s still a woman, and when she meets the race car driver whose poster decorates her garage, she gets pretty star-struck. She and her best friend Seville get invited to a party with the driver and the owner of his car, and a romance is born. But it becomes clear that to her new boyfriend, she’s a good driver and mechanic “for a girl,” and this doesn’t sit well with her. So of course, a race is arranged: Tommy driving her car, and her boyfriend driving his.
This is a terrible movie in which nobody behaves like a real person with any brains, but there are a few decent laughs. Seville wins a job as a spokesperson for a doughnut shop, and she’s paid in doughnuts rather than cash. The image of her convertible loaded with doughnut boxes is visually funny. Come to think of it, that might be the only laugh. Oh well.
X’s and O’s (2007)
Clayne Crawford, Judy Marte, Warren Christie, Sarah Wright, John Wynn, Lynn Chen. Written and directed by Kedar Korte.
I think one of the reasons I responded so positively to Ride Along 2 is that I’d seen so many indie films immediately before it that big-budget lighting, sound, editing, and cinematography, were a shock to my system. I’d forgotten how good a movie could look and sound. Even with mediocre content, the packaging was so nice, I was pleased just to experience it with likable actors. I wouldn’t say that Kevin Hart is necessarily a better actor than anyone in X’s and O’s or its ilk, but I imagine the actors in the Hollywood film had more rehearsal time and as many takes as needed to satisfy the director’s vision.
This is not to say that X’s and O’s is technically bad, but boy, is it noticeably indie.
Simon is crazy about Jane, but Jane has him friend-zoned so completely that when they say good night after dinner and drinks, she embraces him, kisses him right next to his mouth, and licks him a few times before they separate. His roomie Lorenzo doesn’t have this problem: he’s waking up next to a different woman every morning, although it seems the one he really wants is an ex who wants nothing to do with him. Meanwhile, one of their friends has a girlfriend but treats her like property while driving everyone crazy with exaggerated, faux hip-hop speech and mannerisms.
Simon has friend-zoned a fellow graduate student named Trese, who looks a lot like young Jennifer Lopez, which is interesting because Simon looks like young Ray Liotta. Trese is hung up on Simon, but she’s got a few issues of her own, mostly in the way men treat women in romantic relationships.
This is a lot of characters to juggle, and the script mostly handles it well. The problem with this film is that its semi-interesting characters don’t find enough interesting stuff to talk about or do, then they turn out not to be interesting either, and not very likable. Add an element that I find tiresome (slam poetry), and some strange stuff in a Christian dorm, and the whole thing is just kind of a dreary, annoying slog. If my power had gone out before it was done, I’m not sure I would have cared, and the only thing that kept me mildly engaged is the prettiness of the actresses.
Unless you’re trying to do what I’m doing (seeing everything Lynn Chen is in), take a pass on this one.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill. Directed by J.J. Abrams.
It’s thirty years after the fall of the Empire, and out of its ruins has risen the First Order, working on a new weapon of destruction. The First Order’s military leader is Kylo Ren, a tortured, possibly crazed villain with a chip on his shoulder. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, receives word of long-missing Jedi Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts. With the assistance of Han Solo, the resistance seeks to destroy the new weapon, defeat Kylo Ren, and find Luke.
Against this backdrop emerge three new heroes: Poe, the best X-Wing fighter in the Resistance. Rey, an orphaned scavenger who appears to be much more. And Finn, a. deserting Storm Trooper moved by his conscience to assist Rey.
Clearly, it is J.J. Abrams’s goal to bring the Star Wars fandom back aboard the LucasFilm train, reminding it of all the reasons it loves the first three films while making amends for the errors of the second three films’ ways. He does this, with more than an adequate number of callbacks to the first trilogy. He also builds a reasonable transition into the new reality of possibly limitless sequels, tributaries, and spin-offs under the franchise’s new Disney umbrella.
The Force Awakens accomplishes all of these, and although Abrams goes back to the A New Hope well more times than necessary, his new characters are compelling and charismatic in ways that the first movie never attempted. Rey and Finn are people I want to root for, people I want to get to know. They’re tinged with mystery and fun to watch. I haven’t yet read any reviews of the film, but I imagine negative reviews will say themes are not merely derivative, but repetitions of those in the previous trilogies, at worst a recycling of stuff we’ve seen before. It’s a valid criticism. Still, I hope these next two films will take the momentum and goodwill from the public response to this one, and run in new directions. There’s no reason what comes next must necessarily mimic The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, and with the vast expanse of untapped creative territory at its disposal, it could be no time at all before we’re forgetting all about midi-chlorians, Ewoks, and Jar-Jar Binks.
Action sequences, except for one beautiful, nostalgic trip in the Millennium Falcon, are so-so: interesting but not thrilling. Weaponry and spacecraft aren’t a huge departure from the earlier films, but this is only thirty years after Return of the Jedi, so that doesn’t bother me much. A new droid, BB-8, is kind of a neat next-wave of R2-D2 technology. Effects are effective without being distracting, and there is a determined lack of CGI porn, thank goodness. The score, composed once again by John Williams, is perhaps one of the best things about this film. It’s the best score in the series since Empire, almost sure to win an Oscar this year.
This is just the warm-up act for what could very well be an impossible return to glory for a series nearly wrecked by its own creator. I have a good feeling about this.
Muppets Most Wanted (2015)
The usual Muppets with Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey. Directed by James Bobin.
We’re doing a sequel! That’s what we do in Hollywood
And everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good!
We’re doing a sequel! How hard can it be?
We can’t do any worse than Godfather Three!”
Clearly, I am going to have to revisit The Muppets, the much-heralded Muppetational return to the big screen that I only felt so-so about, because Muppets Most Wanted made me feel all the things I hoped to feel in that film, but did not. This is a Muppets movie through and through, one to give every fan hope for a potentially limitless future in these post-Henson, post-Oz years. Everything is here: cameos galore, sight gags, tributes to classic films, stupid puns, awesome puns, new Muppets, old Muppets, huge musical numbers, memorable songs, and massive self-awareness.
The film picks up right where The Muppets left off, with Kermit, Piggy, Scooter, Fozzie, and Gonzo wondering what they should do next. The answer, of course, is a sequel, and they immediately launch into a new song, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” with help from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. And the Muppetness just keeps going. The company meets with its new agent, Ricky Gervais as Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced bah-jee. It’s French”), who promises sold-out houses in all the major cities in Europe. Although Kermit is reluctant to commit when the Muppets have been out of practice for so long, his friends see dollar signs and adventure, so he goes along with Dominic’s plan.
Kermit bears an uncanny resemblance to the world’s most-wanted international criminal, and a mistaken identity situation (an old Muppets standby!) lands Kermit in a Russian gulag (administered by Tina Fey wonderfully affecting the worst Russian accent in movie history) while his doppelgänger disguises himself as Kermit, assuming an uncharacteristic hands-off management style his friends welcome, even while they’re puzzled by it.
I only have a couple of quibbles with this film. First, there’s not enough Kermit, because of that mistaken identity situation. The bulk of the action, by necessity, must follow the Muppets with their fake leader, which means that even Kermit’s scenes in the gulag are less than satisfying, because of course Kermit is at his best when he’s with his friends. Also, there’s really not enough of the old Muppets (although there is a surprising vocal solo line from Lou Zealand), something the film is aware of and even comments on. That’s pretty funny, but it doesn’t fix the problem. With all the exploding, they couldn’t find a quick line for Crazy Harry?
The songs are somewhat less than awesome, and while my expectations are unreasonably high, that bar was set by the Muppets themselves–where is there a less-than-awesome song in The Muppet Movie? The exception is Miss Piggy’s “Something So Right,” with an assist by Celine Dion and solo lines by most of the Electric Mayhem. That one is unusually pretty for a Piggy song, and easily the soundtrack’s highlight.
The film does almost everything else wonderfully, including a Muppet Show opening in Spanish. If that doesn’t bring a wistful tear to your eye and a warm laugh, I question your American-ness, sir or ma’am. And there is a reflective moment when Kermit, who has always hinted at a deep-rooted sadness and longing beneath his layer of green optimism (it’s what makes him so wonderful, that depth of character that Mickey Mouse and his friends never seem to pull off), expresses hurt and disappointment when he realizes his friends didn’t notice he was missing for so long. Oh, Kermit. How do you keep forgiving us?
Honestly, I can’t think of a recent movie that takes me so effectively to my childhood, that hits all the buttons exactly in the right way. This is what we call the Muppet Show.