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The Farewell

A diet of the superficial can lead to a want of substance. Feeling that lack in the present run of blah movies, I ran to catch The Farewell before it left theaters. So glad I did. With all the talk of diversity and inclusiveness, this is a story about how we are the same. When it comes to family, there are few cultural differences. Familial problems, foibles, and ongoing issues are personified in this touching story about a grandmother in the last stages of cancer. This is only part of the inciting incident. The real issue is that in China, the desperately ill are not told they are dying until the very end. This secret creates a painful wedge in the family—tell grandmother or not. What is fair, what is culture?

Awkwafina is brilliant as Billi. The close connection with her beloved grandmother shines throughout. She grieves the imminent loss of her grandmother and the childhood home taken from her when her parents immigrated to the States.

Tzi Ma, as Billi’s father, subtly merges angst and tenderness with his painful struggle. He yearns to tell his mother the truth about her condition as he mourns for her loss while she yet lives. All this sounds grim and depressing, but most often, there is a lot of humor. The only downer is the dismal, prison-style high-rise housing, contrasted to the richness of the lives within. Everyone’s work in this film is perfection under the superb direction of Lulu Wang.

The thief of the entire film is Nai Nai, impish, tough, bossy and adorable Shuzhen Zhou. I want this woman for my grandmother. I’m teary-eyed thinking about her, especially how she stood in an alleyway, her figure diminishing as seen through a car’s back window. And because of Nai Nai, her wisdom and love, Billi finds her way to empowerment.

This film made up for every junky, waste-of-time flick I’ve seen this year.

On DVD:

All Is True (alternate title to Henry VIII)

I don’t think so. I’m not a fan of revisionism and not usually of the speculative. Based on a few established facts, the rest of this film is speculation, most of it extrapolated from Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation and study of Shakespeare’s plays.

The interiors are quite dark because only candle and firelight were used. The settings are gorgeous. Due to constant tourism, Stratford-on-Avon couldn’t be managed but the house and countryside selected are lovely. All of the cast members are formidable actors. Dench is her usual brilliant self, and there is a vibrancy to the action, probably due to Branagh’s preference for single shot scenes and a shooting schedule of thirty days.

I find the use of the title All Is True off-putting because little of the content is factual. The most standout performance is that of Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton, brief it is. His recitation of Sonnet 29, even though he uses the old-style lifting of the last word in the final line, is exquisite and worth seeing the film just for that. McKellen’s brilliance and perfection held me suspended.

The Best of Enemies

And now we go for the truth.  I was disappointed to have missed this when it was playing in theaters and anxiously waited for the DVD. Although she did her best—I love her and never miss her movies—it was difficult to accept Taraji P. Henson as the burly and ferociously intimidating activist Ann Atwater. Her most remarkable scene was when she adjusted the KKK hood, the expression on her face, seen almost in profile, the terror and bone-deep shock of her own actions, was amazing.

I am and have always been a die-hard fan of Sam Rockwell. His portrayal of KKK Cyclops leader C.P. Ellis did not disappoint. Anne Heche is stand-out as Mary Ellis, a strong woman of character and acerbic insights. It isn’t until the end of the picture that it comes clear why she married C.P. Ellis.

The fault of the plodding pace must be laid on the door of the writer/director, Robin Bissel. Perhaps that problem stemmed from years of searching for funding, accurate historical facts, and footage. And this is vexing.

This is a hugely important story about two extraordinary people who brought about culture-rending change.  Ellis provides us with one of the reasons KKK still exists: the clan targets and recruits the disenfranchised, the broken, the rejected, the ignorant, and the lonely. The clan makes them feel important, entitled, and empowered. Through indoctrination and weapons training, they become the embodiment of collective cowardice, bullying, and terrorizing, typified in an early scene of a row of clansmen shooting out the windows of a white woman rumored to have dated a black man.

I encourage everyone to see this important film and especially the amazing actual footage at the end. Atwater and Ellis changed everything when they did the improbable.

 

(Fantasy snippet tomorrow with pre-sale release date.)

 

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

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