I Don’t Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello…The Farewell

Lulu Wang’s first major film, “The Farewell”, which she both wrote and directed, should be a tutorial for American film makers. Sure, we have our rare Damien Chazelle folks (rent “First Man”, for instance, which definitely didn’t get enough box office love), but if you want truly poignant pensive artistic moments on film, these days you need to see foreign films like Ms. Wang’s.

But first, promise me you won’t look into the film’s subject matter or talk to blabber mouths who have seen it, as there are two major plot point spoilers that are much more impactful as surprises.

Without spilling the aforementioned, I do want to mention my favorite moments, the first of which has to do with another reason I like foreign films: barring meeting a man of whom I have confidence in planning over seas travel, I’m probably never visiting China or Japan. Thus, going to a film like The Farewell (or the incredible Oscar nominated “Shoplifters”) is my way of vicarious world travel. To that end, “The Farewell” fascinated me by the cemetery ritual as the family goes to the patriarch’s grave seeking the deceased’s blessing for an engaged couple. The simultaneous, but out of sync, reverential bowing of the family was pure cinematic craft.

For a second ‘moment’, I’ll cheat with a montage of clips of ingenious beauty: 1. staring out her hotel window pre slumber, the granddaughter (played by the rapper/comedian Akwafina who is so good, I didn’t remember that she wasn’t just an actress while watching) watches cigarette smoke gather and dissipate, 2. the close ups on the groom’s face as he goes from understated nervousness to inebriation to room spins to grief, 3. the pink conference room decorated in balloons as the family searches for the bride to be’s earring as she gets a facial, and 4. the various shots of looming high rises in China.

Last, the instrumental and vocal music, both classical and modern, added to the rich evocative tone of the film. In fact, at the film’s finale, a Chinese version of “Without You”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Without_You_(Badfinger_song) could almost incite an ‘I’ll be your Bill Munson’ confession.

Is The Farewell perfect? No, but the only element keeping it from that were possibly one too many cliched moments at the wedding and a bit of a random piano playing segment that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. No matter, The Farewell is definitely worth seeing.

Confessions of a 55 Year Old (Classic Movie) Virgin

Ok Ok, I confess. I had never seen Citizen Kane before last night’s showing at Sarasota Film Society’s Cinematheque.

(A quick aside, why the heck isn’t Sarasota Cinematheque packed with Ringling College Film Majors? You’re missing out! Giant screen, great sound, hipster vibe, talk back op…Get over to 500 Tallevast Road on Saturday nights!)

Ok, back to my confession…Much like my virginal metaphor, I had seen the Citizen Kane trailer plenty of times and only noticed some old guy ranting…and hence thought, won’t this be painful? Isn’t it overrated?

But alas, the movie truly is an orgasmic masterpiece. Like my English teacher literary equivalent I tout almost weekly (Ray Bradbury‘s 1959 prescient Fahrenheit 451), Citizen Kane for 1941 is the gold standard for universal storytelling; hoarding to fill emotional needs, the replay of familial cyclical dysfunction (CK’s dad abused him, he then neglects his own son), man’s weakness to infidelity and subsequent political downfalls, the corruption of wealth and power. It’s all there in under 2 hours.

Besides my awe of having missed this for more than half my life, my main takeaways were: Orson Welles (genius, of course, both acting and in storytelling), Joseph Cotton (funniest in the film, especially the nursing home scene where he was trying to remember the name of a place and said a long list ending with Sloppy Joe’s) and the cinematography of doors and windows, shadow, smoke, and in the end, fire. The women in the film, notably three: mother (Agnes Moorehead) and two wives (Ruth Warrick-wow I watched All My Children for years and never knew, and Dorothy Comingore) were all extremely well performed, both due to the writing (strong women for their day) and in believable portraits of women in angst of different varieties.

I couldn’t help notice a strong resemblance of Orson Welles and Leonardo DeCaprio and also how The Wolf on Wall Street seemed to copy Citizen Kane in its mania of wealth gone wild. This is especially seen in the scene where CK acquires the writers from a competing newspaper and gets up to do a number with dancing girls. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that The Wolf on Wall Street or Leonardo is better than CK, just that there is a strong physical and timing resemblance. Surely Scorsese had to have Citizen Kane dreams while filming Wolf.

So, I’m glad I pulled a Tim Tebow and waited because now I know why the film Citizen Kane has been rated the number one movie in American Film history and is far better than Gone With the Wind and Vertigo due to its universal themes and artistic quality.

A Solid Second Serve, Borg vs. McEnroe

So right off the bat I have to say Mea Culpa in being THE most biased reviewer when it comes to a film about John McEnroe (Borg vs. McEnroe directed by Janus Metz). See I’ve been in love with him since I was 17, had my bedroom wall plastered with his photos as a senior in high school, met him for an autograph in 1983, even loved his short lived interview show, and am still to this day, downright giddy when I see him commentating. I LOVE THIS MAN.

On the other hand, I may be the most biased against a film that stars Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe. HOWEVER, Shia LaBeouf actually did a very good job portraying him. And I mean, very, very believable. My only nitpick is that McEnroe is a rocker (meaning in the physical self-soothing way) and in a scene where he’s on an interview Tonight Show like show, he sat perfectly still. That’s not Mac. But beyond that, excellent. And talk about kindred spirits…it’s no secret that Shia has been arrested a few times due to reckless behavior. I’d actually read Shia’s book about his obviously tortured past. I’d even help him edit (HINT, HINT).

The man who plays Borg could have easily been Borg’s son, or an identical clone that was cryogenically defrosted, Sverrir Gudnason. Not much acting involved besides pensive looks, but still, well done. And the man who’s in every Lars Von Trier film, Stellan Skarsgard, was also good as ‘the coach’.

The screenplay by Ronnie Sandahl (who won accolades for a foreign film called Under Dog) told each player’s back stories enough for us to understand their tremendous drive to be victor. And extra congrats to the man who did the musical score, Jonas Struck who not only saved, but refreshed re-watching a condensed 5 hour tennis match.

Definitely worth seeing on the big screen, especially if you’re a tennis fan. And thank you very much to my comedy editor and com padre, Bob, for treating me to this film, the finale of the Cineworld Film Fest sponsored by the Sarasota film Society.