Everything Everywhere All At Once

Release: Friday, March 25, 2022

👀 Theater

Written by: Dan Kwan; Daniel Scheinert

Directed by: Dan Kwan; Daniel Scheinert

Starring: Michelle Yeoh; Ke Huy Quan; Stephanie Hsu; Jamie Lee Curtis; James Hong; Jenny Slate

Distributor: A24 

 

 

***/*****

No one makes a movie like Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, nor does anyone dare try. Relatively unknown as the guys behind viral music videos such as DJ Snake’s Turn Down For What, the writer/directors etched their shared first-name moniker into audiences’ minds forever with their supremely strange feature film debut Swiss Army Man in 2016. Now they return with a proposition that makes their first effort seem unadventurous by comparison.

With a fatter budget and increased confidence Daniels take massive swings for the fences with their own indie flavored multiverse movie. Everything Everywhere All At Once is undeniably the product of two of the most inventive and unapologetically odd filmmakers running around Hollywood at the moment. It is also a rare casualty of production company A24’s artist-friendly approach. Unfettered weirdness mutates from exhilarating to eventually exhausting over the course of two long and chaotic hours.

In the off-kilter and unpredictable world of Daniels nothing is certain except death, taxes and this pesky thing called Jobu Tupaki, an anarchic entity intent on destroying literally everything in existence. The story centers on a Chinese-American family whose matriarch is unwittingly pulled into a confrontation with this threat. In acquiring all kinds of abilities and insight jumping in and out of the various lives she might have lived she becomes the only one who can stop it. However, her ability to succeed may well hinge on her willingness to make amends with those closest to her.

The simple yet heavy question “what if my life went differently” is at the heart of this highly cerebral and often ridiculous journey. When we first meet her, Evelyn Wang (a dynamic Michelle Yeoh) is not exactly living the high life. Struggling to make ends meet with her laundromat, she is preparing for an audit by the IRS (represented by an amusingly frumpy Jamie Lee Curtis) while nervously awaiting the arrival of her intimidating father Gong Gong (James Hong). All is not well on the home front either as husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), at wit’s end trying to make their life happy, trails her around with divorce papers. Meanwhile daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) wants to introduce Gong Gong to her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) but Evelyn doesn’t think that is a good idea.

There is enough tension and acrimony in the early going to serve a compelling family drama on network television. But this is Daniels, not This is Us, and so the film with all of its fantastical elements takes a rather circuitous route in elucidating what really matters. When we arrive at the IRS building the story takes on an entirely new life — The Matrix meets Boots Riley — and it’s as though Daniels have bailed on their early suggestion of more intimate drama. In an elevator, a transformation occurs and suddenly Evelyn’s pushover hubby becomes a kung fu master brimming with charisma. Like Morpheus, this more assertive Waymond from the “alpha-verse” has searched far and wide to find the right one for the job.

As it was with Swiss Army Man, the established rules and mechanisms that enable the action to tick forward can be challenging to accept. Here you’ll receive a crash-course in “verse-jumping,” learn what “mind-splintering” is (and perhaps, like me, experience it yourself) and encounter bagel-worshipping cults and people with hot dogs for fingers. Absurdism is part of the filmmakers’ appeal, but Everything Everywhere takes liberties with your goodwill — a moment in which a man flings himself across a room for the specific purpose of impaling himself on a sex toy seems like an easy cut to make.

Fortunately the performances are really good, particularly the dynamic between Yeoh and Quan. Together they imbue the narrative with just enough humanity to make the insanity relatable. Yeoh is a force to be reckoned with as she multitasks as both hero and an everywoman. Semi-retired actor Ke Huy Quan makes a triumphant return to the screen, falling toward the center of emotional devastation as a man who can’t imagine any version of his own life without his wife. As the daughter, Hsu fits in nicely as well, creating a character full of believable torment — a young woman caught between cultures who never seems to measure up to expectations.

Everything Everywhere toes the line between artistic freedom and pretentiousness. For all that this swirling mass of energy and ideas does differently and at times movingly, the cumulative effect is not entirely satisfying, the payoff frustratingly minimal for all the energy required to keep pace.

Gonna take this to another level.

Moral of the Story: Kung Fu Bagel. Enter the Bagel. Big Bagel in Little China. Whichever way you want to slice it, this crazy visual feast is unlike anything you’ll see this year. Personally, I don’t think the film’s messaging is particularly original or profound, but there’s certainly stuff here to strike an emotional chord. And I also do appreciate how the film’s conflict revolves around imperfect people vs chaos, rather than pure good vs pure evil. The villain(y) is refreshingly nuanced. 

Rated: R (for rocks!)

Running Time: 139 mins.

Quoted: “So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say, in another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The 33

'The 33' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 13, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Mikko Alanne; Craig Borten; Michael Thomas; Jose Rivera

Directed by: Patricia Riggen

Patricia Riggen’s optimistic, spiritual account of the 2010 San José mining accident in which 33 miners were trapped 2,300 feet below ground for nearly three months collapses under the weight of a feebly written and executed script.

Disaster films aren’t known for their star-making performances nor their Oscar-baiting screenplays, and The 33 is perfectly okay with continuing that trend, rendering everyone whose name isn’t Antonio Banderas cardboard cut-outs of characters. Because disaster films aren’t known for their acting pedigree, it might seem odd that my major complaint with this picture is the abysmal acting on display. And yet, this thing is painful to sit through folks, even despite an outcome that is quite uplifting because, you know . . . it really happened.

Riggen finds herself combatting the odds with a roster the size of two Marvel films put together. There are at least 33 main characters, and those are just the miners trapped beneath the earth — more specifically, under a rock that apparently weighed twice as much as the Empire State Building. Collectively, I suppose, you could consider them one singular character, only one that’s not very exciting to watch. On the surface, both literally and figuratively, we deal with Chilean government officials, concerned more with public image than the safety of those involved and the grieving family members whose desperate requests are often stymied by bureaucratic bullshit.

Speaking of, there’s Bob Gunton as President Piñera, a far cry from his Warden Norton and Rodrigo Santoro as Chilean engineer Laurence Golborne, whose handsome exterior makes him the perfect candidate as a pseudo-public relations manager, a character so ill-defined I don’t think I’m making that title up. He’s meant to be an engineer, although he’s reminded several times by Gabriel Byrne‘s Actual Engineer character that he should start thinking like one. Duh. Isn’t it obvious? People’s lives are in danger, get it together man!

Gunton and Santoro are rendered as puppets, wooden and largely void of charisma in their Suits, the kind you expect to see in films dealing with real lives hanging in the balance, lives dependent upon their political clout to ironically save them. Even more nebulous are the aforementioned family members, though one in particular stands out because she’s played by Juliette Binoche (for some reason). She’s sister to the alcoholic Darío Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba); the pair have more issues communicating than Hellen Keller. Apparently they’ve suffered some sort of trauma in the past.

Clearly, something was going to have to be sacrificed given the extensive roster. But Riggen, along with a quartet of writers, sacrifices the wrong thing, reducing virtually every miner and their corresponding family members to a few lines at most. It’s nigh on impossible to root for these people when we already know the outcome and when we can’t tell Adam from Eve. Fans of The Office will get some mileage out of Oscar Nuñez as Yonni Barrios, one of the miners who is experiencing marital woes and who apparently farts in his sleep. If I weren’t such a fan of his character in that show I’d label this characterization as annoyingly juvenile. Actually, it still is just juvenile, but at least there’s an attempt to shove some humor down into these dank caves.

There are a few positive takeaways, however. What saves this largely uncharismatic cast is the level of diversity in the casting itself. Chilean, Brazilian, Filipino, Mexican, Cuban and Colombian actors congregate to play their Chilean parts, and once again it’s apparent how much Banderas believes in this material. His Mario Sepúlveda is one of an elite few with energy and passion. And quite frankly I was prepared for the religious overtones to be off-putting. Instead this adds weight to proceedings. It’s also one of a few elements that signify the passage of time, lending gravity to the collective despair.

Unfortunately these elements are not enough to qualify The 33 as a natural disaster/biopic worth digging into.

Antonio Banderas inspiring his mining brothers to keep the good faith in 'The 33'

Recommendation: The 33 represents a cinematic treatment of a fairly recent and highly unlikely rescue mission that garnered global attention and support. The optimism is a welcomed attribute, but weak writing and poor acting do a lot of damage here. If you’re looking for basic coverage of the event in cinematic form, I think this is currently your only option (unless there’s a documentary out there somewhere). Inspired by the book ‘Deep Down Dark,’ written by Hector Tobar.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “That’s not a rock, that’s the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: King Lines (2007)

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This Thursday afternoon I’m getting away from Hollywoodland. I’ve been finding myself in the climbing gym a little bit more these days, so let’s throw it back to one of the best climbing porn videos I’ve ever seen — King Lines. If you haven’t seen many climbing videos or videos of other similar outdoor activities, you’ll likely be unfamiliar with the term ‘climbing porn.’ It may be helpful to break this term down, since I’ll probably be going to it a lot in the following review: it’s any video that simply captures the sport at its best, be it due to incredible feats of athleticism, sheer artistic creativity, and/or the quality and exoticness of the locations featured throughout. Most of these acclaimed videos feature a good amount of all three, which truly makes otherwise unremarkable footage of people climbing (and sometimes falling, too) really worthwhile watching — hence the term of endearment. Climbers are known to throw such a term around with no hesitation as are kayakers, skiers, wake boarders. . . probably even motorized scooter-ers. In this case, we’ve got some incredible climbing on our hands as we take a look into the life of one of the sport’s premier performers, Chris Sharma.

Today’s food for thought: King Lines

king-lines-dvd-cover

Released: March 1, 2007

[DVD]

Get ready to dive into a spectacular world of pastel colors and perfectly sculpted rock as we follow across the globe one of the most dominant athletes of his generation — Chris Sharma, the rock climbing prodigy from Santa Cruz, California — in his quest to discover the biggest and most obscure routes on the planet. The BigUps-produced documentary, filmed by accomplished directing partners Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer, is a 70-minute adrenaline rush that combines exciting action with a compelling documentary-style story that nitpicks through some of Sharma’s most inspired and inspir-ING moments in his young professional career, and finds him continuing to make history in multiple aspects of the sport of climbing.

Some of the adventure’s highlights include the successful completion of an 80-plus-foot natural route up an isolated arch formation in the sea; his first attempts at sussing out a 200-foot sport climb (routes which don’t require placing gear in the rock, just clipping bolts every twenty or so feet) on a gigantic chunk of limestone in the desert; discovering new boulders to climb on a remote South American rock plateau; as well as a fascinating discovery of his personal life as he went from rock climber to rock star. Never before has a climber’s life been so analyzed in one film — and fortunately Lowell and Mortimer mix just the right amount of that material with some of the most visually arresting climbing moments you’re ever going to see. The journey takes us to paradises ranging from the gleaming cliffs of Mallorca, Spain; to the white crown of rock overlooking Céüse, France; to the unforgiving desert at the California-Nevada border; and even in for a quick stop at Chris’ old house in Cali.

It’s the moments of peace and quiet, the more intimate footage of the climber that sets King Lines apart from a majority of other fascinating climbing films. The focus on personal aspects of his life is effectively meshed with footage of Chris at his most iconic (you need to seriously hear this guy when he’s climbing something really difficult), giving us a well-rounded perspective that not a lot of other films really care for. Not that they need to, either. Most films exist to show a variety of different climbs, in the format of a compilation of several edited sections of climbs in different places, involving different people. But the intent behind Lowell’s new project was to offer something far closer to a biography and make the film have a much more theatrical appeal, an effort which really ends up paying dividends. Not only are the climbs that Sharma attempts magical and supremely difficult, they mean something because they are in relation to something more than just “the next climb” in the story.

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Sharma on the lower third of his still un-repeated climb, ‘Es Pontas’ on The Arch off the coast of Mallorca, 2007.

Sharma became fascinated with the sport of rock climbing at an (unsurprisingly) early age — around 12 or so, and was released from the hellish grips of high school before he completed it so he could tour globally with other athletes to compete and win big cash prizes. And he did just that from pretty much age 14 onwards. As the movie makes it clear (and although anyone who is really into climbing probably already knows this about him prior to King Lines) he’s been an unstoppable force ever since. While there are other climbers out there currently who may exhibit even stronger physical traits, perhaps no one has been so good for quite as long as Chris has. Time will tell on that. But few will be able to physically embody the sport quite like Sharma has either — even with all the positive and negative connotations that come with being a role model for rock climbing.

There’s no doubt that where Lowell and Mortimer catch Sharma is, being realistic, in an advanced stage in his career. With the film being shot in 2007, Sharma was entering his late 20s (26 at the time) and in the arena of anything athletic, approaching 30 is a significant milestone regarding one’s performance. However, it seems that he’s always going to be the type of dude who enjoys defying certain realities. He’s 32 now and still performing at a remarkably high level; in fact, he’s close to completing the hardest routes he’s ever done — which is synonymous with the highest degree of difficulty currently possible.

This half-documentary-half-adventure film provides plenty of examples of his physical dominance at ages both young and more matured. A teenaged-looking Chris removes an outer layer of clothing during the middle of a climb, a climb that turns out to be in the top tier of rock climbing difficulty at the time. Later in the film he sticks a gigantic move in a public competition in Barcelona using only one arm, and moves beyond it — a move that few (if any) previous climbers had been able to perform using both. King Lines showcases why he’s been the Michael Jordan of rock climbing for so long. A certain segment will show you just how “mainstream” the name ‘Chris Sharma’ had become at one point in American culture. It’s really quite fascinating.

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Sharma and company explore some surreal rock formations on an obscure South American elevated plateau

For a great many viewers of rock climbing porn, the greatest reward usually lies in the visual splendor and the Lowell-Mortimer team sure as hell does not disappoint here. For every location that is explored, the camerawork is nothing short of perfection. Crystal-clear high-def cameras zero in on the smallest of native insects and animals; they also capture some of the most stunning atmospheric phenomena and categorically define the locations that they’re in at any given time. The visual appeal is undoubtedly where the term “climbing porn” most easily applies, but for a film like this, it truly is how all three elements — the visuals, the editing creativity, and the story — combine and work together in the same direction.

As is typical for most films of this variety, there are multiple interviews with other key players in the game. The cast here includes the likes of famous climbers Boone Speed, Miquel Riera, Randy Leavitt, Dave Graham, Melissa LaCasse, Sam Whittaker, Ethan Pringle and the gym instructor Andy Puhvel who was among the first to discover Chris’ talents. Each interview is actually substantial and doesn’t feel awkward and obligated as a good number of these do in lower-budget versions of climbing porn. They also fit well into the overarching narrative, another trend that doesn’t usually work out that well in other climbing videos. It would seem that King Lines is the cream of the crop when it comes to watching climbing. Since its release, a host of other similar quality films have been pushed out to the young and unruly market, and while it may be a stretch to definitively say this one film inspired the style of more recent films and shorts, it wouldn’t be a stretch to at least think this would be possible. King Lines is as influential as any climbing video is likely to ever be.

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the 200-plus-foot route atop Clark Mtn at the California-Nevada border. Sharma completed the route in 2011, hesitant to give the route a grade since it’s unusually large. let’s just call it impossible, for all intents and purposes

4-5Recommendation: As obscure as a film like this is, King Lines could have made a strong bid for having an actual theater release. I would absolutely pay $20 to see this on an IMAX screen, by the way. It’s a climber fetish film, but it has more layers than just the simple joy of getting to see some quality rock being climbed and some cultures explored. At the heart of it is an intriguing story about one of the world’s top climbers and his personal journey to establish some of the world’s hardest climbs as well as some of the most beautiful. It’s a story that could satisfy on any level of engagement in the sport, even those who don’t do it (or even like it). This is a climbing film that cannot be called ‘boring.’ It might be even more basic than that: it’s a film that cannot even be really called a ‘climbing film.’ It’s a film about climbing, and the difference will be noted almost immediately by those who are frequent climbing film viewers.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 70 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.watchbest-sportsmovie.blogspot.com; http://www.extreme-vidz.com; http://www.grippingflicks.com; http://www.vimeo.com