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Interview: Director/ Writer Lulu Wang talks “The Farewell”

After seeing the trailer for “The Farewell”, I was hooked into the idea of seeing this original movie. A Chinese family lying to their grandmother, who only has months to live, and deciding to not tell her. As a way to gather before Nai Nai’s (Shuzhen Zhao) final months, the family schedules an impromptu wedding.

I can tell you now, the anticipation was warranted as the film delivers in performances, emotion and overall story.

The film is based on a real lie that director/writer, Lulu Wang, and her family came up with 6 years ago. Audiences are invited into this family gathering, and will feel as though they are sitting in on private conversations.

Lulu Wang (Writer/Director of “The Farewell”)

I sat down with Wang while she was in Dallas to promote “The Farewell”.  She explained why she wanted to share this story. “I think the set-up, first of all was so ridiculous. I felt like I needed to share it; in a way like “this is so crazy can you believe it?” It was also the humor and joy that’s juxtaposed with the grief. And how this family has such a light-hearted wonderful perspective on life, that even in the darkest moments they’ve certainly taught me to not focus on the negative and to find the joy and humor in whatever levity you can.”

No matter what culture or background you come from, anyone will be able to relate to the characters in “The Farewell”. Wang described how she wrote with such authenticity. “The key is to make them (the characters) complex and not one-sided. I didn’t set out to make anyone good or bad. I just found the things that I love about them; the things that are kind of irritating sometimes and frustrating and explored all of that.”

Though we are used to seeing Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians”, “Oceans 8”) in comedic films, the actress shines in a more dramatic role as Lulu Wang’s character, Billi. Awkwafina had expressed interest in the role after reading the script, and sent Wang an impressive audition tape. “In the tape she did a couple scenes, and it was really the moments where she wasn’t even talking. She was reading with this woman off screen. And when this woman was delivering lines, Awkwafina was listening. But sometimes with actors, when they’re just listening it feels like they are just waiting for their turn to speak. I mean in real life, too, sometimes people are just waiting for their turn to speak (laughs). But with Awkwafina, you could really tell on screen that she was just listening, and processing, and she had all of this conflict just going on internally. And it was amazing that she was able to do that without saying a word,” explained Wang.

There’s a line in the film about how, “If it’s for good it’s not a lie. It’s a good lie.” Wang expressed how she felt about that quote. “I think the one thing I’ve learned from working on this film is; I set out to find an answer, but I came out on the other side realizing that it’s not about the answer. It’s really just about asking the questions. I think that I’ve just come to really respect my family’s decision (to not tell Nai Nai about her illness) and recognize that it’s not my decision to make. And I feel fortunate that it’s not my decision, because it is not an easy one to make.”

Though “The Farewell” can be sad at times, there is a lot awkward laughs throughout the film. A fun moment of comic relief is seeing different family members karaoke during the not so typical wedding scene. Wang discussed her love of karaoke and her favorite songs to perform. “I have a lot. Awkwafina has been talking a lot in the press about my Bloodhound Gang song (laughs). Which like, I didn’t start singing that until my producer started singing that, and it became like an inside joke. But I have quite a few. I really like Day Dream Believer by the Monkeys. I like some good oldies. I’ll also once in a while do like Halo by Beyonce. That’s a very good karaoke song!”

The movie expresses a powerful message recited by Nai Nai, “Life is not about what you do, it’s how you do it.” Wang discussed how she’s currently living life the way she’d hope, by trying to get the most out of every moment. “I recently watched Aziz Ansari: Right Now, which was such a great show and such great title. But in the stand-up, he says that “the only thing that matters is this moment and the people that we’re with”. I was really moved by that, because after everything he’s been through and the state of the world that were in right now. I just don’t want to make work, or do anything that continues to cause divide. Like, I don’t want to spend time fighting, and so just trying to stay level headed and enjoy the moment.”

Audiences will enjoy every moment spent during “The Farewell”. It’s a must see for the entire family.

“The Farewell” opens in select theaters on July 26!

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Interview: Director Sean Anders talks “Instant Family”

Sean Anders’ new film “Instant Family” will be opening this weekend and he is making the rounds to promote it.  The film is based on his on experience of adopting 3 kids.  Check out my interview Anders as we discuss when it’s the right time to have kids, the best part of being a parent and more!

“Instant Family” opens in theaters November 16.

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Interview: Jeannette Walls talks “The Glass Castle”

I sat down with writer and journalist Jeannette Walls, author of “The Glass Castle.”  We discussed the new film based on her memoir, the proper way to raise a family and much more!  Check out the interview below.

“The Glass Castle” opens in theaters on August 11.

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Movie Review: “Despicable Me 3” Entertains but Lacks Depth

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In the first “Despicable Me”, Gru (Steve Carell) discovered the meaning of fatherhood and how rewarding it was to care for three little girls who loved him back. In “Despicable Me 2”, Gru discovered love with his romantic interest, Lucy (Kristen Wiig). In “Despicable Me 3” Gru discovers a twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Carell), whom he never knew he had. And somewhere in all these films he takes down an evil villain more diabolical than him.

The franchise sticks with an adequate formula that entertains enough. But unfortunately with each passing sequel, the films seem to be loosing the heart of the story. “Despicable Me 3” begins with the introduction of a new villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), who is a washed up 80’s child star that wants revenge on world that turned on him. After failing to take down Bratt during one of his heists, Gru and his now wife, Lucy, are fired from their jobs at the Anti-Villain League. In the midst, of trying to figure his next step, a strange man visits Gru to tell him about a twin brother he never knew he had who needs his help.

Once Gru, Lucy, and the girls arrive at Dru’s very rich mansion, they discover he is not exactly what they expected. For starters, he has a full head of blonde hair, he has an obsession with pigs, and he’s a clumsy, sweet guy who’s desperate to become a villain like his brother once was. While Gru attempts to reconnect to his old “bad guy” days, Lucy is busy trying to have some mother/daughter bonding time with the girls.

Though the twin brother story-line does offer longer legs for the film’s franchise, you have to wonder if it is worth the stretch marks the movies are beginning to show. The family relationships are excellent factors to “Despicable Me”, but it might be wise for the films to put a little more care and thought into their antagonists. At this point they are meaningless obstacles to whatever Gru is hoping to achieve.

Oh and you’re probably wondering about the minions. Yes, there is plenty of minions in this movie. I found there was a little too much of them. But if you love them as much as little kids do, you’re all set. The minions have their own mini adventure side story that you will either find adorable or an absolute waste of time.

“Despicable Me 3” is an overall enjoyable kids film. We’re given a handful of laughs and a decent amount of tender moments. However, for a film that had such a strong start, I had hoped this movie would leave me wanting more instead of worrying about what’s to come.

RATING: 3.5/5

“Despicable Me 3” opens in theaters June 30.

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Interview: Jovan Adepo talks “Fences”

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Jovan Adepo portrays Corey in Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, “Fences.” I got a chance to talk with Adepo about the new film. We discussed how much someone’s career can affect their personal life, daily movie references and more!

“Fences” opens in theaters December 24.

Click Here to Watch Jovan Adepo Interview

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Interview: Ice Cube & Lamorne Morris talk “Barbershop: The Next Cut”

I got a chance to speak with Ice Cube and Lamorne Morris about the next installment in the Barbershop franchise, “Barbershop: The Next Cut”.  We discussed biggest hometown firsts, how to protect kids from violence, and life changes from the past 10 to 12 years.

“Barbershop: The Next Cut” opens in theaters April 15.

Click Here to Watch “Barbershop: The Next Cut” Interview with Ice Cube & Lamorne Morris

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Movie Review: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” Entertains but Fails to Charm

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Fourteen years ago “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was the word-of-mouth hit that surprised everyone with its slow success.  Such a simple plot, with lovable characters.  The simplicity is why the film was so great.  Writer and star, Nia Vardalos who play Toula, took the time to not only write a thought-out plot, but also give proper character development to both the lead and supporting cast.  Which is why we cared so much about each and every person in the movie.

Now, the Portokalos has returned and expanded.  Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) have a 17 year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), whose just about had it with her smothering Greek family.  As she begins to apply for college she must decide between a school near by or out of state, adding worry to her already troubled parents.  But this is not the only story-line.  You see in this sequel we are given multiple plots that are somewhat interesting.

While trying to find out if Alexander the Great is one of his ancestors, Gus (Michael Constantine), discovers that his marriage license was not signed by the priest, meaning him and Maria (Lainie Kazan) were never officially married.  This is where the wedding part comes in.  Maria demands a “real” proposal and “real” wedding…que the cliche montage of the quirky wedding preparations.  All the while, Toula is so busy trying to fix her parent’s marriage, that she is neglecting her own.

Yes, there is a lot going on in this film.  Luckily, its not so much that you can’t follow the story.  It’s just hard to care about so many different plots.  It would have been nicer, if “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” followed its predecessor’s formula and stuck to one central focus.

I do admire the film for at least attempting an original story instead of recycling from the previous film.  And even though the movie wasn’t anything special, it was still enjoyable.  Luckily, we had the pleasure of knowing all these characters in a better setting, so regardless of the subpar premise, I was still happy to see their current situations.

Ultimately, the greatest factor of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was the merging of two different cultures and how though it can involve a lot of hilarious obstacles, there is a genuine and heart-warming quality about seeing two different people accepting each other and their families.  “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” just didn’t have that kind of heart to it.

That being said “My Big fat Greek Wedding 2” is still worth a watch.  Fans will get enough laughs out of the jokes and be happy to see the entire cast reunited again.

Rating: 3/5

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” opens in theaters March 25.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” Official Trailer HD

Interview: Byron Howard & Rich Moore talk “Zootopia”

 

I sat down with directors Byron Howard & Rich Moore to discuss their incredible new animated film, “Zootopia”. We talked about not giving up on your dream job, the stereotypes directors fight against and which message from a film impacted them the most as a kid!

“Zootopia” opens in theaters March 4.

“Zootopia” Interview with Directors Byron Howard & Rich Moore

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Movie Review: “The Visit” is a Welcoming Comeback for M. Night Shyamalan

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M. Knight Shyamalan was once known for his great films such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs.  Unfortunately, his more recent projects have subjected us to some underwhelming, pieces of crap like The Happening and After Earth.  Well folks, I’m pleased to say that Shyamalan’s newest film, The Visit, succeeds as a highly entertaining horror-comedy!

Kathryn Hahn plays a single mother of two who has not spoken to her parents since she left home at the age of 19, and ran off with an older man.  Now, her parents have reached out to her through the internet and ask that her children come to visit their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), whom they’ve never met.

Per the kids’ wishes, the mom sends them to their grandparents’ isolated, Pennsylvania farmhouse in the woods for a week while she goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend.  The eldest child, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), is an aspiring filmmaker.  She takes this opportunity to document her entire trip, and hopefully uncover exactly what happened the day her mother walked out on her parents and maybe even mend their relationship.  Alongside her, as a second camera operator is her younger, germ phobic, rapping brother, Tyler (Olivia DeJonge).

The trip starts all well and good, Nana makes plenty of tasty treats and Pop Pop enjoys listening to Tyler’s ridiculously, hilarious raps.  Seems as though it will be a great week for the kids; that is until they discover why bed time is at 9:30pm.  Nana goes from a harmless, nocturnal sleepwalker to a straight up psychotic, creepy, crawler within each passing night!  And what exactly is Pop Pop doing when he disappears inside his mysterious shed?

As things are turning eerie fast, the kids are desperate to have their mother come get them before anymore craziness unfolds.

Shyamalan has not only redeemed himself as a filmmaker, but he has also brought originality to the found-footage genre.  His combination of humor and terror will have audiences uncomfortably laughing while still on the edge of their seats as they nervously anticipate what’s to come.

The acting is good overall, especially when it comes to the two kids, who could have ruined the whole film if they were wrongly cast.  Oxenbould was given some cheesy lines and potentially bad jokes, but his delivery and timing is so on point that you can’t help but enjoy every second he’s on screen.  But the real stand out here is Nana.  Dunagan gives an incredible performance as the disturbing grandmother who seesaws from sweet and nurturing to plain insanity.

The Visit provides comedy, horror, family, and best of all, a startling amount of effed up sh**.  Literally!

Rating: 4/5

The Visit opens in theaters on September 11.

Movie Review: “And So It Goes” is a Generic Feel-Good Family Film

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton team up for the first time in a comedy that will warm your heart, but most likely escape your mind once you leave the theater.

Oren Little ( Douglas ) is a successful, self-centered realtor living in a somewhat secluded, peaceful home.  But, his life is quickly turned upside down when his estranged adult son shows up out of the blue and drops a bomb on him.  He is about go to jail for nine-months and needs his dad to look after his almost 10 year-old daughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins).   At first Oren is adamant that he won’t be looking after the granddaughter he never knew existed.   Luckily, Leah (Diane Keaton), the kind, self-less next door neighbor steps in assuring Oren’s son that she will be in good hands.  And so, begins a story you can probably already predict.

Love is not just felt for young Sarah; it is also spreading its way to an unlikely couple.  Leah and Oren share a sweet romance, but not an exciting one.  Michael Douglas definitely still has “it.”  Charm, wit, class, he exudes all of it when he is on screen.   Diane Keaton on the other hand offers some shrilling and quite annoying cries throughout the film.  The cries aren’t as bad as they were in Something’s Gotta Give, but my gosh.  Whoever thought the constant whiney sobs of woman are hilarious is seriously mistaken.  Keaton plays a very likeable character and caring one at that, but somehow her moments of comedy failed to produce any real laughs.  Douglas and Keaton have great chemistry as friends, but as lovers their relationship felt forced.

Though the romantic aspect of And So It Goes was weak, the family story-line was surprisingly enjoyable.  Seeing Oren with his granddaughter or even his limited moments with his son can’t help but make you smile.

And So It Goes hardly stands out among the films currently in theaters, and I can’t even say it should be in your top choices to see this summer.  However, if you are in the mood for a light, uplifting, and simple comedy, then I do recommend you sit back and enjoy this endearing story.

Rating: 2.5/5

And So It Goes hits theaters July 25.

And So It Goes Official Trailer HD