Blue Bayou – Film Review

Blue Bayou (2021) - IMDb

Director: Justin Chon

Writer: Justin Chon

Starring: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Linh Dan Pham, Sydney Kowalske, Vondie Cutris-Hall, Emory Cohen

Rating: ★★★★

There’s a generation of internationally adopted people in America who may not hold citizenship and could face deportation, even if they came to the country when they were very young and have stayed there since. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 attempted to fix this, by granting citizenship to any child who is adopted from overseas. This didn’t cover adoptees who had already turned 18 at the time the law was passed and there are still adoptees in America today who may not even realise they don’t hold citizenship.

Writer and director Justin Chon explores this loophole in the law and the horrific situations it has caused in his latest film, Blue Bayou. After the films initial release back in September it was met with a polarised response from the adoptee community in America. The story closely resembles that of Adam Crapser, a Korean adoptee who was deported in 2016. At one point Chon reached out to Crapser, but they didn’t communicate properly, and Crapser has criticised the film for profiteering from his story. It’s caused controversy that have overshadowed the film. Chon has responded by saying that the story isn’t based on any one individual and that he worked with several adoptees to create an authentic story. It’s a messy story that mists up a powerful story and one that will hopefully bring a lot more attention to the importance of the actual situation.

Justin Chon stars as Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean adoptee who is struggling to make enough money to support his family and has another child on the way. His wife’s ex, Ace (Mark O’Brien), is causing issues, trying to see his daughter, thinking that Antonio is getting in the way. After an altercation between Antonio, Ace and Ace’s police partner in a store, Antonio is facing deportation back to Korea despite having lived in the country for over thirty years, since his adoptive parents didn’t register his citizenship.

Blue Bayou is not subtle in its message. Straight from the opening scene where Antonio is in a job interview and his heritage and run in with the law become a sticking point instantly, right through to the callous bureaucracy that he faces when trying to appeal his deportation. Antonio is an incredibly unlucky person whose entire life has been drenched in horrific events. The family that adopted him when he was barely a toddler, abandoned him six months later, leaving him to move from foster home to foster home, until a family take him in only to abuse him. He’s had run ins with the law, when he was younger stealing bikes, and can’t put the mistake behind him. His mother-in-law clearly doesn’t like him and doesn’t shy away from showing it. The cards are stacked up against him.

The film is designed to pull at your emotions. Justin Chon has brilliantly crafted, through a production of over four years, a story that will hopefully bring awareness to a massive injustice in America. It’s a heart-breaking story and while it does go to any length necessary to get an emotional reaction from the audience, it doesn’t feel overbaked. Mainly because the central family drama between Antonio, his wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske). Their story is emotional, and it does really hit you.

There’s a scene early on, before things really get going, where Jesse and Antonio spend a day together, with Jesse skipping school. She’s worried that Antonio won’t love her as much now that he has a real daughter on the way, he responds by taking her on a day out bonding and showing her his secret spot that he loves so much. It’s a really touching sequence, where Chon and Kowalske really shine. Their relationship is the heart and soul of the film.

Blue Bayou does feel contrived at points, and the real-life controversy is very conflicting, but the story still resonates when you watch it. It’s a powerful and heart-wrenching story that really hits. It doesn’t shy away from being brutal right up to incredibly heart-breaking ending. It hits your emotional heart like a truck and then as the film ends, shows you pictures and facts about the adoptees that inspired the story and helped Chon while he was developing the script and final film. The ending is emotionally powerful and leaves you really feeling the weight of the reality for so many people. It’s an important topic and the film will hopefully help provide attention to it.

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The Cleanse – Monster Mondays

The Cleanse (2016) - IMDb

Director: Bobby Miller

Writer: Bobby Miller

Starring: Johnny Galecki, Anna Friel, Oliver Platt, Anjelica Huston, Kyle Gallner, Kevin J. O’Connor, Diana Bang

Rating: ★★★1/2

The Cleanse stars Johnny Galecki as Paul Berger, a middle-aged man who is struggling after his breakup with his fiancé. He visits a café where they used to eat, only to find that the staff only vaguely remembers him. No one really wants to talk. In a desperate attempt to find help he applies to go on a retreat after seeing an advert on late night TV. Paul is chosen to go the retreat and is given four cleansing drinks that must be drank in one day. He then throws up his negativity, which forms into a little monster.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I put this on. It turns out The Cleanse is a comedy dark fantasy, and it is quite funny at points. There’s an awkward interaction between Paul and the other customers in the café at the start that sets the tone of the awkwardness of the humour. It is unsettling when he first finds the monster in the drain after throwing it up, but it never goes beyond that. It’s not trying to be scary.

The acting is surprisingly decent. Johnny Galecki is playing someone very similar to Leonard in The Big Bang Theory, very nervous around people but also talkative and tries to be as nice as possible. Anna Friel is good as Maggie, an actor who hasn’t worked in a while, but is also on the retreat. Anjelica Huston is strange and wonderful as the leader of the retreat, making her entrance by screaming as she walks into the group.

The film is really short. It’s eighty minutes, but ten of those are the credits, so it’s over at seventy. Which is good because it’s didn’t need to be any longer than that. The premise and plot is simple and concise and padding it out would have really ruined it.

Each monster shares similarities to the human it came out of. The effects are really good, with some interesting monster design and puppetry, especially towards the end as the monsters grow. They’re a little grotesque at points, and lovable the next.

The Cleanse is a surprisingly solid film, it’s entertaining in the short time that it lasts, with a fair few laughs, and some great effects. I quite liked it.

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The Matrix – The Unbeatable Original – Film Review

The Matrix (1999) - IMDb

Directors: The Wachowskis

Writers: The Wachowskis

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Anthony Ray Parker, Julian Arahanga, Matt Doran, Gloria Foster

Rating: ★★★★★

With only a few weeks until the highly anticipated The Matrix Resurrections is finally released, the original Matrix film is heading back to cinemas, this time in 4K and IMAX. The ground-breaking film is one of the most important releases in modern times. It’s not just the massive leap in technology which inspired so many parodies and copy-cats, but the film was and still is a cultural phenomenon and it still stands up as one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made.

There’s nothing that hasn’t already been said about this film over and over again, it’s as close to perfect as it can be. Being able to see the modern classic on the big screen is worthy of making the trip, especially for those of us in a generation who didn’t get the chance the first time round. In 4K the film looks gorgeous. The picture is crystal clear, and the sound is perfect.

The story about someone who sometimes can’t tell if he’s awake or dreaming and then finding out the world around him is a simulation still resonates. The world created within the film is still just as interesting as it was the first time around. In last few years people have gone back to the film and looked at the transgender themes in it, something that co-writer/director Lilly Wachowski has spoken about in the last couple of years in detail. It’s very interesting to read through the interview with her, that’s available online, and then watch that film through that lens.

It’s not the only way to look at it, the film also works as a religious allegory with Neo being The One, as well as the capitalist society that we live in with the idea that the system we live in is only an illusion that only works if we agree to it. There’s a lot of different interpretations to the film, but what makes The Matrix so special is that at its core, it’s simply just great sci-fi with some excellent lore and world building.

The Matrix (1999) - IMDb

It’s a film that rewards you for repeat viewings, each time you reveal more and more of the universe and story that’s being told. So many things are explained and shown that every time you watch it you pick up on even more little details. It’s a fantastic story that’s told really well. It moves so fast that the whole thing flies by, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.  

The action and choreography for the fighting is incredible and hasn’t aged at all. It rivals any of the big budget blockbusters with its fight sequences. They are choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping and are incredible. It’s still just as exciting to watch, as it must have been in 1999. In the same way that the special effects, such as bullet time, which were revolutionary at the time still hold up. There’s one dodgy looking explosion towards the end, but beyond that you could mistake this for a film made today.

The performances are all excellent, especially from Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano and Laurence Fishburne. Even Keanu Reeves is pretty good in this film. His stilted performance fits Neo, who is essentially a new-born child in an adult’s body. They all look stylish as hell in the outfits, that became a trend in action films of the late 90s.

The Matrix is a quintessential sci-fi film. It’s absolutely thrilling, the effects and choreography are stunning and the cyberpunk stylised visuals pop of the screen. For fans of the film it’s really worth seeking out the 4K edition, especially if it’s showing in a cinema near you.

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C’mon C’mon – A Raw and Emotional Masterpiece – Film Review Review

Director: Mike Mills

Writer: Mike Mills

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White, and Woody Norman

Rating ★★★★½

Mike Mills makes a feature film around every 5 years, with many shorts in between. His 2010 film Beginners is one of the best films of recent years. C’mon C’mon is a triumph and celebration of life, death and everything in between. It’s raw and emotional and really touches you with it’s simple and heartfelt story.

It’s been a year since Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and Viv (Gabby Hoffmann) have spoken, which was when their mother died after suffering from dementia. Viv is having to travel to look after her estranged husband, Paul (Scoot McNairy), and Johnny offers to look after her son, Jesse (Woody Norman). The situation takes longer than Viv originally thought, meaning Jesse has to travel to New York with his uncle so he can continue working, with the bond between the growing.

C’mon C’mon is a really heartfelt, sweet and emotional story about a man learning to connect with his nephew. Johnny is thrown into a situation and feels very disorientated, similarly to how writer and director Mike Mills felt when he had his first child back in 2014. He’s doesn’t know how to really act around his nephew, and has to quickly develop a bond with him. The film is really intimate, being shot completely in black and white and showing the small moments in life from bath time to buying a toothbrush.

At the same time the small and intimate is contrasted with the travelling that Johnny does for work as a radio journalist. He’s travelling to different cities, with Jesse close behind, interviewing children about the future and their worries and dreams. It’s the grandness of the world and life with the mundane to create something that’s emotional and raw. Their relationship isn’t always perfect. Jesse is a 9-year-old who knows that his father is really struggling but doesn’t quite understand why. He acts out and Johnny doesn’t always know the best way to deal with it. There’s also the honesty and innocence of childhood as Jesse asks Johnny why he doesn’t speak to his sister (Jesse’s mum) very often, or why he’s alone. It forces Johnny to look inwards at the questions he doesn’t really want to face.

There’s also Viv, who spends most of the film looking after her husband Paul, trying to get him checked into a hospital to get the help he really needs. The film is about the struggles that good people go through, and how we’re all just trying to survive. It’s a very relatable film and there’s more than one extremely emotional moment that connects in a powerful way.

Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman (L-R)

As you’d expect Joaquin Phoenix gives an excellent performance. He’s incredibly moving and you really feel that there is a connection between his character and his nephew. Woody Norman gives an incredible performance, the chemistry between him and Phoenix is palpable and it really gets you. Equally great is Gabby Hoffman, who spends most of the film on the other side of the phone to Phoenix. Every time she’s on screen you feel the struggle she’s going through to hold everything together. The three of them are simply excellent.

C’mon C’mon is life affirming, powerfully raw and moving. The performances are perfect and it’s something that will stay with you for a very long time afterwards. Mike Mills has created another masterpiece.

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Mixtape – Film Review

Mixtape (2021) - IMDb

Director: Valerie Weiss

Writer: Stacey Menear

Starring: Gemma Brooke Allen, Julie Bowen, Nick Thune, Jackson Rathbone, Olga Pesta, Audrey Hsieh, and Diego Mercado

Rating: ★★★★½

Stacey Menear’s script for Mixtape has been floating around for over decade, first being announced way back in 2012 as going into production with Tom Vaughan directing. Mixtape has now been released on Netflix with Valerie Weiss in the director’s chair. It’s a really charming and moving story about loss and friendship and finds a perfect home on Netflix, where hopefully it will be seen by as many people as possible.

It’s 1999 and the end of the millennium is near, with Y2K worrying people. Beverly Moody (Gemma Brooke Allen) is living with her grandmother, Gail (Julie Bowen), after her parents died in a car crash. She doesn’t really have any connection with them, being too young to remember them clearly and her grandmother doesn’t like to talk about it. While in the basement, Beverly accidentally knocks over a box and finds a mix tape that her parents created. She puts it into a Walkman and presses play, thinking it may contain a message from her parents. Sadly, the tape is chewed up, but the track list is still on the case so Beverly sets out to recreate the mix, one song at a time.

Mixtape is a sweet and charming story. Beverley goes to the local record store to ask the owner to record songs onto a tape for her, so she can re-create the message that she believes her mother made for her. Along the way she makes friends with the other outcasts in school, Ellen (Audrey Hsieh) and Nicky (Olga Pesta), who help her find the songs. It’s the early days of the Internet, so they are reliant on records, CDs and Napster to complete their quest. A couple of the songs on the track list don’t have names, just descriptions, but Beverley’s mother’s diary helps them with this.

The main trio are great. All three give great performances and are completely believable. Beverley is a relatable character, who’s struggling with grieving for her parents, while also trying to find her way in life. It’s a journey of self-discovery for her. Gemma Brooke Allen is really good in the leading tole, she carries the whole film with the emotional weight on her shoulders. There’s one moment where she asks her grandmother if her mother would have even liked her? It’s a poignant moment that resonates throughout her quest.

The songs, mostly 80s punk and rock, are great. It’s a fitting soundtrack from the time that really tells you everything you need to know about Beverley’s parents, while at the same time are just great songs. It gives the story and energetic feel as almost everything is set to the beat of classic music.

The story does feel a little contrived at points. Beverley and Ellen can’t find a specific song by The Quick on Napster and the local record store doesn’t hold it, since only 1000 vinyl copies were pressed, but then they bump into Nicky at school, who’s wearing a t-shirt from the band and happens to have one of the elusive records at her house. They find a picture of a musician that Beverley’s mother knew, and he happens to be playing a show in a local club a couple of nights later. There aren’t really any obstacles along their quest, but it’s not a big problem because the central hook of the film is so strong that it’ll have you engaged anyway.

Mixtape is sentimental, charming and at points really emotional. It’s a brilliant coming-of-age story that feels really fresh. The idea of finding out about a lost loved one through a series of songs they handpicked is a really sweet idea that the film takes and carries perfectly. It’s a family friendly film that deserves the widest audience possible.

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