I started the day with an interview of Thanos creator Jim Starlin, then attended panels on composing for television, “game-changing” women (including “Clueless” costume designer Mona May!), the “You’re Wrong, Leonard Maltin” panel, with people objecting to bad reviews from one of the all-time greatest movie critics and historians — and one of the all-time greatest and most gracious humans. The vigorously defended films included some critical darlings and audience favorites like “Taxi Driver” and “Blade Runner” and “The Princess Bride” but also some with few — but passionate — fans (this is SDCC, after all) like “Bonfire of the Vanities” (defended by IMDB founder Colin Needham). Then there were those who thought Maltin had been too kind to films like “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.” One audience member brought up Maltin’s most embarrassing mistake — in a short documentary about “High Noon” he said the film gave Gary Cooper his only Oscar, forgetting “Sergeant York.” And another asked how we should look at Oscar-winner “Gigi” in light of its storyline about a family training a teenager to be a courtesan.
Then I got to attend a press event for “Cobra Kai,” a real pleasure to chat with the original stars of “The Karate Kid” and the people who brought them back for this very popular new show. Stay tuned for more details.
Rated PG for thematic material, brief language and some smoking
Brief mild language
Drinking and drunkenness
Terminal illness, grief and loss
A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
July 19, 2019
“The Farewell” is based on a true story, as told by Lulu Wang on NPR’s “This American Life.” Wang is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. When her grandmother, still in China, received a terminal diagnosis, the news was delivered to her family but not to the woman herself, as is the practice in China. They have a saying: “It’s not the cancer that kills them, but the fear.” The relatives had to figure out a way to see her without making her suspicious about the reason, so they dragooned a cousin into having a wedding in China to give the family an excuse for getting together and spending time with her.
In the movie, Wang’s character is Billi (Awkwafina, shining in a very impressive lead dramatic debut role), a student in New York. The movie informs us as it opens that it is “based on an actual lie.” Billi is very close to her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), meaning that they talk often by phone and love each other unconditionally. But that does not mean that Billi is honest with her grandmother. She tells the kind of little white lie most of us tell our mothers and grandmothers. Half a world away, Nai Nai solicitously asks her granddaughter whether she is wearing a hat and Billi assures her that she is. Billi understands that it isn’t about a hat; her grandmother is just showing that she cares and in her own way she is doing the same.
Billi does not have the same easy warmth with her parents, and she does not tell them the truth, either. But that is more to protect herself from their disapproval and nagging than to reassure them. And she is enough of an American to be very uncomfortable with the idea of not telling Nai Nai the truth. Her mother explains that while Americans are all about individual autonomy and self-determination, Chinese think of the group first, and that means that the family is most important.
And so, they concoct the lie that Billi’s cousin, who lives in Japan, has decided to marry his girlfriend, and the wedding will be in China. They will all gather for a fake happy occasion because it’s “too painful to say goodbye.” For Billi, though, as I suspect for most of the people who will read this review, it is more painful to feel disconnected from her sorrow and sense of devastating loss.
This film is sharply written and beautifully performed. It is a perfect example of the adage that the more specific a story is, the more universal it is. The Chinese settings and customs will seems strange and in some cases odd or funny to westerners, but everyone will understand the emotions — the way the family members want and expect so much from each other. Cultures may have different ideas about what we tell each other and how we mourn. But we all experience fear and grief, and we all try to find ways to comfort each other. Sometimes we tell stories like this one to help bring us together.
Parents should know that the themes of this film included illness and grief. Characters drink and get tipsy and there is some brief mild language.
Family discussion: Who should decide what medical information to give to Nai Nai? Why is Billi closer to her grandmother than her parents? What elements of this story are most like your family?
If you like this, try: “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” and “The Joy Luck Club”
On Her Shoulders is the story of Nadia Murad Basee Tah, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy on behalf of the victims of ISIL. The film has its national broadcast debut on the PBS documentary series POV and pov.org on Monday, July 22 at 9 p.m. (check local listings). The film is a co-production of RYOT Films and American Documentary | POV. POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series now in its 32nd season. The film was an official selection at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and the 2018 SXSW Film Festival and was shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature for the 91st Academy Awards.
Director Alexandria Bombach understands that there are two stories here. First there is the inspiring story of a young woman who had no ambitions of becoming a world figure but who overcame unthinkable loss and trauma by devoting herself to helping others. Then there is the story of a young woman who is forced to relive her most painful experience over and over and who is constantly bombarded by the overwhelming needs of others, from the photo-op sympathy of politicians and journalists to the heartbreak of her surviving community, most still living in refugee camps, who sob in her arms and beg her to get them some help.
Fifty years ago, a bunch of comic book fans got together to swap comics and stories and now it is a world-class extravaganza encompassing every possible category of what they call the lively arts. Television, movies, games, books, and, still comics — everything with an element of fantasy or science fiction and plenty that is just plain entertaining. Television comedy favorites are here: Superstore, The Good Place, Seinfeld, Brooklyn 99. Upcoming shows like Pennyworth (the backstory of Batman’s Alfred character) and The Dark Crystal.