Planet Bollywood

Courtesy photo

Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai (2021)

“Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai” adapts Kang Yoon-sung’s 2017 Korean film, “The Outlaws,” into a star vehicle for Salman Khan. As a turf war escalates between two rival gangs, a ruthless newcomer angles to take over. It’s up to the roguish cop, the titular Radhe (Mr. Khan), to restore peace. While the original was based on actual events that took place in 2004, the Bollywood remake seems so extravagant that few traces of reality remain. Both Radhe and the antagonist, Rana (Randeep Hooda), are utterly indestructible; this is precisely the kind of action flick that Takashi Miike had in mind when he made the cartoonish “Dead or Alive.”

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Far Upper West Side Story

Warner Brothers Pictures

In the Heights (2021)

Somewhere buried deep within the “In the Heights” movie adaptation is the story of a people who feel neither at home in America nor privy to the American dream. But you must look hard past the glossy, neon-lit music video treatment of the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes.

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A Great Season in Harlem

Mass Distraction Media/Sundance Institute

Summer of Soul (. . . Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) (2021)

A documentary on the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969 – when Woodstock took place upstate – “Summer of Soul” features previously unseen footage from this star-studded but mostly forgotten event, with performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and many more.

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Hearing Aide

Sundance Institute

CODA (2021)

If “Sound of Metal” is about the hearing impaired learning to normalize the disability, then “CODA” is set in the utopia where that normalization is complete. “CODA” does indeed center on a hearing protagonist; its title is an acronym for child of deaf adults. Here, deafness is more of an inconvenience for the hearing, and our protagonist is torn between interpreting for her family’s thriving fishery business and pursuing her own musical talents.

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Try This at Home


Twyla Moves (2021)

What did you do in 2020? While under lockdown, did you attempt to choreograph a new ballet, to be performed over Zoom, with dancers split between New York, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Denmark, and St. Petersburg, Russia? Did that mean some directors were able to take this as a hook to put together your career retrospective, interweaving 60 years of your life and work as one of America’s leading choreographers? Well, if you did, Twyla Tharp’s lawyers will probably be in touch, because she did it first.

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Blurred Lines

One Plus One/Sundance Institute

Violation (2021)

This review contains spoilers, so consider this fair warning. Amputation and dismemberment seem to have been a running theme throughout the 2021 Sundance Film Festival selections, and “Violation” certainly has its share. Yet, this rape revenge flick is the only offering (that this reviewer is aware of) at the Sundance virtual screening portal that requires age verification, presumably for prominently featuring a fully erect penis.

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Very Big Deal in America

Getty Images/Sundance Institute

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It (2021)

In the dim and distant past when your reviewer was a small girl living on an American military base in Japan, there was exactly one English-language television channel which had exactly four shows for kids: “Little House on the Prairie,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street,” and “The Electric Company.” One was historical, one was soothing, one was educational, and one was noisy, anarchic fun. The shows were behind the times, but in our isolation we had no way of knowing, especially since those shows were all the culture we had. It meant that the ordinary greeting on the playground was to holler “HEY YOU GUYS!!!!!” We were quoting Rita Moreno.

It’s hard to imagine how different the Hollywood of now is compared to what it was like when Ms. Moreno started out in 1950 with the total support of her mother. She had a small part in “Singin’ in the Rain,” but that was the very rare part where her ethnicity wasn’t a hindrance. As one of the few non-white and non-black working actors in Hollywood in the ’50s and ’60s she was given “ethnic” parts from all over the world – most notably Tuptim in “The King and I.” It might have taken until now, but finally Ms. Moreno is able to speak openly and frankly around how those roles were managed – including a very funny demonstration of the catch-all accent – and how playing all those barefoot peasants made her feel. She is very smart and very funny, and director-producer-editor Mariem Pérez Riera is clearly delighted to help Ms. Moreno settle more than a few scores.

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Tiger Mommie Dearest

Jim McHugh/Sundance Institute

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021)

Amy Tan, the original “pick me Asian” – an Asian expert at telling white people what they want to hear – may not have been one intentionally or consciously after all, at least per James Redford’s documentary “Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir.”

Author of bestseller “The Joy Luck Club,” Ms. Tan has inspired generations of pick-me Asians, both within and outside creative fields. But judging from the film, Ms. Tan would be more aptly characterized as a classic, but different, Asian archetype: the “compassion junkie” – an uncommonly melodramatic person who wallows in their own victimhood and thrives on the pity and attention they draw from others. They would readily open up about their sufferings to any random stranger who would listen. This is a trait she seems to share with her mother.

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Misbegotten Identity

Melissa Lukenbaugh/A24

Minari (2021)

When the trailer of “Minari” telegraphs the tragedy that will eventually befall a Korean immigrant family taking root in 1980s rural Arkansas, the specter of racism flashes across the mind. It just makes too much sense in that setting, even if it’s also decidedly trite. Fortunately, the dreaded bigotry in this semiautobiography of writer-director Lee Isaac Chung only rears its ugly head in the form of borderline microaggressive ignorance.

The story of one man’s stubborn pursuit of the American dream, exemplified by Jacob (Steven Yeun) growing Korean produce in the Ozarks with the naïve hope of supplying ethnic grocers in Texas, also emanates contrivance despite the fresh Asian-American angle. Thankfully, “Minari” isn’t entirely about that, either.

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2020 Hindsight

Sundance Institute

In the Same Breath (2021)

Wang Nanfu’s “In the Same Breath” succeeds only as a bracing critique of Chinese censorship, because it spectacularly fails as a documentary on its purported subject, Covid-19. The film puts so much emphasis on the Chinese government’s initial denial and subsequent iron-fisted management of the pandemic, that its juxtapositions with the West’s misinformation and lack of response and containment feel like a disingenuous afterthought.

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