Tag: Philippines

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Lee: Pushing Hands (1992)

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Ang Lee is an interesting film maker.  He’s made high profile, Oscar nominated gear like Crouching Tiger, Hidden and Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.  He’s made a prestige English drama with Sense and Sensibility.  He’s made a big old comic book stink bomb with Hulk.  He’s not just a foreign born director who’s crossed over to English language success.  He really is an international film maker who isn’t scared to take on any story or location.  I think the only movies of his I’d actually seen before now were The Ice Storm and Life of Pi.  And as much as I know I should be familiar with his work, I’m really not.  But now I’ve made a start by watching his first feature, Pushing Hands.

Martha (Deb Snyder) is an American writer, working from home, trying to finish her latest novel.  But she’s a little distracted by her newly arrived father in law, Chu (Sihung Lung).  Martha is married to Alex, a Chinese American who recently moved his father to America from China.  The language barrier between Martha and Chu rapidly breeds resentment between them both.

Chu feels isolated in his new country and resists the American way of life as much as possible.  He’s basically just a cranky old bastard, set in his ways and determined to hate everything about America.  Until he meets Mrs Chen (Lai Wang), another recently arrived Chinese octogenarian who’s struggling to fit in to her new world as well.

There are culture clashes, generation clashes and physical clashes.  You see, Chui is a tai chi and martial arts expert, and he gets to show off his moves more than once.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an action movie in any way, the martial arts are only used sparingly and usually only to illustrate a thematic point.

About half way through, I started to get a little bored and frustrated with Pushing Hands.  It seemed to be nothing more than an exercise in showing how younger generations are too impatient, selfish and cocky to appreciate their noble, wise elders who’ve been there and seen it all before.  But then the movie started to explore Chu’s own stubbornness and lay a little blame on both sides.

Even though Lee had an English speaking co-writer, I still felt the dialogue was the biggest let down in Pushing Hands.  Some of the exposition is really obvious, as characters tell each other things they both clearly already know, but the audience needed to learn so the story could continue.  And more than once, an actor would awkwardly deliver a line that seemed like it was written by someone who’s first language probably wasn’t English.

Apparently Pushing Hands is part of a thematic trilogy about generational conflict.  I can’t say I’m super excited to see the other two entries, but it has made me want to finally check out his bigger movies like Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain.

Pushing Hands
Directed By – Ang Lee
Written By – Ang Lee, James Schamus

MOVIE REVIEW | Paul Williams Still Alive (2011)

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You might not have ever heard of Paul Williams.  Even if you saw a photo of him, that might not spark any recognition either.  But you have heard his songs.  And he has a lot of really great songs.  In the 70s, his songs were everywhere, turned into hits by himself and every other chart topping artist or band at the time.  He also became a regular talk show guest on American TV, appearing on Johnny Carson’s  Tonight Show more than fifty times.  Williams even acted in a few movies, including where I know him from best, as Little Enis in the Smokey and the Bandit franchise.  Then, he disappeared from the limelight.

In the late 60s and for all of the 70s, he pumped out countless hits for himself and others.  Songs like “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters, “An Old Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night, the theme song to “The Love Boat” and “The Rainbow Connection” (the biggest hit by a frog with a hand up its freckle who wasn’t Edith Piaf).  But like all people who were successful in the 70s, Williams did a whole shit tonne of cocaine, bottomed out and found sobriety while losing all notoriety.

In the opening minutes of Paul Williams Still Alive, director Steven Kessler tells his own story about how much Williams meant to him as a child.  Williams was short, fat, kind of funny looking.  The fact that he could still be a star on TV and hang out with the beautiful people of show biz made Kessler feel better about himself as an awkward child.  Obviously, with any movie, especially a documentary, you want the film maker to be invested and passionate about their subject matter.  But in Paul Williams Still Alive, Kessler’s own personal history with his subject might be its biggest weakness.

Too often, Kessler resorts to making the film about his relationship with Williams.  Which I’m sure is fine, if you’re audience is interested in Kessler.  Me personally, I don’t really care too much about how the life of the director of National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation changes when he gets to spend a couple of years hanging out with his childhood idol.  I care about the idol, what he did in the past to become one, what has happened to him since as a result of that idolatry, how he’s adapted to life after all that attention goes away.

Like anyone who used to have huge main stream success, Williams is still a massive draw somewhere wacky.  In his case, the Philippines.  When Kessler follows Williams there for a tour, it’s one of the most interesting present day sequences in Paul Williams Still Alive.  It also highlights one of the least successful aspects of the film as a whole.  Before leaving, we see some really shaky footage shot with Williams on a golf course.  Kessler’s voiceover explains he thought he should learn how to use the camera and sound equipment since he would have to shoot it all himself once they’re in the Philippines.  The only problem, the movie already looked pretty ugly, poorly shot and visually boring up until this point.   Assuming Kessler had been his own one man crew all along was the only reason I cut it any slack for its technical short comings.

Paul Williams Still Alive has its interesting sequences.  Anything involving archival footage from his 70s peak is great.  Everything about Steven Kessler’s relationship with Williams while they shot the doc, not so great.  At least I’ll always have Smokey and the Bandit 2, where Williams flies a World War II era fighter plane and drops a load of horse crap on someone.  You can never take that away from me, Steven Kessler.

Paul Williams Still Alive
Directed By – Steven Kessler
Written By – Steven Kessler