REVIEW: “WOMEN IS LOSERS”(2021) SXSW FILM FESTIVAL

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It’s the early 1960’s in San Francisco, California and the social rules of the time, laws, cultural norms and obstacles are set in place to keep women ‘in their place’ which as the old saying goes, is essentially barefoot and pregnant. It’s worth pointing out that at this time period in America a woman could not open a bank account on her own, get a credit card in her own name, let alone get birth control unless married. All this sums into an old Janis Joplin song released around the same time period, even titled the same, and you realize there couldn’t be more fitting way to put meaning and a story to lyrics than Lissette Feliciano’s film “WOMEN IS LOSERS”. Pulling out a story from an old Joplin song might seem odd, but when you hear and listen to the words, you understand exactly what direction Feliciano’s film is taking you.

Celina (Lorenza Isso) is 17-year-old Latina Catholic schoolgirl living in a household with an abusive alcoholic father Don Juan (Steven Bauer), and sadly, compliant to the violence is her mother Dona Carolina (Alejandra Miranda). Along with her best friend Marty (Chrissie Fit), she goes to a party for her boyfriend Mateo (Bryan Craig), who has just returned from service in the Vietnam War. A minor indiscretion and being told “nothing can happen the first time,” results in Celina getting pregnant. Until that moment, her two favourite things were school, where she is somewhat of a math wiz, and having fun with Marty. After losing Marty to a back-alley botched abortion by a dentist of all people, Celina realizes she has no option but to accept the shame given from her community, school and family. So cue to nine months later Celina gives birth and starts to raise her son on her own, with no help from Mateo.

Being from such a structured, strict, religious community and having not finished her high school education, Celina struggles at a menial job to earn and put away money for her son’s future. She is constantly under the eagle eye of her supervisor Minerva (Liza Weil) who tries to find fault in everything she does. But eventually with her strong work ethic, she catches the eye of her superior, Gilbert Li (Simu Liu), who has his own Chinese immigrant story as well. While Gilbert promotes her from typist to teller at the bank, as he gives her a helping hand as well and teaches her the ways of investing in land, housing etc., there is of course there is always an ulterior motive and Celine learns this the hard way. She also earns the respect of Minerva, who is also defying community with her own inter-racial relationship and gives her a helping hand as well – but with no ulterior motives attached. During all this Mateo and Celine reconnect, marry, although ultimately unsuccessfully, as he is not only jealous of Celine’s work ethic, but he goes back to his old cheating ways with Lois (Alessandra Torresani). Seemingly the only way out for her is divorce or she will fall into being something she does not want be – exactly like her mother.

Director: Lissette Feliciano – “Women Is Losers”

The acting by lead Lorenza Isso truly makes the character of Celine come to life as she gives us her all with every emotion of wanting to laugh, cry, and fight right beside her. The supporting cast of Craig, Chrissie Fit, Miranda, Liza Weil, Liu are all fantastic and only add complexity to this colourful story. There is one scene at the beginning that shows the range of this cast that is done a-la ‘West Side Story‘ style, of a dance off that is truly a choreographed wonder to watch. In addition to the wonderful cast is what it is precisely that “Women Is Losers” brings to the table. To start off with, it speaks volumes about the true struggle of not only women, but marginalized women whether it be because of race, colour or religion – someone is always trying to hold you back. For every step taken forward, five are added to reach the next level. But there is always a price, and while this story ends well, so many do not. If anything to take away from this film, it’s the celebration at the end of Roe v Wade at the end and how this right must never be taken away again as more women like Marty will pay the price of doing so.

Grade: A-

@pegsatthemovies

Review screening : Courtesy of 42 West PR and SXSW Film Festival

REVIEW: “ALL MY LIFE” (2020) Universal Pictures

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Have I ever mentioned how much I love Screener Passport that Universal uses as it can be downloaded on Roku and you can actually watch in comfort on a bigger screen TV, so I’m always pretty happy when they send over screeners. Why bring this up here and now? Well it’s probably the best thing to come away with after watching this film.

Cheesy, sappy romantic dramas aren’t entirely my cup of tea and most especially ones where you know immediately off – doom is in the cards for one of them. You’ll almost certainly have seen romantic dramas that deal with terminal illnesses as it’s a storyline that is really overplayed in Hollywood and “ALL MY LIFE” from Director Marc Meyers is just this story. Almost from the start, you know what’s coming, and the film knows it too as the film follows the romance between Jennifer Carter (Jessica Rothe) and Solomon “Sol” Chau (Harry Shum Jr). Things seem to be going well for them after they meet at a bar, and they have a sweet little series of dates where they fall right off into ‘that’ couple. We all know the cliches: have to constantly be together, holding hands, laughing at each others jokes, sitting on laps etc. We also learn that Sol works with digital media and is also a wannabe-chef and Jennifer does other things that’ll surely be interesting at some point but we never really find out what that is so touche’ on that one. They move in together so Sol can save up some money and get into his dream job so Sol eventually quits his job and takes that dream job as a chef and proposes to Jennifer. Immediately we find out one of them is ill and since this is based on a true story and it can be easily looked up, it’s Sol that has liver cancer. With the help of family and friends, they start a GoFundMe campaign..for the wedding..mind you not the medical bills they can’t afford but of course a $20,000 wedding that happens two weeks later.

All My Life’ fails itself in two large and very definitive ways. First, it definitely leans more on how everything is impacting Jennifer, we get many more shots of her trying to cope with the trauma of the cancer diagnosis and in an odd way, she makes herself out to be the victim even though you know, it’s Sol’s diagnosis and him who has to deal with it. There is one sappy – you see it coming from a mile away moment – where he says if it’s bad news they will get a dog, later in the film, he shows up with a dog. All along Sol doesn’t get nearly the time to say how any of this is impacting him as again, it’s kinda all about Jennifer. I don’t know if this part really happened is or is liberties the writers made up and ran with, but it doesn’t played out well. The best thing to come out of this film is it’s about an interracial couple with an Asian male lead that never makes you even think twice about it.

Now this is based on true story and yes it can be a grim awareness of a how sickness like cancer can affect any one at any age and be terribly difficult to deal with – but the acting here by the leads Rothe & Shum Jr and their lack of chemistry is almost as bad as the sentiment which comes across poorly and neither lead offers any real depth of character to their roles. The script is just too weak to do justice to the theme or to sustain 90-odd minutes on a big screen. Saving grace are some colorful supporting players like Jay Pharaoh as one Shum’s friends Dave, Chrissie Fit as one Rothe’s friends Amanda, Ever Carradine as Gigi a restaurant owner who hires Sol, and a brief cameo from Mario Cantone as a wedding organizer.

The film wraps up quickly like it’s giving you the barest minimum required to tell its story, with everything handled like we’re in a hurry because there just isn’t enough time to try and let things have an impact or give you time for emotions and that’s where it loses it’s audience as a tearjerker, because you never feel like tears are necessary.

BTW – can I mention how much I love screener passport again..

Grade: D+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“ALL MY LIFE” IS AVAILBLE ON VOD STARTING DECEMBER 2020

PITCH PERFECT 2 (2015) Universal

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Yep…the Bella’s are back with new additions and some of the same cliches. The boy’s are there too though not so predominant this time round, even the Green Bay Packers brought a batch of a cappella linebackers to this one, along with a wanna-be group, The Tone Hangers.
But what would the story be if not for new rival a cappellas, German based “Das Sound Machine” featuring the beautiful badass “Kommissar” (Brigitte Hjort Sorensen) & her side-kick “Pieter” (Flula Borg) to duel it out with with an ending that comes as no surprise to anyone. Even so, never underestimate the power of the teen girl viewing audience as the ‘Pitches’ took down ‘Mad Max’ for top grossing film of the weekend box office. pp5

The tone of the film is set in the opening routine, in which Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” has a wardrobe malfunction on stage while dangling upside down at a performance in front of the POTUS & FLOTUS no less. This unlikely set-up forms the premise that takes us through what happens when the group is suspended from competing – unless they can pull off a win the world a capella championships in Copenhagen which no American team has ever done before.
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It’s pretty much all the same crowd – our jaded commentators “John” (John Michael Higgins) & “Gail” (Elizabeth Banks – whom most impressively also directed the film); leader of the pack “Beca” (Anna Kendrick) who also has a side-plot in wanting to become a music producer and keeping her music internship a secret from the rest of the Bellas, a cappella over-achiever “Chloe” (Brittany Snow), butch girl “Cynthia Rose” (Ester Dean), will do anything “Stacie” (Alexis Knapp), the ultra whisperer “Lilly” (Hana Mae Lee), “Flo” (Chrissie Fit) immigration story survivor extraordinaire and yes, of course previously mentioned, “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson). Even “Aubrey” (Anna Camp) shows up though is graduated and running a ‘boot camp’ for a cappellas where they get their harmony back with some hi-jinks to give us a laugh or two. The films secondary biggest plot revolves around Hailee Steinfeld as newcomer “Emily”, the group’s latest addition, who writes and sings her own original music which is unheard of in the a cappella world. Steinfeld is pretty terrific and has good screen presence and holds her own as the newbie here.
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There are some solid singing and dancing performances throughout with highlights in scenes in which the rivalry between the Barden Bellas and German reigning champions Das Sound Machine comes to a head; some hilarious confrontations between lead singers Kommissar and Beca follow with a few of the one-off scenes being a bit clumsy, though the sequence at the private party sing-off is a high point as it’s fun and musically clever.
At this point though, the humour factor is getting cheap, the fat jokes are wearing thin and getting on your nerves. Others are falling hard & flat and some are just leaving a bad taste in your mouth they are so crass and offensive.
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I did like the first Pitch Perfect, but in that ‘oh it’s cute way’ that you do like some films as it gave you that ‘Rocky’-underdog feel to it. This one, while it has it’s entertaining moments, lacks that. All the plot points are stepping stones for the climactic finish in Copenhagen, when everything comes together in by far the best part of the whole film, with dynamic harmonies and rhythms, it’s just too bad the film best perks wait until the very end to grab you.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Pitch Perfect 2 is in theaters nationwide.

RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)