Written and directed by Sam Friedlander
The final flick of the 2019 CAAMFest evening was Babysplitters, complete with actors Danny Pudi, Emily C. Chang, and writer/director Sam Friedlander in attendance. It was also the best film of the night! Babysplitters is about a modern American couple trying to weigh their aging biological clocks, desires to have children, yet apprehension of giving up their free time and lack of savings. It’s like a laundry list of all the reasons why people claim Millennials aren’t having kids.
Jeff and Sarah Penaras (Danny Pudi and Emily C. Chang) are getting older and making excuses for why they aren’t with kids yet. Jeff is stuck at a great paying job he hates, while meter-maid Sarah spends her time getting into arguments with angry parkers. Their social circle has dwindled as their friends all have kids and disappear, to the point where their only regular hangout partners are fellow childless couple Don and Taylor Small (Eddie Alfano and Maiara Walsh). Jeff comes up with an idea about a startup that lets people split babies. We’re not going King Solomon on this baby, it’s more like a time share. This idea starts to grow on him, and mix one part a couple with reservations and one part a couple with a medical impossibility to have a baby, and you got yourself a baby sharing arrangement!
Go Back To China
Written and directed by Emily Ting
Next up on the 2019 CAAMFest slamfest of movies is Go Back To China, a movie about someone who goes back to China. Hold on, because we also have unexpected Richard Ng! Go Back To China has homespun indie cred and delivers a well-trod story (spoiled girl learns responsibility) with new and exciting settings and characters. The film is at its best when Sasha Li (Anna Akana) is still in fish out of water mode, but it unfortunately fails to stick the landing and just sort of ends, which is a darn shame considering the potential it had.
Spoiled trust fund kid Sasha Li can’t get a job and is blowing through her money on parties and shopping, until she is blackmailed by her father Teddy (Richard Ng Yiu-Hon) to return to China to help out at his toy factory, or she’ll be cut off from the rest of the money. Once there, Sasha has to adjust to both a new culture (she was raised in California) and dealing with her cranky father and her many half-siblings. She has an older half-sister, Carol (Lynn Chen – Saving Face), who already had to go back to China and work with dad, as well as two younger siblings from her dad’s next upgrade wife (since divorced, and dad now has a live-in girlfriend with whom he has an “arrangement” with that is the same age as Sasha)
The different aged family members even becomes a plot point, as they both have their own layers of resentment for the families that they were replaced by but also see the same new families get replaced in turn and the kids get filled with the same resentment. Sasha and Carol spar due to both seeing the other as the favored daughter, Carol longing for Sasha’s freedoms while Sasha seeing Carol as just a goody-goody who does whatever dad wants. Teddy shows he still hasn’t learned to be a real father yet when he upsets the next generation of his kids, leading his daughters to have to lead in picking up the mess. As someone with disappointing family members, this is sadly truer than it ever has to be.
The Dragon Painter
Written by Richard Schayer (as E. Richard Schayer)
Based on the Novel by Mary McNeil Fenollosa
Directed by William Worthington
It’s CAAMFest time again, so Tars must chart out a bunch of film he wants to see vs. the actual amount of real world time that he has to go to see the films. This year there was a few Sophie’s Choices among films playing at similar times where I was unable to go to the other shows, so in the end I ended up with three screenings, all in one day! So I’ll make sure all three reviews get put up in one week! First up is 1919’s The Dragon Painter, a silent film presented with a live score!
The Dragon Painter was a production of Haworth Pictures Corporation, which box office star Sessue Hayakawa formed with actor/director William Worthington (hence the name of the company!) This is an important piece of film history, as the big deal is we have Japanese characters being played by Japanese actors, and they aren’t playing stereotypical villain characters, which was the style of the time (and partily how Sessue Hayakawa gained fame!) Hayakawa’s life was amazing, and deserves more focus than just the intro paragraphs of a review of one of his film.
It is easy to see in The Dragon Painter why Hayakawa was so popular, he’s a fountain of pure talent. He begins as a manic madman named Tatsu, obsessed with painting the landscapes, which he claims are paintings of his lady love, a princess who was turned into a dragon by the gods 1000 years earlier. He sleeps in the wilderness and the local villagers largely avoid him (the few who try to cause trouble are easily shook when he threatens them) This is all presented straight, and Hayakawa both sells that a man would live in the wilderness and be obsessed with a dragon princess with a compulsion to paint, but that this is an actual person with the emotional turmoil that the scenario in his mind is causing him painted all over his face.
Written and directed by Cathy Yan
TarsTarkas.NET returns for one last CAAMFest 2018 movie review! Even before Cathy Yan got tapped for Birds of Prey I was interested in seeing Dead Pigs, as it was getting some great buzz and people I trust on Twitter were thrilled with it. It’s a story of modern China as it goes through the growing pains of leaping forward to superpower status at light speed. It’s also five different interconnected narratives that are part of a larger picture of unintended consequences and reveal a lifestyle of walls of deception being put up to fake achievements that just haven’t quite happened yet. Pieces with multiple characters and stories can be complicated and sometimes just don’t work at all, but Yan has managed to weave together the parts into a wonderful tapestry, and I hope this is just the beginning of an amazing narrative career.
Old Wang (Yang Hao-Yu) is a pig farmer but his pigs start dying. The bigger problem is he borrowed a bunch of money to invest and got swindled by a fly by night operator. The pigs were his collateral and now the triads he borrowed the money from are angry. His sister Candy Wang (Vivian Wu Jun-Mei) women powered business with mantras and slogans and networking but lives alone with her dog in the house she grew up in. Right now it is a nail house, the last house standing where a modern development project is going in, and she refuses to leave. The desolate location is offset by the house’s bright colors and whimsical decorations, but all of which look quaint compared to the modern new architecture and design going up everywhere else.
Written by Charlene deGuzman, Sarah Adina Smith, and Mark Duplass
Directed by Suzi Yoonessi
We’re back again with the second of the three 2018 CAAMfest screenings, this time we’re covering Unlovable, another film that’s written by the lead actress and filled with plenty of raw emotions on screen.
Charlene deGuzman is Joy, who seems like a nice young girl except for the part where she’s trying to kill herself during the opening as her life is a mess. She fails, thank goodness (it’s not one of those movies, where a dead actress is narrating everything!), but we learn that she suffers from sex and love addiction. For those not too familiar with these things, it seems like something that would be very hot, but in reality it is people compulsively going on binges with whoever is available, even if they are the most unappealing people you can imagine. Joy generally stops by the bar, gets beyond wasted, and soon is all over whoever she can get her hands on. That’s a problem because she’s in a relationship and her binges are also making it hard for her to get to work on time.
After the latest round causes her to get dumped and thrown out by her boyfriend, she goes to a 12 step program (it is stated that she’s tried this several times before but it has never stuck) She strikes up a friendship with a woman named Maddie (Melissa Leo), but she refuses to be her sponsor. Only after another binge where Joy wakes up in the morning after a bachelor party where the polaroids reveal quite a lot went on with quite a few people (and one of them gives her a wad of cash), Maddie agrees to sponsor her and put her up in her grandmother’s shed. She must completely detox which means no drinking, sex, texting, sexting, masturbating, or generally any physical contact for 30 days. That proves to be a lot harder than it sounds for poor Joy.
Written by Vivian Bang and Daryl Wein
Directed by Daryl Wein
Hey, 2018 CAAMfest arrived and thanks to the magic of not having any shows at the “still run by the harassment-enabling Tim League” Alamo Drafthouse, tickets were purchased as a reward! (A reward for thee and me, of course! But mostly me.) Up first is what turned out to be my personal favorite of the three movies I went to, White Rabbit!
We first meet Sophia (Vivian Bang) already in character, dressed in a white with with face paint and a white jumpsuit, speaking into a microphone at an actual Whole Foods. She talks with an obvious Asian accent and recounts a classic immigrants journey in America, as customers pay confused attention. The real Sophia doesn’t have an accent nor is she the struggling mother who bought a store with her family after years of toil. She’s a single artist in LA who lives in a tiny apartment and is constantly creating outsider art for a small amount of views. Sophia survives by doing odd jobs on Taskrabbit, which leads to a few interesting encounters.
Sophia’s commitment to making her art is a blessing and a curse. As we find out from her meeting with an ex-girlfriend, Sophia treats her art as the highest priority and everything else second, including anyone she is in a relationship with and even Sophia herself. A meeting with a man who liked her work on YouTube soon turns awkward when he realizes she isn’t an immigrant with an accent and the powerful female role he envisions her in just isn’t powerful enough in his mind if she’s not speaking with an accent. He then manages to turn her obvious and vocal discomfort to somehow be all about him (the role was played by the director and collaborator Daryl Wein in a wonderfully accurate picture of certain types of supposed allies!)