EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (2022)

April 5, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s bonkers, I tell ya’! Co-writers and co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively (by their choice) as “Daniels”, follow up their ‘farting corpse movie’ SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) with one that is somehow more bizarre, more audacious, and more fun. It’s one of the most innovative films I’ve seen in a while, and although I can point out influences, I’ve yet to come up with a movie comparison that seems just or fair.

Every small business owner can relate to the stress Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is under as she attempts to organize her documents in preparation for an IRS audit of the laundromat she owns with her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan). As if that’s not enough, her father is scheduled to arrive the same day. She knows Gong Gong (James Hong) is disappointed in his daughter for the husband and life she chose. And while being crushed with those two events, Evelyn’s strained relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) continues to fracture as Evelyn wants to keep Joy’s girlfriend status with Becky (Tallie Medel) a secret from dear old conservative dad/grandfather.

That’s just about the end of the “normal” part of the story, other than Waymond has had divorce papers prepared, not for the purpose of ending the marriage, but with the hope that the threat might force Evelyn to have a real conversation with him about their relationship. Things start to get weird even before they head to the IRS meeting with an agent played with gusto by Jamie Lee Curtis, but while there, we get our first real taste of the fantastical trip we (and Evelyn) are about to take. Of course, I can’t really offer any description of the action that occurs, but nothing is spoiled if I tell you that some characters cross multiple dimensions and universes in an attempt to ‘save the world’. While doing this, they mix in some acrobatic martial arts that would make Jackie Chan envious.

It’s the rare film where the frenetic pace of dialogue keeps pace with breakneck action sequences. A fanny pack, trophies with an unfortunate shape, and blue-tooth type devices all play unusual roles here, and this film challenges everyone from the actors to the directors to the editors to the fight coordinators. You’ll likely recognize Evelyn’s husband as the grown-up version of the child actor who played Short Round in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984), and daughter Joy is portrayed by Stephanie Hsu (a contributor to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), who gets to cover just about the widest range of character we’ve likely ever seen on screen. The estimable James Hong is a riot as Gong Gong. Mr. Hong is now 93 years old with an incredible canon of 450 credits in his 8 decades of work. His presence is quite crucial to the film. It should also be noted that, as we would expect, Jenny Slate shines in her brief role as “Big Nose”, a regular customer at the laundromat.

As terrific as the cast is, this is really a chance for Michelle Yeoh to bring her full arsenal to the role of Evelyn. She’s angry, frustrated, scared, courageous, and even adds her comic timing. Ms. Yeoh flashes her CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON fighting skills, while also brining a regal presence to a film that requires a strong core. It’s no mystery that family and love can solve many of the world’s issues, and Daniels have delivered a wild ride that defies simple description. It’s a long one at 139 minutes, but you’ll thank me later for not saying much more than … it’s bonkers!

Opens in select markets on March 25 and April 1, 2022 and nationwide on April 8, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


JULES OF LIGHT AND DARK (2019)

June 12, 2019

2019 Oak Cliff Film Festival

 Greetings again from the darkness. One of the benefits of attending a close-to-home film festival is getting the opportunity to see the work of local people that we are familiar with. Writer-Director Daniel Laabs has been active in the Dallas film scene for years, and although he has produced short films, it’s his feature film debut that nabbed a prime spot at this year’s Oak Cliff Film Festival.

Tallie Medel stars as Maya, and she’s in an on-again-off-again relationship with Jules, played by Betsy Holt. Things never seem quite right with the couple, especially in a dance club scene where David (Johnathan Miles Howard) gets involved. Awkwardness, insecurity, and uncertainty follows. Not long after, oil field worker Freddy (Robert Longstreet) happens upon a car accident. Both Maya and Jules are injured, though Jules’ injuries are more severe. The David situation takes an odd turn, and so does the Maya – Jules dynamic … but it’s Freddy’s story that really connects or disconnects all of the personal story lines, depending how one views it.

Mr. Longstreet is a terrific character actor and it’s nice to see him with a more substantial role here. He seems to thrive on the complexity of, what on the surface, seems like a simple man … but wow, does this guy have issues and challenges (dogs, daughters, identity, regrets). In a way that’s difficult to explain, Freddy and Maya bond and seem to really help each other sort out some things. This happens even though we don’t see a good amount of discussion between them – it really goes to the point, that we all need someone we can depend on.

The film is very well acted, including supporting work from Liz Cardenas and Rafael Villegas. The score from Brent Sluder is spot on, and the film has a very grounded feel and look to it. The story may be secondary to the characters, but we find ourselves wanting each of them to find a glimmer of happiness.

(I couldn’t find an online trailer)


STINKING HEAVEN (2015)

June 14, 2015

stinking heaven Greetings again from the darkness. This narrative entry at the Oak Cliff Film Festival takes place in a sober living commune located in Passaic, New Jersey around 1990. It’s a live-in self-help environment that seems to do everything but help, and probably not far removed from the “protective” environments offered by Jim Jones, Charles Manson and David Koresh.

The rules of the house, as administered by married couple Jim (Keith Poulson) and Lucy (Deragh Campbell) make complete sense on the index card, but seem to have little effect on the residents. Kicking off with a marriage ceremony between two members of the group, followed by a family style dinner … the story follows the same path of the origin of the word “Honeymoon” as told by the groom. We see the peak of happiness and then follow the slow descent in bleakness.

Part of the “therapy” involves filming cruel reenactments of life’s low point for each of the recovering addicts. Remember, these aren’t just flawed individuals, but rather deeply damaged emotionally. They are each weak and insecure, and these emotions make for a tension-packed living environment … hardly one that promotes any type of healing.

Director Nathan Silver’s ensemble cast is very strong, especially Tallie Medel and Hannah Gross … both offering hope for future projects. Having never been an addict, I can’t imagine how tough it must be to get clean and stay clean; however, my instincts tell me that group living in a home that makes their own fermented tea in the bathtub may not be the best solution.